Friday, July 3, 2015

Shangri-la

"I want to take you to a secret place," Glenda says in her mysterious voice.

Ooooohs and aaaahs come from Irene, scrunched in the backseat, and me at the wheel.

Not only does Glenda tell us great stories for our benefit and learning, now she's sharing her secret-place discoveries.

We drive past her street and come to a dirt road where I naturally hesitate. "Keep going," she instructs, and I obey without question...even when four wheel drive looks like it may be a necessity and we're in my little thin-wheeled coupe.

"Turn right here." There's something about her voice--tinged with a bit of excitement. What's at the end of this road, in the middle of her city? Will we meet someone? A mini Disneyland? A mega mansion?

The road passes a small home, and we continue just a short distance, when the road opens to a hidden homestead.

"Drive on the grass and pull up under the big tree," Glenda directs. "Keep going, keep going," she prods as I hesitate, and Irene panics in the back seat. But Glenda is sure of herself. And we trust Glenda.

We climb out of the car and immediately, I sense a piece of paradise. The sound of the brook enchants. The surrounding silence triggers reverence. The trees seem to have been here since the beginning of time. Private, hidden, incredible. Yet, it is so much more than a place. I think of Shangri-la, the mystical paradise, the hidden utopia of never ending joy, from James Hilton's Lost Horizon.

What are we feeling while standing and absorbing the surroundings? Glenda watches us closely and like a fairy godmother, her joy is complete when she knows our wishes have been granted.

It is late in the day, and there is still more to do. Glenda suggests that we come back for a picnic. She has made friends with the owner of Shangri-la and is welcome on his property in his absence.

I am sure we will come back. And I think of those magic words: come back.

I've found it's important to have a secret place to come back to, and it doesn't have to be a physical place.  That secret place is imperative for long term happiness amidst quotidian trials and mishaps. For some, it's the forest, the ocean, a shady tree in the back yard, or a loved one's arms.

 One of my students would often refer to going to her happy place when she was under stress. I admired her plan because I too had created a "happy place," during a guided meditation led by a meditation guru. The place I saw would become a place of mental refuge in the years to come.

In the creation of my happy place, I started walking along a tropical sandy stretch of beach surrounded by the ocean, a harbor and a green volcanic mountain. On the other side was a glass house with a forest background. The beach sand was laced with shining gems of bright topaz, emeralds, diamonds and rubies. It was a physically, stunning place, but what made it even more so was a grandfather I had never met, was walking by my side and grandchildren yet to be born, were playing in the water. This was my paradise, my Shangri-la in my mind's eye. It is not as vivid as when it was first created, but I can still count on my happy place getting me through a moment of pain or discomfort. It is a place where I am always welcome, a place I welcome, a place to come back.

And so we will come back to be with Glenda, in her secret Shangri-la.




Thursday, July 2, 2015

Change

Nikki sends me a requested recipe via an email that includes a youtube link. I now have an electronic copy plus a seven minute video of an energetic hostess who shows me how to cook while trying to make me laugh--so different from the days when my mother's friends wrote their recipes on 3x5 cards --the recipes that might have traveled generations by little decorated 3x5's to Mom's kitchen canon. Some of those cards carried the endearing personalizations, From Mary's kitchen, or Donna's kitchen..., but wait...I have some of those recipe cards from my friends. These changes aren't limited to my mother's and previous generations--the rapid social and technological changes are happening now.

Plethora of information! Not only am I entertained by the youtube cook, I'm distracted by the suggested video links to the side.  Curiosity on high alert, I follow one video--Fully raw jelly donuts--to the next, Lose one pound a day the healthy way,---to a 47 minute video on The healing power of celery juice,--to Nine hours of Tibetan chants. The variety of information at the click of a button is astounding.

Gadgets! While remodeling the bathroom, Tony, and then my mom and me, drew out the bathroom details and measured meticulously the width, length and depth of walls, counters and the shower. When the tile company representative came to measure, he pointed his laser and got the exact measurement. He told me he could even walk into a cluttered room, and without even entering, point his laser and leave with perfect measurements.

