In 2017 I started more drafts of posts that have gone unpublished than ever before. There is so much I have felt I needed to say but I lack the time to get them to a place worth sharing. These scattered unfinished thoughts have been the benchmark of this past year for me. It is ironic that during the most impotent year of my existence a new life stirs in my belly.
2017 has brought overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and ineptitude, not knowing where to start or where I am headed. It has been hard to find hope and yet this is the time when I need hope more than ever before.
As in so many years passed, work overtook my life. Too often, I put it first and that might be my one regret. I do not lament the time I spent with my coworkers but it came at the cost of time spent at home with family. That being said, the relationships I forged there became a great asset after the news of this new impending change. I could hardly have wished for more supportive group of people to help me through the transition and fear.
My husband and the boys had me brainwashed into thinking it was going to be a boy. All the conversations we had about the new baby used the pronoun “he.” My husband kept insisting that he “only makes boys” (he was kidding, kind of) and with two boys in the family already the concept of another boy seemed natural.
On my husband’s 40th birthday we had an ultrasound and it looks like I managed to get him something he didn’t already have. When the ultrasound technician said “it’s a girl” I think I laughed at my poor husband for about 5 minutes straight. After I got a hold of myself, it hit me- “holy f*ck, it’s a girl.” The thought of a boy was easier for many reasons. Anxiety came flooded in soon after the giggles subsided.
I know how hard it was for me. The battles I fought. The insecurity, fear and pain I felt. The scars that my independence cost me are still livid against my sensitive skin. It is every parents’ dearest hope that our knowledge, experience and hindsight will spare our children the grief visited upon us. The thought of raising a girl in this atmosphere of complex sexual tensions scares the hell out of me.
We often think it is boys we must teach how to fight. It is far more important for the female of the species to be trained in this manner, as she will be threatened by foes who’s natural strength will outweigh her own. I don’t want to make her aware that threats will come to her in the guise of kindness. That she must be aware of entering into unspoken contracts where her virtues will be expected collateral.
I don’t want her to have mistrust be her default. I wish I could hand her a world that was safe but that will do her no favors. By the time the parent is ready to talk of such things- it is often too late. I know what steps I have to take and the path that must be followed, it is just I had hoped for the easier of the two roads. We prepare the boys for the dangers of the fringe but for girls the fringe is so much closer, the path that much narrower. I never realized how scared I was until those three words were spoken aloud.
Four years ago, we were preparing for my dad’s funeral by early morning light. I was back in my childhood home under the redwoods in my mom’s kitchen; writing a joint eulogy with my sister and pouring some good whiskey into a flask for the three of us. It was rough but we were determined to make the best of it, in our own special way.
Many of the day’s events we planned were unique, using our grief as an excuse to have some fun. We decided to end the doins’ with a game of “what’s this for?” A game where we showed the crowd stuff my dad had made for very specific reasons and had them guess what its function was.
For instance; this is a sock hamper, specifically designed to keep terriers away from your dirty socks and ONLY used for socks.
Needing some purpose in the days before I could fly out west, I started the WWDD Homeless pack project in order to introduce and explain our intentions for the memorial the following week. Instead of flowers we asked that everyone bring survival supplies: backpacks, rain gear, toiletries, first aid, socks, etc. We set up some tables along the wall and asked at the end for everyone to compile “homeless packs.”
Homeless packs were a thing my dad used as an excuse to buy military surplus items in bulk. He would put together kits filled with useful things for people living out of doors. He would keep two or three of these in the trunk of his car at all times and giving them out when he ran across people in need of such items.
The response was unexpected. As people arrived, they bought their items with them, overflowing three whole tables with gear and supplies. During the event we explained that this was meant as a personal act of kindness, an opportunity to look someone in the eye and not only acknowledge their suffering but to give them a gift that might help alleviate it somewhat. It means stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something nice without expectation of reciprocity.
It might be a bit of a shock that over the last four years of this blog I have left out one of the major aspects of our life together. One of the main reasons behind leaving my job for a simpler life after my dad passed has gone wholly unmentioned. The time has come to ‘go public’ and the best place to start is always the beginning.
In the spring of 2014 I got a call from my husband and The Boys as they made their way north from their mom’s house. It went a little something like this-
“The Boys and I discussed it and we decided you should go off birth control and we should try to have a baby.”
“YAHHHHAH!!!” The little ones yelled from the back seat.
I was taken aback. Before we married we had discussed the possibility of another child and decided we wanted to try but only after we managed to knock down some of the massive debt we had accrued after the relocation cross country. We had made progress in this respect but were far from debt free. The Boys were 5 and 7, growing by the minute and over the moon about the possibility of more siblings.
I thought it was interesting that I was told about the decision instead of asked, but not really surprised. The surprise had come years before when I was shocked to find out that my mate wanted more children with me. Knowing the back story of his first marriage I had assumed that he was content with two and without conversation I had accepted the reality that I would only be a stepmom. His desire for more WAS unexpected but welcome.
I am not the type of person that had planned my life in any long term fashion; instead, I directed my choices from the options I actually had in front of me. As a youth; when asked about my plans for a family I always said that if I was married and had a husband who wanted kids too, then I would love to have some, but I never put too fine a point on it. Who knew if I would ever find a worthy husband in the first place? Athing I considered that a prerequisite for children. I was not a girl who vowed to have children at any cost and for most of my life I made sure to take percussions against any such situations. I have always been around kids in some capacity, from communal child minding of morning Jazzercise, to private babysitting, the preschool my mom ran out of our house and the kids I mentored in collage- I knew that children would be a big part of my life one way or another.
Children and animals are my favorite forms of life.
After my relationship blessed me with two stepsons (who I think are the best people I have ever met) and after multiple years of trying to conceive I had come to a place where I accepted the reality that another baby may not be in the hand I was dealt.
I can honestly say I never felt there was a void in our family unit that needed filling or fixing. Of course I wish everyday the boys were with us more than they are (weekends during school, Mon-Weds in the summer and alternating vacations) but there is something to be said for having time with just the two of us. I value my alone time (as I consider myself good company) and have always been very aware of the all encompassing effort young ones require.
When talking about one long term plan or other, the boys would often bring up the possibility of a new sibling. Last year I started adding that it may not be something we need to plan for since by now it normally would have happened. They were still hopeful but I would remind them that it’s also a lot of work and a baby has a huge impact on daily life. We discussed how nice it is not to have to watch ‘baby shows’ and now we can all go on long hikes and participate in more grownup activities.
The end of this summer I found myself in the bathroom at work, with a positive home pregnancy test in my hand. My first disjointed thought was that I had finally won the ‘stick in the box game!’ After years of taking them hopefully at the end of every month this really did feel like an achievement. The next thought quickly followed “holy shit! I might actually be pregnant!” The possibility had seemed so slim for so long, I could hardly believe it.
Ry was on his way home from a meeting out of town and I had to wait half a day before I could tell him in person. He was excited but didn’t want to get his hopes up before we confirmed with a blood test. After years of false alarms we were both in shock.
A blood test the next day text confirmed I was indeed with child!
We celebrated. I giggled all night at how obviously proud he was of himself. The elation was tempered by the realities of the first trimester of pregnancy while maintaining a heavy physical/stress filled work load. In the spring, I had taken on the Executive Chef position on top of my Director of Food and Beverage duties at the hotel. We were booked up with back to back, double and (some days) triple overlapping events. This was on top of the summer transient occupancy that comes along with being a vacation destination in the White Mountains.
My coworkers and staff were amazing. They were the first people to know since they would be the ones most effected by my new limitations. My shift supervisors could not have been more understanding and helpful. When I had contemplated having a baby I was always sad it would be away from my community support back home. I was so wrong. Every time I was scared or worried there were at least three people I could text, call or talk to who would instantly tell me it would be ok along with a story from their own experiences. I cannot ever thank them enough for the love and care I was given.
