So long, Kemosabe

Dear Uncle Herbie,
This is how I am going to remember you — behind the wheel of your Buick:

I took this picture when we went on that road trip from Portland to LA to see Uncle Wei and Uncle Bun (funny, I had to stop and think of whether Uncle Bun was still alive when we made the trip, but of course he was). It was such a fun trip, just you and me, driving along the Oregon coast, visiting the sea lion cave, seeing the redwoods, going to the aquarium in Monterey, (and let’s not forget the all important Jelly Belly factory) collecting pressed pennies all the way.

Of course, there were years of good times preceding that trip. I won’t be likely to forget that you were the first person to try and teach me how to drive (which can’t have been good for your blood pressure, but never mind — I’ve gotten the hang of it now) and to catch a trout.

When I learned that you’d had a stroke, I began that inevitable process of scrolling back. When was the last time I saw you? When was the last time I talked to you on the phone? When was the last time I was in the house in Portland? And I tried to replay your laugh, and remember jokes we had told each other. When I learned that you had died, I regretted that we wouldn’t be celebrating your 90th birthday together next year like I had hoped, and wished I had seen more of you, called more often, and been an all around better niece. But I’ll be the first to admit that there’s not much to be gained in that train of thought. Really, the best thing to do right now is sit around and eat and talk about you, and that is exactly what the crew in Portland are going to be doing tonight. I heard they’re having Rock Cod and chicken stuffed with sticky rice. Now, that’s what I call getting down to business.
Of course, my biggest regret is that you, like my father, will never meet Kaya, a sweet and gentle boy and the apple of my eye. But I am glad that you and Baki met and got along so well, and you even looked a lot alike before he started to grow some serious hair!


He is going to miss you; we all will. And of course, so will I. We were buddies, you and I.
So long, Kemosabe.
Love,
Gunga Din

Somebody quarantine us…

I’m not even sure I should be writing about this because it really makes us look like we’re living like animals. At any rate, don’t eat while reading on…

Last night, Baki told me there was something weird in his poop. Now, Kaya eats all kinds of stuff that you shouldn’t eat (handfuls if sand, watermelon seeds, paper) so I’ve seen some stuff in his diaper. But Baki said that what he saw was alive. That pretty much stopped me in my tracks. He had flushed, so I didn’t get to see it (what a pity), but I made an appointment to see the doctor this morning. After chatting with Baki for a while, he confirmed my suspicion – Baki has worms, and it’s likely we do, too.

So we’re all going to be dewormed. It’s demoralizing, especially coming as it does on the heels of the lice episode. To make matters worse, look at the graphic design on the medicine box:

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You know, in case you forgot why you were taking it.

Look up (but not yet)!

It’s one of my favorite holidays today — Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Tonight  On September 30,  the night of the 15th day of the 9th month on the Chinese lunar calendar, is the moon’s brightest night. Take a look and see!
Traditionally, people hold moon viewing parties, and we will have ours when we are back out in the garden. You are supposed to eat mooncakes, but we don’t have any this year, and I am not ambitious enough to try and make them (and I haven’t got any lard, that essential element in so many Chinese sweets — don tat come to mind).
Still, no matter where you are, grab a mooncake if you can, or even just a cup of tea and turn your face heavenward for a moment if you can find the time!

(I wrote this thinking that MOon FEstival was Sept. 19, but I was a year ahead of myself — it’s on September 19 in 2013!)

