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The Woodpecker I’m Not Strangling

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It’s the season.  We’ve been reclaimed by a Northern Flicker.

I love woodpeckers, and the Northern Flicker is especially striking in its coloration and behavior.  About that behavior – that striking behavior.

During their March – June breeding season, a flicker calls (makes a loud, rolling rattle with a piercing tone that rises and falls in volume several times) and drums (repeatedly and rapidly pecks a tree or other solid object) to communicate with a mate, or proclaim its territory and attract a mate.  But why settle for drumming on a mere tree when you can make a MUCH LOUDER SOUND OMG YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LOUD by using our chimney flashing as a drum skin?

“Yo, Freddy. Flicker,” I said, while pounding the exterior of the chimney with a pole to convince him to seek friendlier territory.  “I understand that this is your equivalent of placing an ad on perfectmatch.com, but your strident call is going down our chimney and into our house, where the residing, non-flicker females neither understand nor appreciate its intended implications.  And that repeated bashing of your beak against the chimney flashing sounds incredibly loud and is incredibly annoying for us bipeds, not to mention what it must be doing to your tiny avian brain…and are you perchance a mentally challenged flicker?  Just asking.”

Oh, he’s not stupid, and he’s not pecking on metal because he can’t find a suitable tree, according to a Jackson Bottom Wetlands Friendly Biologist ®. A metal object allows Freddy Flicker to make the most noise in the flickerhood.  An accessible chimney flashing – jackpot!  That is one awesome find for a flicker, who uses its acoustic amplifications to announce to nearby flicker friends and foes, “Here I am!  Everything around here is mine, mine, mine!”

Friendly Biologist said flickers will return year after year to the same house if it works for them.  And indeed, we’ve seen a flicker pair, and their offspring, at our suet feeder for the past couple of years.  I’m firmly in the pro-woodpecker procreation camp.  I could just do without them using our chimney for their pre-coital garage band rehearsal, ya know?

What We Talk About When We Talk About Us

We had a dinner party on Sunday to honor son K, who was home from college on spring break and who had recently celebrated his 20th birthday.[1]  Seeing as how Sunday was the 17th, That Irish Day, we had an Irishy menu [2] and MH made seating cards with shamrocks or some other leprechaun-worthy fauna decorative picture next to each guest’s name.  Our youngest guest was the adorable, precocious, getting’-down-with-the-alphabet, 5 year old “Peach.”  P had a minor dramatic episode when she noticed her mother’s name card, and she fussed to her father about it.  “That can’t be where Mommy is sitting because it doesn’t start with an ‘M.'”

Her mother (whose name begins with S) relayed that story a couple of days ago, and I laughed to read her email.  I was older than Peach but way younger than K when I first reflected upon the discrepancy in how adults address children and children address adults.  Why was it, I ventured to ask certain tall people, that parents may and in fact do call their children by name, but kids are supposed to address their parents by their relationship?  Mom calls me Robyn, not “second daughter,” but I must call her some variation of Mom, [3] even though her name is Marion.  I didn’t see what respect had to do with it, but the tall people always included that word in their answer to my question.

A few years back a friend of mine shared this observation with me, about me:  When I’m talking about my husband to my kids, I call him by name if I’m speaking about something between he and I (“I’m going to get M a book on owl pellets for his birthday”), and I refer to him as “Dad” if I’m talking about something between him and our hatchlings [4] (“Are you planning on getting Dad an owl pellet for his birthday?”).  If MH calls on the phone and wants to speak with Belle or K, I vary the name-thing:  “Mark wants to talk with you,” or, “Dad’s on the phone for you.”

I hadn’t noticed that, nor even thought about it, until said friend brought it up.

When I talk about my parents, sometimes I use their names and sometimes their parental “titles,” and sometimes upset my elder sibling, NLM, by doing the former.  N was especially sensitive to this after our father’s death, four years ago.  To her, N explained to me, it sounded less-than-appreciative of what a wonderful dad Chester Bryan Parnell was, to call him anything other than what we called him when we were kids, which was “Dad.”  I reassured her that I have nothing but love and respect in my heart when I call our father by his given name…and warned her that I will likely continue to do so (although, in consideration of her feelings, I try to remember not to do it around her).

