My first post was just after the Planned Power outages that PG&E rolled out to avoid wildfires last fall. We had power but all over the state people lived for days with no refrigeration, markets ran out of food, gas stations could not be open because the pumps didn't work. Now here we are, six months later, sheltering in place due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. And here's the thing, we needed this. It is hard, it is scary and it is good. We are still, life has mostly stopped. The earth is breathing a huge sigh of relief. We can learn from this.
What lessons can we take away from all of these "disasters"?
Here's my list:
I think the next "run" after toilet paper, is going to be on baby chicks. I'm ordering some now, and finally going full circle, back to my childhood love of getting fresh eggs from the chicken coop. The chickens are coming...soon.
Working from Home:
When I was a kid, there was hardly any traffic in the SF Bay Area. My parents would just drive places never thinking what the traffic would be like and how it would impact their trip. It's like that right now. There is no traffic! I almost want to go drive around just to experience it. Overnight, so many big companies said "Work from home." Who knew it was that easy? My job was already remote and I am so grateful that I'm all set up to work right now. Yes, my kids are home and that is making things more difficult, but it turns out a lot more of us could be working from home and that single reality could impact traffic more than any freeway widening or mass public transit. I hope that when the shelter in place is lifted that some of this "sticks" - people learn that they can live where they work or work where they live and that 2+ hours do not have to be dedicated to driving each day. And employers can see that being flexible might actually increase productivity. We can flex and be even stronger.
Or Maybe Not...
I've been working on this post for a few days and I guess the quarantine is getting to me, but today, I don't feel so hopeful that as a collective culture, we will learn from this. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the Democratic race today. I guess everyone knew he would at some point. But today was the day. I didn't vote for him in the primaries, I voted for Elizabeth Warren. Why? because I am an optimist and I believe in change and in kindness to all humans, animals and the earth. And I thought she would be our best chance at change. When she dropped out, I thought maybe Bernie would be able to pull it off. Then it started looking bleak for him in the primaries. But as COVID-19 upended everything there was a glimmer of hope - maybe the people in the middle could see that universal healthcare, free education (and loan forgiveness) and strong social services were not crazy ideas - they are filling basic human needs. Maybe they could see that and get behind a socialist democrat. But no, not today, not next year, not for the next four years after that. And so today, I feel like we are on the crazy train, towards more wake up calls - more fires, less electricity, more viruses we don't understand. And I have no idea what it's going to take to "wake us up". I don't want to know. Because if this shelter in place for 7+ weeks doesn't do it, I don't want to imagine what rock bottom is. I really don't.
I guess the optimist needs to meet the fatalist and figure out a plan. Some of the ideas I listed, they are good. If I can pull them off, then I'll be more prepared, in the midst of whatever craziness will follow. So I'll still be planting a bigger garden, canning food and maybe (if I'm brave enough) getting chickens.
I just read my friend Lizzy Russinko's post on Instagram. This is one of her many insightful statements that she shares with the world thru her hand lettering and her speaking engagements. I have heard it before, "The story you are afraid to tell will set you free" but it didn't really sink in until today. As I read her post I realized that by starting this blog and by sharing the story I wrote about my mom in Heros and Rainbows, I am starting to share my real story. Sure, I am open about the fact that my mom was an alcoholic, but it's just a statement and then I move on. But the better part of the story is how she was both an alcoholic AND an amazing person. And I am always peeling back new layers of the patterns that I have taken on by being raised by her and the choices I made in my teens and 20's. They are all bubbling up right now as I enter my mid 40's - insight into why I fell in love so young and ran into the "safety" of a long term relationship, why I left college 2 years in thinking it was too expensive to finish and yet I ended up putting Nicholas thru school and taking on debt in his name, why I became a mom at 28 - it's all right there, deep in the core of who I am and asking to be told. And maybe in the telling, I will see my future more clearly? I sure hope so. And that hope is based on the fact that as people read Heros and Rainbows, they shared their own stories of loss and redemption. And I am starting to see that when you share your honest truth, rather than no one caring, it connects us to those around us. People who we have been drawn to or maybe barely know, but we find a common thread and we feel seen and heard and that is true connection.
