Lucy – A Year in Review

I originally posted this on our one-year anniversary with Lucy. That was before we knew of her extensive orthopedic problems, before her two complicated knee surgeries, before she’d learned to sail over fences to discover places a lot more interesting than our yard, before we spent many, many dollars to repair her body and erect taller fencing.

Today, Lucy turns five. We celebrate a life we didn’t anticipate sharing, a life we’ve become grateful to share.

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When our adult children came to town Labor Day weekend 2013—two weeks after our fifteen-year-old dog Wilson died—they despaired at our empty nest and gifted us with what they felt was the perfect “filling”—a puppy. My husband Gary was elated. I wanted to curl up into a ball and be taken to an asylum.

When Lucy was brought into the house, all I could think of—as I pasted a smile on my face and screamed with what I hoped sounded like excitement—was how much work she was going to create.

destructionOver the course of thirty-five years, we’ve raised four puppies. Gary might have forgotten, but I knew the drill. Even with obedience training and supervision, Lucy would learn about life mainly through the destruction of property—sofa pillows, socks, underwear, plants, holes dug so deeply in the yard that a visitor asked if we’d had trees removed. Given Gary’s disabilities, the majority of transforming her into a “good” dog would fall on me.

My obsession with wanting to skip the puppy stage of her development caused me two weeks of insomnia and vertigo.

559798_10152017172491844_2118415971_nThank God I found Puppy Kindergarten where every Saturday morning for ten weeks, Lucy had the chance to play with other puppies and sweet Elaine Miksak gave me direction on how to calm the hell down and enjoy my baby girl. For the first month, both Lucy and I returned home after class to take naps. After an hour, I’d awake to find my open mouth drooling on the pillow.

By January, Lucy had grown too large for the class (forty-five pounds), and we found Julie Apostolu, who convinced me Lucy was ready for AKC Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) training. I had no idea what that was, but hoped the eight-week course would help me continue to learn patience and understanding.

The CGC class was held in a clearing in the woods next to the Mendocino Coast Humane Society. The first day, Lucy kept tugging on the leash and gagging. She thought she was at a new Puppy Kindergarten and wanted to be free to play with other dogs. When that didn’t happen, she discovered the pine needles covering the ground hid buried cat poop that could be rooted out while pretending she was deaf to the command, “Leave it!” (She waited to come home to vomit on the carpet.)

The first few weeks of class were brutal. Lucy would not listen, jerked at her leash, and when she got tired, rolled onto her back and refused to move. Julie offered encouragement and direction, but I felt inept and humiliated.

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After a particularly rigorous digging session in the yard.

One afternoon, as Lucy headed off for the fiftieth time in one direction while I tried to coax her into another, Julie’s assistant, DeeDee, came to my rescue and took the leash. Her expert handling and swift corrections got Lucy’s attention. I watched in awe as my dog looked at her and obeyed commands. Tears filling my eyes, I wanted to get into my car and drive away.

Eight weeks after we started CGC training—Lucy was nine months old—came the test. The dogs had to do things like heel (yeah, right), sit and stay (maybe), down (Lucy liked to lie down because it put her closer to the cat poop), and remain calm when left with a stranger (this would be easy—she loves everyone). All of this had to happen without benefit of treat reinforcement.

We were doomed.

My anxiety grew as I watched others go through the course while Lucy jerked on her leash and gagged. While we were on deck, she calmed down to watch the dog being tested. I looked at her sitting with such dignity and my heart surged with love. I crouched and hugged her, petting her neck and chest, and whispered, “I don’t care if we pass. I love you and am so proud of you. Let’s have fun with this.”

Lucy rose to the occasion, messing up on only a couple of things. At the end of the course, I had to hide behind a crop of redwoods while she stayed with a stranger for a couple of minutes. When I was called back, Julie held out her hand—“Congratulations, she passed.”

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

“What? Really?” I grabbed Julie in a hug and howled with laughter.

I looked at Lucy who sat wearing her calm snowy fur like a halo. “Good girl! Good, good girl!”

I wish I could say from that moment on, Lucy sprang from puppyhood to maturity, but no. She’s a work in progress, a spirit we enjoy despite or maybe because of her quirks (pretending she’s deaf to commands, the ability to destroy any toy in less than twenty-four hours, and a need to prune fuchsia bushes).

