I was just updating my website and saw my Instagram feed at the bottom of the page. My last few posts have all been about the emerging chicken coop and our first blue/green egg. As I glanced at it, I saw something bigger than the individual posts. I saw a dream come true. I looked at homes in Petaluma for almost two years before we actually moved. Each one held a vision of a homestead/family compound, filled with gardens, kids and chickens. The goal was to move with my closest friend, Belynda, and share land. It didn't work out that way, at least not yet. But I did find this sweet property in the middle of the city and the first day I saw it I asked if we could have chickens. This desire to homestead, to have animals and land, is deep. My mom did what she could with our land and shared this with me. Her family were early pioneers and so this is deep in our bloodline. My cousin reminded me today that our Grandpa Henry would be so proud. He was an old school Italian, East Coast guy who had chickens and ducks and a mini farm in the backyard of the shared home where my aunt and uncle lived with him and my Nana. It took a pandemic to help me commit to adding more beings to care for, but I have no regrets. And the coop, well that took longer than planned too. But this week it is all coming together, thanks to my amazing friend, Meredith Law. We are Scorpio sisters, creative souls, makers, mamas, resourceful and so much more. She is birthing this dream for me. While I work and help Dax with school. She is making it happen. And this week, right now, I feel like some of the community and dream of a homestead are coming true. There is more to do, I want to own the land someday, I want add another little home, I hope Belynda will live here with us eventually, we need more rooms and more bathrooms, but a chicken coop and six healthy chickens feels like a pretty good start. And I am grateful for that.
We're two months into distance learning for this school year...so how's it going? Well, honestly, a little bit better than I thought it would be. Yes, I run from morning till night juggling kids, food, cleaning, learning, working, cooking again and again. And I have almost no free time. It's hard. But today I was thinking about it from a different perspective. This is the third time I've been a first grade parent. It sounds silly but first grade is HARD, really it is. Because this little person is going from kindergarten play and projects to learning letters and numbers and reading and comprehension and sitting at a desk and so much more. My older kids who are now 16 and 13, a high school junior and a 7th grader, did not do well in first grade. My oldest missed a ton of days because he was miserable and I didn't have the heart to force him to go. My middle child showed signs of anxiety when I dropped her off at school every morning and her teacher just would not let up on all the things she wasn't doing right. Her experience was so negative it took years to undo and a total shift in schools. My kids are not early readers. They are early builders and creators. They are kind, they are funny. The pressure to read in first grade nearly undid them. And my youngest tolerated school last year but always said he didn't like it. He's no fan of Zoom either but I'm realizing that something interesting is happening. We are basically homeschooling. We get the curriculum from the teacher, she helps with some parts but overall, I'm in charge. I'm more engaged than I've ever been as a first grade parent. I am aware of the lessons and I'm watching what works and what does not work and then I'm adapting. And my little guy is getting more time to build legos and be himself than he ever would at school. Yes, he's missing out on some things and I'm not sure I'd ever really homeschool but it's always been in the back of my mind and now that I have a taste, I'm seeing the benefits, my youngest might not get chewed up by first grade. He might stay in touch with his inner voice longer and stronger, he might shine because of this upside-down year. And that is a little bit of a silver lining to all this craziness.
I saw my dad last week, for the first time since February 2020. In an effort to keep him safe, I have sacrificed precious time with him. He is 85 years old, he's seen a lot in his lifetime, but nothing like this pandemic and all the fall out. He is mostly at peace with his exposure risk. He wants to live his life, see his friends and his family. He wants to walk and get his coffee every morning, so he does. Because he knows that time is precious and is to be lived.
He called me today to tell me how much he loves my book. I delivered him a copy when I saw him. He loved all the memories I had recorded and he loved that it sparked his own memories. As I shared the book with my sister and my dad, we both thought how lovely it would be to do an A to Z memory book about our Nana, my dad's mom. And that we could gather memories from my dad's sister and her two kids who grew up in the same duplex with my grandparents. And then I thought, I want an A to Z memory book about my dad's life and his memories. I want all the memories, recorded and preserved. But time is not my friend right now. Many people have more time in this pandemic. And then others, like me, have less. We have kids home and yet still work the same or more hours from home. I am facilitating first grade most of the week and on the weekend I'm lucky if I can carve out some time for myself to do nothing or to be creative. So when would I find the time to record all of this and to really honor it. Well the solution might be that I need to spend my time finishing the A to Z Workbook so that I can send them to friends and family and share the process. So that we can all record our stories and share them. Or take the time to record our memories of a loved one that we all want to remember.
