Parking Lot Grace

mycarI exit The Purity and walk across the parking lot towards my car. An eighties-style mini-van with patches of missing blue paint whips around a line of parked cars and screeches to a halt as if to avoid hitting me. It is several feet from making actual body contact, but screeches nonetheless. Burning cigarettes dangle from the corners of the lips of both the driver and his passenger.

The passenger jumps out like he’s late for an important interview. He takes a few sprinting steps and stops in front of me. With his thumb and forefinger, he pulls the cigarette from of his mouth. His face is bright, lit by a smile of anticipation.

Perhaps he’s a fan of It Happened at Purity.

I’m on my way home from the veterinarian where I’ve learned the sad news that our dog Lucy has to have another Luxating patella surgery. I’m in no mood to sign autographs.

He’s of slight build, about my height, short blonde hair, wears a camo T-shirt, and looks vaguely familiar. He pauses and opens his mouth. Perhaps he’ll say My buddy wanted to run you over, but I told him not to.

Instead, he says, “Ma’am?”

I’m thinking here it is—he’s going to ask for money. A couple months ago, I found a dollar in The Purity parking lot. It’s in a cup holder in my car. I keep waiting for someone to ask so I can give it away. This could be the day.

“Yes?” I say.

“Have a nice day.”

This makes me smile. “Thank you. And you, too.” I start to walk past.

He takes a drag off his cigarette and with smoke exiting his nose and mouth, says, “I really like your blouse.”

My heart fills with gratitude for him. He has lightened a very dark day.

I get into my car and pat Lucy on the head. “It’s amazing how little it takes to keep us going, isn’t it girl?” She wags her tail, looking out the front window, excited about where we might go next.1385952_10152162649041844_1036009523_n

Life Inspires Art Inspires Life

Guest blog post by Jennifer Hotes
Author of “Four Rubbings”

DSC02589Stopping by “It Happened at Purity” is akin to walking around Fort Bragg with Kate, perhaps on the way to pick up groceries for dinner. As we wander the streets with her, we come to understand the soul of this special place and its residents.

Though seemingly tough and nonplussed on the outside, the people of Fort Bragg are tender, sentimental, proud, modest beyond belief and honest, oh God they are honest. If Fort Bragg were a presidential candidate, it’d have my vote.

There is a special woman behind those stories, someone who watches and cares for this community, then takes her observations and coaxes the details into stories—ones that make us laugh, or bawl to the point of ruining our computer keyboards and most powerfully, make us feel like residents of Fort Bragg, too. Like the groceries at Purity—cans, loaves, and bottles—they are merely ingredients until a cook lovingly crafts them into a meal. Kate is that chef.

jenn@6For decades, Kate has been feeding me. My first memory is of a bowl of split‐pea soup. It was summer in Sherman Oaks, California and we were in the midst of a record‐breaking drought. Residents were instructed to flush toilets sparingly and the grass outside was yellow and brittle.

I lived most of the year with my mom in Washington State. Even though Sherman Oaks was hot and dry, I was delighted to be visiting Kate and my dad. But I was not happy to eat that bowl of thick green soup sitting in front of me on the kitchen table. I was six at the time and green food wasn’t my thing. The soup smelled like sweaty feet and looked lumpy and odd. The water bureau would’ve certainly approved of me flushing that down the toilet.

There were countless visits after that, all tethered to Kate’s amazing cooking. At Christmas time in Fresno, she made homemade lefse filled with a pat of butter, steamed potatoes and fresh halibut. Oh golly, it was delicious the first night, but even better the next day. Homemade pastas, ice creams, salads—there was always something decadent and savory at the table. It was understood that if Kate cooked, then my dad, brother and I cleaned up. I was never happier to do dishes than after enjoying one of her meals.

Every visit I’ve made to Fort Bragg is consistent in one detail—Kate makes me feel like the only person in the world. After driving the twisty Willits road, I am shepherded into the kitchen with hugs and conversation, handed a cookie and told to sit and rest while she finishes dinner. No matter how delicious the meal, she never takes credit for the end result. Yes, she’ll concede that it was a good recipe, but she’ll not admit that she has exceptional skill in the kitchen.