Computer necessity! I remember the first night Tony took me and our young girls to the computer lab to show us the internet. It was in its early stages, but Tony helped us imagine what it might be in the future/today--but I could have never imagined it would be such a part of my life---that I would use it for banking, communication, writing, buying almost everything, learning, storing my photos. I couldn't have fathomed that one day all of that information would be on my phone, and that I would carry it in my purse.

Technology dependency! Irene and I head off to our friend's house almost an hour away. When we get close, I ask her for the address. What!!! I thought you had the address? A few short years ago, we both would have pre-written down details and brought a map. Today we pull over, tap on our phones to access gmail, then type the address into google maps, which (almost--detours aside) leads us to Glenda's front door.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Someone Else

Down the street, around the corner, on the steepest street in our neighborhood, lived a lovely older couple named Albert and Billie. We thought more of this couple than they thought of us, because Tony had nicknamed the steep hill, Albert's Revenge--it was always a pleasurable torture to hit this hill after a long bike ride.

For seventeen years, we would drive past this couple's home, see them on walks, eat dinner at their house, and enjoy their association at church. Albert was a successful businessman and Billie, a sensitive woman who put all her energies into her husband and family.

Tragedy struck Billie and Albert while traveling in Belgium. While walking down a sidewalk, Albert collapsed and died within minutes. Help came immediately and his heartbeat was restored. Over the next week, doctors tried to give Billie hope, but she knew in her heart, he was gone.

The difficulties of losing a loved one in a foreign country: the language, the unfamiliarity, the culture differences, being far away from loved ones, took its toll. A son and daughter flew to her side, and another neighbor, an attorney working in Germany, also joined her to help with the legal difficulties.

In the months following, Billie was distraught. Justifiably. One day several months later, I put my arm around her and asked how she was doing. She broke down and told me how hard this was and that she'd never imagined how hard. The shock. The loneliness, and how could Albert leave when there were so many plans unfulfilled. Every time I saw Billie, she wore her emotions on her sleeve.

Last Sunday, Billie was sitting behind me. She still looked sad. When the meeting was over, I went out of my way to say hello and ask how she was. I expected her answer to be filled with sorrow, and I wanted to honor her sorrow. But Billie was doing better. Much better. She was even happy. How did I know? After our initial small talk, she asked how my daughter was doing.

The clouds had parted enough; she was able to think of someone else.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Deep Roots

Every few days when I checked my Linden birthday tree, it seemed to be faltering. I didn't want to lose this tree!

The back hillside is a tough place to introduce trees. We tried fruit trees, but they were hammered by sun and deer. The west summer sun is intense and life sucking, so it was a leap and possible poor choice to plant a mature tree.

The tree was getting water, I was sure, but why was it drying up? Maybe it needed more water. I filed the hose through the fence and sent it as far down the hill as it would go. I carried a five gallon bucket, turned the water on low, filled the bucket, trudged downward, water sloshing as I slid. Hard work.

As I poured the water at the base of the tree, it disappeared. Up the hill again, down the hill with the heavy five gallon bucket.

After twenty five gallons of water, the ground finally started to saturate. The next day, the leaves were perky and green. My poor tree needed water; my neglect, my lack of proper assessment would have killed another tree. I needed to be more diligent in order to help my tree become deep rooted. Only then would it have the strength to survive the coming years.

People, especially children, find strength, when they are deep rooted or when they understand their family story. We understand our family story by hearing stories of our parents, our grandparents and other relatives. When we stay connected or rooted to family, we feel a kind of power.

I find strength in my grandfather who came to America with $20 in his pocket. I find strength in my mother who put cardboard in her worn out shoes. When my grandmother's husband was killed in a car accident, she carried on with seven children. My paternal grandmother stayed silent for days while crossing the seas to America. It was during WW I and they feared detection from submarines.

My father had an attorney who struggled through law school--but every night when he wanted to give up on his studies, he thought of his mother, on her hands and knees scrubbing the great marble floors of a bank in New York City, so he could go to college. When he turned to his roots, he had the strength to keep studying.

Tell your children family stories; tell your own story--don't be afraid of hiding the truth, of mistaking that only bravery and perfection will do. Roots are strengthened from the truth of weakness and our resilience that took time and failure to develop. Share triumphs and failures. My most heartfelt moments with children and grandchildren have been when I have responded to their hurt or disappointment with, "Well, one time.....I did this.... or made this mistake....or.... foolish thing....which often was the best thing to help me develop the deep roots I need to become a better person.




