Blog – Laugh. Snark. Love.

Big announcement!

The first collection of my series, Chickenshit, is now available for pre-sale on Amazon Kindle for $2.99. Its official release date is 11/22/17, just in time for Thanksgiving. You can still read the entire series for free on amystinnett.com, but only for the next five days.

For those people (I’m one of those people) who like to read old-fashioned books made of paper, the paperback version will be out in time for Christmas shopping (you can check back at the same link above).

Read below to get a gist of the plot, but you’ll have to read the series to find out what torture (and bliss) Billie has in store for her.

Billie’s life is right on track. Solid. She has a cute girlfriend to hang with and an internship to build her resume until she goes back to U Dub next fall. But when her girlfriend bails on her and she inherits her dad’s farm in nowhere Idaho, you could knock her over with a feather. Milepost is a world away from Seattle in more ways than one. There’s no good coffee, the locals are a mixed bag, and there is no social life whatsoever. As for the farm – the chickens try her patience, everything she owns is covered in poop, and the goats may prove her undoing. There’s no doubt she is in over head just getting the place ready to sell, and her mom and best friend are frustratingly supportive without giving her any answers. Luckily, she has help from a hired man of sorts, an attorney she happens to be named after, a gorgeous librarian/cowgirl, and a bunch of people she doesn’t even know. The road to making a decision is definitely rocky, and soon she begins to ask herself: How can she go back to the big city after being down on the farm?

 

 

 

Crisis #10 Wild Turkeys

March 22, 2013

At 2:36 a.m. something that sounded like a demon being slaughtered bellowed in my ear. I sat bolt upright and clawed at the baby monitor on the coffee table to turn the sound down. It didn’t sound any better at a lower decibel. I ran to the mudroom, threw on my outside clothes, and raced to the barn, slipping in mud and nearly falling at the corner. One of the remaining pregnant does was lying on her side, mouth raised toward the roof, howling with pain. I stuffed my hands in all my pockets and found no cell phone. It was back on the counter in the house, charging. I looked down at her backside and saw a giant hoof poking out. No time to go get the phone.

I reached around past the hoof, trying to find the other one. It was there! Having watched so many births over the last few days, even pulling one myself with Elliot’s help, I kind of knew what to do. This kid was stuffed so tight against her, though. I grabbed a towel and dried the hoof and part of the leg so I could get a hold of it. Just then, I felt the doe start to rare back and push the baby, and the second hoof popped out. I wiped it off, and a moment later she was pushing again.

I found myself giving her lots of encouragement, like I would a person. “Come on, Mama Goat, you can do it. Here he comes, just a couple more pushes.”

One more push, and the nose and head with its tongue lolling out. The shoulders squeaked through, and plop, out came the whole kid. He was huge! I cleared the little guy’s mouth and nose and rubbed him all over with rags and pulled him over to his mother, who just stared at him and licked him once on the head. He was flopping around like a drunk seal, but clearly healthy. I was so relieved. Mama Goat snorted at me and commented that she’d rather I didn’t mess with her offspring, so I backed off. She got up and started cleaning him, steam floating up from the kid and his mother’s mouth. Within minutes, he was stumbling around his mother like a last call drunk.

I collapsed onto one of the straw bales and enjoyed the beauty of the moment. Maybe there is something to this parenting thing, after all.

Most of the other births had been twins, so I was prepared for a second delivery to happen soon. Sure enough, Mama Goat lay down and started grunting. This time, though, she wasn’t bellowing like the end of times. After the size of the last one, I was certain the next kid would be a breeze, and she was pushing the thing out like a pro. I just stood by, and moments later, a new kid plopped out on the ground behind her.

She sniffed it, licked its face, and went over to her other kid to start him nursing. I couldn’t see any movement from the new kid, so I knelt down and wiped his face with the cloth. No movement. I pried his mouth open, reached in and cleared it of a ton of goop. Still no movement. His tongue lolled to the side. I started to panic.

If I went to call Sheila or anybody, it would be too late for this one. Elliot said sometimes you have to turn them upside down and spinning them. It sounds brutal, but I was willing to try anything. I grabbed the kid’s back legs and shook it. I turned around, and its head and front legs flailed lifelessly against me. I shifted my arms around the top of its back legs and spun around, hoping anything in its throat might come loose. I spun and spun until I almost fell down. Nothing.

I lay the kid down and tried rubbing it briskly. Nothing was working! I screamed out of frustration and looked around madly for something I could use to help. I begged Mama Goat, “Please fix this one!” But she just stared at me, chewing her cud like nothing tragic was happening. The first kid was bumping into her, desperately looking for a teat. I reached down and cupped the second kid’s nose with my hand and blew into it. He was getting colder. I could tell by the steam subsiding around his body and none issuing from his mouth and nose. I picked him up again and swung him around ‘til I was dizzy. Same result.

This time, I collapsed on the straw bale, slid onto the ground, and burst into tears. Is there anything more terrible than losing a newborn life? I can’t imagine what it could be. Mama Goat seemed okay; she had one baby, and that was enough for her. But I sat there wishing I’d been more prepared, that I’d had my phone and called Elliot or Sheila or anybody even one iota more competent than me. I was sure that if I had, the baby goat would still be alive. This kid dying was my fault.

Through my tears, I saw a water bucket, knocked over and leaning against the barn wall. I half-remembered Elliot saying something about cold water. I jumped up and grabbed the bucket, still about half-full, and poured it onto the baby’s body. His body shrank bag, and his head moved! Then he pulled his tongue into his mouth and made a gurgling noise. I leapt to his side and swept his mouth of the gunk that must have dislodged from his throat. I started vigorously drying him off.

Mama Goat sauntered over and began licking him, her first-born, confused at being cut off from nursing, bleated.

“Sure, now you’re interested,” I told Mama Goat.

Once the kid was toweled off and under its mother’s care, I pulled myself back to my hay stack. I leaned back and breathed in the barn smells and the utter joy of not losing that baby goat. I lay down on my side and stared at the perfect little goat family getting to know each other. I closed my eyes and, out of sheer emotional exhaustion, fell asleep.

March 23, 2013 (continued)

In my dream I hear boots trampling over rocks. I am climbing a hill and the other climbers are above me, just out of sight. I’m sure my dad is with them. I need to catch up. I yell, “Wait for me!” and race to catch up, sliding in the loose rocks.

“Billie?”

Who was that? Dad?

“Billie. Uh. You should get in the house.”

I opened my eyes and stared up at Elliot, who was sideways for some reason, lifting his hat up and scratching his moppy red head. Under me, I felt the hard pack of a well-worn pony blanket over a giant straw bale and pushed myself up to join the living. The low-lying sun winked over Elliot’s shoulder.

“Oh, she went last night?” He pointed at Mama Goat. “How’d that go?”

I breathe in a thought to play it cool but ditched the idea immediately. “Huge first one, second one almost died.”

He looked at the second kid, a quarter smaller than its older brother, then back at me. “You done good.”

“I almost gave up. It was terrifying.”

“Almos’ don’t count. These late ‘uns can be the hardest. I lost two last year. Stillbirth and one deformed. A coupla years ago, one from white muscle disease. Things happen.”

“Aw, crap! I haven’t dipped them yet.”

“That’s okay, I’ll get ’em. You get in the house and get warmed up.”

“Okay. I’ll be out in a few minutes to help you.” I stood up, feeling stiff as a board.

“Whenever you’re ready. I’ll be here ’til noon. Pretty sure I can get things caught up.”

I slogged my way into the house and let a hyper and annoyed Frodo outside to do his business before I went inside to do mine. I splashed some water on my face and got ready to go back outside. My head was pounding, so I sat on the couch for a moment, trying to gather my thoughts. Selling this place, not selling this place, leaving Elliot and Jodie, Elliot quitting the farm, dying babies, saved babies, Mom and Dad … and Bill, not going back to school, facing Seattle alone, Mom and her new family. All the concerns that plagued me whirled around in my brain, none settling, none reaching anything resembling a conclusion. And all the while, one phrase kept interrupting them: walk the land.

I filled my water bottle and shuffled out the door, hoping Elliot would understand my bailing on him to just walk around and essentially do nothing. As I stood on the edge of the porch, letting my eyes acclimate to the bright sunlight, now a few more inches above the horizon, the little grey hen, then one I had struggled to corral that one day, hopped across the driveway, intent on the chicken run. Behind her, four fuzzy chicks rushed to catch up.

“So, that’s what she’s been up to.” Elliot peeked around the corner of the house. “She must be ready to eat some real food.”

I marveled at her tiny body. Although she was all fluffed out, I could tell she had lost a bunch of weight. “Is she okay?”

“Yep, she’ll be fine. She’s just been sitting her nest ’til she’s almost starved. But watch her.” He went over to the run and opened the gate, and the birds scooted inside. We crowded the gate and peered at the little family. She went straight to the feeder and began pecking. Her children edged around her to see what the feeder was all about, trying the smaller pieces and huddling close. Soon they fanned out and began nosing around the run. A curious hen sidled up to one of the chicks and pecked at it. Mama Chicken lashed out at her in a bluster of angry squawks, diving at the other hen’s head with her feet and beak. “See, she’ll clobber anybody who comes near those chicks.”

“Hey, I know this is dumb, but shouldn’t there be a whole bunch more chicks? It’s spring now, maybe too early?”

“Well, no, but we take the eggs. And we didn’t set any in the incubator. I figured you had enough on your hands already. And what’s the point? They won’t lay ’til fall, and the place will be somebody else’s by then, most likely.”

“Elliot, I have to tell you, I’ve really been struggling with selling the place.”

“I kinda figured. But I guess you’ll figure it out when you figure it out, right?”

“I don’t know if I can do it. And not to lay anything on you, I’m pretty sure I can’t do it without you. I been here long enough to know I don’t know shit about farming.”

“You can read, right? How do you think your daddy learned? Besides that, he wrote a ton of stuff. You can just read what he wrote, for beginners. And there’s stuff all over the internet. Geez, you got to give yourself a break. Besides, you still got me. I’m just down the road. People do for people here. Look, you don’t owe me a damn thing. I’m just your daddy’s old buddy. Sure, I do stuff around here, but that’s my choice, AND I get some money from it. But I owe you gratitude, not just for your dad and this place but for how you helped me with my mama and all.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t like to talk about stuff, but you were kind to me. I wouldn’t return that by lettin’ you down.”

“I know that. And you didn’t let me down. I just thought you’re going to be at the vet’s, so …”

“So, nothing. Just less time here. I’ll still help you.”

“Oh.” I wanted to hug Elliot at that moment, but neither of us was very comfortable with closeness, before or since his mother died.

He clamped his hand on my shoulder. “Looks like you got more help coming.”

Jodie’s little car turned off the main road and headed down the driveway. She leaned underneath the car’s visor and grinned at me. She had a ball cap shoved tightly down on her head with a pony tail hanging out the back. Why was she always so happy? Elliot waved at her and headed off to the goat barn.

“Here you go.” She handed me a latte from the convenient store. “I don’t go in until one today. What’s up?”

I thought for a second. “I was just about to go for a walk. You wanna come?”

“Sure.”

We went through the gate at the hay pasture and quietly picked our way through the uneven, half-frozen earth. With the dew steaming up from the field, the place looked heavenly. We stopped in a flat area and sipped our coffees.

“How are you doing?” Jodie asked softly.

“I’m okay. I had a hard night. We almost lost one of the babies.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

I sighed. “And that’s not all. I know the plan has always been to sell the place, but I’m having second thoughts. I don’t want to go, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome, either.” I sat my coffee on a fence post.

