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Entrance to Willamette Valley Vineyards

Lavender and vines along the entranceway to the hilltop facility.

My dragon spawn turned 21 recently. It’s so hard to wrap my head around the concept of this full-fledged adult being the same teeny wrinkly purple thing I brought home 21 years ago. I have realized that 21 years is not that many years. It’s nearly half my life, but dang, it went like a blink!

A small Tara with wooden sword at a Renaissance Faire

Tara and me at one of our first Faerieworlds festivals.

Our tradition, you may recall, is to go to The Enchanted Forest in Salem. I’ve had loads of fun with Tara and their awesome friends, visiting the theme park year after year and living out our childhoods with abandon on one brilliant July day. Right next door to Enchanted Forest is a winery that we had only spotted from the Interstate. This year, since Tara is of legal drinking age, their birthday idea was to visit the winery.

I called Willamette Valley Vineyards and explained it was a birthday visit and asked what a person might do there for fun, other than tasting wines. They suggested a tour, and I made a reservation.

Willamette Valley Vineyards is a first-class destination, which made this a serendipitous choice. Until we arrived, we had no idea what an enormous, visitor-centric place it is. Sadly, I neglected to get some photos of the main tasting room, but it’s huge and oh so beautiful. There are three bars with about 8 people tending, who can all help you with tasting a flight of wines, or purchasing, or eating lunch, or touring, or even booking a night’s stay because yes, this place also has guest lodging. I imagine it would be a wonderful stay.

The main buildings are at the top of a hill, and thus visitors are afforded incredible views in every direction. Just in case you want something even better than the view available in the dining and tasting rooms, there is a tower one can climb, which puts you another 50 feet up.

Tara celebrating their birthday in the tower.

View from the tower.


Molly and me, at our main gathering place during the tour.

The tour is also a tasting. We tasted 5 different wines, some award-winning, during the tour. Our guide, Suzanne Zupancic, put us at ease and made us feel like she was our friend right away. Suzanne led us through the different stages of wine production at Willamette Valley, to include the history of the vineyard’s existence, and the bottling station and of course the barrel storage. She told the story of the founder, Jim Bernau, who grew up knowing wines because his father was an attorney for the first vineyard in Oregon after prohibition. She explained how the winery is solar powered, doesn’t irrigate, and instead of typical pest control, partners with a raptor rescue organization to use owls to control the rodent population!

She explained some general concepts to help us in choosing a wine, such as when a wine is sweeter, there is generally less alcohol. Knowing this, a quick glance at the label can help you choose what you’ll like. She talked about Oregon’s famous pinot noirs, a thin-skinned grape that has caught the wine world’s attention. She taught us about cooperage, the craft of building wine barrels, and how to understand the labels on the outside of the barrels. She also explained why so many barrels are stained red. It’s because the wine slowly evaporates and the only way to maintain its integrity is to top off the wine frequently, and not allow any oxygen inside the barrels. Topping off tends to end up with a little bit of wine spill, that drips down the side and stains the barrel. She explained that Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot benefit from aging, but others do not.

Barrels of white wines.

A door leading from the red wine barrels section.

Me with as much wine nearby as I could ever wish for.

It’s not a flattering photo, because everyone is squinting in the bright sun.

Suzanne also told us about Bill Fuller, a legendary winemaker in Oregon. He left California’s Napa valley in 1973 to take advantage of the ideal geography in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. His Tualatin Vineyard 1980 Pinot Noir and 1981 Chardonnay took home “Best of Show” in both red and white categories at the 1984 London International Wine Fair, a feat unduplicated by any winemaker in the competition’s history. Bill Fuller’s winery merged with Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Mr. Fuller began working with Willamette Valley Vineyards in 2013.

She also explained about the remarkable geologic processes that made the Willamette Valley so rich for agriculture and particularly for grapes. The history includes a historic sea, volcanic processes, and the Missoula Floods. Tara, a geology major at Oregon State University, was interested in this portion of the tour.

Brynnen, Tara, me, Molly

After the hour and a half long tour, and five wines, we were all ready for some food! We ate from their gourmet menu and sat out on one of the many outdoor patios to eat it. We were joined by bees. Interestingly, the staff handed us fabric softener sheets to place on the table to keep the wasps away. It was a little effective. At lunch, I gave Tara a gift I had made of childhood photos through the years. Tara read the book outloud to all of us.

Tara opens up the memory book I made as a birthday gift.

Tara reading their birthday book to us.

Finally, we were ready to go and purchased some of our favourite wines from the day. I said goodbye to the kids who were all headed back to Corvallis.

Section of my most recent painting.

I took one oil painting class in 2006. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking I would like to paint again. Finally I dug out my old paints, threw away the hardened tubes, made a new palette, fixed a shelf in the spare room to hold my canvas, and slowly tried to teach myself to use oils again.

I am so happy when I’m painting.

In 2005 I needed a job and it was convenient to find work on campus, where I was studying as a non-traditional undergrad. Yes, 35 years old and pursuing a Bachelors degree. I had modeled at a community college in California before I moved to Boston, so I inquired at the Art Department. Sure enough, they wanted another model. So I posed for figure painting classes for a couple of professors as needed, but most often for Professor Wardwell. After a year of modeling, I liked Joe Wardwell and I liked the way he taught. I liked the music he played during class time.

When a slot opened up in my schedule in 2006, I took Art 101, and was exposed – in a different way! – to oil painting.

Professor Wardwell started us off with black and white. So when I began painting last year, I started in black and white too. I wanted to remember what the paint felt like, how to capture light and shadows again. For my very first image, I chose a Japanese land mine that I pulled from a shelf. It’s a simple shape.

WWII Japanese ceramic land mine. It’s designed to be filled and thrown by hand.

Here’s my work space in the spare room.

And my first painting, nice and simple, 11 years after my only painting class in my life.

I am always drawn to nature. So when I was walking through my property and found a newly broken branch with leaves on it, I brought the branch to the house and began painting. It shriveled up in two days and I had to finish the shadowing with my imagination. It got a little frivolous, but I had fun.

Leaves partially realistic.

Stumped with what else to paint, I actually turned to my left and began painting the spare bed next to me. I had recently had a guest in the room, and the slightly rumpled pillows were interesting to me. The crazy 4-armed lamp arced over it and out of the image. The old cast-iron hospital bed frame (from my mother) showed through.

Spare bed, slept in and somewhat tidied.

At this point I felt like I could move to colour.

Every now and then I get to stay at my brother’s house in Washington. Ian and Karen live in an amazing spot in Seattle. The view from the spare bedroom at their house is a clear shot of the Space Needle. I took a photo and loved the way the colours worked. I decided long ago that one day I would paint that photo, and now was the time.

The photo I took from Ian and Karen’s spare bedroom.

I started out slowly, and took a very very long time to finish the painting.

Here’s my first day’s work

My workspace. I pulled the photo up on my iPad to reference while I painted.

I added some orange and yellow

More detail. I was excited to finish the Space Needle.

I had so much fun with the brick wall.

Ian and Karen told me they would be coming south to spend the weekend with me while Karen attended some training in Portland. I had to grab the painting and finish it up! I added my signature and a couple touch ups. My idea all along had been to give it as a gift to Ian, and now was the perfect time.

They showed up on Eid al-Fitr, so I did a quick Google search to see how people celebrate Eid. The first three steps were all about praying. Since I’m atheist I skipped those. But then there was gift-giving and food. I made a wonderful lamb stew and couscous, and honey-walnut cookies for dessert. I had the perfect gift to give.

Final version of the painting. It was sort of dry by the time Ian and Karen took it home with them.

