Too much tanning, too little feminism

Working at a college campus, I see a lot of young girls who seem to do nothing but smoke, tan, and talk on the phone. It’s a generation of Paris Hiltons and it’s painful to watch.

I feel somewhat grateful to have grown up in the grunge era, when male and female teenagers wore the same uniform of shapeless flannels, huge shorts, and exposed long johns. Sure, I wanted to be gorgeous, but I wanted to be “alternative gorgeous,” with luminous, pale skin, long, thick natural hair, and a makeup-free face. The girls I admired most were those possessing a less labor-intensive beauty in combination with independence, creativity, and the ability to accessorize ugly shoes. Even now, the women I see as most attractive are those who are much more natural and healthy-looking than the scrawny, dry, siliconed, and overly tanned girls I see on TV and in magazines.

I feel sad for girls now who don’t have such strong, natural women to admire as I did in my teenage years. When the standard is “Girls Gone Wild,” what hope do we have for the next generation of women? It makes my stomach hurt to think about it, especially since it seems to be leaching into the culture of older women, as well. The rates of eating disorders for women over 35 have skyrocketed in the last several years and experts believe it stems from the relatively new pressure women face to be sex objects well into their 30s and 40s.

It’s certainly pressure I feel at 32. I’ve never before been as self-conscious about my appearance as I am now. I was much more confident in my abilities and my worth as a frumpy 17-year-old with Kool Aid-dyed hair and an impressive wardrobe of men’s t-shirts and baggy shorts. I can only speculate it’s because the standard of beauty and feminine value has become so narrow and so difficult to achieve. And, thanks to middle-aged women clinging to the same standard as teenagers, the pressure seems only to intensify as the gulf between that ideal and our capabilities widens with each passing year.

My only hope is that at some point, the pendulum will swing back towards a wider, more attainable ideal of worth and beauty, one that takes health, intelligence, and mindfulness into the equation. While it’s true there will always be bubble-headed sex symbols, it would sure be nice if there were more Rachel Maddows and fewer Lindsay Lohans setting the standard.

True love and a cup named Russ

During the week, my alarm goes off at a truly alarming 3:45 a.m. Tragic, yes. Heartbreaking, definitely. So, when Saturday rolls around, I set my sights on a Seger-like wakeup time (“Up with sun, gone with the wind…” I live for an oddly-timed Seger reference), but Barley has other ideas. His singular mission in the morning is to get me out of bed before 6.

Is the sound of our starving keeping you awake?

This morning, it was 5:22.

I’m not above swearing at my dogs (their grasp of English is suspect, anyway) so Barley’s attempts to wake me that early are usually met with considerable resistance. He doesn’t care, however. He will sit by my head, staring at me, and, if that doesn’t work, he’ll put his nose against mine and breathe his hot, dog breath right in my face.

Nothing gets me out of bed faster than a blast of Barley’s death breath.

“Alright, alright. Jesus, Barley, you don’t have to fight dirty,” I usually grumble as I relent to his attacks.

Thankfully, I have a secret weapon to get me going in the wee hours of Saturday. It’s a coffee cup and his name is Russ.

Russ the Cup

Russ and me, we go way back. We found each other about eight years ago when I worked at the Daily Courier in Grants Pass, Ore. Abandoned by some long-forgotten Russ, left on the shelf of used and abused community coffee cups in the downstairs kitchen, the Russ cup and I knew love at first sight. Five days a week for five years, we shared morning coffee. And, it was Courier coffee, the hard stuff.

When I left that job, I took the Russ cup with me and he remains a trusted and reliable friend. When Barley’s bladder and belly sound the pre-dawn alarms, Russ gets me through it. Filled with strong, steaming hot coffee, Barley’s poo gets picked up and his belly gets filled with only a smattering of swear words. Without Russ, Barley would likely have to resort to violence to get me out of bed so early on a Saturday.

So, on this Saturday, a big thank you to the human Russ, who abandoned this gem of a cup years ago, allowing me to find it. And, a thank you to the Russ cup. Long may you live!

My day at the tulip festival

Let me preface this by saying I’m a community festival whore. The tackier the theme, the more homespun the crafts, the greasier the food, the more in heaven I am. That said, the tulip festival has never been high on my list of must-see events. Frankly, it’s a bit too upscale for me. Tulips? Come on now. Sure, they’re gorgeous, but community festivals are best centered around obscure events, animals, or rarely enjoyed foodstuffs. Tulips are much too classy.

Pretty nice, eh?

However, in spite of my naysaying, I knew I had to go at least once.

Saturday, Erik and I made the two-hour trip from my house to The Skag (this is my new nickname for the Skagit Valley north of Seattle), which is rural and gorgeous, and just hippy-dippy enough to make me fall madly in love. After a quick stop at the world’s dirtiest, sketchiest market for some trail mix and a drink (and optional dirty video rentals…yikes!), we headed to the largest of the area’s tulip farms. We wanted to hit the big one early since we were warned that weekend crowds were treacherous. This was a good plan.