A truly surreal day

So we are shuttling between the city and the garden again with school back in session, and for the past 5 days or so I was without an internet connection. It feels good to be back! Tonight we will go back to the garden for the weekend, but Baki has had a good first week at school, and I have fully recovered from the ordeal of the first day which was, oddly, much more difficult for me than for Baki.
We use the term surreal when we find ourselves in a situation that makes no sense. In an incongruous situation, reality seems to wobble. On Monday, I found myself in such a situation not once, but twice. But the thing is, surreal is a broad term. It can mean dreamlike, or it can evoke Kafka.
I drove the boys in to the city on Sunday and we went to school on Monday morning for his first day of second grade. We walked past all the first grade classrooms, and the nervous parents and thought, “My, how we’ve progressed!” Baki was the first student in his class to arrive. His teacher, the same teacher as last year (they stay together until grade 5), was happy to see him, and the next student to arrive was a girl that Baki likes, so when I left him, all was well.
Then I dove into the trenches of first day business, jockeying lines of irate parents with Kaya riding on my back in his carrier. I won’t lie — I was not equal to the task.
The school bus line was bad enough, where every other parent’s sparkling wit and charm seemed to grant them a place before me, even when I was standing right in front of the line, waiting. Okay, I am not assertive enough, and this was not a line in the classical sense that we are talking about; this was more like a human wall and the object is to be the brick in the wall that attracts the most attention because then you get helped. So that took forever.
I was soon to have my fill of old-school queuing, though. I went to the gymnasium, where the school uniforms were being sold in the shop on the right hand side of the building, and the text books were being sold from the basketball courts on the left hand side of the building. I knew it was going to be a zoo, because it had been last year, and why would it change, but at least this year I had all the uniform stuff, so all I would have to do was get the books. We waited in the queue for about 25 minutes, and Kaya was good as gold. I told the man behind the desk Baki’s name and class, and he added up how much I would need to pay and wrote Baki’s name in a ledger. Then he told me that the credit card machine wasn’t working, so I would have to go and pay at the uniform shop. He handed me a slip of paper. So I went over to the uniform shop and found an even longer queue. Deep breath. Okay, I thought, I only have the truck for a few days, so I may as well get this done. Of course, as I waited, I began to actually think about how stupid this whole thing was, which is a mistake. The key in these situations is to not think about them, just jump through the hoops.
That is when the heat started to get to Kaya and he started to wail. I didn’t blame him — I think most of the parents there felt like wailing, too. So then the moms at the end of the line with me told me that I ought to just go to the front of the line since the baby was sweaty and miserable. I really hate to queue jump, but at the same time, Kaya was miserable, and I can’t pretend that I was dying to spend another half an hour in the line, sweating it out with a crying child. So I went up to the front of the line.
At the front of the line, someone was paying for a skirt and another woman was paying for some books. The woman behind the desk finished ringing up the skirt and then turned to me and said, “Weren’t you just in the back of the line?” I explained that my child was getting really hot from all the waiting, and I was sorry but could I just pay for these books? She refused to even look at me, saying that if she helped me, all the parents behind me were going to give her a hard time or ask her for favors. Meanwhile, the mother who was buying the books said to me, “Never mind, just pay for the books. We’re all parents here.” The woman behind the counter kept on talking, and I tried to ask her when they open so I could just come first thing, then the guy at the register took my slip of paper and rang me up. I took my receipt to the other side of the building, got the books and ran out of there as fast as I could. I loaded them in the car and just about made it away from the school before I started crying. I think I will entreat upon Ali to accompany me to the first day of school next year — I need allies in the trenches!
It was only a half day, so I had promised Baki I would take him out after school and we ended up going to a new place called Snow World. Now, it was a very hot day out — about 35C/95F. And when you go to Snow World, they give you fleece lined pants and jackets and snow boots. Kaya, Baki and I were all bundled up and I was sweaty and tired, and about to get crabby when they opened the door to let us in and we walked into… snow. The temperature is kept at -5C/23F, and there is snow everywhere. There were funny little igloos that Kaya took a shine to (he loves little houses):

There was a cafe, and a weird little cabin marked “private rooms,” but the best thing of all was that there was a pair of curving slopes and plenty of sleds and inner tubes to use to plummet down them. Baki did not hesitate:

He ran up the stairs, whizzed down the slope, ran back to the stairs and repeated… endlessly. Kaya and I enjoyed the lovely cold weather, and stared up at the huge fans keeping the place cold:

It was so cold that eventually Kaya and I ducked into the cafe and had a warm drink. How bizarre to be warming up like this when only a little while earlier we were sweating in the afternoon heat.
When I was finally able to convince Baki to leave, we stumbled out into the heat feeling as if we’d been dreaming. And in a way, we had been part of a dream. The place, as ridiculous as it is, feels like someone’s fantasy (“Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were a place where it snowed every day?”) made real. More importantly, it had managed to erase the insanity of the morning. And we all slept marvelously that night.

literally lousy

When we woke up this morning, the plume of smoke that had been rising steadily from the hills had dissipated, so we had breakfast and headed home. Things seemed more or less normal when we got back, save the seething smoke above us. We soon noticed, though, that the fire was not out yet.