To say I was exhausted is a massive understatement. I felt horrible. With a three hour daily commute to work and four hour round trip weekend drive to go get the boys- I had never been so drained in all my life. It became obvious to the kids that something was “up” with me. I was taking naps and making excuses to rest during beautiful fall days, something they did not normally see me do. Without knowing what was going on they humored me and again proved themselves to be some of the kindest most considerate people I have ever met.
After a couple of scary days, the first three month were finally behind us. Initial Dr. visits and the like all taken care of. We got to see the little bean (who already had fingers and toes!) at an ultra sound around 13 weeks. It was crazy to see it moving around alive and well. It was time to tell the boys and they were as happy as any parent can ask at the prospect of a new addition. As a rule they are involved and present in our family doin’s and it was such a relief to have them so excited.
The other week while talking about the future- the oldest declared that I “was going to be a grandma” and he was going to be an “uncle.”
“Your brother got someone pregnant?!? He is 9!!”
“No!” he said shocked and confused. “But you are already a mom. What does this one make you??”
“A mom” I replied now unable to keep a straight face. I explained that you only get to be an uncle when your siblings have offspring as it became apparent from the conversation that he assumed there was some sort of age gap promotion at work. A logical conclusion in hindsight. I blew his mind by telling him you could be an aunt or uncle and be the same age or even younger your niece or nephew. That was news to him.
We just had another ultrasound today and saw that all its little organs were where they should be. Normal heart rate, fully formed spine, ten fingers and toes. It was nice to see the little geeter again as I haven’t felt too much in terms of kicking, yet.
It would appear this spring we will add a new human to the homestead instead of a new batch of critters. I promise this will not become a “mommy blog” though I’m sure there will be future mention of this new wrinkle in our plans. The only sure thing is that the addition will have the best dad and big brothers the world has to offer. Truthfully, I have been too scarred and tired to be excited, there is still a whole labor to get through before I get to hold our little bundle.
All I can hope is that everything keeps going well and try to prepare as much as possible for the new path we are headed down. This will be an adventure for sure!
Be well and thank you for reading!
When I was young, I was allowed to roam the mountain behind my house. Covered in ancient redwoods this steep ascent climbed about a mile to the summit where I could explore the top of the little ridge that cradled my childhood. The lookouts were endless and offered views that seemed to show the ridges of god’s own fingerprints.
In the time before cell phones I know these excursions caused my mom some concern. Not only where the woods home to mountain lions and rattlesnakes as well as the ever-present black widows (though these were more of a concern in the jumble of my dad’s ‘Clampet area’ down by the welding shed.) Adding to the danger, the terrain itself was far from stable or safe. In high school, a good friend from up the street lost her older brother from a fall on the same ridge we often played on.
Preparation for these trips started with snacks and water but most importantly a 9 inch survival knife, strapped to my waist for easy access. I usually brought a couple other blades or weapons for protection since I was alone. These implements were mostly in case of mountain lions but would serve the purpose should I come across other humans with ill intent.
There were no trails, save the ones made by the forest creatures and it was far more likely I would be menaced by four-legged beast than two-legged ones, still as a girl on my own I took precaution. In that four or five square miles of ravines and outcroppings no one would hear my screams.
I went on these trips blithely, preparing for trouble but never really believing any would befall me. As I entered the woods I would make a silent vow that if something did try to kill or hurt me that the experience would not be an easy one, I would fight till my last breath using every resource at my disposal. I wouldn’t be a victim or easy prey.
In my mid-teens I entered to woods of professional kitchens, a place full of danger and people who would not take care of me. As the lone girl in the room I was often harassed, tested and hazed. I approached that situation with a similar attitude as my solo hikes and made it my duty to take on all comers. Making them think twice about their assumption that I was a thing present for their pleasure or purposes. I would not be given a place at their side, I would have to take it.
I made a career of it.
When the #Metoo phenomenon was exploding, I didn’t bother to make my declaration. I noticed that many of my female chef friends didn’t either. For us, harassment was a way of life. As was taking matters into our own hands. I cannot count how many times I have been assaulted, I can count on one hand (with fingers to spare) how many times it happened twice in the same kitchen.
None of my tactics where kind or politically correct. One time I overheard a coworker telling a cohort in Spanish he wanted to bend me over the prep table and have his way with me. I beckoned him over under the guise of needing help, grabbed him in a vulcan neck pinch and bent him over the table, while threatening his rear with an uncut carrot and asking “¿cómo le gusta esto?”- “how do you like this?”
He was also unaware that I spoke Spanish and would take no shit. He did after that and within a day so did everyone else. It is an odd thing to say that after most such incidents my coworkers and I become friends, but it’s true. After all, they could not take the moral high road at my behavior as that was not the path we meet on.
One time, a new coworker placed my share of the kitchen tips on his lap and told me to “come and get them” smirking lewdly. I smiled and told him “wait a second.” Grabbing the nearest butcher knife I approached him and told him to “hold very still” as I used it as a spatula to claim my tips. It was amusing to watch a man of Jamaican decent blanch to a shade of Caucasian. We become good friends.
“Care to join me for a hike?” Dennis Gobets 2009.
Since Thanksgiving is not anchored to any particular date the anniversary of my dad’s death seems to fall on two days some years. This year is one of them.
Black Friday is always the hardest for me. Since he technically passed on the 29th of November, today marks four solid calendar years without him. I don’t really know how to characterize it, except to say that I have adjusted.
Progress has been made, I no longer refer to him in the present. Talking about what happened has grown easier as these things so often do. The sharpness of the pain has dulled but the scar is still there, a marked part of the living flesh. Sometimes it feels like only I can see it now. When it first happened the injury is raw and ragged, your defining characteristic to others in the know. A thing they can’t look away from or ignore. Now, it would seem that the only time people see it is when I point it out, since from the outside it looks much the same as the other bits of my existence. Greif is a process and we have been traveling down this path for awhile now. We have with us the pack of tools we have gathered along the journey.
In the beginning; just after the fall, we struggle to our feet undeniably broken and unable to move in any way without pain from the shock of such a severe insult. It feels like you are crawling, scraping for each inch of progress and knowing that the only choices you have are to continue on or give up and die where you lay. Everything hurts, each effort sharp and stinging so that sometimes the only thing you can do is stop all forward progress and breath.
We all chose to live on. The sorrow didn’t drown us as it felt like it could at first. We got through the logistics of arranging final rites and tying up loose ends, until they are all neatly knotted and safely separate from everything else. All of us finding our own outlets, the individual crutches to help us along our own way. Just like being on a hike with others- each one of us is responsible for our own progress though we started from the same point and share much the same trail.
All night I tossed the turned, dreaming fitfully of the morning’s macabre task. Each time I woke- my stomach dropped as I realized it had been a dream and the deed still lay before me.
I woke up before dawn and headed out to prepare my station. I cut the top and bottom off a milk jug and screwed the handle to a log, machete at the ready. I entered the coop with a sock in my hand. I bid the rooster a good morning and picked him up him gently, fitted the sock over his head to calm him. He struggled very little at first and then not at all as most birds tend to do once in the dark.
Outside, I grabbed his head through one side of the jug, pulled it through with my left hand so that his neck stretched along the length of the log, while grabbing the blade in my right. Three whacks later, what was once one body lay in two parts. Blood stained the fall leaves and splashed the stone wall. There was the usual post mortem flailing and I sat back and bowed to my kill, apologizing and thanking it for its life. I cried a little, sorry for the pain I had caused. It is always beyond me to see suffering and not be struck down by the sorrow of it all.
I reminded myself that this is where all meat comes from. With each of these kills I am faced with the reality that eating meat, means taking life. Most people will pass their whole lives and never look their dinner in the eye. They don’t have to watch as the body and soul part ways- never mind preform the deed personally. I truly understand not wanting to take part in the brutality but for myself I think it is important to participate in the nasty bits before I reap the harvest.
