Tag Archives: Walla Walla

But What About Science?

NASA image of ring around the cosmosIt’s not often that a bonafide famous person steps into Walla Walla, much less a celebrity known for being an intelligent, interesting thinker and speaker, specifically Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and host of the redux of Cosmos. Rather, living in a town as conservative as Walla Walla it was pretty unsurprising that Susanne and I would jump at the chance to see him give a ninety-minute talk, even if the tickets cost $50 each. The seal on the deal was the reality that we don’t go on dates all that often, what with two children under the age of three—so between presumed smart lecture on science, sitting in a hall with other less-than-Tea-Party people, and Date Night, it was a no brainer (see what I did there?) to spring for the tickets. And just like I thought would happen, we saw all manner of acquaintances and like-minded comrades. There were many school-age kids there, which was nice. At least at first.

I admit I felt some excitement rumble through the auditorium when the lights were lowered and an older man rambled onto the stage to give Dr. Tyson’s introduction. Except it wasn’t an introduction, so much as a self-congratulatory speech about bringing Dr. Tyson to Walla Walla. Of course we were all happy to see the good doctor—we’d bought $50 tickets to prove it, after all. He called up Dr. Maxood, a local cardiologist, to the stage, and then that good doctor told us about his “long shot” plan to get Dr. Tyson here to speak. I looked at my watch, mostly ignoring their remarks, but increasingly annoyed that we were listening to this and not either opening comments about the host of Cosmos nor the speaker himself. And then a third man took the conch, I mean, microphone, to tell us about his grand work raising $20,000 so that 356 local students could come and hear the lecture. Wait. Someone had to raise money for the students to attend? They weren’t simply let in? If the money hadn’t been pulled together, they wouldn’t have been let in?

Susanne and I opened up the programs we’d been handed in the lobby. While the event was a production of Main Street Studios, it was actually coordinated within the nonprofit arm of the Main Street Studios organization, which has only been in existence since late 2013. Now we had questions about how the math worked—what was Dr. Tyson paid to speak, and who got the proceeds from the speaking engagement? If Man #3 on the stage had raised $20,000 to send 356 students to the lecture (which comes to $56.18 per child, so the ticket cost plus the fee, which appears not to have been waived in order to send a higher number of students to the lecture), where did that $20K go? To the nonprofit arm of the organization or to Main Street Studios? And what are the ethics of using a nonprofit organization to support a for-profit venture, if that’s where the money went?

Feeling unsettled, Dr. Tyson at last took the stage. Things went downhill from here. Read More…

The Hornet Hunter

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me in the spring or summer knows that I am no fan of insects. Maybe bees and dragonflies get a pass, and ladybugs. (But not those ladybug knockoffs.) But beetles, spiders, roaches, silverfish, millepedes, ants, I don’t want them on me or even near me, as impossible as I know that is. We’re very outnumbered by the insect world, and I super don’t enjoy thinking about that reality.

But there is a special level of ugh I hold for stinging insects like wasps and hornets and yellowjackets. I can deal with the fact that honey bees and bumble bees sting because heck, they need some kind of defense for themselves and they only use them as a last resort before dying. But those OTHER stinging insects are like extremist NRA members wearing their Glocks on their hips for a trip to Walmart, ready to shoot anyone around them and then keep on shopping like it’s no biggie. So when I see not one, but two hornets’ nests under construction on my newly acquired car port (otherwise known as the place where I park the family car four times a day), I have to take action. Especially when said construction includes laying the foundation for the next generation of venomous bugs.

