ADVENTURETIME

Hey, there you are. Come keep me company while I wait to leave for the airport. Tim’s flying in tonight, arriving after 10, so I need to do something while I’m waiting.

He’s coming for our joint birthday celebration, the midway point between my birthday (10/1) and his (10/30). We’ve been celebrating this way for as long as I can remember, doing the individual cake/cards on our individual days, but something together midway. We did a trip to St. Louis once, and a Broadway show in Chicago. When we have the means to do something, we do it.

Last week, I had a trailer hitch installed on my beloved Equinox, Vern.

Yeah, I named my car. It’s Vern L. Equinox. If you get the joke, we could be friends.

Today, I picked up the teardrop camper we’ll be towing this weekend, and, if all goes well, in the future. I keep saying this is our “compromise” camping trip, the one in which I get to sleep in the forest with Tim, and Tim gets to NOT sleep on the ground. But the more I look at this storm, and change out of rain-drenched clothes (three times today; my “waterproof” jacket has lost its “waterproof”), the more I realize this camper was an excellent idea.

But Tim’s the real birthday present. I reached a breaking point today, to my surprise. All was going really well (without a hitch, you might say, except…well, never mind) in my preparations; all the stuff is together and ready to put into the car, and I even made homemade marshmallows for s’mores. Never did this when the kids were around, but Tim and I like high-quality indulgences, the theory being that the more expensive or troublesome they are to acquire, the less willing we will be to *over* indulge.

Anyway. So I’m back from picking up the camper, and we live in a beautiful apartment complex built into the side of a small mountain. It’s a dogleg something something, I don’t know, I’m a flatlander. But it’s hilly. It’s kinda Portland’s schtick, to be hilly. And here I am, on a hill, unhooking the trailer, and it starts rolling backward down the hill.

I’m hanging on as tightly as I can, and I can keep it from going any farther, but now I’m stuck. Both hands are required to hold on to this thing, but if I could just reach over, I could hook it back up and figure out a different plan. But I can’t let go. I’m in full panic. Feet planted, squatting to pull the teardrop back up the hill, standing between the car and the trailer. Shit.

Shit.

I’m not sure how much longer I can hold on. Thank god I changed shoes, or I’d have no traction. My shoulders are starting to ache. I change positions.

And then I realize…I have no one to call. There is no person here I can call on the phone and ask to come and help me pull this thing to a safe place. Even if I could get my phone out…I literally have no one.

Tim’s my rock. He is always, *always* there. Always does what he promises, always there if I need him, always just a phone call away when I’m sad or lonely. He never leaves my side. My phone is my lifeline to Tim, to safety.

Today, for a few minutes, I realized that for right now, for the next few months, he’s not really by my side. Most of the time I manage really well on my own, but when there’s a 900-pount trailer dragging you down the side of a small mountain, I would have liked him here in body as well as spirit.

I eventually figured out how to manage the camper into a safe spot, letting gravity work *for* me and controlling the roll. Tim might have seen this solution sooner. Oh, who am I kidding; he would have handled the whole thing so I wouldn’t have to. He does that for all kinds of problems, like full garbage cans and spiders. I CAN handle them, but he never lets me.

I just want to bury my face in his neck and fall asleep. I just want him here. Physically. Not just for the trailer but for the reminder that I’m not alone when shit starts rolling downhill. It’s been a really good five months for me, very little downhill. I’m pretty grateful for that.

It won’t last forever, though. Eventually, something is gonna give way, some problem or issue or (god forbid) injury. I hope I can hang on until Tim returns for good in the spring.

Sure would be nice to be able to phone a friend, in the meantime.

Hey look, it’s almost time for me to leave. I’ll slowly take my aching, saved-a-camper-from-destruction body to the airport, where I’ll fall into Tim’s arms with joy and relief.

Tomorrow we’ll go to the Gorge and drive through Hood River and pick up several dozen pounds of apples and pears. Then we’ll sleep in the soft, damp forest and listen to the wind travel across our camper, warm and dry in our little camper.

