Talking Story

Mainland Living

 

The Hair Wars are back.

My kitchen and dining room look like a scene from Steel Magnolias. There are four different brands of hot rollers, two curling irons, clamps, pins, and enough abandoned bottles of crap-that’s-not-the-right-shade-either foundation to cover the Golden Gate Bridge. Costco-sized cans of hair spray, curling mousse, and rat-tailed combs litter the counters. My daughter sits on a stool, terrified of the hot wax and tweezers.

It’s rodeo princess pageant season again and neither of us are happy.

final_webIn full rodeo regalia, my thirteen year old daughter is stunning. Tall and built for the runways of Paris or Milan, she moves like the athlete she is. Last summer she competed for the first time and served as the first attendant princess in the Mountain Valley Stampede. She and her horses traveled all over Utah performing in parades and rodeos. My shy daughter discovered she loved being a rodeo princess. Her favorite part was helping out at the Special Needs Rodeo where she ran with a stick horse and draped rodeo queen sashes over all of the girls.

A year older and wiser, she’s ready to do it again.

In rodeo grand entries she’s a speed demon on her performance horse Brownie and competes in barrels and poles. On Trigger, her bomb-proof-whatever-happens-I’m-cool horse, she’s all smiles and glitter in parades.

It’s not the horses or hard work or public speaking that gets to her.

It’s the hair.

In the world of rodeo pageantry, it’s got to be big, Dolly Parton big and curly. My daughter’s hair is a shiny mass of blonde—fine, thick, and straight as a stick. It’s all one length, down to the middle of her back. Don’t even think about cutting it.

In her everyday middle school, piano recital, soccer playing world, she wears it in a no-nonsense ponytail with accent braids. If she’s dressing up, it merits a messy, organic flower looking bun. Make-up to her is a little moisturizer or sunscreen. A touch of clear lip balm and bright nail polish is the most she will do.

But in spring her love of horses and performing do battle with her hatred of all things foofy, and she tries to suck it up as we shape eyebrows, apply foundation and mascara, and perform nightly experiments with hot rollers and a pharmacopeia of products—all in search for the elusive combination that gives her long-lasting southern belle curls.

curlers_faceFor the record, curling mousse, pink foam rollers slept on overnight, and half a can of light-weight hairspray are the only things that really work. Last year she complained, but now she says she’s mastered the art of sleeping on her face.

A throw-it-in-a-ponytail blonde myself, I’m not like my beauty queen sisters who know all the secrets. As much as she hates curling her hair, I hate curling it. It’s a volatile combination.

Her father and I keep telling her she can compete without all the fuss, but we both know to win that’s not true. Hair and make-up requirements are explicit in the contracts.

And that’s too bad.

Watching her practice, there’s something special in the grace of a young woman bare-faced and natural. It’s easier to admire the teamwork between rider and horse without the complications of rhinestones and belt buckles.

I try to remember these days, storing them against a future when make-up matters, when getting ready takes longer than eating breakfast, when it becomes less about riding and more about looking. According to my mother, those days will come.

But there’s hope, she says. Like you, that could be a just a phase.

blue_rag_rug

I’m buying a new rug for the downstairs bath. I dashed in there this morning, nose running, scrambling for a wad of toilet paper for what I insist are allergies, but fear is really a cold. Maybe strep. I don’t have time for a doctor. It’s spring hay fever, I’m sure.

Too bad I can’t swallow. That’s normal, right?

Anyway, I should’ve turned the light on, but I was in a hurry, stepping hard and fast across the tile, reaching along the vanity, down near the commode, when it squished.

I flicked on the light real fast.

There it was in the middle of the cutest blue rag rug you ever saw: a dead robin.

Well, part of one.

Did I mention I was barefoot?

I’m getting a new rug.

I wish the cats loved me less.

gold_fish_crackers

With busy people it’s all about the when. When you’ll finally read that book gathering dust on the nightstand, when you’ll finally make time to have that conversation, exercise, clean the closet.

I think we all feel the pressure of time’s cold, clammy hand pressed against our necks.

Until we don’t.

We don’t talk about having too much time on our hands. It sounds ungrateful, wasteful, just think of all the starving kids in Africa bad.

The truth is time is like chocolate—too much and you fall into a diabetic coma. Too little and you’d give an arm and a leg for the rest a coma would bring.