This rooster came to us this summer by way of my well-meaning husband. He arrived home from work and called me out into the yard.
“What is that doing here?!” I said gesturing to the caged bird that had not so magically appeared on our land.
My little cousin got married last month. Though truth be told, he can hardly be called “little” by any stretch of the imagination. He now looks a little like Clark Kent, can bench press an obscene amount of weight and will some day soon be a licensed Chiropractor. In my heart and mind he will forever be the three year old boy sucking on a pacifier, wearing oversize flippers and struggling to shuffle away from me at my summer swim lessons- as I chase him around the pool threatening wet hugs and kisses.
He is a man now. A married man with an amazing, beautiful, kind wife (whom I adore.)
All of this seems to have happened without me. Kind of like I died somewhere along the way and life went on regardless. It is hard not to be sad as I go through wedding photos of my smiling family together for his special day.
Almost eight years ago I made a choice, to leave every person I had ever known and move across the continent in order to support my partner in his fatherhood. You cannot parent small children from thousands of miles away and so there really was no choice to be made only a reality to be accepted and dealt with.
Growing up, I never thought of my family as a “close” one. My memories of holidays and celebrations bear that out now in sharp contrast to my current lack access to them. I am not the only one removed from the system.
My sister currently resided is Guam with her husband. Reports from back home indicate that at least one of my aunt/uncles will be spending this Christmas with their son and potential in-laws in the south of the state. This fracture will mark a continuation of the trend I started almost a decade ago with my migration. Until then, we had all been together every holiday, a thing I now know I took for granted.
Yesterday, I reposted a writing I did a couple years ago briefly touching on my opinion about becoming a woman in modern times. I have written on the topic more than once over the years but only in short bursts and specific situations- never in general. I feel the need to go deeper, though I believe no words can capture the totality of that vast ocean. Since that would be an impossible undertaking; all I can hope is offer more insight about of my own observations from inside the proverbial “locker room” we have been hearing so much about recently.
I stated previously that I was always drawn to the more male aspect of life. My parents raised my sister and me to be competent humans. We were taught to cook and sew as well as weld and change a tire on our own. Under the watchful eye of our mother, our father often pushed us to learn advanced skills not only for our age but often ‘contrary’ to our gender.
As a child I choose to run with the boys, preferring their recess activities to playing My Little Pony or ‘house.’ I would much rather run, jump and climb trees than have fake tea parties. (Real tea parties are a different story.) As a result of my competency in these activities I was often the only girl in the game or group. This prepared me very well for my future in kitchens and restaurants when I would spend decades toiling side by side in rooms filled with men, day in and day out.
A prerequisite for both situations was that I literally be able to carry my own weight. Thanks to a childhood of gymnastics, sports and mandatory chores I was physically a match for my cohorts. I never needed someone to lift or perform any of the basic tasks or skills necessary for my employment or participation.
It means that after a time men stopped acting like there was a “girl in the room.” I have been privy too many conversations, situations and insights that the male of the species don’t often share when “a lady is present.” It is in this expression I find the beginning of the road to understanding the complex dynamic that exist between the two genders in society today.
This dichotomy so often results in the overt victimization of women but there are ample casualties and suffering to go around. If we are to come to a place of meaningful conversation it must go further than it has up to this point. The root of the experience must be exposed in order to come up with meaningful solutions to these tragic systemic issues.
This morning marked a rare day off, sans kids. I had a moment to reflect on a summer filled with work; most of my time spent away from our little homestead. Sitting with the birds in the sun, many thoughts passed through me. I let them come and go as they pleased. I was struck by the complex simplicity of our life on this little chunk of earth and the beings we have chosen to care for.
This spring brought many new additions to our lives and the continued challenge of incorporating old residents with newcomers.
We added Guiana Fowl and additional hens to the flock, which is now composed of four generations of chickens (of various makes and models), three guiana, three remaining ducks and one rooster. Bringing the bird population back to 24, a fine place to be going into winter.
I don’t know where to start, but the beginning seems a good place to try.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe humanity to be insane.
From the time I was first aware of the world outside my own thoughts and opinions; it seemed I was surrounded by contradiction and needless turmoil.
I watched as the world acknowledged people like; The Dali Lama, Martin Luther King, Jesus, Gandhi and the Profit Muhammad; then not act in accordance with their simple teachings of absolute kindness.
Instead, those who exulted them in the first place rendered their words hollow with their actions of violence and persecution.
I was told that differences of skin color didn’t matter, which made sense. No other animal on earth assigns judgements to the color of their coat. Then, I observed systemic persecution that could have no other root.
I learned that all “things” has their “place.” That people were given dominion over “the animals.” This felt wrong on a deep visceral level. When I learned that officially that our scientific classification has always started with the Kingdom: Animalia, I was validated. No one else seemed to notice and the world moved on.
The ads on TV told me to “ask your dr about…” When it was my understanding that it is the healer that is supposed to do the asking. Everyone acted like this was ok.
At its worst; losing a family member can be seem like a bottomless pit of sorrow, at it best it is a empty hollow place- either way it is an unavoidable ‘adjustment.’ Our own recent transition has been… as smooth as a thing that painful can be. We had the benefit of knowing that it was the right time. We had limited her suffering AND got to (more or less) plan her passing.
Most days, I utilized my 3 hour commute to work and back to cry and mourn. This was an improvement from the last couple months. In weeks leading up to the decision my commute was still as tearful. Worry, guilt and fear at what I would come home to, filled the car.
Now that it is done and I have had time to reflect, I am just so grateful for the time we had. My tears are shed in relief and raw gratitude. Her life is now a legend there is no more need to worry about her pain or possible future pain.
I am more aware of the other two ladies who are going through a transition of their own. Each in their own way. After all, they never left each-others side. Pele wants nothing more than to be close and cuddled. Isis (who had taken to hiding under the table for the past few months) has reemerged. A bit of her preciousness has stayed under the table, I think for good. Like most youths’ first experience of a close death it has matured her. We had been a true pack and the survivors are also adapting to the new reality.
All of us in our own way.
Ten days after that day my husband sent me this picture while I was talking with coworkers in my office.
I had drastically underestimated how much this meant to me. To have her close again. Now, like my father before we were able to begin letting her go.
For over two months normal greetings between my husband and I have been replaced with one question.
“How is she?”
At first, the answers were hopeful but as time went on we both had to accept that we had gotten to THAT place. The one no dog lover wants to be, were the only answer to that question is a knowing shrug and a forlorn look. At the same time, it was easy to see that there was only one course of treatment if we were to do right by our matriarch.
Honey, Bear, Honey Bee, Barington, didn’t matter what we called her she was simply the best. I am so glad we took the time to appreciate her while she was still here.
Yesterday, we were honored to preside over her passing. All of us there. The boys outside with the other dogs and my husband and me by her side. All of us able to tell her that she is the “best dog that ever lived;” one last time. Through hugs and kisses, as she smacked her lips contentedly in response.
She left no doubt that it was time.
Thanks to an amazing neighbor who is also a vet, we were able to afford her the luxury of ending her life at home on the couch, rather than a vet office. I don’t think we could have waited one more day without it costing her a measure of the great dignity she demonstrated for 15 (16?) years.
Her life started in California; an abused and neglected pit-mix. When Ry went to the pound they told him “you don’t want that one, she is aggressive. Especially towards men.” She had been returned to the shelter twice already by people who couldn’t handle her willful nature. With his ever-present “we will see about THAT” attitude he entered her kennel and they became fast friends. She was so attached to him that sometimes when he left she would Parkour over a 10′ security fence and go after him.
She entered my life a fully grown, mature alpha and soon after had a horrific accident that would shape our relationship into the deep bond of trust I was blessed to have shared with her.
