Monday, September 14, 2015

The OddHouse

Some days, life hurts my ears.

Due to the echo-y dwelling I've lived in since June, there is not one spot within the four walls to find silence. I've closed multiple doors, have turned on fans, ran the dryer. The backyard is no real sanctuary, since the windows are usually open, and noise bleeds right through.

Over the past several years, there have been multiple tenants in this strange house we've owned, about eight groups in varied formation who've moved in, and then moved out. The track record hasn't been great: Two renters had to be hospitalized for depression, several suffered mysterious health problems, at least one miscarried, and multiple couples divorced.

Only one, the longest-staying, seemed unscathed by the place. I think the toughness gained from their having been in the military might have had something to do with that.

"The place should've never been built," said the last tenant, a feisty senior citizen with a distinct Chicago accent who moved out with his wife before the syndrome could set in. I was surprised at his comment. Someone was finally saying out loud what I'd thought all along.

"It's an afterthought," he'd gone on, "Look at the shape of the yard and this unusually long driveway. The builder wanted to make an extra buck, and cut space off the yards of the houses on either side."

I looked to my left and to my right, and it was undeniable.

I truly used to think that maybe the place was haunted, had some weird vibes, and swore I'd never live here, yet life's sort of I am. These days, I'm not sure about any hauntings...I now think the root of the other tenants' problems was simply the bizzaro floor plan. Rooms right on top of one another, narrow hallways, off-centered windows and walls that create mental noise on top of physical noise. The place is just kind of off, and adding volume to the mix doesn't help.

I don't blame the others for going a little bonkers, lacking the option of being alone with themselves; most souls need solitude. When souls don't get that, the human body tends to rebel.

Gagging the chief offender is probably all kinds of illegal, but in weaker moments I've thought about that, while whispering strong suggestions to "cut it" without being heard. (Door closed, yelling into a pillow).

"I can't stand a quiet house," several friends who've grown up in big families have said.

Well, I grew up in a big family, too, and I can stand the quiet just fine. I can stand it so well that when I house and God-dog sat for my youngest sister for ten days, I hardly went outdoors. The absolute, uninterrupted peace was what I'd been craving since birth.

"C'mon, Ame! Don't just sit there!" my older sister used to say, "Let's go do something!"

Yet being away from what I viewed as an insane, useless scuffle in the common area of our growing-up house was my version of doing something. I was actively avoiding the over-activity.

That didn't mean that I was antisocial, boring, or unimaginative. That didn't mean that I was lazy or lacked ambition. In those cases, I'm recharging my batteries so I can dive back in with renewed energy. I'm more than happy to be around people. I'm usually one of the last to leave a good party, I've been known to unknowingly close restaurants with small groups of friends, and I love encountering new and interesting personalities. But I need my downtime, too, and if I don't get it, I don't function.

Honestly, I'm wary of people who have to be "on" all the time, and who have a serious aversion to being alone with their thoughts. It takes a whole heckuva lot more energy to try to outrun yourself than to just take some time and sort stuff out. And, not news: that plan won't work.

So, for now, I'm thinking of those who've bravely gone before at this super-wonky "OddHouse", not even wanting to ponder what the winter hibernation months will bring. And I'm praying for peace on earth, which in turn will nurture goodwill towards men.

And...I'm ear-plugging it.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The True Meaning of Station Wagons

I knew my friend Susan was getting ready to leave this world when I met her.

Being around someone who is terminal can be awkward, and I'm the Queen of Awkward sometimes. Case in point: out of pure habit, I walked into her home for the first time, and greeting Susan with the words, "Hi, how are you?"

She was sitting weakly in a recliner, hairless and pale. She pointed to her head and said, "Well...there's this."

We talked about all kinds of things. When I told her about the station wagon I'd been hauled to Idaho against my will in, an auto with lovely faux wooden panels, she laughed and said she'd had to endure riding in one of those, too.

"Who are we kidding," I told Susan, "a lot of the SUVs these days are nothing more than glorified station wagons."

