Ignorance is Bliss

One of my various scribbles in a notebook.

A few years ago I took a class called Natural Disasters, and no, it wasn’t a self-help course in case you were wondering.The intention of the class was to understand how natural disasters occur. It was an interesting experience if not extremely harrowing. We learned that if on a beach say near America Soma, and the ocean suddenly retreats, run! We were advised not to build a house along the California coast because you are basically building a house on quicksand.

The class learned about spotting landslides, old and reoccurring. We came to understand that every jagged peak along the Wasatch Mountains is a diagram of potential disasters. We learned that cracks in the sidewalk could mean more harm than the superstition of breaking a mother’s back if stepping on one.

During the course, we were told about every region’s disaster, however, very little information as to what to do about it.

I’m a doodler—it’s a concentration practice as well as a stress reliever. While I’m listening to someone speak, I draw landscapes in ballpoint pen to help me focus on what they’re saying. I did this well before taking this Natural Disasters class, but by the end of it, sketching was no longer a reprieve from my anxiety. Now, instead of gentle mountain slopes, I saw erosion. Instead of rolling hills, I noted fault lines.

I tried sketching just grasses and trees growing out of the sturdy dirt but then thought, what’s the point? Flood or liquefaction will just suck them underground.

It was good for me to take the class and to understand the environment in which I live. However, the beauty of the landscape changed to nothing but death traps.

At the end of the course my, teacher asked what each of us learned after taking the class. No one said anything. After a long stretch of uncomfortable silence, I raised my hand and said, “We learned that it doesn’t matter where you live, Mother Nature is going to get you.” He didn’t think it was funny, and really, neither did I.

Although I’m more knowledgeable about natural occurrences, this information now plagues me. The beauty that once held stress reduction, now only induces it, making me think that sometimes, maybe ignorance is bliss? If it’s not, don’t tell me, I really don’t want to know!



On Halloween Eve

IMG_4557Today is Halloween, and it’s cold, though the sun is out. Yellow oak leaves hang in bunches outside my window.

I have shiny black bats fashioned out of trash bags taped to the exterior of my house and have gone on another trip to the store to stock up on candy for trick or treaters that might stop by later.

I used to love Halloween—there was an excitement unlike any other, except maybe Christmas.

I loved the weeks of planning costumes, the Elementary school Halloween parades and end of day class parties with macabre themed desserts and pin-the-head-on-the-mummy games.

I remember when I was young going trick or treating with my siblings. We’d always start out together, the older siblings escorting us younger ones, per our parents, expressed rules, who then ditched us as soon as we got out of sight of our house.

My older brothers would travel far and wide with pillowcases instead of the small plastic pumpkin buckets. They would make the rounds, return home, change into secondary costumes and head back out for more—and maybe they only did this once, but it was smart and clever enough I’ve tricked my memory into thinking it happened a lot.

Halloween was the one night a year where every child of every age was released into the Suburbian wild and allowed to dress like someone else and beg for candy. Cars would park outside neighborhoods. Kids moved in swarms, trading secrets with fellow travelers over which houses to go to and which ones to skip—I received two toothbrushes one year before I got wise.

On our journey, we’d swap notes of the houses where rich people lived the ones who gave out full-sized candy bars. I would plan on getting there sometime, maybe that night, perhaps the next year, because usually, the rich people lived so far away. It was exactly one time I made it far enough to get one of those full-sized candy bars—a Hershey’s bar—candy never tasted so good.

I remember long stretches of frozen fingers and toes while treading up steep hills filled with endless Gypsy’s and pink Princesses, and Cowboys and masked monsters or He-man’s lining the sidewalks. I remember the threat of older boys making rounds, stealing from the younger, the weaker of the flock—though I never came across any. We would roam from house to house, cross street after street and stay out past the time when the streetlights first turned on. On Halloween eve, the only curfew depended on when houses ran out of candy or on tiredness, and there was plenty of fuel to replenish us as we went. I would try to eat as much candy as I could before getting home—not because I would be limited once clearing the threshold, but rather for the principal of the night.

