Monday, December 19, 2011

Faith, Hope, Love

One of my extended family members is having a hard time and reached out to some of us for understanding. This is my open letter to him.

When I received your email I wasn't quite sure what to think. For one thing, I'm not one of your kids, and that's who it was addressed to. But in many ways I might as well be one of your own, in the way that you have been emotional support for me since my mother passed away.

You said you've been emotional and you don't know why, and that you've been crying and you don't know why. You've been reliving old memories and seeking to share them with your family. I may know why you're experiencing all of this emotion, but first you'll need to hear me out.

This year, for my birthday and our anniversary, I specifically asked Chris to buy me this:

Posted by Picasa

I'm not a big jewelry person, but this struck me in a way that I can't explain. I've worn it every day since. I'm sure you recognize the symbology, as it stands for Faith, Hope, and Love.


[1] If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

[2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
[3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
[4] Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;

[5] it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
[6] it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
[7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
[8] Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

[9] For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect;
[10] but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.
[11] When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
[12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
[13] So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Abide is such an odd word. This is the best definition I can find:
a·bide  (-bd)
v. a·bode (-bd) or a·bid·ed, a·bid·ing, a·bides
1. To put up with; tolerate: can't abide such incompetence. See Synonyms at bear1.
2. To wait patiently for: "I will abide the coming of my lord" (Tennyson).
3. To withstand: a thermoplastic that will abide rough use and great heat.
1. To remain in a place.
2. To continue to be sure or firm; endure. See Synonyms at stay1.
3. To dwell or sojourn.
 I've learned the truth of faith, hope, and love enduring all. I've also learned that sometimes, that's all that remains.

* * *

I've recently returned from a very dark place. That shouldn't be a surprise to you; I've dropped off the radar and withdrawn from pretty much everything. There was a point I reached where I wondered how much more I could take and how many "just one more day"s I would have to endure.

My kids are gone and that's left a big piece of me missing while I worry about them every moment of every day. There are times this year where I feared for my husband's life and waited in absolute terror for test results. Friends and family members have passed on or are going through hard times themselves. We've lost our major income stream, with no dependable replacement as of yet. Chris's health is so up and down I'm not sure what to expect any given day, and my health has been going through some massive changes. We've dealt with lawyers, IRS agents, a dozen or more major crises, and serious life uncertainty and upheaval.

There was a point at which I could not take it anymore.

It's amazing what happens when you reach the point of too much. Some of what you've stored inside starts coming out to make room for what endures.

Faith, hope, and love.

At some point, the fire becomes so hot that it starts melting away the impurities inside, the dark spots that lay hidden. This is what happened to me, and I believe that's happening to you. Every trauma never dealt with, every buried pain, every repressed memory starts bubbling to the surface. Your soul seeks release so it can make room for what you really need.

Faith, hope, and love. The alloy that forms a much stronger you.

In my case, that meant finally finding the source of my pain and trauma, and being able to start clearing it out. My trauma turned out to be shame, which I cultivated and grew to the point that it severely infected my life and made it difficult to function. Shame does that, if you don't let it out in the open. Shame shared evaporates like so much mist.

I don't need to know what pain is hiding in you that is attempting to release itself. I have suspicions as to what led my mother to commit passive suicide by not taking care of herself; I know just enough of what went on in the family to know that whatever secrets she held were shameful indeed.

She passed on that sense of shame to me. It's taken me this long to rid myself of it. She hid her shame, and I'm convinced it contributed to her death.

I know that whatever secrets she held back, you most likely witnessed in one way or another. I also know that there's other reasons for your pain, even if I don't know the details.

What matters is this: your pain is no longer lying dormant, and while you go through the process of letting it out, the world will look dark indeed. The pain obscures your vision, and it feels like you're lost in darkness.

The darkness is temporary.

* * *

I used to think of faith as a nebulous concept that I couldn't really grasp. I heard it spoken of, but never understood. Faith can only be truly understood in the midst of hardship and darkness. Now I understand.

Faith is knowing there's a light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can't see it.

Hope is the trust that when you find that light, things will be better.

Love is what keeps you from doubting your faith and giving up hope. Love is what keeps one foot moving in front of the other, even if you don't know where you're going.

If you keep walking forward, you will eventually find that light.

* * *

At the darkest part of my tempering, I desperately needed reminding. That weight around my neck is enough of a reminder to keep looking for the good, the silver lining. With some work, the good in any situation can be found.

