Wednesday, November 4, 2015

One leaf at a time...

Over the past 25 years I lived within a place that many people know as the Evergreen State: Washington.  You know it. Land of a few famous musicians, the Space Needle, apples, the Seattle Freeze, Starbucks.... blah, blah blah. The list goes on. But for me it was always the land of trees. Lots of them. All over. I'm a big fan of them, even the evil fir trees that like to try to kill me with their overabundance of pollen. 

In my life time I have always lived in areas where these lovely, green monstrosities are abundant. Between the Willamette Valley, the Puget Sound, and now western Pennsylvania I have always been near a plethora of plant life.  It's just comforting to me. Towering, living bundles of carbohydrates taking in the carbon dioxide we emit and giving back oxygen. Really, it's an amazing bit of symbiotic living.

Anyway, I'm on the tree kick right now because last week the kids and I planted a tree in the back yard. Yes, I know we are just renting this place for now, but it makes sense to make improvements. I've taken out some ugly shrubs but I still want greenery. I still want my kids to have a yard that shows my desire to improve the planet we live on. And, if all things work out well, we would like to make a bid on the house next year to make it our permanent landing spot.

So, we planted a pear tree. Funny. I don't like pears. Can't stand the texture. Don't like the taste. But we planted one. My wife loves pears as do my kids. So, we planted a pear tree. When it comes down to it I like they way they look, so it's all good.

Oddly enough, I have been asked why I would plant a pear tree. Why not a cedar, a maple, an ash? Really, it comes down to a few things.

Over the years the tree we planted (a red bartlett dwarf pear) will yield about 1-3 bushels of fruit a year. That means in a couple of years the tree will be keeping us (or whomever lives here) stocked with pears for eating, canning, drying, etc... But that's not the only reason. In time the tree will provide a modicum of shade for the backyard. Not much, but the tree should grow to about 15-20 feet tall with a fifteen foot spread. That is just enough for a young adult to lay under and do homework or simply day dream. It will also be a marker of time. Right now it's about a foot taller than the kids. I plan on keeping a photographic history of the tree for as long as we're here. I grew up in a house where my parents planted young Douglas firs that were the same height as me. Now they are well over thirty feet tall. I love looking up at them and thinking that they grew up with me. With luck, my kids will do the same, though they won't be quite so dwarfed in the end.

The thing about trees is they aren't just pretty. They don't just provide food. Trees are natures bio-filter. They are natures carbon-sink. Did you know that an acre of trees can capture the same amount of carbon that you release when you drive 26,000 miles? It also provides enough air for 18 people for the year. They clean the air and remove particulates simply by catching in their leaves and bark. Heck, they even save water. All the shade a tree provides keeps extra water from being evaporated from the ground below. That means healthier plants beneath and less watering for your lawn. Plus they release moisture into the air as they transpire (you know... tree breathing). Plus, that shade and water release helps cool the air around us. Every tree you plant helps keep some of that pesky sunlight (this is my redhead bias coming through) from hitting the ground and heating up the ambient temperature in the city.

Think of it, if we planted more trees in vacant spaces of the cities around us the leaves would be catching the sunlight and prevent the pavement nearby from being quite so warm. The released water from transpiration would also cool the air slightly. That same sunlight would be providing food for the trees, which allows them to grow more and in turn absorb more carbon dioxide (you know... that greenhouse gas that we all breathe out that is helping to heat the planet). And if these trees are around homes we live in they can even reduce our cooling costs of our homes by also keeping them out of the aforementioned pesky sunlight. And, of course, less energy spent means a lower carbon footprint for our homes too.

By this point in time I'm sure you're thinking, "Yeah, yeah... I know. We've heard it all before."  Which is fine. Hell, I hope you have heard it before. (Repetition leads to remembering, or so I've  been told.) But it's not just for the financial benefit or for the obvious environmental impact.  Planting trees has a tremendous social impact as well.