Birthday berry tart with ice cream and a candle!

I celebrated for five days in a row this year. I think I deserve it. 😉

My birthday was Tuesday, but I took a few days off work and began the reveling on the Saturday before.

First up was an overdue visit to my friend Vladimir in St. Johns, a neighborhood of Portland. We went out walking and he steered me directly into the path of some scrumptious samosas at The Sudra. St. Johns is most famous for its green gothic suspension bridge, of which I did not take a decent photo here, but you get the idea. It is stunning, and after Vlad and I ate lunch, we continued our walk then crossed the bridge over and back in the sun.

I bid my friend adieu, then hopped into the Jeep and sped off northward to Seattle, to visit my brother Ian and his girlfriend Karen, for the weekend. Ian had smoked some pork and Karen prepared an array of sides like multi-coloured carrots with a glaze. When I arrived, dinner was just about ready and we chatted and drank wine for hours.

The St. Johns Bridge from near Vlad’s place.

Looking toward Portland from the St. Johns Bridge.

Looking toward the community of St. Johns from the bridge west of Portland.

A treehouse we passed on our way toward the bridge.

Sunlight on the bridge.

They put me up for the night, as always, in their guest bedroom that looks out toward the Space Needle, Seattle’s most famous landmark. I thought that something looked dreadfully wrong with the Needle. When typically it’s elegant legs arc into the sky supporting a perfect spaceship-shaped disc, it seemed decidedly chunky and awkward. I fretted about some ghastly renovation that left it possibly safer, but no longer artistic perfection. In the morning I looked out and saw with relief that the entire top of the Needle is enveloped in plywood scaffolding. Renovations, yes, but they have only just begun. The improved and (I assume) lovely Space Needle will be open in time for summertime tourists.

Sunday they took me to the Ballard Market, a place we hit every Sunday when I’m there, so I imagine they hit it every week they can. It’s a grocery store for my super-health-conscious relatives, who purchase meat directly from the ranchers, and vegetables directly from gardeners. Afterward, Karen introduced us to one of her favourite eateries, Eve Fremont, where we all decided on bison burgers!

Bison burgers all around.

Mushrooms at the Ballard Market.

Get a load of these boots!!

Karen studied for school while Ian and I talked, then she and I went shopping. I’ve been wanting black boots for over a year. I have beautiful brown boots that have lasted for years because I spent the money to get high quality. It was time to do the same for black boots. Because when you need black boots, brown boots just won’t do! Can I get an Amen! Anyhoo, while the super helpful assistant was in the back, searching for what was available in my size, Karen and I browsed a little too far into the section for boots-you-would-buy-if-it-was-your-birthday-and-you-felt-like-splurging. Oops. When the assistant showed up with an armload of boots suitable for the office, I had to send her away for one more box. I left with two pairs of boots, one of them was thigh-high, velvet, high-heeled, and sexy as hell. Take THAT 48 years old!

Oh, did I tell you I turned 48? Can I just say that 48 is a liiiitttle too close to 50, and I am nowhere near 50 years old. Just… saying.

For my second night, I wanted to turn it up a notch, so I had reserved a room in Seattle landmark, the Olympic Hotel, built in 1924. It’s now a Fairmont hotel. I began to get a sense that this place was all about service like no place I’ve ever stayed. About 10am, I got a personal text that said, “Crystal, your room is ready. You can check in any time you like. Your keys are ready and you can pick them up at either entrance.” It was signed Natalie. I smirked and ignored it. All except for thinking 10 am? Since when is your hotel room ready at 10am? Later in the day, during a down moment, I decided to text “Natalie,” just for giggles. “Hey thanks, Natalie. I’m in Seattle already, visiting my brother for my birthday. I’m not ready to check in yet but I will when we’re done running around. Looking forward to oysters at Shuckers later tonight.”

I was startled to get an immediate response. Natalie was apparently not a robot. She wished me a happy birthday, then asked if she could reserve a table for me at Shuckers, the oyster bar at the hotel.

Happy Birthday from the Olympic Hotel

Something sort of special about a personal welcome.

I was again struck with the service of the place when I arrived and was handed a welcome packet with keys that had my name printed on it. Natalie was the only person I had mentioned my birthday to, and when I arrived in my room, there was a tiny cast-iron pan filled with macaroons and chocolate chips, and a hand-addressed birthday card. Seriously?

That night we ate heaps of oysters and Jim, the fabulous and friendly waiter, chatted with us every time he passed by. I gleefully told him I was celebrating my birthday with my brother, and of course, when we ordered dessert split three ways (we were stuffed to the gills), it came with a birthday candle and garnish. “On the house,” Jim insisted. We goofed around and took photos in the gorgeous empty spaces in the hotel after dinner.

Lovely Fairmont Olympic Hotel

My handsome brother

Ian wanders off

Karen and me waiting for fresh oysters!

Monday, back at the house, I kissed and hugged them goodbye and headed back home to Rainier, only 2 1/2 hours south.

Tuesday, my actual birthday, I had nothing scheduled, but managed to get a half-dozen errands done that had been sitting and waiting for me for weeks. Yes! I LOVE getting things done. Happy birthday gift indeed.

Wednesday I went south to Oregon City for another overdue visit to my dear friend Marlene at insearchofitall. It has been months and months since we’ve seen each other, and have only communicated through our blogs or infrequent emails or cards. I adore Marlene, and though we meant to go to lunch together, we had jabbered non-stop for an hour before we remembered our plans. We jabbered all through a long lunch. I realized on my drive to see her that it was my birthday and I had not had any cake! Marlene kept me company while I went and found a store with just the slice of cake that I needed. Finally I gave hugs and kisses goodbye and headed back in time for my final celebration.

My neighbor, Dick, loves to gamble for fun. There is a brand new casino here – not even a year old – that he keeps saying he’s going to take me to see. It was finally the day. He swung by to pick me up and off we went. The ilani casino in La Center, Washington is definitely the sparkliest thing around. From their website: “The design of the 368,000 square-foot casino resort will project the culture of the Northwest and pay tribute to the heritage of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.” I used to live in Nevada, and I was just recently in the fabulous Cherokee Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa. So this casino is pretty mild in comparison to the big ones. But for the only thing of its kind around, it’s big enough and glitzy enough. And it sucks up your money really well, just like all the other casinos.

Brand new gorgeous ilani casino in LaCenter, WA

Shrimp and scallops with pasta

After a couple hours of gambling, Dick and I went over to try their seafood restaurant. I know, you probably think after all the eating I’ve done in this post that I couldn’t possibly handle more eating. But I suffered through the agony of one more celebratory birthday meal, just so I could take this photo and delight you all. No, I’m kidding of course. One lovely thing about birthdays, everyone wants to feed you! BONUS!! I should have more birthdays. As long as I can stay in my forties, I’ll keep having birthdays year after year, after year, after…

I am standing on top of Clifty Mountain in north Idaho on a lovely Labor Day.

I am standing on top of Clifty Mountain in north Idaho on a lovely Labor Day.

Despite their infrequency, the trips Tara and I always enjoy are the periodic visits to see my stepfather Jim at his remarkable mountaintop cabin.

Tara has known that mountain all their life, and confessed to spiritually “needing” to be there sometimes, to go for a walk alone, and to reconnect to childhood and peace and the memory of Gramy, my mother, who died in 2011. Tara and Jim have a special relationship, since he has known my kid since birth, sending love and birthday cards in just the right kind of Grandpa way. Tara has loved him back and counted on him in their life.

