Amberly Reynolds Caccamo – Reynolds Men’s Wear and Wrens

Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen people who grew up along the Mendocino Coast and couldn’t wait to move away, believing they’d never return. But return they did, to establish businesses or professional careers. Some also chose this place to raise children, to nurture them in the small town values that shaped their own childhoods.
These are a new wave of pioneers who, like their forebearers, use intelligence and  imagination to forge a vibrant path. In exchange for the privilege of being able to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, they work long, hard hours.
The shelter in place orders due to Covid-19 have knocked many down, but they are devising ways to get back up and resume their vision of what it means to live here.
They have open minds and are digging deep to find solutions.
They have entrepreneurial spirits that will spawn innovations to move them forward. They are truly the new pioneers of the Mendocino Coast.
We are so fortunate to have them here—especially during this trying time. 

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Each story shared by the returnees I’ve interviewed has left an impression on me, but Amberly’s touched me deeply. Not only did she keep a beloved and long-running family business going through the Great Recession, she managed to survive cancer while pregnant with her youngest child. You can read her interview here: https://ithappenedatpurity.com/2017/07/12/amberly-reynolds-caccamo/

Despite rising above previous challenges, Amberly initially found the business ramifications of the shelter in place order overwhelming. She struggled between wanting her family and community to stay safe and keeping her business afloat.

“By the time the SIP order was issued, I had already closed Wren’s and was grappling with closing Reynolds,” she says. “In early March, my 11-year-old son and I went to New York City with his class to participate in the Montessori Model United Nations. We returned on the tenth. When we left, there were more Covid cases in California than New York. Upon our return, we learned how rampant it was in New York City.  I put myself and the kids in quarantine and we hunkered down.”

Amberly despairs at the fact that the pandemic has pushed people to make needed purchases online. “Before this, I had plenty of customers who bought clothing from us, even though it was only a click away on their computer.” She’s being forced to make some tough decisions on how to move forward. “It breaks my heart, but I’ll have to combine my two shops into one. I hate to see another empty building on Franklin Street, but I cannot afford two rents and to staff two shops.

“Reynolds Men’s Wear has been in my family 54 years and was a men’s clothing store for 43 years before that. We are nearing our centennial. We have weathered more than a few storms. During the economic period of high inflation in the late seventies and early eighties, my parents spent most days sitting at a window table in the Fort Bragg Bakery across the street from the shop watching for the occasional customer. They managed to survive that difficult time.

“I am steeped in the tradition of this shop. It’s a part of me and makes me who I am. When I help customers find exactly what they need, I feel a giddy satisfaction. This pushes me to carefully select products. I am working on an online presence, but it’s not nearly as much fun as seeing people face-to-face.

“At this point, we are offering limited customer access to the stores and curbside pickup Wednesdays through Saturdays from 12:00-4:00. It’s been nice to see a few faces again—even if they are behind masks.”

Amberly is grateful that her husband’s business, Caccamo Construction, has been able to operate. She enjoys being at home with her three sons. “I see a lot of value in slowing down, and that is a huge part of my decision to merge my two stores. It will give me more freedom to be with my family. We love watching our plants grow, raising goats, and hanging with our chickens. Our dog is so happy to have kids home all day.”

Amberly encourages people to call or visit her shop. “See if we have what you need before you hop online to order. Share our Facebook posts. Interact with our Instagram posts, all of that helps to make us more visible to the public.”

https://www.facebook.com/wrensboutique/

https://www.reynoldswren.com/

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Forging a Path through the Pandemic: Young Pioneers of the Mendocino Coast

Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen people who grew up along the Mendocino Coast and couldn’t wait to move away, believing they’d never return. But return they did, to establish businesses or professional careers. Some also chose this place to raise children, to nurture them in the small town values that shaped their own childhoods.
These are a new wave of pioneers who, like their forebearers, use intelligence and  imagination to forge a vibrant path. In exchange for the privilege of being able to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, they work long, hard hours.
The shelter in place orders due to Covid-19 have knocked many down, but they are devising ways to get back up and resume their vision of what it means to live here.
They have open minds and are digging deep to find solutions.
They have entrepreneurial spirits that will spawn innovations to move them forward.
We are so fortunate to have them here—especially during this trying time. 

