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I went road-trippin’ to White Sulphur Springs, Montana, this weekend to have a little quality time with the sistahs before they get too old and brittle to have fun. It’s the big 5-0 for them next month … oh, wait was I not supposed to say that? Well, I’ll keep their weight a secret.

Because I don’t know it.

Along the way I saw weirdness that wasn’t me — and it wasn’t even the sistahs — it was just random stuff, and me without a camera in hand to record it.

Weird-a-moment #1: The four of us who had gathered for the celebration were on the way to a horse auction because, well, who doesn’t want to go see horses, and we stopped at a rest area because, well, that’s the down side of staying hydrated. As we drove into the very busy parking area we saw a couple from out of state unloading a couple of chickens from their car. To take them for a little stretch of the legs and scratching in the dirt and grass. On leashes.

Chickens on leashes.

I had pet chickens as a kid, but by comparison, mine were feathered creatures of the wild that merely panhandled for food in my yard. I was, apparently lucky not to be attacked and eaten by those savage, uncivilized fowls.

Chickens on leashes. It was awesome, actually.

Weird-a-moment #2: On the way home, neither drunk nor hungover, I stopped for lunch. No, that’s definitely not the weird part. While I was standing at my car door juggling food and drink and keys to get the door unlocked, I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye and pretty quickly it registered that the movement was (a) odd, and (b) aimed straight at my head, so I ducked in that graceful way that clearly indicates you’re freaking out a little bit around the edges because it’s a large bug.

Despite the creepy almost-got-a-bug-in-the-face mini-panic, I immediately realized that there was a not-quite-rightness about the offending bug, so I whipped my head around and saw that the weird bug was a wasp/hornet/bee of a buzzing bug and it was struggling to carry the limp carcass of a yellow butterfly. At least I’m pretty sure it was a limp carcass, though I would entertain an argument for the bee acting as mercy flight for a badly injured butterfly vs. car victim.

I suspect the bee was not trying to get me, but rather was struggling so hard to stay aflight that it couldn’t fathom going round me, though I’d just stepped into it’s path.

I was normal by comparison for the weekend @ pam[at]viewfromthenorth40.com

Author’s note: Readers of delicate sensibilities and refined social graces, who have obviously wandered here by mistake, should read forth only with courage intact and the understanding that there is no shame in turning away.

I was sitting in the office alone last night, typing away at the computer, when the fast food dinner kicked in, causing a wee bit of gastric activity. It was not of a degree that could be considered gastric distress in any way. My digestive tract simply required a little, shall we say, ventilation of accumulated pressure. Also, the released non-fuel gastric fumes were not, shall we say, of a quantity or a quality that suggested I needed to retire to another room for over-the-counter pharmaceutical attention nor for, shall we say, an expulsion of detrimental solid matter.

Right after I allowed, shall we say, the biological pressure-release valve to kick in, John walked into the office to, I assumed, work at his computer. Whilst this would place him on the side of the office space which is in the direction that my biological pressure-release valve faces, I was confident that given the relatively benign nature of the gastric fumes, the size of the space, the fact that he would be seated facing away from said valve and toward a separate fresh air intake portal (commonly called a doorway, FYI), we would encounter no problems.

He did not got to his desk to sit down.

In a, shall we say, quirk of fate, he approached me from behind, leaned over to place a kiss on the top of my head and gently hug me. He paused briefly to look at my screen, repeated the kiss and hug, then, as he turned to leave the room, said sweetly; “I forgive you.”

Yeah-wha–? “What?” I said, eloquently, as my mind broke from its work-related revery. “You forgive me?”

Yeah, for farting on me.” Wha–I?

No way,” I countered. “I farted before you even walked in here, so I guess I’ll have to forgive you for interrupting my private gastric moment.”

Men, acting like he’s never hiked his leg and, shall we say, let one rip while we’re confined in a car in the dead of winter when you don’t want to have to roll the windows down.

Of all the nerve at pam[at]viewfromthenorth40.com

We replaced our front door last weekend, the short, non-holiday weekend. We had planned on it taking two days because of the repairs to water-damaged wood around said entrance. It took three days – with a blanket stapled over the door opening for the two thankfully-good-weather nights we spent sans door.

Even after three days, we only had the door in place – not completely sealed, no trim, no latch and no window.

It also didn’t close really well. The upper corner on the latch side was rubbing hard, but try as we might – and judging by the hellacious arguing involved, we were trying very hard – we couldn’t get the door to sit squarely in our cobbled-together, uneven, exceedingly rough rough-opening. Go figure.

