Ground Zero

Sometimes nature inspires me beyond words.
Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish

Today I’m grateful for my wandering spirit. I’ve been an explorer all my life. Countless trees climbed, tunnels discovered, and forts built from salvaged Christmas trees. From this life I will take many rewards for my curious streak. I’ve witnessed some magnificent things. Images of nature’s miracles fill my memory. Last night’s sunset was no exception.

I confess I’ve been avoiding my blog. I have no excuse except that I’m a stubborn perfectionist with hedonistic tendencies, which makes for a marvelous procrastinator’s soup.

It had rained intermittently all day, with slices of  blue sky teasing us as we drove south to Santa Cruz. Our waning Indian Summer bellowed its last gasps while autumn tiptoed in softly, announcing itself with gentle sprinkles and gray skies. As the sun began to set, I noticed waterfalls of light coming from folds in the clouds. It was one of those priceless moments and without hesitation we pulled the car over to watch the spectacle.

I often seem to miss having my good camera with me when I need it, so I was relieved to find the pocket one I carry around to capture the unfolding moments of beauty. I knew my camera’s eye could never compare to my own, but I was moved to try to capture even one glorious photograph, even if it could never be perfect.

Time stood still and we were in the perfect spot. With no time crunches to challenge us, and Friday afternoon traffic holding us to the well-known back roads, we were free to stand in awe of the sun’s glorious light and its evening dance with the clouds.

As I stood there, I promised to let go of my self-serving perfectionism and allow my flaws to help create my art. The sun’s stunning beam answered with warm compassion. Heavy clouds and the dull gray hue of the sky threatened to destroy a perfectly good sunset, but the sun prevailed, using only what it had – a simple crack, a slice, a sliver. Through that opening, an amazing sky was born with light. My mind relaxed a bit and I loosened the binding expectations long enough to feel lighter and warmer, kinder to myself. At that moment, joy crept in and sat down smiling.

Inspiration comes from moments of clarity as nature unfolds itself and offers up treasures uncounted. Tonight’s sunset reminded me that there is beauty in everything, even a rain storm.

Posted in Photography, Travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Can “Going Local” Save the World?

Locally grown means better food.

Locally grown means better food.
Photo Credit: Deborah Parrish

My friend, John, got a job this week. I know this because from the onset of his unemployment, he’s remained steadily committed to his blog, “The View From the Middle (Class).” In it, he candidly shares his daily struggles – keeping focused on the big picture while seeking gainful employment.

Most remarkable was that he found a local job. He’ll be working in support of his local community as a computer programmer, contributing to the systems foundational to this virtual life. Just more evidence that we are increasingly connected – John’s public announcement reached me almost a thousand miles away in only a matter of minutes.

Technology connects and sustains relationships but how often does it truly pay the bills? How can we simultaneously connect globally while remaining locally inter-dependent? From my perspective, there are some commodities that are best kept local.

I spend a good deal of time each day influenced by the global economy. The news media and my immediate reality are often worlds apart. Quite often I’m left feeling like a hostage of the huge corporations that control our communications, our media, and our food. So, I challenge myself to take small steps every day to shift my focus back to my immediate environment, the place I have the most influence.

Recently, I joined a CSA, a local farm offering Community Supported Agriculture, providing neighbors with fresh, local, and seasonal vegetables. Bloomfield Farms is only a few miles from my home, and they deliver to my town’s new “Food Shed” set up by a neighbor who’s agreed to sponsor the program. I was thrilled to begin eating food grown in my neighborhood. But, I wasn’t prepared for the depth of the journey. Each box is its own adventure.

This week, I picked up my veggie box for the first time. Taking it home, after opening it, inspecting it, and washing every single leaf, the variety and the novelty of the included heirloom vegetables surprised me. I instantly researched the different varieties and investigated new recipes.

Then, I got the email enclosed with a rich commentary and mini-lesson on heirloom vegetable varieties and links to ideas for preparation, along with a sincere invitation to come to the farm and have a more intimate experience with locally grown food.

As a lover of good food, I was immediately charmed and sent an email thanking these wonderful neighbors for what they are doing to bring good food to my little corner of the world. My reward was a swift personal response filled with more information and another invitation.