We traveled there over the long Labor Day weekend, and caught some perfect late season weather. He lives outside of Moyie Springs, Idaho, and closer to British Columbia than any town in the U.S. that you’ve heard of. Our first ritual is to walk around the property, and usually we end up at ‘the pit,’ which is the family name for Jim’s quarry on the side of his mountain. I am always surprized at how pretty it is at the rock pit, and how the big equipment seems to suit the landscape, even adding charm rather than detracting from it.

Autumn colours brighten the forest.

Autumn colours decorate the forest.

Tara leads the way to the pit.

Tara leads the way to the pit.

A view of the breathtaking Purcell Mountains of British Columbia, stretching down into Montana.

A view of the breathtaking Purcell Mountains of British Columbia, stretching down into Montana.

Beasts at rest in the evening. What a child's playground, eh? (Perhaps even children in their 40s and 60s)

Beasts at rest in the evening. What a child’s playground, eh? (Perhaps even children in their 40s and 60s) That is Clifty Mountain in the background.

This image really appeals to me. The three of us standing in the setting sun, gazing across the rock face of the quarry.

This image really appeals to me. The three of us standing in the setting sun, gazing across the rock face of the quarry.

We unpacked the Jeep and settled in for a couple of cozy nights in the most cabin-y cabin I have ever seen. Chalk it up to Mom’s design sense; this place is beautifully done. We stayed in the master bedroom, still filled with things that are unquestionably Mom: the tiny trading post, the pine cones, the canned goods that she cannned and no one had the heart to consume, lest they disappear. It’s not as heartbreaking anymore, and maybe after 5 years, I’m able to start thinking about her again without falling apart.

Many things are Mom's but the map on the wall is Jim's!

Many things are Mom’s but the map on the wall is Jim’s!

Isn't this room marvelous?

Isn’t this room marvelous?

Jim usually plans an outing for us when we come, and this time he suggested a hike to Clifty Mountain, the peak we could see directly across the valley from our perch above the pit.

The next morning we went to pick up Jim’s friend J, and the four of us headed up the hill in his pickup. The trailhead for Clifty is near a lookout, so we went there first. The lookout is not in use officially, and can apparently be rented by campers. Now wouldn’t that be a fun night? Tara and I eagerly climbed the stairs in the wind, only to be stopped halfway up by six missing steps that had been pulled out of their slots to keep prying eyes and fingers out of there.

The views are outstanding whether one climbs the stairs or not. And to Tara’s astonishment, the lookout is a PokeStop! (If you don’t know what I’m talking about….It’s a Pokemon Go thing. Pokemon Go is sort of a big deal these days. Maybe it would be best to look it up.) We stayed there for some time, lazily wandering from one side to the other, gazing at the 360-degree views. South to Lake Pend Orielle and Sandpoint, west to the Selkirk Mountains, north to the Canada border, east to Montana.

A view of the lookout from the road to reach it. The towers are communications relays.

A view of the lookout from the road to reach it. The towers are communications relays.

J at the base of the lookout. Tara and I climbed two flights and stopped when the steps did.

J at the base of the lookout. Tara and I climbed two flights and stopped when the steps did. If you look carefully, you can see where they are removed from the third flight.

View from the base of the lookout, looking north.

View from the base of the lookout, looking north.

Quaint little Bonners Ferry, Idaho. I lived there as a toddler, and one of my brothers was born there.

Quaint little Bonners Ferry, Idaho. I lived there as a toddler, and one of my brothers was born there.

We finally hit the trail and began the climb. The weather was perfect – a little cool at first, and then a smidge too warm as we heated from our climb. The peak is at 6,705 feet, so we were also getting a bit winded. I think of this part of Idaho as remote – and come on, it is – so I was not expecting the many hikers that joined us. Ok, “many” is relative, but there were plenty of people to chat with along the way. We were the only vehicle at the trailhead when we started, and when we left, there were 6 other vehicles parked.

At the top, we sat gratefully on rocks that Mother Earth had scattered liberally for us, all placed with the best views. We picked out landmarks, like the impressive Moyie River Canyon Bridge, 424 feet above the water. Jim helped us spot the pit! Then it was time to make our way back down the hill and visit Bonners Ferry’s Kootenai River Brewery for a burger and a pint of Huckleberry Wheat.

Almost to the top!

Almost to the top!

Jim and J coming up behind us.

Jim and J coming up behind us.

What do you do on top of a mountain? Take a selfie, of course!

What do you do on top of a mountain? Take a selfie, of course!

...and then sit down and soak it all up.

…and then sit down and soak it all up.

Tara is still sporting the Cruella de Vil hair, and a lovely smile.

Tara is still sporting the Cruella de Vil hair, and a lovely smile.

A rather battered geodetic survey marker. Now that would be a fun game to play on your phone: find geodetic survey markers!

A rather battered geodetic survey marker TO0917. Now that would be a fun game to play on your phone: find geodetic survey markers!

Tara took this shot. Wow! I love it.

Tara took this shot. Wow! I love it.

J got a good shot of me too. Maybe happy people just look good, in general. ;-)

J got a good shot of me too. Maybe happy people just look good, in general. 😉

Evening fishermen head home on the Snake River in front of the house that used to be my Pa's.

Evening fishermen head home on the Snake River in front of the house that used to be my Pa’s.

For awhile it seemed like paradise, this 5 acre plot of land on the banks of the Snake River, just southwest of Boise, Idaho. And when my Pa was younger, the upkeep was somewhat invigorating. But health problems mounted, and the work was never done. Morally defeating was the fact that tasks completed had to be re-completed every so often. Well pumps re-installed, soil Ph balance restored, railings repaired, deck boards replaced, dead trees and bushes re-planted with live ones. One huge blow was when an impressive three-tired retaining wall built of railroad ties (my father did everything himself), was partially destroyed when the above-ground pool (guaranteed not to fail) burst and flooded the hillside, washing out the retaining wall on its way to the river. Insurance refused to pay saying that this was flood damage and my father didn’t have flood insurance. Search as he might, Pa couldn’t find the original purchase receipt of the lifetime guaranteed pool, so that wasn’t replaced either.

I’ve blogged about this place before. Pa called it something like the “Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch,” or TRRR&RR for short. Right across the river is the Shoshone Indian Map Rock, and my post on that remarkable set of petroglyphs is one of my most popular.

Pa had already been wistfully talking about selling and moving someplace with trees, that was smaller and easier for him to take care of. Then, as I mentioned a few posts back, he married a Romanian woman and began trying to bring her to the US. After nearly a year it just wasn’t happening, so he gave up and decided to move to Romania. The beautiful house on the Snake River sold in a few months, and Pa began preparations to leave the country. The new owners graciously allowed him to stay on the property after it was sold, and he lived in a camp trailer while he continued to sort through what was left of years and years of possession-collecting.

A view off Interstate 84 in northeast Oregon

A view off Interstate 84 in northeast Oregon

Wildflowers in the heyday of Spring

Wildflowers (or onions?) in the heyday of Spring

I liked the variety of textures of the different plants here.

I liked the variety of textures of the different plants here.

Wild roses blooming

Wild roses blooming

In April I made the first trip over to help him pack. This second trip was in late May to continue helping him, by taking loads of donated items into the city’s equivalent of Goodwill, and packing the Jeep full of things he was donating to me. Also, importantly, to collect some cats. The Crazy Old Cat Man asked only that I take two. Still, it’s a traumatic thing for our dear Racecar kitty at home, who hates all other cats except herself. D and I brought home Thomas (14 years old) and Yeowler (4 years old), named for…yes, you guessed it. We will see how the summer goes, and then decide if new arrangements need to be made. So far, all three of them fight constantly, and it’s not peaceful when they are too close to each other.