I have written about the misplaced sentiment that our pets are like our children. I see them as elders and Honey optimized that assertion. She presided over every aspect of our lives. Every important moment she was there, right by our side through it all.
My godfather Mike was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) when I was young. I don’t know how old exactly, or how long he suffered before succumbing to the illness when I was nine.
He had given my parents strict orders that I was not to know he was sick. I think he recognized my anxiety issues and wanted to enjoy me being my usual precocious self, in his final years.
I had no idea that he was dying till he passed on the 4th of July, 1992. Gaining his independence from a body that could no longer contain such a bright soul.
The disease slowly robbed his muscles of their strength and during the last year of his life, he had be assisted full time to meet his daily needs.
All I knew was that he was sitting down more and we were spending a lot more weekends visiting him at his house in Los Gatos instead of the adventures and trips that normally occupied our Saturdays and Sundays.
For months his house was filled to the brim with friends, helping out with what they could or just being present for Mike.
I still remember clearly the last time I saw him. I didn’t know it would be the last day I would ever spend with him.
He had known it was.
It was becoming very difficult for him to speak. Soon it was going to be obvious that something was VERY wrong and he didn’t want me to see him like that. We spent to whole day watching videos of Cirque De Sole, something that I just adored.
He sat with me.
Eating fresh sliced tomatoes from his garden topped with garlic salt. I still remember my first bite of that simple pleasure, it was a revelation. The smell of the garlic wafting from the plate had me thinking I was going to hate this odd snack.
Mike just smiled and handed me one of the smaller deep red slices of fruit. “First try it, Em. Then decide.” The flavor exploded as I bit down, salty and sweet simultaneously smelling of savory garlic and fresh tomato.
I was hooked.
More then a decade ago, this picture was taken. I was a line cook on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf in a high-end Mexican restaurant. I would come in first thing in the morning, prep for the day, work the line at lunch and stay through the dinner rush.
Anyday I was not in school, I was there.
Holidays were no exception and as a result, I decided one Easter Sunday to surprise my coworkers with an Easter egg hunt.
I shopped and stuffed colorful eggs, came in early and went nuts. I did a pretty good job. The closing bartender even found one that had been over looked by everyone else at the end of her shift. I made everyones’ day a little happier.
I told myself I did this not expecting any thanks or reciprocity.
It would appear that blogs however; will wait, just as they were for this woman. Especially when you neglect them completely. Thank god it is not one of the things in my life that requires daily feeding!
This has been the longest I have gone without posting since this blog’s scattered conception years ago. My reasons are hardly noteworthy. Life needed living and something had to fall by the wayside. That ‘something’ was maintaining this record of deeds and thoughts. There has been no juicy personal upheaval to report, or major life changes. There has been a lot of writing, but none of it cohesive enough to share.
I have approached this update like I make soup. A rough chop of everything in one pot on high heat. There is no graceful way to start- so here goes.
The election gave me writers block. Not because I was surprised. I am well aware of our society’s ability to confuse reality Tv with reality. I have always thought about the world in my own way, judging it by my personal criteria. I hold dirt and plants in the highest regard. It is not a shock that our society could have gotten so lost when we have passed the recent decades exulting people for how they look and what they say, rather than the objective results of their deeds and how they treat the beings around them.
It felt disingenuous to post things about the homestead when there was this ominous threat to all the things that we hold dear. I did lots of writing on the topic but none of it is worth sharing.
As usual it was the homestead that gave me the perspective I needed to move forward.
This winter; I often mused about the critters, so blithely unaffected by the state of the nation. I found a great comfort in their priorities: food, sleep, play. The daily chores and responsibilities have been unaffected by all the madness. Winter was harsh for environmental reasons. Record snow fall was hard on the animals. We lost more than a few birds. It hit the ducks hardest, who I find ill suited for overwintering. Aside from that, most of the inhabitants here are healthy and well.
We added bees back into the mix and it has been really nice to have their music about the yard.
I made the rash decision to get more chickens and subsequently guinee fowl. I was provided with nothing more for motivation than a yellow order sheet that had “Cuckoo Marans” on the top next to a cute little box where you just write in how many you want. A little further down there were Araucanas and below them a straight run (not sexed) of guinea fowl.
There was a gray spot in my memory and when I got back in the car I called my (ever so patient) husband and told him that I had finally found Marans! (They lay a dark brown egg and I have wanted them for some time now.) I told him “don’t worry I only got six…of those.”
I wrote this on the plane ride of the first visit back home, almost seven years ago. I found it recently and was please that my younger self had left such a good reminder of what to focus on as I pass farther along this path that lead me to the opposite side of the world and a place I never intended to call home.
Thanks younger me, I will try to make us both proud.
I mentioned earlier, that having the chickens and ducks outside the front door has been pretty awesome. Most of the time everyone gets along well and this is the first winter in years I have not been running two different coops.
They get along well but competition for food is fierce. The ducks are like wide mouthed vacuums and the precise beaks of the chickens just can’t keep up. Recently, the chickens have realized that they might have small mouths but their bodies are not too heavy for flight.
The ducks try to fly but fail. As they are of Rouen ancestry and far too heavily to manage much more than a tippy-toe-run with wings going full force. That situation has given us this next bit of footage.
I wrote this post some time ago now, and I did more than hesitate to post it. In fact, I almost didn’t at all.
This is because my reproductive health is no one’s business!
After a time, I was compelled to speak out on behalf of an organization that had given me the greatest gift in the world, options.
For those people who have never been to Planned Parenthood allow me to share my experiences, I hope they can be received with open ears. I think I am qualified to write on this topic because I have been a patient with them my whole adult life.
No, this does not mean that I have had STDs or abortions; it MEANS that (because of the services I has access to) I avoided both of these sophomoric pitfalls. Nor does it mean that I have been a healthcare freeloader. I have always been employed and thus; declared my income, then paid for my services (on the sliding scale the PP provides) or gone through my insurance.
When I made the decision to be sexually active I felt it of the utmost importance that I take responsibility for that choice, alone. In fact, I reasoned that if I was incapable of taking on that obligation I was in no way ready for such a life altering decision.
Planned Parenthood gave me that resource.
But this story of womans health and reproductive services didn’t start with a teenage girl in the 90’s. The road has been long and it reaches back to ancient times.
If we go back before christianity to the pagan era, men and womans’ part in reproduction were equally respected. The feminine form was exulted for its powerful life-giving abilities. Women had choices, those choices were private and respected. There were wise people, midwives, shamans and priestesses who provided women’s services to the population. From basic feminine needs and medical care, pregnancy, contraception and yes, even abortion.
The advent of christianity rendered wise woman, witches and the old ways, devil’s work. A women was either a virgin, a mother or a whore. The concept of the of the sacred feminine was taken from us and we were left with the archetype of the virgin mother with no healthcare to help us in this unachievable goal. Our resources and knowledge were declared heresy and the punishment for non-conformity was often violence or death.
Centuries passed and still women didn’t regain our basic human rights. A woman, and all the abilities contained within her body and mind were the possession of others. First; her family- where (when she she came of breeding age) was sold like chattel. She was then the property of her husband and after that- her male children.
I hope we are at a place in this discourse where we can acknowledge that women have been second class citizens for most of the modern age. We are not bought and sold anymore but we have yet to achieve true equality. There are other groups in America that also suffer from the inequalities of a predominately white patriarchical system. These are the populations who utilize the services Planned Parenthood provides.
Planned Parenthood is not just a womans resource they serve all of those members of our community that would otherwise go without medical treatment of any kind. It is true that I saw many immigrant workers and their families in those endless waiting room hours. Many times; I had shared the room with older, painfully red eyed men but I never realized why they were there. Amongst all the bilingual posters and notices on the walls, there was one that was only posted in Spanish. It was a small 8.5 x11 print out with big implications. It said:
They were nice enough to invite me to play again this year in the One a Week Photo Challenge. This week’s (probably actually last week’s, given my record) prompt is ceiling.