To prove my point, I started taking photos of current SUVs and texted them over to her. She got a kick out of that, and I got a kick out of being right. One blissful day, I found the piece de resistance out in the grocery store parking lot: A 1970s, faded brown number with faux wooden panels. I quickly took a photo and sent it to Susan.

We were both familiar with the classic olive green wreck that sat along Highway 55 in Cascade, and talked about it often. I almost took a photo of it many times, but for some reason never did.

I went to see Susan one last time. She was exhausted, and hadn't talked much, but managed to tell the woman caring for her, "This is the station wagon friend I told you about."

I was okay with that title.

The day Susan passed to the other side, I saw station wagons everywhere I looked. I'd wanted to ask her for some sort of sign when she got to heaven that it was all real, that she was okay, that there was a God that loved me more than I could imagine. Since she was a dancer, I thought maybe I'd ask her to put some dancing in my life...then I'd know. I never gathered the nerve to ask anything like that of her, though.

But I think the station wagons are my signs.
I keep seeing them.

Walking out of Susan's celebration of life into the sunlit parking lot, I stopped short when seeing the shiny hearse that would take her body to its resting place. I shook my head. No wonder neither of us liked station wagons. Deep inside we must've known what they really looked of those babies. And...(crap!) matter how hard we might try to avoid it, we're going to end up in one of those, anyway.  She was getting ready to ride in one, and so was I, someday. The irony.

I can't get the station wagons out of my head lately. In honor of Susan, and to purge some of the emotions wrapped up in all of that, I began to paint myself a station wagon. Its odd salmon color unexpected, the poignant sunset sky in the background and even the trees were a surprise. The setting looked like somewhere I might want to be.

It occurred to me that although station wagons were ugly, not sleek, just functional, really...that they usually took me to places that wound up being good for me. As a child, I had no control over where the driver decided my destination was, and I'd resented that, not having a say. But an ugly old red 1970s station wagon with faux wooden panels took me to Idaho, where I grew, became a mother, and met people like my friend Susan. It was all for the good.
I'm looking at getting another SUV, and darned if the ones that are growing on me don't look just like another "guess what". If I do get something like that, I'm sure Susan will get a laugh out of it.

I'm going to welcome the station wagons of life, and of the next life. And I'm going to trust the driver.

And every time I see a station wagon, or even an SUV that looks like one, I'll think of what I've been taught about trust, about the adventure of the unknown, and I'll be okay with it all.

I hope I see one today.

*Prints of this painting, done in memory of Susan (Lee) Ellis, are available. Message me here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pine Cones and Pineals

Near the door to my home sits a hurricane vase atop a marble and metal stand, filled with pine cones, each deeply attached to memories.
We once spent two late-summer days on a sandy beach adjacent to an Idaho City mountain creek, burying each other in sand, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, playing pitch and hit with huge pine cones and suitable-sized sticks. The fresh, evergreen-scented air and kids’ high-octave laughter permeated everything.

Just as we were leaving camp, my ever-observant seven-year-old, Jared, saw me slip one of the cones into my jacket pocket. I told him it was to remember. 

Since that creek-side camp adventure, Jared’s presented me with single pine cones, and I see him doing that again and again in my mind’s eye, as a towheaded child under four feet tall, as a dark blond, muscular boy of my own height, and as a giant, nineteen-year-old, deep-voiced man.
“Here you are, O Wonderful Mother,” he’d say in his teasing, overly-formal tone, bowing slightly and dramatically extending the souvenir as an offering.

Few things melt my heart faster than stopping on my way in or out of the house to consider the vase.

I have cones from hikes, from trail riding on the ATVs, from summer boys’ camps. Whenever I look at them, I see each instance, woven in like a fast-forward movie. If I want to examine each bit of nostalgia, I’ll empty the vase onto the dining room table, handling and sometimes smelling each one, hoping for a scent that instantly takes me back to that mountain, that campsite, that river. There’s even a teeny, tiny, odd-looking one from Laie, Hawaii, randomly picked up long before any official collection got started. If I think about it, I guess I’ve been collecting them for a long time, and Jared took over where I left off.