Monday, June 29, 2015

A Thin Pancake


One semester, long ago,  I took American Literature from a visiting professor from Germany.  One of my favorite all time books was discovered in this class: Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King.

This morning, wanting to brush up on my memory of Henderson the Rain King, I read a few reviews from the New York Times, one of which was the book's  first review written in 1959.  The review was unkind, which attests to me, the abilities of this German professor who made the book seem like a literary masterpiece--and, that another reader could call the work a literary bomb. How different a book's appeal can be.

The professor had personally met and spent time with the great American writer Saul Bellow while attending an  academic conference in Israel. There he was in a country created, in part, because of the events of the Holocaust and my German professor knew nothing of the Holocaust.

He'd grown up in post WWII Germany and the government wanted to erase the Holocaust blight from their history. Imagine the German professor's shame when he knew nothing of his country's atrocities while touring with two Jewish men.

I believed my professor, but it was hard to believe, and later, when a neighbor married a man from Germany, I asked him if it was true. Yes, his parents, in the 1960's had learned nothing of their county's Jewish extermination order and only his generation, attending school in the 1980's was beginning to learn the entire story.

It was the first time I had realized that history could be manipulated. I had previously thought it was a clear cut, black and white report of past events. I didn't know that history could be cut, pasted and rewritten. It was a sobering moment.

While reflecting on my current read, Team of Rivals of Doris Kearns Goodwin, I remembered the German professor's experience and I wondered if children raised in the south, even today, might have been taught a different story about the Civil War. It's been a 150 years, but how deep could the wound be?

I knew the perfect person to ask. A bright young college graduate, a southern boy who likes to respond, "Yes, Ma'am," who was raised in South Carolina. I asked with mild curiosity, seriously doubting if he had been taught differently, but given the Saul Bellow experience in Israel, it was worth asking. And so I did, casually over dinner. And what I heard was shocking. He had indeed been taught Civil War history from a different perspective.

 The young man's teachers, his classes, all examined the Civil War events more deeply than this girl raised in the west, in a state that was a territory until late 1864. Foremost, Lincoln was not a hero, and his school viewed the Civil War through the lens of constitutional violations such as the suspension of habeas corpus and the disregard for state's rights. Oh my. Sobering.

That two pivotal events in history could be left out, or taught from different angles makes me wary of my own single minded perceptions concerning historical events.

 There are immutable truths that do not vacillate or hinge on the opinions or intentions of men, and my discoveries of conflicting or hidden history help me appreciate the solid ground I do depend on.

What I want to keep in mind is that story, history retold, reinterpreted by witnesses old and new will always have many sides, and it is critical if understanding is sought, to examine and pursue those different sides.

One of my favorite sayings comes from ancient Chinese thought: It's a mighty thin pancake that doesn't have two sides.

And more than likely, there are more than two sides.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hola

The men who are setting the tile in the children's bathroom have been working for a day. I hear them speak to each other in Spanish, though one of the men communicates fairly well with me in English. But when we have to hammer out some details about trim, there is a slight communication gap. I wish I spoke Spanish; I don't, but I know someone who does.

"Tony, come translate."

We both show up at the bathroom door. My husband is fair skinned, once blond, now mostly gray, but we are the quintessential gringo couple. Tony initiates the conversation in what is, to me, perfectly accented Spanish--like a native.

I detect a tinge of surprise, like I always do when Tony speaks to native Spanish speakers. Yet, people from all over the world would have the same surprise if they knocked on doors in my neighborhood. My next door neighbor speaks Swedish, his two sons Spanish; a few doors down, the second language is Japanese and Spanish again. In the opposite direction is Portuguese, French, more Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, Mandarin, Korean, and soon-to-be-learned Malagasy.

The after-effect of the Mormon missionary. In a very small way, it shrinks the world.

A young man is sitting in an airport, next to a woman who is on the phone and visibly upset. He recognizes her language. He doesn't speak it, but his friend does. He calls his friend and hands the phone to her. Several minutes later, she's smiling and the problem is solved.