This coincided with another snow storm at the homestead and a paradoxical observation.
As the sun rises on this strange new world I wonder, what can I do?
I want not to feel this ache.
This void inside that I do not command,
that it seems I can’t even touch or influence in the slightest way.
I feel thin, spread over so much that it s like not being there at all.
My heart and mind are at odds with reality.
I don’t know how to fix it.
We often don’t question who made the path we walk, until we reach its end.
By then; who and why, may seem like more important questions.
I will continue to make my own road and walk in my own way.
I will be kind to everything, everyday.
I will love all forms of life, the earth and the dirt we all rely on.
I will breath through my anger.
Fear is the valley that catches hate.
It can stain landscape.
Blaming the blameless and multiplying suffering for all.
Breath is the wind that clears it out.
Practicing love, gives us wings to see that all those chasms and deep caves; are actually very small when you can fly above them.
If you have wings, they don’t matter at all.
A journey that could take days on foot; through country that bites and scars, might only last a pleasant hour from the air.
It does not due to be kind, only when faced with kindness.
It only matters when we would be justified in lashing out- and don’t.
We cannot relate to one another outside of the experiences that make up each individual life.
If someone has never experienced flight, you can’t tell them how much happier it would make them.
Words are empty without feeling behind them.
Some people must be shown what it looks like to step off the rim of the valley of hatred and soar above it.
We all must make the choice to try it for ourselves.
Above all remember:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Last month, marked three years since my dad passed. In my meditations of him I came across a memory. Our family’s version of a holiday story; about a time when he poked me, I hit him and we both learned an important lesson about the world we lived in.
I recalled writing about it years before and with a little searching, found it.
“When I was 11 or so my dad and I were doing some Christmas shopping. We were walking and talking while put my hair up in a ponytail. As a joke, he poked me in the ribs and made me jump (one of my least favorite things.) I in turn, spun on him and slugged him HARD in the upper arm.
A childhood of mountain-girl-games and running with the boys meant that I could hit quite hard. Even though I pulled the punch at the last second, his arm hurt the whole way home and he let me know it the entire way.
I told him I was “sorry” but that it was a “reflex” to hit those that poke me (by that time none of my peers would have perpetrated any similar act for fear of reprisal.) He replied that “a reflex is a reaction that you do not control and even though it had become a habit in my life I DID have control over it.”
I made the choice; albeit a quick one, to hit him. His actions did not MAKE me do it. I choose to.
I met a young man this morning, staring out of my stepson’s eyes.
When had they started looking so wise?!
What happened I can not say, only that I know for sure it was different yesterday.
Had that been last week?
Maybe the one before?
Hard to tell which way is up or down anymore.
A glance had been all it took for me to see; all the time that has passed since “I” became “we.”
He looked me a question; so I smiled instead, opened my arms and kissed his head.
We stood there in the morning light of a day that would bring another night.
Another chance for him to grow.
That much closer to the time we will have to let him go.
It is an honor to watch him change.
It won’t be till he sees his kin grow up in front of him- that he will understand the feelings behind my sad grin.
I met a man in my kitchen today, who showed me how to be a better me each day.
There area a great many beautiful places in the world and I feel very blessed to have lived in two of them. I will always be partial to my home landscape, rough mountains covered in ancient ents that dive into the sea. Winter brings a still calm to the fields and forests of Maine that is hard to ignore.
The light gets a blank canvas to show off its simple beauty. Like the sunset on a corn field, through velvet sumac.
For me, the snow helps to render the creations of man much more palatable. The combination of structure, snow and moon make it hard not to feel the magic of the ‘White Christmas’ experience.
I will always prefer country to town but it is good to see a glimpse of that raw elegance in the land of man as the moon peaks out from the sunset.
“Satisfactory,”as my dad would say.
Happy holidays from the frozen north. Be well and stay warm!
The normal cycle of snow, melt, snow, repeat– skipped us this year and we have entered the frozen season with no dress rehearsal. Barring some serious weirdness, the snow that has fallen over the last week will remain till spring.
I have come to appreciated the frozen winter, so different from the wet ones I knew growing up. During a snow storm everything stops. The critters hunker down and everyone waits for the world to be covered and then cleared.
I have always had the unquenchable desire to create stuff. Pretty much anything will do for materials, I can sculpt, draw, paint, weave, sew, and when all else fails I will completely make things up but there is nothing that I have ever done that even approaches what I see outside on any given morning.
From the sunrise; to ice crystals dancing across a puddle, there is not much in nature that doesn’t get my undivided attention.
Last week as I drove into work, I saw a shinning spot off to the left in the woods. I got closer and saw that it was the overflow from the snowmakers, shooting out into the woods and freezing on the foliage near by.
Each plant, a creation of the elements and time.
Anghiari, Italy to be exact.
This was recently posted by a friend of my father’s.
Found a place I thought he’d like. Lots going on. Fireflies in June so bright you don’t need a flashlight. So many frogs you can’t hear yourself think. Wild boar families running around with babies. Deer. Porcupines. And loads of men, none of them with that haunted, frightened look we see so often elsewhere. Seeming to always be having the time of their lives… galloping across the fields on horses, driving tractors, hunting, working in the fields. And I’ll visit daily to talk things over.- NF
Today, three years after his death his travels are not over yet.
We were on a mission to find post-Thanksgiving donuts to round out our holiday gluttony.
As we passed the lake; I saw that it was on the cusp of solidity, a magical phase that only lasts a few days.
“You guys want to stop and try to break the lake ice?”
“Yahhh!!!!” A few minutes later we parked, donuts in hand and began a simple activity that could consume our entire day if we let it. There are no rules, expect to make sure everyone is out of the way of your attempts. We used stones. And sticks. I supervised and walked the shore looking at all the little frozen moments in time. Absently thinking my dad would get a kick out of them and I should take pictures for him.
He loved bearing witness to nature’s fleeting singularities.
Experiences that you have to seek out or seize when the opportunity arises. The transitory stages of life and nature that stop for no one.
To anyone who has followed my posts (especially my nail polish rant last winter ) it should be pretty apparent that I am not a huge fan of society in general and popular culture in particular.
It is one of the reasons I love living in rural Maine. Why we have chickens instead of cable (we call this “red neck tv.”)
For me, one of the most difficult things about growing up a female in Western culture is the constant dicodimous nature of claiming your femininity without giving up your womanhood.
I have dispised the term “girl power” since its spicy inception in my pre-teen years. I can’t think of a more potent example of the contrary attitude toward girls in our nation and the world.
I am not a girl.
I have not been a girl since I was 12, when my body matured and I was biologically thrust into womanhood.
The topic of my own femininity has always been openly discussed, questioned, judged or blatantly denied.
I was, am (and will continue to be) what most people call a “tom boy.” In elementary school I ran with the boys, playing their games and beating them. By 3rd grade I was a top pick in any recess game. By 6th grade I could beat everyone in the school at arm wrestling (except one boy, who was already 6 foot.)
These abilities carried repercussions. I was often accused of being a “dyke” or that I “wanted to be a boy” along with many other unflattering presumptions.
I have spent my life working in kitchens where my skills were constantly questioned and tested by my coworkers. I have been sexually assaulted or harassed more times than I can count but my reactions were far from ladylike and made it clear that I would take no shit of any kind. In a room full of knifes and fire it is not a hard thing to do (nor was any of it HR appropriate or politically correct.)
Other women who work in kitchens will know exactly what I mean.
One time a co-worker put my share of the tips on his lap and with a grin invited me to “get them.” I grabbed the nearest knife and told him to “hold still,” while I used it as a spatula. I got my tips and we became good friends. He never did it again and actively warned others about the dangers of trying it for themselves.
The hazing usually lasted until we had a busy service. Then they tended to shut up and stay out of my way because I am damn good at what I do.
I think the problem for females begins early. Boys and girls learn how to be flirtatious, something too few women realize is not the best trait if you want to have health happy relationships with men- not based on physicality.
There is nothing hidden about the changing of the seasons in New England. The constant transition happens all around. Everything out in the open, there to see if you take the time to look.
The fields that line my commute are daily reminders that the land’s harvest is temporary by nature. Backroads are packed with all sorts of medicinal offerings but timing is everything.
Many herbs are most potent when gathered right before they flower. When all the plant’s energy is gathering for the display of its life.
This year, I became aware of the tremendous amount of St. John’s Wart along my morning migration. Collection of Ghost Plant, Plantain, Rose, Wintergreen, Chaga, Yarrow and Mullen where already part of my yearly tincture efforts. There is a short window to locate and harvest these gifts before they pass their prime for extraction or drying.
Most of these interactions result in tinctures that resemble the color of the plant, at time of harvest.
The above Yarrow tincture was dark green by week’s end.
There are two spectacular exceptions: Ghost Plant and St. John’s Wart.
St. John’s Wart is a beautiful yellow flowered plant, it loves gravelly open areas with abundant sun. Often used to help with depression, it has many other applications. The flowers are photosensitive and must be picked before they open or the following magic will not be as strong.
When the plant is mashed and added to alcohol or oil an impressive reaction takes place. At first, it is a pink/orange but this hue darkens.
Within hours it has obtained this incredible shade of blood red.
Autumn in New England is a grand thing.
The cold nights drive the bugs back to the depths of the hienus hell bogs from whence they came.
That in itself, would be reason to celebrate but as an added bonus (or just nature’s apology for the summer’s unreasonable humidity,) the mountains and valleys transform into living stained glass.
Thousands of words have been composed, typed and published in an effort to describe the beauty of a fall forest.
It is etherial. A living church window.
I feel this inescapable need to capture some bit of the breathtaking display and make a little piece of it mine.
Even the lakes are not immune to the compulsion.
Though it is quite possible, they just happened to be there.
Everyday on my drive I think; “I should take a picture of (insert name for special tree here) soon. Tomorrow maybe…”
“It’s not ready yet.” Then, the wind takes half of it away and I think, “I should have done it yesterday.”
Even when you pick the perfect day for that particular tree, there is no way to capture the magnificence of a backwoods autumn in anything less than itself.
However, I lack the good sense to stop trying.
Sometime in June I blinked, and BLAMO! It’s October.
The homestead vegetation has been unaffected by my lack of record keeping.
Our fence worked wonders for the vegetable production this year! It is amazing (not really) what keeping the chickens and sheep away from the garden did for yield.
We managed to plant the garden almost entirely from our last year’s seed stock. Our selection was limited to things that would produce a product we would actually eat over the winter.
It is not all for consumption, I like the perennial bulbs for show. No work and flowers every year.
There were some Irises already here when we bought the house but have trippled in size. They are the first to bloom. A welcome beginning to the growing season.
Border Lilies and Day Lilies showed off nicely this year.
The Easter Lilies have the most intoxicating fragrance. I wish they bloomed all summer long!
For food production we settled on a few staples:
Beans- Scarlet Runners, Black beans and Soy
Popcorn- Dakota Black
Medicinal Herbs- Yarrow, St Johns Wart, Plantain, Comfrey, Calendula (there will be a separate post on tincture making when I get my head out from up my…)
The Scarlet Runner beans have the added bonus of being beautiful. I love the color and humming birds they add to the yard.
Drained and tired,
I started the car and pointed it south.
Clocked out and homeward bound.
The day’s events rolled around my head,
a tango of worry and stress.
My music played with no-one listening to it.
I had no room for the lovely sounds, only the voices of tasks not yet done.
Rounding the corner, the moon silenced all but the radio.
When you are a student, the word summer is synonyms with freedom. At least it was for me. My last day of Kindergarten I thought, “Ok, cool. That was fun. Thank god it’s over! Back to real life.”
Then came the next fall’s rude awakening; this whole ‘school thing’ was no glitch.
Apparently, it was going to be a serious issue for the next 12 (+4=16?!) years. Surely there has been some mistake!!!
The last day of first grade I got it. The proper pronunciation is:
The end to school work and early mornings. No more school lunches, tests, assemblies and time enforced outdoor play. Summer was here! Fast forward a few decades, to me picking the boys up for the first week of their summer break. You could see the excitement of summer baking off of them.
“I don’t have to go back to school for weeks and weeks and WEEKS!!!”
For adults working in the hospitality field (like their dad and me) summer means- working everyone elses’ vacation. Many days we are overwhelmed by the sheer number of people all cramming into one space demanding perfectly rendered services. Sometimes we do it proficiently and go home walking on air. Nothing compares to the feeling of having done something difficult, well.
Like finishing the school year with good marks and a fresh start in the fall.
Those two sides of that coin combined one magical day this early this summer when we went to Step Falls. I had to work but we got a room at the hotel and I was able to close the restaurant, go up stairs, sleep and make it to the 6am breakfast shift without a 3 hour drive in-between. It was really nice.
Our northern location allowed us to get to the falls much sooner in the day than if we had left from home. It is beautiful.
I mean literally.
My figurative ducks are all over the place! However, I have found that actual ducks are easy to get in a row. Step 1: Put down a line of food… that pretty much does the trick.
Fun fact: it works for chickens too.
It is a moving, quacking, squawking row; but a row none the less. You may recall from my earlier posts, that this year we were “NOT going to get anymore animals.” Instead, we wanted to focus on keeping the ones we have:
B) Out of the garden. Then, we might have a chance at a fall vegetable harvest.
I made the decision to take the chicks from the broody-dragon-fowl, based on the ladies’ first attempt at duckling care.
We had a pretty good showing. With all the eggs now gone (!) we have 11 new ducks. For about two weeks, I didn’t sleep more that a couple hours at a time. When they are first born they are so fragile.
I was constantly getting up the check the newborns in the other room or out to the nest to see if any new ones had hatched. They defiantly seemed to favor night time. It was weird; or on purpose, and they are already trying to break me.
My life was a constant judgment of different levels of peeping. Some mean- “I’m alive! Yeh!” Those ones are good.
Others are- “help me I’m F^@ked!!! i’m going to die very soon if no one gets me out of here!” those ones were the reason for my lack of sleep.
This summer has been a whirlwind. Work fills my days + the homestead and boys fill the days off. It has been difficult to find time to breath, never mind write anything coherent or take any pictures.
With a few dozen employs and a hefty commute, it seems like I am always in-between one thing and another.
Consequently, I feel like I am always thinking about the place I am not currently occupying. It can be maddening.
I believe that a great deal of the pressure in my day to day life is created and contained in myself. A universe of “I should.” “I can’t stop now,” and “I must do more.” Often instead of motivating me; these thoughts can stifle my will to start anything around the house, no art, no sewing, no crafts, no cooking adventures, no writing… you get the idea.
There is so much to do and that constant nagging voice that assures me that even if I make an attempt at whatever it is, that my efforts will not be good enough.
I should just save myself the time, watch some TV and rest.
This is a false voice, one that is incapable of having my best interests at heart. It is the selfish, lazy, small me and I don’t feel bad ignoring it. There is story (I don’t know how well known it is) about an old man walking down the beach, it goes like this:
One day, as the old man was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,
“It made a difference for that one.”
― Loren Eiseley
Doing what you can is enough.
This week is my birthday and yesterday I got the most amazing gift I have ever received.
We have a tradition of handmade gifts here on the homestead. Money is always tight and gifts are usually better when thought and effort create them, rather than a factory somewhere out there.
I had to work but when I came home all the boys were on the deck with flashlights.
