‎"...a little 'trouty', but quite good" ~ Eve Kendall, North By Northwest

Friday, December 30, 2011

walking meditation

When we got married we got the usual boatload of gifts, which was awesome because although we had both lived on our own for several years and had our own stuff, all that stuff was worn out and gross. Now that I think of it, maybe that's why people get married every few years.

From our friends who had recently moved to Maine, we received a big basket of Maineness. It was full of things they had discovered and loved at their farmer's market - blueberry jam, hand-dipped candles, scone mix - all kinds of things. We loved it.

A few days later when I was putting things away, I realized that the brochure for Ivy Manor Inn, included in the Basket of Maineness, had a gift certificate tucked inside - good for two nights. We couldn't pack fast enough.

We adored Bar Harbor. We explored Acadia National Park and watched the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain (where we also checked for phone messages, since it was the only place we could get a signal). We hiked the Jordan Pond trail and mourned that we were too late for popovers (which are legendary). We had breakfast twice each morning because we couldn't choose between restaurants.

We liked it so much, we gently toyed with the idea of moving there. If we lived there, we thought, we could explore all the things we were just catching glimpses of.

And then we came home and realized there was much to explore here. We have a state park near us that we knew nothing about. We have a wildlife sanctuary we had never explored.

I was in that sanctuary this morning, taking a walk and thinking about how it took a trip up Cadillac Mountain to get me off the couch and into my own backyard. It's not huge, but if I ever get tired of it, there are National and State Parks to explore nearby (although getting tired of it doesn't seem likely.) Going there never fails to clear my head. I think my Mass Audubon membership should be covered by health insurance. It's ... fabulous.

And it was right here, all along.

So, the moral of the story is: Don't open your presents so fast you miss the gift.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

12 explanations of how we ended up on the Nice List

One
We found the missing library book and returned it. Bonus points: It's been gone so long it increased significantly in value and now can go in the Rare Book collection

Two
We relocated several field mice from our house to the church down the street instead of smashing them to smithereens (the mice, not the parishioners).

Three
We did not release “Holiday Favorites on Solo Cello,” by me. You're welcome.

Four
We taught our children to say please and thank you and to not kick the seats in front of them at symphony. (If you need any tips for your own children, we used bribery, threats and an electric collar.)

Five
I did not change my mom's cell phone to Smells Like Teen Spirit, despite many opportunities.

Six
We support the arts, the plumber, and the auto body shop. Some more generously than others.

Seven
Chris didn't get any tickets for speeding or reckless endangerment this year.

Eight
We cleaned our house for company that one time.

Nine
Coming up with 12 things is harder than I thought

Eleven
We have nice friends and are banking on guilt by association.

Twelve
I've noticed that Santa has taken to cloud sourcing. It seems everyone has turned into Santa Claus. There's the fake ones, of course, who are just in it for the (cookie) dough, but I've noticed a growing number of real ones mingling in polite society. As the Bible says, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained elves unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2, New Trout Translation)

I think this means you must have made the Nice list, too.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

In which the universe conspires to make me less grinchy

During pretty much every holiday, I am in splendid spirits until right at the end when I hit the wall. I look up and realize that I am doing everything and without me there would be nothing done that is done. And I get really grumpy about it. And yelly. Because what says "Happy Thanksgiving/Christmas/Ground Hog's Day/Friends Coming Over" better than a self-righteous outburst?

I hit that wall at 12:22 today.

Right in the middle of making chestnut bisque for lunch (fa! la! la!), I realized I had probably missed the post office, where the package from my sister and my ornament* were waiting for me. The package from my sister had a pile of gifts for the kids in it. The ornament was sure to be awesome and I wanted it on my tree. Pronto.

And then I got all shades of grumpy because honestly, why is all this up to me? Does no one else know where the post office is? Does no one else know how to make lunch?

Fa. La. La.

I skidded into the post office parking lot, ran inside and was astonished to find the package pick-up window open. When I thanked her for staying open, she said "we usually close at 12, but I figured people need all the help they can get."

Amen, sister.

And then I came home and ripped into my ornament, finding not only a handmade, drunk, wry snowman (which is completely our holiday decorating theme) but an ornament made especially for me.



The wall of holiday bitterness and taken-for-grantedness crumbled.