Since CGC, we’ve taken at least 30 weeks of other classes (Rally Obedience, Jumps and Tunnels, Nose Work) where we learn, have fun, and meet wonderful people and dogs.

I’m happy that our empty nest has been filled with fresh, rambunctious life and grateful to our children who filled a need we didn’t know we had.

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interpreted the command "Sit!"

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interprets the command “Sit!”

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Colon-NO-oscopy

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The receptionist looks like she’s ready to tell my friend—let’s call her Kate—some terrible, awful, apocalyptic news like her colonoscopy appointment has been canceled because the raging wildfires in Sonoma and Mendocino counties prevented the doctor, who lives in San Francisco, from driving to Fort Bragg.

Kate blurts out the “F” word—not because she’s upset with the bearer of the worst news she’s received in a long time, nor because the doctor wasn’t willing to risk his life to save her the horror of repeating the colon prep, but because yesterday she’d thought once or twice about contacting the hospital to verify her appointment. Her nutritionally deprived brain prevented her from following through.

She wants to collapse to her knees and scream, “Noooooooooooooo!” She wants to pound her forehead into the carpet until security arrives to escort her to the preemie ward where grandma types comfort fussy babies along with people whose colonoscopy appointments are cancelled at the last minute. A grandma will gather her into soft arms, rock her gently back and forth, pat her back and whisper, “Shhhhhh…at least you have good health insurance.”

The receptionist explains that because the local phone service is down, the hospital is unable to contact patients.

***

A few months previously, Kate showed true Big Girl Grit when she scheduled that appointment. Given she’d experienced two colonoscopies and knew the torture she’d be subjected to, this was a very brave thing indeed.

colon1If you’ve never had a colonoscopy, you may not understand why the term torture is associated with it. This applies to the day before. The patient is allowed to ingest only clear liquids, which by mid-morning sets off a primal alarm in the brain—the process of starving to death has begun. By mid-afternoon the brain partially shuts down and the patient wanders zombie-like through the rest of the day. She occasionally snaps into reality and tries to keep the whining under control by reviewing all the things she should be (but truly isn’t at that moment) grateful for: family, friends, shelter, blah-blah-blah, and good health insurance.

As the sun begins its descent into the Pacific Ocean, the day is finished off with a cocktail of Drano and Liquid Plummer disguised under the label “Suprep.” Kate refuses to detail what this does to the human body, and will only say that body must remain within sprinting distance of a toilet.

colon2 (2)After a fitful sleep, the following morning begins at four o’clock with another round of the cocktail. Kate wants to cry, but remembers there are a bunch of people in the world suffering a great deal more than her. She tries once again to concoct a gratitude list, but cannot think of a single thing.

At seven o’clock, debilitated and literally empty, she says to her husband—let’s call him Gary—and her dog—let’s call her Lucy—that the only thing keeping her going is the promise of drugs administered at the hospital. Not much of a drug user, Kate was pleasantly surprised by the gentle euphoria they provided on her two previous colonoscopy occasions. They nearly made the hours leading up to the procedure worth it.

Kate’s friend—let’s call her Marcia—picks her up at seven forty-five and listens to Kate pretend to put her misery into perspective in light of the devastating inland fires. Marcia escorts her into the hospital to get an estimated time of when to return.

***

Kate apologizes for saying the “F” word. The receptionist kindly says if she were in the same situation that is exactly the word she would choose.

As Marcia drives her to Homestyle Café for the best breakfast ever—two eggs, smashed fried potatoes and biscuits—Kate suspects the cancelation of her procedure is some kind of karmic due or payback for her sins. She’s not religious, but was raised by a former Catholic (once a Catholic, always a Catholic). Whenever something goes awry, she can never fully shake feelings of God’s retribution for her bad behavior.

Let’s see—what could it be this time? Her bossiness when working with a group? Her whininess when things don’t go her way? Her petty judgement of others? That the previous day she was dull to the pain of those who lost so much in the fires? Well now she’s simpatico with that pain. There you go karma or God. Point taken; you win.

Kate leaves breakfast expressing gratitude for solid food, family, friends, her dog, and good health insurance. The words ring hollow with the dread of having to go through the entire colon prep experience again—hopefully before the end of the year so she doesn’t have to pay a new deductible.

Marcia drops her off with a note of positivity: “Schedule it in December. You can give yourself a clean colon for Christmas!”