A neighbor suggested I go to the hardware store at the eastern edge of Walla Walla, which turned out to be a ranch and home supply store. Here I could get a feed bag for my horse, any kind of Carhart gear my heart desired, or fake eggs to dupe the hens in my coop to lay more eggs. Or a can of thick poison guaranteed to kill on contact. I explained that I had a bee sting allergy thing and that I wanted to make sure the hornets would never get near me once I bamboozled them with my noxious elixir. The small man, his Vietnam Veteran ball cap pulled low over his forehead, squinted at me. Read More…

Forget the Waiting Game

Humans love patterns. I don’t mean a Scottish plaid or a pink paisley (although those of course have their place in the world), I’m thinking more of the repetitions and unrandom occurrences that permeate our lives from which we derive meaning, seek comfort, glean knowledge, etc. Some play Sudoku, reveling in combinations of numbers, or look to discover new patterns in math, Fibonacci sequences being old hat and all. Others love fractals, genetic sequencing, a field of clovers, the lines that a purebreed dog is supposed to exhibit, whatever strikes their interest and fancy. There are patterns of things and histories and people out there to suit every interest. And beyond patterns there are trends, or pattern forecasting, if you will. Once we start talking statistics, it’s a whole new world of hit and miss—is this thing a pattern or isn’t it? can we count on this pattern to continue?—and though experts may collude that a given pattern is definitely, absolutely, perfectly true, well, I think we all know better.

Here I turn to pregnancy. Show me a woman with a 28-day cycle and I’ll show you thirty more who cycle in a different pattern, or via no pattern at all. (They live with an annoying label of “irregular.”) If Western medicine loves a broad pattern on which to base its practices, women’s reproductive systems are the proverbial fly in the ointment. All of science still fails to understand how the start of labor is even triggered. Is the uterus like, “I’m done?” Is it a sign from the fetus? A signal from the placenta? Somebody’s hippocampus? Ted Cruz? Despite all of the not knowing going on, we are presented again and again as hopeful parents to be with the same ill-fitting narrative: most women will experience X. If a given woman experiences X+2 or even Z, that’s on her.

We’ve  seen Susanne get some symptoms of pregnancy and not others, some for a longer or shorter duration than the Mayo Clinic’s book suggests will happen, and she’s had different experiences over both of these pregnancies. Why do these things change or vary?

Who the hell knows? Read More…

Waiting Games

Emile and an accordionIt’s public knowledge that toddlers are not known for their vast quantities of patience. Instead, the image is more of screaming, purple cries, stomping feet and/or thrashing on the floor. I often cover my face so I don’t get hit while Emile does his version of tilting at daddies. But he calms down quickly, at least, as I remind him of the obvious, saying “We don’t hit each other in this family.”

“But I want to,” is often his counter. And then there’s a discussion of why wanting to do something isn’t always a good enough reason to do it. At some point he will likely tack on a “But why?” and then we’ll have a whole new level of explanation to provide whilst ducking tiny blows.

Another tactic—I guess—is modeling the good behavior we want to see in him. Sometimes I tell him when I feel exasperated, but more often he notices my frustration and asks me what’s going on.

“Daddy just wishes the traffic light would turn green already.” “Well, I’ve been on hold for a while now and I would just like to resolve my customer service problem.” I’m sure a lot of this is over his head, but the point is that I’m talking despite my negative emotions, I’m digging a little deeper to continue being patient with an aggravating set of circumstances. That’s the lesson here, right?

We’re in Week 39 of Susanne’s pregnancy, and our patience at this point is thinner than a string of fibre optics carrying NSA eavesdroppers across the Atlantic Ocean. The baby is squirming, bonking Susanne from the inside, and throwing triple axels in a bid to become the youngest Olympian ever. It was several weeks ago now that mom redux started throwing her hips forward in a bid to maintain her center of gravity while walking, and now she’s just ready for a tiny human to emerge from her body. The cocoon is closing, kid. I whispered to her belly this morning, “Get out.” So far child number two ignores us as well as Emile does. Read More…

Misunderstanding Pro-Choice

Last year I went to the 31st Annual Walla Walla Wine Auction to benefit the regional Planned Parenthood, and was amazed at how much fun it was. Every year they have a theme (last year’s was the speakeasy), and the Marcus Whitman Hotel is transformed for the occasion. Grafting a live auction with wine is a brilliant stroke, because as one’s inhibitions plummet with all of the tastings (there are more than 30 wineries pouring their product there), the number of bids one puts in on the silent and live auction items rockets. When we came to the 6-bottles of Leonetti cabernet sauvignon in 2012, I kept my paddle in the air, thinking I was bidding someone else up, and instead won the wine. This year I knew better, darn it. Also Susanne looked at the ready to grab my arm and get our purse strings out of any melee. I admit I was also excited because this year’s theme was all about a steampunk version of the wild west, and I was curious to see if people would dress up beyond finding a pair of driving goggles and sticking them on a cowboy hat.

WWofW LogoOnce again we weren’t disappointed with the decorations—the line in was drawn by a hitching post, flanked by a building that read “Jail,” and then we walked under a gate to the trading post, where the wines were in mid-pour. I waved at two of the people I knew working for wineries in the first room, then took a look at the wines assembled for the “cork pulls.” Thirty bucks got donors a grab at the bucket of corks, which corresponded to the bottles on the display. It was a less fancy display than last year, but I saw some great wines on the table. Susanne has great luck with these, and in a flash, she had won a magnum from Dunham Cellars. I pulled a rose. I hate rose. But it will make someone happy at a future gathering, I guess.

We wandered around and found our favorite wineries, me sipping the tastes with our friend Leah, Susanne sniffing at the glasses and snagging a few things from a long table of charcuterie. Then we looked at the silent auction items, promising ourselves that we’d limit our household to two items. We made a bid on two magnums from Rotie (a northern and a southern blend), and another magnum from Waters—Forgotten Hills. I sampled popcorn made with nitro-infused flavors, watched a chef carve meat off of a whole pig, shook hands with folks I knew, and sashayed up to a wall of ice that held tiny bites of seafood. I love you, seafood wall. I’ll see you again, someday. Read More…

Fair Thee Well: A Trip to Walla Walla’s Frontier Days

Every Labor Day weekend, Walla Walla hosts “Frontier Days,” a combination of agricultural fair and a sanctioned rodeo. While the fairgrounds are mostly empty most of the year, in late August they begin filling up with hundreds of horse trailers, pickups filled with crafts and food, and truck after truck of carnival ride equipment. White fences are cleaned, exhibit halls swept out and dusted, food stalls prepped with supplies, and power cords dragged every which way to light up the evening hours with seasonal entertainment. Living here since the late summer of 2008, Susanne and I have never gone to Frontier Days, usually because that’s also when the national political science association’s conference is held, far from Walla Walla. But this year I stayed behind with Emile, and bought some passes for us to the see fair and the rodeo.

Walla Walla Frontier Days 2013 US flag and horsesNow then, before people balk at the idea of the city boy and his offspring venturing into such a rural experience, I am no noob to the rodeo. I went to Girl Scout horse camp in South Jersey twice, sleeping in two-week stints in an overgrown tent, and I’ve gone to at least a dozen rodeos in the Northeast—though truth be told, my favorite is the Atlantic Gay Rodeo, in which, among other events, cowboys and cowgirls chase goats around the arena to get pink underwear on their butts. Read More…

Pool of Leaves

susanne and emile in poolIn two weeks, Emile will turn 2. He and I have been enjoying parent/child swim class at the Walla Walla YMCA since he was a scant six months, so if I do the math (fine, it’s easy math), Emile has been in a twice-a-week swim class for about 18 months now. When we first started out, I had a bit of anxiety about a few swim class-related issues, including

  • If people would notice my chest scars (they don’t because they’re too busy staring at how cute Emile is)
  • If I would slip and fall on the wet floor while holding the baby
  • If the baby would drown or contract some horrible, chlorine-resistent bacteria that started the next zombie apocalypse
  • If the baby would take a dump in the pool in front of everyone

I grant that some of these are less probable than others, and that nearly all of them are ridiculous. But hey, they were my fears, don’t judge. Read More…

Walla Walla, Come to Jesus

Ever since we moved to Walla Walla, Washington, we’ve heard at least once a week that this is just a great community to live in. At first, I was new to town and curious, so I would ask whoever had made the declaration to elaborate. Why specifically Walla Walla? How was it such a utopia? What made it special? In one of the first conversations I had on this subject, the conversation went something like this:

VISITING PROFESSOR: It’s such a great place to raise kids. [NOTE: I did not have any children at the time.]

ME: Oh? Why?

VP: Well, it’s very safe here.

ME: Is it? By that you mean, what?

VP: I mean there’s low crime here.

ME: [THINKING] Hmm. Well, in many neighborhoods in DC, crime was pretty low too.

VP: Well, in Walla Walla you know your neighbors.

ME: I knew my neighbors in DC.

VP: We have a farmer’s market.

ME: I lived in Eastern Market in DC, one of the oldest, continuously running open-air markets on the East Coast. But okay, farmer’s markets are great.

peaches at the DC marketNow then, the market in DC offered fresh local chicken, a gourmet cheese counter, eggs, all manner of fresh sausages, fresh seafood and fish (which we never bought, given Susanne’s allergies), cakes, pies, cookies, loads of produce, and the requisite crafty junk I’m never interested in buying, like handmade jewelry and such. In Walla Walla there is also a ton of produce during the season, a woman who sells lamb, and two farmers who sell pork. You can also get fresh milled flour out here and that wasn’t available in DC, but for the most part there was a lot more diversity in the city than here. But going back to the conversation, I do tend to like my neighbors in Walla Walla more than my neighbors in DC. Some of my city neighbors were kind of snarky. Not that I know anything about that.

But here’s my point, John Inman’s amazing chicken roasters aside—the mantra that Walla Walla is near-perfect belies its deficiencies and makes it harder to improve the material reality of the people living here. Read More…

Instructions to Our House Sitter

model house on lots of dollar billsAs Emile keeps telling us, we are “flying plane Michigan” tomorrow to see “Grandma AND Papa.” (Can’t leave Papa out, after all.) Usually leaving for two weeks in the summer means that we’ll return to a brown lawn, shriveled annuals, and a stack of cobwebby newspapers. But not this year! Thanks to a helpful and intrepid recent college graduate, we will for the first time be employing a bonafide house sitter. So of course I had to give her a few instructions.

1. The key to the house works all the outside locks.
2. We stopped the mail while we’re on vacation, but the newspaper will keep coming. Feel free to read it/recycle it/line a bird cage with it.
3. You can eat whatever you find in the fridge or the house. (Don’t like, eat THE house.) Things with nuts in them: the package of walnuts in the pantry, the jar of peanut butter, the granola bars in the pantry, the granola cereal and the panda bear cereal in the basement storage. Otherwise we’re nut less. [sic] We’ve left you a few cookies on the counter—those are chocolate chips and cherries.
4. There are two plants by the sink, one tree in the room behind the kitchen, and an African violet in that same back room, that need watering, maybe 2-3 times a week. The hanging pots on the porch need to be watered every day, and the two little pots out front need a splash every day. Those other two containers only need to be watered 1-2 times a week, depending on how hot it gets. Read More…

Presiding Juror (The Aftermath)

statue of justiceThe twelve members of the jury walked back into the deliberation room, after we’d handed over our verdict and individually attested that we voted freely and according to the instructions from the court.

“Did you see his face,” asked one juror, meaning the defendant.

“He looked like the weight of the world came off his shoulders,” answered a juror. Kiffen was her name.

The mason grumbled. “He looks like he dodged a bullet.”

Soon thereafter the judge came into our room. He’d said he had a quick question for us, but we peppered him with ours first. They came out all in a barrage—why didn’t we hear from Grumpy and Stretch? why isn’t Officer Tony’s dashboard camera working? why was the testimony so vague? Did we just let a guilty man go free? What did you think about his guilt or innocence?

He tried to answer them in turn. He looked much smaller standing in front of us instead of occupying his perch above us, and his robes looked like they could smother him.

“Nobody can find Joaquim (Grumpy) or Stretch,” he said, looking like he was trying not to sound dismissive. “If we could have located them, we would have brought them in for questioning.”

Juror number 4—the woman who had sat in front of me the whole trial—asked why Stephanie wasn’t coached to be more assertive on the stand.

“Ms. Adele was brought here by officers, as a material witness. The prosecutor had to put out a warrant to get her here, and she stayed at a motel with a guard so that she would testify.”

Well, that explained the very large bailiff who’d accompanied her to the court. Read More…

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