Anyhow, I wanted to show some images from our trip over there, which was like a vacation and tons more fun than an 8-hour drive to Boise would imply. We stretched it to about 11 hours, with multiple stops along the way, and that’s what made it so fun.

First we took a side road that promised a viewpoint. I had been there years ago and vaguely remembered it as worth the look. This time we showed up in a profusion of desert wildflowers and we climbed around the mountain like a couple kids. D found something he thought might be wild onion, and we couldn’t decide. So I took a bite. It was pretty oniony. He thought I was crazy. 😉

Next we stopped for lunch in the little eastern Oregon town of Baker City. The day was an early season reprieve from the winter greys, and tourists were out in force, to the chagrin of unprepared staff in the few restaurants downtown. We stopped for only a pint at the Grand Geiser hotel, but the harried barmaid was pressed beyond her capacity. We left after 15 minutes with no hopes of getting a beer anytime soon, in hopes of easing her burden, and walked down the street to a little Mexican cafe and drank imported Mexican beer instead. Our waitress was the younger sister of another waitress, and had been called in to help.

We walked the streets and delighted in small town shop windows. I photographed the old painted advertising on the walls of several buildings.

Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

I'm a sucker for wall art, especially when it has this much character.

I’m a sucker for wall art, especially when it has this much character.

Stay at The Antlers!

Stay at The Antlers! It’s absolutely modern.

The valleys around Boise, Idaho are filled with crops. It’s an agricultural area that doesn’t just produce potatoes, though our state is famous for its potatoes. I remember when there was a big debate over changing our state license plates to say something other than “famous potatoes,” because it wasn’t the snappy image some residents wanted to present. Tradition prevailed, and Idaho remains famous for the root crop instead of diamond mines, suggested instead. You can find onions, sugar beets, corn, wheat, and much more out there. There is lots of sun and water in southern Idaho, which is what a breadbasket valley needs.

Once we arrived at Pa’s place, I called a friend of mine in the area. We grew up together in a tiny town farther north in Idaho, so he knows my dad and our memories go back 30 years. He came out to visit, so we all sat in the shade and watched the river and caught up on each others’ lives.

There wasn’t much left to pack and sort this time, since my Pa had dealt with nearly everything. Of the things left to sort through, I found an English sword I purchased for him a few years ago after hiring a company that researched the Trulove family name. They came up with what my brother had already discovered: our name is English, spelled Trewlove and a variety of other versions before settling down to the one we’ve got. We took turns playing with the sword.

D and I set up our tent on the front lawn of the house that now belonged to someone else. Pa was pleased with the Montana rancher who had purchased his place. I am pleased that passing the baton to a decent new owner will give my Pa some peace. It must be a little like handing your child off to a new caretaker, when you personally build a dry piece of desert into a home oasis and then sell it.

Fields of hops in the valley. The source of so much brewed goodness.

Fields of hops in the valley. The source of so much brewed goodness.

My friend J hands the sword off to D

My friend J hands the sword off to D

Taz is the only kitty who made it to Romania. I wonder what she thinks of Europe?

Taz is the only kitty who made it to Romania. I wonder what she thinks of Europe?

This quail perches on this particular pile of rocks nearly every night.

This quail perches on this particular pile of rocks nearly every night.

Another quail. So photogenic I can't help myself.

Another quail. So photogenic I can’t help myself.

A bird flies off clutching a fish in its claws. You can't see the fish in this me it's there. ;)

A bird flies off clutching a fish in its claws. You can’t see the fish in this photo…trust me it’s there. 😉

Tent in the grass

Tent in the grass

Finally we were all out of steam and went our separate ways. D and I walked through the fields looking for the coyotes we heard that sounded very close. All we found were cows grazing quietly, unconcerned about the coy dogs. Have you ever heard that term? Coy dogs? We used to say that when I was a kid. Then we walked down to the river and I took some parting sunset shots.

Cows graze in the evening, as the hills turn purple.

Cows graze in the evening, as the hills turn purple.

Sun sets over the Snake

Sun sets over the Snake



I started running again, in the mornings before work. Here's downtown Portland at my favourite time of day.

I started running again, in the mornings before work. Here’s a marina in Portland at my favourite time of day. I work in one of those tall buildings.

My blogger friend Marlene (insearchofitall) asked in her post: “What are you up to?” All the usual little bits of life are going on at breakneck speed.

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”                         ~ Lewis Carroll

Tara voted for the first time in the Oregon primaries. This is a photo of Tara volunteering to get other college students registered to vote.

Tara voted for the first time in the Oregon primaries. This is a photo of Tara volunteering to get other college students registered to vote.

Interesting bit of news: my father is moving to Romania. A modern romance is behind it, of course. He met his wife online because they both play the same computer game. They have interacted for years, flirted and fell in love for a year, then last summer my Pa flew to Romania and married her. The plan originally was to bring her to the U.S., but the paperwork is proving too much of a challenge for two intelligent humans to overcome, so Pa has given up and will move to Romania. He expects to be gone in less than a month. Hopefully together at last in time for their one-year anniversary.

Last month I made an emergency trip to his place on the Snake River, south of Boise, Idaho, to help him pack up the giant house. That was after two of his sisters and a nephew-in-law showed up to host a yard sale for him and start the packing. This week a sister and a niece will arrive to do more of the same: haul things to the donation store, maybe hold another yard sale, pack more stuff. It was good to see my Pa, and I made a bonus stop at a fave winery just up the road from his place and accidentally bought two cases of Ste. Chapelle wine.

One of my dearest friends moved from Honolulu after 16 years and now lives right here, almost beneath the St. John's Bridge!

One of my dearest friends moved from Honolulu after 16 years and now lives right here, almost beneath the St. John’s Bridge!

I have been asked to take two of his four cats. Yes, my Pa is the Crazy Old Cat Man. Thomas and Yeowler won’t be going to Romania and need homes. Racecar is going to hate life for awhile, as she doesn’t get along with any other cat – ever – for as long as they live together (I know this through painful experience). I may get in touch with my grumpy side too, if this cat interaction goes like the last attempt did. My hope is that, since all of them are older cats, and since the boys have group skills they could teach to my princess, maybe it will be ok. I am also hoping that I can keep the two cats alive. They aren’t mine and I’m feeling extra pressure  to keep them well. Anyway, cross your fingers for us.

It took around two months, but the chicken pen is done. The chicken pen man is also my wood delivery man. He is getting married in a week, and getting ready for the wedding has taken precedence over the chicken pen, which I can certainly forgive. Also, we had a few setbacks, the biggest being when we discovered that only 10 inches down is an enormous slab of rock underground, so he couldn’t bury half the 12-foot 4x4s into the dirt for stability. Instead, he had to buy concrete and set them that way. Not to mention having to saw the tops off half the 4x4s so they would be the same height as the ones buried two feet into the dirt.

Hen fence under construction.

Hen fence under construction.

Jailed hens

Jailed hens

I used Paint Shop Pro to lighten this up from a dark morning shot.

I used Paint Shop Pro to lighten this up from a dark morning shot.

Chainsaw carving inside the lawnmower repair store.

Chainsaw carving inside the lawnmower repair store.

The three remaining hens (because Lacey got hit by a car): Tawny and the twins: Jamie & Phil are now behind wire. So far, no escapees. I suspected a higher wall would do the trick. It has no top, but chickens aren’t the best fliers, so I believe this will be sufficient as long as winged predators don’t find them. As I told Marlene, they get distressed when they see me at a distance and can’t come running like they do (omigosh it’s the sweetest thing ever to have fat, saucy chickens running to you at the moment they hear your voice). But, like goldfish, they soon forget they are in a pen, and get happy again for a couple hours, till they remember again that they are penned up. I will get new chicks, but not this year, as I simply don’t have the bandwidth to add babies to my list of chores.