Halloween was amazing once, and it is now, but not in the same way. Still, I wouldn’t trade those memories for a million full-sized candy bars, nor would I swap them for the memories I have of this night and spending it with my own kids!

Spontaneity Isn’t Dead After All

I’m a super scheduled kinda gal. I like to have set times for set things. I think there are a couple of reasons for this; number one is I have kids. Number two comes from going to college as an adult. I think the third explanation is from growing up in a large family. The Ellis Clan was spontaneous and still is for the most part. Although I loved the sense of adventure my childhood had, there was also a sense of instability—instead of acting on a laid out plan, I had to react to changes hurled at me—thus as an adult, I schedule, schedule, and schedule.

I’ve gotten so rigid that I’m practically paralyzed when there’s a change in plan. This need for control also makes me un-fun.

Last Saturday, my husband, Brian, asked me to go for a ride with him. I immediately came up with a list of why-there-was-no-way-we-could-blow-off-a-perfectly-good-Saturday-and-go-for-a-ride (see what I mean? I’m no fun at all!)

After some convincing, we jumped in his mini Coupe and headed to Evanston, Wyoming, leaving our kids and our dog behind.

We drove the 85-mile distance along I80 through steep, winding canyons, listening to a Podcast. An hour and a half later we arrived in Evanston and stopped at the very first gas station in our line of sight. Out front was a small sign advertising the sale of PowerBall Jackpot tickets. In Utah, lotteries are seen as gambling and are therefore illegal, so of course, everybody drives to either Idaho or Wyoming competing for the winning number pick.

Brian and I talked about doing something like this someday. Neither of us had ever tried our hand at the lottery and had no idea how to fill one out let alone had a winning number strategy. The amount last week was over a whopping $500,000,000.

The Cashiers in the Evanston Chevron were two ladies in their late fifties or early sixties. They told us how to fill our sheets and didn’t get upset when each of us still managed to fill them out incorrectly. We stopped at a Costa Vida for lunch and then headed home with our lottery tickets. We won—eight dollars!

Then last night Brian and I did another spontaneous thing; we went to a Depeche Mode concert at the USANA Amphitheater in West Valley City. I was a huge Depeche Mode fan in the early 1990’s—back then the sign of D.M. enthusiasts was to dress in black like we were little black rain clouds. Luckily for me, Brian was also a big fan, though neither one of us ever wore all black—we’re both a bit counter-culturalistic; living on the fringe of the fringe (it’s one of the things that drew us together).

We arrived late to the concert, missing the front band. We passed through the gates and as was expected, into a sea of black. The weather was faultless. The audience was like being home, and the music was like a dream.

Bry and I laid on a blanket, on the grass, under the stars listening to one of my all time favorite bands—I’d had a similar experience when I was sixteen, only it was at a Seattle Planetarium with my grandmother and sisters and involved synthetic stars and recorded Depeche Mode music. It was much better this time.

I had a blast with each new experience, so did Brian. No, we didn’t win the lottery. Yes, we bought black t-shirts for the concert (but only shirts. Our bottom halves donned gray jeans).

It made me realize that I can rip up the To-Do lists every once in a while. That there’s a need to break out of the family calendar and do something unlike our regular, everyday selves, not to just exist, but to live! I’m looking forward to my next adventure. I’ve already started scheduling it!

Son Eclipse

I admit being disappointed over the Solar Eclipse yesterday. Why wouldn’t I with the route of the thing called, the “Path of Totality”? How can anything short of an apocalypse be grander?

For weeks news coverage of the coming event went over every aspect of it including footage of a newscast from 1979 predicting the next eclipse in 2017. I understood that yesterday’s event was going to happen over my house at approximately 11:34 am. I knew that it wasn’t considered a total eclipse but rather a “partial eclipse” because the moon would cover only 91.2% of the sun. What I didn’t think about until that morning was how were we supposed to witness the thing without protective eyewear? That’s where cereal boxes came into play.