She shoved me gently against my arm. “You can’t wear out your welcome in your own house. Derp.”

“I guess that sounded stupid, but do you know what I mean? Everyone has been great, but what if I can’t take care of this place? I almost killed a baby last night, what if I ruin everything? Besides, I had plans. I would have to just let all that go.”

“Well, it would be hard to take care of the place and go to school. I had to live in Boise my senior year because my family’s farm was too much of a distraction. What is it you want to do, though? It sounds like it’s not a simple decision anymore.”

“Well, no, it’s not. I don’t want to give up my career path, but … I love this place now, okay. I don’t know why, but I don’t want it to go away. I’m no farmer, but I want …” I looked to her for something, I don’t know what. “I want to keep this place the way it is, not turned into a McMansion or to add to some guy’s farm collection. What I really want is to share it with my dad.” My face went ugly to cry, so I grabbed my coffee and started walking again. Jodie followed me.

We reached another flat area just before a stand of trees at the end of the field.

“I’m sorry about your dad. If I could, I would bring him back for you.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not very stable right now. Sometimes I have all but made my mind up one way, and then some animal does something cute or I do something stupid. Liv would like it if I stayed, and I think Elliot would, too. My mom hated farm life, but she has a new family now, and she won’t tell me what she thinks one way or the other. I just want somebody to tell me what to do.”

“Well, that’s the sucky part. You have to decide. I can tell you I wish you would stay. I’ve just barely got to know you, and I think you’re amazing. But that’s selfish, and it wouldn’t be any good if you stayed and felt stuck here. If you’re looking for permission, you’ve always had permission to go, maybe you just haven’t given yourself permission to stay?”

“Maybe you’re right. Do you think I can do this?” I raised my hands to pan out to the entire property.

“With a lot of help, yeah. Yes, you could do this. You’re smart enough, and, you know, your dad had a lot of help here, too. Even a little farm requires a lot of people to do things. People to deliver things, haul away things, repair things, clean up things, plant things, harvest things. There’s no way you could do it all. My dad does a lot, but he still has had to hire somebody every spring and every fall. Even with me helping out. I know the internship means a lot to you, but couldn’t you finish the year and leave in good standing? And you have work here, too, right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“So, you could stay current and take some courses online. I mean, if you want to do that.”

“I would be okay with that. I guess I’m just scared to take on so much responsibility.”

“The fact is, you already have the responsibility. It’s just what you want to do with it.”

I sat my coffee down on the ground, planted my feet, and looked her square in the face. “I want to stay. I’m going to stay.”

“Okay.” She smiled. “Then stay.”

“You would miss me if I left.”

“Of course.” She gazed at some bushes in the distance. “Billie, I’ve tried not to get too close to you, since you always said you were leaving, but I really like you. You make me laugh all the time, you’re cute, you’re intelligent, and I wish I had half of your swagger.”

“Swagger?” I snorted, but my heart was racing.

“Well, persistence, maybe. You work so hard. You’ve learned so much in the short time you’ve been here. And you aren’t full of yourself.”

“Are you insane? I am about as incompetent as they get. I can barely breathe half the time. Why have you never said anything.”

“This is the part where you say out loud that you find me adorable.”

“I do. Since the day you showed up here to shovel my driveway.”

“You are a slow learner, aren’t you?”

“Not that slow.” I took her hands, leaned in, and kissed her. Her eyes closed, and her face smoothed and leaned into mine. The bill of her hat tapped my forehead, so I slipped it off and let my hand rest on her shoulder.

“I believe in you.” She kissed me again.

“I’m getting that. It means everything to me. You mean everything to me.”

“I just couldn’t be the only reason you stay.”

“There are so many reasons to stay, but I think you’re the best reason.”

“I mean it, you can’t just stay because of me. We have a lot of things to figure out, a long way to go before …”

“Before what?”

“I don’t know, we become ‘we’.”

“Are you out, you know, to your family, at work? No one has ever said anything to me.”

“Some places, yes, others I’m more guarded. It’s complicated. Something we can talk about later.”

“Okay, get this on the books. I am staying first and foremost because I love this goddess-forsaken place and some of the people here, you being one of them. The main one of them.” I wrapped my arms around her. “I would stay even if we were just friends, if that’s what you mean, but I think you were right. I needed to give myself permission. You helped me. And, I hope going forward, whatever happens, there will be a ‘we’.”

I became aware of a crunching sound, something treading on dry leaves.

“Look there.” Jodie pointed to the dead-looking bushes, and I saw a dozen or so turkeys walking through the grass.

“They’re beautiful.” The sun highlighted their feathers, making their pod shaped bodies appear like shiny chrysalises. Their long necks jutted forward, and their legs jerked, pushing their bodies along, too. They maneuvered around the bushes, checking the grass for bugs, each moving independently, yet still obviously tied to its flock.

“Oh, just wait.”

We stood in silence, holding hands and listening to the bird calls. Nothing like the “gobble-gobble” I’ve always heard about. It was almost like a bark “rawk-rawk-rawk, rawk-rawk.” The birds edged our way, gleaning the field for treats. When they were within a couple dozen yards away, Jodie motioned for us to sit down. Instantly, the birds took flight and soared across the field towards the road. We could hear the whap, whap, whap of their wings as they nearly flew over our heads.

We lay back on the cold ground and stared at the bright blue sky for a long moment.

“So, you’re staying?”

I turned and gazed into her eyes. Every worry I’d had for the last two months seemed to fall to the way-side. I was here, lying in a cold hay field in Nowhere, Idaho with a beautiful librarian, watching birds fly across the property – my property – and enjoying this exact moment in time. There were tragic and wonderful events that led me to this place, and the best way to honor my father, my mother, Elliot, Jodie, and all of the people that care about me is to be open and let it all in. I felt Jodie’s fingers intertwined with mine and I rolled over and kissed her again.

“Wild turkeys couldn’t drag me away.”

Crisis #9 Just Kidding

March 12, 2017
Last night, I finally made it home and headed out to the barn to see what I needed to do and hopefully let Elliot go home. As I walked around the corner of the barn, I said, “Sorry, Elliot, I got here as quickly as I could, but I …” and my eyes landed on the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen. Her hair was trailing out of her pony tail, and her eyes drooped slightly, as she sat up on her bale of hay to stretch, yawn, and pull stray bits of straw from her clothes. She was gorgeous.
“Sorry, no Elliot. I’ll have to do for now.” I recovered enough to push one of the mugs towards her. “Oh, this is just what I wanted!” She tested the cocoa and took a long drink.
I glanced around the barn, and there were two fluffy kids nuzzling their mother, one of them still a little damp.
“The other babies are out in the loafing sheds with their moms. I think that about six or seven have freshened. I got here just in time for this one.” She pointed to a kid in the corner. “So far, all females but one.”
“That’s good, right?”
“That depends.” My brain was on overload, so I let that one go by.
“Okay, so what’s the plan?”
“Well, Elliot showed me the routine, shots and dip, etcetera, on the last one, so we can do it for the next one, as long as there aren’t any problems.” She got up, dusted off her pants, and grabbed a bottle from the top of the barn wall. “Want to help me dip him?”
I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I went over to the kid and stood against the side opposite Jodie. She unscrewed the top off the bottle and pushed it over the kid’s umbilical cord.
“Did you cut the cord?”
“No, either it pulled loose or momma goat chewed it. But I got some clippers to do it if it’s needed.”
Her comment from a minute ago finally caught up with me. “What kind of problems?”
She screwed the lid onto the bottle and put in back on the shelf. “Well, ones we can deal with, just normal stuff like helping her or turning them. Anything we can’t do, we call Elliot or Sheila or the vet.”
I liked the sound of this “we” thing. “So, you’re staying?”
“Yeah, that was the plan. I asked for the morning off, so I’m good until Elliot can get back. I hope you don’t mind me inviting myself over. I figured you could use the help, unless you got this?” She handed me a rag, kept one for herself, and we rubbed the damp kid all over, as it continued to nurse its mother.
“Oh, God, of course not. We’re staying out here?”
“Well, we could, but you have a baby monitor.” She pointed to the monitor on a shelf behind me. She made no attempt to move, so I sat down and sipped my cocoa. We stared at the newborn kids.
“Does anybody look … ready?” One of the does, her belly pooched out like an overloaded pack mule, looked at me and chewed her cud in a blasé fashion.
“Elliot said there were a bunch in line, but no one is in labor right now. Believe me, you’d know.” She kneeled down, put her forehead on the mama goat. “I love that they have been handled so much.” She scratched the goat’s neck. “No, they’ll wait ‘til 3 a.m. when you’re dead asleep. Or they may not go at all tonight. Elliot says when they start coming, there’s not much of a lull, though.” She hopped up. “We can go in no, if you’re ready?”
I nodded.
Jodie flicked on a flashlight and pulled the chain on the barn light. In silence, we walked along the edges of the circle of light and into the house, then pulled off layers of farm clothes and boots and hung them up in the mud area.
“You hungry?” I started to open the fridge, afraid what I would find there.
“Starving. I brought some leftovers from my dad’s Elks meeting. I’ve learned to bring food when I come out here.” She shoved my arm with her elbow. I made a mental note to stock the fridge.
After dinner, I put on a movie for background noise, and we talked about my trip and local happenings for a while. She piled on the couch, legs shoved to the back middle, which left enough room for me to face her from the opposite side of the couch. The rest of the evening I felt this crazy mix of utter content and nervous longing. I am certain she picked up on my nervousness, not knowing whether to get up or stay put, so at one point she hopped up and grabbed a couple of blankets for us from my bed.
“I guess I should go to bed.”
“No, you’re fine.” She laid the blanket over me, and re-positioned herself on the couch and covered up with her blanket. I fell asleep moments later, dreaming about her sock-covered toes curling up against my shins.

March 18, 2013

I have been running non-stop between two new work projects, the regular farm stuff, and bringing numerous ovine lives into the world. Jodie has been over several times to help, and so far, there has been no trouble that she or Elliot (or even me a couple of times) could not work around. Sheila is back now, and she came over to look at the new recruits. She said she is always impressed by my dad’s and Elliot’s herd, “Now yours and Elliot’s,” she said. I don’t know why, but I actually did feel a little pride. It’s not like I had much at all to do with it, though.

