Saturday, August 27, 2011

Of Peace and Starlight

(unaltered, from my iphone)

Tonight we took a well-deserved drive out to our super-secret stargazing spot.  While I was weather-watching a storm predicted to come through tomorrow, I saw from the weather website that there would be no moon tonight - perfect for seeing the stars.  With gas being so expensive, we haven't taken the 20+ mile (one way) drive out there all summer.  We've stargazed from other spots, but they all have some degree of light pollution.  Once I decided we would go, I was so happy I could have cried.

Sunset is around 8 pm right now, so we waited anxiously to leave.  We didn't make it out until 8:30 because of the relentless phone, but once we got away from the city lights, we rolled down the windows and enjoyed the warm breeze.

My favorite part of the drive is when we enter the canyon at Hellgate.  There are no streetlights, very few homes, and the road is only lightly traveled at night.  The air starts to smell slightly of the river, a mossy, green smell.  The closer we get to the river, the cooler the air gets.

The next landmark is the Hellgate bridge, where the river switches from the driver side to the passenger side.  The bridge glows eerily under headlights, with indigo twilight in the distance.  I can already see a few stars by this point, and I'm anxious to get to our destination.

Next we pass through Indian Mary campground, which is full on a warm August night.  The glow of the campfires is comforting, as is the sweet, spicy smell of the campfires.  We slow down to enjoy it as long as we can.

Beyond there, we wind through forests and more canyon, the river smell punctuated by roadside blackberries that ripened in the warm sun of daytime.  The river undulates in a beautiful dance with the road....sidling closer until she's nearly touching, then sashaying out of reach.

After miles of one-laned road, we pass over our final landmark....Graves Creek bridge.  A little known road takes us high above the river, until she's barely a glossy ribbon twinkling in the starlight.  Our secret spot slides into view, and we excitedly jump out of the car to claim our spots.  We always sit the same way, Faith facing east, me facing west.  I lie back and allow the peace to wash over me.  It's like a powerful tranquilizer, with peace and quiet and tranquility rolled into one.  The only sounds are made by nature - no engines, no talking, no music.  It's so amazing to realize the world can actually be silent.

We spend at least an hour pointing out stars to each other....laughing at those cheeky enough to flash us, making wishes on the falling stars we're lucky enough to find.  Sometimes we talk about life in a way that we seem to be unable to accomplish otherwise.  Other times we waste far too much time locating skittery noises with our cell phones (who needs flashlights these days?).  On the best nights, we just lie in silence and revel in wonder.

One of my favorite childhood memories is right after I got glasses.  Before my eyesight problem was discovered, the night sky was a blur of black covered in fuzzy white spots (only the brightest stars were visible to my unfocused eyes).  One night, when the sky was really clear and it was super-warm outside, I crept outside with my glasses and laid in the backyard.  We lived far out in the country, so there was no light pollution.  I was so astonished that the stars were actually sharp pinpoints that I spend too much time looking at the sky, and fell asleep.  Thankfully I woke before (a) something could eat me and (b) my mom found me.  I tried lying outside many times after that, but it was never again so wonderful as that night.  Now, as an adult, the closest I come to that joy is the nights we drive to our super-secret spot and share the sky.

Driving home is bittersweet.  I'm so relaxed that I'm sleepy, but still feel euphoric.  I want to stay out all night and absorb the universe, but reality awaits back home.  At least, until I can run away again.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Memories of Dinner

One of the issues I'm working on with my therapist is my perception of food.  When someone says dinner, I think of preparing food.  However, when I hear "meal," I think of special meals, like Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I put too much emphasis on the specialness of the event, rather than the actual food.

Anyway, when asked to think of a happy food memory, I recalled the days in my childhood when I was allowed to have a TV dinner.  Not the plastic tray kind that microwave in a few minutes that we have today; the old foil tray meals of the '70s-'80s that had to be cooked in the oven.  These:

Well, not this exact meal, but the kind that came with an entree, a veggie, a starch (almost always mashed potatoes), and a dessert.  It came in the same cardboard box, but the tray AND the wrapping were foil.  You had to cut the foil around certain pieces so they baked correctly, and then they took 25-40 minutes depending on what kind they were.  My all-time favorite was Salisbury Steak, with mashed potatoes, corn (or green beans, can't remember which), and a brownie.  I was sooooo fascinated by the fact that everything cooked perfectly together!

TV dinners were even more special when I was visiting my grandma, because mealtimes were always at the table with the TV off.  However, for an occasional treat she would bring out the TV trays, and we would eat TV dinners in the living room (while watching TV, of course).  Her house was always spotless, so we had to be super super careful with our meals.  I even got soda when we had TV dinners!  And we usually had a bowl of ice cream after dinner, even though our TV dinners included a dessert.

