one in 20,000

Well that didn’t take long, he says at my doorstep. His royal blue, short-sleeved button down reads APPLIANCE GUYS. He wears super short hair, really low jeans and a stern face. James was here just four months ago for a broken top rack.

Do you want a coffee? I ask brightly.

No, thank you ma’am. Now. Just how many people are using this machine?

Um, my husband and me. Our kids sometimes help with the unloading…

He stands with his hand on our dishwasher. He is serious. He speaks slowly, carefully. I lean my left hip against my kitchen sink and meet his seriousness head on.

OK. And do you put items in the appliance with large chunks of food all over them?

No, we don’t. Although I am sure we could be more careful, more thorough.

I do not advise you rinse your dishes. But chunks need to be scraped off. All chunks. And no seeds. Never seeds.

No chunks, never seeds. Check.

What kind of detergent are you using?

I fetch our hippie dishwasher detergent. He stares at it from a distance. I wonder what he is thinking. He draws in a breath.

Just how much do you place in the machine for each washing?

A few squirts. Like half full, I guess?

And you and your husband are on the same page with this? You have talked about how much to use? You have a plan and you stick to that plan?

We don’t really talk about our dishwasher use much. I mean we don’t do anything crazy with our dishwasher and I think we are gentle with it. A plan? No, we don’t have a dishwasher plan.

He stares at the dishwasher. It is still closed. It feels like he is speaking to the appliance, asking if there is something else he needs to know. He opens the door just a few inches.

Well I’ve worked on a lot of appliances and you are one in 10,000 or so. You need to use more detergent than you are using. Maybe even one in 20,000. I mean.

Even though this is a criticism I feel proud to be part of such an elite few. My kitchen floor is covered with baskets of tomatoes, plums and elderberries. I scoot a silver cape and unicorn horn headband out of his way with my foot. The flotsam continues into the living room where Alice sleeps on yesterday’s quilt fort. 

I tell him I will use more detergent and I will talk with my husband to ensure we are on the same page with the detergent use. I nod again when he says NO SEEDS. He cleans out the trap and shows me the slimy funk in there. He runs his fingertips along the top edge of the dishwasher and talks to me while looking at it. The motor needs to be replaced. 

I need to get to work but feel like I can’t leave. Ruby is at a friend’s house and I have three hours to myself. I don’t want to talk to James anymore. I want him to fix the dishwasher. But he really wants to share information with me. He wants to talk about one in 20,000 and seeds in the grinder and the incongruous fragility of the plastic coupler on the motor versus the coupler on the grinder.

I sip my coffee and listen. He softens. He even laughs a few times. I wonder what his passions and interests are. He is really dedicated to his work. He moves and speaks with great authority on the subject. It is such a fascinating and respectable quality in a human – to know your craft and care to educate others about it. Sure, sometimes you gotta pick up what the listener is putting down, let it go and let the dish-handed mama out of the conversation. But sometimes you can push into it a bit more and find commonality and interest over appliance structure and functionality.

There are so many things Andy and I want to talk about, so many little things to discuss and plan for. Gymnastics schedules, fall travel details, selling some stuff on craigslist, vet appointments, consistent dishwasher detergent use. It is hard for us to make time for that kind of talk – the homestead details. We do our best to connect but it usually happens with two small girls inserting their things to discuss and plan for. When we have uninterrupted time we don’t want to talk about maintenance. We want to dream. The maintenance chat will happen.

We celebrated our anniversary last week. We woke early and had a coffee date in our dark living room, under a wool blanket. We thought about finding care for our kids that night but decided we’d rather all be together. We splurged on takeout Thai, pulled out some wedding photos and read Little House on Plum Creek. It was mostly like every other night but with the fantastic memory and shared stories of this time nine years ago. We laughed a lot. We look younger in those photos. We were younger. I liked us then; I like us even more now. I put on my wedding dress, mud still on the hem, and the girls dressed up to. We danced outside. We fell asleep early.

That little plastic coupler is too weak in James’s opinion. He held the small, smooth white piece between his thumb and pointer finger. He shook his head, a grin spread wide. This is how things move forward, I thought. This is how things are invented and reconsidered, bettered. It’s the little things that make the big things work.

The dishwasher is a luxury. It is fragile and needs attention. It works efficiently and happily. Sometimes the pump doesn’t get enough water and, no matter how many times we run the cycle, things need a little love. The dishes require hand-washing. It takes more time but we learn that the process is enjoyable so that taking-up-of-time is perfectly perfect. The worn plastic coupler is replaced and the motor hums again. We have renewed appreciation for the appliance, made even richer by the understanding of how it all works. More detergent, less seeds, thankful for extended warranties.

