Tonight I carefully slice into a red bell pepper, then a green one, and finally a cheerful purple onion. I cut a quarter wedge from each of these and slice as thinly as my patience will allow. I am exhausted, and I am trying to prepare a new dish. So I move slowly; but I do move. I heat up two types of tortillas (microwave under a damp cloth napkin) and wrap them in heavy foil packets into the warmed oven. Having pickled a jalapeño (while the others roast in oil and salt), I dice it finely and add to the marinade hosting thick tempeh slices. I halve cherry tomatoes into a bowl and gently combine them with a little oil, salt, sugar: set aside. I fry up the seitan chick’n strips – having pre-baked them dry and chewy in the oven – and add the peppers and onions and more pickled jalapeño. The kitchen warms brilliantly with the fragrance of peppers and onions and the family cheers a little. Finally: I slice avocado, bring out the lime cashew cream, and the purple slaw, my husband prepared earlier. We don’t set the table as my work is spilled across it, but join one another convivially on the couch to watch a quaint baking show before we go our separate ways again for the evening.
When I was thirteen, one evening during a week-long family reunion we went out as a crew to a drive-in theater. I remember what was showing – Bird on a Wire and Arachnophobia. (Great drive-in fare – and not films I’ve felt compelled to revisit later, either!)
The adults in the family smuggled us in. My brother, sister, a few cousins – we hid in the back of a pickup. The adults were probably half-lit, or at least they hadn’t thought it through. We underpaid, pulled into our spot, and everyone tumbled out. At that point the wary drive-in employees – probably teenagers themselves – came over and required payment for all attendees. I seem to remember it was a very near thing – we almost didn’t have enough. I remember we weren’t able to get snacks for the films. I remember worrying about this. Because I was a kid, and the adults in my life didn’t have their act together.
Today I wonder at my parents, aunts, uncles – that they could be okay with this sort of behavior. It isn’t that they were full of avarice or greed. My family was always the generous sort, and very kind. But I suppose like most other families, their morality was relative. They didn’t care too much about other people, when they wanted what they wanted. Most people behave like that at one time or another.
I’ve tried to raise my children differently. I never wanted them to see me take advantage. I didn’t want them to learn that way of life. Not just because it isn’t kind, it isn’t right, it isn’t fair to others. But because it’s a scraping way to live – always thinking of the next grift, hoping for a rescue, hoping to not have to be responsible for one’s share. Hoping things go my way. Feeling “cheated” when Life Happens. An acquaintance the other day – who found a large amount of currency but didn’t get to keep it – because someone else saw them pick it up. And the thing is, for just one moment (or maybe longer) this person thought that money SHOULD be theirs. Because they live life thinking they don’t have enough. Scarcity. It becomes a way of life if you’re not careful.
I don’t want to have that mind. I don’t want to grasp. I don’t want to live in a fearful state, if I can help it.
Today my neighbor shouted at me, as I walked to my car. When I went to see what the matter was, they seemed very upset. They told me our cats had been climbing on their (new) car, and had made muddy pawprints and scratched the paint. I listened, and responded with feeling – “Wow – that sucks.” They talked a little longer – angry, but not telling me anything new.
I told them, I am open to your suggestions.
To my surprise, this person had none. They hinted they would “make” me pay for a new paint job on their car, and take pictures of our cats. (I’m not sure why they wanted to do that, except they seemed determined to have a fight.)
They then told me my daughter had been rude.
This, perhaps, is the only moment I felt my own anger rise. My daughter is unfailingly courteous, and conducts herself with a calm that adults sometimes find threatening. My neighbor was obviously upset and resentful, and had allowed adrenaline and rage to get the better of their faculties.
I held my tongue at this slight against Phoenix, though, while I made sure to listen. Not to argue. I thought of the ten cats or so that aren’t ours, who roam the neighborhood. The ones who climb on our cars, and run around under the deck doing cat-things, and scratch up our stairwell, and kill little birds and voles. I thought to myself what my mind would be like, if I were to get angry about all this and try to find these neighbors out and shout at them. I thought of “townie” life – a neighbor on one side with a sad, neglected dog who cries out during the day. A neighbor on the other who lets their dog wander around urinating and defecating in the neighborhood.
I thought, What would it be like if I were angry about all these things?
I thought, What if I cared about something like a car more than my responsibility to all living creatures?
