Tuesday, December 22, 2020


Once upon a time, huge shopping malls roamed the Earth.

They competed with one another to see which could cover the most land with concrete and steel to claim the title of "world's biggest."

The fossilized remains of Metrocenter Mall.
(Jesse Rieser for The New York Times)
Now, not sadly, those beasts are mostly gone, replaced by digital analogues.

Today, in the pages of another anachronism, this photo caught my attention —>

Back in the day I worked at a restaurant near the Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix, AZ. 

It was a raucous little establishment most nights, attracting customers looking for other attractive customers, inexpensive food, and maybe a drink or three.

During the NBA season, visiting teams would come in after their games with the Phoenix Suns. I met a lot of players that year—Reggie Theus, Larry Micheaux, Adrian Dantley, Danny Schayes, Otis Thorpe, Rick Robey—which seemed kind of cool at the time.

More importantly, I met a girl there who would eventually agree to marry me. That, of course, was super cool.

Back to our allegory:

Eventually and relentlessly, the retail environment evolved. Lumbering anchor stores like Sears and JC Penney were overrun by more nimble competitors. Omnivorous predators like Walmart, Costco, and Amazon devoured local traffic, and then came the asteroid strike known as COVID-19.

After 47 years, Metrocenter, much like this allegory, expired in 2020.

The End.

Lex: What are you and Ellie gonna do now if you don't have to pick up dinosaur bones anymore?

Dr. Alan Grant: I don't know. I guess...I guess we'll just have to evolve.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, No!

Winter Weather Advisory for Big Island Summits
Wintry mix of freezing rain with periods of snow.
Additional snow accumulations of up to two inches.

When we signed up for life on an island in the middle of the Pacific it didn't occur to us we'd need to bring snow shovels.

This is pretty amazing, though.

Imagine our surprise.

Turns out the highest points on the Big Island routinely get snow, because that's what happens to rain at 13,000 feet.

"The highest summits on the Big Island — Mauna Kea (13,803’) and Mauna Loa (13,678’) — receive snow on a yearly basis. From November through April, the average nightly temperature on the summit of Mauna Kea drops below 28 degrees, and a record low of 12 degrees was recorded in January of 2014. These high altitude temperatures, combined with heavy precipitation from winter storms, can lead to fierce blizzard conditions and exceptionally heavy snowfall."

Blizzards! On the Big Island! Have I ever told you I hate being cold? I really do. As much as I once loved a good snow day, I would now rather have a move somebody else's furniture day. Or a muck out the chicken coops day. Or a run an ultra with a bad stomach day.

The good news is, our house is at about 2,000 feet, where average temperatures range from 81 in the afternoon to 61 at night. According to the BestPlaces Comfort Index, "Honoka'a rates an 8.9 (10=best), which means it is more comfortable than most places in Hawaii."

If we get snow there, of all places...well, let's just hope it doesn't come to that. Because climate-change-wise, that will be regrettable.

You know what else happens on the Big Island? Magma.
Volcano Watch: Notable Magma Intrusion At Kīlauea Summit
The beginning of a new chapter in Kīlauea Volcano activity

We'll be living in a place where folks found it necessary to establish lava zones—presumably to help people make informed decisions about where to stand in the midst of a volcanic eruption. 

If you find yourself in zone 1, for example, you may want to get yourself elsewhere—soon. If you're in zone 9, on the other hand, you're probably okay—for now. 

If that turns out not to be the case—well, we'll all be in deep stuff requiring an entirely different kind of shovel.

"Recently, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s monitoring network recorded another first post-eruption event at Kīlauea’s summit: a magmatic intrusion. This followed an earthquake swarm on November 30, 2020, that was centered in the middle of Kīlauea caldera."

I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds bad. And the phrase "earthquake swarm"? That doesn't seem promising at all. If anyone needs us we'll be down by the water in zone 420.

Speaking of swarms...
Little Fire Ants Cause Big Problems
LFAs are not easy to get rid of, so an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Oh, okay.
We'll be back.

"Once little fire ants establish themselves around your house, there will be millions of them. We get many calls from people at their wit’s end as they and their children are getting stung every day. They will also sting pets and other animals. Life for a dog or a cat in a LFA-infested area can be miserable. Repeated stings to a pet’s eyes can lead to blindness."

I'm not saying this information would've changed our minds, had we known before we decided to move to the Big Island. But I'm not *not* saying it, either. 