I kind of miss the specialness of those old dinners.  The quality of the food has certainly improved since then, but with microwave speed and dinners eaten away from the table on a nightly basis, it's just not the same.  Oddly, my mom thought of those dinners as junk food....but compared to a super-sized fast food dinner, the portion-size and quality of the food in TV dinners is actually better for you today!  

Some days, I really do yearn for the "good ol' days".....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Being Native

A few of my friends know I have Alaska Native heritage.  I'm not entirely sure of the exact percentage of native blood I have, but it's enough that I'm registered with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and entitled to benefits available to native Americans.  I do not live in an area where native medical services are readily available, so I don't use them....that is the only benefit I would even consider.  I feel I'm not native enough to qualify for anything else.

When my mom passed away in 1998, I inherited her shares in a very large native corporation.  It has created a comfortable cushion for us financially as it pays regular quarterly dividends and occasional large extra dividends. In 2000, it paid a very, VERY large (5 figure) dividend, which enabled me (financially) to finalize my divorce and provide a better lifestyle for Faith and myself.  I also inherited shares in a smaller corporation, but it has yet to pay dividends to its shareholders.

Due to family issues (a blog in and of itself), I was not notified when my grandma (mom's mom) died in 2000.  Not that I was too bothered with this as I didn't really know her, and what I did know was not in her favor.  So, I was surprised to be contacted by another smaller native corporation in 2009 stating that I had inherited a portion of my grandmother's stock.  It would have been my mother's, but since she was deceased the shares passed to me.  I only own 23 shares, but it enables me to benefit from other services offered by the corporation, such as scholarships and business loans.

You can imagine my further shock when I opened the mail today to find yet another corporation contacting me regarding my grandmother's stock shares.  Once I return the paperwork, the shares that were to go to my mother will be mine.  I'm sure it will be another 23 share percentage, but I'll once again gain access to this corporation's other services.

Honestly, the dividends (aside from the large corporation's) don't mean anything to me.  What's most important to me are the scholarships offered by each corporation.  Faith has announced her intention to attend the University of Washington (go Huskies!) after high school, so we'll need as much financial assistance as possible to make it happen.  Merit and academic-based scholarships are becoming increasingly hard to acquire due to overwhelming need, so these privately offered scholarships will be vital.  When I first went to college, I didn't know these corporations would help pay for my tuition.  Had I known, my life might have turned out quite differently.  I'm determined Faith will have the opportunities I didn't.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Life as a House

Isn't she pretty?  She also possesses one of the best views in the Rogue valley.  She was lovingly built in 2008, and then put on the market in hopes that a family would fall in love with her and snap her up.

It never happened.

For well over three years, she's stood empty, slowly losing hope that anyone will finally find her attractive.  It's always been a mystery to me, since the construction is top-quality and all the interior holdings are top-of-the-line.  She has a dream kitchen, fully-finished basement, giant master suite complete with fireplace, huge walk-in closet, luxurious master bath, and a beautiful bonus room over the garage.

With all that....why has she never sold?

I walked around her today, and was dismayed at the completely unfinished, ugly back yard.  Here is what it looks like:

Sad, isn't it?  Even the view isn't worth this tiny triangle.  At the farthest point, it's about 20 feet from the house.  The closest point, maybe 13-15 feet.  TINY.  Plus, being totally unfinished makes it completely undesirable.

Another deterrent is the complete lack of a deck of any kind.  Given the location and spectacular view, there should be huge decks to enjoy it.  There isn't even a patio off the finished basement:

Bleak.  I can see a pergola over the bottom patio doors, and a sweeping deck for entertaining.  If the back yard weren't so tiny.

Researching the property's ownership history tells quite a tale.  It was purchased in 2005 as a bare lot, then the structure was completed towards the end of 2008.  It was placed on the market in 2009 at $849,000.  Unfortunately, this was the when the recession began its terrible upswing, so luxury homes sat on the market unpurchased.  Those that did sell were "total package" homes, meaning the new owners did not have to face challenges such as the unfinished back yard and lack of decking this home has.  In the next year and a half, the sale price dropped OVER $200,000 as the builder became desperate to unload the financial burden.  Sometime in 2011, the bank took over the home.  Given that information, I imagine the state of the back yard may be due to lack of funds to finish it.  Unfortunately, it caused a vicious cycle for the builder - he saw the house as complete, but the potential buyers saw it otherwise.  Perhaps if he had finished the back of the house, it would have sold while he still had possession.

There is some hope for the house.  The lot to the south is vacant:

If a potential buyer could combine the lots, they could have a stellar estate.  I personally would level the lower lot with the upper lot, put in a nice multi-level deck system, pool (vanishing edge!), and landscaping.  Add some nice privacy fencing, and turn the hum-drum backyard into a lush, outdoor oasis!

I really hope this beautiful house finally gets some owners that complete her and love her.  It's truly a shame that she's been empty so long.

Click the address under the first picture to go to the real estate page for more info and pictures, if you're so inclined.