If I watch Kate like she watches Fort Bragg, I notice she savors having company around the table. She delights in watching her guests enjoy her food and though it makes the tips of her ears blush red, she relishes in compliments.

fourrubbingsHer way of caring for people through food made its way into my first book, “Four Rubbings.” Don’t tell my lawyers, but Kate is the person behind Grace, the cemetery caretaker who nurtures her loved ones with food and stories. Grace bakes brownies and cookies when people feel low. She cooks meals that fill the air with heavenly scents and cause people to linger over conversation as they try to make room for seconds.

Kate is Grace, stronger than she knows, squeamish about compliments, nurturing, and profoundly wise. She is the reason we all gather around the table. She is the thing we are hungry for—the meals are simply a bonus.

There is one recipe in “Four Rubbings” that readers constantly ask for—Pioneer Cranberry Pie, a recipe clipped from The Fresno Bee by her mom Donna. Kate made it a few years ago for my daughter Ellie and me. It is as good as it sounds. pierecipe

She’ll never tell you, but I will. There is a special person behind “It Happened at Purity.” I am honored to know her and call her Mom. The character she inspired—Grace—will be in my second book. Look for it in Spring 2015.

Visit Jennifer’s website:



It’s the end of the workday and I’m thinking ahead to tomorrow. I remember drinking the last of the almond milk with my morning snack.

DSC02939I hate to admit shortcomings, but confess I have some quirky rituals surrounding food. For example, I must have a latte and a treat around ten o’clock each workday morning or I get more than a little fussy.

Another food ritual involves the refrigerator. It must contain only the bare necessities. I become disturbed when it gets packed during the holidays or when we have visiting guests. The requirement to eat all that food is overwhelming. I feel the need to quickly rotate food in and out like a cafeteria vending machine. My comfort zone lies in seeing the glow of the light bulb through the empty spaces of glass shelves.

So I’m out of almond milk and won’t have time to buy any in the morning to prevent a guaranteed no-latte-meltdown at ten.

mycarTime to hit The Purity.

The almond and other faux milks are located opposite the entrance on the far wall of the store. It’s five pm with a rush of people who need to replenish their cache of bread, cereal, and beer.

As I leave the car, I brace myself to navigate the obstacle course of dawdling old people, candy-begging children, short-tempered mothers, and itchy alcoholics.

Just inside the entrance I encounter a man standing behind a card table wedged between the doors and a refrigerator case.

Hark! What is this?

My first thought is that he’s a petition signature gatherer. In Fort Bragg, there are always controversial issues that spur people to erect tables and ask for your autograph.

mendosoupBut this guy is offering samples of soup. In 22 years of being a Purity patron, I’ve never encountered a food tasting.

His name is Dan and he owns Mendocino Soups. As I toss back a shot of Thai Fish Stew, he explains that each variety is gluten free and made from organic ingredients. It’s super yummy. I grab a quart jar from his table and head for the almond milk.

After going through the checkout line, I walk towards the door. A scruffy-looking young fella wearing a black hoodie topped by a worn jean jacket and draped with an impressive number of heavy metal chains enters the store. Trailing behind is a mid-size black pit bull mix.

The fella pauses to give Dan an inquisitive look. Dan offers a sample which is declined as the fella moves past. Dan then says, “I don’t think your dog is allowed in the store.”

beercornerBy this time the fella is about five feet away, heading towards Beer Corner. He turns his head, cocks it slightly, and narrows his eyes with a look of you’re not the boss of me. “I know the owners,” he says and continues on, the dog by his side.

Dan chuckles and shakes his head.

He’s been Purified.soup

The Purity Survival Guide

Tip #1: How to make a thumb splint from comfort food

_DSC8890When I think of comfort food, my mind gloms onto Cyrus O’Leary’s Chocolate Cream Pie. Then I think of The Purity. Before I know it, I’ve grabbed my car keys and it doesn’t matter if I’m in my pajamas, I’m on my way to the store.

A recent surgery to remove a hooty from my left thumb placed me in need of a mild sedative, daytime sofa lounging and comfort food. Forty-eight hours into recovery, I went to The Purity to buy a chocolate cream pie. A couple of hours after returning home, I had an epiphany—in addition to putting heft on my backside and a few dabs of plaque on my arteries, that pie could save my life.

thumb2I’d been instructed to remove the impressive-looking thumb wrapping two days after surgery. I hesitated. That covering made me look like I’d been through something horrendous and garnered much sympathy.

People exclaimed, “What happened to you?” I’d respond with a dismissive wave, “Oh it’s nothing” when it was truly something. I’d had surgery! My thumb throbbed in pain. It throbbed! All the attention made me feel like a warrior woman—so brave and strong.

If I replaced the wrapping with a couple of wimpy latex bandages, nobody would even notice. I would suffer in silence.

I obeyed the doctor’s orders and took off the bandage. My thumb, forgetting it had a major gash running the entire topside length, started to bend. Up to that point in my life, I’d not given much thought to how it might feel to have a nail driven through my left thumb knuckle.

Now I know.

PieI needed to splint the back of the thumb to prevent it from bending and tearing the stitches. But I had no splint or substitute. As I mulled over a solution, I pulled the chocolate cream pie from the refrigerator and started eating. Whatever chemicals—I mean, natural ingredients—they put in these pies to supercharge brain matter allowed me to come up with a brilliant idea.

In case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, let me share my step-by-step instructions:

1. Buy a Cyrus O’Leary’s Chocolate Cream Pie (or any other variety, but chocolate cream is the best).
2. Have surgery on or do some serious damage to your thumb.
3. Write some gibberish on your hand with purple permanent ink. (Mine vaguely resembles the former USSR flag or an upside down Ritual Coffee logo.) (If anyone asks, say it’s a tattoo you got in the 80’s while in prison.) (After a certain age people stop talking about you, so it’s imperative to devise new and interesting ways to keep yourself an object of gossip.)thumb3
4. Take the cardboard thingy off the pie. (I’m certain it has a name, but who cares?) Cut off the front section.Pie2
5. Fold it a few times.
6. Apply it to the back of your injured thumb.thumb4
7. Place some gauze on top of the wound.
8. Wrap tape around the whole caboodle.thumb9
9. Enjoy your new hokey—yet still impressive—bandage and the attention you’ll receive for another week until you go to get the stitches out and the doctor asks what the hell…?
10. Eat one Cyrus O’Leary’s Chocolate Cream Pie a day until you’re completely healed.

After I'm finished with this pie, I'm out the door to go buy another!

After I’m finished with this pie, I’m out the door to buy another!

Another Purity Tour

For those of you who live here and have never shopped at The Purity, shame on you. You need try it once, you really do.

1601216_10152514599931844_6959477211714285536_nWhen you walk into the store, head to the right. Lift your gaze. You are now officially welcomed to The Purity.

The welcome sign happens to be above my favorite section of the store—the place where the Cyrus O’Leary’s cream pies are displayed. Buy one. Do not read the nutrition label. Eat it. Go bonkers with delight.

beercornerAlso toward the back of the store is The Beer Corner! I don’t know of any other store that has such a special place to gather between 8-8:15am with those who ran out of supplies overnight and again between the hours of 4-6:00pm with those who need to refresh their inventory.

icemachineThink all they have is chocolate cream pies, beer and Taaka Vodka? Think again. They also have ice!

coffeeYou can even buy a cup of coffee. I must confess I’ve never tried it, but it’s at The Purity so it has to be good.

purityatniteFor extra fun, venture to The Purity after dark. It’s sometimes my favorite time to shop because it’s so mysteriously beautiful and I can sneak in and buy a chocolate cream pie while wearing my pajamas.


The Purity is open until 8:00 every night; 7:00 on Sunday.

Go now. Buy something yummy. I guarantee it’ll make you happy.

Are You Purious?

Purious is the feeling you get when you wake up and wonder what treasures you might discover at The Purity today. Purious will send you to the store to wander up and down the aisles where you’ll find such amazing things as:

DSC03216DSC03217Nearly any type of flour you can imagine.


DSC03211Locally-produced mustard. (If I didn’t write this blog, I’d write one called I Love the Roundman.)

Vinegar, vinegar, and more vinegar!

DSC03225And what’s this? Gluten free hoodie-doodies!DSC03221Specialty dog food. (Lucy-puppy won’t eat this because her name’s not Spot and it’s not made of fuchsia bush branches, dirt and cat poop.)DSC03226Exotic foreign candles!DSC03229Taaka Vodka that also comes in what Marcia (the one who works at The Purity, not my friend MW) calls “The Lover’s Size.” DSC03240And there’s more. Much, much more. But I’m going to withhold showing you because I want to inspire your puriousness so you’ll take time to wander around The Purity and discover for yourself.

Get Your Motor Running

Did you know that “Born to be Wild” starts out: “Get your motor running”? If so, I’m impressed. (Or you’re lying.)

That song came out 45 years ago. Until I looked up the lyrics a few minutes ago, I thought it began: “Pitchin’ for a runnin’.”

I never gave any thought to what pitchin’ for a runnin’ might mean. Ever since the sixties I don’t care if lyrics make sense as long as the music is loud.


Big truck, little trailer

I recently learned that someone I’ve known for nearly a decade is pitchin’ to do some runnin’.

Her name is Lynn. She sold her home, bought a large pickup truck, a 1989 trailer and will soon leave her campground at Dolphin Isle to head out on the highway.

She is 81 years old.



The desire to travel has been with Lynn since before she retired. But soon after her salary ended, she found she had to take a part time job in order to make ends meet. Between that commitment and little discretionary income, she felt stuck.

She also felt tethered by her possessions. “Some people are limited in what they can do by children or grandchildren. I was limited by my stuff.”

Lynn gave a great deal of her stuff away, including family heirlooms, and narrowed the remainder down to what would fit into a small storage unit, her trailer, and the back of her pickup.



While she knows there are risks involved with an older single woman traveling alone, she’s willing to take those risks to have one last adventure in this life. Besides, she’s not truly alone—she’s got her dog Sparkle for company.

We all make choices on how to live. These are limited by circumstances of time, health, money and age. Lynn’s choices came down to (1) stay put and wait for the inevitable or (2) get moving and let the inevitable track her down.

Here’s to Lynn’s Born to be Wild rebirth at the age of 81. I wish her many happy miles and amazing adventures.

Amazing Grace

Some moments change your life forever; others have a less lasting impact, but significantly alter the moments that follow.

• • •

When I started working from home years ago, I made a family rule: if my office door was closed they were to pretend I wasn’t home. It seemed simple enough, but my husband and kids found ways to complicated it.

For the most part, I forgave trespasses through the closed door, but there were times when repeated violations caused my anger to grow like storm clouds and it was hard to hold back a cloudburst of temper.Stormclouds

One day way back in 2002, I was inundated with solving client issues. Gary asked for a ride to the dietician’s office. (Diminished eyesight had recently prevented him from driving.) He needed to turn in paperwork before the dietician left on vacation.

“Give me a half hour.”

Moments later, my daughter arrived from school to burst through the door. “I need to use your computer for homework.”

“Give me a half hour.”

My son arrived and failed in his hunt for food. “I’m hungry and there’s nothing to eat.”

“Give me a half hour.”

Gary poked his head in. “I need to get to the dietician.”

I wanted to put on a lightning and thunder show, to send everyone scrambling for cover.

At the hospital, I helped Gary navigate the hallways to the dietician’s office. He spent ten precious minutes explaining to the dietician what I felt was self-explanatory. I tapped my foot and tried to force deep breaths through constricted lungs. I longed for the progress that could be made in that wasted time.

Back in the car, he said, “I don’t know what to make for dinner.”

One lightning bolt and he’d be gone—vaporized.

PurityI pulled into The Purity parking lot. “What do you want me to get?” 

“How about milk and bread.”


“And a head of lettuce.”

“Okay.”  My hand was on the door lever.

“And a cucumber.”

I sighed. “Anything else? “

“Some sliced cheese. I’ll make toasted cheese and ham.”

I opened the door.

“Get some soup. I’ll heat up soup to go with the sandwiches.” 

I wanted to slam the door. Hard—very hard.

Milk, bread, lettuce, cucumber, sliced cheese, can of soup—repeated like a mantra. If I missed anything, I’d be back, wasting even more time.

beercornerI had to choose between two checkout lines: one with quarts, six packs, and cases of beer backed up five deep; or the other with a grandma, two young kids, and a packed cart of food. In no mood to be entertained by alcoholics, I took up position behind the grandma.

The hungry eyes of the little girl scanned the candy display, pointing out treasures to her slightly older brother. He shrugged, not interested. His expression revealed the age-old question: Why were you even born? All you’ve ever done is ruin my life.

The girl asked Grandma if she could buy candy. Grandma gave a sweet, short lecture on financial planning. Save your money to buy something big as opposed to spending it on a bunch of little things.

The boy jiggled coins in his pocket and nodded his head.

Grandma paid the clerk and gathered her bags. The boy, still jiggling coins, asked, “What’s dial-sis?”  She paused to determine what he’d asked and saw the canister on the counter for Dialysis Project donations. “It’s called dialysis, honey.” 

“What does it mean?”  

“It’s a treatment for people with kidney problems.” Grandma started to walk away.

The boy walked a few feet before turning around. He returned to the counter, lifted the coins from his pocket, and deposited them into the canister. Without a word, he rushed to catch up with Grandma who was nearly out of the store.

AngelsAn explosion of sunlight lit The Purity in a heavenly glow. The Hallelujah Chorus burst from the Muzak speakers.

JesusI was humbled in the face of pure charity, my heart filled with joy. I wanted to hug everyone in the store, to profess my love for one and all. I had to refrain from hollering, “The beer’s on me.”

I entered the car and thanked Gary in advance for making dinner. He chuckled and gave me a wary look. I turned the car off Pity Road and detoured to Gratitude Alley (it runs directly behind The Purity).

Back home, the teenagers were infused with love. They tolerated it—yeah, yeah, love you, too—but their pleasure leaked through the soft edges of their eyes.

My office was unchanged from the previous hour. Stacks of paperwork, the decorating focal point, were accented by the blinking light of messages backed up on the answering machine. An essential part of the room had changed from the previous hour—it felt manageable.

The dogs wanted a walk. I noticed it was a beautiful afternoon. I leashed them up and headed out.Tucker4 001Due to the generosity of donors like this young boy, Fort Bragg was able to build a dialysis center in November 2006 which provides an invaluable health service to our coastal community.Dialysis

Never Mix, Never Worry

VirginiaWoolfOne of my favorite trauma-dramas is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Each time I watch it, I swear I will never watch it again. But then a decade will go by and someone will bring up Elizabeth Taylor or Richard Burton and I’ll remember how brilliant they were in this film and mention it to my husband Gary (who would watch it several times a year if we lived in separate houses) and before I know it, I’ve seen it again.

Afterward, I sit in stunned silence, my childhood flashing like zoetrope images across my brain, unable to go to sleep until 3:00am, and swear I will never watch it again.

Part of the reason the movie is so disturbingly alluring is because it is filled with epic lines.

One of Gary’s and my favorite exchanges is when Martha (Taylor) commands George (Burton) to “fix the kids a drink.”

Nick (George Segal) asks his tipsy wife Honey (Sandy Dennis) “What would you like?” And she says, “Ohhhh, I don’t know, dear, a little brandy maybe. ‘Never mix, never worry!’”

My friend—avid It Happened at Purity blog reader, dog sitter, Godmother to our daughter, and retired College of the Redwoods Financial Aid Officer who I’ll call MW—failed to heed the advice of never mix, never worry on a recent shopping trip to The Purity.