That this would become our inadvertent family tradition is mysteriously fitting: Conifer pines are one of the oldest species of trees on the earth, existent before even the flower’s debut. Conversely, the pine cone is a symbol for eternal life. It’s also representative of the Pineal gland (named after the pinecone because of its shape), which controls our sleep/ wake function, perception of light, and gives us as humans a knowing we wouldn’t have otherwise, that sixth sense. 

My children are everything to me; I feel I’ve known them long before this time around. When the oldest flip-flopped in-utero, when his brother rhythmically, systematically kicked, or his sister stretched in a sporadic display of wanting nothing but freedom, that was familiar.

I’ve never been so alive, so awake, as when I put down my work (the keyboard, the dishes, the paintbrush) and abandoned myself to playing with those kids. That didn’t happen nearly as often as it could have, but when it did, everything in my soul perked up. My perception of light was wide open, right in front of me, in the forms of my three “chapters”: one doing acrobatics, the other constructing something, and the third just trying to find a way to make it all pretty.

They’re across the state, across the country, and across the world now, but one of these days I hope to get at least one or two more pine cones. These simple tokens of mother- and child-hood are what I’d first rescue from threat of fire or flood.

Exactly why they’re placed by the door.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Friendly Neighbors Club of Nampa

(Reprinted with permission from Idaho Press Tribune. This piece was their 2010 Cavalcade Magazine Essay Contest Winner)

On April 5, 1928, a group of mom-types formed a club, aptly named ‘The Friendly Neighbors Club’, not knowing then that their small community organization would outlive them, their children, and beyond.

The purpose of origination was unclear, although in this pre-PTA era, Lakeview’s one-room schoolhouse’s need was urgent: hot lunches and helping hands to assist the two teachers. As time went by, the Club reached beyond the school’s essentials. Last Day of School Picnics, purchase of a new furnace and hot water heater, presents for teachers, janitors and cooks, eighth grade graduation ceremonies and much more.

They began looking for other places where they might be needed. They made curtains for the Hall, donated holiday turkeys, brought gifts to clients at the State School on a regular basis, and sold baked goods at the Marsing Disaster Fundraiser each year, giving the proceeds right back to the Fund.  For more than three-quarters of a century, the Club has regularly donated to over a dozen local and national charities without fail.

Hundreds of women were listed on the rosters, kept meticulously since 1930. Therein are the names of large, well-known country families, but not all. Some were simply transplants from out of state, needing friends, and the Club was there. “It made me feel that I belonged,” said a member. The ladies loved their community, families, and each other with an uncommon steadiness. They threw parties for one another, mourned losses and celebrated gains. If anyone was ill or down, they were sure to get a card, and sometimes a plant, flowers, or a casserole. They worked hard, but they knew how to play, too. The books give accounts of stunts, riddles, games, contests, and practical jokes on their husbands.

Since children were allowed at the meetings, the members’ young formed a tight bond, having grown up together. It was their children, after all, that had been a large focus of the Club in the first place, and children were never left out, nor were helpful husbands, who were often well-fed as a reward. A tragedy occurred when the Lakeview School had a fire in 1967, but the children, although bussed to different schools, tried to stay in touch.

Over eighty years since its formation, the Friendly Neighbors Club lives on. The members are generally older now. When unable to donate their time, they donate funds. They are still doing good works finding ways to meet a need. Once a month they gather, and continue to celebrate the Club’s anniversary each year, on April 5th.

“It’s a matter of being welcomed by people. People who feel like family; people that you can count on,” said a long-time member. When asked about the hey-days of the Club, she continues, “It’s a lost time,” but then thoughtfully added, ‘But nothing ever really ends; it just changes. We still need to know who our neighbors are. Not knowing might be all right in New York, but it’s not all right here.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Endocrine Health Checklist: Is YOUR Endocrine at Wit's End?

Having my endocrine system break down does not sound like a good time to me.

When hair thins, fatigue rules, and depression is the mood of the week, something's up. This is a super-quick tutorial and checklist for extreme endocrine health and happiness.

A Vitamins
Albacore tuna
B-5, B-6
Bell peppers
Brazil nuts
Breathing deeply
Brown rice
Brussels Sprouts
C Vitamins
Calm (practice being this way)
D Vitamins
Dairy products
Emotional care
Fish (cold water)
Glass containers (use to drink from vs. plastic)
Iodized Salt
Lean meats
Mozzarella cheese
No caffeine or carbonated beverages
Oats (steel cut)
Orange juice
Popcorn (air popped)
Positive outlook (keeping one can greatly improve your health)
Quiet places (find them and visit them often)
Reduce stress
Relaxation techniques
Sea vegetables
Sleep (7-9 hours daily)
Spiritual care
Wild rice
Winter squash

*For more of my random thoughts (and lists!) follow me on Twitter. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Quoting the Author to the Author

Years ago, I used to dream about someone walking up to me and saying, "Wow, you're that writer that did this and that article," etc., etc.

That hardly ever happened, back when my ego really would've gotten a ton of mileage out of it.

Today, while judging a public speaking contest, I was surprised to see an Idaho Magazine article of mine ("She Speaks Horse", about the EhCapa Bareback Riders and EhCapa Queen, Ecko Laursen) on the display poster, and then hear the speaker reference the article multiple times, explaining the impact it had made on her, and how she was going to get extremely involved in a group from reading all about them in the magazine. I tried to keep my face blank, but it was unexpected, and even a little awkward, and I'm not sure how successful I was at that.

Wanting to lay low and not say anything, it was obvious the speaker had no idea who I was (the judges' identities are kept private until after the award ceremony). However, my fellow judge outed me right after the presentation ended. The poor teenager went beet red, having no inkling she was quoting the author to...the author.

A semi-surreal experience for both of us, no doubt, and not as awesome as I thought it would be as a former inexperienced, hopeful writer. That ego stuff can only take you so far, and is pretty fleeting.

Life's timing is funny sometimes.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013



I'm always glad when someone has that.
The ability to step out of the usual, normal and the blah.
The ability to step out of their character and do something different.

They're the ones that are making it fun for the rest of us.

Once, in a solemn Sunday School setting, the teacher was feverishly conveying their brand of truth. Out of nowhere, a half-full baby bottle of milk was flung at the back of a very dignified congregation member's head. Shocked, he turned around to see who was to blame.

The villain was an active child who'd been fussing on his mother's lap. The witnesses present all knew the identity of the culprit, but with so many eyes looking on, the mother, with eyes wide, said, "Sorry. I just got really, really mad."


When I was a teenager, I worked at a busy fast food restaurant in Arizona. That store had more volume than any store in the state, and our six to eight-hour shifts usually flew by. I barely remembered what happened from day to day, unless there was some huge disaster. Barring that, each shift was much like the other.

One morning, three middle-aged men stood at my counter, deciding what their breakfast was going to consist of. The man standing in the center happened to notice my name tag.

"Amy...." he said, "That's a good name."

Without any warning, he began to sing, and the two others joined in. They sang all of the verses of Pure Prairie League's 'Amie' in three-part harmony. Everyone in the lobby stopped what they were doing, and my co-workers, even though not supposed to, paused to see what was going on up front. When the trio finished, the people in the establishment broke out into wild applause. Being only a youth, I was blushing like a red rose, but x amount of years later, I still appreciate it.

That was a really great day.

A couple of months ago, I was leaving the grocery store, making my way through the busy parking lot. Three kids, about twelve years old or so, whizzed past me. The third cyclist held out his hand, I thought 'why not', and we high fived. He and I both laughed, I hoped a bunch of other people in the lot saw how cool I was, and we went our way. I've been smiling about that one ever since.


What can we do to be spontaneous today?

*For more of my random thoughts, follow me on Twitter or Facebook.