For Thanksgiving this year, we will attend our niece's wedding in Puerta Vallarta Mexico. All thirteen of us, a big family of gringos. Imagine our encounters when Tony replies in Spanish, and then Trevor, and then London. And maybe even the three year old, with his head of floppy yellow hair,  who will have had four months of Spanish immersion pre-school.

Shrinking the world.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Simple Solutions

An adorable, sweet, pre teen is on his way to a week at summer camp. Rustic summer camp in the mountains with minimal comfort and amenities.

While packing, he asks his parents if the camp will have a blow dryer. When he is met with a "No," he's slightly exasperated because now he has to pack his own blowdryer in his backpack.

His parents gently break the news that he won't be bringing a blowdryer to camp.

Things turn tense, "Then how am I supposed to do my hair?" His mother, suggests a simple solution, "Comb your hair and put gel in it."

"When it's wet?!"

It's hard to change when the current protocol works so well. His surfer boy hair falls perfectly into place after an application of gel and a session with the blowdryer. It took years to get to the perfect surfer boy hair stage and now his parents were asking him to compromise his look. At camp. With all his friends.

And this is why, in part, we send our children to wilderness camp. To compromise, to change perspectives, to take some rigidity out of the daily equation. To realize there are a hundred things more important than the way we look.

Five days later and home safe, everyone wants to know what our preteen did with his hair.

He wore a hat.




Friday, June 26, 2015

Saving Steinbeck's Reputation and Soda Straw Thinking

When I look back on who I was as a teenager, I see myself as developing compassion  from two different, life changing experiences: a life threatening disease when I was twelve, and my reading of great literature.

I specifically remember John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Compassion is born from suffering, our own, and the vicarious suffering of others. When we read and love literature, we suffer with The Joads, with Wang Lung and O-Lan, with Scout and Boo Radley, with Piggy, and even with Harry Potter. When I traveled, I saw not only people, but people who had stories and more than likely those stories included hardships I had never experienced.

John Steinbeck, not only helped me develop compassion, but helped me to see life beyond soda-straw vision.

Metaphorically imagine seeing life through the minute circumference of a soda straw. Now, physically experience it. Pick up a straw, close one eye and look through it. If you don't have a straw, recreate the effect with your fingers. Now open your eyes, remove the straw and compare and contemplate. Wouldn't you hate to go through life only looking through a tiny hole? Ah, but some of us do, which leads us to the John Steinbeck conundrum.


Viewing life through a soda straw

 John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley, wasn't approved by the school curriculum committee for Socratic Seminar 12. A committee member had read a tell-all claiming Steinbeck had fabricated his experiences. The journalist loosely duplicated the author's supposed journey and claimed the journey was impossible.

One "impossibility" the journalist made fun of, was Steinbeck's claim to have met a Shakespearean actor in the middle of North Dakota, whom he supposedly spent hours with, discussing theatre. This makes me chuckle. Suppose that, our Shakespearean actor had written a book claiming to have met up with Steinbeck in the Nowheres of North Dakota. Would anyone have believed him?

A curriculum committee member said via email that Steinbeck was a liar who sat down with his publisher with the intention of deceiving America. Again, this presumption seems to be based solely on one journalist's arrogant accusations. Relying on the writings of one journalist to make such a definitive, condemning assumption, seems the epitome of soda straw thinking.

Yet, in asking others to widen their view, I must too, because limiting our vision through the straw makes both sides of an argument narrow minded and judgmental. So, I completely agree it is likely that Travels With Charley is in part, fictionalized, and I can live with the presumption. Yet, is it a reason to assume Steinbeck is a liar and Travels With Charley, shouldn't be read?

In trying to enlarge my vision, I've found a few points to help defend Steinbeck.

1. A current literary trend of selling non-fiction as fiction so an author can't be sued for slander. In fifty years, after an author is dead, will a critic attack an author for publishing fiction that is really non-fiction? 

2. Literary critics who increase their notoriety by attacking an author who can no longer defend himself.

 3. In 1960, industry standards in publishing a book under the umbrella of fiction or non fiction may have been different. Since the controversy, and I'm not sure when, the current publishers of Travels With Charley did retract its non-fiction genre. It is officially a work of fiction though it is based on a real journey taken by Steinbeck.