I’ve committed to my new CSA for many reasons:

New Foods New Recipes

This week I discovered several simple new recipes to use for new chard and kale varieties. I learned that cooking kale slowly brings out an earthy sweetness. Given the health benefits of these winter vegetables, by combining the dark leafy greens with lively quinoa, our meals were richer and more flavorful.

Know Who Grows Your Food

My brief introduction to the faces of Bloomfield Farms has left me wanting more. Taking the time to understand their philosophies on heirloom farming gave me a greater appreciation of their commitment and passion, which seeps into the food they grow. I plan to take a tour of the farms in the next couple of weeks and meet my farmers face to face.

Harmonize With the Seasons

Our modern grocery stores bring us food from all seasons on demand. There’s a theory that eating food in season helps regulate the body’s natural immune system, as well as deliver nutrients necessary for a balanced life.

Pass to Future Generations 

Preserving heirloom foods for our children and those beyond is essential to our long-term survival. Our choices of food varieties are dwindling, which is actually creating a frightening trend of food extinction. Seed banks are now popping up everywhere, and with an approaching GMO crisis, we have every right to be concerned. Heirloom foods generally taste better and of the heirloom tomatoes, I’ve yet to find a favorite. I’ve all but abandoned the hybridized, round, and gooey tomatoes from the grocery store. They just have no flavor. Besides, have you ever heard of a German Pink Tomato?

Sitting here in my kitchen, I discover that small actions have the potential to make big impacts. What would life be like if I lived completely local, channeling most of my money into my local economy? How would my life and those around me be affected? I’m determined to find out and embark on a journey to uncover the opportunities to affect change within my little corner of the world.

Posted in Local Food | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Life in the Slow Lane

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I’m feeling lighthearted today. Not only because it’s a National Holiday and most folks aren’t working, but because I got some much needed sleep last night. It’s amazing how bright and sweet mornings are when you feel rested.

My Music Man and I have been hard at work these past couple of weeks. I’m not complaining, though. It’s kind of like harvest-time when the vines are ripe. You have to work day and night to get your fruit off the vine in order to reap the bounty of your toil and get some value out of the blood, sweat, and tears that you put into your business and your life.

Today is all about the red, white, and blue. I’d like to share some yummie patriotic munchies to celebrate our country’s birthday and hope that we have a few hundred more.

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You can really enjoy watermelon even more on July 4th when it’s cut like stars. Put these in a cold fridge for a day or so and serve really cold!

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My personal favorite – this is like a little spark of fireworks in your mouth!

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Be honest…doesn’t this make you want to jump in and try a little taste?

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And this little gem  is on my list of things to make out of our old barn wood….

Enjoy your freedom today. Remember we get to choose it every day.

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The Good Fight

Where Trains Go To Die

Where Trains Go To Die

I’ve been thinking about the current worldview of the earth and the concept of “progress.” For eons, humans have built cities to organize together for survival as a species. We see this mostly from glimpses of archaic cultures buried beneath modern cities and underneath the deepest parts of the ocean. Humans have brought their creativity and genius and successfully thrived.

Our population is now increasing by the billions. By 2050, it’s projected to reach 9.5 billion bodies, a 32% increase in less than 4 decades. If the human beings that live and work in the year 2050 were to behave as their (even most recent) ancestors, the earth will quickly become uninhabitable. The belief that there’s enough viable land, clean water, safe food, and healthy air to support this number is a fantasy. There will simply not be enough to go around and the resulting health crises will be too expensive to measure in dollars alone. How will we measure progress once we’ve used up all of our natural resources?

What if the people of the earth valued healthy soil, water, air, and food more highly than money? Why do smart people allow such concepts to become footnotes or completely overlooked? We’ve all heard the debates that environmentalism cripples commercial progress. This shortsighted view will be the death of us all. We can no longer see the world as infinitely able to provide our needs. In our lifetime, we are likely to see wars waged fighting for basic resources such as air and water.

The Industrial Revolution brought an end to the Agrarian society, but that wasn’t the beginning of the lack of concern for our impact on the earth. Our human societies have allowed the trashing of our natural resources for quite some time. We’ve dammed up rivers, cut down or burned complete forests, making our mark in the world, replacing vast open spaces with manmade buildings (once made of raw earth and now of concrete and steel) since the beginning of written history. To our collective horror, man has cavalierly dared to cross into the dangerous realm of genetic modification.