***

Sarena Breed – Frame Mill Art Works

SarenaCovid1I met Sarena in 2017 when I interviewed her for my blog. She had recently purchased the Frame Mill Art Works. As a first-time business owner, she worried about her ability to succeed. Despite the challenges of learning to run a shop, she’s seen her business grow and is happy she made the decision. https://ithappenedatpurity.com/2017/06/02/sarena-breed/

She was surprised in March 2020 when nonessential businesses in Mendocino County were forced to close under the shelter in place orders. “A week before the shutdown, I had celebrated my third year in business,” she says. “I noticed things had gotten slower, but expected to continue to operate with some mandated adjustments.”

The Sunday before the order took effect, she spent the day cleaning her store and making changes to keep employees and customers safe. “I separated tools and work areas so everyone in the back room could maintain social distancing. I drafted a sign for the front door asking customers to social distance. I didn’t imagine I would have to close the shop.”

With her routine suddenly disrupted, Sarena says, “I felt I was going through the stages of grief. This was the death of something.”

In addition to the temporary closure of her shop, her eighth grade daughter’s middle school was closed. “Sadly, her class had to settle for a virtual promotion ceremony this year.” Despite these losses, she’s grateful that her husband’s job as an utility arborist is considered essential and he has continued to work.

She began attending webinars on how small businesses can adapt during this time.

The core of Sarena’s business is meeting with clients face-to-face to discuss ways in which a project can be framed. “I love picture framing and don’t like spending much time on the computer. With the doors shut, I realized I had no direct way of communicating with clients. I felt cut off from the folks who came into the store. I wanted to reach out and say a simple hello and give updates, but didn’t have that capability.”

During the shutdown period, the feeling of isolation from her clients caused her to innovate. “I put in a point of sale system to collect email addresses. I’m started work on a website and Facebook and Instagram accounts. Going forward, I’ll continue to expand my online presence.”

Sarena was able to open her store on a limited basis the last week of May. “I looked outside that morning and thought we’ve all been like Sleeping Beauty and are starting to wake up. It feels great to see people again. Some come in just to make sure I was okay. Others pop their heads in to let me know they’re glad I’m open. I feel a great deal of support.” Her shop is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00-4:00.

Sarena is determined to move forward. She’s ordered inventory to stock the store for the Christmas season even though there may be shelter in place orders issued in the fall. If she’s forced to shut down again, she’ll be in a better position to communicate with customers and offer framing services by private appointment.

“This experience has given us time to contemplate the things that matter and to reevaluate. People seem to have an understanding that we’re all in this together and are being more patient. I feel a greater commitment to shopping locally and supporting our community.”

***

Since she re-opened, Sarena  is looking for a framer to join her team. Anyone interested can call her shop at 964-6464.

https://www.facebook.com/Frame-Mill-Artworks-106182994399181/

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Forging a Path through the Pandemic: Young Pioneers of the Mendocino Coast

Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen people who grew up along the Mendocino Coast and couldn’t wait to move away, believing they’d never return. But return they did, to establish businesses or professional careers. Some also chose this place to raise children, to nurture them in the small town values that shaped their own childhoods.
These are a new wave of pioneers who, like their forebearers, use intelligence and  imagination to forge a vibrant path. In exchange for the privilege of being able to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, they work long, hard hours.
The shelter in place orders due to Covid-19 have knocked many down, but they are devising ways to get back up and resume their vision of what it means to live here.
They have open minds and are digging deep to find solutions.
They have entrepreneurial spirits that will spawn innovations to move them forward.
We are so fortunate to have them here—especially during this trying time. 

***

Brittney Tuomala—A Sweet Affair

BrittneyCovid1Brittney’s dedication to the creation of artful desserts and specialty cakes was revealed in my first interview with her in 2014. https://ithappenedatpurity.com/2016/04/22/brittney-tuomala-harris/

A single mother of two young children and sole support of her family, Brittney panicked when the shelter in place order was issued, forcing her to cease business as usual in her beloved patisserie. “One day, I’m making cakes like there’s no care in the world,” she says, “and the next, I have to close the doors.”