So, yeah. I can’t help my neighbor much. I let them know I would not consider it rude if they were to make their grounds less hospitable – to shoo the cats. In a neighborhood full of cats as ours is, perhaps a car cover or parking in the garage might be an intelligent solution. I did not share this thought, as it seemed my neighbor wasn’t ready to move past their anger, not at this time.
One thing I thought of: we can keep our cats indoors. I wouldn’t do this just based on someone else’s car, but we had been discussing already for other reasons. In fact, Phoenix and I had been talking about it this morning! So, when I went back over to my neighbor’s later in the day, I expressed my desire to have a harmonious relationship while we lived near one another, and my hope an indoor cat solution might work for all of us (note: they hardly seemed mollified at this offering).
But, I said – “I’m not sure that will solve your problem.”
Because I can’t really solve my neighbor’s problem. Not their real problem.
But I am glad I don’t have problems like that, myself.
I miss my father.
If you’ve mourned the loss of a beloved one, you know that the “missing” part never goes away. It changes. You are changed, from having loved and lost. The pain resurfaces in pangs now and then. It is like this sweet ache. It almost feels good because it is a reminder how very alive I am. If that makes sense.
I grieved for my father in a healthy way. I am not angry he is gone. I am not one of those “fuck cancer” people. This has never resonated with me. For one thing, cancer gave me the opportunity to practice mindfulness, and to be glad for what I had while I had it, and to appreciate someone with my very soul. I had eight wonderful years to know my dad was dying. We are all dying; but rarely do we truly appreciate the implications of this fact.
I used to visit him during his chemo. I would bring him a milkshake, because he had trouble keeping weight on, and one thing he’d always consume was a chocolate shake. One time I went out of my way to find some protein powder to mix in. I somehow screwed it up and it wouldn’t dissolve. My dad took a sip out the straw and it was powder. He was so pissy. It gives me joy to think about it (although I felt bad for making a mistake). Just how pissy he was.
My father’s cancer was a very long journey with many rough spots. Kind of like life. I’ve this friend – she also died within the last year – very dear, a wonderful friend. She was hardcore and awesome and had survived SO MANY things. She used to say, “At its best, life’s a bitch.”
I would have liked more time with my father. He occupied an incredibly important place in my life. He’s one of the few people whose respect I wanted to have. Even so, I learned a healthy bit of detachment before he left. He was just a human being. He could be a real turd at times. He made me laugh. He gave me a great deal of comfort.
My father gave me many gifts. He was an agnostic, but he told Buddhist tales and koans and it is thanks to his influence I am a Buddhist today, which gives me so much joy.
My dad was more beloved to me, is more beloved, than I can express. I am not only grateful he raised me along with my mother, I am grateful that I liked him so much and that he was so gentle. My life was not to be a gentle one, but I always knew something better was possible. He was like a beacon in the night as he was very kind – at least he had become kind by the time he had children. Sometimes I think the compassion I have, whatever there is of it, has a lot of its root in my father.
Rest in peace, Dad. I miss you so!
Today would have been my father’s 71st birthday. I miss him terribly. He taught me so much.
After he died I wrote his obituary – I believe I began it with his body still in the room. Re-reading it now it fucking kills me he never knew my daughter’s real name. He never knew how homeschooling would go for us. He didn’t know Ralph and I would get through some hard years and build a strong marriage.
He never saw me get sober. I don’t think my dad thought of me as an alcoholic but I know he knew I was troubled. It is only through some ministration of divinity I am not in personal agonies that he died before I could make direct amends to him.
I don’t believe he “knows” somehow, anything, now. Or that he is “with” me in some way, watching over me like those maudlin Family Circus comic strips. I believe we have been separated in some profound way and his form will never be reassembled again. “Everything dies”, and from that stark sentence springs a beauty so fierce I want to cry. From that stark sentence springs a faith that is simple and indefensible.
Sometimes I think it was my father’s gentleness, and his witness to my life that enabled me to survive so many trials. My father didn’t rescue me from so many perilous situations, but he seemed to know a lot more about me than anyone else did. I didn’t think anything I did could separate me from his love.
As he sickened and died it was my mother and I alone who stayed witness. Sometimes I think that is a bond she and I share that could also never be broken. I remember watching him in his deathbed and watching him waste away and feeling a profound, keening helplessness that was beautiful in its simplicity. I could cook or clean but nothing would change a thing. I could wait on him but he needed me less and less until he left.