Serendipity to Soothe the Savage Beast

The day of our family reunion weekend begins two hours earlier than normal. By six o’clock, I’ve packed the car and herded my husband Gary and surrogate child Lucy-dog inside. We’re going to Tahoe for a family reunion. Gary has limited eyesight and mobility. He functions well around the house, but his issues become challenging whenever we take a trip. My mind whirls with logistics—buying supplies, packing the car, plotting stops that need to be made along the way, and helping him navigate unfamiliar territory. My efforts to make sure all goes well leave me exhausted and sometimes a bit cranky.

My goal is to cross the Central Valley before temperatures rise to the fires of hell and melt our delicate coastal bodies. Two hours later, Lucy starts whining. I stop at a gas station in Lake County. After several minutes of sniffing, she fails to go potty. As the temperature continues to rise, I give her water, silently scolding her for wasting our time.

An hour later, we stop in Williams where Lucy has a successful potty. She and Gary are enjoying the journey. I marvel (not in a good way) that it’s only nine o’clock and already 75 degrees. I get breakfast sandwiches and a call from our son Harrison. “Would you mind finding a CVS and picking up sunscreen and a hat for Kasi [our daughter-in-law]?”

Actually, I would mind. Very much. I’m fixated on getting my passengers to our destination with as few stops as possible. Running a spontaneous errand while they sit in a hot car is not on the schedule.

I sigh.

“I’ll text you the address of a CVS along the way.”

When it finally occurs to me to question why he can’t do this himself, I recall last year’s family reunion where the nearest shopping was 20 minutes away. I can possibly save him a 40-minute round trip.

This Mother Teresa moment is fleeting. Resentment reaches in and captures my mood.

As I push past the speed limit along Highway 20, my phone pings with a text. Moments later, Harrison calls. “I sent you the address of a CVS at the turn off you’ll take in Truckee. Could you also stop at the Save Mart there and pick up a red onion?”

“Sure,” I snap. The outside thermostat has climbed to 80 degrees.

“And some ketchup?”

I groan.

“Don’t be such a curmudgeon.”

“I’m worried about leaving Dad and Lucy in the car. It’s hot and going to be hotter by the time we get there.”

“We worked all day yesterday,” he says (having perfected the counter argument as a child), “went grocery shopping and didn’t get here until midnight.”

In the game of Who’s the Most Martyred, it’s a tie.

Three hours later, I pull off the freeway in Truckee, a town that, unlike me, is fond of roundabouts. May I make a recommendation to those who design GPS systems? Instead of programming the voice to say “Take the second exit at the roundabout,” have it say, “HERE! HERE! EXIT HERE, DAMMIT!!!”

After twirling through two traffic circles and failing to exit at the appropriate times, the GPS gives up and guides me through back streets into a small shopping center. It is now 90 degrees. I park in front of CVS and take Lucy for a potty around back among a patch of spindly fir trees near the loading bay. It irritates me that the only trees in the parking lot are where they’re not needed. I reposition the car under their skimpy shade.

Inside the store, sunscreen and cap in hand, I stand at the checkout counter while tourists in front of me engage in conversation with the cashier about how outsiders have driven up real estate prices, forcing most service workers to live in Reno. While I sympathize with cashier’s plight—my own tourist community suffers from the same socioeconomic discrepancies—I want to shout, “Hurry the hell up! A disabled man and dog are roasting to death in my car!”

I notice two additional texts sent by Harrison.

“Please pick up some mustard.”

“And some pickles.”

I want to hurt him.

I exit CVS and debate whether to dash into Save Mart which is only about 100-feet away. I worry a semi-truck might arrive to make a delivery and won’t be able to maneuver around my car. I picture a big rig trucker yelling at me.

I find Gary and Lucy quite content. I move the car to the blazing hot sun in front of Save Mart. My deodorant has failed. Sweat pastes my shirt to my back. I verbally review the shopping list.

“What kind of mustard?” Gary asks.

“I don’t know,” I moan.

“Get Guldens.” He smiles, happy to be helpful. “And Claussen pickles.”

Gary’s mom was an expert canner and made the best pickles around. As a result, he’s quite fussy about them. I, on the other hand, hate the things. I want to yell “What the hell difference does it make?”

I leave Gary and Lucy in the Easy Bake Honda. Entering the store, I recall the game show “Supermarket Sweep.” Filled with sweaty adrenalin, I’m certain I can record a personal best. I imagine emerging to find my car surrounded by an angry mob that has called the police to report elder and animal abuse.