Once we arrived, we were herded into a large sawdust parking area across the street from the farm. The crowds were already fairly heavy, but with my belly full of trail mix, I didn’t mind so much. For a measly $4 fee, we entered tulip heaven.

At the front of the farm was a display garden that featured all of the tulip varieties available for sale from their catalog.

The display garden.

Yes, it was a shameless plug for their flowery wares, but it was too beautiful to feel offended at the blatant commercialism. I think I said, “Wow, look at those!” about a million times, and nearly every variety was my favorite. I knew there were a lot of different tulips, but I had no idea there were that many. It was incredible.

Behind the display garden was a tent set up as a gift shop, a few food vendors (nothing says ‘classy’ like kettle corn and a sausage dog!), and portable bathrooms. Behind that were acres and acres of fields, many of which were blooming with different varieties of tulips. Erik and I made a beeline for the entrance.

This is where things got interesting. For one thing, the roads that border the plots of tulips were covered in slimy mud.

One giant mudhole.

This was not your typical black, thick Washington mud. Rather, this was runny, thin, slimy mud atop hard-packed clay. In some areas, trucks left deep ruts that had filled with water. It was fantastic mud.

The tulips themselves were planted in rows on slightly raised clay and the tourists were mostly unable to resist getting into the rows, in spite of the many signs warning them not to. My favorite person at the tulip farm was the teenage boy hired to scream at the tourists when they ventured into the rows for photos.

The teenage tulip terror.

For such a young kid, he had balls. Armed with an oversize reflective vest and a megaphone, he verbally assaulted anyone who ventured off the main road. “Stay out of the rows!” he’d yell through the megaphone, his voice cracking. He’d then more quietly question their ability to read the sign, his voice trailing off in frustration. It was awesome. If I were 16, I’d fall in love with him for sure.

Other highlights included the super-tacky trailer park that butted up against one side of the tulip fields, the broken down buses that were parked in odd places farther off, and the less motivated, non-megaphoned workers who didn’t give a rip who got in the rows so long as the angry kid didn’t see (that’s a good tip for anyone who’s headed that way…go deeper into the fields to get your in-row photos).

Living dangerously in the rows.

After about three hours of nonstop tulips, we met our friends Kathy and Doug for lunch. Afterwards, Erik and I agreed that one tulip farm was deeply satisfying and additional tulip farm experiences were unnecessary…so we went to the Tulip Festival Street Fair for the afternoon. There, I waited in line for half an hour for an enormous bag of kettle corn, fell in love with a display of handcarved wooden fish, and watched a homeless man flirt with Erik. Success!

Though my standards for community festivals are indeed high, I am now a huge tulip festival fan. It met my tackiness needs on all levels, plus I got to be inspired by some of the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen. It was a huge win! Mount Vernon is now on my list of places to someday live (it’s a long list that includes Mount Shasta City, Calif., Bozeman, Mont., Couer d’Alene, Idaho, Union Creek, Prospect, and Gold Beach, Ore., and many, many more). I’m also putting “learn to carve wooden fish” on my bucket list.

Happy birthday to me

Traditionally, I spend the week of my birthday depressed, eating terrible food, and chronicling the new wrinkles and ever enlarging pores. Thankfully, this year, I have a bit more cellulite, at least one more chin hair, and a growing awareness of my turkey neck to keep me especially busy on the big day.

Last year, I vowed to do something incredible before my birthday came around again. Friends and coworkers suggested foreign travel, but I don’t earn the kind of money that makes life-altering adventure feasible. Sure, I’d love to have spent a month touring Australia or Africa, but my budget will only take me so far as my parents’ motorhome (parked in the driveway, of course) for a week. That’s not going to change anyone’s life for the better, trust me.

Here it is a year later, I’ve done nothing and the birthday blues is back. So, here are my birthday wishes for the coming year. Let’s hope that in 365 days, I’ll at least be able to accomplish one of them.

• Eat an entire ice cream cake by myself. This one should be checked off the list by Wednesday. I wanted to have an easy one to get the ball rolling. Never mind that I’m lactose intolerant and this may indeed kill me. What a way to go, baby!

• Secure the services of a qualified stylist/colorist. I’ve long maintained that the only thing standing between me and awesome is great hair, so I’ve been in constant pursuit of the perfect cut/color. If I can ditch the two-year streak of bad hair I’ve been riding (a month ago I had yellow-gray highlights), 33 will go down a lot easier. (If any local readers know someone great, please let me know!)

• Narrow the gap between who I am and who I want to be. We all have an image in our heads of who we want to be. Unfortunately, mine doesn’t really look like me. I need to narrow that gap on both ends. First, I need to ease up on my goal and realize I’m never going to be perfect. Second, I need to work a bit harder to stop the self-destructive things that keep from closing in on that goal. I need to stop feeling unworthy and acting badly to prove myself right. Even if I’m right, I still lose.

• Run a fun race. Fear of failure has kept me from running a race for as long as I can remember. Traditionally, I don’t want to do anything I can’t do really, really well, so resigning myself to middle-back of any pack is a tough mental exercise. But, there’s probably a free t-shirt in it for me. Win! (My sights are set on the Fourth of July run in Laurel, Mont., with Erik. Fingers crossed!)

• Go to the Twin Peaks Festival and wear a costume. If I can muster the confidence to do this after years of chickening out, it would be such a big deal. The festival is in August, so I’ll keep you all posted. I’ll probably need a few pep talks!

• Treat myself as if I were Barley or Dougal. If I loved myself even half as much as I love my dogs, I’d never eat another French fry. Seriously. I have literally told Barley, as he was begging for a fry, that he couldn’t have one because it’s bad for him. Duh! Plus, I would never speak to them (or anyone else) in the same voice I hear in my head every day. It really has to stop. A little care and tenderness, I suspect, could go a long way to helping me into my next birthday with a bit more love and balance.

So, that’s what I’ve been working on for the last few weeks. If you have any suggestions, please post them in the comments section. This feels like a daunting list, to be honest. Thank goodness there’s ice cream cake.

Happy anniversary, Twin Peaks

Twenty years ago tonight, the pilot episode of “Twin Peaks” aired, changing the landscape of American television and inspiring a generation of fans…including myself. I didn’t catch much of the series when it first aired. My family had just moved back to Oregon from Texas and my brother and I were staying in a travel trailer on my grandparents’ property at that time. I was 12, but I caught a few episodes on the tiny, twitchy TV in the trailer. Even then, I knew it was special.

I rediscovered the series as an adult. I watched episode and after episode almost exclusively for weeks. I’d promise myself I’d only watch one, but three or four hours later, I’d be unable to stop. When one episode ended, I’d immediately have to watch the next one. I don’t know how people managed to contain themselves when the series first aired and they were limited to only one a week. That must have been torture.

I fell in love with the characters and the writing, the sense of mystery and excitement, and the various plot twists and turns. And, I fell in love with how distinctly Pacific Northwest it was. It captured so much of what I love about this area that it felt like being among people I could actually meet, experiencing things I could actually experience.

Plus, it was funny, smart, and incredibly well-done. I wanted to marry Agent Cooper, Pete Martell, Gordon Cole, and Harry Truman at varying times. (I’m in a Gordon Cole phase right now, mostly because I love David Lynch and his incredibly odd sweetness.) I wanted to be Audrey Horne.

Audrey Horne and The Mole

I even drew a mole beside one eye, hoping it would give me that extra Audrey-ness that would drive the fellas wild. (It didn’t, fyi.)

I wanted to live in that town and know all of those wonderful and bizarre characters. Real life is never so much fun, creepy, and interesting all at the same time.

So, tonight, in honor of my favorite show of all time, I’m going to enjoy a damn fine cup of coffee (black as midnight on a moonless night, of course), draw an Audrey Horne eye mole, and watch a ton of episodes. After all, I am the arm, the owls are not what they seem, garmonbozia, and “Ducks! On a lake!” only come around once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky.

(Oh, and I’m totally going to the Twin Peaks Festival in August and I will be dressing up and taking tons of pictures! Be prepared!)

Nerve gas, sweatpants, and treadmill walking with the aged

Between 5 and 6:30 every weekday morning, you’ll find me sweating alongside a small but dedicated group of exceptionally active old codgers. For the most part, these are some of the best folks around. They are fun and goofy, and the old guys wear mid-shin socks and tacky shorts, which I love. There is one man, however, who is getting on my last nerve.

He farts. A lot.

In fact, he farts so much, I suspect the propulsion is the only thing keeping him on the treadmill. It’s absolutely nauseating and I have no idea what to do about it. I’ve never before smelled anything like it. His farts are so noxious, they affect the temperature and humidity of the space around him and, for anyone trapped in his hot, green fog, the effects can be equated to mustard gas. I can only presume he’s living on fish heads and hardboiled eggs.

I wish something could be done, but how can I tell an old man, who is at least 80 if he’s a day, that his ass is a weapon of mass destruction? It’s disrespectful at the very least. Plus, he’s obviously working hard and ridding his colon of some serious toxins. I suspect if there wasn’t some gas escaping, he would have died years ago.

So, until now, I’ve fought the menacing stink covertly. When I’ve sensed a gasball is coming, I put my towel on my face, as if I’m very thoroughly wiping away the sweat, and breathe through it until the worst of it passes. Of course, this is a risky guess. Too many times, I’ve underestimated the funk, only to discover it has laid in wait, ready to pounce my olfactory system as soon as I dropped the towel. Similarly, for a time, my best strategy was snagging a machine directly under a fan. This, however, didn’t work since, depending on the heaviness of the gas, the fan would whip it into a tornado of hot stink that lingered far longer than it did outside the fan’s reach.

Facing such failures (and nausea), I’m afraid my anger is bubbling up as violently as the gas. It’s been difficult to resist grabbing the frail old man by the scruff of the sweatsuit and saying through clenched teeth, “Listen here, pops, this farting is unacceptable. You’re killing me and everyone in here and it needs to stop!” But, I don’t know that it would really solve anything.

I suppose my lesson in all of this is that old people really smell.

That was a joke. But, when I’m 80 and rocking the sweatband and hand weights, you all have to tell me if I’m dropping ass and terrorizing those around me. Really. As much as I love farting, I don’t want to be this guy. Ever.

Have a great Easter weekend!

One woman, two schnauzers, and three charging pitbulls

Last night, my two dogs and I were attacked by three loose dogs on the Orting trail. It was one of those odd experiences, in that I knew immediately something was very, very wrong. I felt it in my stomach and, as I watched the first brown dog leave his garage, even before he began charging us and two more followed, I thought in my head, “Holy shit, this is not going to be good.”

We have literally passed by that house at least 50 times. We are regulars on the trail in the summer. I’ve seen the gray and white female many times and she’s never before shown a hint of aggression. Frankly, I always assumed she was so accustomed to folks walking and riding their bikes past her house, that it would take something quite extraordinary to force her off her porch.

The extraordinary thing, apparently, is the large, brown male dog.

As we came around the corner near the house, I saw three dogs playing in the yard and my guard immediately went up. Barley is, to his detriment, grossly unaware of his meager 28 pounds. He is an alpha dog and, even when good sense would favor submission, he refuses to give in. So, knowing that, I knew these three loose dogs, even if they were friendly, would force a tense situation. Unfortunately, there was no way to bypass the house. So, I walked slowly and watched, hoping we could slip past the dogs without drawing their attention.

To my great relief, the owner of the house called the dogs into the garage as we approached. I loosened my hold on the leash and felt more comfortable. We walked several feet, but my eyes continued to watch the garage. When the brown male dog emerged, I knew we were in trouble.

He walked several steps before charging us, teeth bared, barking aggressively, hair standing up. The other two dogs followed right behind. I attempted to pick my two dogs up, but they were far too panicked and Barley was in full-on defense mode. The brown dog was on us before I could do much. I started screaming for help as I tried to keep the loose dogs off of my dogs. Dougal was crouched behind me, hiding and shaking, while Barley was barking and standing his ground.

As I continued to scream for help as loudly as I could, my voice sounding foreign and strange, the brown dog lunged at Barley and a fight was on. I yanked on the leash, pulling Barley away from the brown dog, which was a solid 60-plus pounds, as I continued to scream for help. At that point, the owner of the dogs rushed out and called them off.

The man asked if we were okay. Shaken and incredibly freaked out, I said, “I think so.” He then apologized. This is the part that makes me the angriest. In response, I actually said, “It’s okay” when it was anything but okay! His dogs attacked us! And here I was telling him it was okay, almost apologetic myself in spite of knowing I’d done absolutely nothing wrong. I don’t know if it’s a woman thing, a Northwest thing, or simply due to growing up in a house where a cowering “I’m sorry” was the automatic response to anything, but I’m so angry that I didn’t tell him what an asshole he was for not having a fence. I wish I’d yelled and screamed, and threatened to call the authorities. Instead, I completely backed down and shuffled off, feeling humiliated and scared, and so angry for not being the person I most needed to be at that moment.

We walked a safe distance from the house before, in a sobbing heap, I was able to make sure my boys were indeed okay. It was then that I noticed Barley had quite a bit of blood on his face and neck. I checked him thoroughly, but could find no cuts or bites. Confused, I felt a strange feeling in my right hand. I looked down and saw blood pouring from my finger.

It’s strange to say I felt relieved, but it’s very true. I will gladly take a chewed up finger if it means my dogs are okay. At least I have insurance. The finger is fine and, frankly, I don’t know which dog bit me. It could just as likely have been Barley as the brown dog. I patched it up when I got home and now I’m simply praying I don’t have rabies or parvo.

So, that was my evening, folks. If you live near here and use the Orting trail, please be aware that these dogs live along the trail about a half-mile past the first railroad crossing. I don’t know if we’ll use that bit of trail again, to be honest. We may simply drive down to the next trailhead and start there instead. Be careful out there!