March 19, 2013

Liv came by the other day and finally brought Frodo home. He smelled like a flower shop, but he did lick me and immediately curl up next to me on the couch.
Liv called him a traitor, jammed herself into the other corner of the couch, and folded her legs up. “Sorry it took me so long, we’ve been swamped. We’ve been meaning to get out here to help you with some of the house stuff.” She looked up at the ceiling and over to the loft where Nate sat when they were here last. We’ve been waiting for some warmer weather, too. It looks like we might be near the end of the bad stuff, at least in a couple of weeks. I’ve been thinking about it. I like avocado for that wall,” she pointed, “where the sunlight hits it, it would be beautiful. But you want to do neutral tones to increase the number of likely buyers.”
I stared into her face and raised an eyebrow.
“What?”
“Well …”
“Would it be the stupidest thing ever if I stayed?”
“You know, it may not be stupid. It would actually be really cool to have you close by. Can you handle all this?”
“Well, yes and no. I think I almost have my head out of my ass, but I know I can’t do it alone. Everything on the farm would be dead if it weren’t for Elliot and Sheila and Jodie.”
“Hmm. That name, Jodie, keeps coming up. What’s going on there?”
“I wish I knew. I have gone from enchanted to obsessed over her, or maybe the other way around. She doesn’t seem to mind being close to me, and she has been over here A LOT.”
“Sounds like she’s into you, too.”
“Well, I am picking up a vibe, but she is not making any moves, and I have put myself out there more than a few times.”
“Maybe she wants you to make the first move?”
“She’s pretty direct on everything else.”
“Does she talk about boyfriends, girlfriends?”
“Nope, not once. But I don’t really talk about Ton-ton or anybody else I’ve dated. I mean, she knows I’m gay, but that’s about it.”
“See, now that’s weird. She helps you with all the farm stuff, is over here all the time, and she never mentions past relationships. She has the hots for you.”
I burst out laughing at the prospect. “Well, there was this one night that we slept on the couch together.”
“This couch?” She looked down at the hallowed vessel. “Show me how. Like this?” She shoved her leg out and her toes into my crotch, sending Frodo to the floor with a questioning look.
“Har, har.” I shoved her foot off the edge of the couch. “No,” I scooted down and showed her. “Now, she was in a yin yang opposite me.
Liv wriggled into position and started rubbing my leg seductively with her foot. “Oh, Billie, I love having leg sex with you. You’re the best!”
I sat up and glared at her. “Have I mentioned that I truly hate you.”
“Many times.”
“Ugh.”
“Look, I wish I could live here with you and play farmer Sally, but I can’t. However, comma, I think you would be great at it, and I would love to come help sometimes. I don’t care if this Jodie chick is as clueless as she seems …” She made a circular motion with her hands. “At least from my point of view, Geez, don’t get your panties in a wad. But you have been more like yourself since you got here. I think you were getting bored with Seattle and school and stuff. I mean, why else would you end up with Ton-ton. Just sayin’. If you want to go back to Seattle, I will miss you, but I do like seeing you from time to time. Also, I will be happy to take Frodo back, permanently, if need be.” She snatched him up and stuck her nose to his while scratching his ears.
Dammit Liv. It’d be easier to take your advice if you weren’t always right.

March 21, 2013

Yesterday afternoon three does freshened, meaning they’ve delivered their kids. Two of them were in the barn of their own volition, as with most of the other does, but the last one bristled at the idea of giving birth around people. Elliot and I had to corral her into the barn and then close it off with a fence panel so she wouldn’t be out in the cold all night. Elliot and Sheila were there all afternoon, and Jodie joined us after work, just in time to see the last of a second set of twins pop out.
After the last baby was dipped, rubbed down, and suckling on its mother, we all sat around on bales of straw (not hay) and buckets, talking about the weather, Jodie’s kids at the library, and Sheila’s grandkids. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of one thing about my friends in Seattle that would be of any interest to any of them. I did tell them about my new “sister/niece” and my new stepfather. Harvey is starting to grow on me. Even Elliot, usually quiet in a group, told us about calling the veterinarian about a dog that was hit. It was over the weekend and she didn’t have any staff, so he went to the clinic and helped her set the bone. Just sitting around swapping stories was really cool.

I was actually sleeping in, when Bill called me this morning and asked to come over. He got another offer on the place, and he laid out a strategy for hay production based on potential buyers that I had not thought about. Just as he was about to walk out the door, he turned back and asked me if I’d read my dad’s journals yet. I told him Mom had not shared them with me, and I hadn’t asked, but he said he meant the ones here at the farm. My mind went back to my Dad’s bookcase in the bedroom. Yep, the older ones were all in there, except for his last one that was on his desk. Bill told me Dad didn’t mention them specifically because he wanted me to find them when I was ready to read them.
After Bill left I realized, I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I went to the desk and read the last few entries. Here is one of them:

Monday, 5 July 2012
I felt pretty good today 4 out of 5. Hotter than hell, though.
All last night I could see the light on at Elliot’s place. Whether that was trouble with his mother or all the fireworks blasting around triggering him, I don’t know, but he showed up this morning in a calm mood. I think Elliot is the strongest man I’ve ever met. If I’d gone through all that he has, I’d be a shambles. The loss of his father, bonding with his unit and losing them, all of them, the violence of war, and the injuries, so many that can’t even be seen – just one of these could cripple a lesser man. But Elliot survived with his moral compass intact. I keep encouraging him to reach out into the world, or at least to Emmett, both for his own good and because this area needs more people like him in it. He has saved my bacon more times than I can count, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to help him. I hope that wherever I land when I leave this world Elliot or my memories of him follow me there.

They always say you can’t miss what you never had, but I miss my dad sometimes like I’ve known him my whole life. Here’s the final passage:

Thursday, 4 October 2012
The cutting’s been done for about a week now, and I had to get out of this house. One thing I’ve learned, whenever I have so many thoughts buzzing around in my head that I cannot think, I need to walk the land. And that was true today. Even though I had to stop many times to catch my breath, and my bones ached like I was in an Iron Maiden, I still felt the same sense of peace I felt when I landed here back in 1992. The sun was kind and shone down upon my tired bones and somehow my muddled thoughts were clearer, too. I thought about all the people, animals, and even down to a delicious ripe pear, all of the beautiful things that have made this life a wonderful place for me. With the bright blue ceiling, the snow caps in the distance, and the verdant valley around me, it would not be hard to believe in a creator, if I were so inclined.
Elliot found me on the edge of the field and helped me back to the house. I wrote out some final instructions for my will and called Bill to get things set up. Even though our love affair has long since faded, I want Karen to know my love for her is eternal. There has been no time during my life that I would not have welcomed her with open arms, but, alas, the life of a farm wife was never one she wanted. I want Billie to know how much she means to me, and this farm is the only gift I have to give her now. Whether she keeps it or uses it to fulfill a dream of her own, I care not a whit. I have done my utmost to protect and aid my dear friend, Elliot, in recompense for his service and abject loyalty to an old curmudgeon, but all that I have been able to do is plant the seeds that I hope bring fruit to his moving beyond the scars that war has inflicted upon him. I can feel myself slide back into that other realm, the one where my thoughts turn dark and gratitude wanes. My grandest hope is that I spend as little time there as possible before moving on. I doubt there will be further entries in my journal, so so long. Or as our old friend Louis L’Amour says, “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.”

How do I process all this? As I sat at Dad’s desk, making an attempt, I saw Elliot through the window, carrying a bucket of water to our new second home, the goat barn. (By the way, the new pump works great.) I threw on my outside clothes and caught up with him trying to keep the goats from knocking the bucket over until he just gave up. “What’s today’s count?”
“44.” He grabbed a file he carried with him all the time, lifted a random goat hoof and filed on it for a minute or so.
“How many left?”
“5 or 6. A couple of ‘em’s stubborn. But we been lucky. A coupla puny ones, but they’ll live.” He started filing on another hoof.
“Elliot, are you doing okay?”
When he finished the hoof, he stood upright and looked at me. “You know, I think I’m getting better.”
We hadn’t had much time to talk since I came back from my trip. At least, there wasn’t a time I had felt comfortable asking him personal questions. “That’s great.”
“I been going in and helping that vet lady a coupla times a week. Doing trimming and large animal stuff she’d just as soon not bother with.” He looked intently at the herd in the middle of the pasture. Because of everything with his mom, I never questioned when he did or didn’t show up early in the morning. But that made sense. It was actually a relief that he was getting out into the world.
“That’s really cool!”
“You know, I been meanin’ to talk to you about that.” He paused. “She wants me to help her full time, but I been fightin’ back on it ‘cause of the kiddin’. I guess I’ll be having to cut back on stuff around here. Not everything, but a bit. No worries. I can set you up with the egg customers and I know a guy that can help out if you need him. He’s kind of a horse’s ass but he works good. And I’ll help you when the time comes to sell off the animals.”
I felt dizzy and thought I might pass out. Elliot had not gotten the memo that I was considering staying. Heavily considering staying. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to blurt out a million things at once, but instead, I swallowed hard and asked him more questions about the vet. As he spoke, I tried to calm my mind and step back from the situation, but all I could think was How can I make this work without Elliot? I had the sinking feeling that the answer was I can’t.
After he went home, and I finished up the chickens, I ate a bowl of stew, thinking back on all the meals I’d shared its Elliot and how that was already coming to an end. I checked the baby monitor, but nothing strange going on there. I turned on the TV, shoved a western into the VHS player, and curled up on the couch with Frodo. I fell asleep just as the bad guy rode into town.

Brief Interlude: Excerpt from Lookout Butte – Alex is Not Miss Cranky Pants in this One

Salutations! That’s my fancy way of saying, “Thank Goddess September is over!”

I hope everyone had a great Halloween. It is so good, though, to be out of October and into November. We have been working a few season end projects around the farm, and I am sore and tired. Unlike Kat, I am old, overweight, and tire easily.

I regret that I was unable to finish this week’s edition because work on the farm, like the next edition, has been labor intensive (that’s a pun for those paying attention). So, in my post today, I will present another excerpt from my novel, Lookout Butte, and resume with Chickenshit:Crisis #9 Just Kidding next week.

Hopefully, after a quick jaunt to Eugene in a few days to pick up organic chicken feed, I can settle into writing for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a huge goal to get 50,000 words written in one month as a first draft of a novel. I have never written that much in one month, but I have the highest hopes and know it will be an excellent start to my second novel in the Alex and Kat series.

Chris Hollaway from the Small Business Center in Ontario has organized a local NaNoWriMo group Western Treasure Valley NaNoWriMo. There are 20 events scheduled for participating writers to join over the course of the month. Thanks, Chris, for organizing this!

My NaNoWriMo name is AmyStinnett, unless I change it, if anyone would like to add me as a friend. I have yet to name the book series, but I do have a working title for the next book, Whippoorwill Springs.

Since the last excerpt showed Alex, the main character, in one of her weakest moments, I thought I would post one that reveals she has multiple layers. Also, this excerpt has one version of the dream that was referenced in the dream interpretation with local Indie author, Merri Halma. Without further ado …

——————————–

If anyone ever asked Alex where her favorite place was, she would tell them about an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and the summer she lived in New York City after her freshman year. A friend of her dad’s had a daughter who was out of town all summer. She was studying abroad in Madrid and needed a house sitter for her tiny apartment. Alex had scraped together the cost of a membership to MoMA from her first paycheck at her new part time job at a coffee house. The museum became a fixation for her. She would go there every day she could, sketch in her notebook, and admire the paintings. Her parents came down and took her out for dinner and a show a few times, but MoMA held the lasting impression from that summer.

But the truth was, her favorite place was much less artsy and much closer at hand. After exploring parks around Atlanta over her first two years there, she found a hiking trail near Abbott’s Bridge in the Chattahoochee River National Wildlife Area. With time on her hands, Alex headed there now. She left her car in the recreation area parking lot and followed a paved trail a short distance before it ended in a densely wooded spot. Instead of turning back, though, she picked out a small trail used by animals and followed it until the trail was no longer visible. In just a few minutes, she found herself in a small meadow that was as private as a penthouse suite. The river was within earshot, and, in the many times she had been there, the most human contact she had experienced was a flash of color when someone had skirted the edge of the meadow and headed down the river bank to fish. Other than the odd deer or dragonfly, this space was hers and hers alone. The sky was usually bright blue, but even on colder, gustier days, this room-that-was-a-view was well-protected by thick woods on all sides. When a chance downpour hit, she would find shelter under the trees and revel in the splash of water on leaf and puddle.

Today, Alex spread out a blanket in a semi-shady spot near the west side of the field and took a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird out of her bag. The sun felt great, but she had to be careful and lie mostly in the shade. She learned her first year in Atlanta, with painful consequences, that her skin required lots of sunscreen and long sleeves and pants to keep from burning. Still, the sun’s warmth lulled her into a blissful state, and she never opened the book.