Thanks for keeping me company. img_20161014_161401905_hdr

There She Goes

The Pile

For several weeks now, we’ve been building this pile. These boxes are filled with the things Sophia will need in her new apartment. Not including the black table on which the boxes are stacked and the now-defunct TV on the right, this is her new life.

Tim expects me to be emotional when we drop her off. He may be right. But for now, my only emotion is excitement. She’s going back to her independence, back to a life she builds herself, back to the process of opening up the world and seeing what it holds for her.

We’ve been working for a couple of weeks on cooking tips, and she’s got some meals ready to prepare. She’s registered for classes and has made arrangements for transportation to campus. She’s as ready as she’ll ever be. I prepared a box of pantry items for her, something I never got to do for my sons (who are, I am certain, eating Kraft Dinner with ketchup for every meal *shudder*), and have helped her think through kitchen accessibility tools.

Will I freak out later? Maybe. Most of my Sophia-related freakouts have to do with her wheelchair tipping over on a curb, not household-related things. She’s been preparing food for herself in some capacity for a long time, and I’m certain she’ll do fine.

My overwhelming feeling for her is pride. This girl is *fearless*, and that serves her well in this world of overwhelming obstacles. That strong-willed girl I raised has turned into a fierce advocate for herself and others. She’s a battler, a champion for doing and saying the right thing. Yes, she likes to have fun (just like my mother, the party girl), but when it comes time to work, she puts her head down and accomplishes the task. Like all of us, she’s got things to figure out, levels to reach on her own best practices, and thousands of miles of unexplored roads of her own personality. She’s nowhere near finished developing into the person she’ll become.

But for this step, for the moment when she steps up to the task of taking care of herself day to day so she won’t die from cold and hunger, she’s got this. Watch her go.

Leveling Up

Now that Sophia is headed back to school, our preparations are in full swing for her next level of adulthood: living on her own in an apartment.

When she lived in the dorms, she managed her world nicely. Except for the rib fracture she sustained in the spring necessitating my assistance, she handled all disability and non-disability related issues without help. Class, studying, getting meals, doing laundry and socializing were all easy. And that’s anyone really has to deal with when you live in the dorm. She was pretty much like everyone else.

But living in an apartment, she will have to start cooking for herself. That’s a whole different kettle of fish.

We’re pretty much finished acquiring the items she will need for the apartment. She’ll be rooming with three other students, and they’ve divided up everything they’ll need to buy and each person is responsible for a chunk of it, so she’s not bringing pots and pans, but she is bringing the toaster. My mom brain goes into hyperdrive considering all the different issues that might crop up. What if the pans the roommate brings are too heavy for her to use? What if the handles aren’t easy for her to grip?  I see pans at the store that would work perfectly for her, but pans aren’t our deal, so I don’t get pans. But I fret.

What we have done, however, is purchase her assigned items with her specific needs in mind. I mean, every parent does that, but when a person has OI, the needs are different. Reach can be limited, as can strength. Because she’s so short, her face is at risk for being burned whenever she goes near a pot on the stove.

Oy vey, the palpitations.

She won’t be cooking bacon on the stove anyway. I taught her to bake it in the oven.

To limit her risk, we found some excellent choices. She will have a small crock pot to use for some meals I am freezing for her to take with her so her first couple of weeks will be a little easier. No splash-face-cooking for a little while, anyway. And Tim found her a toaster oven instead of a toaster, since the front-access will be so much easier and safer for her than a top-access appliance. We found both of these new in the box on Craigslist for a fraction of what they cost new.

She’s taking along a couple of sets of small tongs as well, which she homed in on as a great accessibility tool. She’ll just leave them in places that she can’t typically reach. As long as they don’t drop down behind something (like utensils like to do), that will work great. She’s got detergent pods for doing laundry, a wonderful tool that worked really well for her when she lived in the dorms. Is it the best laundry soap out there? No. Does it use more chemicals than I would like my daughter to be exposed to? Yes. I’d prefer everyone in our family use homemade laundry soap. But is it the tool that will give her the most independence? Absolutely. And that’s where I draw my line.