I am struggling to find the time to finish the workbook but I am reinspired by my dad's experience with the book. That just by reading it, memories bubble up. And for many people, there is more time right now to pause and remember and record. I read that the truest way to honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not to say "Rest In Peace" but rather to say "May her memory be a blessing". And that is at the heart of this project, may our memory be a blessing.
People often say to me, "I don't know how you do it..." I guess it's a complement? but it doesn't feel like one. I do it all because I have to. I have three kids with a huge age range - 16, almost 13 and 6 - it's a crazy combination that requires a lot of juggling. Oh, and they go to three different schools, one on a year round schedule. Oh, and I work "part time" but with Covid-19 my job pushes the edge of part time hours every week. So I fit in work hours in the midst of driving to skate parks, the beach, buying tons of food daily, and trying to take care of myself as well. Because for years the other thing people have said is " You really need to take better care of your self so you can take care of others." It happens in fits and spurts but this year I was on a roll. Therapy on Mondays, Yoga for an hour on Thursdays and an Al-Anon meeting on Friday morning. I gave up sugar, dairy and grain. I walked and biked as much as possible. I was "doing it all!" and then Shelter in Place hit in March. And suddenly I was doing it all with everyone home. And working more than ever.
Well, we have made it through almost six months of this with some loosening of restrictions so we can go out a little more and we even went to Monterey to visit our very close family friend and have a week of sand and surf and no work. It was delicious. Summer is wrapping up and this is the week, the final lap before they go back to school. Normally, parents are collectively holding their breath, waiting to exhale on the first day of school when we feed them, take a cute picture (if they will still let us) and drop them off at school. Sure, there's a ton of paperwork and back to school night and more emails that we can handle but they are gone, at school for at least six hours a day. It's worth it. But what are we doing this year instead? Setting up desks at home, preparing to "homeschool". Wow! due to extreme incompetency at the highest levels we are actually doing worse than we were in March and I think we can all agree it's not going to get better as we roll into fall and winter. So what we are really facing, after months of "maybe they'll go back part time? or full time by the spring?" is a school year of online learning. I had another finish line that I have been looking forward to for years. First Grade. When my youngest child would be in school until 2:50 five days a week. No preschool tuition, no aftercare to make up for the gap between 12:30 and 3 a few days a week so I could work. Instead I'll be sitting with him, in our living room, supporting his "distance learning" while I cram in work where I can and make food all day long for the hungry hoards that will be home all day long.
So here is my question. Why is this not a big deal? Why are parents not protesting in the streets? We are just being left to figure it out on our own. And there is only a whisper of the racial equity and social justice part of all this. I can't afford a tutor and most of our close friends from school don't feel comfortable with a pod right now. But I still have some flexibility with work and enough space in our yard that we can play and jump and run. But I can't afford not to work. I can't "pull back" while my partner steps up. I make more than half of our income and it's just to pay for the basics. So I'm also wondering how are people who don't work from home supposed to do this? And what happens to the kids who don't have anyone home with them. Do we, as a society, even care? Because if we cared, there would be an emergency fund that pays a real amount (2/3 pay when you are pay check to pay check does not cut it) that one parent could tap into so that they can be home as long as schools are closed. That is the only way this thing could work and not drive us all crazy. But it's not happening. So we get to do it all...and MORE.
I have a theory. When a woman gives birth for the first time, she should become super human. She will never get sick and she will only die after a long and happy life. We are expected to be super human already. To do a million and one things well and to never rest even when we get sick. So why can we get sick? And more importantly, why can a mom die before her time? I know too many motherless daughters and kids who are growing up without their moms. Cancer is a big one. But then there are the out of the blue losses - car accidents, a sudden health incident. I just heard yesterday of an immense loss to a family that we know in Marin. We don't see them as often because we live a few towns away now, but to hear of the loss that they are experiencing shook me to the core. Moms should never die. We mean too much. Our kids need us through the twists and turns of life. We need to be there when our daughters give birth and have sleepless nights and nursing issues. We need to be there to love our grandkids and take some of the pressure off our kids. We need to be here.