There were four fires that started yesterday, actually, all around this area. Unfortunately, one of the fires was apparently close to a village, and destroyed people’s homes. In the papers, they say that arson is suspected. That is certainly the theory being bandied about on the porches and through car windows. There are theories about who might have started the fires, but for the moment it’s all gossip and speculation.
And while all of this has been unfolding, a smaller crisis has been brewing. I sat in the kitchen trying to get Baki to do his journal (his summer homework), and something about the crown of his head made me pull him closer and start rooting around in his hair.
I should mention at this point, that I had lice enough times as a kid to I remember it all in vivid, painful detail. I always had long hair as a school girl, and the dreaded metal comb was my mortal enemy. That, and the stinky shampoo poison. Lice is a pain, and with Baki now in school, it is never far from my mind. So as I went leafing through Baki’s hair, I knew exactly what I was looking for. To my chagrin, I found it; Baki has lice.
I immediately got Baki to wash his hair while I went to retrieve that very same metal comb that for some reason my mother never threw away and that I then kept as a grim trophy. (So in case you were wondering what it’s like to be a person who never throws anything away, there’s one answer.) Combing revealed irrefutable evidence. I hate the way lice look.
Ali and I immediately got creepy crawly itchy heads, of course. He read in the invaluable Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine that cider vinegar is effective against lice, so I doused all our head and we felt a little better. (Bartram’s also listed a traditional Russian remedy whereby the head is doused in vodka, which is then left to dry. This sounded exciting, but unfortunately, we didn’t have any vodka on hand.) Then Kaya and I went off to town to get something to kill the lice.
When we got back, and Baki was doused, we spent the rest of the afternoon watching the helicopters passing overhead.

They continued until nightfall, and the fire above us seems to be more or less out. We’ll see in the morning. The wild birds aren’t taking any chances; as I planted out some brassica seedlings, there were fleets of them descending from the hills above, stopping to rest in the big old pine in the middle of the garden before continuing downward.
And we read that tea tree oil is also used against lice, so I made a spray with cider vinegar and tea tree oil. The spray bottle I used had been holding eucalyptus oil spray to repel Lulu’s fleas, so we all smell like cough drops now.
Good night!

Not so quiet a Sunday

Ali heard it before he saw it. And then he said three words that changed our day from any other uneventful Sunday into, well, an eventful sort of day. It was around 10:30. “There’s a fire!”
I was just getting some kitchen work done, having put Kaya down for a nap. I went out into the garden and looked up into the hills and saw this:

Which was ominous enough a sight, but when I looked harder at the area out beyond the wild pear tree, I saw this:

And my heart gave a lurch. Forest fires break out every summer, and we are always as careful as we can be. The shepherds around here, I am sure I have mentioned in the past, spit into their hands to put out a cigarette, never leaving it up to chance. We always hope that when they break out, they won’t be too close.
We always said that we would leave if there was any sign of a fire, so that is what we prepared to do. Not knowing what to take, I grabbed our passports and birth certificates, and Ali took the papers for our application for a title deed to our land and I got Kaya out of bed and we all went to the car. Ali had called one of the neighbors who told him that the forest fire department said they’d be around in five minutes or so, and we could hear the plane approaching as we left. We saw the first plane as we stood talking to the neighbor on the road:

Then we took one last look before we headed down:

We went down to Sundance Camp where our friends were waiting. They had seen the smoke from there. We had some tea, Baki played with a new friend, we eventually had lunch, and I took the boys to the sea, thinking that it would get our minds off things. Not so much, though, since the first thing we saw when we got to the shore was the smoke:

Every ten minutes or so, we heard the planes or the helicopter approaching the sea to get more water:

Ali went up to check on things while we were at the shore, but I had left my mobile phone behind when we left, so I had no way of reaching him. So I waited. He finally came back down at around 5, saying that the fire was still spreading. We decided to go back up together, but thought that we would probably stay the night at Sundance, just to be on the safe side. When we returned, things didn’t look too different from a distance:

The garden was fine, if a bit smoky. We watered the greenhouse, made sure the chickens were fed and watered and that Damla the cat and Lulu the dog had bowls of food. The animals were all calm, which was reassuring. We took some toothbrushes and clothes, and headed back down, leaving matters in the hands of the foresters:

It doesn’t look like we are in any immediate danger, and if our luck holds out things should be back to normal soon. We’ll go back up tomorrow morning, at any rate. Luckily, the area where the fire broke out is not populated; I think we are the nearest people to it. Still, it has been a heck of a day, and a stern reminder not to take anything for granted, especially not things like uneventful Sundays!