We are all appalled at the news of a floating island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean that is larger than the state of Texas. We are shocked that there is more than one. A brave few step up and try to make changes while the rest of us watch and wait. But, yet, we still buy our water in little plastic bottles and carry our groceries in little plastic bags. It’s estimated that a trillion plastic bags are used each year across the globe. 10% of these will end up in the ocean.

As humans, we are born with the amazing ability to dream and innovate, our brains filled with ideas brimming with the glistening genius. Isn’t there another way? How do we change our behavior? Where is our tipping point?

Our way of life is dying along with our earth. The only way to make a real difference is to collaborate in a different way. Our companies were built from the roots of Frederick Taylor and his motion studies, which reduced the average manufacturing worker to one step above a robot. Increased efficiency didn’t translate to job satisfaction. It may have contributed to the success of the corporate profit margin, but did little to create an environment that valued human creativity and built sustainable systems.

There are plenty of opportunities wrapped up as problems. The idea of building a new workforce based on contribution, engagement, collaboration, and constant learning is long overdue. With the right leadership, these sustaining principles could bring a different type of profitability and create meaningful work, and not simply providing a paycheck while polluting our way of life. Would this not be true progress?

Maintaining the status quo cannot be considered “progress.” Building a different kind of company, organized around what makes sense instead of what has always been done the same way, is an evolution worth working toward.  This kind of out-of-the box thinking is often reduced to a type of insanity or, worse, completely ignored. It would mean the changes would have to come from deep within the hearts and minds of each human being who joins such a company and lends their time to its benefit. It would mean that the people in this type of organization truly believe that life within a company can be different, exciting, successful, and worthwhile. The values of the individual rooted in an alignment of values within the company could truly create a place where each person’s contribution is valued and a profound trust could be built among groups of people working for a common purpose. Guiding such a profound shift in perception and locating the resources to sustain such a shift would be a joyful and worthwhile endeavor.

The notion that business can be done differently, with the focus on a collection of individuals working together to effect changes in the world, as we know it, is a fresh view of modern companies. Can corporations evolve into human driven machines focused on creating worthwhile products and services instead of acting as profit-driven beasts that suck the soul out of all of us? I’d like to think so.

As for me, I’ve decided to take a look at my behavior and make the necessary adjustments. One person may not turn the tide, but if each of us were to look at how we contribute to the situation, and make a sincere effort to change our behavior, we could make a difference.

I’d like to try.

Related Article: Rethinking Our Food System

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Blackout

The Found Essay: Letter from a Mother to a Daughter*

“My dear girl, the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don’t interrupt to say: “You said the same thing a minute ago.” Just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep. When I don’t want to take a bath, don’t be mad and don’t embarrass me. Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just a girl? When you see how ignorant I am when it comes to new technology, give me the time to learn and don’t look at me that way. Remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately, getting dressed, combing your hair, and dealing with life’s issues every day. The day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If I occasionally lose track of what we’re talking about, give me the time to remember, and if I can’t, don’t be nervous, impatient, or arrogant. Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you. And when my old, tired legs don’t let me move as quickly as before, give me your hand the same way that I offered mine to you when you first walked. When those days come, don’t feel sad—just be with me, and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love. I’ll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared. With a big smile and the huge love I’ve always had for you, I just want to say, I love you, my darling daughter.”

Nicci and her mother with the Paris Lights behind them…

I remember the day I became a mother.  No, not the day she first saw light with her own eyes, but the day when my singular mind expanded to the “knowing” of her existence.  My world got bigger that day.  I was surprised by my body’s sudden shift to shouting this news at me.  I wasn’t expecting to be “expecting.”  Ever.  Several smart doctors agreed that I was unable to carry a child in my own body.  As a lover of children, I thought that maybe when I was older and more settled, I would find one to adopt.

But, this Moment of Knowing became the most intimately visceral revolution of my life.

I was happy.  I was afraid.  I was unprepared for the enormous responsibility of another human being.  I was also a young soldier on active duty in a curious place called Virginia. There are so many stories about being a mother to Nicci, but I’ve chosen this one for today.