We've raised worrying about our animals to an art form in Seattle. From hawks to off-leash dogs to speeding cars, we've lost much-loved creatures here. The idea they might one day be blinded by biting bugs is...not acceptable.

The state of Hawaii takes a dim view of invasive species as a rule, and LFAs seem to be high on their list of things to eradicate. And while this might've inspired confidence at some point on the timeline, if we've learned anything it's that "nature finds a way," in spite of (or because of) humanity's best efforts.
Of these three natural phenomena, for me, the smallest one is the most low-key stressful. Because they're like little terminators. They can't be bargained with, can't be reasoned with. "They don't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop...ever!"*

Who needs that? I'd rather have a snow day than an LFA day, 10 times out of 10.
“If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.”

—Emily Dickinson

Here's hoping Emily's right.


Sundance: It's a long way though, isn't it?

Butch: Ah, everything's gotta be perfect with you!

Sundance: I just don't want to get there and find out it stinks! That's all.

Butch: At least think about it.

Sundance: All right...I'll think about it.


(*The original Terminator movie was set in the year 2029, in case you've lost track of that detail. Just saying.)

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Making It Up As We Go

Welcome to Singing Whale Farm
“Kid, the next time I say, ‘Let's go someplace like Bolivia’, let's *go* someplace like Bolivia.”

—Paul Newman, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Change is coming.

Lots of change.

[Ed. Note: That's in addition to the incalculable *everything* that will never be the same thanks to Shitshow 2020.]

In no particular order:

Our daughter, who's been living with us since March, is moving out soon. She's transferring to the University of Washington from San Diego State, after realizing there's no point continuing to pay out-of-state tuition for online classes.

The first week of January she'll move into her own on-campus apartment...where she'll still be taking all her classes online. But at least she'll be getting back a measure of independence.

In return, we'll get back a breach in our hearts, heads full of worry, and more quiet than we ever wanted. Because that's what we bargained for, lo these many years ago, when we said, "Have kids? Sure, why not!"

Our son, also endlessly taking virtual classes, has had a similar epiphany. But he'll be *leaving* his apartment in Ellensburg, WA, by the end of December. And since he can take classes literally anywhere there's an internet connection...he's moving to Hawaii.

There, in addition to finishing a degree in Natural Resource Management, he'll be caretaking a little farm on the Big Island.

Our farm.

And by that I mean, "the farm my wife and I are *thisclose* to buying." 

We sign the paperwork tomorrow, and close on Wednesday. See the photo up top? That's the one. 

At seven acres it's not a big operation—but it is aspirational. It wants to be a place where we can work hard and have some modest success. A place where honeybees thrive, hens never know what a cage is, and rescue animals feel safe and loved. 

This view, right here.
Pre-COVID we thought we had a pretty good idea what our business model would look like. Honey, eggs, goat milk products, a small event space (with photo-worthy water views), a farm-to-table agritourism experience, and maybe even a little running company.

That plan assumed a healthy economy and people able to travel and gather together without fearing for their lives. Until those things are true again, our business model is, uh, in flux.

Doesn't matter. We're going.

What we don't know is *when* we're going.

For an assortment of reasons, the plan for actually relocating is also in flux. There are logistics to work out, variables to account for, and a deadly virus to evade. 

We think it'll take up to a year for us to get from mainland to island, and longer still to transition from urban to agrarian.

But you know what? It's time. Time to start creating a future that's more compatible with life. While we're able.

We feel that with more urgency every day. COVID has a lot to do with it, reminding us that anything can happen to anyone at any time—so if not now, when? What are we waiting for?

In the meantime, there is still much to be done here. Among many other responsibilities, we have three rescue dogs, two rescue cats, a dozen hens, and a bunch of bees to keep us busy.

Will we miss our friends and this community and the emotional structures we've built around them over the course of 17 years? Like crazy. But Hawaii is a nice place to visit—and we hope a free place to stay on the Big Island will convince folks to come have a look around, soak up some vitamin D, and listen to the quiet for a while.

If you've read this far, you're invited.

You'll have to buy the beer, though.
And I pray
When we meet again
That the world has changed
Into the world that we are imaging now together
And I pray that the world has become
The world that we’re planting inside of ourselves
For each other
For our ancestors
And for our kids 

I don’t know I don’t know
We are making this up as we go
We have to make this up as we go

The Bengsons—Keep Going Song

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Built to Break

Time, time time, see what's become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
I was so hard to please
Look around
Leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

—Paul Simon
At a time when time has no meaning, it's still possible to give the side-eye to its passing.

