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My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

Not to give a false impression: it’s not really a farm and I’m not really a farm girl. But just give me a little time…

I grew up on some land. We had pigs and rabbits and chickens to supplement our only meat supply each winter: deer, elk, and if we were lucky, bear. We chopped wood to heat the house and to cook on the wood stove. In the early days, Mom cooked all our meals on the beautiful cast iron stove. I learned how to make toast on the surface by sprinkling a little salt, to keep the bread from burning. We used the stove to heat a flat iron to iron clothes because we had no electricity. We took our baths in an big aluminum tub in the yard, beside the pump, because we had no indoor plumbing. And yes…we woke up sleepy in the middle of the night and shoved our feet into boots to trudge through the snow to the outhouse. I am a rare remnant of American history, in that my childhood was from an earlier century.

I’ve been nostalgic for decades, daydreaming of the someday when I could have a farm of my own, and now I’ve got it. But see, here’s the thing: in the meantime, I became a city girl. Not in my soul, but in my experience. Because of my job, I’ve had to live in cities. I’ve only known electric heat and natural gas water heaters for those luxurious hot showers inside my home. When I was lucky, I had a little patch of grass to mow and some dirt in which to bury some bulbs for next season.

Managing a big piece of land is going to be a big job, and I am confident I can figure it all out. I’m also wise enough to know there will be a sharp learning curve. But off I go! Look out world. šŸ˜‰

The Hussies behind a fence.

The Hussies behind a fence.

Eggs in their proper place.

Eggs in their proper place.

I grew impatient with the idea that perfectly good eggs were being stashed in the forest, as a result of my wandering Hussies. I began a campaign to diligently collect the hens each day and return them to their pen. With a four-foot fence they were contained most of the time, and typically only one or two hens would fly to freedom per day. After one week I had a carton full of eggs and the Hussies were less inclined to escape. Then I contacted a local man I know to come and build me a respectable chicken fence.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

My boyfriend and I (yes!) pulled out the old fence to make way for the fence guy to build a new one. After two weeks of being returned to the old pen, the hens got into the habit of using their lovely henhouse with perfect little boxes filled with dry straw. So, while they have returned to their wandering habits, they still come home to lay. I am so pleased to be getting daily brown eggs, with thick shells and dark yolks you get from country hens.

I had to pick up two more 4x4s in the Jeep, which is not made for hauling lumber.

My Jeep isĀ not designed for hauling lumber, but that didn’t stop me.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Fence-building is currently underway, but we had a tragedy nonetheless. Miss Lacey, whom you met not too long ago in my post about finding a stash of eggs, wandered into the country road and was hit by a car. I researched and decided not to try to eat her. First because she died by blunt force, which likely ruptured her organs, and second, because those organs likely had a chance to contaminate the meat as she laid beside the road all day long before I came home from work and found her. I am sad to lose my Lacey, as you can imagine. I’ve grown to love the bold & sassy Hussies.

The rain let up for a week and the ground dried out enough to begin using big equipment. I backed the riding lawnmower out of the shed and got it running. I had not personally cut the grass since buying the used machine, because I had friends and neighbors who took turns on it last year. It took me awhile to figure out how to get the blades going. I chose a knob that looked promising and gave it a tug. The serpentine belt went flying and the engine cut out.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

I went online and discovered that I had done the right thing, it just hadn’t gone well. I checked local repair shops and found they were closed for the weekend. And then I looked up schematics for a Husqvarna blade deck and got some tools and pulled it apart and put the belt back in it’s place. I put it all back together and tried again. Viola!

Add small tractor repair to my list of talents.

There is a lot of grass to cut here. The property is 4.3 acres and I imagine the house and pond take up the 0.3, leaving approximately 4 acres to mow. Whew. It took me 5 days of mowing to get it all done. About 14 hours total. The tractor wasn’t running well and I ended up taking it to the shop when I got done. It should be done in a week and I’ll have sharpened blades and I’ll be able to tackle all that grass once more.