Alex’s thoughts flitted from her new job to Kat, to her parents and random memories. At about 6:30, she jolted awake, slightly chilled because the sun, though far from setting, was now obscured by trees. Her mind was still fuzzy as she sensed a warm glow floating in the air nearby, as a dream, one she had experienced many times, swelled and broke like a wave over her conscious mind.

She is still a child and lying under the Christmas tree, looking up through the branches at the ceiling, to her parents who are sitting on the couch, then to her brother in the chair next to them. “I’m not a child,” he repeats, periodically. She feels strange, like she has overheard something she shouldn’t have because she is hidden, so she slides out from under the tree. As she starts to stand up, she feels herself growing taller. First, a little taller than her mom. Then, she takes a breath to say something to get her family’s attention, but they are looking at the Christmas presents and don’t see her. When she lets out the breath, she grows taller than the Christmas tree. She takes another breath and looks down at her family. “Hey, Goober,” says Shawn, “open my present.” He is looking up at her but doesn’t react to her size change at all. She exhales again, and she grows so large that when she stands up fully, she bursts through the roof, where a torrent of sleet and snow blasts past her and down into the house. She stretches her arms out to keep the weather from hitting her family. Even though the tempest whirls around them, her family is still opening presents, unaware of everything. She sees smoke coming from the neighbor’s chimney, and she wakes up with the feeling that no one except her knows anything strange is happening.

Alex sat in her meadow, dazed for a moment, watching a lightning bug crawl across her leg. It reached a corner of fabric on her knee, spread its wings, and flew away. Alex saw the faint glow of its light, as it reached the high grass near the woods and disappeared. She felt a strange and unnamable tug inside, gathered up the blanket, and headed back to her car. She checked her phone to find a text from Kat. Crap! She had mixed up Kat’s days off! She loaded the blanket into the trunk, sent Kat a quick response, and headed for home.

Chickenshit: Crisis #8B Big City Blues

March 9, 2013

I’m going to love working with Chloe. We got to the airport, and everything went smoothly, for once.

When I got off the plane in Sacramento, the sky was a Byzantine blue. I expected to get a text from Mom saying she was running late, but, there she was at the gate, bouncing a small child on her hip. She almost knocked me over with her hug, and I think the kid drooled on my jacket, but it’s always nice to be wanted. Her phone rang, and she whispered, “work,” as she answered and foisted the baby on me. I jostled the kid around until she was in a position that did not feel like my arm was being twisted off. How do people carry them around all the time like this? Mom walked over to a wall for some quiet, and I stared into the little girl’s watery blue eyes for a moment. She looked like she was going to cry, and I found myself doing something I never thought I’d do.

“Hooshie, wooshie. Who’s the happy baby?”

Her fat little cheeks bubbled up with drool. Ugh. But she wasn’t crying.

“Whatsa gramma doing?” I pointed at Mom. So glad I’m not having one of these anytime soon.

Mom walked back over, phone still attached to her ear. “Uh-huh, uh-huh, have you tried calling her emergency contact number?” She pulled the baby blanket off her shoulder and wiped the kid’s mouth, then went back to her wall of protection.

“Weww, gwamma is bizzzzy, isn’t she?” Thank goddess, Liv wasn’t there. I found a bench and dragged my backpack behind me so we could sit down.

I struggled to remember the baby’s name … Harley? Hailey? “Hailey, hay-we, hay-wee.” I bounced her on my knee and sang to her like some Sesame Street reject. She seemed to dig it, though. Mom walked back to me, took a set of brightly colored plastic keys out of her jacket pocket, and held them out to me. “Well, Karen’s name is on the orders, so you’ll have to go to her … I know, I know.” Back to her fortress of solitude.

“So, kid, what do you think of the new iPhone?” Blank stare, more drool. “Yeah, what are you, Mac or PC?”

She reared back and jabbered, “Ay, yi, yi, yi, bababa – bah!”

“Okay, okay.” As a last resort, I jingled the keys in front of her. Hailey grabbed the bright blue one and stuck it in her mouth, drool running in a string from her chin, down my pant leg, and to the floor.

Mom ended her call and came to collect the miscreant. “Everybody okay over here?”

We drove through town, and things began to feel like normal. Mom caught me up on all the latest happenings around here, and I told her a bit about the farm, Elliot, Sheila, Jodie, and some of the locals. She remembered Sheila but wasn’t sure about Jodie’s dad. Elliot’s family kept to themselves during the time she was there, but she kind of remembered them. About two blocks from the house, she pulled the car over.

“Baby, I have to tell you something.”

“Okay.”

“Harvey and I are going to get married.”

I let the concept sink in for a second. “Well, that’s great, Mom. I mean, it’s great if you think it’s great. You do think it’s great, right? Or why else would you be doing it?”

“Well, yes, I am 100% on board. I love Harvey, and I want to spend the rest of my life with him. And that would be enough for me, but he wants to tie the knot. And there’s one other reason.” She put her hand on mine. “We’re going to formally adopt Hailey.”

She paused to wait for my reaction. I had no idea what to say. “Oh, well, okay. What about her mom, Hannah?”

“So, the thing about Hannah is she has not gotten her life figured out just yet. She doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, so how can she raise a kid? She can be irresponsible on her own time, but when it effects that baby, Harvey and I have had to step in. Her mother wants nothing to do with her, so that leaves us. Hanna is signed on, too, as long as we tell Hailey the truth and she can still see her sometimes, when she’s straight and under supervision. Anyway, it would be much easier for everyone if Harvey and I were married, so we’re going to do it makes sense to go ahead and do that. I know that sounds romantic, right? I was hoping …” She smiled at me.

“What?”

“We, we were hoping you would go with us tomorrow to city hall and be a witness. We might do a ceremony in the summer, but right now, we want to take care of the legal side.”

So, Mom was giving up her single lady status for the sake of the bundle in the back seat. I looked at Hailey’s big, bald head. “Sure.”

Mom smiled, “Is that ‘sure, I’ll do this to get you off my back” or ‘sure, I’m glad you waited for me because I want to share the day when hell freezes over with you’?”

I smirked. “The latter.”

“Oh, baby, thank you!” Her skinny arms wrapped around me in an instant.

When we got home, Harvey was his usual jovial, couch potato self. There really was a lot to like about him, even if I didn’t get Mom’s physical attraction to him.

 

March 10, 2013

 

This morning, we dressed in our best outfits, and Mom and Harvey got hitched.  With Harvey’s sister, my mom’s best friend, and me and my new appendage, Hailey, witnessing, how could their new endeavor do anything but succeed? Afterwards, we all went to Biba’s (the best Italian place ever) for a huge lunch. Harvey and Mom were beaming. It was actually pretty cool.

Harvey went home, I’m assuming to nap, and Mom and I went to a huge chain baby store to her gift card, a shower present from her work friends. She bought a car seat/jog stroller combo that cost more than probably everything she ever bought me before I turned twelve, combined. Still, Hailey did look like a cute little dictator, ruling from her baby Pope-mobile.

When we got home, Mom fed Hailey and put her to bed, then disappeared into her bedroom with Harvey. About 11:30, she came out and joined me on the downstairs couch, watching reruns of Friends.

“You used to watch this show, waiting for me to get home from work, huh?”

“Yeah, sometimes. I never really got into it.”

“Me, either.”

“So, how are you dealing?”

“With what in specific?”

“Adulting.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I seriously don’t know how I’m going to sell the place, displace Elliot, get rid of all the animals, let everything Dad built disappear. And I don’t know how I would not sell it, since my whole life is back in Seattle. Maybe I could get someone to run it with Elliot, someone I could trust, while I finish school, but I don’t have a clue how I would find someone. What do you think?”

“I don’t know, babe. I know you’ve always wanted a Masters degree. You love Seattle. Has anything changed?”

“No, I don’t think so. Maybe I appreciate it more, now that everything I own is covered in bird poop. If I’m really honest, this last trip is making me wonder. I mean, work is still great, but the bar scene is just boring now. I ran into Ton-ton.”

“How did that go?”

“About like you’d expect. She’s so fake, I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. I did stand up for myself this time, though. Anyway, I think she has moved on.”

“Well, good. She didn’t really sound like your type.” Mom didn’t know all the gory details, but she knew enough. “Tell me more about this Jodie girl.”

I tried to mute the grin now spreading across my face. “Well, she is beautiful. Kind of a Kelly Clarkson meets Selena. She’s about my age. She’s a librarian, so she’s smart. I went riding, horseback riding, with her a couple of weeks ago, and it was probably one of the best days of my life. It’s not just those things, though. She’s got this way of being, you know, a Zen, but she’d probably make a joke about me using the word to describe her.”

“Sounds like you got it bad.”

“Mom, no. I’m sure she’s straight, and besides, if I leave, then I’d probably never see her again. I mean, I’ll go back to Boise to see Liv sometimes, but I barely know her. She probably thinks I’m an idiot.”

“Have you asked her how she feels.”

“Well, no. I’m sure she’s straight. She’s a daddy’s girl. And if you knew the right-wing assholes she has to deal with every day…” Mom gave me a look that said she wasn’t buying what I had to sell.

“Ask her how she feels.”

“Okay, okay. But it’s moot if I sell the place and move away.”

“You’re seriously considering staying?”

“Yeah, well. I don’t know what Elliot will do without the place, and there’s no guarantee the next owner would work with him.”

“Any way he could buy the place or just lease it from you? You told me his mom was the reason Dan didn’t leave it to him?”

“Nope. I asked him again, and he said he had too much to deal with, already.”

“But, honey, you’re losing focus. It’s great that you’re thinking about all these people, but how do you feel? Do you want to be up to your elbows in mud and poop all the time? Do you want the responsibility of all those animals? Do you want to put your studies on hold for a while? That’s what you need to be asking.”

“You hated living on the farm, right? You always said the farm life was not for you.”

“I’m not saying for you to do one thing or another, but you can’t live your life worrying just about other people. I tried, and it didn’t work for me. I loved so much about the farm. Seeing the baby chicks following their momma chicken around. I loved having the kids scamper around me in the field. I loved watching the sun come up over the hay field. We had this barn cat, a skinny, orange tabby, and she was so sweet. She would bring me dead gophers and curl up at my feet when I would sit out on the deck. There were a lot of peaceful moments there, but I got tired of the constant worry over everything. It just never stops, and with a kid, it was overwhelming. The first year or two was great, almost idyllic, but then we stopped going anywhere, even to Boise. Maybe if things had been different, I don’t know. I think your dad became agoraphobic.”

“So … what happened with Bill?”

“Um. Did he say something to you?”

“Not much. But you named me after him, right?”

“Yes. I love Bill. He was such a great kid. He stayed with us before you were born, and it was almost like he was my first child. His parents kicked him out because they thought he was gay.”

“So, was he the reason you left?”

“Oh, good heavens, no. Look, your dad was bi. It was not a big deal to me, since we were committed to each other. Dan had feelings for Bill, but, as far as I know, he never followed through on them, at least before Bill went off to college. But I think his way of coping with his feelings for men was to try to shut down that side of himself. And I think fixating on the farm may have been another coping mechanism, too. You now have my dime-store analysis, for what it’s worth. When he started shutting down and isolating, I changed jobs. I needed the world outside, too, and I was hoping it might wake him up, but instead he just got worse. By the time you and I moved out, he and I were long past done. I waited for years for him to reach out, but it never happened. Anyway, he seemed happy enough on the farm, with his books and animals. Have you looked through all his little notebooks?”

