Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I carry my own toilet paper everywhere. Don't you?

I carry paper napkins in my purse. Not because I'm always spilling stuff, but because I never know when I'll need toilet paper.
Empty roll? No problem.
The habit began long ago in a bar in South America when one of the women I was drinking with stopped me on my way to the bathroom.
"Here, take this," she said, handing me a cocktail napkin. "There's never any toilet paper in the bathrooms here."

That was cool

Cassandra, if you're reading this, I love you for that. You not only saved me from a miserable situation that night, but created a habit that has saved me from countless more miserable situations since then at toilets with no paper hanging next to them.

And this compulsion to carry napkins helps not just in countries like Chile, where the plumbing at the time of my visit was so bad that bars preferred to not offer toilet paper rather than trust their customers to drop it in the bin instead of the bowl after they used it.
Having my own toilet paper handy at all times can help anywhere I go even back in the States, especially now that I'm hiking as much as possible.
Because there's two things you quickly learn about the bathrooms near trails: 1) never trust that the door actually locks, and 2) never expect there will be toilet paper.

This is especially true for a park bathroom I use nearly every day. Ideally, the maintenance guy comes once a week to clean it and refill all the paper products. But the toilet paper disappears fast, even with the new rod that locks on one end. Before the lock, all the toilet paper would be gone the next morning. Then the paper towels. Then the seat covers. By the weekend, there wasn't an inch of paper in any form to be had.

This was left by the elusive toilet paper fairy.
Which is how its been again for two weeks now since the last time he came, so only those of us with paper towels folded in our packs having been using that toilet lately.
Until today, when I saw that someone even nicer than Cassandra had arrived: a toilet paper fairy who left a skinny roll propped on the empty rolls for everyone to use.

That was cool, too.

But you can't wait on the toilet paper fairy, folks. Trust me. She comes like every three years. Carry your own toilet paper.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Who wants to see a 54-year-old woman posing in a bikini? I do.

I was flipping through the latest Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated when I stopped on the smiling face of someone I knew immediately was not another 20-something posing mostly naked on the beach. It was 54-year-old Paulina Porizkova, who said she is now the "oldest core girl" to be featured in that issue.

That was cool.

Full disclosure: I didn't buy this magazine; it was gifted to us for Christmas, and while I have enjoyed a lot of the articles, I was tossing this particular issue in the recycling bin when I saw 45-year-old Tyra Banks on the cover. So I opened it up. And I'm glad I did, because it made me very happy to see both Tyra and Paulina frolicking on the beach with women half their age.

You could certainly argue that by including two models over 45 in their swimsuit issue Sports Illustrated is just pandering to older women, hoping to distract us from the reality that it mostly serves as soft-core porn that gives everyone unrealistic expectations of what women's bodies should look like at any age. But I don't care why they included them. I still like that they did.

You might argue that women should neither want, nor be asked, to show their bodies for money. But as Paulina explains in her essay printed in the issue, modeling is just one part of her life right now, and she was more than pleased to be asked to pose in a swimsuit again, despite some blows to her ego in the process.

You might also argue that such a magazine shouldn't exist at all. But it does, and it comes to my home. And if it's on my kitchen table, I'd rather it feature a 54-year-old woman proudly posing in front of the camera instead of tucked safely out of view.

And I want to see that happy, beautiful 54-year-old not just to show middle-aged me what is still possible, but for teen-aged me, who studied magazines like they were maps to happiness. I want her, and all the other 14-year-olds who might still read magazines today, to know that 40 years from now, you can do more with your body than hide it under the beach umbrella while you wait to apply more sunscreen to your grandchildren.

You can put that sunscreen on yourself and join them at the waves in whatever swimsuit you like. Even a bikini.

Monday, May 6, 2019

My niece can't kill caterpillars. So I can't wait for her to start voting.

When my niece visited us as a young girl, I asked her to help me in the garden by plucking caterpillars off my tomato plants. When I came back to check on her she had found at least a dozen, but she hadn't put them in the soapy water I gave her.
"I can't kill them," she said sadly, pointing to the pile she had carefully made of all the caterpillars.

That was cool.

I loved her for that. I loved that she pulled the caterpillars off my plants like I wanted, but kept them alive like she wanted.

Our niece enjoying the Pacific Ocean during her last visit.

And what I love even more now about that sweet, sensitive girl is that she can't wait to start voting. She would have last November if she had turned 18 in time. But her birthday was the day after the election.
"I'm really mad about it, actually," she told me at the time, explaining that while she didn't do as much research as she would have had if she knew she were voting, she did pay enough attention to the tight Senate races in her home state of Arizona to want to "put my vote in. I also wanted to be a voter, too!"

I felt her frustration. I have voted every chance I got since I turned 18, and I would have been livid if my birthday was a day after that first election. But I was also happy she was upset, because it means she wants to be a voter.

And call me crazy, but I think people who can't kill caterpillars make good humans. And those are the humans I want voting.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

My favorite waterfall is hard to reach, so I've only had to share it with my dog

Spring is a great time to visit waterfalls, so I recently made the long trek to my favorite one. And for the third time in a row, the only other soul I had to share the experience with was my dog.

That was cool.

Being able to soak in all that cascading water for as long as I want without mobs of selfie-takers waiting (or often not waiting) their turn is the main reason why that waterfall has become my favorite.

I also love that you have to WORK to reach it. You need to hike about 4.5 miles from the parking lot at the Valley View Trailhead to see the waterfall. And about half of that distance is uphill, including a mile of full-on, legs-and-lungs-burning uphill that always has me asking, "When is this going to stop?!"

But once you emerge from the trees and reach the top of the ridge, you're rewarded with sweeping views on either side, the Ukiah Valley on your right and the Mayacamas Mountains on your left. If the pond on the right is full and you've also brought your dog, they can take a dip while you enjoy the wildflowers, bees and butterflies until you see a bench and should begin looking for a trail heading left.

There's no sign marking this trail, just the sound of rushing water leading you into a canyon that turns cooler and greener with every step, always making me feel as if I've stumbled upon a secret world. Only once you reach the creek do you find a sign announcing that you're now on the Mayacamas Trail, and walked 3.7 miles from your car at Mill Creek County Park. Turn left again to head to the waterfall.

This board was the only evidence that others walked to the waterfall recently.
I know sharing the waterfall's existence here might lead more people to check it out, but I've written about it multiple times in the Ukiah newspaper I write for and still the crowds leave it alone.

It might be because the waterfall doesn't have a name, so it can't easily be listed on a Top Ten list or even a map, and there aren't any signs on the trail telling you that the waterfall exists or how to find it. So unless you already know where it is or get horribly lost, you're not going to reach it.

It might be because I've always hiked to it on a weekday, but that doesn't seem to make a difference for other waterfalls, especially those near the Mendocino Coast. When I hiked to another waterfall in a forest after driving several miles on a very sketchy dirt road off Highway 20 in the middle of a non-holiday Monday, I found two men perched in front of the water with tripods who had driven all the way from Tennessee to take pictures of it. Why? Because that waterfall has a name, it's much closer to the coast, and it's included in many lists of the best waterfalls in Northern California.

This waterfall also might not draw the crowds because Ukiah doesn't have quite enough to attract people from The Bay Area to drive up here for the weekend or even a day (other than another green plant that doesn't grow near waterfalls, of course.) But this waterfall doesn't even seem to attract people who live closer.

That might be because locals know Cow Mountain is full of ticks. I always find at least one crawling on me if not attached to my stomach, and my dog never leaves that trail without DOZENS of them on her. After one visit I took off more than 40.

Or they might know that much of the year the trail is very hot, and you have to carry a lot of water for you and your dog if the seasonal streams have dried up.

Or they might know that there's a gun range at the top of Cow Mountain, and often you can not only hear the gunshots echoing off the mountain, you'll swear sometimes you can feel bullets whizzing by. Because of that, I don't recommend using the trail on the weekends or holidays with clear weather until the summer heat has settled in and the gun range has been closed due to fire danger.