When we lived in Tacoma, WA, we noticed that there was a very distinct difference between what was considered the "rich" and the "poor" parts of town. It wasn't the quality of the homes or their size. It was the trees, or actually the lack of them.  In the poorest sections of town most of the trees had been taken down. The towering evergreens were gone. The oak trees are barely scattered around. Nothing of any height can be seen for blocks and blocks. People complain about the amount of violence that happens in these areas. It has been found neighborhoods that lack tree cover tend have greater occurrences of violence both in and out of home than neighborhoods which are lush with trees. We are the human animal. We are part of nature. If we completely remove ourselves from it we suffer. It has also been found that trees are both calming and healing. Apparently people heal faster even when just given the ability to view nearby trees. Kids with ADHD exhibit less symptoms. Even just being in green areas is said to help reduce mental fatigue by letting our bodies just relax without being surrounded by so much concrete and synthetic materials around.

Now think about what would happen if we planted more trees in those poorer neighborhoods. If violent crime goes down, people are less stressed, and fear is reduced..... how much does that benefit the area? Immeasurably.  Pair that with the fact that well-planted properties can increase the value of a home by nearly 15%. That's a great thing. Happier people with more value to their homes. Add in the economic gains they can get by having the trees and the environmental benefit of helping the world in general. Well, that seems pretty much like a no-brainer.

So, trees. I've planted a few. I know I'll plant a few more. How about you?

Here's my deal. Two a year. That's what I'll do. A minimum of two. My challenge to you (the unknown reader of this long-winded post) is to do the same. They don't have to be just for you. Find a neighbor, a school, a church, an empty lot... whatever. Plant them. Tend them so they get established and teach people about them.  Other wise we appear to be destined to live in a world of only cement and glass.  I'll do the same. Together we can keep our world green. You know... one leaf at a time.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Unbreaking the Broken

I remember being young. (No snickering, please.) Not seven or eight, but from there all the way into my twenties. That is young in my mind now. I remember how everything affected me so intensely. In some ways I'm fairly surprised that I managed to even survive those years. I was always being pulled around left and right by everything and everyone. There were so many firsts during that time. It would be impossible for me to even begin to list them off. 

Despite the seemingly endless number of them, it is truly quite the opposite. We each have a very finite number of memories kept within our complex data storage device known as our brain. True, it would be near impossible to count, but since our years on this planet are truly numbered so are the memories we carry with us.

Over the years I have discovered that my number has actually dwindled far more than is expected from someone my age. Dementia? Not yet. I may be crazy, but I think I can fight that off for a while longer. By best guess I am actually partly to blame for these gaps, subconsciously at least. We have this amazing data processor shoved up in our craniums and apparently it sometimes acts upon its own to do what it thinks is necessary.  Most of the time this is a fabulous thing. (Hooray for the autonomic nervous system and all that sciency stuff.) Other times (sticking with the terrible computer analogy) it simply seems to delete certain things. And when it does, it doesn’t remember to do the weekly defrag. Nope. Just leaves it all a bit jumbled up afterwards. Anyway, as best as I can tell that is what my brain has done to me over the years.

I realized there were missing pieces, or gaps if you will, back in college. I was in Eastvold Auditorium hanging out in the south staircase with my girlfriend. Prior to that moment I had no idea there had ever been an impairment to my world. And then mid-conversation one of those jumbled up spots reorganized itself. And I remembered something I hadn’t realized I had forgotten:

I was seven or eight living in Forest Grove. There had been this older boy who lived down the block. He had a tree house in an old apple tree in the alley. And in the tree house he molested me for a period of months.

That was the first gap I discovered. Kind of a major one. (Thanks go to my counselor for the next few years of dealing with that.)

But this isn’t about that situation.  It’s about the fact that my mind apparently decided that particular set of memories were ones that I could not deal with until a later date. The funny thing to me was that it didn’t come back in the hazy dream-like daze that we are so used to seeing on television or in movies. Rather, it was a click. Things simply snapped into place. It was almost audible. One moment I was in a normal conversation with my girlfriend and then I just stopped and everything was back in its original space.