In 1956 a neon, pink elephant sign was installed on a busy corner in Seattle. It stood there for 64 years, becoming an iconic little landmark along the way.

And, now it's gone.

The owner of the property said his company has no current plans for the empty lot, but the sign had to go—maybe he just hates beloved local landmarks, IDK.

Some cultures worked *so* hard to remind future generations of their existence. They built myriad pyramids, edifices, and monuments that survived millennia. They trundled and carved and stacked stone in centuries-long endeavors that their descendants could gawk at *forever*.

Americans, meanwhile, are over here tearing shit down for any reason, or no reason at all. Our most enduring brand is intentional obsolescence. There's a whole "impermanent" school of thought in American architecture, for example, that prefers transient design and construction because more long-standing buildings are "too restrictive."

Currently the largest (and probably most permanent) human-made structures on Earth are the tailings ponds of the Alberta oil sands project. They're big enough to be seen from orbit, and contain "a toxic slurry of heavy metals and hydrocarbons from the bitumen separation process."

Our descendants, if they're able, will gawk for different reasons, probably not out of admiration for our ingenuity.

Where was I? Oh, the pink elephant.

Its loss is nothing, of course, in the time of COVID and other pressing issues. Besides a few maudlin Seattleites, who's gonna miss it?

With that in mind, we should absolutely tear down the Space Needle. It's been taking up valuable real estate since 1963, and you can bet Amazon would love to get its hands on that land.

Also, the Monorail? Totally overbuilt anachronism. You know what would be more in keeping with our love of cheap thrills and turning a quick buck? The perfect monument to a distractible, transitory culture?

A zip line!
"The 5,000-pound sign will first go to Western Neon in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood for conservation work, before heading to the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in South Lake Union."

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Get Your Chainsaw Away From My Car

Reach across the aisle,
pull back a fistful of COVID

"All living creatures, from the simplest biologically to the most complex, demonstrate a survival instinct.

"This sense of self-preservation is, in the biological literature, a nearly universal hallmark of life on Earth, and the foundation of rational thought and behaviour.

"Consider the amoeba, a brainless, one-cell organism that retreats from threats and seeks to avoid such threats in the future.

"Amoebae aren't able to think, because no brain, but at least, from an evolutionary standpoint, they harbour the potential for rationality in some distant future.

"This is in direct opposition to the red-topped maga, a brainless creature which harbours no such potential."

David Attenborough—Zoo Quest to America
While the impulse for self-preservation is ubiquitous, the natural world teems with species that actually *defend each other* in times of danger. Chimps, dolphins, elephants, lions, orcas, and wolves, to name a few—all will put themselves at risk to defend other members of their pack/herd/pod.

You know who won't tho? 
  • Members of the Minnesota GOP who tested positive for COVID and then didn't bother to tell their Democratic colleagues
  • The White House chief-of-staff who tested positive and didn't tell fellow White House staffers
  • Members of GOP-controlled states and the current administration trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would strip health coverage from millions of Americans—during a pandemic
As COVID-19 rages around us, many of our fellow humans are proudly, happily putting everyone at risk.

That's not quite right: what they're actually doing (and there's no getting around this), is trying to kill us.

Every time they go out without a mask or gather indoors like grinning idiots or encourage others to 'rise up against tyranny', they are literally trying to kill people—as surely as if they'd cut the brake lines on every car in America.

So far 11 million of us have crashed, and 250,000 have died, and when we scream, "Stop cutting brake lines!" they yell, "Actually, most people don't die when their cars crash!" as they take a chainsaw to more brakes.

REPORTER {over chainsaws}: "As you can see, the saboteurs are crashing and dying as well...their bodies are all around us here, and in the refrigerated trucks over there! But they don't seem to notice, or if they do notice, they just don't seem to—watch out watch out watch...!"

{car careens into shot, camera falls to pavement, video transmission fails, audio continues to record screaming}
From an evolutionary perspective, the most successful species are those most adept at adapting to change. Those that fail to learn the lessons of their ancestors are inevitably selected for extinction.

Related: Republicans with chainsaws are coming for your cars.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Vote Like You Can't Breathe

Ballots piling up in 
King County drop boxes at unprecedented rateofficials say

"King County Elections workers received reports Saturday about full drop boxes in several locations, spokesperson Kendall LeVan Hodson said.