We haven’t yet gone as far as getting her an electric jar opener, though I am thinking about it. Her hands are smallish, but she has gained a lot of strength in the last few years. She probably doesn’t need it.

She’s got a (really cute!) little chef’s knife and a small serrated knife for bread and tomatoes. She’ll have those flexible cutting boards. She probably won’t ever cut onions, because there’s no way to make the onion far enough from her face to keep her from being blinded by tears. I’m still figuring out the oven mitts situation, because typical ones are so huge they will dangerously interfere with her ability to grip anything.

I never worried about the boys’ first apartment setups on this level. Matt was a nerd about kitchen stuff, so he took care of it on his own. Thomas’ food choices have always been what we call “food based on a dare”, so my expectations for kitchen equipment don’t align with his needs anyway. But Sophia is really interested in cooking for herself, and making the dishes she grew up with, so I’m trying to get her set up to cook my food in her adapted world. The basic stuff, anyway. No need to jump into Meg’s Wonderful World of Baked Goods in the first go.

She’s going back to school. She’s moving into the nuts and bolts of adulthood, the “how do I take care of myself on a day-to-day basis?” stuff that can be so overwhelming when you first start out. It’s exciting, to be sure. I remember being so stoked to finally get to choose my own cereal. It’s still one of my top three favorite things about adulthood, even though I don’t eat cereal much anymore.

But the idea of deciding for yourself what you want your world to look like, to taste and smell like, that’s a powerful moment in life. And she’s starting into that realm. She’s leveling up into advanced young-adulthood, into her last burst of her educational career, into the time when she defines the direction of her adulthood.

Right now, all those thoughts about her future have been combined, organized into categories, packed into small boxes. Hell, we even had to think through the kind of boxes she could use, and how much could be packed into each box according to how much weight she can handle on her own. We labeled and cataloged the boxes so she won’t have to pull down every single one to find that one thing she was looking for. If she had to do that, she’d never find her way out of the sea of belongings. I am hopeful she’ll be able to manage the unpacking process all on her own. That’s how I’ve designed it, anyway.Life in boxes

And that’s pretty much the last of my involvement in her next step. After this, after we install her in the apartment with her roommates, she’s on her own. She has to figure out how to take it from there. We gave her the tools, now it’s on her. Just like it is on each of us when we move out on our own. I won’t ever be very far away, just a phone call and a two hour drive, and I will, of course, be there when she needs me. But she’s not the kid who will be calling for my help, which is why I’m pushing the plan-ahead factor so hard right now. She’s too independent to call for her Mama unless it’s absolutely necessary. And I’m trying to make it so it’s never absolutely necessary.

In a week, we fly to Chicago for a wedding. The weekend after that, she goes back to school. She’s pretty excited. I think I am too.

Put a Cork in It!

Several months ago, I forget how many, I happened across an enormous bag of wine corks. I even forget how I happened upon them, but it is likely that I acquired them for free in one of my now-famous Craigslist free-stuff pickups. It might have come from the thrift store, but I’m too flinty to spend money on someone else’s trash, so let’s go with “it was free.”

This bag has upwards of 200 corks. Some are pretty, and I’ve set those aside with the idea that I’ll do something fancy and decorative with them. I’ve made a trivet with some of them. But the rest has been sitting in my craft cabinet waiting for my crafty brain to come up with a crafty idea into which I will craft them.

Occasionally, I’ll purge the crap in the apartment, tossing everything that’s not nailed down. The corks, however, have survived two such purges so far. My brain keeps gnawing away at the edges of ideas for them, and so the enormous bag of corks has remained.

The other day, as I was trawling Craigslist in pursuit of a toaster for Sophia’s apartment, I came across another delightful free posting. “Grapes!” they said, “lots of grapes! You pick ’em, you can have ’em!”