In the end, we decided that this door fit better than the previous door (which we also installed and which also stuck in the same corner. Whatever). I figured I could use a rasp to shave off some of the offending wood.

All troubles aside, after three days we were satisfied we had a real door that blocked the elements and the flies (with many thanks to the makers of plastic sheeting and duct tape for the temporary window, which wasn’t classy but was impervious to flying pests).

Over the week we got the exterior sealant, the door latch and and the window in, and we even did all this before the big storm hit with high winds and driving rain, so there was that saving grace, too. Or it was dumb luck – I’ll take it either way – but I’m still calling it grace.

This weekend, I intended to seal the space between the jamb and studs with spray foam insulation and put up the interior and exterior trim boards. Having a plan was probably ill-advised, the best laid plans being all blah blah blah and making the gods laugh and all.

Turns out I didn’t have white paint for the exterior trim. The holiday weekend prevented purchase of more and my damn guiding morals kept me from breaking into the store, but no big deal, I got the boards primed, and I could spend the rest of the allotted construction time getting the interior just right. Uh-huh. “Lol,” the gods said.

I got the wood shaved down until the door fit well enough, and figured I would finish it after we got done sealing the jamb etc. – on the off chance that things would shift around.

We applied the spray foam insulation, without a huge mess … until it swelled considerably more than we figured, thus making a mess on the pristine door and jamb, both of which would now need to be sanded down and re-primered. And as awesomely crappy as that sounds, it wasn’t as bad as the fact that the foam that squirted out into the open air dried first, creating a seal, but the stuff between the jamb and studs kept swelling just enough that the door got wedged shut.

Aaargh! Let’s just pretend that that is what I said.

So, before the foam completely cured, I used a knife and long screw driver to rip it out. More mess, yes.

However, this is where we get to a cool part of the story, an unprecedented stroke of good fortune. I ripped and tore at the foam only on the latch side until the jamb was free, and before tearing into the other side, I opened and closed the door only to find that it worked smoothly – like a door installed by someone who knows what they’re doing. That smooth.

It was a miracle, and the best kind of miracle: It didn’t come free and clear. There was work and anguish. There will be more work, probably more anguish. It all makes the door working properly seem that much sweeter.

And if “Miracle of the Single-wide Mansion” status doesn’t make you feel good, there’s an entry from the “could’ve been worse” department messaged to me by a friend whose husband manages a ranch south of our place:

“The last hired man (the one that went to jail) redid the door in the trailer they were living in here. He put the door in upside down and then spray-foamed it shut. … [He] had ‘carpenter’ on his resume.”

I still don’t have the trim boards up, but …

hell, yeah, I’ll accept “awesomer by comparison” status at pam[at]viewfromthenorth40.com

Every family has sayings, those bits of wisdom, wit or bafflement drug out to provide color commentary on life’s moments.

The other evening John and I barbecued T-bones and served them up with baked potatoes and salad with cucumber sauce and a side of fresh strawberries. As I settled back in my secondhand chair in my dilapidated little single-wide mansion, I heard my dad’s voice: “Ahhh. I wonder what the poor people are eating tonight?”

Tonight, it’s fajitas at pam[at]viewfromthenorth40.com

Remember when I said this is The Year of Living Give-A-Shitly? It’s still hit and miss, but I do have some successes.

In May I did the 30-Day Ab Challenge and, sure, I had to substitute almost all crunches for the situps because my chiropractor assures me that the best thing to come of me doing sit-ups is that he will be able to make payments on a new pickup truck. Point taken, man. But I really did do 20 sit-ups, 305 crunches, 65 leg raises and 120 seconds of plank in the last exercise session. It was amazingly possible. And, yes, I did feel pretty awesome. Pretty exhausted by Day 30, but awesome, and I had a four-out-of-the-six pack — a huge step up from the pony keg I had been sporting for a while.

June was going to be the month of the 30-Day Booty Challenge, but by Day 12 my thigh muscles had bulked up so much they’d grown out of two pairs of pants. That was bad. Bad, bad, bad. I quit and spent my time doing outside work … and then spent a few weeks of July rehabbing my back, but that’s another story for a day when we’re talking about things other than success. Note to self, though: Just because a full tank of gas in the riding lawn mower lasts three hours, that doesn’t mean I should mow for three straight hours. Weird, right?

Despite the days of handicap, I’ve gotten boat-loads of spraying, mowing and weed-eating done. I’m still behind. We don’t have a functioning tractor this summer and that significantly ups the weed total, and my frustration level. I slog on … whilst trying not to do things in a way that will injure myself, which means, no hyper-focusing allowed. That’s not frustrating at all … ahem, but not all bad things came of the little stint of stupid back rehabbing.