I love my father’s name – always have, for many reasons, including that it was unusual, and that he had acquired various nicknames he had over the years. [5] For whatever reasons, his smiling face and gentle, laughing green eyes become even more vivid to me when I think of him, my beloved Dad, as Chet.

*   *   *

Speaking of my father, I know he would have appreciated the following blurb, for both content and tone.

*   *   *

Hands free, my ass

To the guy who almost t-boned my vehicle when you turned left, at a stop sign from a side street onto a busy street, and my Madza 3 [6] was so right there, in broad daylight, lights on, no excuse not to see me unless you were distracted, and you looked right at  me, or rather right through me, and even though our eyes made contact your brain was somewhere else.  Your window was down and your mouth was moving – your car  passed so close I could see your ear bud headset and hear you talking to someone who wasn’t in your vehicle – as I slammed on my brakes and swerved.

You are, apparently, yet another fool who has fallen for the lie [7] that hands-free cell phone devices are a solution to the risks of driver distraction.  It doesn’t matter if it’s technically legal – once again, the law lags behind to the science.  The law will catch up, and using a phone with brains hands-free anything will, eventually, be outlawed.  Until then, dude, educate yourself as to the science behind distracted driving.  Or don’t educate yourself.  Stay ignorant if you must, but stay off your fucking cell phone, in any manner whatsoever, while your vehicle is moving.

*   *   *

Last weekend provided one of those last minute treats (besides escaping being taken out by a careless driver):  friend Suzanne Mathis McQueen drove up to the Portland area from her home in Ashland  for a quick weekend visit.  The reason for the quickie was both personal (her two all-growed-up sons live nearby) and professional.  The pro part involving Suz’s promotional activities in the Portland area for her book, 4 Seasons in 4 Weeks.  One of the few people who looks as fine in real life as she does in her author’s photo (I could slap her for that, but I’d rather hug her), Suz is a wise, witty and compassionate person, a pro-woman, pro-man advocate  who is also a kick in the pants to be around.  Her book uses the unique, even poetic metaphor of the four seasons to characterize the cycles and rhythms of human life (think circadian, and expand).  Along with her positive illuminations of life’s phases, the book’s pictures and illustrations are amazing.  Flipping through the pages, I felt like I was in an art gallery.

*   *   *

Department of
Even writing fiction you can’t make this stuff up

A deep, robust belly laugh strengthens the core/abdomen, makes your teeth look whiter and brighter and your children and spouse seem smarter.  And cancer – it helps cancer, somehow.  Etc. etc.  A true belly laugh is a rare thing, as is lucid feedback for a writer.  Feedback itself is hard to come by, and when you get it, ’tis sometimes constructive, sometimes neither here nor there, sometimes remarkably irrelevant, and sometimes downright face-palm worthy.  As for the latter, my abs are firmer, my teeth whiter, I am cancer free and live with geniuses as per the laughter provided by the following incident.

Last July I’d queried a literary press to see if they’d be interested in considering a short story collection of mine.  As per their guidelines I sent a sample story along with the query.  They held on to that story for several months, and replied in October that they liked the story but didn’t understand it.  I found this amusing; even so, at their request I sent them another story from my proposed collection.

(Note: that second story was published in the summer.  One of the editors of the publishing journal told me they particularly liked the story’s narrative structure.)

This week I received an email from “The Editors” of the press.  They wanted me to know that they’d given the story to their readers, many of whom liked it and some of whom didn’t.  Thus, the editors felt “stalemated” and decided not to pursue my collection, but had asked one of the readers “who liked your work the most” to provide a short note of feedback for me.