When I got closer they all shined them on a wooden box laying across a couple pallets in the garden.
It was a cabinet they had made from start to finish in ONE DAY, varnish now drying in the hot night.
Months ago, when I was asked the age old question “what would you like for your birthday?” I had responded that it would be nice to have a place to keep all the tinctures and herbs I had been collecting over the summer.
My current arrangement was overflowing with mason jars and I mused wistfully about the cabinet I had back in Ca. that we had to leave behind.
I did not expect such a response.
My hands were grabbed and I was lead to it; excited voices talking over each other, explaining all the things that I needed to understand about their project.
The thought that went in to each aspect was astounding. They picked out every board specifically because it’s markings.
This one because it looks like a mushroom. “And you LOVE mushrooms.”
… of ducks and women often go awry.
This spring, we decided NOT to add anything to the menagerie. Then our ducks went ahead and veto that decision. Of course, it is my fault for letting them sit on the eggs but if you have ever encountered a broody duck you will have some clue as to my passivity in the matter.
They turn into hissing, biting (mine had done no such thing prior) puffed-up taint smears. Hell-bent on guarding their stash of orbs. There is no reasoning with them. After a couple weeks of contentious egg theft and consequent daily berating, I relented.
I was additionally motivated by the fact that my first two broody ladies were also injured. Both started limping badly about 2 months ago (I think they may have been stepped on by sheep while trying to feltch sheep feed) and so I had been keeping them inside the shed and feeding them Ibprophine, anti-inflamitory, antibiotic herb laced feed everyday. When they started refusing to leave the nest in order to sit on eggs; I thought it was perfect.
At first, I was marking eggs and taking the new ones but this become a daily battle with an inflated (limping) pissed off duck kraken, who would then follow me around hissing and nipping at my heals when I turned my back. After a couple times walking through the yard backward; I was totally over it!
“Fine!! Keep them! See if I care!”
(Side note: don’t judge me. Arguments with the critters are frequent ’round these parts. Points are fiercely debated. I wish I could say the blatting and squawking is one-sided but that would be a lie. I might have arguments with animals but I’m no liar.)
The sun warmed my face and the sandy wind stung my skin all at the same time, I tasted salt and inhaled the sea. The surf resounded inside my head like empty sea shell waiting for new purpose. The feeling of home these things inspire is overpowering.
It is not attached to a structure but rather a world of sights and sounds, smells and tastes that assure me I belong in them. That we all belong to one another. My place here is secure, familiar yet still exciting and changing with each new discovery.
My sand covered sister sits with our mom making kingdoms out of seaweed and shells while my dad is not much more than a tiny spec out to sea, riding the waves back and forth.
In and out, straining to paddle through the shore brake only to abandon all that progress toward Hawaii and let the ocean carry him back, so that he can turn around and do it again.
Most of my early memories are of secluded beaches and rugged coast lines where two cars in the pullout at the top of the cliff constituted unacceptable crowding. Unless they are your buds, then only unacceptable outcome is not having enough ‘breakfast cylinders’ for the expedition. I was fortunate enough to grow up believing that my childhood was the way all childhoods should be.
My sister and I like to say that we were raised by a pack of rabid surfers and hippies in secret places along the California coast. Team Squeam and the subsequent band “The Membranes” was comprised of a few core people but included whoever happened to be at any gathering or event. My godfather Michael (Mike,) Sara’s god parents Todd and Alison, Alison’s brother Gavan, Tom, his wife Stephanie and our mom and dad were the charter members.
Steamer Lane is an epic break in Santa Cruz. Home to many a surfing contest and the highlight of surf films old and new. I leaned how to surf at the next beach down (Cowells) when I was a girl.
The Lane has always been part of my life’s landscape. One of the few definite touchstones. My dad used to say it was one of the “classiest lineups in the world, because if you jump off the cliff past the lighthouse you can get into the break with your hair still dry.”
Some wonderful friends of his added a burl to the collection of memorials that have gathered at the top of the stairs.
Right next to the rules of the wave. A very fitting place.
He can see the lineup and watch the riders as he did in life.
I have managed to maintain my cherub like demeanor pretty well these past couple weeks. I felt accomplished to be so at peace with beginning the LONG process of placing my dad’s ashes. His birthday was last Monday and until today I was holding up REALLY well.
Two days ago, I was thinking it was nice to find myself in a place of true acceptance and joy while dealing with this next step in the grieving process. Even in the writing of our deeds; I was light but today seemed very dark in spite of the bright summer morning.
It is the oddest things that set me off.
Just when I think I’m at the top of the mountain; able to appreciate the full expanse of my pain from a high place; I step backward to take in the beauty of the scene and my back hits another cliff. A place obscured by mist from the base of the climb.
Today’s grief was brought on by listening to The Shining for the umpteenth time. The epilogue to the Torrance family’s trauma; finds six year old Danny grieving his father on a dock in Maine, with Dick Hallorann. Dick tells him:
“The tears that heal are also the tears that scald and scourge.”
Driving in early to work on Father’s Day I was overwhelmed with the notion and could not stop crying.
The day before had been so wonderful, spending time with the boys celebrating their own dad. We went to a lake near our house that is on a beaten path.
I have spent the last two years processing my own dad’s death. Publicly and privately. Fatherhood has been constantly on my mind.
His birthday was always around (and even some years ON) Father’s Day and so the day has always seemed custom made for him.
But for this fathers day I will mark the event with a tribute to the dad I live with.
My husband is one of most amazing, devoted, competent, outstanding examples of fatherhood that I have ever witnessed. He outshines my own father in many respects and I know my dad would not hesitate to agree with me (in fact I think may have been his assertion to start with) as would anyone who knows the history of my husband’s fatherhood.
Not many men know how to deal with small babies. Most (including my own) are not comfortable with care taking their young till they can walk and talk.
This is not the case with my love. He can intuit the wants of an infant with ease. Just like he knows just what the garden needs to thrive.
The ferns back home are awesome!
‘Nuf said 🙂
My sister and I were raised by a rabid surfing gang referred to by its members as Team Squeam. Our parents were the only ones in this group of free spirited hippy surfers, to have children. Since there were only the two of us; it was easy to hand us down cliffside or piggyback us up to the lookouts over rough terrain.
We went everywhere the team went (after all we were members from birth,) always under the watchful eye of our mom.
Our god parents; T and A were the go-to adults for an extra set of hands to hold when we were out camping or horsing around. There was a lot of horsing around.
My dad taught us from an early age the proper procedure when going see Todd and Alison was to jump up and down yelling loudly;”Yahh we are get to see T and A!!!”
I was well into middle school before I realized that the phrase “T and A” normally referred to something other than our god parents. It better explained the grin on my dad’s face when my sister and I would loudly proclaim our excitement, especially in public.
The team camped down in Big Sur every couple months; taking over the group campsite with all sorts of shenanigans, surfing, spear fishing, hang gliding and more than once- ladder burning.
I grew up hiking EVERYWHERE. If there were no waves, there were always trails.
Through fields, down cliff to the ocean or up endless mountains covered by giant Redwoods. Often past signs that read “No Trespassing,” all in search of the places where you can plainly see the finger print of god.
As a child; I went blithely after the adults trusting that there was a plan, a path and that everything would be ok. In hindsight I can appreciate how amazing it is that nothing ever went too terribly wrong. In the time before cell phones my clan was relatively fearless in our exploration of California.
This practice has taken me to some of the most remote and breathtaking places. It was in the spirit of ‘the hike’ that my mom and I set off to scatter some of my dad at the top of Big Basin in a secret spot that overlooks the whole park and you can see right down to the ocean.
We set key to lock, and entered the underworld domaine of my father. A place of endless possibilities and combinations. Here, we would find the tools to begin my dad’s final trip.
My mom got to work covering the table and preparing our workspace for this rather ghoulish task. I waded through endless drifts of stuff, exploring his possessions.