Desperate thoughts swirled through her head. “If sales decrease or come to a halt, how do I pay my rent? Feed my kids? Take care of the monthly bills for the business and my home? This inner battle took a serious toll—some crying, some moping, a lot of drinking.”

The same entrepreneurial spirit that propelled Brittney to return to her hometown and create a successful bakery, made her realize she couldn’t give up. “I need to be strong and positive for my kids. I have to figure out how to work as much as I can to keep money flowing while also homeschooling the two of them.”

Brittney has adjusted her business practices by limiting offerings, which now have to be ordered in advance. An order for a cake or gift box placed by 5:00pm will be ready for pick up or delivery the following day. “Being able to conduct some business during these times is a confidence booster. In the face of all this darkness, I’m still going!”

Brittney isn’t sure how she’ll run her bakery when the shelter in place order is lifted.  “Right now, desserts are made to order so I’m not losing money to product waste. On the other hand, sales have severely decreased so I’m not generating as much revenue.

“I’m the only storefront pastry shop in town. I don’t want to take that away from the locals or the tourists. I don’t need a storefront to fill orders for special occasions. I can also become a wholesale shop and sell my desserts through other businesses.”

In the midst of all this, her shop’s landlord compounded her difficulties. “When I couldn’t pay May’s rent, he refused my letter regarding the city’s eviction moratorium. His lawyer claims I should have enough income to pay and I need to show bank records to prove I can’t. My sales are less than half of what they were this time last year.” She worries about the outcome of this situation.

Brittney is inspired by how our community has come together to support one another. “People are ordering food delivery to help restaurants and buying gift cards from local businesses. All of this positivity can only inspire more good.”

She acknowledges that the future of our business community is uncertain. “Without tourism during the busy spring/summer months, some won’t make it. It’s heartbreaking. More than half my revenue comes from weddings and events, which have mostly been cancelled. There are countless other vendors in the same boat.”

Brittney is grateful to live in a place filled with love and support. She encourages people to spend money locally. Even though much of her revenue is generated from tourist dollars, she doesn’t want to see them come here at this time. “The shelter in place order is never going to be lifted if we don’t follow the rules. My fellow business owners and I are desperate to reopen.”

Brittney’s pioneer grit is strengthening “Never give up,” she says. “If we can get through this, we can get through anything. We will emerge stronger than before.”

https://www.facebook.com/ASweetAffairPatisserie/

https://www.asweetaffairpatisserie.com/online-store

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Forging a Path through the Pandemic: Young Pioneers of the Mendocino Coast

Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen people who grew up along the Mendocino Coast and couldn’t wait to move away, believing they’d never return. But return they did, to establish businesses or professional careers. Some also chose this place to raise children, to nurture them in the small town values that shaped their own childhoods.
These are a new wave of pioneers who, like their forebearers, use intelligence and  imagination to forge a vibrant path. In exchange for the privilege of being able to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, they work long, hard hours.
The shelter in place orders due to Covid-19 have knocked many down, but they are devising ways to get back up and resume their vision of what it means to live here.
They have open minds and are digging deep to find solutions.
They have entrepreneurial spirits that will spawn innovations to move them forward.
We are so fortunate to have them here—especially during this trying time. 

***

Katie Turner Carr – Pippi’s Longstockings

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For the past 14 years, Katie has owned the very successful sock and accessory shop Pippi’s Longstockings. I first interviewed her in 2016. You can read it here: https://ithappenedatpurity.com/2016/04/08/katie-turner-carr/

When the COVID-19 shelter in place orders were announced, she was devastated. “In tears, I called vendors to ask for extensions on invoices. Thankfully, everyone understood. I wasn’t the only customer dealing with a community shutdown.”

Katie had put her heart and soul into building a beloved business that helps support her family’s livelihood. The possibility of losing it through forces beyond her control made her sad and frightened. She’s thankful her husband Marshall is a teacher who continues to earn an income.

“After a few days, I came to terms with the shutdown being something I can’t fix and I began to adapt. I announced on social media that I could ship orders. The process was 24/7, draining, and brought in barely a fraction of our previous revenue, but it gave me hope. My customers have been so supportive and wonderful.