"Ballots were mailed out to voters this past Wednesday. Typically, King County Elections workers don’t start emptying drop boxes until the first Monday after ballots are mailed, Hodson said.

"But this year’s election is already proving extraordinary. 'Knowing there was so much enthusiasm to vote, we decided to start pickups on Saturday,' Hodson said.

"That decision paid off, because multiple drop boxes filled up Saturday, and some had to be emptied more than once, including a drop box in Ballard. 

"Each drop box holds up to 5,000 ballots."

Our ballots finally arrived Saturday evening, two to three days after other parts of our neighborhood received theirs. Me, rhetorically, to loving wife on Friday: 

"Where the fuck are our ballots??"

We vote every election, but never, ever, did I think I would be so viscerally invested in the temporal status of a ballot.

It's been reported that turnout in King County could go as high as 90% this election, up from an amazing 85% in 2012. When you're used to years of (a)pathetic turnout in the US, 90% suggests something volcanic is underway. 

In our neighborhood, cars typically line up at the local drop box the day before and the day of an election. This year the parade started two weeks early—including both days over the weekend.

My ballot is now filled out and in its security envelope. The drop box is 90 seconds away from our front door, if I'm running (and I will be). 


Vote like you would if you were on a ventilator. Or if someone's knee was on your neck. Or if you were being teargassed. Or if you've felt a dead weight sitting on your soul for the past four years.

Vote like it might be your last chance.


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

I, Miss Manners

You gotta love the Associated Press.

Today the AP published a brief piece headlined "How Do I Politely Ask Someone To Wear A Mask?", with the same genteel delivery that one might ask a shopper not to bruise the bananas in the produce aisle.

From the article:

"'Experts say you should make the request discreetly because shaming the person could put them on the defensive. If they feel violated by the way you approach them, they are much less likely to make a change,' said Jan Kavookjian, a behavioral scientist at Auburn University."

Call me contrary, but behaviorally speaking, the person not wearing a mask in public at this stage of an ongoing nightmare of a pandemic is NOT THE ONE BEING VIOLATED.

How discreetly do you suppose Dr. Kavookjian would address someone swinging a machete in a public place? I mean, in one hand you've got COVID-19, in the other you have a machete—both can leave you with long-term organ damage or kill you outright. Shall we be careful not to shame the person with the machete?

Also, if you're "making the request discreetly," doesn't that assume you're doing so quietly, so no one else hears? As a matter of verbal communication, how close do you have to get to an unmasked person, in public, to make a discreet request? IDK, BUT I BET IT'S CLOSER THAN SIX FEET.

Never mind, reading on:

"Public health experts say masks are key to reducing the spread of COVID-19. But asking a stranger to put one on could still result in a volatile situation, since they may not be easily persuaded."

Point of order: isn't it the stubborn, maskless person creating the potentially volatile situation? If by "volatile" we mean, "prospectively killing or maiming the people around them," then, yes! Yes, they are.

In which case, isn't AP putting the burden of politesse on the wrong party? In a court of law, if one swings a machete in an uncontrolled manner and cleaves an innocent bystander, who's legally liable? 


Moving on:

"Rather than risk a confrontation, experts say it might be best to steer clear of people without masks in public if you can."

This seems like a good time to define a word, and today's word is: sociopath.

noun, Psychiatry.

"a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience."

So, over here we have Person A, say, grocery shopping, wearing a mask to mitigate the risk of contracting or unknowingly spreading a highly contagious and proven-deadly disease. Over here, we have Sociopath B, in the same store, swinging a machete.

"Experts say" rather than reward and reinforce the socially conscious and morally responsible behavior of Person A, s/he should clear a path for Sociopath B to continue their crime spree, unburdened by shame or responsibility.

Random observation: enabling and reinforcing undesirable behavior rarely leads to desirable behavior. 

Back to the AP, in closing:

"According to etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, if you do find yourself interacting with someone who is not wearing a mask, you might say something like, 'For your safety and mine, I would feel much more comfortable if we were both wearing masks.'”

Before I say something like that, I'd like to see the data on successful use of passive-aggressive sentences in a potentially volatile situation. Sadly, AP and Gottsman offer none. 

But it occurs to me that many, many people across the country HAVE tried the "polite response" for months now.

Which may be why 210,000 formerly polite people are now dead people.

Maybe it's time we tried something different.

Vote. Like you're not a sociopath with a machete.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

What Dreams May Come

The dreams have been bizarre, and hyper-real, for months.