And the chestnut bisque was not ruined despite being abandoned - with the immersion blender standing up in the pot - when I ran out the door.

Chestnut Bisque
10-12 ounces chestnuts (peeled - I buy them in bags at the grocery store, all ready to go)
olive oil
1 small onion
1 leek
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups almond milk
pinch cardamom
pinch nutmeg
palmful dried thyme
salt to taste

Saute the onion and leek in olive oil in a saucepan. Add the broth and chestnuts and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the almond milk, cardamom, nutmeg and thyme and blend thoroughly (as mentioned, I use an immersion blender because I'm lazy and it's my favorite thing ever.) Salt to taste. Sing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Eat.

*I am part of the most Superior Ornament Exchange Ever, hosted by Jett Superior. As luck would have it, Jett herself drew my name. I win at Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

flocks of doom

So there I was, minding my own business at the dining room table, when I noticed about eight different kinds of birds in what would be the garden if all the plants weren't dead. There were two kinds of woodpeckers, some cardinals, chickadees, a tufty-headed thing, a bunch of bluebirds and some other things I couldn't identify. Honestly, you're lucky you got that much information. Is there a phone app that has facial recognition for birds? I used to have a book, but looking up birds in the bird book is like looking up a word in the dictionary to find out how to spell it. Yes, it must be done - but where do you start?

It was the bluebirds that really got me. I never see bluebirds. Don't they know it's December? Don't the other birds know? This wasn't the usual assortment of ornithological drabbery we generally get at this time of year. This was a veritable Hallmark card of songbirds.*

I sat there wondering what cataclysmic meteorological event had driven them into my yard. That's the only possible explanation - like when all the woodland creatures take flight in Bambi. They weren't bluebirds of happiness in my yard. They were bluebirds of imminent doom.

This new outlook is either a sign that a) the End of Times is truly near or b) I have lived in New England too long.

I grew up in Colorado, where people are less cynical.

Colorado: "Look! Really, really fuzzy caterpillars! It's going to be a great ski season!"
New England: "We'll probably lose power for six weeks, maybe more. If not in this storm, surely the next."

Things were generally more upbeat and optimistic in Colorado. I blame the altitude and resulting lack of oxygen to the brain. I don't know what to blame the pessimism of the northeast on. I'm going with either the Puritans or higher education.

When I came here, people knew I was from Somewhere Else. I have lived here long enough so now instead of auspicious signs, I see omens. I fit in better now.

But it's hard not to find the birds weirdly reassuring. Four of them piled into our birdbath and splashed around - two bluebirds and two something-elses. They didn't seem panicked or rushed. There was nothing about their frolicking that signaled an approaching tsunami. They were... pretty.

In the early fall we had a... swarm? herd? flurry? ...of dragonflies in the garden. There were probably a hundred of them. I think it's technically impossible to signal global tragedy with dragonflies. Ditto ladybugs. We get a lot of those, too.

Maybe the take-away is that beautiful things show up at unexpected times. Maybe it's that we'll all find a place to land when we need it.

Maybe it's that I don't know a thing about birds. Maybe this is the normal time to migrate and all the different kinds were just carpooling.

Maybe I just don't look up often enough.

*It's okay, I don't know what a Hallmark card of songbirds looks like, either.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Great Pecan Pie Experiment

A few years ago I thought it would be a swell idea to try a bunch of different pecan pie recipes until I made The Perfect Pie and I'm just now getting around to it. I should mention right off the bat that I don't make pie crust, so that was not the issue. Not that there's an issue. I just want a delicious pie.

It's Chris' birthday, so I got him a chainsaw and made him a birthday pie. No, they are not related. We have a woodstove now (not the one that was in the driveway) and Chris has been going around tidying up friends' fallen trees. Thanks to fallen trees, we haven't turned on our heat yet. Every time the oil truck drives down our street and doesn't stop at our house, I feel weirdly victorious. Anyway, his Polly Pocket Little Helper Chain Saw wasn't doing the trick, so I went to the hardware store and told them I needed a chainsaw for my husband for his birthday. They promptly hoisted me onto their shoulders and marched me through town with a big "Wife of the Year" banner waving over my head.

It's been a busy day.