I’m continuing with adding a bit of landscaping here and there: rhododendrons and azealas, honeysuckle and camelias, a bunch of hydrangeas from my Uncle who lives a couple towns over, and a few plants my mother gave me years ago: a peony, some irises, and lavender. Each day the place becomes a little bit more my own personal heaven.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

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 coverageĀ 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, dippingĀ 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.Ā 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 considerĀ 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 apprehensiveĀ 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.”Ā 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” isĀ a person whose genderĀ identity does not correspond to that personā€™sĀ 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.Ā 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, Ā “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. Ā 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 individualĀ 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 genuineĀ and brave than the one I gave up.

New flag hanging at the house.

New flag hanging at the house.

Time for a catch-up post! It has been wet and chilly lately: unusually early for these parts, but I suppose that balances the remarkably early hot and dry weather we had the end of May and during June. The weather this week is unmistakably Autumnal.

And that makes me panic a little: wait! Summer can’t be gone already! I’m barely getting my mind wrapped around this new house and I haven’tĀ spent enough time sitting back and enjoying it. Yet, if I think about it, I realize there has been much afoot, because I am Crystal and Crystal cannot sit still.

In different light, and in different weather, the landscape reveals itself to me. Typically the pond is so camouflaged that people don't even know it's there. But one morning it was all I could see out there.

In different light, and in different weather, the landscape reveals itself to me. Typically the pond is so camouflaged that people don’t even know it’s there. But one morning it was all I could see out there.

The pond on another day. Though it's in the center of the photo, it's hard to know I am looking at a pond.

The pond on another day. Though it’s in the center of the photo, it’s hard to know I am looking at a pond.

I had a housewarming party. For me this is a complicated negotiation of life goals and stepping outside my comfort zone. My Internet personality may not show it, and my real life personality certainly masks it, but I am a solid introvert. I find that being around a gathering of people is often so mentally exhausting for me that I usually prefer to avoid them. So planning a party? I was a dervish that week, spinning 14 hula hoops in different directions. Afterward – I am not kidding you – I spent two days not talking to anyone, not cooking or cleaning or doing anything that needed doing, and playing video games in my slow recovery.

Don't I know it!

Don’t I know it!

The background to that plan is that this summer my friend G came to see the property, and announced, “Crystal, you MUST host many parties. This place is made for parties.” I thought seriously about that. I’ve been pretty lonesome ever since Arno and I broke up, and I am adamant that I will not fall in love again until I am comfortable being without a partner. Parties would force my introvert self to make friends. šŸ™‚

Also! I can take that risk as long as G helps me. In her I have finally found one of those friends that everyone should have. We haveĀ dozens of things in common, are delighted by all the same exact non-typical things, she’s as odd as me, she’s as mentally and emotionally unpredictable as me. So, while I have a lot of mainstream and socially acceptable interests and talents, now there is at least one person around whom I can fall apart into eccentric quirkiness, and she won’t bat an eye.

With her encouragement, I invited everyone I could think of to the potluck. I even walked to the house of the neighbor I hadn’t met, in order to invite her, and we had a great conversation. My Uncle showed up, my brother and his girlfriend from Seattle, people from work, a group of Tara’s friends, and the leader of my Cherokee group came out with her dogs. Friends that I’ve only known a couple months came out here. The weather was perfect, the food turned out amazing (a recipe for pulled pork I had never tried before, and some gluten-free enchiladas).

For all the hours that people were at the housewarming party, I never thought to bring out a camera, till we spotted the sun setting through smoky forest fire skies.

For all the hours that people were at the housewarming party, I never thought to bring out a camera, till we spotted the sun setting through smoky forest fire skies.

Tara is less afraid of heights than I am.

Tara is less afraid of heights than I am.

The housewarming party was a great success and I am riding that wave to the next one: a Samhain bonfire party, which must wait till the forest gets a good soaking.

Part of getting ready for the party involved painting the two living rooms, finished WHILE the first people arrived, ha ha. The house was a series of shades of white, but now we’ve got green, blue, and *purple* walls. I love the purple fireplace room – can’t wait to get a good shot to show you.