Almost always they're filled with people I don't know, in places I've never been.

Random sample:

I spent part of last night with Robin Williams. He was homeless and hungry, and I offered to buy him some food. We walked a crowded city street (I don't know what city or which street) until we found a block filled with restaurants.

People recognized him along the way, but kept their distance, maybe because he looked like a homeless person. Me, I just wanted to help him, and was glad to spend some time with him. In the way of dreams, it didn't seem odd that he was alive and walking with me, close enough to see the rough texture of his long canvas jacket. Oh, and the beard, which looked like the one he wore in "Good Will Hunting".

He wanted some Chinese food. We found a communal table, but not two seats together. I directed him to a chair opposite mine ("Why don't you sit there, Robbie," I said), and encouraged him to order whatever he wanted.

We sat and ate together for a while. Then, as dreams do, this one flowed on to something else I can't remember.

I had forgotten all about it until I stumbled across a tweet this morning:

"He offers me a faint smile. I am deeply grateful he is alive. It means a lot to me in this moment. Everything. As he walks away slowly I remember a year ago, when he came up and slapped me on the back gregariously, saying hello. "Survival doesn’t mean nothing died."

—Sayed Tabatabai, MD
Doctor Tabatabai's tweet was about COVID, and soul-deep fatigue, and moving forward by sheer momentum.

One minute I was marveling at his exquisitely skilled use of language, the next I was right back with Robin Williams. And I was grateful.
I don't know what any of this means, but I highly recommend the Twitter thread that brought it back to me.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Unconventional Outcomes

We need to stop thinking about the upcoming election in conventional terms.

We need to stop caring about how the debates will go, and what voters in swing states will do, and how awful Amy Barrett is.

Barrett's views are irrelevant. She's an illegitimate nominee participating in a corrupt process. The SCOTUS already has one illegitimate member in Neil Gorsuch; if this one is seated, the Supreme Court itself will be irreconcilably defiled and unworthy of regard.

And even *that* doesn't matter right now.

What does matter is what we'll do when there's no clear winner on Nov. 3, and Trump declares any result other than his victory to be invalid. When heavily armed militias take to the streets to support cops who will be suppressing mass protests. When the National Guard gets involved in major cities across the country and local governments break down.

If you think this scenario is implausible...well, I hope you're right.

In the meantime, we have a little more than a month to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Rescue Dog Life

When I look into your eyes
It's like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
There's so much they hold

And just like them old stars
I see that you've come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?

Well, I won't give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I'm giving you all my love
I'm still looking up

I Won't Give Up—Jason Mraz
Four a.m. is now canine o'clock at our house.

This wasn't always the case.

Before Lucca and Kate left us a few months ago, we all typically slept straight through 'til dawn (and as long as we could after that). But losing them taught us a few things:
1. We're not a one-dog family
2. There are a LOT of dogs out there who need a good home
3. Sleep is overrated

Sophie joined the family a couple weeks ago—because Melissa fell in love online with a big ol' nine-year old Great Pyrenees no one seemed to want. 

Sophie's file told us little, other than she'd been surrendered by two families, the last of which had her on anti-anxiety meds. Because she "wanted to go outside all the time, and would try to dig under the fence." If you can imagine such a thing.

Her last foster dad, bless him, knew Sophie was just doing what Great Pyrenees are supposed to do—patrol the perimeter and guard the flock. He immediately took her off the meds, and established a routine that allowed her to do her job and *be* a Great Pyrenees.

In short, we couldn't see any reason why this good girl was bounced around so much—and we promised her this would be the last time. She's home. 
In the handful of days she's been here Sophie has slowly, steadily allowed us to weave our lives together. By the day, and sometimes by the hour, she shows us a little more of who she is beneath all that fur. 

We expect this process to go on, uh, forever. She's a thinker, this one, and she has opinions about things. We'll be heading one direction on a walk, for example, and she'll spontaneously decide it's time to head somewhere else. If we insist our direction is better, she'll sit down like a mule. If we're adamant, she'll proceed to lie down. At that point, we talk it over for a while and most often agree she was right all along.

She teaches. We learn.
Kate and Lucca never wanted more than to spend time with all of us, together. Sophie, on the other hand, likes her personal space and her quiet time away from the everyday din.

Our girl doesn't have much use for clocks. Or long-established circadian rhythms. She doesn't differentiate between daylight and nightlight.