I waited a long time to see my daughter’s face and knew the exact moment of her conception.  When she was finally pulled from her comfortable home inside of me, she was almost 4 weeks late.  3 weeks and 3 days, to be exact.  At 3:33 pm on a Thursday afternoon in October, she was forced from me.

But, let’s go back to that Day of Knowing.

I was content with my new duty station.  Surrounded by wonderful people who loved life and appreciated laughter, they had immediately taken my young-PFC-self under their wings, each helped me make a home in a strange place far away from my native Texas.  After only a few short weeks, I was already an active part of the operation known as DPTMS, the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization, and Security, on the outskirts of the post in a section of old army barracks that creaked with every step, echoed every cough, and vibrated consistently with laughter.  We were a motley combination of active duty, retired military, and civilians fused together focused on a peacetime mission of preparation and safety.

Each morning, my work day began with a visit to my immediate neighbors, the sergeants in the Operations Department, for a cup of coffee and a chat.  It was 7:00 a.m. when we reported for work.  Our day had already included a brisk early morning exercise formation where we spent 45 minutes doing the basics:  running 2 miles, push-ups, sit-ups, getting sweaty.  I was in the best shape of my life, fresh out of training, my body was firm and strong.  A perfect incubator.

I walked up to my new friend, Sergeant Jerry Bowen, already at his desk smiling at me.  I was the only female active duty personnel in the Directorate, so the guys loved to give me shit.  “What took you so long, PFC?”  The left side of his mouth curled up in a smile.  “You ready for some ‘joe’?”  I nodded and smiled, walked over to the coffee pot, poured a cup of coffee, and returned to his desk.  The rest of the sergeants in the room were already discussing issues of the day as I sat down to join in.  Sipping my coffee for a short while, I then stood up to get a warm-up.

That’s when the world began to spin and fade to dark.

Jerry was standing over me in the dimly lit break room as I opened my eyes.  I’d never fainted before and was slightly shaken to find myself in another room with no warning, no transition from my initial quest for hot coffee and this strange moment staring up at Jerry’s concerned face.  Confused and embarrassed, I asked – What had just happened?

Jerry told me that as I rose to refill my coffee, my legs buckled underneath me and I fell into a puddle on the floor.  He had carried me into the break room, laid me on the couch and splashed cold water on my face after checking to see if I was dead.  Someone had been called and they were on the way.  My head was still spinning, eyes unfocused, mind confused when a young woman arrived dressed in BDUs (the Army’s name for our daily camouflage uniforms) carrying a large case.  She did some basic stuff, asked a few questions, then said I seemed okay, but as she left, ordered me to come into the clinic before lunch.

Back at Jerry’s desk I was the center of attention, everyone talking at me, joking with me, hypothesizing about my “episode.”  It was with a tone of humor that he blurted out, “Maybe you’re pregnant.”  More laughter and jokes from the group while I absorbed that thought.  Maybe I was what?  I was a newlywed, but had been in training for the entire length of my marriage.  Our life together as a married couple had just started, living in a tiny house, our focus had been on settling in, not expanding our family.  I thought of the past couple of days, putting pieces together, tying bits to make a tapestry of understanding built of moments I’d overlooked.  It was possible, in fact probable, but only a few days had passed since the day she became alive inside me, secretly plotting to change my life forever.  How could these symptoms start so soon?

The weeks that followed brought discomfort and joy.  Happy to have an opportunity to be a mother, apprehensive about my body’s ability to do so, conscious of my shifting world perspective, and acute curiosity about the life growing inside of me, I began to view myself as more than one person.  Each moment was filled with the Knowing that I would be responsible for the life of another, that somehow, my own small life was now expanded to include endless possibilities.  The ever-present pulsing questions of who this person inside me would become.

The truth is, my world shifted on its axis that day.  North became south, east became west.  I never looked back.  Knowing her has been the greatest part of this earthly adventure.  Life as her mother has given me a reason to be a better person, to try harder, to aim higher, to keep going.  I’ve never wanted to disappoint her, so I pushed for one more mile, one more notch, ever reaching for the perch just a bit higher than where I stood.