Surrounded on all sides by wind, cold weather, and the geriatric crowd, time becomes glue, trapping my mind and spirit as I nurse a $2.50 can of warm Diet Coke and try to ignore the carafe of goldfish crackers the waiter placed next to me.

Baseball hat and sunscreen on, I sit in the cruise ship’s piano bar waiting for the sun to return, wondering if I can talk anyone into a card game. I surreptitiously fiddle with my watch, counting the hours until the next meal and hoping my too comfy tee-shirt and capris will pass in the smart-casual roulette wheel of the cruise ship’s dinner dress code.

Probably not, but attitude is everything, particularly with maître d’s.

I wish I could take these hours and save them for days when I need more than 24, spreading the time wealth glut, storing them like the fine dark chocolate bar I have hidden in the back of the pantry. On rough days I break a tiny piece off and savor it. Think of it: the ability to sneak a fifteen minute reading break in between laundry, cooking dinner, or running an errand or even an hour’s nap in the sun after a too-late night spent holding a hand in the dark.

But time waits for no one and all I can do is try to store the memory of idleness, of sitting at a table with nothing to do but sip and scribble and wait for the sun.

whale_spouts

When books are no longer consumed like popcorn or potato chips, when time to read becomes like water in the desert, discrimination seeps in. If I’m gonna spend a couple of hours reading poolside on a family reunion vacation cruise to Mexico, I want to make sure what I’m reading is a fine Belgium chocolate, not a waxy Palmer’s coin.

At my fingertips I have literally a thousand eBooks, but like a true connoisseur, it’s paper that I crave, so in my cover-up and slippahs I head down to the ship’s library. As I wander along the recessed bookshelves trailing my fingers along the extra lip that keeps the books secure in rougher seas, I tickle the spines of some old friends, but nothing new jumps out, begging to entertain me in the sun. I’ve come too late, I fear, all the slick popular books are already squirreled away in cabins and beach bags. I hope they’ll get read and not spend the week melting in the Mexican heat.

I look at my eReader and sigh. So much for old school. I’ll have to sit in the shade if I want to read.

But back on deck I choose a different path. Instead of spending a few precious free hours unchained by computer, housework, and carpool commitments and reading purely for pleasure I do something even rarer. I stand at the rail and scan the horizon for whale spouts and wonder how many ancestors sailed these same seas and why I feel more at home on the ocean with the deck gently rolling beneath my feet than curled on the couch in my living room.

washing_dishesMy dishwasher of fourteen years washed its last dish. Finally worn out beyond what my husband can reasonably repair, I was left with at least three dishwasher loads stacked on the counter after it finally gave up the ghost. Glancing over the white crusts of milk in the bottom of glasses and streaks of who knows what on bowls and plates, I rolled up my sleeves and sighed.

As I first scrubbed out the sinks and then filled one side with hot water and soap, I reflected there was an art to doing dishes completely lost on the stick-it-in-the-machine generation. To properly do dishes, you have to sort them from least dirty to most greasy, starting with the glasses and working your way to the pans. Tossing the silverware into the suds and letting them soak as you wash is a good idea, but never, ever put a sharp knife in the sink where it will lurk on the bottom, waiting for the moment you swipe your fingers through the bubbles searching for the last cup or serving spoon to bite.

Growing up, there were a lot of fights between my sister and me over who’d carelessly thrown the knife in the dishwater; it was probably one of the reasons the Band-Aids were in the cupboard next to the sink.

When doing the dishes by hand, the water has to be hot, hotter than you can stand it. I remember my grandmother leaning over me, swirling a finger in distain through the bubbles as she gauged the temperature of the water I was using, then carelessly dumping boiling water from the kettle on the stove into the sink. When I complained, she scoffed. When I showed her red, red hands, she laughed and told me to toughen up.

Doing dishes was not for wimps and only pansies wore gloves. Real women didn’t need them or electric mixers or clothes dryers. My great-grandmother used to say you could tell the quality of a housekeeper by the state of her cleaning rags, although I was never sure if that meant good housekeepers had ratty cleaning rags from cleaning all the time or spotless ones because even the rags were clean. From what I remember, her own were worn, often hemmed by hand from clothing scraps, but always clean and fresh and abundantly available, so I’m guessing that’s what she must have meant.

When I was a kid, doing dishes and preparing meals was women’s work. During the occasional treks to Utah from Hawaii to visit my mother’s family, there would be mountains of dishes to wash—no paper plates, napkins, cups, or plastic silverware were ever used, deemed too expensive and wasteful—and as the oldest granddaughter I was expected to help.

