In Memoriam, Ad Infinitum

It seems like most of the pundits like to spend a moment on Memorial Day talking about returning meaning to the day.

Actually, it seems like EVERY holiday there has to be someone talking about returning meaning to the day. As if there’s something wrong with enjoying a day off and spending it in hedonistic ways.

I’m thinking this is an American thing. Since I’m so international now. But last Monday was Victoria Day in, well, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (I have to specify this now because you WOULD NOT believe how many people hear “Columbia” and right away think of South America.) However, if you’re thinking that Victoria Day is to Victoria what Bailey Days is to Bailey, Colorado, you’re not thinking British enough. They’re celebrating the queen. Which seems to involve having a parade and hanging out. There were no articles in the paper musing over the true meaning of the day, or asking people to devote thought at an arranged time:

As Memorial Day approaches, it is time to pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday. Memorial Day represents one day of national awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While we should honor these heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made to securing our Nation’s freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day.

That was from an end-of-days executive order from President Clinton. It’s a patriotic thing. Everyone agrees that it’s wonderful to salute and revere our soldiers. Everyone can feel good about saying nice words, giving a toast, devoting a thought. On this one day. Well besides Veterans Day. And Independance Day. And Flag Day. Actually, there are fully seven military holidays.

Memorial Day means nothing to me. My dad was a US Air Force fighter pilot who died in the line of duty when I was three years old. I went through a brief spell when I was a teenager, when I was swept up in the holiday. I suggested to my mom that we drive down to the cemetary at the academy in Colorado Springs to decorate his grave on Memorial Day.

“Why?” she asked me. “Do you think he’s there?”

No. No, I didn’t. She said we could go, but that she didn’t think he was there either, amidst those rows of stark white identical stones. It wouldn’t be for him that we were going. It’s something to think about, how much the dead care about their graves and what the living do with them. Restoring the “meaning” of a holiday like Memorial Day is generating a particular show for the living.

It’s interesting to me that Memorial Day is the modern version of Decoration Day, which was the day that graves were decorated. Official versions of this day were acknowledged by various states following the Civil War. Unofficially, this puts me in mind of rituals like the Day of the Dead. These are less patriotic and sanitized and speak more towards the pagan connection to visitations from the dead. The Day of the Dead is ascribed to Mexican and Latino practices, but this kind of ritual has been prevalent for ages in the Celtic and Roman cultures also. For example:

On Palm Sunday, in several villages in South Wales, a custom prevails of cleaning the grave-stones of departed friends and acquaintances, andornamenting them with flowers, &c. On the Saturday preceding, a troop ofservant girls go to the churchyard with pails and brushes, to renovatethe various mementos of affection, clean the letters, and take awaythe weeds. The next morning their young mistresses attend,with thegracefulness of innocence in their countenances, and the roses of healthand beauty blooming on their cheeks. According to their fancy, and according to the state of the season, they place on the stonessnow-drops, crocuses, lilies of the valley, and roses.

Nothing about the military dead there.

I don’t mind so much the effort to restore meaning. What I mind is the modification of meaning to serve political ends. So, if you pause today, at the recommended time or no, to reflect upon the meaning of this day, make it your own.

Overdoing It

We are tired.

Both of us just tanked yesterday.

We tried for another bike ride, this time on beach road around the point, up through the beautiful homes in Oak Bay, none of which our agent showed us because, well, $1 million wasn’t really in our price range, with intention of tooling around U. Vic. and checking it out.

I wrote in the morning, David read. We went to an early lunch and met with our realtor to sign the final papers and headed for our ride, hoping our stiff and creaky muscles would loosen up.

They did, but somewhere around the Victoria golf course, we realized we had nothing left. I found us a reasonably direct route back to town (thanks to Debra’s terrific real estate maps!) and we turned in the bikes. Then vegged. Ordered food in.

This morning, I still feel wrung out.
A year ago, almost exactly, we were here checking out schools; we rented bikes and rode over to Langford. That was only about 10 miles round trip, compared to the 17 miles we biked up to Sidney on Thursday. I barely made it. So, it was nice to be in good enough condition to do this — a year of working out paid off and I’m finally in decent physical condition again. I felt good when we got back from the ride.
But yesterday… yesterday I was tired.
It’s not just the ride either. Somehow this whole effort still feels huge. Committing to the house here; waiting to sell our beloved Laramie house. Planning out things like how to transfer money and whether USAA will give us homeowners insurance here. The Canadians won’t gurantee that when we show up with our animal family and the moving van full of stuff that they’ll let us in. This is apparently the official posture. No certainty unless you’re a citizen.
Sometimes it all feels daunting.
I’ve moved before. And to places where I knew no one. I want to be here; I love our new house. Why does it feel like such a major effort?
I even feel a little weepy.
However, The Bay store over past the harbour is having a major designer shoe sale. And the sun is bright and warm. I’m talking to the agent Tuesday morning.
Maybe I’ll have some ice cream, too.

Biker Girl

Okay, yeah, I hate the bike helmet thing. But otherwise it’s kind of a cute pic.
Yesterday we rented bikes and rode up the Lochside Regional Trail to Sidney. About 26 kilometers. One of the really neat things about this area is these biking/walking trails, many converted from railroad tracks. They have the trails marked out so you can go all the way from Victoria to Sidney, or to Sooke.
The Lochside trail goes through beautiful neighborhoods with amazing gardens. The rhododendrons are bloom here, which makes for a gorgeous ride.
We also saw some great houses with incredible views. Also some not so great houses that are still out of our price range. This one to the left was going for $679. (Yes, I called our realtor even though we already agreed to a contract on another house — just to torment her. I told her we’d guessed $700 on this one, so she was duly impressed at our quick grasp of the market.) See all the moss on the roof? Very picturesque and bad, bad, bad. See? I can be taught.
We made it to Sidney (three hours later) and ate at this great place on the water. Wine, mussels, sunshine. And even better, we learned how to take the bus back.
Great way to spend a day. (Oh and we signed the contract for our new house, too!)

Can You Hear Me Now?

Here I am waiting by the phone again.

It’s funny: even though cell phones make it that you don’t have to literally wait by the phone, they introduce a whole other level of uncertainty as to whether they’re actually working. You check the signal, make sure the ringer is on. Even call yourself to see what happens.

Technology changes but the neuroses don’t.

Once again, the various facets of my life intertwine. We made an offer on the Glacier Ridge house!! They have to respond by noon, so we’re awaiting that call.

And I’m waiting for an agent to call. Two, actually. One read my first 50 pages and wanted to see the whole thing. I’m anticipating a call or email from her. And another read the whole thing and emailed me the day before yesterday for my cell number so she could “share her thoughts.” Usually they don’t want to talk to you on the phone unless there’s something substantial to discuss. But here I am, waiting still…

It’s like two cute boys have now asked for my phone number to “discuss prom.” It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m waiting by the phone.

Oh, no I’m not. I have a cell phone. So we’re off to rent bikes and ride up the coast to Sidney.

I hope the ringer is working…

And the Winner Is?

Today was a good day.

Not that yesterday wasn’t. But today was better. More fun. More on target.

This pic was from yesterday, actually. And we liked this house. It’s on a very quiet cul-de-sac, right on the sea (obscured by trees, but Right There). We’d make them deal with the urine-smell thing. What’s up with that, anyway?
We loved the neighborhood, and the garden had big potential. Okay, the carpets were blue with purple swirls (no, really) and maroon. But we could see it. It could be. And they’d reduced the price. Twice.

Now, the house on Snowdrop (you know it — between Violet and Iris?) was brand new and really pretty. Perfect for us. An “executive house,” our realtor called it. Which is amusing, because we’re not exactly executives. But hey. Neat house, lots of landscaping potential, which I can do.

So then we saw this house with an amazing yard and view. Tons of garden potential and view. There was also a gorgeous black cat with an amazing gold lion’s face. Alas, the house itself was crap. Like, crumbling drywall crap. The, you could pour a lot of money into this place and never see any of it again crap. Sad.

The next place, we loved the front, loved the back deck, liked the upstairs living area and bedroooms. Then we opened the Door of Doom. Don’t do it. Used to be an unfinished basement, until they laid carpet around the furnace and hot-water heater. A few bedrooms down there, appropriate for holding white slaves hostage. A little mortgage helper? No no no.

So, finally we went to see this other house that had been top of my list all along, from the MLS pics. First our agent said it had sold. I was a pain and said MLS didn’t think so. So, she checked. But it had expired and she had to call the agent, who was weirdly in Vancouver (across the water on the mainland). Turns out the agent’s aunt lived there. Agent set it up. Said we could go anyway, but the lawn wouldn’t be mowed. As long as the slaves are moved out of their basement cells, I don’t care.

Then we got there. Loved the prospect, high up on the hill. The lawn is freshly mowed and the door locked. No one home. Turns out Auntie forgot that expired listing means lockbox is gone. We went to lunch. Came back.

Finally got to see it! Love LOVE LOVE!! it. The pics don’t lie. It’s fab. Here’s David and Debra looking all pleased that I can’t find anything wrong with it.
After, David and I went for a three-hour walk along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Steamed crab for dinner. Life is very good.

Good, Bad, Ugly and What the Hell Did You Do to the Garage?

I have nothing substantive to say.
I know — can it be? But it’s true. Yesterday was a whirlwind of neighborhoods and choices. Getting to know our agent, her getting to know us.
And it was Victoria Day. (You all celebrated, right?) Celebration of the queen’s May 24 birthday. Many offices were closed. The karma was strange.
Our agent was most perturbed to find that at three of the houses she’d scheduled to show us, people were at home. Which she says almost never happens to her, let alone thrice in one day.
At one house, we poked around, then wondered at the light on the coffee pot and the fresh cigarette smoke hanging in the air (no, really). Then we heard the hair dryer running upstairs. Too weird, so we snuck back out. Fortunately we’d seen enough to know we didn’t like it — or rather, we didn’t like the big oil-pumping rigs parked across the street.
Then there was the house where some enterprising but misguided soul had sealed the garage door and drywalled it to make another room — windowless and reached only by passing through the laundry room. This was listed as a “custom upgrade.”
The house we liked best is in a lovely location with an amazing deck off the master bedroom, but an unfortunate urine smell in the upstairs rooms.
It’s been a while since we’ve done the good, bad and ugly house tour. But our agent promises today will be better — that we’re going to what she thinks we’ll like and we’re ready to be in her hands.
No promised fireworks over the Parliament Building last night, due to the steady rain. But it looks lovely lit up at night.

Travel Sunday

A story in pictures for you today.

Because it’s been a long one. And I’m pretending I can be Heather Armstrong.

No, really. Don’t laugh. Just let me work on it.

So, we left Laramie about 7 o’clock last night, Saturday night, to stay at a hotel near DIA. To stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, for something like the third time now, to take advantage of their stay & park deal. I know I’ve mentioned how much I like Hilton. Granted, we had all day to hit the trail, but we ended up leaving later than we thought, after cleaning out all the flower beds, planting alluring new flowers, mowing, weed-whacking, house-cleaning and packing.

Up early and caught the plane to Seattle. Follow the fish.

What does one do with a 4.5 hour layover in Seattle? Follow the fish.

That’s right — boozy lunch at Anthony’s! (With super cool fish mural on the floor and even better share of the spectacular seismic-tolerant atrium in the Seattle main terminal.) After lunch? That’s right: practice photography skills, because you’re too cheap to cough up $7.99 for WiFi.

Just watch — I’ll get better.

Made it to Victoria. Hotel Oswego is lovely. Balcony with a view of the Parliament Building, the Olympics and the Inner Harbor. Plus wine in the refrigerator.

It’s like we already have our Victoria condo. Good practice.

La Paloma

My stepsister took my mother out for Mothers Day brunch yesterday.

Which fills my heart in a way I can’t describe. Though, here I am, a writer — so I have to try.

I have conflicted feelings about Mothers Day, as I wrote about the other day. Part of that comes from my relationship with my stepchidren. It’s never easy, piecing together families.

For us, for me and Hope and Davey, it’s different. We never had to share a household. My mother married Hope and Davey’s father two years ago this Tuesday. I’m an only child who lost her father young and her stepfather a few years ago. Hope lost her mother a few years ago also, far too young, to cancer. I can’t imagine what that would be like.

It’s always meant a great deal to me, that Hope has been so kind to my mother. Not all daughters would be so accepting of their father’s second wife. Not all would embrace their father finding a new life and new happiness. But Hope has a kind and generous spirit.

And she took my mother out for brunch, down in Tucson. To a lovely restaurant on a patio at a resort overlooking a pool — a perfect spot to please my mom.

When I was a little girl, I used to fantasize about my little sister, Sally. She had blond ringlets and followed me everywhere. Okay, I had a lot of imaginary friends, including Casper the Ghost and Wendy the Witch. Most of the time, I didn’t mind not having siblings. It seemed like they mostly fought with each other. But there was something there. Maybe because I knew my mom had wanted more children. My father died before he could give her more. If not for the tragic accident of his death, I might have been the eldest, not the only.

Loving my mom has never been difficult. She’s low maintenance on the mother-scale. She also has a habit of giving back far more than she receives. But it’s wonderful for me that my mom has another daughter now, to appreciate her.

Thank you, Hope.

And the Deer and the Antelope Play

I had a funny feeling the other day — you know the one, like you’re missing something. A pinprick of nostalgia, a vague longing. What is it, I wondered…and got a flash of an airport lounge.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Apparently I’m so inured to flying somewhere every-other week, that once a few days drifted past my usual take-off day, my habit reminded me. Aren’t we supposed to be doing something? I actually felt like I needed an airport fix.

Which is a sad state of affairs.

And fortunately, easily remedied as I’m flying somewhere on Sunday. Victoria, BC. It’s been almost a full year since we last visited, when David decided that was the school for him and we put the wheels in motion to drastically change our lives: he to leave his job of 20 years, we to leave our town of nearly that long. It seemed forever then, before anything would happen.

Now we’re going to buy a house. This is it. At least, we hope we are. The Canadian mortgage company is suggesting 35% down. (I know – eek!) So we’ll see what we can get for that. This will be our third house-purchase together. I feel for the younger us, who could never have put that kind of money down back then.

Ironically, our first house is also for sale right now. We paid four times for our current house what we paid for the first. Now they’re asking half for that house of what we’re asking for ours. I drive by, and all my day lilies still fill the front yard. My drought-tolerant garden lines the fence with six-foot rabbit brush romping amidst the silver sage. Pieces of me.

The question we get most often is: will we move back? Three to five years from now, will we return to Laramie. It’s hard for us not to laugh. Not to ask why on earth would we want to?

But you never know what you might turn up nostalgic for.

Euphoria in the Front Yard

I bought pansies, yesterday. And violas.

This is more remarkable than you might think, because it’s a grave risk here to plant annuals before Memorial Day. It’s not a fashion-risk thing; it’s a spring blizzard thing. Our official average frost-free date is something like June 6. Though no one can bear to wait that long, really. One year our spring came warm and early. I got cocky and planted out my annuals. A week later a snowstorm killed them all.

My hard and fast rule now is: no planting out until Memorial Day Weekend.

A rule I’m now breaking. Bending, really, since the pansies and violas can bear more chill than others. We leave Saturday for Victoria to go house-hunting and our Laramie realtor plans to show the wazoo out of our house while we’re gone. The perennials may be coming up, the purple-red stalks of the peonies reaching for the sun. The rhubarb is unfolding like alien pod-babies. The narcissus are charming, which is their job. But otherwise, the beds need freshening. So, I’m planting before we go. Sticking those violas in the ground and abandoning them for ten days. Not like me at all.

I bought them yesterday at Walmart – also a departure for me. I figured Walter World would have them plentiful and cheap. They’d be nicely forced into overbloom. A perfect way to create a particular image. The garden shop was oddly barren. Even the big-box distribution mavens have apparently finally figured out not to send tender plants our way in May. I pulled a dusty cart from the queue, tugging hard to break its lock with its nested neighbor. Then I bent down and tugged free three tumbleweeds from around the wheels. The wind retrieved them and sent them sailing across the road, back to the barren prairie.

My mother told me yesterday that she has euphoria in her front yard. Well, front courtyard, really. The “Cactus Guy” came to examine the cactus garden that came with their Tucson house. She wanted to know if they were taking care of the cacti correctly. Cactus Guy not only approved of the superb health of the garden, but waxed enthusiastic over the wonderful euphoria specimen.

“At least,” my mom said, “that’s what it sounded like he said.”

Euphoria in the desert. I just love that. Never mind that it turns out to be Euphorbia. (The ammak species, if you want precision.)

I’ll bend my rules and plant flowers only for show, that may not last. And my mom can have euphoria in the front yard.