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driveway picnic

My kids had this big idea. We would picnic in the truck bed in our driveway.

Despite their charm and conviction, it didn’t sound appealing. We said you guys can eat out there, we will eat on the deck.

They ran back and forth from bedroom to driveway with blankets and pillows and dolls. Their trail a wildfire of mess and excitement.

Of course their flames caught us. Of course we would all eat in the truck. In the sawdust, compost and puddles.

Our neighbor turned six today. His grandma gave him a remote controlled car. It’s held court in our hood all day, that car. It is the subject of negotiation and triumph, of compromise and defeat.

As we were dining in the truck in the driveway, the birthday boy and his sister neared and joined our party. We ate friend rice and talked about being six, cheered for successful car launches off of curbs.

Just before they left, the birthday boy grabbed my phone and snapped a few photos.

retreated away form the mess, the piles, the lists
retreated toward our daughters’ earnest inclination
into the bed of a small, old pickup truck
last bits of late summer light
gray hair at my temples,
laugh lines mostly from my husband’s humor
bandaid on one bloodied knee
she learned to ride a bike earlier today
she took off and fell hard
took off again, blood like a creek down her shin bone
wait for me!
she usually waits for her sister
sometimes because I yell for her to wait for her sister
her little sister, the one she leans into
to make goofy faces behind their parents’ backs
in the truck bed, in the driveway on this night
her little sister, the one that makes her the most furious
the one she wants to spoon when she sleeps

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road trip, part 2: even little things can make great big giant shadows

>> click here to read part 1 <<

I am ready to write about all the things I haven’t made time to write about this summer. Growth of tomatillos and children, renovations of home and mental space, plans for this month and in ten years.

I haven’t been here on dig as much because I’ve been there — in the other important places in my life. I do feel nostalgic about this space as it once was, where I holed up late at night to write whatever stories flew out my fingertips every few days. And I do so thoroughly believe in the practice of making time to create without need of it becoming something. I tell my kids all the time to let go of making art that needs to be hung up. JUST MAKE. For this big need to have more unstructured, undeadlined writing, I plan to get back in here more regularly. I lost my time to contribute here for a few reasons:

  1. At my 36 years, I need more sleep. Two hours more per night. This has been a hard adjustment for me! But, oh, it’s very necessary.
  2. The impermanence of it all fills my brain with things to write about and forbids me from leaving the story I’m living so that I can write a story about it. That sounds convoluted but I think you get it.
  3. GEO is growing and requiring more of my attention.
  4. See next paragraph.

School started last week. Margot at public school, Ruby at home. At home! We, me particularly, have long been interested in homeschooling and am so eager for this adventure. Everyone is comfortable and enthused. It all feels great, which is a relief. I was so torn up about school last year at this time, spinning out over school options, wondering which was best for us. It took me a long period of fretting before it felt right.

Ruby and I biked to get Margot at school a few days ago and she captured Life’s Big Idea with this simple question:

Mama, did you notice that even little things can make great big giant shadows?

I feel hopeful and excited. I feel nervous and invested. I feel as capable as a parent who has never done any of this before can feel.

Before I move into news on the home front, the Blogger in me must finish up our family road trip! In the spirit of brevity (ha!) and simplicity, I deleted all my text and will let photos tell the story of the last five days of our adventure.

trip details:

Day 8:
Radke’s Blueberry Farm, Corvallis, OR: sweet family, sweetest blueberries, screamin’ deal affordable, recommended by my friend Camille.
Alsea Falls Campground: we stayed in site #5. Vault toilets, potable water, private sites.
Hike to Alsea Falls: easy, gorgeous
Trails up mountain over Alsea river: one of the best runs I’ve had in a while

Day 9:
Driftwood Beach, Waldport, OR
Lost Creek Beach, Newport, OR
South Beach State Park Campground: Like most seaside campgrounds, it was huge and packed in. We managed to score one of the last campsites available and it was one of the best! Site H20.
Local Ocean Seafoods, Newport, OR: fantastic. The service, the food. The laughing sea lions on the dock. I ordered the Halibut over soba noodles and chard.