She made me a better person by being my daughter.  She chose me and I’ve loved every single minute of it.  I simply would not be who I am without her presence in my life, and for that I’m so very grateful.  Just by being, she gave me a new life.

My daughter is now the same age as I when I had this Awakening.  We’ve already traveled very different paths, making contrasting choices leading to altered outcomes, while remaining close but distinctive.  She looks like me, talks with her hands like I do, values laughter and friends in the same way as I, and has a flair for adventure just like her mom.  She’s polished and pretty, outspoken and smart, driven and organized.  We are alike and yet each unique.  I’m thrilled that she’s her own person and sets a high bar.  Her brilliance shines like a diamond and she’s unafraid to share herself with the world.  I admire her, have always respected her, and in some ways tried to be more like her.  One day my youth will completely fade along with my memory but one thing will remain constant – I will always be proud to have known her longer than anyone else on earth.

*Essay courtesy Spring In The Air, a company known for growing/shipping the most amazing, longest lasting roses available in the US, and voted the highest rated roses by Amazon customers.

Posted in Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Flyin’ High

When I’m standing on the ground, my hometown is pretty magnificent. Surrounded by farms and ranches, Tomales is a tiny town on the coast of Northern California, a juicy slice of West Sonoma-Marin Heaven and deeply dependent on the economic bounties (and sharply impacted by the inevitable bounces) of agriculture, fishing, and tourism. While I live in the middle of town, I’m still surrounded by the billowy hills and lively vapors from nearby pastures. The quiet calm of my neighborhood awakens the soul. But from the air, it is far beyond breathtaking!

Pre-Flight
(Photo: Deborah Parrish)

Last night our friend, Jim, invited my Music Man and me to accompany him on a flight to Redding for dinner. Because of threatening clouds from an oncoming squall, we changed our plans at the last-minute to instead head south to Monterey.

Captain Jim shows his stuff.
(Photo: Deborah Parrish)

Jim’s a pilot, is accumulating his much-needed flight time, and generously chauffeurs his land-locked friends. “I fly, you buy” is the motto of Jim’s Airline, which is not even close to being an even exchange, since we only bought dinner. We felt like rock stars flying off for an evening’s adventure on a whim. He even made an official announcement when we took off and landed, just for me.

On the trip, I carried my little pocket camera, a slick red Nikon CoolPix S6100, to learn how to use some of the manual settings. For years, I’ve enjoyed the automatic functions of the camera, but am recently learning new ways to use it. By increasing the ISO to 1600, suppressing the flash, and using the landscape shooting mode, I was able to capture the amazing full moon that greeted us, welcoming us to Monterey. Nothing prepared me for such a luscious Thursday night dinner, a feast for my eyes, my tummy, and my soul. View more photos here.

Moon Over Marin
(Photo: Deborah Parrish)

Flying over our home, I was struck again with deep affection for the voluptuous hills, festive bays and fertile valleys that dot our local landscape. Last night was ripe with magical photos. Small airplanes offer more opportunity to see the landscape below. It was a fun challenge to try to use my little knock-around camera to record the sky’s jaw dropping performance. I continued using the same ISO/landscape setting which worked great for both the soft, shiny moon and the vivid glowing setting sun.

Pacific Sunset dives into the clouds…
(Photo: Deborah Parrish)

Not only were we blessed with an eastern Full Moon Rising, but a delightful Pacific Sunset danced with the western clouds. Each side offered its own show, competing for my attention. I ping-ponged from one side of the plane to the other snapping shots of the main attractions before they left the stage.

My love affair with the Bay Area began with a trip across this special bridge. It was Valentine’s Day 1993 when I first crossed her, entering the world of my future while witnessing my life recreated from scratch. Entering Marin County, crossing the bridge from San Francisco, the highway passes through the rainbow-framed Waldo Tunnel, standing as a perfect metaphor for those of us who live here.

There were too many great photos for this post. But without a doubt, this night lands on my Favorite Nights of All Time list. My magical night included a fantastic dinner at Fandango’s in Pacific Grove with two escorts. (By the way, we were all impressed with the food and highly recommend it.) Photos of the dinner were delicious, but not nearly as delectable as the one below, another of my favorites from the night…a view from on high.