“With no end in sight to the pandemic, I knew I had to do more. Visitors have been asking me for years to create an online store. I resisted because I love face-to-face retail so much.”

She and Marshall spent a weekend making a website. “It only took 14 years and a global pandemic, but we did it,” she says with a laugh.

On May 9, the local shelter in place order was eased to allow curbside pickup for retail. Katie was able to regain her face-to-face contact, even if those faces are behind masks.

“I don’t want to fully open before it is safe to do so. Earning money is far less important to me than the safety of the people of the Mendocino Coast and the potential to overwhelm our tiny hospital.”

Katie is troubled by the loss of local businesses and the potential to lose more. “I think a lot of us will change how we run our businesses and the way we shop. People are now waiting months for some items from Amazon and are turning to local sources. I hope people will think of themselves as helping to care for a larger community. Right now folks are wearing masks. Many don’t like it, but are doing it to protect others. I hope the feeling of doing things for the benefit of all continues.

“Fort Bragg reinvented itself after the Georgia-Pacific mill closed. We became a community that relies on tourism. We will come back economically, but will have to be creative with what that looks like. We need to support our local businesses as much as possible if we want them here for the long haul.”

Katie encourages people to reach out to their favorite stores and ask what they need. “Some places like nail shops and hair salons are not allowed to open. If you can afford it, buy a gift certificate for what you would normally spend each month. Honor others by sending a check. If you don’t have money, comment on and share their social media posts. Whatever you do, please be kind and remember we are in this together.”

Going forward, Katie will keep her online store along with her physical location. The world is changing and she’s prepared to change with it. “I have to admit I like waking up and seeing I sold socks while I slept.”

 

www.pippisocks.com

https://www.facebook.com/PippiSocks/

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Forging a Path through the Pandemic: Young Pioneers of the Mendocino Coast

Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen people who grew up along the Mendocino Coast and couldn’t wait to move away, believing they’d never return. But return they did, to establish businesses or professional careers. Some also chose this place to raise children, to nurture them in the small town values that shaped their own childhoods.
These are a new wave of pioneers who, like their forebearers, use intelligence and  imagination to forge a vibrant path. In exchange for the privilege of being able to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, they work long, hard hours.
The shelter in place orders due to Covid-19 have knocked many down, but they are devising ways to get back up and resume their vision of what it means to live here.
They have open minds and are digging deep to find solutions.
They have entrepreneurial spirits that will spawn innovations to move them forward.
We are so fortunate to have them here—especially during this trying time. 

***

Tom Butler & Karl Reese – Re-find Home Furnishings

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Karl with his QuaranTom Coif & Tom sporting a fresh KovidKut by Karl (with dog Callie)

A native son, Tom returned to the coast in 2009 with his husband Karl to open Re-Find, a second hand store that sells gently used furniture. You can read my initial interview with him here: https://ithappenedatpurity.com/tag/re-find/. The store became an instant success and over the past decade did very well. Today, however, it is suffering along with other local businesses.

Economic hard times are nothing new to these men. While living in Arizona, they experienced the Great Recession of 2008. “This one is different,” Tom says. “It happened overnight. We didn’t know if we’d be shut down for two weeks or two years. How do you make plans for that?”

A week before the shutdown, Tom had hernia surgery. In anticipation, he had purchased enough inventory to last two weeks while he recovered. When they realized his recovery was going to take longer, Karl took their truck to the Bay Area and loaded up another week’s worth of inventory. “As he drove home, the shelter in place orders went into effect.”

“If I’d known it would be the last time we could go out buying,” Karl says, “I would have packed the truck even tighter before heading home.”

Over the following two weeks, they depleted their inventory through private showings while adhering to the protocols of social distancing. With nothing left to sell, their business came to a standstill. The auctions, estate sales and warehouse sales where they source their products are also closed.

While they wait for their sources to reopen, Tom says they’re devising strategies to move forward. “We promote our business through Facebook, but don’t sell online. We might develop a website that will allow us to sell online and offer curbside pickup. This will be in addition to our physical store. At the end of the day, I’m a brick and mortar guy at heart.