Four a.m., she has declared, is dawn-patrol time. So, out we go. 

It's not obvious to us yet, but we're sure one day she'll reveal the evolutionary benefit of this ancient ritual. In the meantime, though...
...we've adopted a 13-week old puppy.

Her name is Twyla.

She has opinions about things, too. Already.
And when you're needing your space
To do some navigating
I'll be here patiently waiting
To see what you find

'Cause even the stars, they burn
Some even fall to the earth
We've got a lot to learn
And God knows we're worth it

No, I won't give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I'm giving you all my love
I'm still looking up

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Ice Boxing

"I've just picked up a fault in the AE-35 unit. It's going to go 100% failure within 72 hours." 

—HAL 9000


We're having problems with our refrigerator.

Disclaimer: it's a very expensive Liebherr appliance that we did not and would not ever buy, given we'd be just as happy (happier, maybe!) with a dumb ol' Kenmore. But here we are.

The Liebherr came with the house, and it looks cool (ha), so there was no point replacing it. Even now, as it's having a string of nervous breakdowns, all we want is to repair the thing ourselves so we can get back to stressing out about {gestures at EVERYTHING ELSE}.

Liebherr is a German company that manufactures high-end kitchen appliances (among many other, even more expensive items). So you might think they'd have a proportionate regard for customer service. 

And MAYBE they do in Ehingen, Germany, EU, but in Seattle, WA, USA, Liebherr parts and service is not a thing that exists in this messed-up timeline.

Sidebar: turns out if your Liebherr door gaskets are old and worn out, the rest of the fridge starts to behave like a kitchen version of the HAL-9000. 

Water, for example, condenses in the produce drawers—which is antithetical to their mission of keeping fruits and veggies fresh. 

Simultaneously, water collects *beneath* the drawers until critical mass is reached, at which time it flows downhill through invisible cracks and crevices to pool on our hardwood floors. Another thing water condensation does: IT FREEZES ON INTERNAL PANELS, DOING WEIRD THINGS TO FOOD WE DIDN'T WANT FROZEN.

Sorry for the yelling.

"Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over." —Liebherr 9000

Administrative note: a long, ongoing google search for a SIMPLE ITEM has become increasingly frenetic. When it began, this exercise was merely frustrating—now, it's a quest. We will have new door gaskets. Oh my, yes. Yes, we will. No matter how many times Chrome must autofill the same list of search phrases, we WILL HAVE OUR GASKETS BECAUSE FUCK YOU 2020.

Again, apologies.

In the meantime, and rather embarrassingly, we're using *duct tape* to hold the current door seals together. We're doing so wild-eyed and cackling madly, to be sure...but we're doing it.

This journey of a thousand bandaids began with plain gray duct tape, because it complemented the color of the door gaskets. This solution would last from a week to a month depending on, IDK, the phases of the moon? After a few rounds of this, we've switched to Duck Brand decorative tape.*

That's right, we're accessorizing our fridge like it's a pair of black jeans—we can dress it up, we can dress it down. So far we've tried the fox & hedgehog pattern, the día de los muertos design, and the pride rainbow pattern. While we await the impressionist and cubist collection, we're considering the Van Gogh starry night option.

Is this problem, you may be thinking, really worth the time and the word count spent bemoaning it? It is not. Is it cheaper than the therapy I so clearly need? Yes, it certainly is.

Breaking update: Yesterday I received a voicemail from a refrigerator repair company in Portland, OR, USA sharing the secret number *they* call for Liebherr parts. It’s the first glimmer of hope in a virtual journey that has taken us from Seattle to Houston to Miami to New York City to my new good friend Kenneth Watt at UK Whitegoods in Kilmarnock, Scotland, UK.

UK Whitegoods, it should be noted, is "...probably the largest and best domestic appliance resource in the world." That's according to their web site, so it must be #factuallyaccurate.

It's also #factuallyaccurate that Kenneth Watt, while very responsive and cordial via email, was otherwise #nohelpwhatsoever.

But the phone number! From the guy in Portland! 

...is now in my possession. I haven't called it yet. One, I wanted to savor it for a bit. Two, I can't believe I have to call an actual phone number like I’m a Neanderthal or something. Three, I'm completely convinced it's another dead end, and I don't know how much more disappointment I can take.

Meanwhile, Liebherr 9000 seems to be aware of this latest development:

"I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you."

Oh, we're way past that, L-9K. Way past it.