San Francisco as the angels see it….
(Photo: Deborah Parrish)

Posted in Local Food, Photography, San Francisco Bay | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The First Meatloaf I’ve Ever Made

Magic Meatloaf

Sometimes slow food is easy food...

I’ve never made meatloaf before. I know, that’s amazing. My hubby recently disclosed that this was one of his favorite meals from childhood, “one of the few things” his mom cooked that he liked. Together, we experimented, uncovered several recipes and created this one. It was tender, juicy, held together nicely, and extremely tasty. It was easy, fun, and delicious. Now, I’m a huge fan!

This recipe can be adjusted by substituting canola oil for the butter, adding seasoned ground turkey instead of pork, adding celery, corn, or shredded carrots to the onion mixture (lightly cooking before adding to the ‘loaf). Consistency and cooking time are the keys to success.

Late last night I caught him having a midnight snack, slicing off a bit of the ‘loaf to nibble. Must’ve been a success!

Prep Time: 15 Min
Cook Time: 1 Hr 10 Min
Ready In: 1 Hr 25 Min
Recipe Yield 12 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound extra-lean ground beef
  • 1 pound Italian seasoned pork sausage
  • 3 slices wheat bread, toasted and crumbled
  • 7 buttery round crackers, crushed
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons Straus Plain Whole Milk yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce, divided in half ( you will use the other half at the end)
  • 3 tablespoons BBQ sauce
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, and cook the onion and garlic 5 minutes, until onion is tender. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper.

3. In a large bowl, mix the onion and garlic, meat, crumbled bread, crushed crackers, eggs, yogurt, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 can tomato sauce. Gradually stir in the liquid ingredients until mixture is moist, but not soggy. Transfer the mixture to a loaf pan.

4. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C), and continue baking 15 minutes, to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F (70 degrees C).

5. In a small bowl, mix the remaining tomato sauce and ketchup. Brush over the top of the meatloaf to make a glaze, and continue baking an extra 10 minutes. Once removed from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes.


Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Club Secrets

Serenity

My dear friend’s father died this week.  I never know what to say when this happens.  I meant to say, “I’m thinking of you.”  I was.  Almost every moment of these past few days, I’m thinking of my friend who has just joined our exclusive club of orphans.  What I actually found myself saying was “How are you?”

How do I tell her that you never stop missing them?  For me it was especially hard to lose my father to cancer when he was only 65.  I was 39.  I realized as I heard my girlfriend’s news that this year he’s been dead for 10 years.  It’s not an anniversary that I normally count; I prefer to count birthdays instead.  I was closest to him, identified more with him, had a deeper, albeit more difficult, relationship than with my mother.  My father understood me, while my mother was forever puzzled by my lack of interest in her social scene.  Losing my mother was one thing, losing my father was quite another.

I remember someone softly, somberly saying to me when my father died, “You’re now a member of a very exclusive club.  You have to lose both your parents to join.”

I spent a rainy day rummaging through old photographs, stumbling upon many fathers along the way, mine included.  I found the last photos that were taken of him.  I was suddenly surrounded by him, his voice, his distinguished laugh.  So many memories, and then the tears.  I cried until I didn’t think I could cry any more, and then I cried again.  This, even after 10 years have passed.

Looking at my father’s last photos, I remembered all the long intimate moments to which he allowed us access in his final days.  Every photo of him was precious, his hair completely gone from chemo, but his eyes and his smile were still very much alive.  And he was so very patient with us during those days while he pushed through extreme pain, heavy medication, and very little energy.  My final memory of him was at a restaurant, his favorite — BBQ.  It was to be his last meal.  He died the next day.

Deep within all orphans, there is a quiet longing that never fades.  We never get over the loss of a parent, no matter how old we may be, or how sick they may be.  This is the great secret of the club.  The grief just burrows deep within us, but it never leaves.

I won’t try to soften the blow for her.  This thing’s a long term commitment.  The only way I’ve found to dull the pain is to walk with them.  Play their favorite music.  Have coffee with them and discuss the issues of the day.  Listen to the stories over and over again.  It’s all still there and we can access it whenever we allow ourselves the chance to dream.