I can remember the panic in my mother’s voice as my father fell into the suffocating last moments of his life, not enough oxygen. She cried out for me while holding his head to her breast. It was a horrible way to die maybe, but we do not know how exactly the body suffers, and our own time will come soon enough. There is no part of me that regrets being there. I only hope I offered him some sort of comfort, some sort of Presence, just like he’d given me.
My heart breaks to think about it. Today would have been a wonderful day to remember him in some way, besides the small slice of lemon meringue pie (his favorite) that my mother procured me. I would have liked to do more – but I was tired, preoccupied, I had a hard day of my own. I know that sometimes these milestones pass and there is only this scuffling sound and an inert sadness.
But even so: one never knows. Tonight in searching his obituary I find his Guest Book hosted by the mortuary; I had never seen these notes before. There is a glimmer of something; someone out there cares. Whatever struggles I go through, mediocre or keenly-felt, there are those who care and who are there to keep pace.
Ralph and I sit on the bleachers and watch our children in the pool. My son is so tall and so thin but still has that baby face. To me, anyway. Despite the fact he wears his pants at near-waist, his swim trunks are always hanging exactly low enough that it is precisely just-barely decent enough for public attire. He doesn’t seem to mind a bit. He runs up and holds me close and gives me “a hug for safety”, his warm wet little otter-body a welcome grasp.
Our daughter is growing too. Tonight a friend asks, “Does Phoenix need new clothes?” Good god the answer is Yes, and I think I’ll be answering thusly a while. Watching her now her bathing suit looks fit to burst; I sewed it only a few months ago. She shakes the wet hair out of her eyes and smiles at me. She is a tender little sprig and I’m so fortunate to have her in my home.
My mom flies in from the Seattle airport and then drives home; she’s back from laying my Grandfather to rest and celebrating a mourning Thanksgiving with the extended family. Only a little over a week ago I heard news he was ill and now he is gone. My close friends are giving me the support and the consideration I need during this time. I am still considering the loss. I have so much to say about it now, but I do not know if now is the time.
I find myself with few elders, an estranged family, and painful memories.
Oysters on the half-shell in a restaurant. Reminders. My grandfather liked the oddest foods – amongst them I remember hardtack and hangtown fry. Hangtown fry! I am trying to think of something more odious but it is hard. Maybe I will make up a mess of it and do an offering, then feed my dog, who would surely be interested in the fragrant meal.
Tonight is a time for reflection. Trying not to think of the bank account for this evening. A few slim bills for groceries over the next ten days but I was able to pay all our other bills and for that I am grateful.
Black beans soaking on the counter and tomorrow will be another day.
This morning my children, husband, mother and I, as well as my kids’ friend A., hit the road and headed to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium as day ONE of our daughter’s BIRTHDAY EXTRAVAGANZAAAAAAAAAaaA
Tiger cub does BLUE STEEL —
OK then. I took a billion pictures of the red wolves – because I love wolves so much. They are spookily beautiful. Pictures can’t capture it. But maybe this stretch will translate pretty well:
The wolves really do move around in an eerily-coordinated pack; they grapple but silently.
Feeding stinky waterfowl; many were shy about getting a tasty fish:
Dancing Shrimp! You are looking at their tails, here. They were shy and would not turn around, but they did have a coordinated dance going on. They were less than an inch long. Beautiful.
A spooky octopus. No way to get a good photo; I just enjoyed her as she moved about.
A handsome goat that kind of reminds me of Jasmine’s dubstep boyfriend. I refused to take a photo of the even-greedier goat to the left.
The arctic fox. Ralph and I have a great little story about this fella but it’s probably only funny to us. Anyway, my mom was so excited by his cuteness. She laughed and clapped and turned around to smile at Ralph and I as we walked toward her on the trail and I said to him, “the littlest grandma.”
“‘Sup, we’re gibbons. DEAL WITH IT.”
Children in the bamboo, being lovely. Nels:
Peacocking! These peacocks were shady as fuck. Like one creeped a single mama out to her car and stood there watching her and I think she felt a bit weird about it.
Nels took many photos and texted them to his friend D.’s mama. So, there’s that.
Tiger cub, playing! This was rather touching. You could see this fellow really loved the little feline. “Little”, a six month tiger cub about sixty-five pounds of muscle and hungry potentiality. Very powerful to watch, even as a baby.