I was lucky in the big scheme of things I got 26 years with my mom. But it wasn't enough. And knowing how much that hurts, when I try and stand in the shoes of a 10 year old or a 15 year old, my heart aches. And I want to yell to the heavens - moms should never die!!! Every fairy tale that became a Disney movie starts with the mom is gone and then...it's never good. Never.
Reading about other daughter's loss on Mother's Day is truly what inspired me to move forward with a crowdsource campaign to print my memory book. As I step forward with this project into the world I keep feeling pulled to do something more. It is such a SMALL drop in the bucket, but I am creating a workbook to go with the book. It will be a way for anyone to record their own memories of their loved one. It could be just for yourself or to share with your kids or the kids you someday hope to have. There will be prompts to help you remember some of your favorite things and there will be an A to Z list so you can plan and brainstorm before you start creating. If you like to draw - great! - if not, then it could be collage or photos and a little or a lot of writing to go with the images.
I deeply hope that it can bring a tiny bit of comfort to those who have lost too much, too soon. I hope. Because this loss makes no sense and it never will. We live with waves of grief and we ride them thru the highs and lows of our lives that we wish we could share with our mom.
I’ve been crowdsourcing since before it was a “thing”. I was lucky to have friends in the fundraising department at Art Center - especially Shoko Takada. When I imagined going to the National Stationary Show in 2004 she helped me believe it was possible. She had me write letters to everyone I knew - friends and family - and I mailed them! Yes, mail. Real mail. I told my story, listed my goals and asked for help. I got so much support, enough to start my company Block Party Cards and go to New York City with an 11 month old baby in my arms. I was even able to pay for my mother in law to fly out and meet me so that she could take care of Jasper while I worked at the show. Someone in my mom's group in LA had a cousin in Brooklyn who offered her apartment - for free! It was amazing. I was WAY out of my league but the experience was priceless. I met Amy Mason who I'm still in touch with, she was a few booths down and fell in love with Jasper who would walk his "travel stroller", up and down the aisles. He was just learning to walk and he was super cute. Sometimes I feel like I "failed" at my goal of having a successful stationary line. But in the process of creating that line, I learned how to design and maintain my own website. That skill has grown into what I do today for my "day job". And it has created the flexible work that has always been my dream so that I could work from home and be here to raise my kids.
I haven’t “made it” like I imagined I would. Jasper was about to turn one when I went to the Stationary Show. He’ll be 16 on June 12th four days before this campaign ends. I’ve done some great things in these 15 years. I've been raising three children , volunteering at their wonderful schools, building community, working for the Town of Fairfax - building a recreation department and then focusing on design & marketing and now running communications for the whole town. I've been practical, I've gotten things done but the thing is my dream hasn’t changed. I still want drawing and painting - illustrations, surface pattern design and more - to be my main source of income. It may take me another 15 years to get there. But I'm not going to give up.
I have not had the launching pad that some have had, or the safety net. My parents gave me a lot of love but couldn't give me much else. I've been working since I was 14 and I grew up too fast as a result of the life I lived with my mom. I moved out and had more expenses than most at my age and I didn't finish college because it was too much to juggle work and school. I often start to feel sorry for myself, thinking of all the things I could have done with more support. But then I remember that I am strong and compassionate and I have amazing friends - the girl who ate her lunch in the bathroom alone in elementary school - has built a community of wonderful friends. And I have family I've collected in some round about ways in addition to my interesting family tree. And here is what I have learned from crowdsourcing - as hard as it is to ask for help, it feels so good to know that something that I'm imagining can actually come true with a little bit of help from a lot of amazing people.
I doubt sometimes if this book has appeal beyond my friends and family. I don't know yet. But I feel like it's the beginning of something. The idea came to me from the universal creative source it doesn't feel like it was "my idea" it feels like a call to action. It feels like the loss I have experienced thru my mom can help others find a way to some peace. It feels like I'm honoring all the good things about my mom's life even though when she died, things were not good and had not been good for a long, long time. I watched a movie tonight and the main character got to make amends with his dad who was abusive to him growing up. It was hard to watch. The work I'm doing to forgive my mom is one sided, I'll never get to hear her say that she is sorry. Many of us will never get to hear that. We have to carry our grief and our pain and our anger and then we have to let go. So we can lives full of joy and creativity instead of pain and fear. The movie was about a song he wrote after loosing his dad. It went on to touch millions of people. When we share our journey, when we are honest, we can be part of something greater than ourselves.