Soon the custody issue will be decided, and hopefully the world will return to normal. Finding Chris's cancer was painful, but because we know what is wrong we have hope that he will soon be healthier than he's been in a decade. That experience also tapped us in to a medical community where much more than the cancer is being treated, to the point that he can walk again, think again, and otherwise be himself again.

From the deaths of friends and family, new life is springing up. Adapting to the changes meant life improvement for many of us, while we re-examined life and what we wanted before we're gone ourselves. Losing the income stream ending up being a very good thing for Chris; with me covering our medical insurance, he is free to pursue new endeavors on his own terms. Working for MegaBank made him miserable; now he is working for himself.

Chris's health and work status unpredictability has forced me to adapt and be flexible in new ways, as has my new job. I like my job, I like the people I work with, and I've found a very good support network there. I've also been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and ADHD, and treatment for both has drastically improved my life and my outlook.

Most of all, learning to deal with the varied curveballs thrown to us this year has made me stronger and my marriage stronger. If we could get through this, we can get through anything.

Increased strength, increased adaptability, and increased flexibility has also enabled me to be much better at kicking ass and taking names, not to mention opened pathways for me to follow my dreams.

I don't think any of those very positive changes would have come about if I hadn't gone through this dark period and come out the other side. If I hadn't been forced to deal with my pain and trauma, and let the fire of life burn it off, I would not be this strong.

Let the pain come up. Figure out what it's trying to teach you. Share it with someone. The moment you bring the pain out in the daylight and let the impurities out, you will start to heal and feel better. Then you will find the reason, the good that will come from fighting through the darkness.

We will all be here for you while you go through this. Listen to that instinct to share the past; it will help you uncover the reason why it is coming back to you so forcefully.

It will also draw you closer to your family, and create a place of safety where they can share their pain with you.

The pain, anger, and grief you're going through is temporary. Faith, hope, and love will endure, and grow.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Adventures in Diagnosis Land

So last Wednesday I received my official diagnosis of ADHD Primarily Inattentive with accompanying anxiety and depression. The docs (there are two of them, one therapist and one MD who work together) think whatever anxiety and depression isn't explained by life circumstances is most likely explained as a reaction to untreated ADHD.

That would make this my 4th diagnosis, making 3 prior diagnoses not exactly wrong, but not complete either.

At first the MD was cautious, because sometimes stressful life circumstances can cause ADHD-like symptoms, and because I clearly displayed depression and anxiety. Gee, really? So he put me on Wellbutrin and sent me over to the therapist to suss out which was the chicken and which was the egg.

The Wellbutrin definitely helped even me out, but it wasn't sufficient.

Now, 6 weeks later, diagnosis in hand, I'm on my 2nd week of daily ritalin.

Yes, I've heard all the arguments, ranging from "smart drug" to "dangerous" to "you don't need it."

Well, as it turns out, I actually DO need ritalin. Or something like it at least. It's made a huge difference.

See, everything about ADHD is about keeping a sleeping brain awake. The classic example is the little boy who can't sit still in class, but there's far more ways to cope. Daydreaming, thinking too hard (overfocus), adrenaline addiction, all other kinds of addiction, intentionally creating drama... there's a reason people with ADHD perform their best when life is at its worst.

Too long doing that however, and the physical effects catch up to you.

What ritalin does (and why it's so badly abused by those who don't need it) is "wake up the brain." That's why it helps the symptoms, because every symptom of ADHD is a futile attempt to keep the brain awake.

So now my brain is awake for about 12 hours a day, give or take.

Life looks very different now. I look very different now. I feel very differently now, because I'm in more control of my thoughts and reactions. That's a very big deal.

As part of the package though, and as part of the diagnostic criteria, I've ended up looking at my entire life through a different pair of lenses. Being undiagnosed sucks, because all you know is that you're different and struggling inside, with no explanation as to why.

Now I have my explanation, and that makes a world of difference.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Not So Outta Left Field This Time...

... as straight down the baseline.

So in December I found out through my doctor's insistence on being thorough that I had hypothyroidism. I've been on treatment ever since, and it's helped me immensely. More energy, more focus, more emotional stability.

However, the treatment wasn't doing quite enough and I ended up maxing out my dosage to the point that now I'm almost hyperthyroid, which is a BAD THING. I still felt low on focus and energy though, and my anxiety started making a big comeback. Of course life at the moment probably contributed, but I didn't feel that was enough of an explanation. At that point we started piecing symptoms together.

Turns out I have, and have always had, ADHD. However since I'm female, I did reasonably well in school, and I'm not hyperactive (all of which contra-indicated) the common conception of ADHD in the 80's and 90's) I ended up mis-diagnosed as depressive and then anxious.

Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder doesn't necessarily include the Hyperactivity OR the Deficit. There are some who say it should be consider deficit in attention control, not deficit in attention, because one of the primary characteristics is hyperfocus.  Another characteristic not often looked at is faulty short-term memory (what one author calls a "glitchy" RAM) which is what generally reminds you to remember (the kid who gets so wrapped up in a book that they forget about their homework until Monday morning back at school).

I can be the queen of hyperfocus, it's what got me through school. The glitchy RAM has plagued me most of my life, as the lack of memory somewhat divorces my perception of my actions from my perception of the consequences. Those things together make life a constant anxiety-inducing event, as you don't know what you forgot.

Turns out if you don't have hyperactivity, and you have a tendency to go into hyperfocus mode (the inability to switch attention easily), AND you have enough intelligence to automatically compensate for the memory glitches, you can reach adulthood without anyone noticing there's a problem. The only proof to be had would be those report cards that say "doesn't live up to potential. Under-achieving overachiever."

Sometimes no one notices until there's enough balls up in the air and no ability to keep track of them. That's when it becomes clear that adult ADHD is the culprit.

Oh look, that sounds a bit like my life at the moment. There's the Chris's health ball (6 docs, one dentist, and a case manager, all of which I'm the primary contact for), the IRS ball (accountant, lawyer, and agent), the custody case ball (don't even get me started), the work ball, the household ball, the extended family ball...

As I understand it, normal people don't have near as much trouble splitting their attention like this. I do. It's a constant source of anxiety, to constantly be "absolutely sure" that you're forgetting something.

To know WHY is such a tremendous relief that I can't even begin to describe what it's like to know 1. that there is something about me that's making this so much harder than it needs to be and 2. there's something I can do about it.

Tomorrow I will be paying attention to the ball in the air called my health and seeing a professional about what we can do. I've already started working on the lifestyle changes to account for my deficit in attention control and my glitchy short term memory (oh smartphone, how I love thee).

I am thrilled that I finally get to have my brainpower back.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

And Now the Flooding is Disappearing

As reported by the Bonner County Daily Bee:

PONDERAY — According to Bonner County Emergency Management Director Bob Howard, the worst of the flooding should be passing.

At the Ponderay Community Development Corporation meeting Thursday afternoon, Howard told the gathered business representatives that he expected the flood stage to peak by Friday and gradually subside afterward. Between assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers in protecting vulnerable roadways and the improving prognosis, Howard is optimistic.

“At this point, I think we’re doing well,” he said.

Of course the best part of the article is this:

This is part of why I love where we live. The local radio reported on the dressing-up of the memorial on Friday morning. It was still there when I got off of work Friday afternoon.

Back in Phoenix the park service would have already taken everything down and would be looking for the "vandal". Here the park service came in in the morning, let it be, and instead called both local radio stations (which is where I heard about it Friday morning on the way to work) and the local newspaper.

It's nice to live somewhere where most everyone, including officials, has a sense of humor.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yay Flooding!

Anyone need some extra snow melt? We can spare some.

The lake is attempting to invade the yard. That overflow into the lower yard?

That's 15 inches of crystal clear alpine snowmelt.

The path to our dock is underwater. The dock itself is afloat and mostly safe. Some of our neighbors with stationary docks aren't so lucky.

The nice cedar dock which can barely be seen was built just a few weekends ago.

Even City Beach is about to get inundated. This memorial is usually comfortably above the water line.

Notice the snow in the mountains in the background? We're not done yet.

This is our current lake level:

We're estimated to be at 2064.4 by Friday. At the point we'll be close to the 100 year flood level. Some of the lakeside homes will start flooding at that point. Our house is much higher on the slope, it would take at least another 10 feet to do real damage to us.

Some of those around us don't live as high up, many of those on the more expensive stretches of waterfront.

Wish we could ship some of this water down to the southwest at the moment.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spring has officially sprung

Complete with the good and the bad.

We had a REALLY wet year this year. Snow like mad. Rain like mad. Frost heaves like mad. Snow melt like mad.

The snow pack upriver of us reached 152% of normal and is still melting. There's been flood warnings off and on for weeks. We've had months of seasonal runoff streams. This has ironically meant a ton of grass in mostly underwater pastures, fields, and yards. The economic issues behind a late spring coupled with an inability to work the ground will mean higher hay costs and crop costs this year.

Our lower yard, the portion closest to the slough, has been a morass for months now. It's finally dried up enough for me to mow that 12" grass in 2" of mud. The main yard isn't much better.

So far it's been a rather mucky spring to say the least.

However, armed with a new and improved mulching blade, the lawnmower and I have been tackling the wild 22" of self-propelled deck at a time. Today I managed a third of our acre of lawn.

So much time behind a lawnmower brought me face to face with spring's gifts.

For example the flowering cherry trees planted for erosion control? Well, they're doing as the name suggests and flowering:

And quite to my surprise, the strawberries survived their overwintering in the greenhouse. Hell, they more than survived, they're thriving:

The lake is on the rise of course, so while mowing I had this wonderful view:

It's going to be quite a pretty season.

I have a job!

After a year of searching and 8 months of concentrated searching I found out I finally have a job.

I am officially part of huge multinational stable bank where Chris works.

Technically I was offered the job on Monday "contingent on completion of background check and fingerprinting". Filled out the paperwork for the background check online Monday, and it's already back.

Today I received the call that I was hired, and to report on Monday for paperwork and Tuesday for training.

It's only part time right now, but with huge possibilities for becoming full time in the near future.

Yay gainful employment!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wow I really need a fishing license

This is a video of the fish rising to eat at dusk in the slough off of our dock. Don't forget to choose 720p and full screen the video.

There's just a few fish out there. Just a few.

These are the rankings for the annual Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club Spring Derby:

Adult Rainbow Division
1st  Jack Peterson              19# 5oz 34"     
2nd  Calvin Nolan                15# 8oz 31"
3rd  Raliegh Turley              14#  6oz          
4th  Josh LaRue                   13# 0oz 29"    
5th Rose Greene                12#12oz 29'     

Adult Mackinaw Division
1st   Jesse Peterson            24# 15oz 37 1/2"  
2nd  Roy Stokes                   24# 9oz                
3rd  Don Peterson               16# 3oz 34'           
4th  John Jay                        15# 10oz 33"        
5th  Gale Belgarde               15# 7oz  34"        

I really, really need my resident fishing license now that I qualify.

Fun fact about Idaho Fish and Game licenses and tags:

Resident Licenses
Idaho Residency Requirements
Hunting And Fishing Combination$33.50
Sportsman Package *$117.25
Senior Combination Hunting And Fishing (65 years +) **$11.75
Military Furlough Combination ***$17.50
Military Furlough Fishing ***$17.50
Daily Fishing — 1st Day$11.50
Daily Fishing — Each Consecutive Day$5.00
Youth Resident Licenses
Junior Hunting (12-17 years)$7.25
Junior Fishing (14-17 years)$13.75
Junior Combination Hunting And Fishing$17.50
Youth Small Game Hunting (10-11 years)$7.25

Nonresident License Fees
Season Fishing$98.25
Hunting And Fishing Combination$240.00
Daily Fishing — 1st Day$12.75
Daily Fishing — Each Consecutive Day$6.00
Nongame (Expires August 31)$35.50
Trapping ***$301.75
Taxidermist/Fur Buyer ***$170.00
Small Game Hunting *$97.75
Three-day Small Game Hunting *$35.50
Three-day Salmon/Steelhead$37.50
Youth Nonresident Licenses
Junior Season Fishing (up to 17 years) $21.75
Junior Mentored Hunting **$31.75
Youth Small Game ** (10-11 years)
Upland game birds, migratory birds, cottontail rabbits, and unprotected and predatory birds and animals, including turkeys and sandhill cranes.

Yes, non-resident hunting licenses cost 12 times more than resident, and fishing licenses almost 4 times as much (which is why I didn't get a fishing license last year).

Comparing tag fees is even more fun:

Resident Tag Fees
Idaho Residency Requirements
Second Bear$11.50
Mountain Lion$11.50
Second Mountain Lion$11.50
Extra Turkey$12.25
Moose, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goat (controlled hunt tag only, does not include nonrefundable $6.25 application fee)166.75
Special Resident Tags / Fees
Junior/Senior/DAV Deer Tag *$10.75
Junior/Senior/DAV Elk Tag *$16.50
Junior/Senior/DAV Bear Tag *$6.75
Junior/Senior/DAV Turkey Tag *$10.75

Nonresident Tag Fees
Reduced & Second Bear$31.75
Mountain Lion$186.00
Reduced & Second Mountain Lion $31.75
Extra Turkey$80.00
Moose, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goat (controlled hunt tag only, does not include nonrefundable $14.75 application fee)$2,101.75
Nonresident Junior Mentored Tags / Fees
Junior Mentored Deer Tag *$23.75
Junior Mentored Elk Tag *$39.75
Junior Mentored Bear Tag *$23.75
Second Bear *$23.75
Junior Mentored Turkey Tag **$19.75
Extra Turkey **$19.75

That deer tag will cost you 15 times as much if you're out of state. Elk? 13 1/2 times. Moose? Yeah that'll be 2 grand out of pocket.

More importantly, notice the reduced rate for junior tags? Idaho believes in gateway drugs.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Atlas Either Shrugs or Develops Knees of Adamantium

One lesson I've learned being an executive's wife: if you poke up above the crowd, someone's going to attempt to kneecap you and bring you down to "equal" (i.e. their level).

There's nothing more dangerous than being successful. It makes people "feel" bad. It makes them want to bring you down.

As if they had a clue what it was like to be above the crowd. It's really awesome to be in the top 5% of earning households. Which is obviously why I buy groceries at Costco and Super Walmart and buy sides of beef at a time to save money. We're just rolling in it.

There is an impressive amount of suck attached to being near the top, both financial and strength-wise. In fact our neighbor gave a name to it about a week ago when discussing my grandparents being on their final days and my father's lack of deal.

"Don't worry, Mel can handle it."

He meant that sarcastically. Too many people mean it literally, as an in-built excuse for whatever gets thrown at us.

It's very close to "don't worry, the rich can afford it."

"Don't worry, it's only one more regulation on small businesses."

"Don't worry, it's only one more law."

"Don't worry, it's only one more tax."

At some point, the final straw appears.

Let's wrap up what's happened so far this year, shall we?

September: the kids are taken from us on a flimsy legal pretext, requiring another legal fight, this time in Canada. After all, we can afford it!
November: Chris has a hypertensive crisis, requiring me to essentially stay within an hour's travel of his bedside. But we can handle it!
January: Chris's brother dies and we fly out to Boston for the funeral. Also, the IRS decides the kids and I don't exist and therefore Chris should give them an extra $100K in taxes. Oh, and the thyroid tumor is found! But that's okay, we're strong and it's the rest of the family that needs to be taken care of!
February: Chris is disowned by his grandmother. Tumor is measured. It's over 3 1/2". And is most likely cancerous...
March:...but the tumor can't be removed yet. That's okay, he's strong, he can handle it!
April: Mel receives word that her grandfather most likely has stomach cancer and is not long for this world. He is 94. This is when she decides to go on Chris's business trip with him, where she visits grandparents and discovers father is not dealing. After all he doesn't have to deal, Mel can handle it for him!
Today: Official contact from IRS. After all, we can afford it! We're obviously not paying our fair share! It was only $60K last year!

The urge to give up everything and go become a hermit is strong. However, there is no such thing as Galt's Gulch. There is also SO much that we want to do that, by definition, becoming hermits would prevent. We can not bow out.

So if Atlas can't shrug, he can at least develop knees of adamantium for the inevitable attempts at kneecapping.

And that's where this turns from general rant into specific rant, aimed against family, friends, and everyone else we come in contact with.

There is only so much in this world two people can take.

Your emotional crisis/ slight irritation/ sense of ennui/ general inability to deal = NOT OUR PROBLEM.

The petty bullshit? Yes, we're intentionally ignoring it. The drama? Banned. Y'all put on your big boy/big girl pants and deal.

It's not that we didn't notice that you don't want to grow up. Or that your marriage is falling apart (dude, you have a pre-nup for a reason). Or that old age somehow "snuck up" on you.

We just don't have the energy to say anything, or the willingness to wade into the drama right now.

Please, please do not insist that we wade into it with you. You will find that knees of adamantium also equal spine of adamantium.

To all of those we have invited into our lives recently, you're here for a reason. You're here because we've determined that you will be a joy, not a pain, and we need more joy in our lives. Thank you for that.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Life in North Idaho Part 1 - A Little Geography and History

So we've officially been in North Idaho for a year now, and that requires some updating.

Bonner County is an interesting place to be. The county has all of 41,000 residents spread out over 1738 sq miles with the majority of residents living outside of incorporated areas. The county seat and center of the county is Sandpoint, with all of 8,300 residents. Sandpoint has a few other incorporated cities attached to it (Ponderay, Kootenai, and Dover) but mostly incorporated areas are few and far between.

Bonner County is home to a huge-ass lake, Lake Pend Oreille, the surface area of which is 148 sq miles. Other than the southern tip (which Kootenai County claimed for one reason or another) the vast majority of the lake is in Bonner County. Most of the incorporated areas in Bonner County are either on the lake itself or on the Clark Fork River (the major feeder river from Montana) or the Pend Oreille River (the outlet which winds its way to Washington).

The rest of the county is a mixture of valleys and mountains and plains, with a mixture of meadow and forest.

(a horribly stylized map, but it will do)

Those mountains happen to be very important to the history of North Idaho, and to why Idaho has a Panhandle in the first place.

See, the Idaho Panhandle has always had two different problems; a bunch of mountain ranges, and the people drawn by mountain ranges in the West. This second group included a whole bunch of "independent" types; displaced Southern Democrats (Confederates), polygamists up from Nevada, other minority religious groups (including Anabaptists), loggers, millers, miners, railroad workers, and their entire service industry.

These groups are, shall we say, rather difficult to govern.

So when the Idaho territory was split between Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming along geographic features like the Bitterroot Mountains and other mountain ranges and rivers, a proposal was floated to split Idaho in two. The northern half would go to Washington and the southern half to Nevada. It's said that Idaho was kept whole as a personal favor to then-governor Edward A. Stevenson, but in reality Washington didn't fight too hard to claim the northern part.

The reality is, the Panhandle in 1887 was (and still is) extremely difficult to govern. Too many mountains, too many independent types, too much distance to travel. Even now the Panhandle is pissed at the southern part of the state for moving the capital from Lewiston to Boise, and even now people refer to Boise in the same ways that the rest of the country refers to D.C. (i.e. not very flattering).

Sandpoint, for all of its pretensions of being "Tahoe North", started its days as a port on the rivers and lake for the mills and mines, a railroad junction, and a tavern and whore town for all of the workers.

In certain ways it still is, just don't remind them. To this day there's 10 bars within Sandpoint city limits alone (only 3.9 sq miles) and many more restaurants that sell alcohol.

But anyway... in order to understand the culture of the area, you need to understand the roots. North Idaho is rooted in independence, self-sufficiency, and general distaste for too much government. The rural life is strong here, whether farmer, rancher, logger, miner, hunter, or fisherman. Property rights are strong here for that reason; almost everyone who buys land outside of city limits here is using it for at one of those purposes; those who aren't buy the land for the waterfront or the ability to do whatever they want on their own land without anyone complaining.

That's not to say that's the sum of economic activity; Bonner County is home to many businesses looking for cheap land, low taxes, and good workers. Coldwater Creek and Litehouse are both based in the Sandpoint area, as are many other businesses.

Still, at the end of the day, most of the workforce in Bonner County goes home to a house outside of city limits. All of this is what makes the culture of where we live.


The snow is gone from the yard. The hot tub is filled. The bald eagle is back, along with the gulls. The robins are singing in the morning. I'm breaking in a new pair of riding boots so I can get on the back of a horse within the next month of two. My seedlings are started. There's patio furniture on the deck.

It's officially spring in North Idaho.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Our Next House #1

Our next house will have exactly one doggie door. It will lead to the mud room. This way, when Spring hits and coonhound mix digs a hole under the fence for doberman mix to sneak out through, both of their muddy little bodies will be effectively barred from the house until they've had a date with the detachable shower head.

This mud room will not be ceremonial, no sirree. No pretty hard woods, carpets, and paintings for us, that's for the entry. The mud room will be entirely tiled with a drain in the floor. The coats and shoes will live in a freestanding coat closet and shoe bin that can be closed when the shower head comes out. Every bit will be washable and/or bleachable. The shower head will have sufficient hose to reach all around the room and sufficient water pressure to reach the farthest wall. The mud room will include a shower/bath and a utility sink.

The mud room will be separated from the main house by the pantry and laundry room. Both will also be tiled and bleachable. This will be for ease of unloading the Costco bounty (without taking shoes on and off eternally) and washing off whatever the muddy dogs did to my poor work clothes.

The "Our Next House" Series

Custom designing and building our permanent homestead has always been the plan. We moved to an area of reasonably priced, farm and forest suitable, undeveloped land for a reason.

For one thing, we don't plan on running a normal farm. I used the word homestead for a reason. A farm is a place where you practice agriculture. A homestead is place where you live. In our case it's also a place where we work.

Our eventual homestead will look something like this:

  • Main house, at least 4 bedrooms, a large pantry, 2 living areas, and an office.
  • Grossdaddi house, as the Amish call it. For years we've been calling it "Dad's" house because we expect my father to spend quite a bit of time there. It's also the place we're building for our eventual retirement. The term grossdaddi  house in particular refers to a house built on the farm where the parents retire to in their old age, letting one of their children take over the big house.
  • Garage, for the ACTUAL storage of vehicles.
  • Barns, for various reasons.
  • THE SHOP. Aka where Chris plans on spending most of his time. There's a variety of specifications for the building which I'll leave for him to explain.
Except for the barns, it's a pretty safe bet none of these will come from a standard plan.

Currently my best friend for the last, oh, 16 years is working on her master's in urban planning. Given that she's already stated she'd like to use our property for her portfolio, and the fact that we've been planning this place for the last 16 years (common source of amusement between us) she will be giving us a hand with the planning.

Talking about plans is one thing. Living them is another.

In a way, I'm glad we weren't able to buy a place before we moved up here. The experience we've gained in this particular climate is invaluable.

Thus, the "Our Next House" series. Bits and bobs of what life has taught us about living in the mountains and valleys of North Idaho.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Thaw

The birds are singing, parts of the lawn are visible again, and I didn't use 4-wheel-drive to get back down the driveway this morning.

It's also raining like mad, the heating oil truck almost got stuck in our driveway yesterday, and there's "road closed" signs all over the place.

Spring is officially here, and the thaw has begun. First the snow on the side of the roads went (and private driveways), then the yards, and now the snow berms are starting to disappear. By the time the snow melt reaches the top of Baldy Mountain all low-lying areas will be a sodden mess and, according to local wisdom, it will be time to plant and seed outdoors.

One thing's for sure; unlike Phoenix where the only seasons were hot and not-hot, North Idaho has the full set of 4 distinct seasons.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Reason to Live Off the Grid #1

Reason to live off the grid #1: not being reliant on unionized workers to restore electricity.

Hawaiian Electric Co. used managers and outside contractors to repair storm-damaged power lines yesterday after its unionized work force walked off the job over a contract dispute.
HECO executives said the strike would slow efforts to restore service to about 8,000 Oahu homes and businesses, mostly in the Ewa Beach area, that were without power last night.
I don't see solar panels, battery banks, or generators developing the ability to unionize any time soon.

Age Ain't Nuthin But A Number

Which is how I think, most of the time.

This is probably due in large part to 1. being married to someone who due to intelligence and experience "feels" older than he is and 2. being part of a community full of all ages. I likely wouldn't feel the same way if all of my friends were within 5 years of my own age.

So most of the time I don't think about how old I am until it's time to fill out forms or renew car insurance. Also, if I think about my age I just get depressed. My youngest brother almost died from a kidney infection when I was 23 for example, and he's still on dialysis. I gave my father a second opinion on whether or not to take my mother off of life support and was at her side when she died; I was 27.

Last November I turned 30, and yesterday my age got shoved in my face in a very unpleasant manner. While Chris seems like generations older than me he by no means robbed the cradle. He doesn't admit his age in public forums, but he kept within the rule of half his age plus 7.

So when the surgeon stared him down Tuesday and said "you're too young to be an old man, and too young to die on my table" it hit me. My husband most likely has cancer and has to go under the knife to save his own life. He's disabled and can't do the things he wants to. He can't act like a man his age normally would. He's too young for this.

I'm too young for this.

This is the problem with thinking about age. It's too damn depressing...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mel's Photo of the Day 3-2-11

Approaching snow shower. I've always particularly liked that house up on the hill. (click to embiggen)

Monday, February 28, 2011


 Robert Heinlein ended up being half-way right. The part he missed is that we don't just vote for bread and circuses these days, we also buy our bread and circuses. Our comforts and our distractions.

I've been fighting my own efficiency for a long, long time. There's some part of me that is petrified of what would happen if I were done early. If my work, efficiently executed, did not constitute the whole day. If my weekends were not full of entertainment, my ears full of music, my head full of thoughts. Petrified of stillness, to the point of avoiding it at all costs. To the point of filling the day with distractions.

This is made entirely possible by technology. The technology which enables one person to grow enough food for many, the technology which replaces household drudgery, the technology which gives us light at night and company in the stillness. This enables us to have both extra time, and the entertainments with which we fill the time.

I am terrified of extra time, so I turn to my distractions and I turn to inefficiency.

A few weekends ago while shopping I came across what I think of as the uniqueness of the Sandpoint area; a visiting Japanese family in high fashion, obviously on a ski vacation, in line behind a Hutterite family with 6 boys and 5 girls. The Japanese family clearly experienced culture shock; the Hutterites not so much.