I’ve had an electrician come out, a fireplace inspector, a well and pump specialist…so much work to be done here, and so many things to learn. Appointments are all set for the experts to do their magic and get this place ship shape.

Seafaring robots dressed for the party.

Seafaring robots dressed for the party.

We attended a Tiki party at the home of Arno’s brother and sister-in-law, and I learned a little about being a gracious host. The gathering was relaxed and comfortably whimsical, because the couple fills their home and lawn not only with the best kind of people, but also with fabulous thrift-shop finds and creative inventions. Structures around the place included Tiki gods with fires, Tiki gods blowing bubbles and spewing steam, a monkey dangling from a vine, hula dancers shimmying, and a 12-foot volcano that erupted frothing bubbles. So much fun.

Left to right: they are Jamie, Tawny, Lacey, and Phil all misbehaving and getting ready to poop on the deck where they are not welcome!

Left to right: they are Jamie, Tawny, Lacey, and Phil all misbehaving and getting ready to poop on the deck where they are not welcome!

The Jeep is baptized in straw.

The Jeep is baptized in straw.

Learning includes taking care of the growing birds. My chickies are now practically hen-sized and hen-shaped, but no eggs yet. They are big enough to intimidate the neighborhood cats, so I let them roam free around the acreage during the day. They are getting saucy and healthy on grass and bugs, and they have claimed the place as their own. I have the worst time trying to keep them off the deck. One day I had the sliders open and I caught them in the house! I purchased my first bale of hay, and my first 40-pound bag of chicken feed. “What kind do you need?” asked the woman at the counter. “uhhh….” was my eloquent reply. Next time I’ll have an answer.

Robert Lewis tells a story with the help of audience members. Tara is on the right.

Robert Lewis tells a story with the help of audience members. Tara is on the right.

Tara's reed basket.

Tara’s reed basket.

Showing the colours

Showing the colours

Tara and I managed to get to only one Cherokee gathering this summer, but it was a good one. We went to Eugene for a combined potluck with both the Tsa-La-Gi group and the Mt. Hood Cherokees, for announcements by visitors from the Nation in Oklahoma, and awards and gifts presented by Chief Baker. Tara went directly to our friend Robert, who was working at the basket-weaving station, and made a gorgeous basket. Robert later told us some stories about our favourite clever hero: Jistu (Rabbit). We also got our full-color picture ID cards for the Nation, so fancy compared to the old paper ones.

Families sit on the beach in the evening, with a view of Longview, Washington.

Families sit on the beach in the evening, with a view of Longview, Washington.

A puff of steam from a factory looks ominous in the otherwise romantic evening.

A puff of steam from a mill looks ominous in the otherwise romantic evening.

We joined the local annual festival here in tiny Rainier, and gathered at a pretty park right on the Columbia River with hundreds of othersĀ as the sun went down. The Washington side of the river hosts a seaport, with barges and tugs, lumber and pulp mills and their narrow towers reaching to the sky and covered in lights. It’s not at all pristine, but I’m growing to love those sparkling towers at night. I can find beauty anywhere.

My new home office

My new home office

At work two announcements came that have captured my interest: first, a job opening for a new position that I am applying for. It’s still with VA, and in the same office, but on a different team. I’ve got 8 years yet before I hit my 30 and can qualify for a pension, and rather than 8 years of doing the same thing I’ve been doing for the past 8 years…I may as well try to learn a new job and keep my brain fired up! So cross fingers for me. The other announcement came this week: no more mandatory overtime! Thank the gods! I cannot even express to you how wiped out I am from 4 years of mandatory overtime. Who knows when VA will find more money and set us back at it again…but for now, I am going to revel in the luxury of a regular 40-hour work week.

That is enough news for now. I’ve jabbered long enough. I’ll leave you with a couple more deer photos. I know it’s old news, but I still love to see them.

The most I have ever seen on the land at one time.

The most I have ever seen on the land at one time.

Look at how pretty this Black-tailed deer is.

Look at this pretty Black-tailed deer.

One of my many guises

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