Have I dissuaded you yet? Good. If not, here is how to get there:

The Valley View Trail is reached by a short drive from Ukiah beginning east on Talmage Road, taking a right on Old River Road and then a left on Mill Creek Road. After passing the ponds, you will come to a trail sign on the left and parking on the right near a port-a-potty.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

For my Sweet Sixteen, my mom couldn’t bake me a cake. So my best friend did.

For my sixteenth birthday, my friend Mechele baked me a cake and snuck it into my house (which was easy because we never locked the front door). So I woke up that morning to find a frosted cake sitting on the kitchen counter. Next to her note she even left me matches for the candles.

That was cool. 

Living in the same town again after I graduated college.
Especially since a few months earlier my mother had died, so this was the first birthday morning I didn't jump out of bed. Knowing my father didn't care to celebrate birthdays, I wasn't sure there was anything worth jumping out of bed for.

But Mechele made sure there was. And though she couldn't spend the day with me, she made it a very Sweet Sixteen.

For another birthday about 10 years later she played Mom again when I was living in Chile. She sent me a care package with books, treats and something only Mechele would think to mail me. After I told her I was spending a lot of time with a sexy Australian guy and could not find a store that sold contraceptives, Mechele sent me condoms that made another birthday celebration possible. 

A few years after that, she sent me another Mom-style gift I still have. When I moved to Seattle and told her how many sweaters and long johns I was buying to adjust to the cold, she sent me a care package with a cozy and colorful blanket she knitted.

Today, that afghan lies on my bed and Mechele still sends me packages of things I "need," which these days is nothing more than a box of salted caramels. But next time I need something more important, I know Mechele will put it in the mail for me.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Suzie and the Squishies, Chapter Ten: In which the children finally see a squishy

(Chapter Nine)

Mr. Trihuger walked to the end of the shelves and opened a small cupboard, mumbling to himself as he riffled through it. “Now, I thought I had one in here somewhere…ah, here it is.”

He walked back to the children and held out his hand. Lying in his palm, about the size of a strawberry, was a ball of bright pink, dried-out …
“Cookie dough? Is that pink cookie dough?” Suzie said with Oliver peeking over her shoulder.  
“Huh,” Mr. Trihuger said. “I haven’t made cookies in quite a long time, but I suppose it could be similar. Only this — this is much sweeter.”
“Sweeter than a cookie?” Oliver said, moving around Suzie to get a closer look.
“Why is it pink?” said a very disappointed Suzie, finding the squishy nowhere near as exciting as she had imagined.        
“Well, I needed them to look tasty. And the tastiest things I could think of were my mother’s pink cupcakes,” Mr. Trihuger said, placing the squishy on the counter in front of them.
“Why?” Oliver said, and Suzie glared at him for taking her question. But he had his back to her and was already at the counter, leaning toward the squishy.

Aht, that's close enough,” Mr. Trihuger said, scooping up the squishy and putting it on a shelf out of reach. “It looks very pretty, but it is very dangerous.”
Oliver stepped back just as Suzie stepped forward eagerly, thinking this was finally getting interesting again. “Really? What does it do?”
“Well, for one thing, it is very good at catching people like your Berry Man, as you call him,” said Mr. Trihuger, who had turned back to the counter, washing his hands again before opening jars and lifting them to his nose. When he began talking again, it was to himself and they couldn’t quite hear him. 
“So, um, Mr. Trihuger? What do the squishies do, exactly? What do you put in them?” Oliver asked.
“Well, Oliver, mainly I put in my very special syrup,” Mr. Trihuger said, pulling down a bottle with “SSS” on the label. “I call it Super Sweet Syrup, but you could also call it Super Sleepy Syrup, because a tiny drop will put you to sleep. And a spoonful — that will put you into a coma.”
“What’s a coma?” Oliver and Suzie said together.
“It’s like going into a very deep sleep. Only you don’t wake up.”
“Ever?!” Oliver gasped. “Where is this syrup? Is it in our food? Oh, no – is it in those toes things?” He grabbed Suzie’s arm. “Suzie, do you feel sleepy?”
“Ow! No, Oliver, I’m not sleepy. Let go,” she said, shaking off his arm. “Besides, he said it was super sweet, right? Why would it be in cheesy snacks?”
“She’s right Oliver, there’s no SSS in Cheetos,” Mr. Trihuger said, and Oliver was quiet again, not because he wasn’t worried about the syrup anymore, but because he was trying to remember everything he had eaten in the last few days that was the least bit sweet. 
“In fact,” Mr. Trihuger continued.  “I haven’t had to use the syrup in years. Not since your Berry Man and the rest of the people from my brother’s island came over here.”
“When was that? And why was my mother spying on them?” Suzie asked eagerly.
Mr. Trihuger turned from the counter. “Well now, you certainly have been doing your homework, haven’t you?” He put his hand on her shoulder awkwardly, then saw Oliver's eyes were closing as if he had eaten the squishy and remembered that the children had been up all night. 
“Yes, well, I’ll tell you everything you need to know soon, but first, I think you should both lie down,” he said. “Come with me.”
Suzie didn’t want to sleep, but she knew by now it was useless to argue with Mr. Trihuger. He led the children out of the lab and down the hallway until they reached a room with a small bed, which Oliver fell asleep on as soon as he was flat on his back, his glasses still on his face. Mr. Trihuger pulled them off gently and placed them on a small table next to the bed. 
Suzie had laid down next to Oliver, but her eyes were still open. Don’t worry, Mr. Trihuger whispered.  I’ll come get you as soon as the new squishies are ready. You will still get home before your father wakes up.” 
Suzie nodded and closed her eyes, but opened them again as soon as he closed the door. She could not stop thinking about the squishies, and why in the world Mr. Trihuger had used them on the people from the other island. And did he say it was his brother’s? 

When she finally fell asleep, Suzie had such crazy dreams full of squishies and mean, sleep-walking people, that she did not feel like she was getting any rest at all.

Dear Readers: This is just one chapter of a completed work of fiction by the author of this blog, and the last one I will be posting here.
If you have enjoyed them, please consider spreading the word to help me in my goal of getting all of the chapters published as a book.

Friday, March 29, 2019

I never thought I'd get a tattoo. Then I met Lyle Tuttle.

My freshly inked bird.
I interviewed legendary tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle at the perfect time in my life.
I was about to turn 41, the age my mother was when she killed in a car crash, and couldn't decide how to mark that milestone.
But as I listened to Lyle describe how he didn't need pictures of all the places he'd been or the people he'd met because he carried them on his body, collecting tattoos everywhere like "stickers on luggage," I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

That was cool.

At the time, I had a necklace my mother wore in high school that I put on whenever I wanted her close to me, especially on airplanes. But the necklace irritated my skin, and there was always the chance I'd leave it behind.
So if I got a tattoo on my arm, something small and discreet I could look at whenever I needed to, that seemed like the perfect way to carry her with me always.
I decided to get a bird since my mother loved them so much, and found a simple drawing of a hummingbird I liked online. Knowing I wanted a friend who lived in San Francisco to come with me and that I would prefer a woman to draw on me, I found a female tattoo artist in that city whose work I liked and made an appointment near my birthday.

The drink of courage.
After a stiff drink at a neighborhood bar with my friend, I headed over to get my ink. At first the artist resisted my choice, suggesting I might prefer original artwork to something I "just found on the Internet," but she soon agreed to do as I asked, only questioning me one more time when I explained to her where I wanted the bird.
"You do realize that if I put it there like that, it will be upside for everyone looking at it?"
"That's OK," I said. "It's for me to look at."
She smiled, then did exactly as I asked, and I could not be happier with it.
It is the perfect way to take my mother with me everywhere, helping me when my courage wanes, and reminding me that every day that bird is on my arm is a day she never had.
And I never would have thought to get my bird if I hadn't met Lyle. 

Lyle died Monday, March 25, at his home in Ukiah at the age of 87. Rest in peace, Lyle. And thanks.
Lyle said he liked being able to hide his tattoos "because they're mine."  (Photo by Chris Pugh/Ukiah Daily Journal)
Read more about Lyle's life here, including how he became fascinated with tattoos "when he was 10 years old and saw men returning from World War II with the ink, forever equating it with adventure, travel and escape from small towns such as Boonville and Ukiah."