My mother and her four sisters all have perfect pitch and would sing in three or five part harmony as they cooked and cleaned, marvelous to hear when you’re eight, ten, or fourteen, but  humbling when you’re in college and realized they expect you to sing your mother’s parts in the kitchen at the family Thanksgiving and Christmas parties. The dishes I could do, the singing not so much. My aunts didn’t believe me, no matter how often I claimed talent skips a generation, and made me sing anyway. I was a Frampton, too, they said, and all Framptons sing.

Doing the dishes back then reminds me of being Mom’s taxi service now. It’s one-on-one Mom time to talk with your kids about what’s going on in their lives, to sing loudly no matter how off-key, and to hand down secret family knowledge. One I’ll never forget was the rule never use soap to clean an iron skillet or you’ll ruin the patina; instead you boil water in it and rub the sides and bottom with a wooden spatula to remove the gunk and sanitize it. In a pinch you can mix oil and salt into a paste and use it to scrape the stubborn parts clean, but never soap. There were other lessons, of course, about boys and milk and cows. At the time, the iron skillet info made more sense.

Funny what sticks in your head.

The new dishwasher comes Friday. Until then the old one’s serving as my dish drying rack and the kids are taking turns emptying it and putting the dishes away. To them not much’s changed. But to me, with my hands submersed in suds and memories, I keep thinking back to my mother and other women who stood daily at their kitchen sinks where I stand now. I remember my great-grandmother and consider what she’d say about my new-fangled nylon brushes, fancy glass dish soap dispenser, and scrubbing pad sponges. Like her thoughts on cleaning rags and housekeepers, I wonder what they say about me.

mathI hate math. My suspicions that the numbers game is rigged happened when Mr. Waters, my sixth grade teacher, taught us that a negative times a negative equaled a positive, clearly the most counter-intuitive idea ever.

I stuck with math through algebra and geometry until I hit a wall my senior year in calculus. After that, I avoided manipulating numbers. I barely scrapped by in required college stats classes where the biggest concept I learned was the truth of Mark Twain’s assertion that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. I’d add politics to his list, but it’s not that kind of blog.

Before higher mathematics completely derailed any ideas of a career in physics or chemistry, I had hope that it would all make sense again, that some teacher would pop up like a cardboard character in a Monty Python sketch and say, “Just kidding! You were right all along! Here’s how it really works!” But the joke’s on me.

Back when I had faith that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t a train, algebra felt like a logic puzzle I could unlock, tumbling the Xs and Ys into solvable combinations as long as I played along with the wink-wink negative number story. I’d enjoyed geometry with its angles and planes and complimentary numbers that added to 360, the top-secret-insiders-only key to calculating right angles, building the pyramids, thin-walled cathedrals, and all that jazz.

I’ve retained enough math to balance a checkbook, to figure out how much square footage of carpet, sod, or paint to order, and to convert store discounts from percentages to dollars. Beyond that I’m pretty useless.

Which makes it tough when I’ve been the homework go to guy for so long and now I can’t help my son. I don’t tell him he’s taking the same math class as a high school freshman I took as a senior or that I hit the same conceptual wall he did and never found a way over.

I tell him to ask his Dad.

They’re sitting at the kitchen table as I type, heads bent and pencils scratching, working through cosins of imaginary numbers to calculate the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. I hear laughs and smacking high-fives when their answers match the back of the book. From now on Spanish and math are Dad’s domain; as Mom I can only watch from the sidelines and remind my son of deadlines and tests, a secretary’s role at best.

Better get used to it.

fallsHappy Valentine’s Day! In keeping with my tradition, here are five more ways my husband says I love you.

1)  Just letting you know I’m taking the kids to school since they missed the bus.

2)  I’m driving through town on my way home. Need anything from the store?

3)  I washed a load of whites.

4)  Those clothes are looking really baggy on you.

5)  Let me carry all those new books out to the car.

How ‘bout your significant other? How does the person you love tell you you’re loved?

2012 Valentine Post

We are an egg-cident waiting to happen. I found four eggs this morning on top of a speaker in the family room, cupped in a sweat sock kiped from the shoe pile near the mud room door. On a shelf in the mud room I found another three and almost stepped on one cradled in a tennis shoe.

Winter again.