“We’ve also used this time to paint the inside of the store and clean the carpets so when we reopen we’ll have a fresh new look.”

Tom is grateful their store serves the local population and isn’t dependent on tourists. However, he acknowledges the pain suffered by those businesses who are dependent upon this trade. “Our coast is a tourist-based economy and now we’re afraid of them. We’re going to have to figure out how to survive with a reduced tourist base. At this point there are far more questions than answers.”

Before the crisis hit, Karl had been working part-time at the hospital and recently went full time. He splits his time between the surgery department and materials management. “This has been a major benefit to our ability to survive,” Tom says.

According to Karl, “I’ve always been grateful that our community’s support of Re-Find provides us with a decent living here on the coast. Upping my game at the hospital is the least I can do to keep us afloat during these times”

As they await their reopening, Tom encourages local people to contact him if they have gently used furniture they’re willing to donate or sell. www.re-findhome.com

“It’s easy to figure out how to sell stuff. Our challenge now is to figure out how to acquire.” In the spirit of a true entrepreneur, Tom says, “If our old channels of acquiring inventory don’t work out, we’ll find new ones. We’re going to roll with whatever happens.”

https://www.facebook.com/ReFindFortBragg/

Forging a Path through the Pandemic: Young Pioneers of the Mendocino Coast

Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen people who grew up along the Mendocino Coast and couldn’t wait to move away, believing they’d never return. But return they did, to establish businesses or professional careers. Some also chose this place to raise children, to nurture them in the small town values that shaped their own childhoods.
 These are a new wave of pioneers who, like their forebearers, use intelligence and  imagination to forge a vibrant path. In exchange for the privilege of being able to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, they work long, hard hours.
The shelter in place orders due to Covid-19 have knocked many down, but they are devising ways to get back up and resume their vision of what it means to live here.
They have open minds and are digging deep to find solutions.
They have entrepreneurial spirits that will spawn innovations to move them forward.
We are so fortunate to have them here—especially during this trying time. 

***

Bethany Brewer – Body by Bethany

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I began working out with this gifted personal trainer six years ago. A few years later, I interviewed her for my blog where she shared her story of rising out of despair to change her life in ways she could have never imagined. You can read it here: https://ithappenedatpurity.com/2016/06/22/bethany-brewer/

Bethany has a passion for physical fitness and a drive to share it with as many people as possible. When the shelter in place orders were announced in March, her first concern was for her clients. She worried how she could help them navigate anxiety and fear. “I felt like I was sitting on a fence—I could keep moving forward and do my best or crawl under the covers and hide.”

She chose to move forward. “The new reality sparked my imagination and I devised workout scenarios that could take place outside the gym. These were quickly squashed as beaches were closed and gatherings banned.” She investigated how she might use Zoom to conduct workout sessions for people in remote locations. “I wasn’t sure my clients would participate, but they were all eager to give it a try.”

On Facebook, Bethany announced she was offering free online group workout sessions. “These are forty-five minute sessions at 9:00am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 6:00pm on Tuesday and Thursday.

“When the shelter in place happened, I felt, like so many others, a disconnect between my brain and body. That radiated out to a disconnect from person to person and further to alienation from my community. Being able to reach out through Zoom has made reconnections happen.”

The pandemic has forced Bethany to create a new business model. “Zoom has been an unexpected gift that allows me to reach a larger group of people and reconnect with friends all over the country.

“I think it will take time for people to feel comfortable going back to the gym after it is allowed to open. I’m thinking of protocols to assure my clients’ safety. I have access to a personal training studio that can be reached by an outside staircase so my clients don’t have to walk through the gym. I’ll offer a blend of gym training, Zoom, and outdoor workouts.

“Throughout these past weeks, the word I keep coming back to is ‘gratitude.’ I’m so grateful to have found a solution to offer workouts online. I’m also grateful that I have a community that’s willing to try new things. We can’t get through this alone. I want people to know I’m here for them.”

Bethany is encouraged by stories she hears about our community members helping each other. “People seem more aware of who needs help and are offering it. Many are industrious and creative and doing the best they can. I’m optimistic for our community’s future. I’m staying in the positive and in gratitude.”