I didn't have dark corn syrup, so I switched up the recipe a bit. And pecan pie can get a little teeth-itchy, so I tried to tone down the sweetness with a substitute that would still do the trick. Finally, don't put birthday candles into a pie that's fresh from the oven unless you like eating wax. Things they never told me in Home Ec.

Pie Number 1:

1 unbaked pie crust (I get the rolled-up kind)
3 eggs
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup rice syrup
1 cup brown sugar (scant)
1/4 cup melted butter
1 teas. vanilla extract
1 cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Beat together the eggs, corn syrup, rice syrup, brown sugar, butter and vanilla.
Roll a pie crust into a pie pan and make it look like you made it.
Dump the pecans into the pie crust and shuffle them around so they cover the bottom.
Pour the egg mixture over the pecans.
Bake for 1 hour or until you can stick a knife in and pull it out clean.
Allow to cool before adding birthday candles.

Mine didn't spill over, but if you want to avoid having your oven catch fire, put foil on the lower rack. Trust me on this.

The verdict? We're looking for something a little beefier. I'll try a fourth egg (overkill?) to make it more of a custard.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Small things

One
Our chickens aren't laying. We got kind of a complex about it, so we asked around and it turns out no one else's chickens are laying either.

But then our upstairs neighbor said that maybe they were off because the Grande Dame of egg laying had perished and they had all forgotten about eggs. He suggested I put an egg decoy in the nesting box to remind them.

Having no egg decoy, I wrote "decoy" in pencil on a hard boiled egg and stuck it in the nesting box when they weren't looking.

It worked.

Two
Our other upstairs neighbor brought down a plate of lemon squares just before the kids went off to school. Sugarplum took a long look at them before she left so she could describe them on a poster if one went missing.

Three
We've been trapping mice in the have-a-heart trap and driving them down the street to their new home. Since we've been dropping them off at a church we're hoping they're a tax deduction.

Four
I am going to sing in the Messiah. I have a vision of the other singers walking out in the middle, muttering "there is no God."

Five

Six
I kicked coffee and now I can't remember why. I can't remember why because everything's all hazy and muffled and I can barely keep my eyes open.

Seven
Chris has about 97 billion songs to turn into music videos for various bands he's recorded. Turning them into videos requires lots of playing and replaying as he gets all the cuts in the right spots. Therefore, the song he chose to make a video of was "I want a goat for Christmas."

He'll get nothing and like it.

Eight
House Rule: You are not allowed to pick just the things you like out of the Chex Mix. If you want a handful of pecans, dive accordingly. Appearing nonchalant is the key to success.

Nine
Housekeeping tip! While low light is the key to making your home look like you may have cleaned it, super-super-duper energy-saving lightbulbs in your bathroom fixture will make it look like a crack house.

Ten
Christmas is when you move all the extraneous crap out of your house so you can put all the Christmas-related extraneous crap into your house. New Years is for putting away the extraneous holiday crap so you have a clean slate to fill with new extraneous crap over the course of the year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

pumpkin chiffon

Every year, on the night before Thanksgiving, my sister and I make my mother's recipe for pumpkin chiffon pie. We live in different states, but we have the same pie experience and therefore are practically in the same kitchen. For the first few years, we'd call each other and compare notes. "What does 'custard consistency' mean," she'd ask. I'd describe what mine looked like when I thought it reached custard consistency, she'd agree, we'd decide that we couldn't both be wrong and it would be The Law of Custard Consistency as far as we were concerned. We would forget this law from year to year and have to call for moral support.

After the first few years we didn't need to call each other. Since we didn't chat the night before on pie-related business, we'd call on Thanksgiving day. "How'd your pie come out?" we'd ask - which is Sister Code for Happy Thanksgiving.

This year, for reasons I cannot fathom, she's forgoing the pumpkin chiffon in favor of some sort of mincemeat abomination.

I feel so alone.

You see, if mine comes out horribly, I want to know that hers is delicious. Or, if mine comes out looking like a fluffy, orange bridesmaid's dress, I want to send her a photo and ask if hers is nearly as spectacular.

Somehow there are Good Pie years and Bad Pie years. Which does not stop us from eating them. It just stops us from gloating.

But we won't be eating the same pie. I am all alone, waiting for the custard to cool so I can fold in the egg whites. Her pie is probably done and she has nothing to do but read smutty romances and eat bon bons.