There’s certain irony in our having a couple dozen chickens and no one in the family liking eggs in anything but baked goods. But when you’ve got horses, lambs, cats, and dogs, chickens are de rigueur.

There are a few non-egg eating advantages; being free range, they eat a lot of bugs along with all the bread and kitchen scraps they can steal from the horses. I order plastic egg cartons by the hundreds from a supply store and we stash the eggs in an extra fridge in the garage. Every so often I load them into my car and donate them to our local food bank, each dozen with a note tucked inside explaining that fresh free range egg yolks are supposed to be a deep, bright orange, that these eggs will last four months refrigerated, and while the shells may be pale blue, spring green, dark brown, or speckled, I promise they won’t poison you. My daughter, chief chicken wrangler, figured if we’re going through the bother of raising chickens, they might as well have interesting eggs.

I have a cute wicker basket, sturdy with a thick handle, strong and big enough to handle three dozen eggs at a time. It’s usually tucked under a kitchen counter. The kids know when they go to feed the horses, they’re supposed to take it and stop by the chicken coop, gather the eggs, and bring them into the house.

Except now it’s winter. We’ve gone from a dozen or more eggs a day to a random three or four or six; some days not even one egg escapes unscathed from the new egg sucking fiend that’s raiding our chicken coop. With school and sports and theater and piano replacing lazy summer days, more often than not, it’s my husband instead of the kids who braves late night and early morning sub-zero temperatures to feed the horses twice a day.

At the haystack he’ll see the chicken coop and remember the eggs. But it’s too far and too cold to run back to the house for a sissy wicker basket, especially for a handful of eggs at best.

The eggs are now an afterthought, our spring-summer-fall system broken, and I find eggs in random places like coat pockets and car hoods when his best intention of doing something more than sticking them somewhere just for a minute gets derailed.

All winter long we are an egg-cident waiting to happen. Too bad nobody likes scrambled eggs.

The last straw happened in church.

I stood to leave the pew and realized that if I took One. More. Step. everything would be down around my ankles, exactly the wrong kind of calling on God moment you want to have in church. For the first time in over twenty years I regretted my no pantyhose policy. I hesitated for moment  and almost got run over by my son who had places to be and people to see.

“Mom?”

“Give me a minute. I gotta grab something. Stay close behind me when we walk out.”

It’s a testament to the randomness of our lives that he didn’t even blink, just shrugged his shoulders and took a half step closer to me. I reached along my side and through my sweater, gathering up a chunk of my skirt and unmentionables—it was no use simply hitching them up, I’d have to keep a grip on the too big skirt if I was going to make it all the way to the parking lot.

“Okay, let’s go.” We shuffled out.

“Mom, you’re walking weird,” said my daughter.

“My skirt’s falling down,” I muttered.

“WHAT!” she shrieked. “IN FRONT MY FRIENDS?”

“Shhhh!”

“That. Cannot. Happen!” she hissed.

You’re telling me, I thought. I nudged her with my elbow. “Then go run point. Open a path!” She slipped ahead of me, mortified into action.

What can I do? Crawl under a pew? Grab my skirt from the floor and stick it over my head as I run out? Just 20 steps more…oh, $#%@#%!

It was almost my undoing. Blocking the door as they clutched each exiting person’s hands with earnest two-handed have-a-blessed-week grips were leaders of various church committees. I smiled and nodded and barreled my way through, my daughter ducking the outstretched hands as I bobbed and weaved like a running back.

“Gotta run! We’ve got company coming,” my son offered as we blitzed by.

We made it to the car and climbed in.

Later that afternoon my husband found me in our closet, filling kitchen trash bags.

“Burning the canoe?” he asked.

“Big time,” I said gesturing to the heaps around me, spilling into the hall. “All my summer and spring, and most of the fall. I’m keeping a few fleece pieces and old sweat shirts to wear around the house this winter, but I’ll donate them to Goodwill next spring. I have a couple of pairs of pants I bought a month ago that I can still wear and I found some old career clothes that kinda fit—they’ll work okay for dressy occasions for a while, but if we go someplace warm I’m gonna need a new wardrobe.”

“Sounds good.”

“I’m going to try to wait as long as possible, though.”

“It doesn’t matter. Get what you need.”