I mowed the huge lawn one time, and noticed the riding lawnmower was not running well. My neighbor borrowed it and when he brought it back he said the same thing. So I called and asked about repair time. They said it would be about 10 days, and I figured that was fair, so with the help of my neighbors and their trailer, I got the tractor to the shop. When I dropped it off he told me, “Better plan on two weeks, to be safe.” Thirty-five days later I finally got it back. I need to remember it’s the country, and country schedules are not the same as city schedules. Besides which, it’s probably the worst time of year to take in a lawnmower, since everyone else in the county has also just discovered their machine isn’t working at its best.

My best friend's son feeding chickens.

My best friend’s son & chickens

Neighbor girl: chicken wrangler

Neighbor girl: chicken wrangler

The grass got deeper and deeper, so I called a professional lawnmower, who was going to stop by and look at the place and give me an estimate. But he threw out his back. A week later he called me up, and since my tractor was still not home, I said I was still interested. We agreed on a time to mow. That morning he contacted me once more to say his tractor had to go into the shop (the same place mine went to). He figured it would be back in a couple days, and said he could mow my lawn the following week. I told him nevermind.

We've had a couple bonfires to burn up the branches collected over the winter.

We’ve had a couple bonfires to burn up the branches collected over the winter.

Light blue irises from the Morrison House, and purple Irises from Mom.

Light blue irises from the Morrison House, and purple Irises from Mom.

I began my jungle mowing project last night in the rain, and some of the grass is chest high. It is slow going. Grass that high mostly just lays down when a mower goes over it, rather than acquiesce to a haircut. I anticipate a multi-week project to get it under control again. If you remember my story from the first time around, this one will be worse. Plus side: the riding lawn mower has a drink holder. Turns out, Ste. Chapelle in a tumbler fits nicely.

Irises are in bloom and when the first one put up a bud, I cried. My mother brought me several plants down from her north Idaho mountaintop when she was alive and visited us every year in Portland. She also brought lavender and peony which I still have. Anyway, the flower blooming was like having my mother here, and that’s what made me cry. I miss her so much. She brought the flowers when I was living on Morrison Street, and we called our house the Morrison House. I always name my houses – strange that I haven’t named the current one yet. Then we moved to the Blue House, where I lived when most of you got to know me. The irises have come along. Amazingly, the light blue ones bloomed this year, when they never bloomed at the Blue House. The blue ones are from the Morrison House, and I thought those were all lost. But now I have a little piece of that home too, and it is good for my soul. I’m sentimental that way.

The view from my office.

The view from my office.

Vulture in the forest.

Vulture in the forest.

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeaks

Blackheaded Grosbeak

Blackheaded Grosbeak

I installed the first of several bird feeders outside my office window. It took a week for the birds to discover it, and now they are there all the time. Most beautiful so far is probably the Evening Grosbeak. One of the many Blackheaded Grosbeaks flew into a window one day, and did not recover. So far, no new and exciting birds from what I’ve already seen out here, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time and season before word of the feeder spreads.

Speaking of exciting birds, vultures have been perching outside my window. Not sure what it is about this particular spot, but I’ve seen four at a time up there in the trees. Typically they are deep in the foliage, and disappear as soon as I go outside. I did manage to get a shot of one on a stump, through the window.

…and so that’s what I’ve been up to. Oh yeah, there is my job which makes it all possible and yet keeps me too busy to ever really enjoy my place. I put in about 60 hours a week at my job, including commuting. If you add up all the hours when I sleep, it really doesn’t leave much left. Somehow, I manage to mow the damned lawn, wash dishes, do  laundry, see my boyfriend, help my dad, camp with my kid, volunteer for the Cherokees, and update facebook! ha ha! Life is a giant puzzle and I find such delight in discovering pieces that fit.

The rain was gushing today, but the ample front porch keeps the front of the house dry.

The rain was gushing today, but the ample front porch keeps the front of the house dry.

Bandaged toe.

Bandaged toe.

This weekend I was recovering from a procedure I had on my foot on Friday. Had to keep the foot elevated, but had I been as mobile as usual, the weather was not exactly encouraging to do chores or to do fun stuff. So I guess it’s time for a blog.

I moved to this house in the summer, but thoughtful housewarming gifts keep showing up unpredictably. This post is to highlight the ones I thought of today. I hope I don’t forget any, but if I do, I’ll just add them later.

I’ve got a few friends from the earliest of days, and I love that. One of them has been among my best friends since I was 16 and he was 17. He sent me my very first housewarming gift, a steel fish. I think it’s gorgeous and it was the very first thing I hung on my walls in this big place.

This beauty is perfectly suited for my plum walls.

This beauty is perfectly suited for my plum walls.

Another metal gift is one I have needed for ages! After the woodstove was installed, I found a nice-sized stick that I used as a fire poker. In its early life it was about four feet long. It kept accidentally catching on fire. I can’t tell you how many times I would have to run from the fire to the kitchen, to douse the smoking stick. One night I didn’t realize a tiny ember had remained on the stick and it smoldered and burned down about four inches while I slept. Yikes. Anyway, after a few months, my poker stick was only about 18 inches long. I complained about it constantly, but never found time to go shopping for one of those metal fireplace sets. You know, the ones with the broom and the poker that hang from a gaudy rack that sits beside the fireplace? I was complaining to my step-father while Tara and I were in Idaho the last time, and he jumped into action. He dug around in the shed and came up with a steel rod that had a few nuts on one end. It was too long, so he heated it with a torch and cut it, then bent and tapered the end. He heated the nuts into place, then filed them down smooth. I tell you: I was thrilled! This is a perfect fire stick. I never have to run to the kitchen blowing out flames anymore.

Metal pokers are best. Can you see it, leaning against the bricks?

Metal pokers are best. Can you see it, leaning against the bricks?

In the way that happens so often in the blogging world, it was my turn to be blessed with a gift from a blogger. Marlene, whose unceasing accomplishments astound us all who know her at insearchofitall, made this kitchen towel for me. She said it wasn’t just for show, and I was free to use it as a towel, but for now I like it hanging up. I washed it first, to make it look a little used. This gift is one that brings love into my world and makes home feel that much more like home, you know?

Close up of the kitchen towel that Marlene made for me as a housewarming gift.

Close up of the kitchen towel that Marlene made for me as a housewarming gift.

My beautiful kitchen towel tells the truth: lots of love here.

My beautiful kitchen towel tells the truth: lots of love here.

My Tara is in love with bees, you may recall from the brand new bee tattoo. Anything bee-related is good, so I recently received two beeswax candles that please their tastes as well as mine. From what I am told, beeswax candles are superior. I haven’t had the heart to light either one yet, but they smell divine. It’s like what honey would be if it were a gas. Omigosh sweet goodness.

A bees wax squirrel candle. Can't get more perfect for me!

A bees wax squirrel candle. Can’t get more perfect for me!

The sweetest-smelling dragon

The sweetest-smelling dragon

My Pa said during one of our phone calls, “You know, I am sure I have a book about ponds around here somewhere….” Lo and behold, one day these pond books showed up. I am so excited to get what I can from them. Both are written for people who want to build a pond from scratch, so much text is dedicated to planning and engineering. However, I am sure that if I read them both, I will find reasons for the engineering, and that will give me an education. I really want to know how to take care of my pond. It is important to me to be a good steward to this land.