{singing quietly} "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do. I'm half crazy, all for the love of you..."



(*Not an endorsement, more a cry for help)

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Chick Life

We're building a new chicken coop.

(These are not words I ever imagined I'd type, but here we are.)

We already have two coops, one a fully built thing that we simply had delivered to our door one day, about a thousand years ago. The other, a prefab kit we assembled in an afternoon. Together, the accommodations were entirely adequate for our little flock, or so I thought.

Turns out, I was mistaken.

The new coop is neither kit nor kaboodle...it's an avian palace in progress.

I've lost count of the pressure-treated 4x4s we're using, not to mention the plywood and hardie board and cedar and deck screws. We've deployed a circular saw, a jig saw, a chop saw (borrowed), a power drill, and an electric screwdriver. For her five-year work anniversary gift, my wife selected a reciprocating saw that arrived a couple days ago. So far we haven't found a reason to bust that out, but its moment will come. 

The coop's main door and window are recovered materials from Ballard Reuse, a "salvaged building materials super store." Also to be installed is a new, solar-powered automatic door opener from a company in the UK. If this seems to you an extravagant geegaw that will never work in the real world, you are not alone. But I'm saying nothing over here, and I suggest you do the same.

The project is moving along, not at a glacial pace, but not quickly, either. I actually have some construction experience, from long-ago summers as an apprentice carpenter. I remember some of those trade-tricks, but have had to relearn many more.

My wife's architectural plan, while simple and ingenious, still leaves some things to the imagination. This leads to the occasional do-over and re-imagining. Don't get me wrong, her plan is not something I could've come up with, ever. I have nothing but admiration for its audacity and originality. Do I enjoy doing things over again? I do not. Could I have done better? Nope.

The fact is, we work well together. So far, we have been patient with the process and the progress. We celebrate our little successes, and don't dwell on the little failures. And, importantly, we haven't lopped off any fingers or toes. Yet.

It's good that we started this project in the summer, and important that we finish it before the rains come. I'm not confident our patience would survive first contact with cold, wet weekend work. 

Prediction: we'll finish before then.

In the meantime, the hens are enjoying our company in their realm out back. To their credit, they've never once complained or even hinted that their current accommodations are anything but delightful.

They may be the smart ones in our collective flock.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

After The Before Times

Like most people, we had plans.

Prior to March, 2020, my wife and I schemed furiously and nefariously about moving to the Big Island and starting a farm.

Nothing too ambitious—five or ten acres planted with whatever we felt like growing in the island's near-perfect conditions. 

There would be a couple dozen chickens, surely, and some goats. A few bee hives, a handful of rescue dogs and barn cats and maybe a pig.

And the views. Always the views. Across the water to Maui, mauka to Mauna Kea. Sunsets that would make us stop whatever we were doing and just...watch. And listen. And maybe remember what it was like, a long time ago, when "getting out of our own heads" was a steady state rather than a wistful, fleeting goal.

As a side-hustle, I thought about starting up a little running company. Again, nothing too elaborate. Maybe three or four gatherings a year, in a place that quietly beckons you to come outside and be warm and move through tropical air at an enjoyable pace.

Mostly, though, our life would sway to the daily rhythm of the farm. Chatting with the chickens while collecting eggs. Harvesting fruit and veggies for the farmers market. Fretting over the health of the bees. Posting silly goat videos, running up and down hills with the dogs, marveling at what intelligent creatures pigs are.

In addition to the day's chores there would be projects. A greenhouse to set up, perhaps, or a new coop to build, or the scratchy clearing of non-native plants to make way for honeybee-friendly seedlings. There would be seasonal life to celebrate, inevitable deaths to mourn, followed by new creatures to welcome into our hearts. And so it would go.

Like most people, our plans went askew. March, 2020.

We didn't expect the journey from here to Hawi to be a straight line...we just didn't expect the line to be so volatile and aberrant and fraught. Like an injured bird willing itself up on one good wing, then hitting the ground in panicked confusion.

We still have plans, of course. They vary with the day, rising, falling, changing direction, pausing to get their bearings before trying again. 

As always, there's much to do in the here and now. Hens to cajole, bees to wrangle, cats and dogs to referee, and on and on.

We're grateful for what we have, and grieve for what's been lost. We're stolid about today, and anxious about tomorrow.

We wait for a reprieve from the insane, the impetuous, the inexplicable.