Despite Bethany’s offer of free classes, she has bills to pay. She asks for donations of what anyone can afford. “It doesn’t have to be money. People leave food on my doorstep. Gift certificates are nice—they allow someone to support a local business while also supporting me.”

Whether or not someone can afford to donate, Bethany encourages them to join her Zoom workouts. “The more people in attendance, the more energy and motivation it creates.  When you help yourself by participating in a group workout, you also help others. The positive energy ripples out to your family and your community. If you don’t know how to use Zoom, contact me through Facebook Messenger and I’ll walk you through setting it up.” https://www.facebook.com/1gymunicorn/

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Carolina Duran

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Carolina was a friend of my daughter’s throughout their Fort Bragg school years. From the time she was a child, she showed exceptional talent in the areas of drawing and painting. I would have never imagined she’d grow up to teach mathematics at the middle school and college levels. Not because she wasn’t smart and talented. She was so stoic. She seemed too shy to be able to lead a classroom of students.

Her passion for mathematics began in fifth grade. “Sally Miller—a resource teacher at Dana Gray—gave us a problem about order of operations. The other kids struggled, but I finished really fast. She asked me to go to the board and show the class how I solved it.” She smiled. “It made me feel good.”

A few years before, she’d struggled with multiplication tables. She wanted to improve and asked her mother to put her through multiplication drills every night. She eventually grew proficient and faster at solving a sheet full of problems.

CarolinaFamilyCarolina grew up fifth in a family of ten children. She has great respect for her parents and their ability to provide for and raise such a large family. Her father has worked in the logging industry for decades and at the age of 65 is a timber faller. Her mother has been a housekeeper at Stanford Inn since 1997.  Her father came to this country when he was 15 years old and worked to send money to help is widowed mother and his siblings in Mexico. He eventually made his way to Fort Bragg and in 1979 brought his young bride.

In 1990, when Carolina was a baby, her parents bought a house. As an adult, Carolina realizes how hard life must have been for them and remembers their frugality. “When we went school clothes shopping, we were each allowed two shirts, two pairs of pants, a sweater, socks and underwear. We also got one pair of shoes that had to last us the entire school year.” These shopping sessions in Ukiah lasted an entire day. “At lunchtime, my dad went to Albertson’s and bought a roasted chicken, bread, peppers, mayonnaise and made sandwiches. We rarely ate fast food or went out to restaurants.”

By 2006, the start of her senior year in high school, she hadn’t formulated a plan for what to do after graduation. Her participation in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program changed all that. “One of the requirements was to apply to colleges. My older brother lived in Sacramento, so I chose Sacramento State. I decided to major in nursing because the nurses on television programs seemed so fancy.” She laughed.

“Two years into the program, I decided it didn’t offer enough math, which was my strongest subject. I changed my major to mathematics with a teaching concentration. I found it challenging, but also inspiring.” She also minored in Art Education and Chicano Studies.

CarolinaCollegeGRadCarolina wasn’t the first of 50 first cousins to attend college, but she was the first to graduate. Since then, eight others have obtained degrees. Two of her brothers are currently working and going to college, one scheduled to graduate next spring with a degree in mechanical engineering. Her other siblings are gainfully employed; her youngest sister is a senior year in high school.

Carolina was able to finance her education through a combination of financial aid, help from her parents, and working. During her first two years, she returned to Fort Bragg in the summers to work at The Coast Cinemas and as a housekeeper for Stanford Inn. The following summer, she worked at the drive-in theater in Sacramento. “Since the movies didn’t start until after dark, I sometimes worked until four in the morning.” She was also the student assistant in the learning skills lab at the college.

She graduated in 2013 and moved to San Antonio where she attended the University of Texas to obtain a Master’s Degree and teaching credential in Mathematics Education. Her first year, she also taught four undergraduate mathematics classes each semester. Her second year was spent taking classes and meeting her credential requirements by teaching at an all-girls Catholic school.

CarolinaStudentsThis once shy girl grew into a woman who thoroughly enjoys teaching. “It can be very creative.” During her Master’s program, she became an expert in Geogebra, a technology-based program. “It allows teachers to create their own math program for students.”