Day 10:
Take out from Cha’ba Thai in Portland. Holy smokes the Pad Thai, Pad Sa Ewe and Masseman Curry were amazing.
Stumptown Coffee, of course

Day 11:
Lunch at Pfriem Brewing, Hood River, OR: wonderful veggie burgers and the IPA is out of this world
The Incredibles: the last day of driving was hard. Kids watched a movie in the car and this is a favorite of ours!
GuestHouse Hotel in Kellogg, Idaho: Unable to find camping, we grabbed a hotel. It was your average place (clean, comfy, basic) made pretty great by the lovely Jayne at the front desk.

Day 12:

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road trip, part 1: but where do people come from?

The air turned while we were away. Today, I am wearing jeans and yanking beets the size of my fist, leeks the length of Margot’s leg, cabbage the circumference of Ruby’s head. I have equal love for every season and because of this, I mourn walking away from summer (my baby-faced kindergartner, my quiet mama’s girl) while feeling just right walking toward fall (my freckle-faced first grader, my loud mama’s girl).

We packed for our trip backpacking-style, meaning the bare essentials, meticulously placed for ultimate space-saving. We each had only a few items of clothing, everything folded and tucked into camping bowls and stuff sacks. And then we cut it all in half. Miraculously, it all fit — camping gear, our personal stuff, big dog, four humans, food, water, bikes. Our rocket box was like Mary Poppin’s satchel, sometimes like those jokester cans that look like beans but open to exploding paper snakes in your face.

The day before our trip I diagnosed verticillium wilt on our 31 tomato plants. So, while Andy jengaed items into the car, I cooked sauce from the tomatoes I picked from the plants I pulled and threw away. It seems no matter how organized I am, no matter how hard I work and plan to leave at a certain time, I have an urgent homestead something to mix in with packing toiletries. This time, it was a heaping basket of ripe tomatoes.

On the first day we traveled southwest along the Lochsa River to Lewiston, Idaho. Through wildfire smoke so thick it mixed with our words. Based on a suggestion from an instagram friend, we found a campsite. We promptly hopped in the tent where we rocked with the wind and exclaimed at lightening’s strobe that sporadically illuminated our faces. The storm was fierce and strong and quickly turned into a regular ol’ downpour. The girls held some fear that was easily distracted by mama snuggles in the down sleeping bags with headlamps and books.

Margot began journaling on this day, using the new blank book and pen I’d surprised her with. What should I write? she asked. Write what you see, write what you know and don’t know. Right what you wonder about, I said.

This morning I wok op and I sa a prasint in my car.
Nao I am in my car.
Nao I se goldin matis.
Nao there is a bad storm.
Nao it is sloing dawn.

Soggy, we packed up and headed out the next day to Sunriver, Oregon to meet up with my family.

My dad’s father’s parents lived in the Bitterroot Valley, just south of where we live now. They had five children, my grandfather the oldest. I didn’t know much about this part of my family; my grandfather died suddenly when I was five. I remember he was funny, he smoked a pipe. He called me Nick The Rock. I remember my dad crying and shaving, cutting his chin with the razor as he prepared to fly out after receiving the shocking news of his dad’s heart attack. It was the first time I saw my dad cry.

I later learned of my grandfather’s service in the FBI. He was a Flying Tiger in WWII. He was a law professor at The University of Montana. His father had also died from a heart attack when he was young. His mother left for Oregon with her youngest when her eldest children were off to college/air force.

This reunion in Sunriver was for this part of my family. My mom initiated the whole thing with an email a little over a year ago, unsure of what might happen. Dozens of Holts showed up. I met my dad’s cousins, their kids and their kids. For five days we hung with family that immediately felt like family. Yes, family can have something to do with name, blood, proximity and shared past. But mostly, it has everything to do with humanity, history and the choice to know one another. We are all related.

^ wild hail storm left three inches on the ground ^

We had planned to head south from Sunriver to the Redwoods. Instead our little family unit drove toward the ocean. Andy and I thrive on unplanned, unbooked travel. We love the excitement of choosing small, less-traveled highways off of a wrinkled, non-talking, old fashioned map.

Always in search of primitive campsites, I read about a little spot on a lake near Sisters, Oregon. We drove the McKenzie Road through fields of lava rock and into an emerald lake with one campsite left. We set up camp, made dinner and envied the site across the way — the one tucked into the forest, right on the lake.

And, right then, as we were saying damn, that site is so awesome the people staying there packed up and left. You know it. We scooped up our piles, ran 100 yards and staked claim.

^ Alice buried brussels sprouts in super secret spots for her nighttime snacks ^

The girls spent more than an hour making a fairy house. And, two visited: Ponderosa Rose and Lava Feather. They are summer fairy who care for germinating pinecones and the homes of pikas in the lava fields.