The gist of that story is:

I was standing out in the yard one day, admiring the view, with hands on hips, elbows and shoulders out wide and feet braced shoulder-width apart. Suddenly, I was very aware of my body and I thought this: How long has it been since I stood around in this Wonder Woman pose?

I’m profound like that sometimes.

And, too, it’s actually a really good posture for my back. The posture not only keeps me from slouching, but it also puts me in a very balanced position with my shoulders back and spine stretched erect. I stood like that a lot about a hundred years ago in the days after I first injured my back. It felt good. I don’t know why I stopped doing it so much, other than that I started working indoors more, with lots of people around, and you get bumped a lot when you take up lots of space like that. People just don’t respect the Wonder Woman like they should.

Two days after my profound thought, the universe — through the unlikely conduit of Netflix’s automatically generated suggestion list — recommended I watch a TEDTalk video of a presentation by social psychologist Ann Cuddy on her research into the real value of what she calls the power pose. It’s 21 minutes long, but worth every minute of your time whether you’re a man or woman … or both … or neither. No one’s excluded.

My take away is to stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes every day for a while. We’ll see what comes of it, though if nothing else, my back will appreciate it.

I feel awesomer already at pam[at]viewfromthenorth40.com

John was walking toward me down the hallway of our single-wide mansion and he did a double take look out the window then said with a weird tone: “Come look at this.”

And this is what we saw:

A bullsnake climbing our 6-foot tall fence.

A bullsnake climbing our 6-foot tall fence.

a 5-1/2-foot long bull snake at the top of our 6-foot fence … headed toward the house. Yeah, that’s not freaky at all.

Endlessly fascinated with nature in its boundless creepiness (as well as its beauty and power and blah blah blah, insert your own descriptive here), I recorded as much as possible with my trusty auto-zoom camera … which didn’t always work that great.

Of course, the bull snake wasn’t happy with the audience, so he turned around and headed toward the shop at the other end of the fence line. Like that was going to get rid of me.

It managed to loop back on itself without falling off.

It managed to loop back on itself without falling off.

And, really, I thought this was the coolest thing to see this bull snake maneuvering itself on that thin wire, in perfect balance.

And, really, I thought this was the coolest thing to see this bull snake maneuvering itself on that thin wire, in perfect balance.

When the snake got to the shop, it didn’t lower its head once. It knew what it wanted: Up.

And up it went.

And up it went — about 3 feet up to the top of the roof of John’s shop.

And this series of photos shows the coolest thing that snake did -- redefining upward mobility.

This series of photos shows the actual coolest thing that snake did — redefining upward mobility.

Very little of its body was still pushing from the wire fence.

Very little of its body was still pushing from the wire fence.

Very little of the snake was actually on the roof when it finally let go of the fence. This is just the first of those photos that is actually in focus.

And very little of its body was actually gripping the roof when it finally let go of the fence.

You can almost hear it grunting.

You can almost hear it grunting.

Cool, quiet concentration.

Cool, quiet concentration in the face of hard labor.

This is the view from inside the house, through the window screen. The snake rested here for quite a while.

This is the view from inside the house, through the window screen. The snake rested here for quite a while.

Then the snake headed over the peak of the roof.

Then it headed over the peak of the roof …

to grab hold of the one branch i left within reach of the roof when I was up there trimming tree limbs. the week before.

to grab hold of the one tree limb I left within reach of the roof when I was up there trimming limbs — just the week before. And, yes, I’m glad I had NOT seen this first.

At this point, the bull snake was cleary on a mission.

At this point, the bull snake was clearly on a mission …

snaking its way up the limb. (Pardon the pun.)

snaking its way up the limb. (Pardon the pun.)

If you enlarge the next photo, you might be able to figure out exactly why a snake would climb a tree.

Can you spy with your little eye the foes both lurking in the leaves?

Can you spy with your little eye the two foes lurking among the leaves?

Yes, the bull snake was in the tree to hunt bird nests for a snack of eggs, or perhaps helpless hatchlings. That’s a robin sitting in the tree, softly chirp. chirp. chirp. chirping. Beware the snake in the tree.

 

Foes clearly marked for the visually challenged.

Foes clearly marked for the visually challenged.

It was trying to lure the snake to the wrong part of the tree. And it worked. At first.

You can't see the robin, but it's luring the snake down the wrong path -- kind of an ironic twist of fate, biblically speaking, and if you've ever seen the Disney cartoon of "Robinhood." Not that those two stories are related, I was just ... what were we talking about?