I want to tell my friend that the love from our fathers never leaves us, transitioning to something more powerful, more accessible.  But, the grief is buried underneath our Everyday Face.  It’s easily retrieved, and strangely bubbles up at the oddest times.  The longing burns like a hot ember.

Many months after my father died, I had a dream that we were walking together in a park.  As we walked, railroad tracks began to divide us and I watched as he faded off on the other track.  It was a sad dream, but I realized that as he was transitioning to his new life, I still had access to him in simple ways, such as a walk in the park.

While I scrolled through the stacks of photos, I realized that I am now the carrier of the torch for my family.  I hold the stories, the memories, the history of the people who created me and my daughter.  It comforts me somehow to spend time with these images and see their smiles.  It’s now up to me to pass along what I know about them, and most importantly, what they taught me.

But, it’s no burden to me…I consider that a grand honor.

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“Frosty”

Today I met 7-year-old Naomi, the daughter of My Music Man’s old high school buddy.  She was delightful and quickly brought out my inner little girl.  As we chatted about the snow on the ground here in Iowa, I told her that I very much wanted to create a snowman and she volunteered to be my “partner-in-crime.”

Last night, while we were sleeping, a steady snow fell and over 4 inches accumulated overnight.  I am told this is only an average.  Some places got more, some less.  I am sure we got more.  The snow was beautiful, very fluffy, and piled up everywhere.   There was so much snow, the snowplows were working around the clock.  I can’t imagine how tired they must be of this cold powder called “snow.”  For the last 24 hours I have seen more snowplows, John Deere tractors with attachments, and little “mini plows” than I’ve seen regular cars.

And I’ve learned something I never knew  – not all snow is created equal.  Snow has certain properties, depending on the outside temperature.  This is a noteworthy fact because the temperature never got above 20 degrees today.  It was so cold that the snow did not stick together at all.  It was like holding very cold talcum powder.  Try to make a cohesive ball out of talcum powder.  It simply doesn’t work.  This flies in the face of my old believes about snow.  I used to think that snow was snow.  Can’t you always make a snowball with snow?

I have heard that in the Inuit culture, they have many different words for what we simply call “snow.”  After today, this makes sense.

My ultimate objective was to make my first snowman in over 2 decades.  I innocently thought that with all the snow that had fallen overnight, there would be plenty…and there was!  I just couldn’t make it stick together enough to make a simple small snowball!  I quickly learned that I had to take off my (warm) gloves and hold the snowball in my warm-ish hands and blow to bring it up to a temperature that would cause it to stick together.   This only worked for a short time because after a couple of small snowballs for the body of the snowman, my  hands were frozen.  I didn’t know how badly they were frozen until I went inside to use the bathroom.  Suddenly, I felt a great deal of pain in my fingers and a throbbing warmth that felt like my bones had been set on fire.

The final result was a beautiful little “mini” snowman that Naomi named “Frosty.”  We searched the land to find the important accessories that all snow people must have — the buttons, the arms, the eyes, the pipe, the nose (we imported a raisin for this), and, of course, the hat.  He started out bald and we decided that he had to have a hat, or hair, however the observer wanted to interpret our art piece.  The search for these snow-fashion-accessories was an adventure all by itself.  We knew that we would have to be realistic about the size of our precious snowman.  He would have to be small or we would get frostbite.

Frosty the...

“Frosty” was about 8 inches tall, and he played hockey.  We found him a wonderful hockey stick and a hockey puck that looked more like a soccer ball (that is if you were to calculate the scale of our new friend).  He had precious red berry buttons, eyes made from the pods, which created an “eyelash-y” look.  His hat was made of an evergreen pine bush and Naomi insisted on finishing our creation with a dusting of snow over his head.

The snow feels and looks like the sand at Dillon beach a couple of miles from my house, and it behaves about the same way.  I couldn’t make a “sand ball” with the sand there, but I could try to make a sand castle and that is the very logic that I used to make “Frosty.”  Basically, adding water (in this case, damp heat) you would make the crystals stick together.

While I tediously worked on the little guy, Naomi made snow angels in the front yard.  Given the amount of snow and the powdery consistency, it was far easier to make a snow angel than it was to make our snowman.  She was obviously a veteran.