So to all the amazing people who have helped me so far and for those who might still be jumping on the campaign, thank you for helping me to keep dreaming, to keep doing and keep believing. This is not how I thought it would look but maybe it's better than anything I could have imagined.
I keep hearing that 2020 is the beginning of the end. I agree, but it started in late 2019 for me. I had spent months planning a screening of Motherload - an amazing documentary about the Cargo Bike movement and it's potential to be a force of change for our environment and our culture. We were planning to screen it in mid October. But then the planned power outages started to help curtail what we all felt was another inevitable fire season. The community center cancelled the screening because they were deemed an emergency center for charging and cooling (it was a super hot fall season, as has become "normal" now.) and then a huge fire swept thru our area for the third year in a row and by the following week we were all wearing masks the smoke was thick, again.
We got thru the holidays and started 2020 optimistic that things were going to be good. I planned to launch a kickstarter campaign to fund a small run of the book I finished in the fall. But Valentine's weekend we went on a short road trip to Monterey to see a friend. My daughter had a cold and didn't feel great but we figured, she'll be fine, we can still have a fun weekend. We arrived in Monterey and she was spiking a fever, the next day I got the same fever. The rest of our family was sick by Sunday. We stayed in bed for days, barely seeing the friends that we went to see. Finally, we drove home, delirious but a little bit better. It still lingered all week and we all missed school and work. It moved from fever to lungs, creating a painful, long lasting cough. By early March, we still could not breath clearly and we started to hear about the Coronavirus. By mid March we were all sheltering in place.
The kickstarter I had put off to March had to wait. My "day job" is in communications for the Town of Fairfax and I had been busy ever since the fall with power outages and fires but it really ramped up with the shelter in place orders. Working from home was crazy with three kids home from school. By May it had been months of lockdown and not much creative time. I finally took a deep breath and said "I have to keep going" so I launched the kickstarter and I have gotten a long way towards my goal.
Now the world is on fire again, this time in protest to the deep racial injustice that is ingrained in our county. The divide that has been nurtured for generations and ignited by our current leadership. We are literally burning it down so that we may find a new way forward. And here I am with my tiny book, thinking, is this the right time to push forward? It may not be, the campaign may not be funded and I will have to let it go, for now. But there is a little voice inside that says "it's ok, keep going" because this project is about looking at loss and finding the pieces that we want to keep so we can move forward, stronger. I think we all need a bit of that right now.
I am working on a companion workbook to go with the A-Z memory book so that anyone can document their memories of a loved one - either lost or present - to learn from the past, capture the moment and heal the future. I just added a $15 pledge to the campaign and the thank you will be the workbook to download and create your own book. Below are some sketches for the letters. If 100 people put in $15 the project will be funded. Just a little bit adds up, it always does, because there is power in coming together.
If you feel inspired to contribute to the kickstarter, please check it out here:
I have no idea what the rest of 2020 holds. We really can't plan anything right now. But I do hope that I keep drawing and connecting to the creative source. Because creativity is not cancelled. In fact we need it now, more than ever. So we can create a reality we can only imagine.
Why you are pursuing this project?
I am attempting to capture some of the sweet memories of my childhood. These are things we would have remembered together and she would have joked about and told my kids about. By talking about memories, we keep them alive and pass them down to our kids and their kids. I lost my mom when she was 53 and I was 26 and I was not a mom yet.
These all seem like the best parts, what about the tough times?
As my dear friend Belynda said, you did not do D is for Drunk in this memory book. My mom was an alcoholic and my kids know that. I’m not trying to gloss over the hard parts, because there were many. But I think we all want to hold onto the bright spots, the things we cultivate for our kids and the things that my mom worked so hard to give me. She fought some pretty dark inner demons but in the midst of that she gave me so many good things. And those good things are what carried me through. They have given me a compass as a mom, and I really needed a strong compass since she has not been here for me to ask anything about being a parent. I am so thankful that she told me so many stories and that she explained why she made certain choices, why she chose to live a life so different than the one she grew up in. And the most amazing thing is that the things she taught me to do, they are living on in my kids. That is the best part.