MW had taken care of our 14.5-year old dog Wilson for a weekend while we were out of town. The following Thursday, after a stressful day, she went to The Purity. While the checker rang up her purchases, long time employee Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a) filled one of MW’s reusable bags.

She opened the second bag, peered inside, looked at MW and said, “What do we have here—underpants?”

MW—who is the most modest woman I know—issued a dog-like yelp loud enough to set off the pagers of every volunteer firefighter in town.

Marcia, who has worked at The Purity for a couple of decades and witnessed things you and I cannot even imagine, took the incident in stride and claimed to own a pair of similar hue (bright fuchsia).

Reusable shopping bag

Reusable shopping bag

MW stuttered to explain that she’d used the bag on an overnight stay and had apparently neglected to remove all garments. Marcia chuckled and said that she’d done the same thing a week before.

While MW blushed and prayed for immediate death, Marcia simply packed the groceries on top of the panties and called it a day.

Overnight bag

Overnight bag

The moral of this story: Reusable shopping bags are designed to be used as shopping bags. Overnight bags are designed to be used as overnight bags.

Never mix, never worry!

Turkish Apricot Scones

DSC02906What can you do with Woodstock Turkish Apricots besides enjoy their yummy taste and feel good about serving your body a healthful snack?

DSC02937You can put them in scones along with another product sold at The Purity: endangered species chocolate

Last week I became bored with my old scone recipe and searched for a sexy young idea to liven it up. I found it at  Smitten Kitchen (my favorite cooking blog)—a scone that incorporates pears and chocolate.

Chocolate! Can you imagine? I have lived a good long life believing that—outside of Cocoa-Puffs—chocolate was not to be ingested before noon.

Thank you Deb at Smitten Kitchen for giving me permission to add this forbidden ingredient to morning food and making an already good life even better.

Last Sunday morning while it was beautifully sunny here on the Mendocino Coast, I put together this recipe:

4 c. + 1 T. all-purpose flour (I substituted 1T. ground flaxseed for the 1T. flour)

2 T. sugar (plus more for sprinkling)

2T. baking powder

¾ lb. cold unsalted butter

2 t. salt

¾ c. diced dried Turkish Apricots

2 – 3-oz. bars endangered species dark chocolate with cacao nibs, cut into small chunks

4 large eggs

1 c. heavy cream

Okay, okay, I can hear some of you now. “Turkish Apricots are intended to be healthy. This recipe is a heart attack waiting to happen. It besmirches the name of Woodstock Foods and all of its affiliates. They will never send you a t-shirt after this.”

I’m taking your hand and gently patting it.

Now, now—you certainly wouldn’t make these scones every day. But today is an exception. Today I give you permission to love yourself enough to splurge on something warm and decadent, something that will bring you joy and make you happy to be alive. (Besides, Woodstock Foods has already put not one, but two t-shirts in the mail to me.)

Back to the recipe:

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

DSC02927Combine all dry ingredients.

DSC02928With a pastry knife, cut the cold butter into the flour until it resembles the size of little peas.(You are going to add all of that butter. Yes, you are.)

Stir in the diced apricots and chopped chocolate.

DSC02930Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the heavy cream. (Do not cheat yourself and try to substitute low fat milk.) Add the eggs and lightly mix the wet ingredients together before incorporating them into the flour mixture. Knead it for a bit to make sure it’s well mixed.

DSC02933Divide the dough into two equal portions. On separate baking sheets, pat each into a round about ¾-in. thick.

DSC02934Cut each round into eight triangles. Separate these triangles in the baking sheet. Sprinkle each liberally with sugar. (Calm down. A little extra sugar this morning is not going to hurt you.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes. (I bake both batches at the same time on separate racks, rotating them after 12 minutes.)

The minute you take the scones out of the oven, make yourself a latte, cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy the golden, rich goodness of these delectable pastries. Share with others or wait until they cool, wrap well and put in the freezer so you can warm one up to eat whenever you feel like it.

DSC02939Be happy.