When I was 17 I met Nicholas at Whole Foods Market in Mill Valley. I felt, at the time, like the best version of myself. I had been to Spain the previous summer and it had given me perspective. I came back less entangled with the "friends" I had been in school with since third grade but who had never been very accepting or kind. Growing up I wore the wrong clothes, didn't have a mom who could volunteer and drive on field trips, had weird food, the list was long. But by 17 I was feeling more sure of myself. I got my own car that November when my grandmother could not drive anymore. And I felt free - to go wherever I wanted to go. And then I did the precollege program at CCAC and I knew I wanted to go to art school. I could see my future clearly and I had hope. But my home life was rocky. I was exceptionally close with my mom - we shopped and cooked together everyday, we were on our own. But it was also hard. She would be fine for long periods of time and then she would do into a deep dark place and then explode. I never knew when it would happen and it often was horrible timing- after I had a good weekend at my dad's or I had a friend over to stay or I had gone to a friend's house to sleep over. Sometimes she would storm in and take me out of a fun situation or embarrass me in front of friends. So I guess my life was always on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We would have huge fights - raging into the night, doors slammed, tears shed, so many tears. And then the storm would pass, sometimes she would say she was sorry, sometimes she would just pretend it never happened. But there was never any real resolution. This went on until I decided to move out the fall of my senior year at the age of seventeen. The summer after I met Nicholas.
What I can see clearly now is that I was running from one codependent relationship to another. He needed me, I needed him to need me, and I thought I needed him to get out of the cycle with my mom. But what I did was give up the time in my life that would have been just for me, before kids and marriage. I gave my 20's to a domestic long term relationship. And I will never get that time back.
Now in my 40's I am letting go of the need to be needed. I hear this is the beginning of menopause, when we move from being caretakers of the world to caretakers of ourselves. In a time not so long ago when we gave birth in our teens and 20's we would have been done mothering by now and it really would be more of a time for ourselves. In the modern era, many of us still have young children and/or teenagers that we are caring for. Sometimes I feel like I will drown in doing for others, probably because I have been gasping for "air", which is really time and space, for so long. But I keep getting reminders that I need to focus on what is good for me - it might be a 10+ year plan but it started a few years ago and each year, especially at this time of year, I need to refocus and stay clear. Take MATS classes and build my illustration portfolio, do my work for the Town of Fairfax which brings stability to my life, and take on private clients but only if it pays well (which requires me to charge a decent rate) or leads to creative growth. I'm not sure what my future holds, but I know I want to be in deeper connection with my creative forces, I want to travel and I want to feel at peace rather than waiting for something bad to happen. And I think this is the story I need to keep telling, because it will set me free.
My mom’s side of the family were early pioneers. They came over shortly after the Mayflower and took a covered wagon out west settling in Kansas. They lived in mud Hogan’s and survived however they could in a new land. My dad’s side are from Italy and came later - my great grandmother traveled on her own in her late teens, to meet her brothers who had already settled in upstate New York. They were brick makers - cutting clay from the Hudson River. I come from hearty stock. Strong women who had to make it work.
It's no surprise that I tend to attract pioneer spirited women into my life. Michele and I met when our kids were little and they had just arrived in Fairfax. The fact that her most recent home was Mendocino meant she was rooted in the land. As I got to know her, I found out she grew up in California Gold Country and that her parents had run a gas station. Her mom had three kids, all close in age, by the time she was in her early 20's. She set up her sewing machine in the gas station "office" and would make clothes for the kids, take in odd jobs and make sure their home was filled with beautiful things even though they didn't have much money. My favorite Michele growing up story is that her mom let her drive to school when she was 10! She sat on a pile of pillows and coasted most of the way, but she did it. Until the principal called her mom and explained that she could not let her 10 year old daughter drive to school!