Fast forward a period of years and I discovered numerous other gaps. Or at least I assume I discovered them. It’s difficult to assess if you are missing something if you are unaware you are missing something. As communication on the internet developed, so did my contact with people from my life that had moved on. Eventually with the development of social networking I made contact with people from even farther back in my life. That is when the gaps truly became apparent.

With our seemingly innate desire to reminisce and talk about things from years past I found myself occasionally out of sorts. These people with whom at one point in time I had so much in common with would talk about things that we did together or about people we knew for years. Most of the time I would do the appropriate giggle, snort, groan, cry, chuckle…. whatever was appropriate for the memory discussed. But other times I would find myself at a loss.

I’m sorry, we did what? Who? Nope never heard of them. She and I were together? Right, she’d never give me the time of day.

I apparently have massive blocks of time that simply don’t exist. Major events that apparently I took part of… no clue. A few relationships that I was in have seemingly been wiped clean.  These gaps somehow permeated my first two decades of my life. Thankfully, with more contact from people formerly in my life I have remembered some things. Not all of it pretty, but when they come back it is a piece of who I am settling back into place. I am a little more complete.

The thing that gets me is I understand the blocking of major events. Trauma isn’t a nice thing to think about, let alone constantly remember. I comprehend the temporary and perhaps permanent deletions there. But it’s the other holes that make no sense to me. Why can I not remember the “relationship” portion of a friendship I had? Why do I not remember doing that show?

In all, what I have found is that there is a constant “state of being” associated with this phenomena. Broken. Not a bad broken, just… a sense of being incomplete. As each new/old memory is returned to me it is lessened, but it is my presumption that it is something I will simply live with the rest of my life. If for some reason my brain decided that certain things had to go, I am guessing there must be some good reason for it. And if that is the case, do I really want to go seeking it out?

So, that all being said, if you have known me from years before and we have a conversation which leaves me looking at you as if you have just told me that you are an alien come to take over the world, please give me a moment. Most likely I’ve encountered my newest mental pothole. I’ll catch up to you eventually. Just be patient with me. And if you really are that alien bent on world domination, please do me the favor of erasing that little bit from my memory as well.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Excess and Waste

I have been asked numerous times over the past year, "Why do you ask for things on Facebook?" In all honestly, it's a fair question. The answer I give is a simple one, "Why not?"

Saying that seems like such a simple answer, but I still find my self wondering how it looks to people. Will they wonder why I'm asking in such a public manner? How will it be viewed? Will it seem like begging? It is something that I might possibly have a hope of getting? Blah, blah, blah... There are so many potential self-doubting questions that if I allowed myself to ask them all I would never ask my questions on Facebook.

However, when you think about it, "Why not?" is a perfectly valid response. Especially here in America.

Take a look at your neighbors. Look at their "stuff".  Is it old? Worn out? Perhaps looking a bit shabby?  Okay, probably some of your neighbors might have a few things that way, if they are anything like people I have lived around and known for the umpteen years of my life the bulk of the things they own are newer. The funny thing is, they may not even notice it themselves.  There is a lifestyle of consumerism in America that pervades nearly everyone we know. It's not purposeful, but we have been raised in it. We are cajoled into it through media, We are taught that it's what we are supposed to do from the day we are able to understand any form of advertising. Buy more! Get more! Upgrade! Everything is disposable.

Honestly, I don't mind if my neighbors/friends/coworkers have the newer/faster/brighter thing. If I have what I need to make my life happy, I"m good, and good for them. They may need a few more things than I do. That's okay. But back to my question, "Why do you ask for things on Facebook?" Well, if people are upgrading and replacing the things they have, what is happening to all of the old stuff? If these neighbors/friends/coworkers of mine are anything like me they probably have half of it just sitting around in case they may need it. And then it's eventually forgotten about. And then replacement number three comes along and it starts again.