And in rare, quiet moments (quite often on a run), we stop what we're doing and think about the views.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Inputs and Outcomes

It’s hard to imagine a worse outcome for the Aurora (CO) Police Department than Saturday’s mauling of violin-playing protesters.

Short of killing a few of the audience, one supposes.

You’d think Aurora PD might’ve learned over the past few weeks that well-documented, unwarranted, overreactive police violence is ultimately self-defeating. It tends to mobilize larger and more frequent protests, increasing the likelihood of future violence.

You’d think that before they deployed in combat mode on Saturday that leadership might’ve reminded them, “These folks are protesting the death of a Black kid who played the violin for shelter cats. Don’t give anyone reason to believe we’re thugs looking for a fight. It’ll make us all look bad.”

Violinist Jeff Hughes
Photo by Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Apparently, no one said anything like that.

It’s almost as if the police are unaware their continued existence as a community resource is under scrutiny and in question. That reasonable people are increasingly uncomfortable paying for unaccountable law enforcement. That there’s serious talk about cutting funding and defining down the mission of police nationwide—especially in communities where “peace officer” is too often a contradiction.

What happened in Aurora rains dishonor on the mission of policing. It disdains, rather than serves, the community.

Surely, things could've ended differently. If police (not in riot gear) and local officials had chosen to peacefully interact with protesters, spoken in good faith with them, and listened compassionately to the responses, the day could have ended with hope.

Instead, Aurora PD proved the protesters' premise—that violent escalation (especially against BIPOC people) is routinely the first and favored option.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ―Fred Rogers

Our children are watching. And they’re learning that those helpers are not the police.




Friday, May 01, 2020

What Day Is It

At the office where the papers grow
She takes a break
Drinks another coffee
And she finds it hard to stay awake
It's just another day
It's just another day
It's just another day

~Paul McCartney
The thing I notice most is the quiet.

Each morning we wake up to the low calls of the hens below our window. We grouse a bit at the early hour, but then roll out to start the day. Because the creatures don't like to be kept waiting.

At the stairs, my wife heads down to take care of the girls, and I head up to take care of the dogs. They're always there waiting, looking down at me, our golden retriever Kate banging her tail against the wall. It's walk time.

Out we go, rain or shine, toward the bluff near our house. A few weeks ago the road was full of cars, most going too fast, heading off to wherever people went before the quiet fell.

Now? Barely any cars at all. The few that do pass go by much slower. It's one change that's been welcome.

These days, most mornings, the sidewalks and roads are taken over by the walkers and runners and cyclists. They go out of their way to keep their social distance, but universally they look up to share a nod or a smile or a quiet "good morning." That didn't used to be the case.

The dogs and I make our way past still-waking houses on one side, calm waters of the bay on the other. The ship traffic has dwindled to a fraction of what it was not long ago, so now we can hear the barking of the sea lions, the variety of the raven calls, even the wind whispering through the feathers of an eagle gliding low just past the edge of the drop off. This new urban audile is achingly close to rural, and I wish it could stay this way.

Occasionally a runner we know will stop a few feet away for a brief, wistful conversation. "Good morning."
"Good morning. So good to see you."
"Good to see you, too. It's been too long. How are you holding up?"
"We're doing fine. We'd be foolish to think otherwise. How about you?"
"The same. We found out yesterday that we'll be working from home through June, at least."
"Good for you. It's nice to have that option."
"It is. I'm so grateful."
"Good to see you getting your miles in."
"Yeah. Definitely looking forward to being able to run together one of these days."
"One of these days."
"All right, I'm gonna get going, here, before I get chilled."
"Yes, don't do that."
"Wish I could give you a hug."
"Me too. One of these days."
"One of these days."

We go our separate ways, and the dogs and I turn to head for home.

They dance, impatiently, as I fetch their breakfast. Once their bowls are down, I head to the hall closet, where we keep a big bag of peanuts. I look out the window by the front door and, as usual, three ravens are waiting. Today they're joined by two Steller's jays and a squirrel.

"Good morning, birds," I say as I walk to one particular spot on the driveway. The ravens caw and the jays whistle as I put down one handful of peanuts, then another. I turn to see them arrayed on the ground around me, almost close enough to touch, as impatient as the dogs.

"Bon appetite, friends. Bon appetite," I say over my shoulder as I go back the way I came. Kicking the pine needles off my shoes, I open the door, glancing up in time to see the ravens fly off with as many nuts in their beak as they can manage.

I close the door behind me.

Time to get the coffee going.