Indeed, the feedback was short, although reading anything with the following WTF? gems seemed to last a lifetime.  (my comments)

“Her (the story’s protagonist) flashback with ___ needs to come later. I feel like there is going to be a robbery, because she’s a convent store and there’s no conflict, but bring it in sooner. ”

(* These “sentences” are almost incomprehensible to me.
* The flashback is exactly where it should be.  It would make no sense to have it later in the story, as it sets up subsequent action…which the reader should know, assuming the “reader” actually read the story.
* Reader “feels like” there is going to be a robbery?  Gee, maybe that’s because there is a robbery, in that very scene to which the reader refers.
* The protagonist is not “a convent store,” whatever that is.
* And if there is no conflict, how am I to “bring it in sooner”

“My biggest concern is that I don’t have a feel for ___. At first I think she’s kind of sad and structed and wimpy, but then she so boldly goes after the crook….What is her motivation for attacking him? …It’s all conflicting to me.”

 (* My biggest concern is that I have a strong feeling that this press is seriously considering feedback from a remedial adult literary program dropout who thinks “structed” is a word.
* What is her “motivation” for attacking him {the would-be robber, aka, “crook” – a term which, BTW, is never used in the story}?  Uh, the fact that the robber threatened and then injured the clerk, and the protagonist had the means and opportunity to do something – maybe, that had something to do with it.  Ya think?
* Yeah, it’s all “conflicting” to me, too.  Probably because I’m kind of “structed.”

 The CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) convention, highlights of which included why-won’t-she-just-go-away Sarah Palin mocking Karl Rove and a straw poll in which Rand Paul narrowly defeated Marco Rubio for…for best Conservative Straw, is certainly worthy of commentary. [8]  And speaking of gasbags, [9] although I am still enamored of singing goat videos – relax, you’re safe, none embedded here [10] – nothing quite brings a spring to my step as periodically viewing the compilation of the best of The Farting Preacher, aka Robert Tilton. [11]  A fitting tribute for the infamous evangelical cheekflapper, and good wholesome fun for everyone.

Wishing you a weekend of love and laughter, and if you’re feeling “structed”, well, let ’em rip.  The hijinks will surely ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] My proud FB announcement of the occasion: Today my son is old enough to be the son of a mother who has a twenty year old son.

[2] Wine and honey glazed salmon; colcannon, soda bread, orange and green and white veggies.

[3] Or, “Moth-errrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”  when disgusted as only an indignant child can be with her parent’s cluelessness.

[4] It’s flicker breeding season, perhaps you’ve heard?  I’ve got birds on the brain.

[5] Chet was ahead of his time, going for daily runs when…well, when no one else did.  An out-of-shape neighbor saw him heading for a run one afternoon and snickered, “There goes Chet-the-Jet.” The nickname stuck.

[7] No doubt perpetrated by the makers of such devices.

[8] But not my me. I’m still too busy laughing about “structed.”

[9] Can I segue, or can’t I?

[10] There’s always next week.

[11] Televangelist Tilton’s Success-N-Life swindle theology taught those so dumb they couldn’t pour water out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel gullible, credulous people that their burdens, in particular poverty, were a result of sin, but if they made certain “vows” (i.e. donations to Tilton’s ministry), God would reward the vow-maker with material riches.

The Lye-soaked Cod I Am Not Eating

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Had you been so fortunate to be a local lady friend of mine, you might have received an invitation like this:

Ladies Lefse Party
Wednesday December 12, 2012, 6:30 p – ?

Ladies hosting:
 -Robyn Parnell & Belle

Ladies Likely to be in attendance:
 -the lovely and talented you

Ladies Unlikely to make an appearance:
The Lady (and the Tramp)
Lady Marmalade
Lady Antebellum
-Michelle Obama and Nancy Reagan, or other Past and Present First Ladies
-Ladies Home Journal
The Bare Naked Ladies
-Lady Gaga

As always, your munificent, bed-bug-free hosts will provide lefse preparing accoutrements and serve lefse and Norwegian meatcakes for supper, in a festive yet pepper spray-free environment

*   *   *

I am half-Irish, tribally-speaking (as are both of my parents), but residing within approximately 25% of my genes is a lefse-loving Norwegian.  My mother’s full-blooded Irish mother married a full-blooded Norski. Perhaps it was the fabled Irish love for potatoes that was partly responsible for Bapa’s[1] love of lefse.  It certainly wasn’t her love of all things Norwegian.  Although she adored her husband, Al, she refused to allow lutefisk [2] in her house. Every December Albert J. Hole [3] succumbed to the pull of tradition and purchased a chumbucket load fragrant batch of lutefisk atthe Lutheran Ladies ® Christmas bazaar, and every December Bapa would send her husband outside, in the Northern Minnesota winter, and make him partake of the lutefisk by himself, on the back porch.

*   *   *

JR always has the best Lefse Ladies Party hat, which she custom designs for the occasion.

When I was a young–un my family’s one nod to honoring ethnicity or keeping The Olde Country Traditions ® was serving lefse and meatcakes for Christmas Eve dinner.  The feast would be prepared by Bapa and her eldest daughter, my aunt Erva,[4] who fled Spokane every year to winter in Southern California at Bapa’s house.  Although my mother loved lefse she never acquired the knack of making it.  Her children[5] have continued the lefse dinner tradition with their own families, though none with the panache and sartorial elegance as the lefse events hosted by yours truly, if I dare say so moiself.  And I just did.

*   *   *

Speaking of lutefisk and other things that stink like an eel monger’s morning breath, Oregon has once again garnered another fifteen minutes of the national news tragedy spotlight, after the mall shooting earlier this week.  TV media coverage of the tragedy saw the local stations engage in their typical, nuance-free, breathless blathering treatment (TERROR AT THE MALL!!!!) of anything they call a “breaking event.”  The news anchors’ and on-sight reporters’ desperation to fill air time, to say something (even when it’s just been a few minutes after the 911 calls came in and no one really knows what’s going on, therefore there is nothing to say) would have been comical, save for the subject matter.

An interesting sign of the times, methought:  a number of phone calls were made to TV news reporters from people who’d been inside the mall and had fled when the shooting started. Apparently, their first thought upon reaching saftey was to whip out their cell phones and share their story with the talking heads.  Several callers stated they’d seen the shooter, before they realized he was The Shooter ®.  The callers each described a young man wearing a load-bearing vest and a white mask, holding something long and rectangular (a semi-automatic rifle), running down a mall corridor.  Uh…didn’t that seem alarming, or at least noteworthy? the reporters asked the callers. “Sure, but this is Oregon,” one caller replied, “and you see a lot of strange things in Oregon.”  Another caller said he assumed the Masked Dude was running “…to join a flash mob,” or similar happening. Yep.  If you see something bizarre, assume the Portlandia crew (or Leverage or Grimm ) is filming nearby.

*   *   *

About ten years ago there was a series of events that got Oregon in the national spotlight.  There was the vacationing California family, on their way to the Oregon coast, who were stranded in the Siskiyou National Forest after the husband/father made the fatal mistake of trying to “shortcut” through a mountain range, driving a non-off road rental car on unfamiliar backcountry roads, in winter, in the snow[6]. Then there was the incident involving nine climbers on Mt. Hood who fell into a crevasse (three killed, four critically injured).  A military rescue helicopter, which had successfully plucked two of the injured climbers from the mountainside, returned for a third, tricky pickup at an altitude of over 10,000 feet.  The helicopter began wobbling – the wind had suddenly shifted, and the copter’s rotors clipped the edge of the mountain. A news crew covering the rescue operation shot spectacular the video footage, which played over and over on the national news (and which was later featured in a National Geographic Amazing Moments special), of the copter plummeting into a snow-covered ridge and tumbling down the mountainside.

By the third event, which I cannot recall, more than a few friends sent me teasing emails to the effect that my MH and I were raising our children in a hazardous territory (“what’s going on in that wacky/dangerous state of yours?”).  This prompted our son, K, to come up with a new state slogan[7]:  “Oregon – come for the thrilling recreational opportunities, stay for the rescue helicopter ride.”

*   *   *

There are several recipients deserving of the AssHat of the Week, in particular, yet another knowledge-free man in a position of power, this time a fucking judge, for the FSM’s sake.   Superior Court Judge Derek Johnson , who evidently thinks that eating paint chips is a required judicial practice, said that a rape victim whose attacker threatened to mutilate her face and genitals with a heated screwdriver didn’t put up a fight during her assault, and that if someone doesn’t want sexual intercourse, the body “will not permit that to happen.”

But all that all that lefse has put me in a more generous mood, and I’d rather salute something positive.  And so, without further ado or cursing, I promise, the Big-Hearted Big Nose Carrot Man award goes to Scarletta Press, whose awesome Director of Publicity, Desiree Bussier, is interviewed by Publisher’s Weekly about the publisher’s new emphasis on children’s literature, which will include my novel, The Mighty Quinn.

*   *   *

The new nametag’s here!  The new nametag’s here!

Several years ago, MH received a particularly glowing annual performance review from Intel [8]. As happy as I was for him when he shared the news, it left me with a certain melancholy I couldn’t quite peg.  Until I did.

One of the many “things” about being a writer, or any occupation working freelance at/from home, is that although you avoid the petty bureaucratic policies, bungling bosses, mean girls’ and boys’ cliques, office politics and other irritations inherent in going to a workplace, you also lack the camaraderie and other social perks that come with being surrounded by your fellow homo sapiens.  No one praises me for fixing the paper jam[9] in the copy machine, or thanks me for staying late and helping the new guy with a special project, or otherwise says good on you, sister. Once I realized the source of the left-out feelings, I came up with a small way to alleviate them…sort of.

About the nametag.  You’re at your office party, or a fund raiser for an animal rescue organization, or a neighborhood potluck, your spouse’s family reunion – you’re at an event that is primarily social and so the guest’s professions are irrelevant, and there are a bunch of people who probably aren’t acquainted with one another, so the hosts greet you with those Hello-my-name-is nametags and felt pens at the door. Summon your Andy Rooney voice for this next sentence.  Have you ever wondered, when you’re at the kind of party I just described, why some people just can’t leave their credentials behind?

Since I don’t plan on suing the guy who took the last cheese doodle from the appetizer platter, why do I need to know that you’re a lawyer?  Yes, you probably worked hard for your degree, as the other guests did for theirs, but in this venue your LL.D. is no BFD, and appending your name with those initials only serves to give the impression that your main credential is that of I.m.D. (imperious dickhead).

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not one of those attorney-haters.  Some of my best friends are lawyers.[10]  And while the legal profession is much (and often rightly) maligned and thus I chose an easy target for my example, in my experience doctors are the worst when it comes to the afore-mentioned nametag faux pas.  If the party has no relation to medicine, not even remotely, and I don’t plan on having a pap smear right here by the punchbowl, why do you think I need to know you’re a doctor?[11]

Hello, my name is

Dr. Pomp O’Ass

or

Richard Head, Ph.D.; M.D.

I custom ordered my own nametag from a local office supplies store, and it’s finally here!  As you can see, it reads Robyn Parnell, N.a.D.

As in, Not a Doctor.

Bring on the next party.  I am so ready.

Hijinka ensue.

*   *   *

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] My maternal grandmother, so nicknamed by my older sister, who couldn’t properly say “grandma” until she was in her late forties.

[2] Some ethnographers believe the preponderance of lutefish in the Norwegian diet was largely responsible for the Norwegian migration to America in the early 1800s.

[3] Yes, Hole. I wonder why my mother never considered keeping her original surname.

[4] I had an Aunt Erva.  So did you, although yours may have had a different name. Everyone has had an Aunt Erva.

[5] Her 3 daughters, at least. My brother, I dunno. Yo, bro, are you a Lefse Dude?

[6] The father died of exposure after setting out to find help. The mother and their two young girls were found alive, days later, by a helicopter pilot.

[7] Oregon’s state slogan used to be, “Things Look Different Here.” The Higher Ups ignored K’s suggestion, and in 2003 changed the slogan to, “We Love Dreamers.”

[8] He doesn’t actually work there, but they’d heard he was a good guy.

[9] Always left by the previous user, who loudly wonders who did this evil thing?!

[10] Okay, I have one lawyer friend. If only she were a lawyer-of-color, or lesbian.

[11] I like doctors, too. If only that friend of mine were a doctor, as well. A biracial, bilingual, pan-sexual, multi-cultural doctor and lawyer.