You mention that her life growing up was very different from how she raised you, can you talk more about that?
Yes. She was born in 1949, in post war 50’s Sacramento. In tract housing, eating mostly frozen and canned food. She hated it all. She talked about how crazy it was that every third house was the same and you could mistake another home for your own. Her mom worked in the school cafeteria and ran her home much the same. They had the same thing on the same night of week, every week. Her dad left when she was quite young and her mom was not a happy woman. She was verbally and physically abusive with my mom and her older sister. I learned later that my grandmother grew up in a home with domestic abuse and probably too much drinking and abuse towards her and her brothers. So the pain runs deep. My mom drove as fast as she could in her baby blue mustang to San Francisco in the late 60’s. She said she walked into SF State in a girdle, stockings and heels and walked out barefoot and without a bra.
She truly embraced the freedom of the late 60’s and early 70’s – she learned to cook from scratch, bake bread, grow an organic garden, quit sugar and TV. She worked on a fishing boat in college. She lived in cohousing in the Height Ashbury. She followed the Russian mystic, Gurdjieff and converted to Russian Orthodoxy in her 20’s. She moved to Marin to be part of an artist colony and worked in a plant store (how much more 70’s can you get than selling ferns in Mill Valley) and when she had me, she nursed until I decided to wean myself at 4! She read about Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf education and found a way for me to go to Marin Waldorf even though it was a private school and pretty far from our house.
Needless to say, her family thought she was completely crazy and never understood why she made these choices. I grew up going to Christmas at my grandparents and my grandma (her mom) would take care of me when my mom traveled for work, but I never felt very close to her family because it always felt like she and I were in our own world, on the outside of what she came from.
Has making this book helped you grieve or be more at peace?
Yes. I struggled with how to remember her for a long time. I wanted to write the story of her life, but I don’t really know her whole story and I can’t ask her to clarify anything. It also was so daunting when I would try to start writing. I love words but I’m not a writer as my main form of creative expression. I was taking an illustration class and a suggested warm up was a page from an ABC book and also to do a scene. I did A is for Amy and I realized this is such a great way to write a little but express a lot. And to capture my memories. That’s all I can do now, record what I remember and share it with my kids.
Would you recommend this process to other people who have lost a loved one?
Yes! I definitely would. And the first thing I would suggest is do it in a way that makes sense to you. It could be more of a scrap book or a collage if you don’t think of yourself as a creative person. But this kind of therapy, hands on, with a bit of structure (the alphabet) is really cathartic. And when you are done with all 26 letters, you have something you can hold that might help you feel a little bit closer to the one you have lost.
Is the book available to buy?
Yes, in a way. I am working on printing it in bulk so I can make it more affordable. I started a crowdsourcing campaign this month. You can view the campaign here.
About a week before everything changed, I was at an Al-Anon meeting and it had just wrapped up. I was chatting with someone when I heard a loud crash, ceramic breaking on a concrete floor. someone had moved my "to go mug" onto a chair and it had rolled off. It was double walled ceramic, pretty strong but not this time. It burst into a million tiny pieces. The woman who had moved it felt horrible and was so apologetic. I was kind of bummed but mostly I was at ease. Al-Anon is all about letting go - of control, of expectations, of attachments that don't serve us anymore. And I was at peace. I figured I'd get a new one at Target. But when I went to get one, they don't have it anymore. I thought maybe I'd order it online, but then the world shifted massively. Suddenly we were not going anywhere. I had no idea when it broke, what was ahead, just around the corner. And the thing is that the same woman who accidentally broke the mug had shared such a story of peace and surrender at the meeting. I was so grateful for that. The mug was the least of my worries.
We are ten weeks into this "sheltering in place" now. It occurred to me today that I never replaced the mug, but there really is no need for a "to go" mug when you are home all the time, making your own coffee and tea. Perhaps the thing I miss the most is walking to Acre in downtown Petaluma to get a perfect almond milk latte. I miss that. But I am also realizing that I am happy being mostly at home. I have learned to be resilient over the years. Often not by choice but by necessity. I do my own nails, I cut my kids hair, I even cut and color my hair! (most salons don't "get" curly hair) So I won't be out there waiving a sign saying "I need a haircut".