I quickly locate all the items on the list except the pickles. I go to the dairy aisle (where they’re located in my local Safeway). No Claussen’s.

Time is ticking, the temperature rising. The angry mob is growing. I hate everyone and everything. I’ll go back to the condiment aisle and grab the first damned pickle jar I see.

Moving swiftly toward the back of the store, I nearly collide with a teenage employee. Mustering my last ounce of humanity, I politely ask if they carry Claussen pickles. He directs me to the meat department at the opposite end of the store. I turn and encounter the back of a generous head of black curly hair. I take two steps forward to see her profile.

“Elizabeth?” I say.

She looks at me without recognition. If my outside resembles my inside, I look like a thorny hag.

Elizabeth is the daughter of Sue, one of my most beloved clients who, three months shy of her eightieth birthday, died as a result of a tiny hole in her lung. When told she could survive by staying on oxygen and having caregivers, she chose to call her family to her hospital bedside. After an evening of visiting around wine and cheese, she said goodbye. By the next afternoon, she was dead. When we settled her estate, Elizabeth and I spent hours sharing stories of her mother.

I remember Sue’s smile—how it lit her face and made her eyes squint with delight. I felt comforted in her presence. Her life hadn’t been easy, but she graciously accepted whatever came her way.  I remember how much I appreciated her, and how glad I was to spend time with her equally gracious daughter.

“Kate,” I say.

I’m engulfed in a hug. We talk about how bizarre it is that we should encounter one another almost exactly two years after her mother’s death in a place Elizabeth resides but I have never been. I tell her how I think of Sue each time I walk or run the Glass Beach trail where her memorial bench overlooks the ocean.

My mood shifts. Sue would have accepted the flow of this trip, would not have tried to control every minute. Somehow she managed to lead me to this place despite my childish protests. It wasn’t easy, but did what it was intended to do—cause me to calm the hell down.

I leave Elizabeth with another hug and smile as I saunter to the meat department to find the pickles. It’s a joy to fulfill Gary’s gastronomic desire. I breeze through the express checkout line and out the door to the car where Gary and Lucy are panting, but not too uncomfortable. I start the engine, blast the air conditioning, and continue to our destination as I relate my encounter with Elizabeth. My burdens have been lifted. The desire to incite violence has evaporated. I can finally allow myself to feel the blessing of being able to spend three days with our wonderful family.

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Local Girl Makes Good

bryna“Why of course I know Bryna Turner,” I say to anyone who mentions her name, shamelessly basking in the cast off glow of her newfound celebrity. Her play, “Bull in a China Shop,” recently completed a nine-week run at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Lincoln Center!

Gloria Steinem attended one of the performances.

Gloria Steinem!

“I wrote the play as part of a writer’s group with a very small and scrappy downtown theatre company called Clubbed Thumb,” Bryna said. “As a sort of graduation present from the year-long group, the theatre offered each of us a reading of one of our plays in their space—at two in the afternoon on a Thursday. The director of my reading, Ellie Sachs, had been an intern for the director Evan Cabnet at a summer theatre festival, and invited him to attend. He wasn’t able to, but asked her to send him the script.

“Three days later, he called, introduced himself as the artistic director of LCT3 [the new artists’ wing of Lincoln Center], and said he wanted to produce my play! ‘What do you think about that?’ he said. I said, ‘I think that’s crazy.’ It’s the sort of phone call you don’t dare dream of as a young playwright.”

***

I met Bryna in the spring of 1993 at a children’s fair on Franklin Street. She was three years old. Her brother Packie (five) and my daughter Laine (four) were preschool chums. I didn’t know Packie, but could tell Laine was smitten by the way her face lit up whenever she spoke of their interactions at school.

Shortly after arriving at the fair and before I could extricate her from the stroller, Laine kicked her feet and shouted, “Packie! Packie!”

Like a scene from a romance novel, the five-year-old equivalent of Fabio with a halo of wispy blonde curls strolled through the crowd. As he drew near, Laine’s smile widened, cheeks reddened, her eyes sparkled. Packie returned her smile. He reached out and patted her head.