Misery does not like it when other people read smutty romances.

This year I will call her and say "how was your pie?" which is Sister Code for "was it even Thanksgiving without mom's pie?" We'll compare notes on the relative merits of pumpkin vs. mincemeat. We'll discuss how much more sleep she got than I did.

It will be like we're in the same kitchen, states apart, eating pie.

And for that, we are thankful.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

operatics

When I quit my job I told everyone I was leaving so I could write more. Everyone thought this was a cover story for a deep dark company secret because no one believes the reasonable explanations - only the crazy ones.

In fairness, I didn't believe my story either.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself with three operas and two ballets to review in the next two weeks.

I will be more cultured than any yogurt money can buy.

Here are my observations so far:

Observation number one
Ballet audiences are way better dressed than opera audiences. It's like opera audiences are TRYING to look like over-educated academics. I mean, I know they ARE over-educated academics, but come on now. Granted, I should count my blessings because the academics are some of the better dressed ones. The woman in front of me last night was wearing a black t-shirt with a rhinestone pattern that formed an elaborate necktie.

???

Furthermore, when did reusable shopping bags become acceptable alternatives to handbags?

Observation number two
Did the young couple snogging in front of me pay for their orchestra section seats and if so, did they not know you can get a nice hotel room for that same $340+ dollars?

Possibly related: get off my lawn you hoodlums.

Observation number three
If you get drunk before an opera and giggle throughout, make sure it's a comedy. Actually, scratch that. I like hearing people giggle.

Observation number four
I'm fine with people being comfortable at the opera and wearing whatever they want because I think more people should just shut up and go. It's that I also want the performance to extend off the stage and into the lobby. I feel cheated.

I try to fit these observations into my reviews, but short of writing them in code or uploading them as an image, they have not made the editorial cut.

Which is why God made blogs.

If I write anything vaguely entertaining about what I'm reviewing, I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I'd like to go on the record as saying that these shoes make my feet hurt and that I will only hot roller my hair for press seats valued at over $150.

Carry on.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Upstairs Neighbors, part 768

Everyone needs an upstairs neighbor.

There are cat people and there are dog people. We are upstairs neighbor people.

About three years ago our friends needed a place to live while they looked for a house to buy. We were in the process of playing Musical Livingquarters and moving our bedrooms downstairs, so we invited them to take over the upstairs while they looked. We all thought it would take a few months, not a few years, but we're all very okay with the change of timeline.

You say "oh that's fine for you. You live in a tower."

I hate to disillusion you, but we don't actually live in a tower. It's a fairly average two story house that happens to have a kitchen on both floors. If we were Jewish, we could easily be kosher. Or we could have a vegetarian kitchen and a non-veg kitchen (read: Bacon Cookery). Or a macrobiotic kitchen and a microbiotic kitchen. The possibilities are endless.

But I digress.

We have friends who live in gigantic houses and say they still don't have enough room. More room is nice, but we like living in a big puppy pile. We like to be close to each other. If we had more space, we'd probably still all end up in the same room.

Our upstairs neighbors are the same way - or at least they're good fakers if they're not.

There is something great about sharing space. It's why people gather in town squares. With this many people living here, Trout Towers is its own town square. Come to think of it, as a computer consultant Chris IS the town square. Oh I slay me.

It is comforting having friends in the house. I know that if I'm eaten by wild dogs, someone will figure it out pretty quickly. There are always people around who have my back - simply by virtue of standing behind me. And you know those friends you never see because you're too busy doing laundry? Laundry day is when we see the most of our friends.

I understand that this isn't for everybody, but my recommendation is you build a yurt on your roof and ask some friends to move in. You may really like it.

For the record, I felt this way even before the Upstairs Neighbor left a chocolate oyster on my diningroom table on her way to work.

Monday, October 17, 2011

High Security

Do you lock your car?

I admitted to a friend the other day that I feel guilty when I lock my car. It's like announcing that I don't trust my neighbors for beans. Granted, it's not my actual neighborhood neighbors I'm talking about. I never lock my car at home because a) I kinda hope someone steals everything out of it and then details it, and b) I am lazy. It's when I'm in a parking lot - say, in front of my favorite coffee shop - and I have my laptop in the front seat so I know I should lock it but....

But I don't like telling people I don't trust them.