Michele and I have always joked about “packing the wagons” when we want to get back to the land and out of the crazy tech based culture we are currently living in. At the time we meant covered wagons. But as I worked on a piece of art for her to honor her move back to Mendocino, I realized she has a wagon! A Volvo wagon -it hit me all of a sudden that we call long cars “wagons”and it’s still a part of our language and culture. I have a mini van but it’s also a modern day wagon. I’m prepared for most adventures at any given moment. The back of my car currently has: a bag of beach toys (even though it’s December), blankets for sitting on sand or grass, cloth grocery bags, a cooler bag for cold items, a kids potty from Ikea, sun hats, baby powder, diapers (Dax no longer needs them, but someone else might!), yoga mat and more. Even though we are just braving getting kids to school, going for a hike, to the beach or on a road trip, we are prepared and perhaps it goes back to where we came from - women striking out most likely not because they wanted to but because they had to - to be safe, to make a better life for themselves and their children, to find work for their husbands and brothers. But none the less, it was an adventure that they survived and maybe even thrived in.
At this point in history packing the wagons might happen due to climate change. My thoughts are always looping back to how can I help my kids have a stable future in an unstable world. I want them to learn to grow food, build shelter, make things of value. Maybe it's a romanticised version of the post apocalyptic world but I feel like our future depends on us learning the things we have cast aside in the name of progress and convenience. And I want to pack my wagon and head north, to find land and community and a connection to something deeper that will last even if everything else doesn't. In the meantime, I'll visit Michele on The Farm and get a glimpse of what it's like to really pack a wagon and head back to the place that is truly home.
It's easy to think of a hero as someone who does grand gestures of bravery - firefighters, doctors and athletes. But I think more often than not, heroes are all around us. As I was driving to Fairfax early last Saturday morning, on my way to help host the 10th annual Fairfax Craft Faire, I got off the freeway on 5th street in San Rafael. It was a cold drizzly grey morning but the world felt fresh after a week of long awaited rain. This part of San Rafael is a little dodgy - right near the freeway, two motels that are host to all sorts of odd activity, tiny rentals and several apartment buildings. Along the way was an old house with a large group of people filtering out. Many on the sidewalk, talking and smoking. I can't be entirely sure but most likely it was an AA meeting that had just finished. It made me think of my mom. She tried AA and at times, maybe it helped her. But she was so stubborn and "smart" that mostly it bothered her. She found a million reasons why they were wrong or not for her. Watching all these people on a cold and rainy morning - knowing that they had all gotten up before 7 to make it to a meeting, on a Saturday morning, most likely, after a long week of work, I thought "they are heroes." To choose to take it one day at a time and to show up even when it's not convienant or fun or easy, that is heroic.
I have often wondered why some can commit to recovery and why my mom could not. Anne Lamott is the most famous example, at least to me. She is a hero. A messy, imperfect hero. Who was able to find a way to take all her quirks and her demons and let them see the light of day, share them with all of us through her writing and as a result we all feel a little bit better about how messy and imperfect we all are. When I first read Bird by Bird it was on the suggestion of an art teacher at Art Center. I had never thought to read Bird by Bird because it's about writing. But my teacher said it's about the creative process - and it's funny! I had been living in LA for several years by then and reading about "old Marin" - Anne grew up in Tiburon in the 60's - filled me with nostalgia for my childhood. I relished her descriptions of the Marin I held in my heart but that had changed so much. And I laughed! She is so funny - I would be reading in the hallway, waiting for class to start and laughing like a crazy person. When I told my mom that I was reading Bird by Bird and loved it SO much and loved reading about Mill Valley and Sausalito as it used to be, she said "oh yeah, I met her in AA - she's CRAZY." It definitely took the wind out of my sails. But as I have pondered this statement over the years, I realize yes, she is crazy and she has made it work for her. She has let us see in her closet with all it's ghosts and cobwebs and she has gone to church and she has gone to AA and she has raised her son and made a living as a writer and she is helping to raise her grandson. She is alive and well. My mom is not alive and well. She did not follow her creative callings, she did not keep going to AA.
When we moved back to Marin it was to Fairfax, the last "hippy" town left in Marin. And in 2005 you could still call it a hippy town. Turns out Anne lived there too. And I have seen her over the years, walking her dog, taking her grandson to school, living her life. And I never told her, "you are my hero". Because she just wants to walk her dog and live her life. But when I see her, I wonder, what made it possible that you could do this, that you could show up everyday and make a choice to be sober. And to be here. And my mom could not.