“Yeah, there’s tons of records. Did you know how much money the farm makes? I could get my Masters paid for in one year, alone.”

“Yes, but would you have the time and energy to go if you stayed there? I mean, you might, if you’re motivated enough, but a farm’s a huge responsibility.”

“I’m starting to get it.”

“Whatever you choose, I will support you any way I can. Harvey, too. I hope you get a chance to know him better. Anyway, I’m tired and I need to get back to bed. They’re not going to let me take another day off, I’m pretty sure.” Mom had been on her phone several times during the day, having to manage a crisis at the office. “Night, baby.” She patted my leg and headed off to bed.

 

March 11, 2013

 

At 8:13 a.m. My phone buzzed, and I rolled over and checked it. It was a text from Jodie.

 

Can you come home early?

I rubbed my eyes and sat up to reply.

Possibly. What’s wrong?

The goats have started kidding, and Elliot’s been up with them all night.

Oh, I didn’t know they’d started. He doesn’t text and won’t call unless it’s an emergency.

Well, not an emergency, but he’s panicked one will need help if he goes home. So he’s been out in the barn for most of the last two days.

I have mostly been dealing with chickens, Elliot has handled all of the goat stuff.

Sheila’s due back, too. I know a little, but she’s an expert.

I will get there as soon as I can. Thank you for letting me know.

Of course! I hope you’re having a good time. Jealous.

I couldn’t imagine Jodie being jealous of anyone or anything.

I went upstairs and found Harvey in the kitchen feeding Hailey. She was doing some sort of Jackson Pollock painting on her high chair tray, only with Cheerios and applesauce.

“Is there some sort of compulsory law that children under five must have Cheerios? I’m just saying there must be some other food they can eat.”

“They get your name and address from the hospital, and they come break your little toes if you don’t buy two giant boxes every month. I was secretly mixing it in with the mulch in the back yard, but I started finding dead birds.”

I laughed in spite of myself.

“You want some people food?” He was grilling a breakfast sandwich in a pan.

“Is that allowed?” He smoothly slid the sandwich onto a plate, the plate onto breakfast bar in front of me, and he went back to the stove to make another.

“Thank you.” I took a bite. It wasn’t bad. “So, do you think Mom would mind if I left early?”

“She already thought you would. Why do you think she took the whole day off yesterday? She would have gone straight back to work after the ceremony if you weren’t here. Thank you, by the way.”

“For what?”

“You know, for not busting my chops over everything. You know, Hannah. For not hating Hailey.” I looked over at the slobbery mess. “I wish you were around more, actually. I think Hannah could learn a lot from you.”

“Well, I don’t know … Maybe she just needs more time? She’s only …?”

“Nineteen. Well, she’s been in and out of rehab since she was seventeen. She was only straight during, unh-unh,” he pointed his head towards Hailey, “because her mother basically locked her in her room for nine months. Her last stunt almost landed her in jail. I may not like her mom, but Hannah has been pure frustration since she hit puberty. She was finishing her GED and gearing up for community college, and she blew it.”

“That sucks.”

“Anyway.” He sat down with his sandwich and started eating. Still chewing, he said, “A non-stop flight leaves around midnight and gets there around 3:30 in the morning, but if we get you to the gates by twelve or so today, you can get a connecting flight in Salt Lake and be there around six tonight.” I gaped at him. “What? Your mother had me check all the options as soon as she found out you were coming.” He finished the last bite of his sandwich and dusted his hands over the plate.

It was overcast when my plane touched down at the Boise airport. All I could see upon approach in the dusk blue sky were the lights from the state prison, twinkling golden in the frost night. I remembered seeing them from Bogus Basin when I went skiing with Liv and Nate, and it seemed like ages ago. From the lobby, I texted Liv I was back early. She said I was welcome for dinner, but I told her I was in a hurry to get home. She offered to bring Frodo back over the weekend, and I was grateful for one last thing to worry about. I texted Jodie I had made it to Boise and would see her in the morning, or the next time she made it out to the place, but I didn’t get a reply.

As I paid for parking, another plane took off on the runway and soared in a straight line, heading west before disappearing into the clouds. The radio sounded harsh on my ears, even when I turned it down low, so I drove back to Milepost listening to the slush and ice under whoosh under the tires. The last bit of orange stretched to the edge of the skyline and melted into a pale gray, then gravel, then slate. It was pitch dark at the farm, but a light was on in the goat barn. I went in the house and made two hot chocolates for Elliot and me, before I changed into my work clothes and coat and headed out to the barn.

 

Alex’s Dream Interpretation Conclusion

And now … The conclusion of Alex’s interview with  local author and dream interpreter, Merri Halma. You can read it in its entirety on Merri’s blog, Spiritual Musings.

 

***

Merri: Fear keeps us from opening up to family and friends. You buried yourself in your schoolwork to avoid feeling your fears and as a form of protection. Now that you’re older, are ready you to get to know your parents? Are you ready to feel your feelings?

Alex: Yes. We have had several talks now, and it is helping me understand on a psychological level what happened. I’m beginning to see them as two different people, not just “the parents,” and they are actually pretty cool individuals to know. My dad is funny, in a dad sort of way, and really easy to hang out with. He knows a little about everything. My mom is a bit harder to get to know, but she is brilliant, snarky (like me at times), and organized. If I ever need help getting something done, she is right there for me.

As to my own feelings, I am always a work in progress. I have a hard time trusting people, so I end up thinking the worst when things don’t go the way I planned. In the past, I have held pretty shallow relationships, where there was no need to develop high levels of trust, really nothing to lose. As things got serious with Kat, I struggled more with the fact that I did have something to lose than anything that was actually going on with her, the bar skanks, etc., although that is what I focused on so that I didn’t have to face my own feelings directly. Now, I see how bad that was for our relationship and my own well-being. It isolated me from Kat, which made me feel even more invisible to her.

Merri: That’s great insight, and shows you are facing your feelings. In the dream, too, you mention a feeling of invisibility. In what way in your waking life now do you feel invisible?

Alex: I haven’t really thought about that. As a social worker, I want to make a difference in people’s lives. When Carla died that brought that feeling front and center. I mean, I oversaw her, and there was nothing I could do to keep her … safe. If I’d just gotten to the phone in time. If I had driven around to all the local bus stops. I don’t know, it just felt like my presence, nothing I could do mattered, but I kept trying. I struggle with it sometimes, but I do believe that I can make a difference.

In some ways, maybe I feel like Kat wasn’t hearing me? She kept everything bottled up inside and then shared it when she’s ready. I like to talk things through, plan things out, so when she doesn’t tell me things, I feel left out of the loop. When she was going through this whole commitment thing, it wasn’t the typical settle down or play the field question, it was how do I settle down? Will I be able to keep my other family back home? I guess she needed to work through that on her own, but I felt left out like she had better things to do.

Merri:  So you felt isolated and alone.

Alex: Yes, that’s about right.

Merri: In your waking life, how are you not protecting yourself?

Alex: Well, for a while I was just flying by the seat of my pants. I was avoiding feelings instead of addressing them. If I had talked with my parents a long time ago, I could have avoided years of lingering guilt over Shawn. If I had faced down some of my jealousy issues, I wouldn’t have had to put Kat and me through the horrible separation that we had.

I am learning, though. My dad got hurt in a car accident, and I have been helping him, but instead of running myself threadbare, I have been writing in my journal, walking, and meditating. Kat and I are learning to communicate a lot better. And I have had learned a lot about forgiveness. My parents for their grief, the universe for taking Carla, Kat for keeping things to herself, and most of all myself, for always feeling like I’ve let everyone down if I don’t do the exact right thing. I think I’m a pretty cool person. Even my cat, Schrodinger, thinks so, from time to time.

Merri: Aren’t we all flying by the seat of our pants? (giggle).  I wanted to get to the dream you had with Carla now.

Alex: The last time was just before they found Carla (a client from the group home where I work). In that one, I could see her at the house next door, watching television, and there was this red shade over the window. What was weird was that I had an extension to that dream, and I haven’t had one like this before. I was lying in this meadow where I like to go, and I kept getting covered with leaves. I don’t know if I believe in precognition, or whatever, but I woke up covered in leaves, and I couldn’t breathe. Carla was found in a wooded area covered in leaves just a few days later.

Merri: That dream gives me pause. Yes, it does sound like you were experiencing a bit of precognition. Perhaps Carla was reaching out to you.

I remember your original dream changed, too, when you burst through the roof of the house, your brother, Shawn, noticed you. He said you didn’t have to be up there, right? What are you trying to get yourself to see?

Alex: I think I was up there trying to see more about Carla, and he told me to get down. When I said I was trying, he asked me why. I think maybe he was saying all my trying wasn’t doing any good, that I needed to stop trying so hard and let some things come to me. He was telling me to get down from where I was so I could see. But I could see better from up there, right? Well, maybe not. Maybe I need to have more than one perspective to really understand things. And maybe I am trying too hard.

Sharon, who is my boss and a good friend, has counseled me to think more of the everyday ways I can affect the lives of our clients, rather than focusing on all the potentially bad things that can happen, the worst all would be a client getting harmed or dying. Certainly, those things may happen and will have to be dealt with, but the day-to-day care is the most crucial thing. In my personal life, I need to come to the understanding that I am not on the hook to prevent all the bad things that happen to the people in my life. I can keep all the balls in the air I want, but life is always going to throw another one in, one that I may or may not be able to handle. And that has to be okay. My brain gets that. It may take a while for my heart to catch up.

Merri: Alex, you are bringing in your own insight to that dream. I’m happy to learn so much from you and look forward to seeing your continual growth. I hope you start keeping a dream journal and learn from your dreams.

Thank you for coming on our show, Alex. And thank you, listeners, for tuning into Dream Interpretations with Merri Halma. Until next time. Goodbye and pleasant dreams.

 

Merri Halma is a self-published writer, spiritual searcher, and avid seeker of inner wisdom. She is the author of the Indigo Travelers series.

Lookout Butte by Amy Stinnett

 

Dream Interpretations Interview with Alex Stewart (Main Character from Lookout Butte)

Hello, everyone! A couple of weeks ago, local author and dream interpreter, Merri Halma, asked me if Alex, the main character from my novel, Lookout Butte, would be available for an interview. I thought this was a terrific idea, and so did Alex. Below is an excerpt from the interview. I will post more of it later, but you can read it in its entirety on Merri’s blog, Spiritual Musings.

Merri Halma

Welcome to another session of Dream Interpretations with Merri Halma. Today we welcome Alex Stewart, a social worker at Louis Ellis Adult Group Home.

Alex: Thank you for having me.

Alex has been having a recurring dream of being with her parents and older brother sitting around the Christmas tree. Alex, you mention feeling invisible, as you watch your parents and brother opening presents. He calls for you to come join them, and you try to move to the couch where they are, and then you start growing. They don’t appear to notice, yet you call to them to notice you. Your words fall on deaf ears. You continue growing, breaking through the roof. It starts to snow, so you do your best to protect them.

Let me remind everyone that each item in the dream is symbolic of the dreamer. Now for our interview with Alex.

Merri:  I understand you’ve been having this since your brother’s death, right?

Alex: Yes, well I think so. I always felt like I had the dream before he died, but certainly in the years since then, probably once every six months, at least every year. When I first left for college, I had the dream or some version of it every night for a week.

Merri: What stresses were you experiencing at the time of the dreams?