Laine ripped the bonds of her seat belt and jumped out of the stroller. Packie gave her a hug. His mother Anne appeared, holding the hand of a little girl with piercing blue eyes and fierce red curls cascading down her back—Bryna Turner, future acclaimed playwright.

bryna2Regular play dates ensued, alternating between the Turner house and ours. It didn’t take Packie long to abandoned them for the rough and tumble company of boys.

The girls established fairly strict guidelines for playtime and generally got along swimmingly. Anne called them the “Little Biddies.” For the most part, each had an appealing, accommodating personality. As the youngest in their families, they’d learned to bury their desires for the greater good. Together, they were equals, and each could insist upon getting their own way—as long as it fit into the rules.

Occasionally, one of them violated a rule. The quarrel that followed was akin to alley cats fighting. No claws sank into flesh, but the yowling and screeching were disturbing. During these times, they were separated. No mediation from the mothers could manage a détente.

Despite sporadic battles, Bryna and Laine enjoyed each other. Their similar temperaments allowed for raucous good fun within the boundaries of civilized behavior, and created a friendship spanning 24 years. When we heard that one of Bryna’s plays was being produced at Lincoln Center, Laine and I couldn’t wait to fly across the country to see it.

***

bryna3In the fall of 2008, Bryna left Fort Bragg to attend Mount Holyoke in western Massachusetts where she earned a BA in Theater. She went on to obtain an MFA from Rutgers in New Jersey. At the tender age of (almost) 27, she’s written six plays. She lives in Brooklyn where Laine and I met her and their long-time friend Britt Calder for lunch. Afterward, we walked around the area, Bryna and Britt touring us through a neighborhood where mature trees break up the concrete landscape. Raised among the Northern California redwoods, they have a special appreciation for trees.

bryna4We parted with hugs, disappointed we wouldn’t see Bryna at the play that evening. In the first few weeks of the run, she’d hide in the back of the theater, near the light board, and spy on the audience. It was nerve-wracking to anticipate their reaction. Would they laugh at the right moments? Were they paying attention or were some reading their programs? Overall, the response was positive. Still, she found it stressful to watch her work being performed. She’d wait for the closing show to see it again.

“Bull in a China Shop” explores the relationship between Mary Woolley, President of Mount Holyoke College, and her lover, the writer Jeannette Marks which began in the early part of the twentieth century. The play covers 40 years amid the backdrop of women’s suffrage. It is nothing short of genius how Bryna captures the intensity of their coupling, much of it with humor, and all within 85 minutes.

bryna6At the end of the performance, Laine and I stayed in our seats for a few minutes, overcome by the brilliance we had witnessed. “My friend wrote this,” Laine said, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m so in awe of her.”

***

The precision with which Bryna partook in childhood games is evident in this play, which was described in a glowing review by the New York Times as “pugnacious, tender and gloriously funny….” We were thrilled to witness the success of a gifted artist who is also a highly intelligent and compassionate human being.

This is just the beginning of Bryna’s bright career. LCT3 is paying her a commission to write her next play. In June, there will be a reading of her play “Carlo at the Wedding” at the Abingdon Theatre in New York City.

I am honored to know Bryna Turner. I hope she forgives me for dropping her name from time to time.

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Chicken Soup for My Soul

A year ago, my daughter Jenn suggested I submit a few of my blog posts to Chicken Soup for the Soul. I went to their website and found that they accepted entries in various categories. Without much hope, I submitted three stories about my dog Lucy.

In January, I must have also submitted the post, “The Spirit of Giving,” but truly don’t remember. I blame my lack of memory on the fact that I have a lot going on in January. First of all, I loathe the month: it’s dark, cold, and responsible for the death of the holiday season, which starts with Halloween and ends on New Year’s Day. Second, I’m extremely busy with my day job. The energy it takes to not hate January while fighting melancholy and working long hours leaves me little spare brain power.

Months went by. Spring miraculously returned to the Northern Hemisphere and morphed into summer. Life eased up and my January bitterness disappeared. In late July, I started receiving unsolicited emails from Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Ah ha! So that’s the deal. You submit something to this outfit and they put you on their junk mail list. Well I have a delete button and know how to use it. I deleted the email without reading it. A day or so later, I receive another. Delete! I wasn’t about to fall for their devious ploy.

A week later, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the caller ID number and didn’t answer it. An hour or so went by and I retrieved my messages.

“This is D’ette Corona from Chicken Soup for the Soul. I’ve been trying to reach you through email. A piece you submitted is a finalist for our Christmas edition.”