Here it is again, luring the snake down the wrong path — kind of an ironic twist of fate for the snake, biblically speaking, and if you’ve ever seen the Disney cartoon of “Robinhood.” Not that those two stories are related, I was just … what were we talking about?

Maybe I'll try another limb of this branch of the tree, snake says.

“Maybe I’ll try another limb of this branch of the tree,” snake said.

And he's searching.

And it was searching.

And he's searching ...

And was searching …

and it's searching.

and searching.

Wait a minute, I think that fucking bird has been leading me on, snake said.

And … “Wait a minute,” snake said, “I think that fucking bird has been leading me on.”

Screw you, Red Breast, I'm going down another branch, going with my gut, following my instincts, and there ain't nothing you can do about it.

“Screw you, Red Breast, I’m going down another branch, going with my gut, following my instincts, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it.”

And snake was right. Robin Red Breast's fluttering attack was no deterent for the symbol of evil.

And snake was right. Robin Red Breast’s fluttering attack was no deterrent for the scaly skinned symbol of evil.

And so snake traveled his own road, closely watched by a worried robin.

And so snake travelled its own road, closely watched by a worried robin.

And when that road turned out to be a dead end, snake casually turned around, telling the robin that it had meant to do that.

And when that road turned out to be a dead end, snake casually turned around, telling the robin “I meant to do that.”

Aw, but look how happy it looks to have found a proper "tree branch highway" to more lucrative hunting grounds.

Aw, but look how happy snake looks to have found a proper tree branch “highway” to more lucrative hunting grounds.

And it's whistling a merry tune.

And it whistled a merry tune.

And it's slowing down.

And then it slowed down.

And it's stopping.

And it stopped.

And it's thinking blondie with the camera is a bit freaky and obsession with the picture taking.

And it thought that blondie with the camera looked a bit freaky and obsessive with the picture taking.

Ultimtely, I manage to do what the robin couldn't, scare the snake away. I was not surprised that I had this effect on the snake, I repell humans daily, with less effort. It's a gift.

Ultimately, I managed to do what the robin couldn’t: scare the snake away. I was not surprised that I had this effect on the snake. I repel humans daily, with less effort. It’s a gift.

I left the snake alone for a while, to do the thing its nature was compelling it to do: hunt. eat. hiss in peace. That was altruistic of me, er, um, plus it was time for my own supper so that worked out alright for both of us, though not the robin so much, and for that I’m sorry that Nature is cruel. I’m also thankful that I had chicken fajitas for supper and not robin hatchlings. I hope the chicken wasn’t a cousin, that would be a lot of tragedy for one family in a day.

I did see the snake once more.

It was on a branch known to house a robin nest.

It was on a branch known to house a robin nest.

It looked content.

It looked content.

The robin was nowhere to be found at: pam[at]viewfromthenorth40.com

I’ve gotten a few comments of “thank you for coming back, we think you are so totally awesome that our lives were made dull and lifeless without your words in them.” Well, OK, that’s an exaggeration, whatever, and it also illustrates my point that I don’t take compliments well.

With criticism (which is vastly different from evaluation or critiquing), I’m all over the place in my responses. I might consider the words and learn the lessons either implied or stated despite the manner in which said lessons were delivered. I might get hysterically angry or neurotic in my brain, which manifests itself as no verbal response at all. Or I might coldly, impartially or hotly dismiss the criticism in some way mentally, verbally or physically that says some version of “fuck off.” Any further words would be heavily profanity-laced. It’s like a Tourette’s disorder, don’t judge me.

Compliments, though, I’m pretty consistent in my flat out denial. “Ha ha ha, get real.” “Don’t let rumors like that get around.” “Oh, yeah, I’m so awesome you can’t hardly contain your desire to genuflect in my presence. Whatever.” If I get a compliment and say thank you without some verbal slight of tongue to deflect the praise or a joke, preferably a self-deprecating one, to soften the blow, then you know that I’m quietly writhing with internal agony as I fight to contain the sudden urge to say: “No! Take that back, I’m not awesome. Shut your mouth you dumb dummy!”

I don’t know why. I would need to win multi-millions in the lottery to have enough money for the therapy to get that answer worked out.

So all that said, I was endlessly fascinated by mini-namesake K-Pam when I saw her at Christmastime. At nearly 4 years old, she is a highly energetic, supremely opinionated and forthrightly self-assured little wisp of a child.