Having recently acquired “Pears!” thusly, I responded with eagerness. “Yes, please! I would like the grapes!”

Typically, when I’ve responded to produce-picking opportunities, I am but one of several pickers who have been afforded the chance for free produce. Pears, apples, and I’ve even seen blackberries, but seriously, in Portland, nobody needs a connection to have a place to pick blackberries for free. So I expected I would have maybe a bucket or two of grapes that I could turn into something yummy. Jam, probably. Whatever, it’s free.

Except…

I was the only picker.

And the owner had probably a billion grapes.

Give or take.

So for two or three hours, I picked as many grapes as I had means to carry. And if you’ve ever seen my car, you know I store tote bags in the back seat just in case I have to run to the store. I also happened to have my beautiful new wooden crate sitting there, so I swooped into the backyard of the owner of the grapes and picked to my heart’s content.
grapes are so pretty

And then a little beyond it.
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I now have about 85 million green grapes (give or take) in my kitchen which I will be turning into white wine. Some of them have been cleaned, de-stemmed, smashed, mixed with honey and deposited into Tillamook ice cream 3-gallon containers (obtained from the Tillamook store in Tillamook, OR for .50 apiece, thank you very much). That took two days. I have at least one more 3-gallon vat worth of grapes yet to process. By the time I’m finished, I will have touched every single one of these grapes.

These janky vats of wine, which smell terrific, are my latest foray into “sure, let’s try and make something we’ve got no experience making!” They are resting gently on my bookshelves, awaiting the next scheduled stir. The rest are on the counter in their Craigslist-obtained professional kitchen prep containers (FREE! damn, I love Craigslist) waiting for clean/destem/smash/mix/deposit.

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Tim had the brilliant idea of scouring the recycle bin on Sunday morning for used wine bottles. FREE! I think we’ll need about a dozen. Tim wants to call this Chateau Marguerite Sauvingon Blech.

I think we’ll go with “Meg’s Hooch.”

But I definitely know what I’ll be doing with the corks.

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You Go, Glenn Coco

People warned me about moving to Portland. Some were concerned that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, that living in this city would change me in ways I didn’t anticipate.

Turns out they were right.

Here are the things they warned me about.

1) Weather. “It rains so much! You’ll never be able to deal with all that rain!”

Even before I moved here, I knew this was ridiculous. I mean, anyone who’s lived in Chicagoland has dealt with all kinds of extreme weather conditions, so the thought that I wouldn’t be able to handle weather was absurd.

And once I arrived, I heard repeatedly that it’s not the rain, it’s the darkness that’s difficult to get used to. Like Chicagoans just learn to deal with snow and slush from November to May, Pacific Northwesterners have to learn to deal with overcast skies from December to March.

Now, I have an unusual perspective on this, because I have very sensitive eyes. Any kind of sunlight — even the sun coming in the windows across the room from me — makes my head hurt. I can — and do — get headaches on sunny days. I wear sunglasses when it’s cloudy.

The days I don’t have to wear sunglasses? Rainy days.

And the other thing about the weather here is that the consistency of the rain is very different. In the Midwest, we had luscious, violent storms that blew sheets of pellet-like drops sideways into your face. Rain usually meant storms there, and storms were often dangerous. Here, it ranges all the way from gentle mist to small droplets, and there’s no danger. Unlike the rain in the Midwest, rain in Portland doesn’t prevent anyone from doing anything; we just throw on our Columbia jackets, slip into the waterproof boots and head outside.

And that’s another difference between here and the Midwest. When I lived in Chicagoland, weather did, in fact, prevent me from going outside. It’s fearsome there, in the land where the air hurts your face.

2) Weird things happen in Portland!

Okay, this one still makes me laugh.

I’ve lived here for almost two years, and granted, I haven’t seen or done everything there is to see or do. From flaming bagpipe unicyclers to the outrageously popular Birdathon, unique and interesting jobs and hobbies are “normal” here, as opposed to just “tolerated”. This is an environment that encourages individuality by vocally and financially supporting people who make an effort to share their beliefs and talents.