You never know what you will find in this depository of things my dad had accrued. Like this stopped hour glass, that I found to be rather profound given our current task.
We could not think of a more apt place in which to divvy up his ashes and so we didn’t try. Rather; we accepted that after more than two years, it was well past the time to get this show on the road.
We were fortunate to have such a clear idea of how Dennis wanted his earthly remains to be handled. First and foremost, we were told to have fun. He always said not to be sad when he was gone. He had done his best with the time he had. There is immeasurable comfort knowing that he felt this way decades before his passing.
We knew that he had no qualms about being split up and passed around. Even in death he was willing to make new friends and visit new places. The first step down this road necessitated that we physically divide what was left of him. I had no problem preforming this task.
Death rituals around the world and through the ages, are as varied as a wild spring meadow. Some are rooted in long standing tradition and ceremony; others are unique and individual. I will let you guess which type this one will be.
We prepared our workspace.
Spring forests in New England are amazing to behold. Bright green leaves are born of twig tips and explode to blot out the sun from the forest floor. The ground darkens and it seems like all in one week, you can no longer see the forest through the trees.
I love to watch everything recover from its winter state. As the new leaves fill the space above our heads; it is easy to forget that just as much is happening below our feet. Protected by layers of spring leaves past, things are thriving getting ready to make their entrance into the dappled sun shine.
Ghost Plant is one of these pilgrims I have taken to observing in these early stages of growth. By locating last year’s remnant,
I can carefully pull back the decaying layers of detritus and find the hope of a new harvest below. This is my entry for the prompt ‘layer.’
That I would eat candy all day, even the kind that would stain my tongue bright “colors not found in nature.”
That I would watch daytime TV to my heart’s content.
I would never do the dishes. Well ok , maybe once a week.
And I would eat Marie Calendar chicken pot pies every night instead of making a balanced meal from scratch.
I would do all of this because I would FINALLY not have my mom looking over my shoulder. Ceaselessly making sure I did the ‘right thing.’
Now as I look around our home, the TV is off, dishes are washed (but admittedly not put away).
The boy’s easter baskets contained mostly seeds to plant and gardening tools. Oh, they got some chocolate and candy but none that stained their tongs neon blue.
There is not a single thing in our refrigerator that is pre-made, dinner tonight and every night will require cooking.
My mother was not strict. She was absolute. She demonstrated daily all the things she believed in.
When she said “no” she meant it.
She only changed her mind once that I can remember-
The summer I turned 15, a friend called me and asked if I would be interested in bussing with her at the Italian restaurant in town called “Silvesterie’s.”
Bob, the owner and Executive Chef was a Sicilian man with deeply sunken dark-rimed eyes and a Burt Remolds mustache. He had been a sniper in the Marines and a professional chef ever since.
His food was good. I mean really good.
His standards of service were high and he was passionate about his guests’ dinning experience.
It was not his skills in the kitchen or his back office accounting that sealed his fate. It was his skills at the bar down the street that lead to his death and the eventual closing of Silvesterie’s.
My first day, I was faced with this tired beaten looking man. He gave the distinct silhouette of being in his third trimester of pregnancy- though that couldn’t be.
Except for the ‘not baby bump’ he was a slim man. He seemed to lumber when he walked like each step was a tremendous effort. He looked me up and down and told me that next time I came in; I needed to iron my shirt much better.
He explained in no uncertain terms that this was a serious job. I was to arrive on time and ready to work, immediately.
I was to look presentable and leave any problems I was having at home, there. He was in no way interested in my teen angst.
He explained that by being “on time” he meant at least five minutes early. Any missed shift would result in instant termination. In these four walls HE was the king and anything that I was told or taught was to be treated like holy law.
After about ten minutes of hearing all the ways it was possible to loose my new found job; I was tuned over to the head waitress, Jan.
She was a beautiful tall woman who looked like a ballerina. An impression accentuated by the way she wore her long red hair- pinned in a bun on top of her head.
She looked at my face and giggled a bit. I can only imagine the expression I must have had after such a warm welcome by the management.
She cooed “he is not that bad. Plus it’s easy. Just stick with me, I’ll take care of you.” She was a true service professional. One of those people that knows it is not a job but an attitude towards life.
That first day I was shown how to cut the bread and fold the napkin in the basket over perfectly.
How to pour the oil and vinegar so that the dark liquid pools at the base of the garlic- neatly surrounded by the oil. More importantly I leaned how to make them in such a way so that you don’t spill oil all over the table cloth or your diners.
As time went on and with the constant help of Jan, I came to love the fast paced precision that was necessary to complete a busy dinner service smoothly.
It was not easy.
Bob was militant about the way everything should be done. The slightest infraction often resulted in a torrent of profanities coming from the kitchen. We managed to have a new person somewhere in the mix every month and it was often better not to ask right away what happened to the former coworker.
The restaurant was pretty busy during the weekend with every seat occupied at least once. For a large upscale restaurant in a small town this was an achievement. On nights like that- getting everything done required no mistakes. If the floor (dinning room) was not properly prepped it would quickly descend into a living hell.
At the end of the night you were handed a wad of cash. It always looked huge, accentuated but he fact that bussers usually get all the small bills.
When I started, Bob looked swollen because- he was.
He had been recently told by a doctor that if he did not instantly reduce and then stop his consumption of alcohol his swelling organs would shut down and he would die.
Jan was a recovering alcoholic, sober 20 years. Her and him often clashed about his drinking. They had an intense relationship; one that could result in shouting matches before she had finished her night’s paper work.
A midnight tryst on top of a table in the back room.
It was always hard to tell which one it would be on any given night.
With Jan’s help over the next few months Bob had actually managed to stop drinking entirely.
His belly shrunk and though he still took his nightly stroll down to Joe’s Bar he was actually able to drink only cranberry juice. Sadly, his progress did not last. By the same time the following year his cranberry juice became light again, with vodka.
One day our dishwasher didn’t show. While cutting bread in the kitchen Bob asked my if I would be interested in a few dishwashing shifts.
I jumped at the chance, “did I ever!!” It paid more; even though the tips were less, but most importantly I didn’t have to iron my shirt and I got to hang out in the kitchen.
I had decided early in my employment that it looked like a lot more fun back there. Plus I love the idea of learning more about food.
I got to play in hot sudsy water and I had no problem being elbow deep in other peoples’ leftovers.
I really wanted to cook on the line. Anytime the prepcook took a smoke break and tickets came back, I would jump in. Pull everything out for the order before anyone else could beat me to it.
I watched closely to every little detail of each dish’s preparation so that I could preform any part of the process without needing to be told how.
I LOVED how complicated it was. How many little things are involved so that food hits the table at the same time- with each selection perfectly executed.
I appreciated the amount of tasks that had to be preformed in order to accomplish this goal. It involved playing with sharp knifes, fire and ended in amazing food. What could be better?!
Bob saw this passion in me, he liked me and my desire to learn. Our relationship over the years was of the apprentice- craftsman verity. He taught me a great many things. It was not easy. Him liking me didn’t result in any slack. He was a demanding, tough man to work for, drunk or sober.
I still laugh when people who work in offices talk about how well they have learned to multi task.
A fax doesn’t burn if you leave it in the tray for a minute too long, making all your other paperwork invalid and necessitating starting everything over again.
The immediacy and perfect execution of each action necessary to pull off technically perfect food is a challenge I have spent my whole life trying to accomplish.
The fact remains; that you have to be more than a little crazy to want to pass your time in a sweltering box, covered in food, stressing over filets that NEED to go out within the two minutes when they are perfectly rested.
Kitchens were no place for girls either. I have been a novelty in almost every kitchen I have ever worked in.
Kitchen humor is of the black, gallows varity. Resulting from the fact that most of your days start with your hands wrist deep in one animal carcass or another.