I now know what it feels like to be hit with a stun gun.

I called D’ette back and confessed my stupid assumptions. She was sweet and understanding. “When people don’t respond to emails, I always call.”

After I filled out the form, mailed it, and my blood pressure returned to normal, I re-read her email. I was considered a finalist, not a shoe-in. Oh well. I braced myself against disappointment.

A few weeks later, I received notice that “The Spirit of Giving” had been chosen for publication. I would receive $200 plus ten free copies. I had to review and approve their edited version where they took some liberties and changed the title, but hey this is Chicken Soup for the Soul! They sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Rewrite everything for all I care.chickensoup

I was given the chance to buy 20 more books at cost and of course I took it.

On the fourth of October, I opened the front door to let the cat in and found a large box on the porch. Inside were—yes, you know—copies of the book. I flipped through to find my piece listed as number four out of 101 entries. I read it aloud to my husband Gary who was nearly as thrilled as I was.

I now have 30 copies of a book I never thought I’d be published in, from an offer I dismissed as junk mail. I will give them away, then sit back and wait for the requests for movie rights to start pouring in, hopefully in that darkest of months—January.

Grey Whale Inn Haunted Tour

gwinnThis past Friday, my son Harrison, daughter-in-law Kasi and I went on the Grey Whale Inn Haunted Tour. The inn was built in 1915 as the town’s hospital, retains some of the old time hospital ambiance—wide doorways to accommodate gurneys and steep ramps where staircases might otherwise be—and is rumored to have ghostly visitors.

At the suggestion of daughter Jenn (who lives in the Seattle area), I downloaded an app called Ghost Radar on my phone.

gwinn2Our guide Marnie was delightful, dressed in Victorian garb with her hair pulled up in the fashion of the era. She had not heard of Ghost Radar but was happy to let me run it during the visit.

I’m not going to reveal any spoilers—you need to take the tour yourself and learn about the history of this remarkable building—but I will share a bit of our experience.

About a half hour in, while on the second floor, a young blonde boy appeared from around a corner. It was a scene straight out of “The Shining.” He looked about eight years old, and stood stick straight and mute. Marnie smiled, and asked, “Would you like to join us?”

He said, “Yes, but I need to ask my mom,” and disappeared behind the corner.

A few minutes later, the boy, his mother and slightly older sister caught up with us. Marnie cautioned that if anyone became scared and wanted to leave, they could. As we walked along the hallway, the boy stuck his index fingers in his ears and intermittently squeezed his eyes shut. His mother chuckled. His sister rolled her eyes. Marnie asked if he wanted to leave the tour. Fingers still in ears, he shook his head.

Ten minutes later, he’d had enough. His mom allowed her daughter to stay with us and escorted the boy away. Marnie asked the girl her name.

“Hazel,” she said.

“Hazel!” I said. “Whenever I’m asked my name at Starbucks, I say Hazel.” The girl humored me with a giggle.

The tour continued for several minutes before the boy and his mother reappeared. As frightened as he was, he couldn’t seem to help himself—stories of the inn drew him back. He remained until the end and smiled with relief. We congratulated him on being so brave.

Ghost Radar picked up a number of spirits sprinkled throughout the building, making the experience both satisfying and creepy.

Grey Whale Inn Haunted Tours are available through Halloween: Thursday-Saturday 12:00, 2:00, 4:00 and 6:00pm; Sundays 1:00 and 3:00 and 5:00pm. To reserve a spot, send an email to stay@greywhaleinn.com or call 707-964-0640.

I promise you’ll enjoy it.gwinn6

Stevie Drake-Scudder

stevie2Roundman’s Smoke House (motto: “We’ll Smoke Anything”) is the highlight of my weekly shopping routine. The aroma of wood smoke evokes the feel of autumn when fallen tree branches and leaves are raked into piles and reduced to ash before the winter rains. The store is packed with an array of smoked meats, cheeses, all-natural meats, and best of all, their fabulous bacon. (When my son left for college 12 years ago, he claimed the only thing he’d miss about Fort Bragg was Roundman’s bacon.) The employees are friendly, helpful and have great senses of humor. I always enter and leave the shop with a smile.

Roundman’s has been part of Stevie’s life since her father Steve Scudder became co-owner with Steve Rasmussen in 1995. It employed her during high school, college, and in lean times during her film production and massage therapy careers.

stevie4Stevie has lived in Portland, San Francisco, and Vermont. The bonds of family, friends, and the beauty of the Mendocino Coast (along with the family business) have brought her home time and time again.