At one point, a bunch of us adults were sitting at the table chatting, letting our latest heaping of holiday food digest (and by that I mean we were complaining about being stuffed while mindlessly eating snacks), and K-Pam was stacking some variously shaped wood blocks and pegs into formations. Each time she announced that her creation was complete, we would tell her how awesome it was or how brilliant she is. “I know,” she would say offhandedly, while dismantling the formation and laying the groundwork for her next display of brilliance. What?!

I kept complimenting, with outrageous abandon, her every effort — just to watch her calmly accept the praise. Once, I told her that her creation was boring, and she assured me that “no, it’s not.” And she didn’t say it, but you could see from the slight shift of her shoulders she was really thinking, “no, it’s not, dumbass.” But she was too nice to say it out loud. My laughter ensued.

I felt like a scientist running tests on the mind of an alien creature of unknown origins, from a new world farther away than far, far.

I can’t say “I know” to a compliment, as much as I admired the response and the attitude, but perhaps I can get better at a simple “Thank you.” That will be a future/ongoing/lifelong project. But for now,

it’s a pretty big two-word leap for a dumbass at pam(at)viewfromthenorth40.com

We had a gorgeous, spectacular, god-cloud kind of evening last week, so I went out to take all these stunning photos that make amateur photographers look good, when all you really have to do is put the camera on auto, randomly point the lens anywhere in the sky and push the button. Presto! Instant artistic genius.

Then I downloaded the photos and discovered that I had the auto-setting on one of the lower quality settings = grainy photos.

Instant genius fail at pam[at]viewfromthenorth40.com

So it’s Wednesday evening and I’m supposed to be writing my weekly column, but thought I’d take too long a moment to share these with you:

If you want to pee your pants a really good laugh to tone your six pack start your day right, watch this video (be sure to have your speakers turned on, it’s the total viewing experience): The Rabbit Shepard

And if you want to pack on some completely outrageous pounds really impress yourself friends, family, guests, make this European-style, heavy-crust bread from a recipe that was in the NY Times and Mother Earth News:

No-Knead Dutch Oven Bread

1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting. You may use white, whole wheat or a combination of the two.
1 1/2 tsp salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and salt, stirring until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at least 8 hours, preferably 12 to 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

Generously coat a clean dish towel with wheat bran or cornmeal. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently shape it into a ball. Put the seam side of the dough down on the towel and dust with more bran or cornmeal. Cover with another towel and let rise for about 1 to 2 hours. When it’s ready, the dough will have doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 475 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and lift off the lid. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. The dough will lose its shape a bit in the process, but that’s OK. Give the pan a firm shake or two to help distribute the dough evenly, but don’t worry if it’s not perfect; it will straighten out as it bakes. Score top of dough if you wish.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned. Remove the bread from the Dutch oven and let it cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.

*The friend who told me about this recipe recommended bumping yeast to 1/2 tsp. Mine was over-raising (over-rising?) when I left the dough the 12 hours, even in a 68-70 degree room, so now I just do a slightly heaped 1/4 tsp.

For people who make lots of traditional breads, this dough will freak you out seem a bit disconcerting because it doesn’t have that firm, kneaded bread-dough feeling. It’s very moist gloopy in comparison. Also, some friends who have made the bread have had trouble with it burning. I’m no good to you I have no advice because I can’t even say for certain what temp my oven is. Don’t be shocked. Don’t call me stupid. It’s an old gas stove without a thermometer, so we just pray to the bread gods, crank ‘er wide open, and get lucky it works. It does seem to be pretty idiot friendly able to come out tasting good despite a wide spectrum of moisture content from loaf to loaf because I can’t seem to be consistent.

The dough is rising as I type at: pam[at]viewfromthenorth40.com

You know — when you investigate the source of the smell under the trailer house, find that your sewer main has sprung a major leak, then stacked the urgency of the matter against the others around your place and found that this shitty situation is, in fact, not your No. 1 priority (or your No. 2, if you can handle a pun while you’re creeping out) — this is not a good week.

But today’s the day. I’m home from work, after I’m done here I will be tearing down fence (this sounds sooo familiar) to give John clear access to the spot to replumb and then replacing the fence (ditto the familiarity) after I shovel (I think I’ve been on the end of one of those before) the filth and contaminated dirt out.

I won’t be complaining because I will not be the one down there actually in the filth and touching those pipes. There are some things I’m totally comfortable begging out of, promising outrageous things to avoid, absolutely not taking any responsibility for unless under threat of death or dismemberment (desertion is not incentive enough). I do not do human fecal matter. But it works for John and me because he doesn’t do doggy upchuck. We’re so totally compatible, in an understandably bizarre way.

It ain’t glamorous, but it’s my life at pam[at]viewfromthenorth40.com