Yesterday also happened to be the last day of my son’s summer vacation, so we planned to watch the great eclipse together. I followed Good Morning America’s instructions on how to make a solar eclipse contraption out of cereal boxes, tinfoil, and a pin-sized hole. Nate and I set up camp in our backyard on our trampoline.

A few minutes before the Path of Totality, the world got darker, like just after dusk when the oranges and yellows of the setting sun have burned away. It got colder dropping from 81 degrees down to 71. It reminded me of cloud cover but for a longer period. I still heard traffic. I still heard the hammering from a construction site nearby. However, I don’t recall the humming of busy birds, not until the eclipse was over.

Nate and I sat on the trampoline, taking pictures, staring hard into the abyss of a Cocoa Pebbles cereal box. My neighbor took pity on us and over the top of our shared fence, handed us two pairs of special solar-seeing glasses. He was right; it was better seeing the eclipse through those lenses than the pinhole version at the bottom of some cardboard. Even though the experience was great, I thought it would’ve been grander.

Today my youngest, my baby, started his first day of High School. He’s a sophomore, now. I had known this day was coming. I was prepared, buying him school clothes and restocking note pads and pens. My husband and I even measured his height on the pantry door, as is the night-before-school-starts family tradition. I thought I knew what to expect.

This morning I drove Nate to school. We waded in traffic behind the tsunami of teenagers and impatient parents each vying to enter the parking lot, the line of which stretched almost a city block. We were running out of time until the school bell rang. I ended up making a U-turn at a U-turn restricted intersection and dropped him off near the student parking lot.

He said goodbye and hurried out of the car. I watched the back of him as he trudged down the hill and was engulfed by a stream of students. I watched him move away from me.

I took my dog on a long walk and returned home to a silent house. It felt cold and dark in my entryway; my daughter was at work, as was my husband, and of course, Nate was gone. I returned to a space void of sound except for the hum of the refrigerator.

Yesterday was still summer, and the spectacular event of the moon going over the sun was televised from coast to coast. Today there was no splendor, no momentous scene flashing across the television screen, but today’s event was much, much bigger than I knew. Today I realized how small my world is and how short the amount of time I have left with the ones I love the most.

Zoey Speaks Spanish

zoeparascope         My New Pad

This morning I sit in an Adirondack chair on my new patio. My coffee mug stating, ‘Witches Practice Safe Hex’ is on the armrest. Steam lifts from the rim and blows away. Silver haze rings the Wasatch Mountains in the east, separating the serrated peaks from its base. The sun is rising and throws shadows of my pen across the page. Birds chirp. Traffic hums on a nearby highway. A machine in the distance is gnawing on metal, and geese honk a hello, bodies sagging, wings pumping, as they struggle to fly north.

I rest in the middle of a paver stone patio my husband and I have worked on over the last two weekends. We’ve tamed the once dirt hill with cement squares patterned like a Van Gogh eddy from his Starry Night. The stones are a mixture of purples and sand tones surrounded by seven pots ready to be filled with green beans, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil. Of the pots, four white line the front of the piazza and the three lining the back are blue, resembling teal packages from Tiffany’s.

It’s chilly, 48 degrees Fahrenheit. But the sun seeps into my face and the coffee I sip rolls down my throat and distributes warmth throughout my body. Zoey, my pet Chiweenie, investigates the new hardscape. Because of the chill, I forced her into a pair of puppy pajamas, a humiliating one piece made of fuzzy plaid. She’s a Californian dog and freezes in the mildest temperature drop. Zoey, her allergy-laden voice sounds like a veteran smoker, barks at a Magpie bold enough to rest on a fence post.