Alex: I’m not sure about all of them. The last few times, I was stressing over my relationship with Kat. She and I were struggling there for a while, mostly due to my stupidity, but we’re on track right now. It’s funny, the more life throws at us, the better we are, but when everything was going on with school and the new job at Louise Ellis, I was not doing a lot of self-care. I guess the job was also bringing Shawn’s death into the forefront, and I had a lot of unresolved feelings about him. I think about him every day. He was such a cool brother.

Merri: Tell me how this recent dream changed from when you were a child?

Alex: When I was little the dream stopped before I got out from under the tree. I could hear my parents talking from across the room, which comforted me. In college, the dream, it became more stressful when I tried to get their attention and couldn’t. After I started working at Louis Ellis, in the dream I became more protective of my family and Shawn, from the elements, the wind, and sleet in the dream.

Merri: That’s after you broke through the ceiling, correct?

Alex: Right.

Merri: As a child, after Shawn passed away, did you feel lost? Like you couldn’t say what your feelings were?

Alex:  I was lost. My parents were lost, too. I kept my feelings to myself, I guess because I didn’t want to make life harder for them. Our family changed overnight, really. We went from kind of an Ozzy and Harriet existence to everybody for themselves. We didn’t talk about Shawn for a long time. It was hard because, everywhere you looked, Shawn was there. I think we were all scared of making the pain worse for each other.

Merri: You sound helpless, though. Like whatever you do isn’t enough. Is that right? What kind of danger were you seeing in your waking life growing up?

Alex: I guess I was always worried I was going to disappoint my parents. They had already lost one child, and I had to be uber-responsible to make up for that. Even during my “rebellious” phase, where I barely talked to them and got in a lot of arguments with my mom, I was killing it at school, AP Math, Science, and English classes. I won a statewide essay contest. I was on the debate team. And I had a part-time job working at a bookstore. My rebellion was basically being shitty to my mom and ignoring my dad. Also, I smoked for about a year. Stupid, right? Anyway, the biggest fear I had was letting my parents down, but I ended up distancing myself from them in the process. And then I felt more alone because they didn’t see me. They didn’t know me.

Merri: Fear keeps us from opening up to family and friends. You buried yourself in your schoolwork to avoid feeling your fears and as a form of protection. Now that you’re older, are ready you to get to know your parents? Are you ready to feel your feelings?

STAY TUNED FOR ALEX’S ANSWER.

Look0utButte by Amy Stinnett

 

 

Chickenshit: Crisis #8A Big City Blues

March 6, 2013

I got up at 3 a.m. so that I could get to the airport with time to spare. I know it’s overkill, but I wanted to be there two hours early to increase the chances of getting on the early flight. The house was quiet, no roosters crowing or dogs barking. I brushed my good shoes off one last time, grabbed my bag, and headed out the door. As I waited for the car to warm up, I saw little bird feet moving in the chicken run. I thought about my little grey hen from my first real day on the farm. It turns out she was still alive and kicking, and not one of the handful of birds that have died this year. She’s almost like a pet. When the weather gets warmer, I want to go out and sit with the birds. Anyway, it was so peaceful that I almost fell back to sleep but cranked the stereo as I drove away. How fitting, the local station played “Big Ole Jet Airliner” as I hurled my little car towards the Boise airport.

I know I should be jaded by this point in my life, but I am still floored by the views from the plane, seeing the Space Needle against that azure Seattle skyline, and my first glimpse of the big purple “W” on the stadium. They all brought back a flood of good memories, times that weren’t that long ago, but it might as well have been a decade ago. I left Seattle a day or two after New Year’s Day, but when I graduated from UW last June, that’s when things really started shifting. I stayed in town, taking the internship/assistant position, while Liv and some of our friends scattered to places across the country. I felt like I was just waiting for the next phase (graduate school) to kick in, so falling into a relationship with Ton-ton seemed like no big deal.

She and I moved in together after we met at a bar in Capitol Hill and started hanging out. We talked a lot about movies and music, and we just seemed to fit, without a lot of drama or work. I guess I got lonely without my “crew” there to hang out with. Anyway, it didn’t seem like that big a deal, but I guess it meant more to me than I thought. When Ton-ton came home and told me she was going to marry that guy, I just about lost it. It was a few days before Christmas, and I had no plans for going home. I spent the next couple of weeks crashing on a couple of friends’ couches until I got the call about my dad.

Anyway, my travel went off virtually without a hitch. I took the bus from the airport, texted a few people to let them know I was in town, made a few stops, and met my friend, Camela (pronounced like Pamela), at the HUB after she finished her last class of the day. She’s graduating this year and still lives in Kelsey, so after the long day, it was nice to go back to her room, catch up, and crash early since we both had early morning meetings.

Camela’s room is on the third floor. I snuggled up on her couch, listening to the thuds and bass lines coming from neighboring apartments, and stared at the cobalt sky through her window. About two a.m., some guy walked through the courtyard and yelled, “Hey! Screevo!” at the top of his lungs, for no apparent reason that I could tell. I felt like I was home again.

 

March 7, 2013

 

I went into the office for our annual meeting this morning. Last year’s meeting was held a couple of weeks later, and I was lucky enough to have come on board, at least in a small way until I finished my year at UW, just before the meeting. I loved the building where their office is. They share a converted Victorian house, a block over from the Queen Anne Public Library, with another environmental non-profit that lobbies for better air quality in the Pacific Northwest.  My boss, Alma, met me at the door with a hug and a cup of coffee.

“My goddess, Billie, it feels like you’ve been gone a hundred years!”

“I know, me, too.” I sipped the coffee and reached across the conference table for a sky blue doughnut with purple sprinkles.

Alma moved on to greet others coming in getting everybody ready for the meeting, while her assistant went about laying packets and swag in front of each chair at the table. Alma came back to me to introduce me to a few people I had not met and a couple that started late last year that she wasn’t sure how our timelines matched up. All-in-all, there were about 15 of us, and a few more speaker phone.

The glossy cover page had snow covered mountain with a royal blue sky, and superimposed over it was a drilling well with fracking tunnels coming out underneath, and one more layer with the no symbol over the top of everything. Strangely, what it reminded me of was the mountains near the farm, Squaw Butte, and even Boise National Forest, where I went skiing with Liv and Nate. Alma opened the meeting with a quote from John Muir, and we flipped through the packets, as Alma went over the progress of the past year, all the legislative battles and town ordinances, new and continuing partnerships, funding sources, and plans for 2014-2015. We had a quick question and answer session before taking a break and separating into our work teams. I sat at the table, still staring at the cover of the packet.

“How long are you in town for?” I looked up to find Alma smiling down at me.

“Just a few days. I have to go see my mom in Sacramento, then it’s back to the farm.”

“Oh, yeah, you did inherit a farm. That is so cool. Sad to hear about your dad.” She slid into the chair next to me. “So, what, are you going to do, lease it or stay or… I don’t know?”

“Well, I have plans to sell it. Everything should be wrapped up by June, July at the latest.” The words sounded strange coming out of my mouth, like a baby falling overboard a ship.

“And then you’re coming back to Seattle?”

“That’s the plan.” I realized I sounded a bit dismissive, so I added, “It’s been great being back. I miss all the sights and sounds of the city. Plus, I’m staying with a friend who is still on campus, so it’s almost like I never left.”

“Still, it must be nice working from home, right?”

“Well, I don’t have internet, so I go to the library. I have to get everything online done before the gamers show up after school. Still, it is kind of fun. There’s a lot of same stuff there or in Boise, like coffee shops, markets, good book stores, pho and sushi, it’s just there’s fewer options to choose from.”

“Well, I grew up in San Francisco, and I can’t even imagine living someplace where there’s no Wi-Fi.” She laughed. “I mean, that’s what we’re protecting.” She pointed at the packet. “I think it’s neat to get snowed in at a lodge, but I can’t imagine having to live and function in a place like that.”

“No, I get it. Believe me, I’d rather …” I had no idea what I was going to say.

“Hey, girlfriend!” Chloe, a rep from Colorado who I spent a lot of time with at last year’s meeting, tapped me on the shoulder and bent down and gave me a hug. “Guess what!”

“Hey!” I stood up and put my knee into the chair. “I don’t know, what?”

“I’m moving to Seattle! Isn’t that cool?”

“Yeah, that’s supercool.”

“Yeah, I’m going to head the grant writing team, and Alma helped me find a place in Wedgewood! Yay, I get to see the ocean all the time now! I was late getting in from the airport. I’ve been sitting in my rental car, listening to the tail end of the meeting.” She laughed and caught her breath. Time was up for us to go to our department meetings. “Hey, we should go do something tonight. You got plans?”
“Not really, just hanging with friends. You want to come with us?”

“Sure, I’m in.”

When I got out of my meeting, Chloe was still busy with hers, so I caught the bus up to Capitol Hill and went to a coffee shop to kill time until time to meet Camela, and possibly Chloe, for dinner. I PM’d Chloe the address of the restaurant near the bar, then absentmindedly tooled around the internet for a while. I found myself on Google maps, zeroing in on my dad’s property. The photo was new! I could see the roof of my little green car sitting in the driveway. There was no little peg man to set down for street view, but I could see the fake well still in place, so it wasn’t within the last couple of weeks. The driveway gate was open and the goats were farther out in the field, so it wasn’t feeding time. I’m guessing about mid-day, so what was I doing?… I scanned over the chicken coops and saw little shadowy dots on the ground. I scooted over to the dog run, and I’ll be damned if there weren’t two figures standing inside the gate. It had to be me and Jodie. Damn! I could see her laughing at me and the tender way she approached Frodo. Hmmm. I tried not to swoon.

Camela bailed on me for the evening, but Chloe came to the restaurant and we had some tapas before going to the bar for a drink. You’d think one of the oldest lesbian bars in the Northwest would be a little, I don’t know, bigger, have more features, but there is usually a good DJ, and I usually run into one or two people worth seeing. I think we were there about twenty minutes, total. We danced once and mostly people watched. I didn’t see anyone I recognized. I tried to picture Jodie in the club, but it only made me laugh. I envisioned her dancing for about a minute before hopping on Sheila’s horse and riding it around the dance floor, lights flashing. In the scenario, she had a lariat like Wonder Woman’s. I wonder what I would tell her if she roped me like that?

Since we both had to go to the office for closing meeting tomorrow, Chloe invited me to stay with her in her hotel room tonight and tomorrow night. Totally platonic, we’re just friends. Plus, she could give me a ride to the airport on Sunday. We swung by Camela’s to pick up my bag, and on the way back, we passed by my old apartment building. I felt a twinge of sadness, knowing that part of my life was completely over now. Some masochistic part of me was tempted to let Ton-ton know I was in town, but I think, just maybe, that part of me is just shut off now.

“Wasn’t that your building before you left?” Chloe slowed her rental car down. “We can stop, if you need to. Do you still have your place here?”

“… No, there’s nothing left there.”

“Oh, okay.” We drove on in silence for a while. “I didn’t mean to bring up anything bad.”

“No, not your fault. I think I’ve grown up a little, that’s all.”

“You had a girlfriend last time, right? Did you have to break up to go back to Iowa?”

“Idaho.”

“Yeah, I meant Idaho. I get those mixed up.”

“No, it was just before I left, though. I guess it was for the best.”

“It usually is. Still …”

“Yeah.”

Her hotel room was practically an apartment; it was so huge. I slept on a huge futon that pulled flat. It was more comfortable than my dad’s bed back on the farm. We talked for a few minutes, and I wrote in my journal and went to sleep.

 

March 8, 2013

 

This morning, when I finished with my IT group meeting, I met with Alma and my other boss, the IT Director, Vince. The grant I’m working under runs out in June, but they believe I can be covered by a new grant that will fund in September, if I can just hang on until then.

They are really happy with my work, and our group has started a map documenting all the fracking incidents across the US. One of our wish list items is to create an app to help local activists organize and respond to fracking proposals, long before the companies move in and poison the local water supply and destabilize the ground structure. Anyway, enough of my soap box. Alma and Vince want me to stay on, and they said it would be easier if I had the ability to come in to the office at least sometimes, no pressure.

Chloe’s meeting went longer than mine, so I said my goodbyes and headed back to Capitol Hill. I wanted to peruse Ada’s Technical Book store and see if I could find a small thank you present for Liv for watching Frodo while I’m gone. I found an iOS guide that might help me frame the app question a little better. At a gift shop around the corner, I found a little stuffed Scottie for Liv. Knowing her, she’ll be fully bonded with him by the time I get back. Hmm. I wonder if that could solve a problem? Anyway, Chloe met up with me at a pho place a couple of blocks from another bar, where they have a mostly gay night on Fridays and mostly lesbian night on Saturdays. Chloe said she wouldn’t mind hooking up with someone if it was the right person. She’s not a slut, or anything, but she says she is overdue.

When we got to the club, the music was blasting. As usual, I could barely hear anything, but the energy was definitely more frantic than the Wild Rose. We made our way to the bar, Chloe got us a couple of Jell-O shots, and we went out to the dance floor. There was this song playing. I don’t know the name of it or who sings it, but it was almost like a cheer. Something like “everybody get down like that, clap, clap, clap, clap” something about staying up all night, fighting, and then everything disappearing in the morning. It was kind of cool, everybody perked up, anyway. I really got into it.

Chloe headed off to the bathroom, and I found a table with tall chairs that was empty and staked a claim there. The waitress brought me another drink, and I took a sip. I glanced back at the dance floor, and who did I spy with my little eye? You guessed it – Ton-ton. She was slow grinding on a little Bieber clone who looked catatonic in her teal flannel shirt. Was that what I looked like when I was with her?

“Hey, isn’t that your ex?” Chloe showed up with another set of drinks. I finished my last one and started the next. “We can go somewhere else if you want.”

“No, I’m fine.” Across the room, Ton-ton bit her lower lip the way she used to at crucial times during sex. I felt like I was staring into the Grand Canyon, wondering whether I should jump or not.

Someone approached our table, and thinking she was a waitress, I pointed to my drink and yelled, “No, thanks!” But she turned out to be someone Chloe had just met and she either ignored me or never heard me and crossed over to Chloe’s side. She leaned into her ear and said something I could not hear. Chloe nodded, and they laughed. After a few minutes, they moved toward the dance floor. Chloe grabbed my arm. “Come dance with us.”

“S’okay.” I was busy trying to make sense of the vertigo inside my head, and the alcohol was not helping. “Go ahead.”

“You sure?”

I nodded, and they left.

I tried not to stare at Ton-ton, but caught myself sneaking glances her way. It’s hard to pull apart all the feelings that were swirling around me at that moment, but I had almost convinced myself to go talk to her, to tell her I wasn’t mad or hurt anymore, even if it wasn’t all the way true, when Chloe came back and told me she was ready to go. I could either hang out at the lounge of the hotel or she could stop back by and pick me up in a couple of hours. Third wheel status, unappealing as it was, was still better than the thought of being without a place to sleep or missing my flight tomorrow. I opted to go with them.

As we were walking out, we had to stop for a group clustered around the bar. At that moment, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and when I turned around, two lips pressed against mine, followed by a slow-probing tongue. My choice to fight or succumb to the kiss was slowed down a little by the three drinks I’d had. I’m a lightweight, I know. I put my arms up and placed them on her forearms, gently but firmly pushing her away.

“I knew you’d be back.” She grinned. “Idaho’s creepy. I mean farms are cool and stuff, but they’re all backwards there.”

“Sure, Ton-ton.” I saw that Chloe was waiting for me, very patiently considering her prospects. “I have to go.”

“Well, I guess I’ll see you around. Do you want my new number? I changed phones.”

I paused for a moment. “No, I don’t think I do. Anyway, good luck to you. No hard feelings.”

“None for me, either. I’ll see you around.”

I didn’t bother to correct her. Seeing her again was not in my future plans, and if I did, I would not let her catch me off-guard like that again. In the back seat of the car, I stared out the window while Chloe and her distraction did their share of foreplay until we got to the hotel. I tried to wipe the memory of that kiss from my face, but I couldn’t help admitting it felt good to be at least physically close to someone. It has been about four months, and I think I’m starting to attract moths.

I was in the lounge for about forty minutes and had been hit on by two men. I was trying to understand the pattern on the slate colored carpet, when Chloe texted me to come back up.

Knock, knock, knock. “You sure?” I poked my head in.

She was in the kitchenette opening a tea. “That was the worst sex I’ve ever had in my entire life!”

“What?”

“Yeah!” she huffed. Chloe went on to give me a bunch of way-too-intimate details of her encounter, but, yeah, it was pretty bad. “You don’t want to fool around, do you?” She was half-joking, but I could tell she would have followed through on it. This was my fourth proposition of the night, and the irony was the only person I want to be intimate with right now is far away and is within a 90% certainty of being straight.

“No,” I said, “after being mauled by Ton-ton, I don’t know if I ever will.”

“Figures!” She laughed and collapsed into a chair. Chloe just went up about ten points in my book.

Chickenshit: Crisis #7 One Thing

February 24, 2013

So, I was so hyped up from yesterday that I was not ready to write about my evening with Jodie yet, but here goes.

It was amazing! We talked about all sorts of stuff; farm stuff, things about the area, school (she went to a local community college and BSU), books, movies, the community, and, of course, horses. When we got over to Sheila’s the horses had spotted us walking over and they met us at the barn. Since it was winter and later in the day, Jodie didn’t want to do too much with them. She said Tucker was too much horse for me, so she had me talk to and pet Rosemarie while she put halters on both of them and wrapped their leads around the fence panel.

We went into the barn and pulled out a couple of brushes and some tack and sat them on a barrel outside the barn, then we went back for saddles and pads. Jodie showed me how to brush the horse down and how to clean and place the saddle pad, then she did the same with Tucker. She took one saddle and placed it on Tucker, tightened a bunch of straps, walked him a few feet and cinched up a strap so tight, I’m surprised the horse could breath, and the whole time, she ran her hands all over the horse and talked to it in hushed but cheery sounds. “Good girl,” she said after every adjustment.

She grabbed Rosemarie’s saddle and asked me if I wanted to try. “Sure,” I said, “As long as you finish it. I’ll probably make it too loose and end up riding upside down.”

She handed me the saddle and had me hold it while she folded the straps over the top. Then she showed me the motion to swing the saddle onto Rosemarie’s back. My first attempt almost knocked the saddle pad off, but I managed to pull it back and give it a more successful try. Jodie went around and laid the straps down, then came back and walked me through everything else.

Mid-way through, I must have looked a little goofy, because she stopped and said, “I’m boring you, aren’t I?”

“No, this is great, I don’t think I’ll remember it all, but I really like all the little steps you have to take. You must have done this forever, huh?”

“Pretty much. We always had horses when I was younger. I was a 4-H kid. Don’t make fun of me, but I was a rodeo queen.”

“What?”

“Well, it was just local, I did it for scholarship money. I took it pretty seriously back then.”

“Like the hair and makeup stuff?” I had never seen her wear any makeup, at least I didn’t think she wore any.

“No, rodeo and 4H stuff. I raised rabbits and broke a horse. In rodeo, I’ve done just about everything, but ride bulls. I don’t really see the point in getting crushed by an animal the size of a car just to prove I can do it. Your dad helped me when I raised a goat one year.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. He called me over to watch a birth, and I got to raise that goat and show it in the summer. Tooney, we called her. ‘Cormallen Tooney.’ She looked like a Tiny Toon. You should have kids coming soon, you know.”

“Cormallen?” I know I have seen that somewhere.

“Lord of the Rings. One of the obscure references. Your dad named the farm Cormallen Fields.”

“Doh. Now, I remember.” I felt like an idiot.

She slipped the horses bridles inside her coat, and we led them along at a slow pace. Puffy clouds hung high in the sky, which was a rare blue, for a change. A slight breeze blew through every so often, sending a little chill over me, but Jodie and the horses did not seem to notice it at all. We walked in a large circle a couple of times, then she took out a bridle and slipped it over Tucker’s nose and arranged it on her head.

“I just want to walk them today. Do you want to give it a try?”

Looking at the stirrup hanging from Rosemarie’s saddle, I felt kind of like a hobbit. “I guess, I’m willing, if I can figure how to get up there. The stirrup is about half-way up my shoulder, and I don’t really bend that way.”

“You can cheat. There’s a mounting block over here.” I followed her over to a little staircase I hadn’t notice before, and she helped position and steady Rosemarie, who was starting to get a little antsy, while I shoved my foot into the stirrup and threw my other leg over.

“It’s like straddling a Buick.” Not ever being a cheerleader, I was not used to an activity that approximated splits.

“Yeah, you have to get used to it.”

She hopped on Tucker as easily as getting a car, and Rosemarie started to move, following Tucker and Jodie a few feet away. Jodie gave me a few tips on how to hold the reins, how to sit and move, and how to turn the horse. It was really cool at one point because we turned both horses to the right in unison, then stopped them and turned them the other way.

“This is the easiest thing I’ve done since I got to Milepost.”

“Well, that is about the best horse you could hope to have for your first ride.”

We ambled along the edge of the field, not going much faster than I could walk on pavement. When I asked Jodie what this was called, meaning how the horses were walking. She laughed and said, “Walking.” Then she told me about horse gaits, beating them out on the front of her saddle. Clop-clop, clop-clop. She pointed to different places around us and told me things, names of mountains, visible to us here and a little farther away, people my dad knew, and all sorts of other things. In between we were quiet, listening to the hooves making contact with the pasture and the horses’ breathing as we went along. When we came up to a group of bushes, about 300 tiny birds began screeching and burst out and above us to the left. We stopped and focused on the reflection of the sun on their wings, as they turned many times in mid-flight, almost hypnotized.

Jodie dismounted and felt the horses’ chests, then led them back towards the barn to get a drink of water. She helped me get down, checked their hooves, and we took off their tack, wiped them down with a cloth, and brushed out their manes. It was so Zen, I almost fell asleep. After a while, Jodie gave them each a couple of scoops of feed and they almost seemed to purr.

We stood at her car talking for a while. I asked her if she wanted to come over and have dinner with me, but she said she had to get home. I thanked her for showing me the horses. She said Sheila, who will be back next week, will be ecstatic to know I can help her with her horses sometimes, she said she would volunteer me. She looked at me really hard for a moment, so I guessed and said goodbye.

I heard her car drive away, and a warmth came over me. I let Frodo outside, rescued a few eggs from the chicken coop, and stacked them in the cartons by the back door. I fell face-down onto the couch, my mind racing with all kinds of thoughts. Jodie is possibly the most beautiful person I have ever met. She’s like a girl scout, an English teacher, and a cowgirl all thrown into one. And that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.

I rolled over and pulled out my phone and texted Liv.

Me: Would I be crazy if I wanted to stay?

Liv: On the farm? Probably. In class, can I call you later?

I started thinking about heating up something from the freezer for dinner, when Frodo sat upright on my chest. He walked over and sniffed the door. A car door closed outside, boots crossed my back deck, and then someone’s knuckled knocked three taps on my back door. Frodo yipped.