I have been lucky to receive bushels of apples from friends this fall. Especially from Michele who likes to leave things on my porch like an elf. She’ll often drop things off on her way to Mendocino, from Marin. We met over thirteen years ago when they moved to Fairfax to be closer to work for her husband. We connected in so many ways but mostly around making things and raising “free range” kids. We often joked that we were ready to pack the wagons when life felt too rushed and our kids cared more about iPads than climbing a tree or going to the beach. Her kids are older than mine and now that two are in their 20's and her youngest is 15, she is packing her wagon this month, for real. Moving back to the beautiful property full of apple trees and redwoods in Mendocino. Back to the land and a more connected life, not to technology but to the earth.
The apples she brings me are turning into lots of applesauce. I make it now without much thought but there was a time when I would buy it in jars or worse yet, little plastic “cups” for my kids. I guess I thought it was hard to make? I know I’m not the only one who has thought that - people are literally buying presliced apples now, wrapped in plastic and more likely to go bad than a fresh apple sitting on your counter waiting patiently to be eaten at the just the right time. One day I had too many apples and I thought, how hard can it be? So I sliced and peeled and put all the apples in a pot with a tiny (SO much less than what you think you need) bit of water and cooked on low for 20 minutes, then mashed the soft apples into a sauce and it was the best apple sauce I had had since Catherine’s mom, Alice made home canned apple sauce when I was a kid. It was SO easy and SO yummy!
And then there are French fries - available prepackaged if you want to “make” them at home. When I did Whole 30 a few months ago I wanted to make fries that didn’t have any added ingredients like rice flour and strange vegetable oils. So I sliced up some potatoes and put them on parchment paper, drizzled lots of oilive oil over them and sprinkled salt and pepper. Roasted at 425 for about 20 minutes and they made the yummiest fries! And the craziest part, that still amazes me is that you can make so many fries from 2 or 3 potatoes. When I used to buy them in a bag, I was getting a plastic bag I had to throw away and there were not that many in a bag so sometimes I had to buy two for my family of five. Expensive and wasteful - fresh potatoes cut up and baked are a much better solution. And now my family prefers homemade fries and gets so excited on “burger night”.
We are not doing handwork anymore - we think it’s easier and faster not to. Instead we keep our hands busy with keypads and screens. We feel kind of empty and unhappy and we wonder why. I think it's because our hands want to MAKE things! Just imagine all the packaging you avoid when you cook from scratch. It’s the way food was meant to be prepared and going “backwards” is the solution for a better future. What do you make now that you used to buy? What could you be making at home instead of buying it?
As we face PG&E shutdowns for wildfire safety in California, I am feeling the intensity of being on the front lines of climate change. And as part of that I am pondering what can we do to be less fearful and more empowered? Well we know that for several hundred years before us, people ate food but they had little to no refrigeration.
Some of the things they did: collect and harvest food at the height of the season and then preserve and/or store it. Canning, pickling, salting, smoking and root cellars or cold storage of root vegetables and onions. Fresh dairy meant you had a cow, goat or sheep and milked them daily or you traded with someone who had a cow, goat or sheep. I know a modern day mom who is part of a milk share - one cow, many families. And to make that dairy last even longer, make cheese.
Fermented foods are trendy right now, because we are realizing we need the beneficial bacteria that are present when we preserve food in this traditional way. What I am fascinated by is that they also do not require refrigeration.
If you have chickens or buy eggs from someone you know, you don't have to wash them. Unwashed eggs have a coating that keeps them fresh without refrigeration. The list goes on and on. It's worth considering how much food security we have handed over to big agriculture or even the local grocery store. When the power went out for most of Marin County (the county next to where I now live and where I grew up) the stores were closed, you could not get food, gas or money and by day four, panic set in, what would we do if this lasted weeks? years? I think the best thing we can do is start now, learn how to do things the way we used to do them, take the best of old and new technology and move forward stronger and happier into a brave new future.
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.