I come from a small town.  I am the odd blend of my college-employed family and my farm-working friends I grew up with. A tree-hugging hick. I like to recycle. I enjoy taking care of the earth we walk upon. Have an old pallet? I'll turn it into a bench or a dresser. You get the idea.  I gave up the notion that I would have all new things years ago when I realized I could be perfectly happy with things that are one or two iterations behind cutting-edge.

So, here we are as a nation with more stuff just tossed in our closets sitting around collecting dust than many other countries have access to. I'm pretty sure if I were to ransack a few of my friends' houses I would be able to come up with more spare computing power than I would truly know what to do with. Look in some other peoples' houses and I might find enough cookware to start three separate restaurants. In still other homes I may be able to stock a small used clothing store (some of it with clothing that has never left the original hanger).

So that's just it. I ask, because odds are somebody has something I may be able to use. I ask because they probably barely remember having it and so haven't even bothered to get rid of it. I ask because it is a simple form of recycling.


No shame there. I had them as a kid. My kids have them now. And why not? When it comes down to it the idea is perfect.  If you aren't using something, you aren't going to use it again, you aren't even going to bother getting rid of it.... why not give it to someone who wants it? To someone who needs it?

And in my world, it goes both ways. I am a user of hand-me-downs and I am a giver of them as well.  I have things that I have stopped using. Either I have grown out of them (literally and figuratively) or they are simply no longer of use to me. Much of it I donate to charity (ARC, Value Village, Goodwill.....) but some of it just kind of gets tucked aside because I "might" use it someday. Those things are my hand-me-downs that will go out when I hear someone else ask on Facebook (or in real life too), "Hey, does anyone have _____ that they aren't using?"

Yes. Yes I do. Here you go. 

I don't ask for financial gain. I don't give for financial gain. I just ask and give. Pass things along. Will I sell things that I have made? Absolutely. But if someone asks me if I have a used item that I don't need anymore then chances are it will become their used item. I would rather it were used instead of sitting gathering dust.

Hopefully that answers people's questions. Buy what you want to buy. Use what you need. Share what you can. Recycle things that you no longer want. Don't worry about having the newest, flashiest thing. Instead focus on what makes your life truly good. Use the the things you have and then share the things you no longer use.

We can't all live simply, but at times is nice to just simply live.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Something Amazing

For the past five weeks my wife has been gone. In that time I have had to be single father, sole money maker, cook, cleaner, cheerleader, doctor, taxi driver, and so many other things. All of which I do so willingly.

During the time of my wife's absence she has been off working on a professional theatre production on the other side of the state. For years I have told her that I think she is by far the most talent actor that I know. You may say I am swayed by the fact that I married to her, but it is something that I said long before we were married.

Two and a half weeks of rehearsal with full day schedules. This wasn't just "play", but serious work. A true job. Comparing this to what many of us do in community theatre would be like comparing flying a Boeing Dreamliner to flying a paper airplane. This is not to say that community theatre is not work, but what she has been doing is a whole different level of commitment.

So, two and half weeks of rehearsal with three weeks of performance. It doesn't seem like the longest run. Almost easy if you think of the total duration. But I know otherwise. I heard the strain, the panic, the stress, the hope, the separation from the family, and the chaos of getting up to opening night. There is always the question asked, "Is this worth it?" I'm never surprised when I hear that question. I know it's coming.

Opening night came and I took my drive to the other side. Five hours of sitting behind the wheel after a day of seven hours behind the wheel of the company truck. Why? Because that is what you do.  Well, that is what I do. I made it to the theatre and had a few moments to see the lovely woman who deigned to marry me over a year prior. And then I had to wait. Wait for the curtain. Wait for the lights to dim. Wait for her to arrive on the boards. Wait for the proof that I was right.