Margot and Ruby were fascinated by the once-hot lava surrounding us. We hiked through it, read all about it and are now researching books and websites to answer Margot’s 117 questions about where the first people came from (but where do they COME from?), when the first dinosaur lived, how deep under the earth hot lava exists, where every volcano is in our country, how rock is dated…

>> trip details <<

Margot’s hiking shoes
Ruby’s hiking shoes
Travel espresso maker

DAY 1:
Lochsa River
Hells Gate State Park, Lewiston, Idaho: a nice, clean, friendly park with a little bit of highway traffic noise

DAY 2 – 6:
Sunriver, Oregon
Hike to Tumalo Falls: it was more crowded than I’m accustomed for hike but beautiful, shady and easy for the kids
Float on the Deschutes River
Thump Coffee

Day 7:
Lava Camp Lake Campground: free and beautiful and primitive
Lava River National Recreation Trail: educational and magical
McKenzie Pass scenic byway: gorgeous, forested, lush, tons of hiking trails

>> part 2 tomorrow <<


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Somewhere between Elsa and Katy Perry

My daughters watch themselves dance in the window reflection. Margot tucks her shirt in, untucks it. Sways her hips from side to side. Tucks it in again. Spins on one foot, her bejeweled plastic heels stomping the turn to a stop.

Mama, when I am 12 I want to fly all the way across the country all by myself with no mom or dad!

Ruby believes she invented the side ponytail. She spends at least 10 minutes smoothing every hair into this intention every morning. The hairstyle changes in one hour. By the end of the day it’s always down, a tangled mess of blond.

Mama, I feel so beautiful.

They visit my sewing studio in search of fabric for the day’s cape. They play kittens, babies, school, family, princesses and vacation. They carry purses full of treasures on their shoulders at all times. Rocks, coins, lip balm, carousel tokens, tiny stuffed sheep, tinkerbell, drawings.

Margot is 6 1/2. I remember wearing a 6x, remember my cat peachy folder, Mrs. Ryding, my mom’s soft brown locks. My girl is promising swirl of thoughtfulness, wisdom, confidence and gumption.

Ruby studies her sister, often torn by wanting to do what Margot does and wanting to do what she wants. She usually does what she wants. Ruby is a promising swirl of tenderness, earnestness, resilience and courage.

I really want my own room but I can’t even handle not sleeping with my sister. Ever.

Our entire family knows every word to every song on the disney pandora station. The girls feel like they win at life, many times a day, when Do You Want to Build a Snowman and Let it Go come on. Recently, the interest has shifted, especially with Margot. She now likes the Katy Perry station. Ruby prefers “princess music.” They talk it through and bounce back and forth until I call it quits and call on Gillian Welch.

You’re hot then you’re cold
You’re yes then you’re no
Do you want to build a snowman?
Or ride our bikes around the halls?
You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through

My daughters want to be together all the time. Even when they argue, pinch and hit — they sit with it. Sit with each other. I feel proud of this, proud of them. One of my primary parenting goals is to give my daughters each other. To support them in their authentic love and problem-solving; to give it to them instead of stepping in to manage. To hope for a strong relationship between them that outlives me. To show them what it’s like when someone always has your back. Inclusivity, empathy, compromise, listening, sharing — all these vital life skills are learned in my daughter’s shared bedroom and through their shared experiences.

(the story of the turtle we found in the road, in the middle of nowhere)

(the story of the toad at the river)

My husband and I are witnessing change that is both profound and ordinary, as our kids cut deeper into their channel of self-discovery and personal style, as they sort through this world. Andy and I swim beside them – in our own channels – sharing their light, sharing our light. Together, finding our way.

We leave tomorrow for one last summer hurrah – a 10 day road trip. After a very full few weeks of working to prepare for this time away, I cannot wait to get out and about, exploring. Our family is at its best when out there, I believe. Oh the glory of no cell service! The blessing of nothing to do but talk and play made-up games in the woods! The time to just be, somewhere between Elsa and Katy Perry, together.

weekend camp trip details:

first night (forested images): Lake Alva Campground
second night (river images): River Junction Campground
lost turtle: on the road to Upsata Lake
last photo, THE BAG: by Dharma Door, my new favorite everything tote. My friends own Dharma Door, a company that designs & sources Fair Trade, sustainable homewares and lifestyle products. You can have 15% off your order with coupon code DIGTHISCHICK.

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