Bonner county is an outdoor paradise settled with loggers, miners, trappers, railmen, prostitutes, and persecuted minority groups. We still have a large population of Anabaptists of all creeds, as well other formerly persecuted sects. This leads to a population which is, ahem, difficult to govern.

Lately I've spent much time researching the various Anabaptist groups in an attempt to understand the people around me, which has led to much research concerning the Amish (by far the most written about group). As a whole, their days are filled with efficient work with palpable results and free time without all the technology we use to fill it.

In all my reading, I've come to one inescapable thought; my attachment of inefficiency and technology to fill the time is a deep-seated fear of what I would find if I just stopped moving.

During this time life has also thrust, very clearly in my face, the fact that many people are unprepared and ill-educated, some intentionally so. Between the large number of VERY intelligent people I know who do not know the simplest, most necessary things and the population at large, it's become quite clear to me that people are willfully ignorant. That beyond their bread and circuses they do not have much curiosity in the world at large.

I've been guilty of willful ignorance myself, as well as the inability to see beyond my own nose. In many ways, I think what I'm terrified of is stopping and finding that I'm actually far more ignorant and far more boring than I think.

Worse, I think I would open my eyes and be forced to see that in reality, so is everyone else.

I think that is what the distractions keep us from seeing, those things that would scare us, that would make us rethink everything we know, those things that would prove us wrong.

I'm going to toss the distractions and find out.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Well, We ALMOST Escaped Winter Unscathed...

The Dodge Earth Sodomizer and I almost got in a major accident today. Almost.

While northbound on the US 95 headed home from Hayden, the weather got the best of a poor little black sedan headed south. I was driving a reasonable following distance behind another 3/4 ton hauling an rv. I saw the black sedan hit the black ice at 65mph and cross into oncoming traffic.

The driver of the 3/4 ton ahead of me managed to pull onto the shoulder so instead of getting hit head on he got hit on the tail end of the rv instead. I managed to pull over to the shoulder into a snow bank and escape getting hit head on myself (barely).

I watched the black sedan pass me, still swerving, and go into the ditch on the side of the road about a 1/4 mile down. Several vehicles pulled over to check on them. I pulled over and called 911 immediately. The dispatcher asked me to check on the driver of the truck pulling the rv so I pulled in behind him and found that the elderly man and his wife were okay. I waited by the side of the road, safely pulled onto the shoulder, for emergency services to show up.

After they showed up I finally noticed the damage to the Dodge Earth Sodomizer. The snow bank had caved in the lower portion of the rear passenger side door.

Compared to the damage that could have happened if I'd let the car hit me head on (which would have happened if I hadn't pulled myself onto the shoulder) I think I got off easy.

Certainly our insurance agent (and neighbor) is much happier with that outcome.

The rv in front of me was trashed (it actually got pulled partially into the ditch and into the reflective markers), the truck pulling it lost one of his equalizer bars,  and our truck's door got dinged, but nobody was hurt or killed. We got off easy.

Several things I learned from this experience:
  • 99% of drivers in North Idaho are responsible winter drivers. It's that 1% that's the issue.
  • Thank God Chris taught me how to drive on the ice early on in the season. Because I'd internalized "smooth and deliberate" I was able to avoid an accident without losing traction myself.
  • Since it was snowing and I was pretty sure there was ice on the road (it was 21 degrees out) I kept the truck in 4 wheel drive lock. If I hadn't already been in 4 wheel drive my emergency evasion would not have turned out as well.
  • Since I've been dressing for the weather and not for the heated truck I was VERY comfortable standing on the side of the road for an hour in 4 inches of snow. Shearling boots, wool socks, good jeans, and a coat rated to 20 degrees are all good things.
  • Good batteries (in this case 2 of them) make it so you don't worry about how long your emergency flashers will be on.
  • A GPS, even on a familiar route, will enable you to tell dispatch EXACTLY which two rural roads you happen to be between.
  • Emergency blankets and supplies kept in a truck enabled me to offer the elderly woman a warm blanket while she was waiting. If I wasn't dressed as well as I had been I would have been in need of a blanket too.
  • A personal relationship with our insurance agent and his phone number in our cell phones enabled Chris to call him after he got off the phone with me and meant he was at our house shortly after I got home to get the info and get the process started and off my mind.
  • Bonner County Sheriff's Office and Fire Department are some of the nicest guys on the planet.
This could have ended up much worse. I'm glad that both our truck and the truck in front of me managed to avoid a worse accident, because even though the accident wasn't either of our faults that wouldn't have made the possible death of the car's driver any less traumatic. Thank God we both managed to avoid a head on collision.