The two of them kept playing (the guy was like, “I’ve got a tiger, you don’t, so I’m awesome”) but I noticed the tiger would crawl up on the stump behind his human playmate, then jump on his neck and gnaw on it. This is how most tiger attacks go down – from behind, at the neck. And the VAST majority of tiger attacks are successful – for the tiger. (Here are some tiger attack tips! Also, LOLOLO). So anyway it was cute this guy thought the tiger was “playing” but it was actually, “practicing how to kill and eat him.”
This is E.T. the walrus. He is 3300 pounds of sass, and he likes to play with his massive walrus-dick (oosik represent!). While we were watching him he did this magnificent half-somersault, except instead of completing it it grappled his own business and whiskerly-chewed on it.
A photo on the steps; the kids talk about E.T.’s “trick” somersault, because my mom kept calling it a “trick” delightedly as she hadn’t caught the naughty bit of it until the kids finally detailed her a bit.
Two siamangs cuddle after eating bananas. I gotta admit, it is satisfying to watch monkeys eat bananas. And it’s sweet to watch monkeys cuddle. And it’s sad to see monkeys in enclosures.
The touch tanks. Today was kind of special. I got to see the very moment a docent talked my son into touching an anenome; and he did. I got to watch him go from fear, to wonder. It was pretty cool.
Nels, staring down a nurse shark.
After our lengthy stay at the zoo, we traveled to pho, had coffee and doughnuts at the Krispy Kreme (the kids enjoyed watching them make the doughnuts and spent several minutes enthralled), and then I shambled my various coupons into Jo-Ann’s Fabric & Craft for some sewing supplies (I am not much of a coupon-er but FABRIC COUPONS are an organizing principle of my life).
Today was a good day: day one of three of Phee’s birthday. Tomorrow we have some more awesomesauce. We Hogabooms go hard, it must be admitted.
From an email I wrote, today:
I have this odd thing about milestones, an internalized pressure I have to have a good day. I’m supposed to, you know. On Christmas, Valentines, my birthday. That “supposed to” leaves me little room for being human, being fallible, making mistakes, not knowing what’s going on, committing errors. It’s not a very good force in my life, that “supposed to”. I’m sure many people can relate.
It happens I used to feel some self-pity when my birthday came and I felt blue, or things didn’t work out to my satisfaction, or the boyfriend wasn’t nice or I didn’t have a girlfriend or whatever. A long time ago, I think, the self-pity bit. Because several years ago I realized I had been given a very special life to live. Maybe this sea change germinated during my 17th and/or 18th birthdays, where both years my close friends pulled off some excellent surprise party-age for me; two years in a row tricking me, by the way – I was totally convinced nothing special was going down (and yes, I felt self-pity before the “SURPRISE!”, then felt like an ass, predictably). Or my 21st where I got a car with a bow on it from my parents, after a lovely dinner at the posh little restaurant my brother-in-law worked at. Or my 30th, the last few days in Port Townsend, when I had the most overwhelming and lovely going away/birthday party (P. remember you came down with gastritis?!). Or just the many little and brilliant things that have happened on so many birthdays. The small little stack of cards on my shelf right now with wonderful things written in them from good friends.
I have had in my life a lot of love and many wonderful friends. They’ve given me so many gifts: their time, their handcrafted wonderfulness, their gifts, sometimes quite extravagant, their gifts, usually knowing me and what I adore. They’ve given me their company and their kind regards and even those emails and little DMs and IMs and texts and handwritten cards. They’ve given me flowers and cakes topped with flowers, and wrapped-up lusciousness and very dear perfumes which were a pleasure to apply every morning. They’ve given me coffee and teas and soaps and candles and lipsticks, those things in life that make such a gift out of the smallest rituals. They’ve given me their company whether I felt happy or blue, whether I was being selfish or rude or distracted or happy. They’ve given, given, given.
They’ve gifted me all this and more.
I can only say Thank You to these friends and family; I can only say Thank You to the universe and re-commit to appreciating those in my life. I can re-commit to being kind and telling these people how I feel. I can only commit to taking more care to gift others, not out of obligation but because they are special people to me and gifting is a wonderful privilege. This sounds like only a little, but it is a lot. It is easy to get distracted and to not appreciate those in life when they are right here with us, to love or ignore, our choice.
I seem to have less of a mind for detail than I used to. I used to be able to remember so many things the kids and I did and I would write them all up here on this journal. Reading my old entries causes me pain. I think I was funnier, I know I had more pain and was more crass, I know I had more drama, but I think I’m still about as passionate. Still, I can only write as well as I do.