Pond books that I can hardly wait to read.

Pond books that I can hardly wait to read.

Another long time friend is one I met in college in northern California, before I transferred to Brandeis University. I took an honors Anthropology class, just because I was trying to take all the honors classes, and what a great decision it was because within a few weeks I had decided to major in Anthropology. I loved that class, the beautiful and intelligent professor, and this awesome chick who sat next to me every day. She and I even did a part-performance from the Vagina Monologues in that class, and I was in awe of her bravery for tackling the skit she chose. We have been friends ever since. Anyway, my friend now lives in Sante Fe, and sent a care package filled with wonderful things carefully selected from town, including a little burlap bag of garlic, canned roasted peppers, a sage smudge she wrapped herself, and a bag filled with pine nuts still in the shells. She also sent a two-page letter explaining the significance of each thing, and how she might come across them in a typical day. I have eaten everything that’s edible, but I still have some of the nuts left. They are good to munch on at work.

Empty garlic bag and mostly empty nut bag.

Empty garlic bag and mostly empty nut bag.

My last gift has to come with a story, so you can understand why I love it so much.

Out of the blue, I got a box from another friend from the early early days. I went to school with this kid starting back in 1980 and we graduated together in 1988. His dad owned “the” lumber/hardware store in our tiny Idaho town, called C&M Lumber Company. It was absolutely the only place to go for tools, for 2x4s, for paint, for glass, you name it. “C&M” we called it, was a hub, and I was like a kid in a candy store there. I belong to that quirky group that loves hardware stores (I know you’re out there!). Anyway, I have these beautiful, sweet, childhood memories of bemused adults interacting with me as a 14-year old customer, and treating me with more consideration than I’ll bet the adults got. For example, I wanted to paint my bedroom once, and my dad said it was ok. He wouldn’t buy me any paint, but I could use anything in the garage that I found. I found about five containers of mostly-empty, close-to-white paint, from different brands, who knows what it all was. It hadn’t occurred to me to tell my dad that I planned to paint with coloured paint. One of the containers was a 5-gallon bucket, and I dumped them all (plus a pale yellow one) into the big one, and stirred. Then I lugged that thing (it wasn’t full, of course) across blocks and blocks of dirt roads, all the way to C&M Lumber Company. Without any concept of how it was usually done, I explained to the person working that I was there to get it coloured. “We don’t usually do it that way…” the salesman began. But in no time, he had agreed to try to make it a shade of dusty rose I liked, and it was like a little chemical experiment, as he dumped in some of this, and some of that,  stirred it, and then painted a bit of it, to see what it looked like as it dried. All totally FASCINATING to me, as I watched eagerly. I had money, and was ready to pay, but at the end I was released without spending a penny. I was oblivious. But what a great place, to put that much effort into a kid’s project. I ended up painting my room dusty rose with dark grey trim and proudly showed my Pa, who flipped out because it was a forest service house, and residents needed to get permission to paint any colour but white, pale yellow, or pale Forest Service green. After a few days, he relaxed, and decided that no one would find out till after we moved, since I had an attic bedroom.

If I wear this hat, I'll fit right in among the locals in Rainier. But I'll be the only one with the gorgeous goose embroidered on the side. Look at that!

If I wear this C&M Lumber hat, I’ll fit right in among the locals in Rainier. But I’ll be the only one with the gorgeous duck embroidered on the side. Look at that!

There was also the time when I was into a kick of etching artwork into glass. I had found a thick, tinted, and huge mirror at the dump, that had broken into about six unwieldy pieces. I carried these carefully to C&M to get the sharper points cut off and cut in half so they would be easier for me to play with. This time it was the owner himself, my friend’s dad. He began the same way as the paint guy. “Well, we don’t usually…” and before I knew it, he had cut all the pieces for me. Then he took all of them to a power sanding machine and ground down the edges of every mirror piece so I wouldn’t cut myself. Again, my parents had no idea I was there. Again, I tried to pay and was shooed out the door. For years I understood hardware stores as places where you did not spend much. Funny, that’s no longer the case for me.

Today, my school friend runs the place. I haven’t been inside since I was a teenager, but I have been through town, and I have seen the brand new big building outside of town. It must still be as vital today as then. In the country, the hardware/lumber/tool/garden store is critical.

I did my friend’s son a favor a few years ago, and he promised to make it up to me. Viola! Favor returned:

Look at all these shirts! I am so excited to get them!

Look at all these shirts! I am so excited to get them!

In closing, I am including this short video of my woodstove. I tried twenty times to get a photo to show what I was seeing, but I couldn’t do it. I had to use video. What you see is not flames, but smoke, lit up orange from the coals in the back. Cooooooolll.


Snow coming down at my place

Snow coming down at my place

Longtime friends of mine recently returned to their Spokane home from a New Year’s vacation in Australia and remarked on leaving the greenery down under and arriving at the whitery at home. I have shamelessly adopted their humor as my own. 🙂

chicken in snow

chicken in snow

I live in a valley that is about 500 feet in elevation. That’s not really worth raising an eyebrow at in the Pacific NW, but it does mean a bit more snow than if I were at sea level. The cold air sinks to the bottom of my valley and means the snow lingers a little longer too. I like it. I’ve lived in places most my life where winter was a serious situation: Vermont, Colorado, northern Nevada, Illinois, Washington, Massachusetts, and the worst winters of all in Idaho. It’s luxury not to have to shovel snow for months, but I also miss having the white stuff around. I only need enough to make it feel like winter is here for real.

In the past six weeks we’ve had enough snow to warrant some photos and a post.

Looking at the tiny hen house from the deck.

Looking at the tiny hen house from the deck.

Chicken hussies were not phased by their first snow, and treated it as they do everything: tasting it. Snow proved edible, and they spent all morning eating it.

Chicken hussies were not phased by their first snow, and treated it as they do everything: tasting it. Snow proved edible, and they spent all morning eating it.

This is Jamie. I can tell her from her twin by the patterns on her back.

This is Jamie. I can tell her from her twin by the patterns on her back.

What's up? Chicken butt!

What’s up? Chicken butt!

Looking up at the house. Even in the winter I am pretty sure I need a couple of trees hanging over that deck. Guess I'll be planting this spring.

Looking up at the house. Even in the winter I am pretty sure I need a couple of trees hanging over that deck. Guess I’ll be planting this spring.

The pond froze over, so the wild ducks went off to find a more accommodating home.

The pond froze over, so the wild ducks went off to find a more accommodating home.

So remember when I blogged about the flooding here? The creek water was so high that it eroded the banks and turned everything that was left to mud. A couple days later there was an enormous downburst in this area, and that blasted high winds into the trees in Rainier. Mature trees were snapped off everywhere, at about 30 feet up from the ground, blocking many roads. Many more were torn right out of the soggy ground, and laid flat. This was the case on my property, where most of the trees down were those whose roots were exposed and loosened due to the flooding. Fresh snow on the downed trees makes it easier to see them on a dark winter day.

Alder in the creek. In total, I have eight trees down. Six are in the creek.

Alder in the creek. In total, I have eight trees down. Six are in the creek.

The log resting horizontally here shows high water level back when the creek flooded.

The log resting horizontally in the air was dropped there when the creek flooded.

Tara and I made a trip up to Moyie Springs, Idaho to visit my stepdad. Our timing was not so great, as we encountered a storm in Hood River, Oregon (about an hour out of Portland), and the snow and slick roads continued all the way through Kennewick, Washington through Spokane and Coer d’Alene, and finally stopped coming down in Sandpoint (about an hour from our destination). It was a 12-hour day, but the Dragon Wagon (my Jeep) did a great job and we were safe all day long. We arrived at Jim’s house to dry ground, but by morning the storm had caught up with us.

View from the Hood River Starbucks as we got some fuel for the road.

View from the Hood River Starbucks as we got some fuel for the road.

View from Jim's cabin in Moyie Springs the morning after we arrived.

View from Jim’s cabin in Moyie Springs the morning after we arrived.

Jim loves antique cars, and so I'm going to assume these are here intentionally, waiting under the snow for some future TLC.

Jim loves antique cars, and so I’m going to assume these are here intentionally, waiting under the snow for some future TLC.

Now these are clearly well loved cars. Tara and I have been for a ride in the one in the center.

Now these are clearly well loved cars. Tara and I have been for a ride in the one in the center.

What do you do when it snows? You shovel, of course.

What do you do when it snows? You shovel, of course.

Now granted, these photos don’t show the worst of what winter can be. Snow only piled up about two inches deep here, and after four days it melted. We’ve had a few more snow falls since, and as you see from the photos, it is just enough to cover the ground. The temps were low in Moyie Springs, down around 18 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. Here in Rainier it dropped into the 20s for a few days, but now it’s up into the nice toasty 40s again and all the whitery is gone.

So I’m satisfied. My Winter check box has been checked, and I’m ready for Spring now.

This was the hand-written message at the bottom of a Christmas letter from my Great-Aunt. It brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.

This was the hand-written message at the bottom of a Christmas letter from my Great-Aunt. Look how she first wrote “her,” then used white-out and wrote “them” instead. It brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.

Being transgender does not mean what I thought it meant. It doesn’t mean today what it meant when my kid first taught me. In fact, the definition is probably changing right now as I write this, incorporating more ideas, sharpening the concept. I’m going to share with you my rough understanding of it, from my perspective as a parent.

The media coverage I’ve seen on the challenges transgender people face did not prepare me for the challenges their parents face. That process has been an ordeal. It’s a swim through an emotional stew, dipping into and out of the murky grey sea of sex and gender, pride and shame, loss and reward. I have to face all of the hard and icky feelings to get at the good stuff that comes with it.

Thank the gods I became a parent. The best, best, best thing I ever did to help my own education as a human being was to have a child. I’m sure I would have learned more if I had more children, but this only child has helped me grow much closer to the person I always wanted to be.

Tara is the one who is teaching me what it means to be transgender, and how to treat a transgender person. It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned in life. I was raised by a religious mother and a conservative father in tiny, rural communities. This type of upbringing around the world tends not to be supportive of alternate definitions of love, family, sex, and gender. And while my people are good people, I did not have the opportunity to learn about these topics. I am deeply ashamed to admit that when I was 18, as Tara is now, I was outspoken about how homosexuality didn’t make sense in nature, and so shouldn’t be taken seriously. I had never even heard of transgender people then, and I’m certain I would not have been accepting of them.

The most common questions I get when I say that my child is transgender, are “Female to male, or male to female?” and “Has your child had an operation yet?”

Just like them, I yearn to place people into simple categories, binary if possible, and assign distinct characteristics to them, so I can know where I stand and then move on to the next category. Categorizing people was probably really handy 3 million years ago on the African savanna when humans were only recently upright and spent most of the day surviving. But in the 21st century it gets in the way. It got in the way when Tara finally told me they are transgender.

Strangely, rather than the day when we talked about what it means to be lesbian, it was the day Tara talked to me about being transgender that finally forced me to consider that this was not a phase. Instead of exploring the idea of homosexuality for a couple of years, then drifting back to heterosexuality as I expected, Tara just kept going farther from the norm. Not that I was actively insisting that my kid was heterosexual, I just hadn’t given it any serious thought. I had decided everything would ‘work out’ in the end to something that would make sense to me, and in the meantime it wasn’t important enough to dwell upon.

About two years before our talk about being transgender, middle-schooler Tara had asked, in tears, in an apprehensive voice, “What if I’m a lesbian, Mom? What does that mean about me?” This question didn’t scare me because the categories were easy: females and love. Those are two words I am used to defining. I told Tara to stay away from a label like “lesbian,” and just stick with the facts. “You like girls, that’s all it means about you. And liking girls doesn’t change who you are.” The girl-crush thing persisted, and I wondered whether it was my fault for making my kid that way, because I can never seem to find the right man for myself.

But see what I was doing there? I was judging Tara, doing exactly what I had done as a teenager: dismissing the preposterous idea, assuming it was a phase, assuming it was not important, assuming it was something I could have caused, waiting for Tara to turn out ‘normal.’ What kind of subconscious unsupportive messages was I sending to my own child? I am appalled at my own behavior.

The day of The Talk, I sat on Tara’s bed while they explained that a dictionary definition of “transgender” is a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth. It can mean a person born a boy feels like a girl, or vice versa, but does not necessarily mean that.

Gender is a person’s individual awareness or identity or role that they fill. Sex is a person’s physical anatomy. Tara was born with female anatomy, but explained they did not feel female. And the startling part: they do not feel male either. Tara asked me on that day to stop using the pronouns “she” and “her,” and to use “they” and “their” instead. They do not even feel as though their gender is fixed, but that it moves from day to day.

“Think of a spectrum in the shape of a triangle,” Tara told me with wisdom, clarity, and calm that belied their 16 years of life. “On one point is a concentration of female qualities, one is male, and one is no gender. As you go toward the middle of the triangle, you move away from one gender and take up parts of the others. I am somewhere in the middle, and on some days I feel more female, some days more male, and some days I don’t feel either. I cannot predict how I’m going to feel, but usually I can tell when I wake up in the morning.”

I asked how this is different from what everyone feels. Doesn’t every person feel a little female some days, a little male some days? Tara was certain that it is not the same thing, but had a hard time clearly explaining the difference. For a time we settled on this concept of change, of “fluid gender,” and later we used “gender neutral.” I asked if they thought their gender would always be in a state of flux, or if the changes are a part of trying to figure out who they are. Tara said they didn’t know yet. There was a period where Tara got completely fed up with both male and female, and began identifying as “agendered,” meaning neither male nor female. Even within the very tolerant community that Tara has built around themself, there was pushback. People simply hate vagueness.

Tara’s current preference is “non-binary gender,” to emphasize the fact that gender is not either-or. But I still struggle to grasp the real meaning of Tara’s identity. They say that it is hurtful to be thought of as female or male. “Each time a person calls me ‘she’ isn’t that bad, but what happens is that after a series of people thinking of me as a girl, all day long, it becomes very painful. So uncomfortable that it hurts.” I asked, “How is it different from when, for example, people make incorrect assumptions of me because they see me as female,” I asked. “They think I am not smart enough or strong enough to handle something. How is what you feel different from that kind of pain?” Tara answered that they can’t really explain the difference, except that when it happens, they feel two distinct reactions. One is that the person wrongly assumes they are female, and two is that the person wrongly assumes they aren’t smart enough or strong enough. “They aren’t the same reaction, they aren’t the same kind of hurt.”

It was over two years ago, The Talk, and the trauma of it lingers. I won’t kid you: I was stunned. I was so confused that I couldn’t even begin to respond to Tara. My questions along the lines of “Aren’t you simply giving a high-falutin’ name to what everybody feels?” were based not in love, but in denial. I was trying to flush out the proof that it was not real. I was mostly in shock, but at least able to recognize that this was a pivotal moment in my child’s life. The only thing I could do was to help Tara get it out and to feel safe talking to me. I said,  “Tell me more about that,” when I wasn’t sure I could handle hearing much more. The more Tara talked, the more I felt part of my world breaking apart and falling out from under my feet. Out of loss.