As the afternoon peaked, the sun sparkled on the snowy ground.  with in weather that is too cold to even contemplate, there was no chance of melting and I knew that “Frosty” would guard their house for a while, given the promised weather forecast.  By tonight, it would dip down to some number with a negative in front of it and the temps forecasted in the coming weekend didn’t bode much better.

To say that I’m glad to be heading home on Monday would be a given.  Yet, this adventure is full of fertile education.  I have learned a lot about snow, things I never knew, and things I thought I did know have been up-ended.  I’ll never think of Iowa in the same way, heck, I’ll never think of snow in the same way.  It makes me want to learn all those Inuit words that describe all the many types of snow that exist and find out how to make a snowman out of each and every kind.

But, most of all, I learned that I never want to waste a good snow.  I’ll never pass up the opportunity to make a snowman with a sweet little angel named Naomi, even if it means I get frostbite.

Posted in Friendship, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Flat Chest and Big Feet

angel hdr‎”Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetime, is certain for those who are friends.”   ~Richard Bach

It was a small thing, really.  I’m not sure she ever knew what it meant to me.  It was a note passed to me secretly in class that I held onto over the years.  My elementary school years were not happy ones.  Trouble at home cascaded into trouble at school.  While I made good grades, the other kids teased me incessantly, often resulting in a beating at the end of the day or on the playground during recess.  My flat chest, big feet, and buck teeth were the stuff that bullying was made of.  I was the fodder for their fun.  Memories of the daily taunts still bring a gripping feeling in my gut, even these many years later.  Most of the girls in my school were cruel and dishonest, promising friendship but instead bestowed betrayal, duplicity, and deceit.  I had come to believe that friendship had conditions, that I had to be someone else in order to fit in.

So it was when I was 12 that I decided life wasn’t worth it.  I couldn’t make it another day.  I didn’t have the strength, the courage or understanding to know how to stop the daily abuse, so I figured that God would let me start over.  Obviously, I failed in my attempt to end this life because I’m here now to write about it.  Which brings me to the note.

Before text messages and email, there was the plain ol’ note written on lined paper, folded in triangular shapes and tucked, ever so neatly in the palm of your hand.  They were passed clandestinely, sometimes intercepted by the teacher.  To our extreme embarrassment, they were often read aloud.  But, this one made it to me safely.  This one simply said, “You are so smart and special.  Thank you for being my friend,” signed “Debbie.”

As I left childhood behind, I became a connoisseur of many things.  One of those things is friendship.  Looking back, I’ve had the extreme privilege of redefining friendship and have gathered a treasure-trove of friends along the way.  Now, 5 decades into this life, I’ve worked hard to leave those childhood bullies behind.  I’ll bet that they’ve grown up themselves and left their own “stuff” behind, most likely forgetting all the vicious tormenting and threats.  People like Debbie taught me how friends should behave and offered the promise of how they give our lives such meaning and joy.  I wouldn’t know how to live on this earth without them.

Debbie was one of those optimistic people.  I can still hear her voice, bright with encouragement.  I looked up to her, admired her.  She was an inspiration in so many ways. A loyal friend from the beginning, she never let me down.

Together, we tried out for the school drill team together.  Night after night, we practiced hard.  She spent many nights at my house helping me to learn the routine for try-outs.  I made the team, and she did not.  But, this only made her proud for me.  Yes, I knew she was disappointed, but she never took away my delight with her own feelings.  She only supported me.

Years later, our friendship still blossoming, I watched her become a successful business woman.  She kept her body healthy with dedicated exercise and watching what she ate, always keeping an eye on her weight.  I don’t think I ever told her how much I admired her, that the note she sent me years before stayed with me.  Debbie’s encouragement throughout these decades were part of my own success.  She was a role model, a bright star in my sky.  As I write this, I realize that she was more than just a friend, she was a beacon.

What I didn’t know was that she spent her whole life battling an eating disorder that eventually killed her.  Truthfully, I felt I had let her down.  Her death was a shock I never saw coming.

Debbie is now one of the loveliest angels in heaven with a smile that would light up a village.  I only wish I could have told her how she lit up my life.   

Posted in After 50, Friendship | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment