Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vacation Tales to Tell: It's All About Me

While we were Outside (yes, we in AK call the rest of the country "Outside" or "the Lower 48." I don't know where Hawai'i falls in there. Sorry.) last month, I had the opportunity to take a vacation within a vacation. My in-laws were kind enough to keep my kids happy and healthy while I took a five day jaunt to the East Coast to visit my friend Sharron.

Sharron and I have known each other since college up in Fairbanks. We actually lived together in a one room cabin for seven months between the time I returned from a long field season and the time I took a job in Wyoming (see the ferret posts). We get along really well, understand each other the way few people do, and put up with each other's crazies (ok, mostly HER crazies, but I digress). We talk on the phone at least one a week and try to visit as often as our lives allow. It had been almost four years since our last visit and it was time to get together.

So I jetted off to the other side of the country. With each successive plane change, I felt the weight of parenting slough from my shoulders like so much dry, flaky skin. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my children to pieces; they are two of the small handful of people in this world I would kill or die for. But being Mommy 24/7/365 wears on you. Sure, they're old enough to not require eyes-on watching, and they both go to school so I have my kid-free days, but even when they aren't in the room or house, I'm still on call to any request for this and that, a middle of the night cry of despair, or a phone call from the school to pick up a pukey child. The only way to get a break is to have us in different states.

I landed after midnight pumped with enthusiasm about seeing Sharron and beat from a long trip. Sharron, bless her heart, had worked that day and had been up since the crack of dawn, but she was just as excited to see me as I was to see her. We chatted nonstop as she drove us back to her house and we stayed up until after 2a.m. talking. Finally exhausted, we passed out.

The next few days were filled with some catching up (we talk all the time, so it's not like we didn't know what was happening in each other's lives), but mostly just hanging out, trekking into DC, watching a couple of newly released movies, and more chatting about anything that came to mind. No one called me Mom. I called my kids once to say hello, and I did think about them, but knowing they were safe and happy 3,000 miles away, I was able to find me again. Ah, Cathy. I'd missed her.

There are things I do at home that are for me and me alone, but the mom-ness is always there. Taking these few days to reconnect with who I was, and who I am aside from Mom, was refreshing. I feel renewed now. Like someone took a big loofah and scrubbed off all the accumulated dead weight I was carrying around. I'm tingly and shiny, ready to get back to my reality.

We all benefit from my periodic escapes. My kids got a chance to do things without me hovering, and I was able to relax and enjoy my friend without wondering if the quiet in the next room meant someone was doing something they shouldn't. A win-win for all.

For those of you who don't think you can or should take time away from the kids, I say do it. As soon as you are able. You AND the kids will appreciate the break. You'll return from your vacation all shiny and ready to jump back into the fray. And hey, who doesn't like to be shiny?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Escaping the Bonds of Convention

The hamster got out again.

This is the fourth or fifth time he's escaped his cage since we moved, but that's not the interesting part. Every time he's gone on his little jaunts, he's managed to go further afield. His first two forays were into the laundry room right beside the bedroom where he lives. The next was into the kitchen. The one before this is a mystery, as my husband merely let him wander back into his room and into the cage set on the floor. This morning's trek was to the living room; the other side of the house, for the most part. How he's managed to drop to the floor and wander about without facing the enthusiastic reception (ie: pouncing and consumption) of two dogs and two cats is beyond my understanding.

You'd think he'd be happy to just eat and climb about in his deluxe cage, where every need is met. But is he content to stay within the confines of his plastic and metal world? No. Whether by purpose or accident, he is game to explore the far reaches of his existence. This is one courageous rodent, considering the pitfalls and dangers that reside near by.

It's this kind of eagerness to see how far the world extends that inspires me. I could write a typical romance, or a typical fantasy. I trust my ability to do that. But what I really want to do, NEED to do, is push my work and myself to the limits. Playing it safe won't get me more than a few nice comments on contest entries, or a line or so on a rejection letter saying my writing is decent but the story isn't original enough. No writer wants to hear that. My current WIP is different, and hopefully different enough (But not TOO different. Even I understand the line between different and weird.) to someday find an audience wider than that of my crit partners.

So, with the heart of a certain hamster, I'll break convention and push myself a little further with each story I write. It should be an interesting journey.

(Note: We have upped the security on the cage. Inspirational he may be, but we don't want to find his little furry body in a cat's jaws. Or not find him at all.)

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Vacation Tales to Tell: The Chicken Whisperer

My father-in-law has a 300 acre ranch in a little town in eastern Washington. On it, he raises a small herd of beef cattle (Limousins, for those into cattle breeds), cares for two older horses that the grandkids can ride, and trains his younger border collie with a herd of three sheep. He also raises chickens each year for their meat.

While we were visiting, it was time to butcher the Cornish crosses he'd tended. Chicken butchering takes a certain amount of team work. My father-in-law was designated executioner and initial plucker, my mother-in-law was the pin feather puller and carcass cleaner, while I ran cleaned birds up to the house where they were to soak for a bit before being bagged and frozen.

My oldest daughter was assigned the task of chicken catcher. Her job was to go into the coop and bring a bird out to my father-in-law. He prefers the chickens to be in a more relaxed state of mind and instructed my daughter on how to catch them without putting the targeted bird or its brethren into a panic. If you know chickens, you know they are frantic birds to begin with. No one wants to deal with a coop-full of freaked out fowl.

She'd snatch up the chicken and hold it against her, speaking softly and stroking it before handing it to her grandfather. The sedate bird met its fate with an almost serene and Zen-like demeanor. Though the blank expression on its beaky face could have been due to the fact its brain is smaller than a grape. But in any case, my daughter's manner of capture earned her the title of Chicken Whisperer.

I was somewhat surprised that she was willing to be part of the butchering at all. She loves animals, and it breaks her heart to see any hurt. On the other hand, she has an analytical mind that often works out her fears, worries and confusions with the nearly voracious digestion of facts and data. She understands that food, particularly meat, doesn't arrive at the grocery store in a cellophane-wrapped package. And while I didn't want her completely grossed out by the butchering process, I felt it was important that she understand where her meals come from and why we have farms and ranches. During the process, I wondered if she would go vegetarian. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that our family isn't and I'd have to make adjustments. So far, she's been willing to eat meat with as much enthusiasm as before.

I give her a lot of credit for her willingness to understand what it takes to put the food we enjoy on the table. And for making the last moments of the chickens' lives just a little more pleasant.

The Chicken Whisperer. Surely there's a Disney movie in that somewhere.