I don’t know if I can explain it, but my love, respect, and appreciation for Tara never wavered. In fact, I was a bit in awe of the kid for having the presence of mind to initiate this conversation with me, and to stick with it while I was so obviously gobsmacked. But I was flooded with a profound sense of loss. It felt like I lost my child that day. I lost my daughter. The one I had constructed in my mind because…well, how was I supposed to know I had to keep my mind open to something else? I just assigned “girl category,” and filled in all the rest.

For the next few days I was in a deep depression and I experienced a very real grieving process. I felt sorry for myself. I cried and cried. It was so hard to explain it to friends, “I have to give up who I thought my child was, and give up the future dreams, like marriage and children. There will be no giggling over boyfriends, not ever. Well, of course Tara can still get married and raise children, but every bit of it will be different than what I had imagined.  Not that it’s bad…it’s just…confusing. And unexpected.” My friends, bless their hearts, gave me hugs and didn’t quite understand what I believed I was giving up.

My own child was not who I thought. Sixteen years of a relationship based on misconceptions. It really, really hurt to face that.

“I can be physically attracted to just about anyone,” Tara corrects me today. “I could easily have a boyfriend one day and children. It’s just another vagueness of my future I am not sure of. My non-traditional identification stems from gender and sex, and also how I choose to appear and how I define my romantic relationships.” Just for context, Tara’s been in a relationship with another transgender person for three years, so the boyfriend comment is more to make a point. “Brynnen are you Tara’s boyfriend?” I asked, “Yes,” they answered without hesitation. And it was a relief to laugh.

Two years later, we are the same tight team we have always been, and – get this! – I am actually not assigning Tara into a gender category in my mind so much anymore. I didn’t realize it was possible, but with time, I am able to give up “female.” I am getting much better at using the difficult pronouns, which for a somewhat OCD grammar-freak, is extremely difficult when I’m constantly using a plural pronoun to describe an individual person. I am doing better at using “them/they” at work and with relatives and acquaintances. Without exasperation or anxiety, I can respond to their confused questions, calmly explaining that I am only talking about one person, and Tara prefers that I use those pronouns.

I am not over it. I hate it that I am not. Who knew I would so stubbornly cling to my traditional upbringing when I have made it a point most of my life to be as open-minded and tolerant as I can possibly be?

But I am not sorry for myself anymore, which allows me to give more of the emotional validation that my kid needs from me. I’m on board, and I actually get irritated when I fill out forms and have to check a box to identify myself as male or female. These days, I often check male, to be difficult, because I’m finally starting to understand how frustrating it could be to live in a binary world. And I’m done thinking of it as a phase. This person who has been right next to me all these years, is actually way more genuine and brave than the one I gave up.


Frosty pond on Thanksgiving Day.

After rain and clouds and fog and darkness, we’ve had a week of sunshine. Sun in November means there is no protective blanket of clouds and the ground is exposed to the frigid atmosphere. Lows in Rainier have been in the 20s (below zero Celsius) at night and warm up to around the freeze/ melt point during the day (most people saying “freezing point,” but meteorologist say “melting point”). Despite the cold, the sun makes me happy. And when it’s cold day after day, and you walk in the air and breathe deeply while chasing chickens or chopping wood, you get used to it in no time.


I am no longer worried about the pond being too warm for the fish to stay healthy. Interestingly, I have no concerns about the effects of a frozen pond on the fish inside.


Frost is adornment for the leaves and grasses and branches. When the sun hits them, the land sparkles.


My friends told me this plant looks like kale. I’m pretty sure it is not kale, but I haven’t identified this random weed growing on my property. I do agree that it’s as pretty as kale.

The chicken hussies (so-called because of their stubborn insistence on misbehaving) are periodically in their pen. I capture them, and I force visitors to help me wrangle chickens, so on occasion all four are inside. But they lose their patience and fly out within days. Or hours. They used to be content to scratch the dirt and eat the grass within feet of the house, but in the past month have decided that no distance is too far to roam. I usually have no idea where they are.  Thanksgiving morning I walked down to the chicken pen to visit the only chicken in there at the time.


Tawny examines a crust from leftover key lime pie.

After chatting with Tawny, dumping out the solid block of ice and refilling her water dish with liquid water, I noticed something white that looked like paper trash down by the creek. It was not trash but the most amazing ice sculpture! I’m guessing that the cold temperatures froze the moisture inside the sticks, and when the ice swelled, it was forced to squeeze out of the sticks. Anyway, what do you think happened?


I brought the two branches up from the creek to the deck, so I could photograph the ice better.


It was very difficult to get my camera to show what I saw: delicate feather-like wisps of ice that clumped together in a chilly pillow.


As soon as I touched these mounds of ice, they crushed and melted beneath my fingertips.


I was totally captivated by the ice.

I have been worn out with my commute. I spend three hours a day in traffic, sometimes four. I can’t stand driving to begin with, so it really takes a toll on my spirit and my ability to get stuff done at home since I’ve been deprived of all that time. But the upside is, I am slowly learning my new job and gaining a tiny bit of confidence. In a few months I will probably be released to go back to working at home.


My view every single day when I leave work and begin the long trip home. Well, usually it’s raining.

Hair care I find to be a menace, and once I have a hairdresser that suits me, I stick with that person till something drastic pulls us apart. When I lived in Boston, I continued to schedule haircuts for when I flew back to California, ha ha. Well, I have moved from Portland to way out in the country, and only recently made it back into the city to get my hair cut. I like it long in summer, so I can pull it back into a ponytail. I like it short in winter.


Short hair is a good way to show off enormous earrings!

I was asked out on a date a few weeks ago, and he and I hit it off, which is CRAZY because this guy is proud to call himself a conservative Christian Republican. I may be nuts. I am proud to call myself a liberal atheist who refuses to align with any political party. In my Thanksgiving phone call to my Pa, he laughed and said, “Well, I’ll bet you two have some rousing conversations!” So… it could make for some future rants in my blog that could offer some real entertainment. Stay tuned. 😉

Tara has been home the last two weekends and I am *so* happy to have my kid at home. I didn’t realize how much of a hole there was until it was filled and I felt the peace of it.


Last weekend, Tara came home because there was a performance by the dancers at their old studio.


It is like family being there, even for me. I love these girls and have watched them grow into stunning young women athletes.

Tara got their first tattoo yesterday. It was an event. Tara has wanted a tattoo for years, but I would not give consent. The kid is now 18 and I relinquished my right to say “no.” If the plan had been to get a tattoo on the face or neck, or someone’s name, I would have protested, but instead Tara wanted a honeybee on their thigh. I can totally live with that. I think the tattoo is beautiful. While I was there I showed the artist my sadly distorted faery on my abdomen (who looked lovely until I got pregnant), and she had some ideas for how to make her pretty again. I may soon go under the needle myself.


From this photo you can’t tell how much pain my kid is in.



It’s the season for giving thanks, and I am so grateful. For having a perfect child and an open mind, for having a father I can call, and a stepfather who calls me. For the reminder that I am a woman that a man could love. I am grateful that it’s so cold I think about the weather, and grateful that I have chickens to worry about. I am grateful for a troupe of gorgeous dancers and their parents and siblings who hug me every time I show up. I feel lucky to have a job many miles away, and I know I am lucky to have a home that fills up when my Tara and my Racecar kitty are here with me. I am so grateful that I turned out to be a person who never ceases to be fascinated with investigating the world around me.

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