Zoey was part of a city pound exchange from the Los Angeles area. Her behavior suggests she was kept most of the time indoors and was never socialized. She dislikes being outside if not going on a walk. She hates the feel of grass and prefers the sidewalk. Zoey is mean to those who visit our house. She’s aggressive to all other dogs. She goes insane over adult males and hates little kids the most.

However, whenever I walk her, and we pass a Hispanic woman, Zoey’s tail wags, her mouth curves and she starts to prance up to her with a happy shake of her rump. It happens all of the time. In general, no one can get near my dog unless they happen to be a middle-aged Mexican woman. Then Zoey will allow her to pet her on the head and scratch her under the ear. It took me six months before Zoey would let me do that! Zoey’s behavior towards Latin females makes me think that my dog’s original owner must have been a Spanish woman.

We didn’t choose our Chiweenie, Zoey; she chose us—actually she chose my husband, Brian. He and I went to Petsmart to look at the pound puppies up for adoption. It had been six years since our family Chihuahua had suffered a massive heart attack and died in my arms. I hadn’t dared to get another dog. I loved my Benjamin Thomas, and he was irreplaceable. But here I was with my husband, looking at the prospect of a second pet.

I had gone the day before with my daughter, Lorrin, who fell in love with the black Chiweenie with the giraffe neck, showing indifference to people overall. I had hopes of a puppy who seemed happy and liked to snuggle if one at all.

When Brian and I returned to Petsmart the next day, the black Chiweenie was still there. Brian walked over, and the dog stood up on her hind, legs, front paws raised out to him. He leaned over the cage and scooped her up. Zoey had chosen her new home centered on the man who picked her up—it’s ironic because she goes berserk whenever Brian covers his baldhead with a baseball cap. I don’t know if it’s because she hates men in hats or if she simply finds wearing hats inside the house as rude. Either case, we brought Zoey home, and it has been rough ever since.

We knew very little about our new pet. She was house broken. She was probably around four years old. And she was given the name of MIM, which turned out to be the brand of the crate she was transferred to Utah in. Zoey was more comfortable on the end of a leash and was ecstatic when we put a collar and dog tags on her, bowing and prancing, shaking her head so that the tags slamming against each other making a magical chime. We also noticed Zoey didn’t understand us. She’d stare at us trying to grasp what it was we were saying to her.

One day, one of my kids suggested that perhaps English wasn’t the language she understood. That maybe, being from L.A., and more than likely from an apartment, our dog only knew outside tethered to a leash and commands in Spanish. It was an interesting thought. So we tried it. Brian called Zoey and asked, in Spanish, if she had to go outside to go potty. Zoey’s ears lifted. She looked at Brian and then looked at our back door. My husband got excited.

“But what if it’s the inflection in your voice she’s responding to and not what you’re saying?” I asked. So Brian said the words again in English using the same inflection. Zoey stood, ears poised, waiting to understand the command. Then, in a very flat tone, Brian said the word, “Banjo?” Zoey stood and walked to the back door. Apparently, our new puppy spoke Spanish.

It has been over a year and a half living with our crazy mutt. She has gotten used to Utah’s rain and snow, although, she hates both. I don’t have to ask her, in Spanish, if she needs to pee. Instead, she comes and pats my leg when she needs to be let out. She’s an unusual dog. I often wonder who the people were who raised her.

Was it a Hispanic family who taught her commands in Spanish and pierced her left ear for an earring? Did they let her sit on their lap behind the steering wheel and again at the dinner table during meals? How long ago was it before my dog went by the name of Zoey and had to put up with silly P.J.’s and owners who won’t let her sit at the dinner table and who know how to drive a car without her aid? Who knows?

My dog Zoey is a Princess, a foreigner in a land of rules. She’s part of a new family that forces her into sweaters to go for walks around the block. And although I believe she was loved once in L.A., she’s loved once more, in a place that gets cold and wet and with people who don’t speak her native tongue. She is loved and I think she at least understands that.