I sighed. This whole losing weight thing was tough. This time I wasn’t dieting. I wasn’t trying to get in shape to run a one-time marathon or fit into a dress for a class reunion. I wasn’t paying a personal trainer to yell at me. I simply and completely changed my relationship with food. Three months ago I discovered I had a gluten allergy. Since then I’ve been gluten-free and loving a diet that was mostly high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbs. I ate treats like dark chocolate and nuts and sugar-free jello with mountains of real whipped cream when I wanted. I wasn’t hungry. I felt good, especially when the arthritic symptoms and other ailments caused by the gluten problems disappeared. Without exercising or feeling deprived on a diet I was dropping weight, down about 35 lbs. now and the numbers were slowly  creeping south. It looked sustainable and permanent enough to me that I could finally allow myself to give away the now falling-down skirts and other too-big clothes I’d held on to for far too long.

The closet was nearly empty. It was a good feeling.

As we loaded the last of the clothes for the donation center into my car, my husband said, “You ready for the next step?”

I slammed the trunk. “I just burned the canoe. There’s no going back now. But I’m not quite ready to jump on the exercise bandwagon and commit to sweating to the oldies every day.”

He laughed. “You’ll get there.”

And I will.

Last Christmas I ordered a deep red down-filled coat based on a picture and a few stellar reviews  on a website. The knee-length coat promised to keep me warm during fall and spring soccer games and maybe even through a college football game or two. Better yet, it was on sale. My husband was thrilled when I told him what he got me. He and the kids wrapped it up when it came and put it under the tree.

I should’ve known that as excited as I was to get it, it was bound to be a bit of a letdown. When I tried it on, the sleeves felt a little short, and the jersey lining that sounded so cozy in the ad  sparked and snapped with static. Wearing it, I felt more Michelin Man than carefree breezy suburban Mom, less likely to burst into winter song and serve hot chocolate than sulk in the car in a too snug coat. Based on the reviews about its generous size, I’d ordered it a size smaller than usual.

Should’ve known better.

But it was a Christmas present and difficult to return, so I stuck it in the mud room closet and promptly forgot about it until today when I was heading out the door wearing something more suitable for summer than the sleet and snow blowing outside. Why not, I thought, it comes to my knees and who cares if I look like the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man? We’re headed to the grocery store for bread and milk, not lunch at the Four Seasons.

Zipping it up, I was surprised. It was loose, almost too big, although my wrists still poked out more than I’d like. I popped in the bathroom to check it out in the mirror. The thirty pounds I lost this fall made a difference. While I’d never look svelte wearing a maroon arctic sleeping bag, at least I didn’t look like an over-stuffed sausage anymore. When my husband yelled down the stairs that he’d be a couple of minutes longer and knowing that usually meant twenty, I decided to check my email.

And that’s when the magic happened.

Ten minutes later my husband found me typing away, tweeting and facebooking about how much winter chaps my hide.

“You’re wearing a coat,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “You gave it to me for Christmas last year.”

“A down-filled coat. In the house.”

There’s a reason for his surprise. When it snows, normal people wear coats, sweaters, and shoes. I don’t. I forget there’s an option to shivering miserably. It doesn’t matter that I’ve live through more cold winters now than tropical ones; I’m hard-wired for slippahs, cotton shirts, and shorts. I’m sure it’s some kind of deficiency of either genetics, vitamins, or quite possibly my character. Going from house to garage to car, there’s virtually no temperature change. I honestly don’t think about how cold it is until it slaps me in the face when I arrive at my destination and open the car door. Like a gecko my body tends to equalize to the ambient temperature. I’m chilled through fall and winter and well into spring.

It doesn’t help that I can’t work a jacket’s zipper; lining up the two ends and sliding one side into the other and pulling the zipper up is harder than calculus, requiring dexterity and a zen-like state of mind that slips just out of reach. I mentally hyperventilate whenever I have to zip up a coat. Some things you have you learn as a child or they just don’t stick.

But the longer my husband stared at me happily typing away about the evils of snow and ice, I realized something. In my office, with its two walls of windows usually the coldest (or hottest!) room in the house, I was warm, all the way to my knees. The padding on my sleeves protected my forearms from the bite of my desk’s edge, yet allowed my wrists to fully extend to the keyboard, freeing my fingers to dance. It was amazing, far better than huddling on the coach under a blanket or staying in bed and trying to work on an iPad.

That’s when I knew: this is not a grocery-store-sleeping bag-sideline-soccer-Mom coat!

It’s a magical anti-winter writing coat!

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