The weird things I’ve seen include the band whose percussionist uses alternative instruments to keep time, among them a manual typewriter, while he wears a huge pink tutu to complement his massive mohawk; the company that makes and sells artisanal cheese puffs (they’re really good) in small batches and sells them at farmer’s markets; the city block full of goats that the neighborhood not only accepted but championed.

However, I suspect the speaker was alluding to things that challenge the “norm” not just in creativity but in morality, and that’s a different set of calculations. And based on that interpretation, I rather expected to find heavily advertised Wiccan meetings, or churches repurposed as locations for Satanic rituals, or half-off sales for animal sacrifice accessories.

What I found instead was an incredibly open, welcoming society. The church down the street from me advertises “all gender identities welcome” and “We value questioning in our search for understanding.” They have made me want to go to church again for the first time in years.

There is a remarkable feeling that arises in a culture that celebrates differences. When you see adults walking down the street with animal ears *and* a tail, it’s much easier to let down your guard, maybe allow a bit of your own atypical behavior out to play.

And that’s the part that makes me laugh about this warning; “weird things happen in Portland” is, on its face, a statement of fact, but as a warning, it’s meant to tell you “watch out! you might get sucked in to whatever they’re doing!”

What’s happened instead is that I feel a tremendous and growing tenderness toward the people here. I’ve done more active prayer here than I had in decades in the Midwest, things like giving thanks for the sweetness of everyday encounters, or holding a brief protective thought for someone who seems mentally ill, or silently praising the joy and enthusiasm of the CosPlay couple waiting at the bus stop. You go, Glenn Coco.

This is the Island of Misfit Toys, a place where it’s not just okay to be abnormal, it’s almost an entry requirement. Those of us who find it difficult to diminish our individual selves enough to fit into the small box of suburban beigeness regulations can stretch out to our true dimensions.

Being in this “weird” place has given me a chance to become who I’m supposed to be, unfettered by small minds.

3) You’re too old for Portland: It’s full of young people.

The first thing I jumped into here was Friends of Trees, an enormous group of volunteers repopulating the area with millions of trees and shrubs. At our training at the Audubon Society, I met Greg, the director of the Audubon’s native plant nursery. I suspect he’s near 70. A wiry man with a gold tooth, he manages the nursery in the dell in the middle of the rugged Audubon wilderness, a daily task employing wheelbarrows and shovels and an incredibly sharp mind. He shows no signs of slowing down.

About a third of the people at our FOT plantings are over 60–and this isn’t sit-down work stuffing envelopes, it’s pretty vigorous yard work. Sure, there are lots of young people involved, but the crowd is a far cry from all “young people.”

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I see the same integration in the music school; we serve kids as young as two and seniors into their 90s. And the swing dancing events are full of people age 60+ who really know what they’re doing, dancing right next to the 20 year olds who wish they were original Swing Kids. There is no segregation of the ages.

And the best part about the older people I’ve met is that just about everyone is active and involved. Hiking, kayaking, cycling, performing, attending concerts in the park, playing with their grandkids, raising kids for the first time in their 70s; the energy of this city emanates from its residents of all ages. It is a great place to be a young, single person, and a wonderful place to raise kids, but it’s also an incredible place to grow old. The weather is easy to manage, public transportation is robust, the infrastructure is abundantly accessible, and the inclusive attitude of the populace means that the spectrum of activities available is vast and varied.

So I guess they were right; I have changed. I no longer spend the winter huddled in a blanket, wishing for spring to come. I feel much more connected to my fellow Portlanders, natives and transplants alike. And I am looking forward to becoming a very old woman in this environment that nurtures personal growth at every age.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, but Portland has helped me see the endless opportunities that life holds. I may not have all the details sorted out yet, but I am sure of my right and responsibility to pursue my life the way I want it to be.

It’s a beautiful thing, this kind of freedom.