I opened the back door, and there was Jodie, holding a giant bag of chili cheese fries and some frozen coffees.

“Changed my mind. It’s starting to snow like crazy. You want some nachos?”

I looked behind her at the slanted sheets of snow coming down. “Oh, thank god. I was about to cook or something. I think we are single-handedly keeping the convenience store open.”

We finished the fries and half a jar of pickles, watched City Slickers, and talked for hours. I told her how overwhelming everything has been since I got here, how it’s all I can do to hang on until the house sells, and how I can’t even think beyond what to do the next day. But then, what will I do with all the dogs, and what about Elliot?

Jodie listened very patiently to my whining. She’s may be a better listener than even Liv. She told me I needed a little time away from the place to regroup, and I tend to agree with her.  She said she was wondering if I was reconsidering selling, and I had to admit I had thought about it but had no idea how I could run the place long term, even with Elliot’s help. I have really started missing Seattle, missing school, and some of my old friends. I miss walking a few blocks and going to a movie or a poetry reading, something.

“I know it’s not the point, but we could go to a movie sometime. It’s small, but the Emmett theater has something decent on every few weeks. We could go to Boise, too. There’s an IMAX, and there’s The Flix, if you want to see something artsy.”

I thought about sitting close to her in a darkened movie theater, and I almost swooned. That’s a thing, right, swooning? I told her that would be great. Liv and I had gone to The Flix, and I thought it was really quirky and cool.

We talked more about my parents, her parents. I asked her what she would do with the farm if she were me, and she said she wouldn’t touch that question with a ten-foot pole, which kind of reminded me of my mom.  She said, of course, she would put horses on it, if she could afford them. It turns out her dad owes a lot of money on their farm, and that it will have to be sold when he dies, which, of course, he won’t ever do, but would need to in order to pay off all the debt. She started working at the library as an assistant when she was in high school, and she returned each summer to run the summer reading program. She has been there full time since 2011, when she took over her mother’s position, when she became ill and died of pancreatic cancer. She is going back for her masters once she has enough money saved up. She would have to do some online classes and move to a place where the college had a program and live there for a year or two, just until she could finish up. She thought she might move to Boise, Portland, or even Salt Lake for the right position. Until then, she was enjoying spending time with her friends and her dad.

We talked long into the night, and when I asked her about when she had to leave, she asked if I minded if she slept on the couch. She would go home in the morning. She didn’t work on Sundays, and she had called her dad earlier, so everything was cool. We talked a little more, and I thought back to earlier in the morning, when the Elliot and I had found that the well pump was broken, and it felt like days ago. I gave Jodie a pillow and a couple of blankets, and I went to bed. It was so comforting to have someone else in the house, even if a turncoat Frodo chose to sleep with them instead. And even if I tripped and banged my toe on the way to bed.

 

February 28, 2013

I finally finished my last entry, I wanted to get everything down. Jodie helped me clear the driveway the next morning (there was about two inches that fell the night before), and then she went home. I am having so much fun spending time with her.

Elliot came over later, and we made sure the goats had water that wasn’t frozen. He came back on Monday and found a spare pump that used to run a landscaping pond, one of my dad’s many scavenging finds, and he figured out a way to pump the water out of the hole in the center of the driveway, so we don’t have to use water from the house. Especially with the snow lately, that would make a huge mess. Elliot showed me this cool trick, where you fill a soda bottle with saltwater and it keeps the water in the bucket from freezing. It’s like magic! But the buckets still get filthy. And the area where we rinse them out is so slick, I actually slid to the ground yesterday and landed square on my butt. Dragging myself up off the ground, I had a flashback to my “bucket brigade” days. I was holding the wire handle out from me so I could move along a few inches at a time. The next moment the bucket was disappearing up into the air and my dad was hoisting me into the air and up across his shoulder. I remember giggling with peals of laughter upon becoming airborne. Today, though, with my swollen tailbone, I am hobbling around like I’m seventy.

Bill came over this morning to share a couple of bits of information. He told the agent I wasn’t currently ready to sell, and another one of her client’s, somebody local, overheard her talking about it. This other person actually owns a lot of land around here, and they really want the property for the hay crop. They thought they might fix up the house for a mother-in-law cabin or for one of their kids when they get older. They aren’t really interested in the goats but are considering the chickens. I love these people shopping around my dad’s farm like a dollar store, and it isn’t even on the market. Anyway, Bill said their offer would be much better than the last one, and he had to bring it to me. They would want to get in as soon as spring weather starts, maybe before so they could lay out all their plans. I would have to be out of here in not much over a month, so I would also need to get rolling on it almost immediately.

He asked me a few questions about my job. Or jobs. The Boise radio job is actually picking up. They are using me more than Nate thought, and I got a referral to a real estate office that is trying to dominate the market across the valley. I have been using a different skill set, working with their online listings and imbedding MLS info on their site. My job in Seattle has stayed about the same, and they let me know about a mandatory meeting happening at the end of next week. I may have to Skype it, but I will try to make it if I can. I have to check with Mom to see if she has any miles I can borrow.

In other news, Bill spoke with his friend at the credit union, and they would be willing to extend me a small business loan in order to get the pump fixed. If I sold the house, I would need to ask for an advance payment in order to clear the loan prior to the sale. If I can get an estimate next week, he said he would help me get it all set up either late next week or early the following week. I didn’t know what else to do, so I called and got the repairman scheduled to come out next Tuesday.

March 1, 2013

I’ve been to the library a few times to work this week and seen Jodie there. We went to this drive-in restaurant and ate in the car. The food was terrible, but we talked for a couple of hours before she had to get home. I keep thinking how different she is than Ton-ton, but it still feels so comfortable to be around her. We haven’t broached anything romantic AT ALL. I still think she is straight, but even if she is nothing more than a friend, it would be terrific. Still, I melt sometimes when I look at her.

I called my mom, and she said she did not have any miles left on her plan. She cashed them in on a hotel room when they took Harvey’s daughter and granddaughter to Disneyland over last month (did she tell me about that?). But the good news is Harvey has a couple of buddy passes I can use (he is a mechanic for one of the airlines), so it looks like next week, after I deal with the whole water pump situation, I will be heading to Seattle for a day or two, then home for a few days before coming back here. Elliot says we may be done with kidding by then, and if not, he can stay over. Also, mom says there might be a surprise for me, when I get home. Oh, goddess, I can’t take any more surprises. I do, however, have to figure out what to do with Frodo while I’m gone. Elliot will be around, but it’s still too cold to put the dog outside, and Pork Chop says he isn’t welcome there. I might hit up Jodie.

One of Elliot’s egg customers stopped by the other day and asked him about the farm, I think. I guess word is getting around. He met the guy at the front gate, and I could see the man holding his arms out and pointing around the property. Crap, could they just lay off for a while.

I left Bill a message about finding the right buyer for the place. I would like to find someone who would follow the same arrangement with Elliot, if possible. Despite what he says, I think Elliot would have a hard time adjusting. I found out his place is only about a half-acre, and the other mobile homes were his Dad’s shop and one where his cousin, now dead, used to live.

 

March 5, 2013

 

Today was an odd day, all the way around. The pump guy came, and it’s not as bad as everybody thought. It will be about $3,000 to fix it, though, which is bad enough. Bill came over in the afternoon, and he drove me into New Plymouth, to the credit union office, to sign papers for the loan. He co-signed, so now I have to pay it off out of the money I get from the farm.

Before we left New Plymouth, Bill and I stopped at a restaurant and had lunch. I looked around at the Western memorabilia and tried to imagine a place like it in my old neighborhood near U-Dub and almost laughed out loud. And the closest thing Sacramento has to offer looks like a palace in comparison. The guy who took our order was under 60, unlike most of the locals, and the food was okay. Gravy, gravy, gravy.

We sipped our iced teas and talked for a while. I hadn’t actually thought about the fact I would get money from the sale, maybe enough to make a dent in my student loans. Bill thinks it would sell close to $400,000, maybe more, and I would clear over $350,000 after the sale. That kind of blew my mind, but then he told me something even more bazaar. The farm earns more than that in a year! There are costs of business to pay out of it, but the farm clears over $200,000 some years! I had no idea. I don’t even know what to do with that information. Either way, I could pay off my student loans and cover my graduate studies.

When we got back to the farm, he didn’t get out of the car but seemed like he wanted to tell me something. After a moment, I thought I had read him wrong and started to get out. He motioned for me to wait.

“I just want you to know. If you’ve heard any rumors, they’re probably not true.”

I hadn’t heard anything, and I told him that.

“I just want you to know nothing ever happened between your dad and me, even if your mom thinks it did. He was like a dad to me, that’s all. We were all really close back then, and I may have gotten confused about some things, but he and I worked it all out. I miss your mom a lot, even now. And they didn’t break up because of me. I left long before that happened.”

I stared at the dashboard, a couple of goats were shoving each other around out in the field.

“And it wasn’t my idea to name you after me. That was your mom’s.”

?!

“But look. I resolved my feelings over the years. There is no way I could have anything but love for both of them. How could I after all they did for me? Anyway, seeing you brings a lot of it back, both the good and the bad, but I want you to know that if you want to stay, I will do anything I can to help you succeed. If you sell, I’ll do anything there, too, of course. Anyway, I want you have you up to house to meet my wife and kids, after you get back from your trip. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Dumbfounded, I got out and waved goodbye.

I changed my clothes and caught up with Elliot, who was pulling some hay off a tarped stack and dragging it over to the buck pen. “Elliot? What do you know about Billie and my parents?”

“Ah, no, ain’t gonna talk ‘bout nobody else’s business. You better talk to your momma on that one.”

Man!

I was just finishing up collecting eggs when Liv and Nate showed up. They agreed to take Frodo for the week. I am really unsure what’s going to happen to Frodo if I sell, since he has become increasingly spoiled. Jodie even gave him a chicken strip the other day. Goddess knows what will happen after Liv has ahold of him for a few days. He’ll start snubbing his nose up to tap water, in favor of coconut water. Liv and Nate and I went into Emmett for dinner and ate at a nice little Mexican restaurant, Nate’s treat. He said he is really happy with my work, and I thanked him for a referral he gave me. He said there were a couple of other people he might float my card to if I had time to work for them. I told him I’d know more after my meeting. They have found a couple of places that fell through, but they have an offer pending on a place now, and hopefully, they will know by the end of the week.

I waved goodbye to them and Frodo, who could see me through the bars of his little kennel in the back, if he cared to, and then I went inside and prepared for my adventure tomorrow, trying to get a standby seat on a plane headed for SEATAC.  I searched through my clothes for items that weren’t ripped or stained and found a few things. My poor hiking boots looked like garbage in the mud room. I had scraped off the dirt and bird crap but never fully cleaned them, and I was too tired to do it now.

I shoved my backpack next to the back door, turned the TV on, and fell asleep watching City Slickers for about the thirtieth time. I keep wondering if I’ll figure out my one thing, like the cowboy in the movie talked about. One thing. Is it possible to do that?

Busy Week

We have had a busy week on the farm, getting ready for winter, doing chicken inventory, car repairs, covering the garden, and starting the process of culling chickens. In between, Billie’s story continually plays in the background. Please don’t confuse her life with mine. We may occasionally share the same level of ineptitude, but she, at least, has a twenty-something-year-old body to carry her about her day and rebound the next. If I could trade my current CPU and peripherals for hers without losing the data I’ve accumulated, I would do it in a heartbeat. Until that becomes an option, viva la Aleve!