Mostly I'm sad that my youngest won't get to have the experience of the last few months of Waldorf Kindergarten, something we waited for years. He won't get to go back to that part of childhood. He'll be six this month on May 30 which means the current shelter in place order will be in effect. A part of me is ok with having a small celebration. But I know that he's growing so fast and if he even get's to go to school next year, it will be to 1st grade - "real" school. My older kids are missing their friends but overall, they kind of like being home. We all like staying up late and not getting up too early.
The things that make me truly happy, I can still do, especially on this sweet piece of land we have in the middle of the city:
Hanging laundry on the line - I have been doing this in good weather for almost three years. I love it. It could have been an fantasy that I didn't enjoy in reality, but instead, it feels like I'm grounded and in touch with a deeper part of myself. And I am - connecting to generations of women before me who did this. I am a descendant of pioneer women and Italian immigrants. There was a lot of laundry that was hung and it feels so good to honor that part of myself.
Riding my bike - I have had a cargo bike for over 10 years. I'm on my third version and I LOVE my current bike so much. It's perfect for me and I plan to have it forever. Riding on streets that have less cars is an amazing feeling and I can do 99% of my local errands on my bike. I feel like I need to step it up even more and say, I'll do as much as I can on my bike all summer long. It really is such an amazing feeling to be on a bike and I'm happy, even getting groceries! It's life changing.
Raising Chickens - We have six baby chicks, growing so fast. We fixed up a sweet little coop for them this weekend and soon they will move in. Sitting with them, watching them explore the world during their "outdoor time" is pure joy.
Planting Vegetables - I actually got an early start this year, because we're home all the time! And now we are getting late May rain and everything is growing so fast.
Working from Home - It's not easy working from home with the kids home, but as long as I can remember, I always imagined working from home so I could be there for my kids. I love my job and get to be of service to the community, all while working close to the heart of the house - our light filled kitchen. I'm here and that feels good even when I feel like an octopus with all eight legs being pulled in different directions.
This has been such a ride so far and no one knows when it will end or change or "go back to normal" but it feels like this cocooning is something special and I hope we can emerge from it more connected to what matters.
It's Mother's Day. As I thought about my mom today a wonderful experience popped in my head. It's relevant right now for a few reasons. As a kid I didn't know what quarantine meant, until the day my mom announced that her friend, Ron, in the city who owned an exotic bird store, had been told that all his birds had to be quarantined due to a rare disease that didn't effect human but could spread rapidly in birds. And they had to leave SF. So my exocentric mamma offered our house as a place for ALL the birds to stay! Including Rocky, a giant Macaw Parrot who had been trained to perform but would not behave so he was "kicked out" of Marine World. Most of the birds stayed out back in what used to be my dad's shop space. It was loud and pretty stinky in there. I have no idea how my mom cared for all those birds. Rocky lived in the house with us in a giant steel cage and talked all day long. He loved to swear and he even stole a steak off the table before dinner one night.
Thinking of having all those birds on our property and the adventures of living with Rocky, reminded me what a rich life my mom had. She was up for adventure and loved animals. I completed the original A-Z memory book and there are definitely animals in there, but I keep circling back to all the stories I didn't tell and how so many of them revolve around animals. So I think my next project is emerging..."The Animals of Evergreen Avenue" or something along those lines.
We had a goose who flew in during a storm and then stayed. A goat in our front yard. A guinea pig who was "free range" during the day and would come home at night (like a cat!). I raised baby chicks in my room every spring and then added them to our flock. We had three ponds with fish in them that the raccoons would try and catch and my mom was on a never ending fight with them. And then there was China, the sweetest cat in the world. There are SO many stories, I need to write them down and then make images to capture the time and place that only lives in my head right now.
And the other reason this is all so meaningful is that last week, on May 1st, our family adopted six chicks. So I am following in my mom's footsteps as best I can, giving my kids a chance to love these little beings and have their own funny stories when they grow up. My mom would be proud.
Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the right time... I long for a bygone era and yet I dream of a future that holds the best of technology mixed with the “old ways” that are so much gentler on us and the earth.