4. Fictionalized history in movies: We all know that Selma and Lincoln are movies based on truth; yet how many of us adopt the cinematic interpretation of truth over scholarly investigation? In a Sundance interview, director Ava DuVernay, defended her right to take liberties with history when confronted about her controversial portrayal of President Johnson. Can we learn from and love historical drama, knowing conversations, characters and circumstances are recreated, embellished, to create a better story? 

There are times to put up the straw: a scary movie, when you walk in on a parent wrapping Christmas presents, or when your father-in-law uses your shower without asking. For the most part, however, life is more clear, satisfying, and kind, without straining through the hole of a straw.

Same view. no straw--on a clear day one can see forever--

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"We See Through Different Lenses"

Tony has just come off his annual spring weight loss extravaganza and he's looking quite fine in his new fitted suit and his small-size clothing (remember, he has an organized three-different-pant-size system).

For the past month, I've watched him carefully choose his foods, eat smaller portions, and ride his bike like a 15 year old maniac. I've also watched his ice-cream-overindulgence-plus-winter-lifestyle, extra-weight, melt off as usual--in record time. Men are metabolically blessed but that rant will be saved for another time!

So on the Sunday morning of Father's Day, our daughter is in the kitchen making him not one, but two banana cream pies. I notice the toaster oven is on with a bonus surprise inside: pie crust cinnamon sugar crispies. A whole cake pan of them.

When I call him to come downstairs for his surprise, he enters the kitchen with the face of a Christmas morning child. He sits down at the counter to indulge. I am busy as the sous chef (aka clean up gal), and don't turn around from my place at the sink until Tony is biting into the last crispy.

"Wow," I exclaim, "You ate all of them?" Remember, I'm not used to him eating richly and indulgently.

He smiles with satisfaction and with no apologies.

Wait.

"I just realized," I admit, "that if you had said that to me, I would have been insulted and incensed because you had the gaul to tell me I just ate too much. I would have been self conscious and defensive and attacked you!"

He smiles, "I know." And he adds, "I took your gasp at my eating all the crispies as a compliment and recognition that I thoroughly enjoyed my Father's Day surprise." He tops it off with a philosophical explanation (while licking the last tasty morsels off his fingers), "We see through different lenses."

Ugh, why can't I be like him? Why can't I see through his lens? Or better yet, create my own realistic and healthy lens?

Ahhh, but I can, so I lift another thought off my chest, "While we're acknowledging that we see through different lenses, let me admit another crazy lens: the other day when you were looking at me, I felt like you were trying to assess whether I had gained weight."

He gives me that ridiculous smirk like he would never do that.

My initial instincts are to respond/write about all those female self conscious issues, but why? Just get over them, be free, and besides, I'm hungry and need to eat--with a healthy, kind, un-self conscious attitude.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Peas, Work, and Harmony

Last night, the doorbell rang and standing on the front porch was my neighbor Dave. He'd been picking peas for the last hour and wanted to share his abundance. He'd had to do all the picking because he was leaving the next morning for two weeks on tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! Just writing that line gets me so excited, because I've harbored a secret desire to be a part of that great choir, and not for reasons one might think. It isn't the music, nor the slice of fame. What fosters my dream is gaining hundreds of instant friends and sharing a camaraderie of spirit unparalleled. They have one purpose for which they come together: to harmonize!

Actually, the peas and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir have a lot in common. When I started to shell the peas first thing this morning, I was a little overwhelmed at the tedious, time consuming work, but it took me back to one of my favorite moments of harmony.

It was a summer when we had gathered with Tony's family on the old Montana ranch. The uncle and aunt to whom the ranch had been passed on to, had a large garden and Aunt Jamie had just picked a sizable box of peas, and I mean there must have been a thousand. I saw that pile of peas and jumped in to help along with other sundry relatives and a few of the nine children.

I had never been a part of a family workforce that large. As a child, I'd watched my four aunts gather and clean up a kitchen in seconds; I'd seen my mom gather with church women and stitch up a quilt in hours; but no, I'd never had the chance to gather and conquer in such an environment where conversation to the task is like needles to thread and seeds to a garden. And that is why I remember shelling peas on a slow afternoon at the ranch. Surrounded by newly met friend-relatives, harmony prevailed: laughter, stories, and one purpose.