Here’s one event from the day: Phoenix and I were lying in bed this afternoon as I didn’t feel well (seriously I really did injure myself on that dance floor last night, my creaky old joints need more practice!), and she started making fun of my saggy boobs (they aren’t that saggy, but, whatever). And she was going on with quite a bit of prose on this fantasy so like really quickly all of a sudden I grabbed at her and poke-tickled her ribs (my brother had this move down with his boney-ass fingers) and she collapsed laughing and said, “I love insulting you!” and I said I would smash her flat, and she said, “You can’t control who you gave birth to!” and I said, “I know, and I immediately regret the choice to have you!” and we laughed really hard.
Then she fell quiet for a moment and corrected herself that yes, I could have chosen to not birth her, or to birth her but not raise her. And she grew somber and said how people who had too many cats would take a new litter and put it the creatures in a bag and throw it in the water. I said, “Yes, that is a sad thing.” She said, “It’s awful.” Then she said, “I think people might be doing this right now,” and her perfect little mouth was quite grave.
And I said, “Now that you have that awareness you can take care of animals, and teach others the value of caring for life.”
And Phoenix said, “What I’d like to do, is cross-breed kittens with snakes. Then if someone went to put them in a bag, [ mimics hissing / striking action ].”
So anyway, that’s one of the people I live with, and how their mind works.
Oh and yeah? It turns out, after a rough start, I did have a very nice birthday.
R.I.P. Whitney Houston; & here I have a dedication to my homegirl J., remember when we used to watch this in the apartment on 8th?
Just the other day a girlfriend told me a loved one in her life had metastatic cancer. I had the presence of mind to ask her if she’d been through this before – cancer; she said No. She also related she hadn’t been through death of someone close, yet. Over the course of the next forty minutes, we both shed some tears. What I believe, because I know this woman a bit and know some about her past, and know what kind of friends and spiritual practices she has in her life, is that this will be very good for her. And it will hurt very much.
All I have to offer is my own experience, or what others have related to me. I was remembering my dad got pretty low when his cancer returned. It’s like, we’d been all excited years back after he had his surgery (before I got married), and we were so relieved after he went through the gut-rending radio and chemo and all that. The surgery was deeply disturbing and it left him physically changed. Everything changed. He got back up to running but at times was too ill to do so (he was a long distance runner who adored the practice), he couldn’t even walk around in his tightie-whities anymore in the house, as he had a colostomy bag and was of course quite shy about that. His hair changed, his appetite changed. Our hopes for the future were smashed in some cases, or caught jaundice.
In the last year of his life the news just kept getting worse, I guess “worse” is a judgment – I guess what I mean is, we knew his time was ticking down. Anyway I remember visiting one afternoon and he was drinking this huge glass of wine and it was early in the day. My mom, dad, and I all drank alcoholically but my dad and I were a lot the same, drinking at night and rarely acting much different, at least to outside perceptions. Seeing him with a huge glass of Uncle Carlo, and him so quiet and depressed, it hurt. I talked to my mom later, likely unskillfully and without tact. But, I was just worried; it hurt to see him go through depression. The next day my dad showed up at my house and was all pissy. “You’re saying I’m drinking too much?” Believe it or not, this exchange meant a lot to me. We were talking about something real, something intimate. It seems like something families should do.
Some people in our lives viewed my father’s cancer and demise as some kind of pathetic tragedy or whatever. I never felt this way. I felt sad, but I didn’t feel piteous about any of it. My memory is, I felt so gifted to be given this time to reflect, and love and serve, and really really really appreciate my father (and the rest of my family). And yeah, it hurt. It hurt him, I know, in his way, and it hurt me in mine. It hurt lots of people, in their own way.
I was privileged to be there with him while he died. I nursed him and I took it seriously. I learned a lot. I remember the last thing my father ate. A plum. I got to learn, while his appetite waned, that you can’t “make it better” by fixing food. Food is a kindness but there comes a time we are beyond it.
I cry when I think about my father, because I loved him very much. Despite a lot of difficulties, I did well during his death. I don’t know if he did or not; only he can judge that.
Death is like birth, an incredible opportunity to live life and to experience the incredible gift.
In my “writings” section, which if you haven’t figured it out is where I’m more likely to be all opinion-y and uppity and tell people how to live their lives, I responded to a question posed: Is unschooling a form of anarchy? I wrote that thing fast, as I had kids swinging off my arms etc. Anyway.
A bonfire with friends, just the other day: