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.

Worse Than a…

Root canal?

This came up yesterday on Facebook — my friend, the cool girl from way back, Kathryn Greenwood Andrews (who is also the author of the very cool blogs Prickly Girl and Punk Rock Garden) mentioned that she is being asked to choose volunteering for Field Day over preschool parent-teacher conferences and a root canal. “Amazingly, I’m sticking with the latter,” she remarks.

This reminded me of a conversation we’d had at work. I’m an auditor of sorts — I review drinking water programs. One of the programs we reviewed for the first time in their history told us later (after telling everyone else what they were in for) that it was like getting a root canal: intensely painful, but overall a healthy exercise.

My ever-wise boss (yes, she reads this blog) raised the question of whether a root canal still represented a truly horrible experience. This, of course, led to one of those conversations where everyone tried to one-up each other with pain and horror. The gal with the anal polyp/duct tape episode came close to winning, but we won’t go there.

I posed the question to Kathy and she came back with alternatives such as childbirth and amniocentesis. Her root canal is next week, so she can report back with her comparison next week.

Root canals are a good example because:

1) they’re more universal than childbirth and the more unusual afflictions like anal polyps
2) nearly everyone has to have one, at some point in their lives. Unless you live in the UK.
3) not only is it physically painful, there’s a certain terror in being trapped in that chair. For a really long time.
4) stuff around your face hurts more because the innervation is so fine
5) two words: oral dam

So, I don’t usually solicit comments here, but: are root canals the worst? if yes, why? if not, what is? (please be gentle with details…)

And the German Judge Gives It…

I realize my title is probably dating me.

There’s a whole couple of generations who don’t understand references to German judges. Or who think Mikhail Baryshnikov is just a cute guy on Sex and the City; they’re surprised to hear he’s a dancer and ask what kind. I swear to God I’ve had this actual conversation. I have witnesses. They didn’t understand about Political Asylum either, or why he might have claimed it.

The German judge, for those who didn’t watch the Olympics in the 70s and 80s refers to the international panel of judges scoring the various Olympic events. There was often a perception that the German judge was a) tougher and b) inclined to mark down competitors from the non-communist countries. For accuracy, we should really say the “East German judge,” but idioms aren’t about accuracy.

There’s been an interesting conversation on the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal writers loop the last day or so, about contest judges. I’ve written before about the RWA chapter contests, so I won’t reiterate here. But the way it works is you generally get scores from two or three judges. In many contests, if the point spread exceeds a certain margin, a discrepancy judge is called in and the lowest score is dropped. The idea is to account for reader preferences, which can really affect scores. For example, on a recent contest I entered, one judge gave me a perfect score of 100 (with comments that it was so splendid she couldn’t gush enough) and another judge awarded me a 54 (with a snarky comment that beastiality is not an appropriate subject for a romance.)

One got me; one didn’t.

In the real world, this would translate to a person who would buy my book and one who would burn it. Fair enough. The common wisdom is that these kind of splits result from having a “strong voice” — readers tend to love it or hate it. All of this is lead-up to using one of my favorite examples, from country music. (Yeah, you saw that one coming, right?)

I heard this story on NPR many, many moons ago, but it’s always stuck with me. They were discussing the perception that country music radio stations had become less, well, interesting. It turns out that there had been a huge study where “they” looked at what caused people to change the radio station — anathema for advertising, of course. They found that people changed the station, shockingly enough, when a song they hated came on. So, it seemed simple: don’t play the songs people hate. BUT, what the studies showed is that the songs people rated as most hated were also rated most loved by an equal number of people. Where people converged was on the songs that they neither loved nor hated. More importantly for radio, when a song played that a person neither loved nor hated, they were likely to let the radio station play on.

Thus country music programming went to playing music that the vast majority of people neither loved nor hated, playing innocuously in the background, exciting nothing untoward.

I’ve seen this play out in writing workshops, too. Half the class will love a particular scene and half will insist it ruins the piece and must be removed. The profound emotional reaction means the writer has hit on something, but it takes courage to accept that for every person who loves what you wrote, someone else will hate it.

And it’s tempting, especially in genre, where people hope to actually make money with their books, to write the thing that will sell to the most people, innocuous and exciting no untoward responses.

Then again, it can be a little satisfying, too, to throw a little bestiality in the way of the book-burners.

Are You My Checker?

Yesterday, the checker at the grocery store greeted us with a chirpy, “Happy Mothers Day!”

I didn’t say anything.

Believe me, this is better than saying what I wanted to say. I have a bit of a reputation as having a smart mouth. My only defense is that people have no idea how much discretion I really exercise. So many things I never say out loud.

I wanted to tell her, “I’m not a mother.”

Which isn’t precisely true. I’m a stepmother. Kind of an after-the-fact one, since David and I aren’t legally or religiously married. But I’ve been part of my stepchildrens’ lives for 18 years, so I count it. They don’t count it and don’t acknowledge me on Mothers Day. There are a lot of reasons for that, most of them having to do with loyalty to their mother. I understand those reasons and don’t blame them. But yeah, I have a few issues with the day.

For the most part, I don’t mind. It means a great deal to me to celebrate my own mother. I wrote her my own little ode yesterday. But when the Safeway chick greets me with something like that, I shudder at the presumption and carelessness.

The decision to be a mother or not is a fraught thing. Some women are mothers without wanting to be. Some want to be and can’t. Some have children who die tragic deaths. Some women choose not to have children. It’s intensely personal, regardless of which category you fall into.

Even going the other direction, celebrating your own mother can be an emotional minefield. I have a friend whose mother died, much too young from cancer, a few years ago. Her mother died only a week before Mothers Day. She still grieves.

Yes, the checker was only trying to be chirpy and friendly. Which is why I didn’t snap at her. I couldn’t quite dredge up the smile and happy “thank you” she was looking for, but I did the best I could.

I think all of us are doing the best we can. It’s important to remember that a greeting card holiday does not make this a greeting card world. Sometimes instead of a sweet poem inside, there might be a well of pain. Perhaps it’s best not to assume.