"Wow," I tell Dave while picturing the whole MoTab on one jumbo plane, "I would love to be a fellow passenger on your flight to New York." I wonder what plane acoustics are like? "Do you guys practice en route?"

"Actually, we have to charter three separate planes to carry all of us. No bystanders, no serenading. And I still have to memorize 250 pages of music."

Ooh, not all play and harmonizing around the exit row, but I do imagine that a flight attendant, a pilot, someone, will stroll down the aisle and ask for an A Capella rendition of God Bless America.

Singing in Manhattan, in Boston, at Carnegie Hall, it all sounds more glamorous than shelling peas around a table, and honestly, the experiences don't compare, but harmony can be found in both.



Bonus video suggestion: If you really want to see harmony, check out the surf ride on the world's largest surfboard: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/surfing-667730-record-huntington.html

Thanks to Mindy Schauer OC Register photographer


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

When Love Prevails

My sister and I have a new code word: South Carolina.

Separately, we both listened to the arraignment of the man who committed the church murders.

While the man was held at a different venue, the relatives of the victims spoke their minds, or as it turns out, their hearts. Each mother, father, sibling or maybe even spouses, spoke to a television screen and to a disconnected, seemingly unemotional man. Every person spoke of forgiveness, of repentance, and hope for the boy's salvation. Because their words were sincere, they have rocked the nation--the attention has shifted to love and away from hate.

Imagine what it would take to address a loved one's killer in the aftermath.

We both tear up, both admit to crying when we heard the families, and we both agree to how inspiring these people were amidst such adversity. We decide to learn and to change from their example.

On a recent occasion, my sister and I got into a verbal pickle with another person that we shouldn't have been in. We should have said, "Ok," and handled it at a better time and in a better way.

"We should have acted like the people in South Carolina, with Christ-like love in our hearts and actions."

"You're right!" And how I wish we had.

The verbal pickles aren't over and neither is our effort to become better people, so we make a plan, "Next time, if we find our self in a similar situation, one of us needs to say to the other, South Carolina, or Carolina baby."

"It must be subtle."

"Of course."

Exemplary action deserves emulation, and so my heartfelt gratitude, love and condolences go to the exemplary people who dared to act with love instead of react with hate--who've dared my sister and me without even knowing, to become like them.

South Carolina.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Awareness

One of my students confides in me that she doesn't have a father.

Ok, I think, a lot of children don't have fathers: a mother's choice, a father's choice, divorce, death..., she hesitates as if she is sitting at a red light. I am quiet, waiting for her to speak.

Really, she explains, she does not have a father. Her mother chose an anonymous sperm bank donor to have her child.

I am surprised, but I hold on to my therapist face--the last thing I want my student to think is the truth--that I am surprised. I want her to feel comfortable, because it's clear how difficult this is.

Her conflict started in elementary school in a large and liberal California city. The students were planning a father-at-school day and her lack of a father status didn't settle with her young school mates. The little guys called on their teacher who took over the conversation and insisted she had to have a father. My student was bewildered and humiliated when she couldn't adequately explain why she was father-less.

Over the years, she figured out how to avoid the conversation, she figured out a satisfying story to appease the natural inquiries, she figured out how to lie, or how to survive.

Easy for me to say, but she didn't need to. Children are always at the mercy of someone else's choices and therefore should never have to explain family circumstances-whether Mom's in jail or whether "Dad's" role was only biological. Children should be accepted and loved. Period. My student was a beautiful, intelligent, creative, talented young woman who brings great joy and devotion to her family and to me.

We now live in a world where the possible was once impossible, where the taboo is no longer. We may disagree with conventions, lifestyles and adult choices, but it's our right and joy to sustain and love all children.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Gift From Dad


Yesterday, with a case of blueberries and various other fruits in my car trunk, I stopped at the grocery for a few other needed items. High in a refrigerated case, above the packaged lettuces and mostly hidden, I happened to notice a row of small-boxed Rainier cherries.

While at the beach one summer, my father already in a degenerative state, I drove inland to a farmer's market hoping they'd have Rainier cherries for Dad. It was the end of the season, and the cherries were few, but I picked through browning cherries, found enough pink and yellows, rushed to the post office and overnighted them to Dad for Father's Day. When he received them, fully aware of the expense, he chided me for the gift, but, it was easy to defend myself, "Dad, I wanted to do it for you."

The cherries at the grocery didn't have a price, and Rainier cherries can be very expensive. I hunted down the grocery man and asked him how much.

"Those aren't even in our system yet, so they shouldn't be out on the shelves, but I'll give them to you for $4.99."

I gulped. It was such a small box.

"They're usually $7 or $8," he added.

"Thanks, I'll take 'em."

I brought them home, not fully understanding the purchase, for the house was full of fruit, from my food co-op pick-up that morning and Tony's recent watermelon indulgence when he found them on sale for $3.99 each. I was feeling a little guilty for buying the cherries.

My grandmother had a Queen Anne (a close cousin to Rainiers), tree in her side yard that produced abundant, juicy, beautiful cherries. Dad and Mom were visiting his mother and while there, sent me a shoebox full of cherries. I was on my third week at tennis camp and the box of cherries was a welcome treat and reminder that I still had parents.

Queen Anne or Rainier cherries

My Dad and I always welcomed cherry season together. The neighbor's mother owns an orchard and one summer her grandchildren sold us bags of cherries. It's delightful when children's lemonade stands become cherry stands and when bing cherry salesmen can be found on almost every major corner. If Dad was coming to visit or if I was going to visit him, I'd always pick up a pound or two of cherries. If Dad was with me, he'd always stop and support the local cherry entrepreneur.

The night before Father's Day, when Tony and I discussed it as my first celebration without Dad, I couldn't talk. I would begin to weep and we'd change the subject. In the previous months, I had intentionally shut down my thoughts of Dad--it had become so difficult to constantly think of him--where he was, what he was doing...I couldn't distinguish what was my imagination and what was possibly real. I saw Dad in my mind's eye, like he was near, like he spoke to me, but reality and common sense told me he wasn't and didn't. I wanted it to be real, but couldn't make it so.

I had to intentionally quit thinking of him, and I felt like a traitor.

I turned the photo of him on my desk, in his prime with wavy dark hair and his crooked smile, away from my view.

This morning I awoke at 5:45, unable to go back to sleep, and I wasn't sure why.

The box of cherries popped into my mind. I made my way downstairs and pulled the cherries out of the fridge, washed them and savored the first one. I brought them to my desk. With my glasses on, I saw that they weren't Rainier cherries but a new cherry: Orondo Ruby. I succumbed to the blurb: Go to orondoruby.com to find out what makes this cherry so unique!

This is what I found:

In his family's Rainier cherry orchard in Washington State, 4th generation grower Marcus Griggs noticed one particular tree that matured earlier with fruit that tasted sweeter and was more red-blushed. Careful studies revealed this was a brand new varietal – a gift from Mother Nature!

The word gift hung in my thoughts. Of course! Today was Father's Day. I could no longer buy cherries for Dad--but maybe, in a way that defied explanation and reason, he had bought them for me.


A gift from Dad

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Breakfast In the Berry Patch

For some people it's pure bred dogs, or show horses, or it's prize winning roses; if we bump it up a few notches, it could be art collections, or antique cars; but for me, it's simply berries. The patches are small, require little work, and bring only seasonal enjoyment, but there is nothing like picking one's own berries for breakfast and even sharing a few. This morning, I watched a fat robin red-breast swoop down, land in a red raspberry bush and pluck a whole berry for herself. I was mildly annoyed, but realized all good things need to be shared. Abundant blessings require a payback and for me on this June morning, it's our mama bird.

A few weeks ago, I discovered her nest built in a hillside tree. Even though she built the nest high in a crevice of two adjoining limbs, it is eye level with the pool. Each time we swim, we can bend over the fence and almost reach out and touch mama bird. She diligently sat on her nest; when she flew away, she exposed her eggs. Soon the baby birds, scrawny, unfeathered, helpless, appeared. We'd pick up the children and bring them close. Away she flew and we watched the babies stretch their necks, gaping beaks, searching for a worm, and every once in a while, we witnessed mama bird drop one into their hungry mouths.

Last night while I was swimming with my daughter and her guests, I joyfully watched as she, like me, pointed out the birds, then climbed out of the pool to bring an eight year old closer to the nest.

A few berries is a small price to pay for the nature show so close and convenient, for the reminder of the cycle of life.
Golden berries--everyone's favorite



 Black raspberries--in all stages of ripening--but only delicious when dark, dark, purple
 Leftovers from this mornings picking
 The boysenberry patch--the birds' favorite, so this year I covered the patch with netting.
 Covering has paid off
 As a child, boysenberry syrup was my favorite; these little gems are perfectly sweet and Knott's Berry syrups can't compete.
 Long sleeve shirts and gloves are a necessity when picking.
Hidden within the vines
video
The symbiotic relationship of a garden, birds, bees, earthworms and the gardener-everyone working together to further nature's treasures. I once read that the chirping of birds, the beat and melody, has an effect on the growing plants. Since having bees in the yard, the berry production has at least tripled.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Louisiana Purchase



The year is 1800 and President Thomas Jefferson has his ambitions set on increasing the size of America. It's hard to imagine our sea-to-shining-sea country as a small blip on the eastern seaboard, but that's about it in 1800.

Found at earlyamerica.com


Jefferson's desire was relatively simple: he only wanted the city (for strategic and monetary purposes), at the end of the Mississippi River: New Orleans. He got together with James Monroe (future president), and hatched a plan to send Monroe to Paris to negotiate and purchase the city from France. It seems simple until one realizes that the offer had to be made to the one and only, great, though small in stature, Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France. Mind you, the man had a reputation for Extreme imperialism, domination, and accumulation of other sovereigns--not all taken peacefully.

Jefferson: "In the beginning, offer only 3 million dollars. Do you understand?"
Monroe: "Yes."
Jefferson: "But it is Napoleon. The great imperialist and conqueror of the 18th century. He probably won't want to give it up. You may go higher; you may offer as much as 15 million, but start at only 3 million and do not, do not, let him think you will pay more than 3 million."

In the meantime (because there's always an in the meantime), the French have taken possession of the Caribbean island Saint-Domingue, and have found it to be an incredible island for growing coffee and sugar. What could be more valuable to the emperor of the country of fine food? After enough time to learn about the fertile growing conditions, the French also learn of their biggest impediment: mosquitos carrying yellow fever. French farmers contract the disease and die. Not willing to give up, they bring in the first ship of slaves. The slaves are no more immune to yellow fever than the French, but it is cheaper to bring in another slave ship, watch them succumb to yellow fever, and bring in another ship. The true cost of sugar and coffee.

At some point, the first slaves build an immunity to yellow fever and become stronger and stronger, stronger than their French oppressors, and while using those machetes to cut sugar cane, they realize they have a weapon. Slave revolt ensues--a bloody battle, lives lost, but the slaves prevail and retreat to the other mountainous side of the island to hide. 

Napoleon convinces his sister Pauline, in accompaniment with her husband and eventually 30,000 French soldiers, to sail to Saint-Domingue and fix the problem. With 30,000 soldiers strong, how could they lose; but lose they do. Pauline's husband succumbs to yellow fever along with 2/3 of the French soldiers. Pauline shares the blood of Napoleon and when misfortune rained so hard on her parade, she decided to fight back with a vengeance. She decides to send her husband's body back to France but not before cutting out his heart and wearing it in a challis around her neck. She cuts her hair (in protest, health reasons connected to yellow fever?) and boards that ship. What do you think she does when she meets up with her brother whose actions brought such misery?

In the meantime, strange things are cooking on that other side of the island. Men and women who have revolted and murdered with machetes, create a new religion mixed with a little bit of Catholicism brought to them by their so-called-benevolent benefactors: voodooism is born.

Before Monroe makes it to Paris, Napoleon wants nothing to do with the cursed New World, yellow fever and slave labor. He not only offers to give it to Monroe for 3 million, he decides to throw in all of the French held territory, all 828,000 square miles for a paltry 15 million! Imagine Jefferson's and Monroe's shock when Napoleon is happy to rid himself of so much land for such a bargain.

The real story of The Louisiana Purchase!

I briefly remember learning about the Louisiana Purchase in elementary school, and its significance stuck with me--but it was fact and story starved. 

Yesterday, I listened to Nathan Hale, an artist/author who brings life to American history in his graphic novels for children. Though the above story is retold in my own words, I was inspired to do so by this man who recreates history so we want to know more!

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” — Muriel Rukeyser