I have had multiple experiences working with my wife on stage. We have played opposite each other, been in the chorus together, produced shows together, and a myriad of other varieties. I have also had the chance to watch her perform a multitude of times. Each time I watch her through rehearsals to performances I learn something. Many things. There is something about watching someone who is both a well-trained actor and a natural actor that is incredible. The past five years have been so good for my own performance skills because I have been able to benefit from all that I have learned from her.

So the lights came up and the show began.  The problem is, I didn't see my wife on stage. There was a family, more than slightly broken, with a mother trying to keep it from falling further apart. This woman obviously had setbacks in her life. Her body had been skewed over time and listed a bit due to the repetitive nature of all the tasks she did for years in the home. She had habitual mannerisms from who she had been over the past decades of her marriage. There was a stubbornness in her that gave hints at an inner strength and resolve to move forward no matter what life threw at her. There were moments of bitter anger, joy and youthful exuberance, sadness, hope, perseverance, and love. There was a mother who would do anything for the sake of her family, even if it meant ignoring pains and hurts of both the physical and emotional kind.

I wanted to write about this performance that night. I wanted to tell you that it was the most amazing thing I have ever seen my wife do. But I couldn't. Not then. I needed the rest of the people to see it and make their own judgement.

But it was. I was completely blown away. There is no question in my mind that this was by far the best piece of work that I have seen her do. She made me cry and laugh within the same hour and moved the story along to tell the tale of this woman. She did it with both brutal honesty and skill. And yet, I couldn't see her "act". She just "was" and it was beautiful.

For those of you who saw this show, I am happy you were able to experience it. For those who did not, I am sorry you missed out on the opportunity.

I write this in celebration of my wife. Of her skill, of her work, of her perseverance. Samantha, you are the inspiration in my life and the love of it as well.  I applaud your work and I will always continue to support it. You are the most incredible woman and I am proud to live with you, work with you, love with you, and spend my life with you.

And to answer the earlier question, yes. It was definitely worth it.

Broadway Bound, 2014
Interplayers Theater
Spokane, WA

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bearers of the plague

We are a plague house. Not literally, but everyone here is sharing the same cold/virus.  I believe Samantha had it first, Lorelai got it second, then Perrin, and most recently me.  It's not a pleasant one. It hits the head, sinuses, throat and chest, all while producing large amounts of various nastiness. Sound like fun? We can assure you it is not.

I've felt bad for Samantha. She has been working non-stop and doing a show at the same time. Being sick in a normal show is bad enough, add singing to it and it all just becomes that much harder. Pair that with still recovering from a very recent surgical procedure. I am amazed with all she does despite what life throws at her.

And there there's the kids. They've both been coughing and sneezing generally being completely miserable. It has been obvious they have not felt good for the past few days. Neither has had excessive appetite, both have been very clingy, and the level of discontent over the slightest pain/problem/displeasure has increased exponentially.

As for me, it hit fully yesterday morning and then progressed during the course of the day. Come night time there was all the joyous burning sinuses a man could handle. So I ache, I feel lethargic, it hurts to swallow and I'm excessively nauseous. You know, all the usual stuff. But for the past week I've been the one taking care of the sick ones. Being sick is not allowed to slow me down.

At 3:45 in the morning my pseudo-sleep is disturbed by crying from the children's room. (This is the third night in a row.) So I get up quickly, because I want Samantha to keep sleeping so she can get healthy and I don't want whichever child it is to have to sit there crying for long.  One of them has managed a bloody nose from sinus pressure and is miserable. The next half hour is spent getting them cleaned up, calmed down, dosed on children's cold/cough medicine, and eventually back to bed.  At this point the other is already crying as they too feel miserable and have been woken up by the commotion. So, they also get comforted, dosed, and put back to bed. Now it's back to bed for me. Not to sleep, just to bed. Despite the medicine at least one, if not both children, remains coughing continuously in their sleep for the rest of the night. I know the duration because I spend the night listening to them. Not in frustration, but because I am not able to sleep due to my own cold and because I want to make sure they are okay. If there is crying I will be back in there. Come around 7 a.m. I managed to fall asleep for an hour or so and then it's up again and time to get everyone fed and the day started.

I will admit I'm exhausted and tired and sore and worn out and stressed and achy and frayed and a whole host of other things. However. I am also happy. This is my family. It is my job to take care of them. These are my kids. I know they were not born to me. They have another father as well. But I have looked after them for the past two years. I have helped shape who they are so far and will continue to do so long into the future. I have worked to feed them, dress them, educate them, protect them, and nurture them. Years ago I did not know how to do this. I didn't think I could. Now I know it's not a matter of being able to do so. It is simply a matter of doing it. Why? Because they need it. Because I want to do it. Because it is the absolute best thing I can do.

I love my family. I love my life.

But God I hate this cold.

Monday, January 30, 2012

That's a ballgame of a different color, right?

I'm a theatre person, right?  I did my first show at the age of 5 (if I remember correctly). I lost count of the number of shows I have done, but my best estimate is in the high eighties/low nineties.  I feel that's pretty darn respectable, especially considering I took a few multi-year breaks over the span of my theatre "career".  So then doing another show should be a breeze.

Not really.

Honestly, straight plays scare the crap out of me.  I did a number of them years ago. I was... fair.  Pretty much what I did from the time I was 19 until I was 37 were musicals. Lots and lots of musicals. Some good, some great, a few that I will never mention again, and even a couple of small operas.... but all involved singing. I can sing. I know I can do that. Acting is a different matter.

Yes, I know, there is acting involved in musical theatre, but in truth there is a lot less expected from a musical theatre actor than there is from a "straight" actor. (Side note, unrelated: Why is it a "straight play"? Are musicals considered "bent" plays? Ok, digression over.) I have done many shows where the focus has been strictly on the singing. It was completely acceptable if the "actor" simply stood there are sung prettily. (This is not to say that this is ALWAYS the case. I know many musical theatre actors who  are amazing!) In this case, I am not meaning to discus other actors, merely myself.  I feel I can hold my own on stage and create an acceptable character, but I in no way hold any grandiose ideas that I am amazing or professional.

(refocus, back to topic)

Straight plays scare the crap out of me. Did I mention that already? Yep, there it is... two paragraphs up. And here I am embarking on a new one. It's a sizable role too. When I first looked it over I'm sure I blanched a little. Nobody was watching, so I was safe. My first thought? "Holy crap! That's a lot of me on stage." Then I skimmed for monologues. None. This should be a good thing, right?


I like monologues. They are good chunks of time where you are the only one talking. (Duh.) This means you can't really screw anyone else up. Oh, and you don't have to wait for someone else to cue your next line. I like this.  It's like memorizing a good little tale and then being the storyteller.

There are no monologues. Just lots of little lines. Some very interesting little lines. Many of them very important. Many of them numbers. Oh lord. Did I mention I'm a little nervous about it? Yeah, I am. Maybe I can convince them to throw a little song and dance number in there.

Ok, I can do this. Just bear with me. This may come up again later. In the meantime, if anyone feels like starting a petition to get me a quick little song tossed in feel free. Just make sure you get a decent amount of names and then address the petition to Soozie. Thanks! Wish me luck.

- B

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I find happiness in the little things.

Today was a good day.  A day spent with friends playing games and enjoying company, followed by dinner. Games went well, friends headed home, and now it's time for dinner.

So, there I am standing at the stove. The ground beef is almost done browning along with a little bit of onions.  Off on my left I have a small bowl filled with half a cup of water, some Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, a dash of vinegar and some tomato paste.  On my right there are two small children eagerly looking at what is in the pot, wondering when dinner will be ready.

I find myself simply happy.  This is what I had been missing.

I missed all the beginnings the first time around. Heck, I missed practically everything. But now I have a chance to do it right.

It is the look of expectancy, of excitement. It is the sense of completeness.

This is a family. This is where I am supposed to be.

I am happy. I am home.