She was raised on a “commune” in Albion—a collection of her dad and his friends who bought land in the seventies and built houses where they still live nearly forty years later. Throughout her childhood, her parents said, “You can do anything you want, you just gotta do it.”

She worked hard in school and earned a scholarship to Pacific University outside of Portland, Oregon. “It was just far enough away that my parents couldn’t pop in for a weekend visit.” She laughs.

Her dream to become a doctor was squelched when she struggled through organic chemistry and calculus. “In my senior year in high school, I was told I had dyslexia. It’s no wonder I had problems with those courses.” She discovered a love of photography and film. A professor convinced her to major in film production.

With her lovable three-legged dog Sailor.

“After graduation in 2001, I worked as a film editor in Portland for six months before moving to the Bay Area.” She worked for post-production houses in San Francisco before landing a job in the equipment department at the Academy of Arts College. “One of the perks of that job was free use of the film equipment. I worked with others to make short, silly pieces and low budget features. It was a great time, but eventually the combination of the job, film making and the go-go-go of city life stressed me out. I was raised to be more chill. After seven years, I knew it wasn’t for me in the long term, forever way of thinking.

“I did a one-eighty and enrolled in massage therapy school. When I was a kid, I don’t remember going to a doctor very often. Instead, my parents took me to Faith Graham, a gifted, spiritual massage therapist. She was my inspiration.”

Stevie returned to the Mendocino Coast in 2007, worked a bit with Faith and at Roundman’s while building her own massage practice.

stevie6A few years later, she met boyfriend James Todd. “He was born in Mendocino on July 4, 1979. Many people remember the date because it was the only year his parents weren’t at the parade.” When he was two, his family moved to Vermont.

“A friend from high school Josh Tsujimara moved to Vermont and happened to meet James. In 2009, James decided to explore his birthplace (he had not been back since he was a toddler). James wandered into the Tip Top and there was Josh working as a bartender.” A short time later, Josh introduced Stevie to James.

By 2011, James missed his hometown of Middlebury, Vermont, and Stevie agreed to move. “The small town feel is similar to here, but there’s no ocean and the weather can be harsh.” She worked as a massage therapist and an assistant manager at a natural food co-op. “The cost of living was high, but the wages were low. We both had to work two jobs to make ends meet. In August 2014, the family business called us home. After 20 years, Ma was retiring and it was time to come back.

“It was an adjustment. I wondered: What am I doing here? What’s my role? Everyone fully embraced us. I realized how much a part of me this business is—it’s truly my family.”

Her dad still works 12-hour days, James is a butcher, and two friends from Vermont were recently hired. “Roundman’s has an amazing crew, provides a livable wage, and treats everyone like family. We’ve grown from four employees to seventeen. We encourage everyone to create their own flavors—like Jasper’s Famous Bacon Sticks and Jessie’s Famous Corned Beef Bangers—and continue to learn about flavor profiles from our younger employees.”

stevie5What Stevie loves most about her job is working with her dad Steve. “He’s the best man I know. He and Steve Rasmussen found this little gem at the right time in their lives and at the right time for the coast. They’ve created an environment where everyone supports each other and plays on their strengths.”

What she likes least: “Meat is a male dominated business. I sometimes feel a lack of respect from customers who insist on getting their questions answered by one of the guys. I know as much as the guys about most things meat. When I don’t, I ask.”

As the Owner In Training (or OIT as Steve Rasmussen calls her), Stevie carries a lot of responsibility for running the business and has a hard time turning her brain off. A year after her return, she started dabbling in massage again, mostly with friends and family, on a very part-time basis. “I realized how much I missed it. Body work allows me to do something I love while helping people. I feel the same way about bacon.” She laughs.

Stevie imagines a bright future as co-owner of Roundman’s. “The coast has grown and there are a lot of people I don’t know, but nothing compares to waking up to the beauty of our surroundings. I hope the area doesn’t grow too big, that we stay rooted in the small town feel, to honor the way of life that brought a lot of us back.”

Stevie is happy to have returned to the loving arms of family, friends, coworkers, supportive customers, and fellow business owners. She envisions continuing to sign her Roundman’s emails for years to come: “Stevie and the Steves.”

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