So I walk away from the car and lock it with the remote - being very careful not to let it beep.

And then when I come back to my car I surreptitiously unlock the car from a few feet away so I can open it and hop in like it was never locked. If I forget and try opening the door, I cover by giving the car my best "who locked my car?" look.

I only admit this to you because it turns out I'm not alone.

The friend I mentioned it to feels the same way about not wanting to offend his fellow townspeople.

We live in a small fishing town. Can you imagine locking your car in Mayberry? I can just see Aunt Bea frowning at someone whose car alarm was going off. "Not very neighborly," she would say.

I wonder if it's the people who are not from here who pull up next to me and alarm their car before going into the post office. I wonder how many of the other cars are unlocked, with keys in the ignition.

Not only do we trust our neighbors, we all drive cars no one wants.

And we all secretly hope that someone will throw away all the empty coffee cups while we're in the post office.

In my friends' towns, people don't look at you weird when you set your car alarm. Conversely, they would think you were a moron for leaving your laptop on the front seat of your car - locked or not. And they're probably right.

Maybe there's a bit of a New England thing mixed in with the Mayberry Factor. It is Not Right to presume that you have something that someone else doesn't have and would want. To presume that would be to admit a Failure of Thrift.

Which is very un-New Englandy.

But when I forget I've locked my car in front of the coffee shop, I end up spilling half my coffee as I struggle for the lock. That spilled coffee adds up. So basically it's six one way, half-dozen the other.

Which is why I don't lock my car.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Moving on.

I quit my job.

Just one of them, but still. I quit.

Here's what happened. I worked and worked and worked and then I had babies and when I went back to work I did it part time - you know, for the babies - and I figured as long as I was working part time I would try writing more as part of my work.

Which worked, but not enough. So when a new client came along that was really pretty dreamy in every possible way, I said yes. And it's been great.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH....

I missed writing.

So I quit the job. And here we are.

Today is Day One After The Last Day At Work. I have submitted a column.

The thing about writing is that once you start, it's hard to stop. So I've sent my column and - I hope you don't feel used - I can't simmer down.

There are only so many facebook updates I can post without looking desperate. That's what blogs are for. I don't worry about not looking desperate here. It's kind of a given.

Besides all that, I've missed you. Can we be friends again?

Will you come help me fold all this laundry?

your highly caffeinated friend,
Susan

Thursday, July 14, 2011

on starting and stopping

On Tuesday my car wouldn't start. Today (Thursday) my car won't stop. Wednesday was somewhere in between. I suppose it usually is.

When my car wouldn't start, I was waiting to meet a friend I had invited to go to the theater. The other friend (I have two) who was going to meet me at the theater canceled, so I was waiting to meet the second friend at The Appointed Spot when I discovered my car wouldn't start. I'm sure he wasn't at all suspicious when he drove up and I asked him to drive. His car is clean and comfy and I would totally fake a dead car if the opportunity came up again.

Today I was on my way to work and when I stopped to run an errand, I couldn't get the ignition to turn off. After a few seconds of hand-wringing and driving back and forth through town like a squirrel at a four-way-stop, I pulled over and called the dealership. It is a key cylinder something-or-other.

While I am not prone to stalling my manual transmission, there is something disconcerting about driving through stop-and-go traffic with a car you can't start if it stalls (key won't budge in either direction). And did I mention I was almost out of gas? You're not supposed to fill your tank without turning off your engine. Even I know that.

So now in addition to keeping my tank full when anyone I know is pregnant, I have to keep my tank full in case my car won't stop driving. My car is a cross between The Red Tent and The Red Shoes.

Here's the thing with cars. When they don't work, they can either put you in a tailspin or give you a chance to breathe. I've been needing a chance to breathe lately. How often do you get to sit and just be where you are? Or sit in a clean and comfy car and be glad for the way things sort themselves out?

The woman at the dealership said sometimes people stay in the waiting room after their cars are finished. Who can blame them?

File under: car repairs are cheaper than therapy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Ten Commandments, for Atheists

After leading his people through the wilderness for a bunch of years, Moses needed to brush up on his management skills. So he went to a Human Resources workshop and studied the habits of highly successful people. This is what he found.

1) Highly successful people don't worship people or things. They know that if they make a god of something, it owns them. Worship your highest, purest, best sense of right.

2) Don't make something material in an effort to experience something spiritual.

3) Don't name drop. If you're in tight with the person/concept, you don't need to throw its name around. And if you're not in tight, it's inappropriate and offensive.

4) Take a day off once a week and remember how you got there.

5) Don't run with scissors, be nice to your little brother, never lick a frozen lamp post... basically, do what your mom says. Dad, too.

6) Don't kill anyone, yo. (This includes sucking the life out of them.)

7) Don't sleep around. Be respectful of yourself and others.

8) Don't steal. When you steal, it tells your brain that you don't have what you need. Your brain only knows what you tell it. Tell it the right stuff.

9) Don't be a smack-talking smack talker and quit throwing people under the bus. It doesn't help your case. Quite the opposite, actually.

10) Life is not an arms race. You've got stuff. I've got stuff. We all have our own stuff. Be good with that and it will be good with you.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pillars of Salt

You know that kid who was kind of creepy in elementary school? The one you stayed away from because he'd probably beat you up or say something so withering that you'd go home and beg your parents to move? Then, many years later, you're at a party with friends and he shows up and is completely charming?

That's what New York is like for me.

For years I have loved hating it. I called it "Sodom on the Hudson" and imagined everyone to be pushy and mean. This was not entirely unfounded. We had playground issues, so to speak, in the early stages of our acquaintance.

But friends had invited us to see an opera with them and then a week at a New York apartment popped up in an auction benefiting our favorite theater. So we bid. And got it.

I was as surprised as anyone.

Every time I saw a picture of New York I'd get nervous all over again. Old habits die hard. But I really like opera and was pretty sure I'd get to see one (I did much more than that - see my Opera Betty post for gloaty details). So I pretended I wasn't scared. And made Chris drive.

Here's what happened: People were nice.

After the MoMA one day, we were deciding where to have lunch and a man stopped and asked if we needed help. He then told us about four restaurants nearby. When we chose the one he was on his way to, he gave us the run down of what was good and where to get in line.

We live in a tourist town and walk past groups of lost tourists all the time without stopping to offer help.

New Yorkers are nicer than us.

We had dim sum in Chinatown with our friends from the Magazine of Yoga. When we were done, our pile of empty baskets was taller than Studley.

Sugarplum and I had tea at American Girl Place. The nice thing about this is the looks people give you when you walk down 5th Avenue hand-in-hand with a happy, doll-toting child. The skeevy thing is how you feel when you wake up the next morning and realize you spent triple digits on accessories and spa treatments for a doll. They offer bellinis for the adults in the cafe. A hit of Valium might be a nice addition.


Samantha gets her hair done

We went to the Statue of Liberty and looked up her skirt - which seemed kind of rude yet necessary.

We saw every single thing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by way of looking for the bathrooms.

We made sure we did not spend the night inside the Museum of Natural History. I think they made that movie as a way to get people to leave.

The people who work at the Metropolitan Opera and at Ellis Island made us happy to be human.

In fact, the whole trip made us happy to be human. I think what had scared me about New York before was its inhumanity. This trip was, well, personal. We met invisible friends and friends of friends. We met strangers. We were introduced as family and colleagues.

We had a fabulous time and no, we will not shut up about it. Stop asking.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Death of a Chicken

Unlike other chicken eulogies you may have read here, this one is mostly true. (A sentence you don't get to type every day.)

Jewel was the chicken who inspired Sugarplum to tell people about "mama's favorite chicken" - people who may have wished they didn't know that mama had a favorite chicken. This is one of those things you overhear and then set the wastebasket on fire so people's attention is drawn elsewhere.

But it was true.

We did not choose Jewel. She was a stowaway. We had ordered, among other breeds, a black australorp but when it came time to figure out which chick was which, we found it puzzling. I know it sounds chicken-racist, but some of them look very much alike.

So we ended up with a barred rock instead of a black australorp. We like to think Jewel chose to come live with us and perhaps disguised her features to avoid detection. By the time we figured it out, it was too late. The flock had all gotten to know each other. The missing australorp was happy in her new home. All was well.

A couple years ago I went through some extended family nonsense and had to spend most of my time away from home. When I'd pop in to recalibrate, I'd visit the chickens in their yard, where Jewel always came over and waited for me to pet her. There is something weirdly reassuring about a chicken's love when your world is going massively awry. Probably because most of them would just as soon eat you if you stayed still long enough. You expect love and support from your partner, children, dog or cat, but when you also get it from a chicken it feels like the universe has put a sticky note on your head that says something... universey.

Last year when we were on vacation, our chicken-sitters woke up in the middle of the night to a terrible sound of clucking and squawking. They ran to the coop and chased out a raccoon who had broken through the defenses of Fort McChicken. There were no casualties, but Jewel had taken a hit.

Here's how I think it went down: When the raccoon broke into the coop, all the chickens raised the alarm except Jewel, who bravely stood between the raccoon and the other hens. Chickens peck pretty hard and I bet the raccoon is still sporting some chicken scarring. She fended off the attack until reinforcement arrived.

The raccoon cut the wires to the alarm system and surveillance, so it's my word against nobody's.

Jewel survived, but we were not optimistic.

As we nursed her back to health, we noticed that three of the other chickens protected her somewhat fiercely. One chicken, Tulip, did not. Tulip was kind of a jerk. You will here note that Tulip did not get a eulogy when she was eaten by a fox.

In the months that followed, Jewel proved herself to be the kind of fighter that would fend off a raccoon attack and live to tell the tale. Her broken beak healed but carried the mark of bravery. Jewel was a very brave chicken.

Last night, tucked into her nesting box, Jewel passed away quietly in her sleep. I imagine her singing "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" to the other hens as she passed.

She will be missed.

And I don't care who knows it: She was mama's favorite chicken.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Yo Ma-Ma

I took my first cello lesson today.

I envisioned the cello and me running toward each other on the beach, enraptured. There would be rainbows and butterflies and an indisputable soul-connection. It would be love.

You have possibly already figured out it was not like that.

It was my fault we didn't hit it right off. The cello was, of course, completely itself. I was not. I was awkward and stilted.

My teacher kept telling me to relax.

I can't relax, I thought. I want it to love me.

It was even worse once we were alone. I couldn't hold the bow right. I didn't recognize the sound the strings made. I thought I knew this cello I had brought home with me. It felt so right at the stringed instrument rental place. It felt... perfect.

But cellos are different from violins (they don't sound like you're sitting on a cat, for starters). You hold the bow differently (who knew?). Cellos aren't as prissy as violins. They require a bit of weight.

I really need to stop comparing it to my ex. The violin was a long time ago. I was young. It's been over for years.

But I do have a blister from all the pizzicatoing. I didn't know playing cello would demand actual flesh.

I have about 17 pages of music to practice this week. I think that should get us started. A little time together would be a good thing.

I'm sure we can make it work.

I've got the rental for six months.

Monday, January 3, 2011

landing paper airplanes

Years ago I had my tarot cards read at a party. I did it because the friend we were with really really needed to break up with her boyfriend. We figured if she heard it from a mystic authority, she'd listen to reason. So I went first to show her how spiffy fun it was.

I was writing a book at the time (I have been writing a book since the fifth grade), so I asked when it would be finished.

Imagine my surprise at finding there was no novel in my cards. There were, however, lots of little things. She asked if I published pamphlets or small inspirational stories. I had no idea what she was talking about.

It has recently occurred to me that the pamphlets she saw may have been blog posts and articles. These wouldn't happen for at least 10 years, so she must have had excellent distance vision.

While I still hope to get a book finished, I've started to wonder if books are going the way of albums. Yes, people sit down and read a book from beginning to end, but more and more, they are carrying around snippets. They have songs in their iPods and blogposts in their readers.

I imagine literary mix tapes aren't far behind. Perhaps they're already happening and I, having not smashed anyone's heart to smithereens lately, have not been given one.

By the time I get my novel out there, it will be like "hey! my album just came out on 8-track!" Which is not to say it won't be awesome.

On New Year's Eve I met two long-time Trout readers. One had told me she might be there, but the other popped up quite unexpectedly. It's impossible to accurately describe how surreal that is. The idea of people reading what I post is an amorphous swirl of "well isn't that nice" that doesn't quite seem real. It's like after years of reconciling Santa as a metaphysical concept, he shows up and introduces himself.

Knowing that real people who I can see (and other people can see, too) are reading what I write gave these words a tangible place to land. They are no longer floating out in the ether. They've been caught and held onto long enough for someone to be curious about where they came from.

Which made me wonder if I may eventually wind up on a literary mix tape.

I can think of no greater honor.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Restocking the Belfry

"We'll call the exterminator when I get back," my boss said, many years and thousands of miles ago.

There were bats in the attic of the school where I worked, and someone had expressed concern about methane build-up. I never considered myself a particular fan of bats, but the idea of exterminating them didn't set well with me. So I made sure my boss had really left for her business trip and I called Urban Wildlife Rescue.

"We have some bats and my boss wants to gas them. I have a week to get them out of here. Can you bring a shoe box?"

They arrived, after explaining patiently that it was winter and they'd need to keep the bats in coolers until spring because they were hibernating. The coolers in question were the kinds of things you take to the beach full of beer. My point being, check before you grab a cooler if you hang with wildlife rescue people.

I took them to the attic, which turned into a scene from Scooby Doo when we walked in. Flurries of bats were illumined by thousands of pinpoints of light. The roof, which was a good two+ stories high in the center, looked like a colander. The rescue people informed me that a) there weren't enough coolers in WalMart for the quantity of bats we had and b) we'd have to fix all the holes or they'd come right back.

The wildlife people then scheduled a visit with a sonar thingy to see if they were part of SETI and sending messages from our attic. Or something. Instead, they discovered that we had a nursing colony. My school had the dubious distinction of housing one of the largest bat populations in the metro area. The National Wildlife Federation was called, but not by me. I was busy looking for a new job.

While I had failed to relocate the bats, I had made exterminating them impossible.

Not only that, but since it was a nursing colony, they strongly encouraged us to hold off on the 97 quadrillion dollars worth of historic restoration we had scheduled. Construction crews were halted until the babies left the nest. Or whatever.

My recollection is fuzzy, but this may have been when I moved across the country. It was "unrelated."

This was all many years ago. My boss and I became and remained friends in spite of the bats. Or perhaps because of the bats.

Last week she sent me a message to let me know that the school was finally patching all the holes. The bats, she said, would need new homes. I fully expect UPS to deliver WalMart's entire stock of coolers - marked fragile - to my door.



Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Trouts Step Out


If I just tell you some of the stuff we do and then shut up before I go and ruin it, my life sounds pretty cool.

Like this:

Today Sugarplum and I flew to Nantucket for breakfast.

Now you have this picture of what kind of person I am. I look good right? You don't need to know that I was wearing my flannel pajamas (the ones with gnomes on them) squinting at my email one minute and shrieking at Sugarplum to get dressed the next.

She, of course, was already dressed. That's the way kids are when they want to grow up to be pilots. They get up and pull themselves together. Then they spend a few hours doing experiments with their 300 Electronic Circuits! kit before breakfast. So when there's an email from a pilot who offers to take them flying, they are ready.

We had an hour to get to the airport, which spawned its own chaos of chicken feeding and dog walking and jacket finding. I got dressed and then walked the dog, which totally threw off the neighbors who have been placing bets on which pair of pajamas I'll have on. I like to think they have at least a passing interest in my pajama selection and take pains to warrant their puzzled stares and drawn blinds.

Sugarplum decided she wanted to be a pilot when she was four. A friend of ours, who we (surprise!) know because he's married to someone in a band, is a commercial pilot and likes encouraging kids to learn to fly. Today was gorgeous and pretty much the whole rest of the world was hung over, so it was a good day to hop on a plane. (Actual paying people get to go first.)

Captain Dave put Sugarplum in the copilot seat, boosted up by someone's flight suit. He buckled her in and showed her what a few of the gauges were for.

Seriously, how cool is that? When I was 8 I learned to write limericks. Eight is soul forming, people.

We had breakfast at the airport because it is Nantucket so even the diner at the airport is awesome. Sugarplum poked her egg yolk and announced "these must be local eggs."

I'm going to give you a minute with that.

We took a cab into town, where Sugarplum shot video of the cobblestone streets to show Studley when we got back. She also took video on the flight home, although we haven't watched any of it yet. The flight was smooth but her camera work requires a solid hit of Dramamine.

Studley will dig the video. And I'll just keep playing the scene in my head.

Today Sugarplum and I flew to Nantucket for breakfast.


(and it was delicious)