By June 2017, Carolina moved back to Fort Bragg to be closer to family. “For a long time, my mind had been working from the time I got up until I went to sleep. I wanted to do something simple.

“I saw a posting for a math teacher position at Fort Bragg Middle School. The teacher was taking a one-year sabbatical. That one year turned into two.

“I was happy to be teaching math, but I prefer teaching at the college level. Math is easy. Teaching is hard. Math is a subject many kids think they’re bad at. I try to show how it helps make them logical thinkers.” She offered after-school tutoring sessions two days a week. By the spring of 2018, she also took a job as the tutor in the math lab at the Mendocino College Coast Center two afternoons a week.

This spring, overwhelmed by her schedule, she resigned from the middle school, but offered to teach part-time. Superintendent of schools Becky Walker (Carolina’s former middle school math teacher) offered her two periods at the high school next year. Carolina will also teach part-time at Mendocino College and continue with the math labs. This summer, she’s teaching a beginning algebra class at the college which serves mainly high school Upward Bound students.

Carolina is happy about her return to Fort Bragg. “I like running into people I know. Being surrounded my nature, fresh air and family helps me feel calm.” Her eventual goal is to have a fulltime teaching position at the college level with a focus on training teachers. Meanwhile, she continues to develop her artistic skills. “I like to draw faces I make up in my head.” Most of her drawing is produced on her iPad because it allows her to experiment without wasting paper. She’s done a few commissioned pieces, but generally uses art as a stress reducer.

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Album cover for musician Aaron Kremen

She encourages young people who grew up here to venture out and explore other places. “It’s scary, but if you’re afraid to take risks, you’re never going to get anywhere. Whatever happens, happens—you just have to go with it. After I left, I got onto a path that just flowed.” Our community is grateful that her path eventually led her back home.

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Getting It Together With Bob

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I sit in the Ten Mile Justice Center courtroom in Fort Bragg, legs crossed, right foot bobbing in an effort to dissipate my nerves. I’m here for the second month in a row to request a continuance on a restraining order I was reluctant to file, but that law enforcement has encouraged me to pursue.

My lower back starts to painfully throb. I concentrate on taking deep, slow breathes, which manifest as shallow asthmatic wheezes. I want to cut and run.

The cases previous to mine are mundane—the opening of probate, something about a family trust, and an illegal eviction. About a half hour after court comes to order, someone enters through the back door. I don’t know who because I’m sitting in the front row of the gallery. The person sits behind me to the right of my peripheral vision. Cigarette fumes give me a nicotine contact high. All I can see of this person is orange and gray athletic shoes.

The judge calls a case for a someone named Bob (not his real name). The guy sitting behind me stands and moves forward. He’s a trim, grizzled 50-something who wears capri-length workout pants and a tank top with three horizontal slashes across the back. I’m somewhat alarmed that he seems to have ignored the posted rules for appropriate court attire—no shorts, no tank tops. His blonde streaked hair is combed forward and he’s got a healthy tan. If he were a few decades younger, he’d look like an attractive surfer dude.

The previously bored bailiff stands and rests his hand on his pistol.

The judge informs Bob the restraining order against him has been dropped. (This order has nothing to do with my case.)

“So I can go back to Ukiah?” Bob asks, incredulous.

“I cannot tell you what to do,” the judge says.

“I’ve been living in Ukiah getting my life together,” Bob announces proudly. “I’m off meth.”

“Good for you,” the judge says with genuine warmth.

“I have some clothes at that house. Can I get them before I leave town?”

“I cannot tell you what to do,” the judge says.

“Since the restraining order’s been dropped, I can go pick up my clothes?”

“I cannot tell you what to do.”

Bob shakes his head as if to dispel water from his ears. “I just wanna tell ya,” he says, “you’re the best. The best!” As if the judge had something to do with getting the complaining party to drop the restraining order.

“Thank you. You’re free to go.”

“I won’t forget this.” Bob turns to leave. “You’re the best. The best!” He’s giddy, pumping his fist in the air like his favorite team just won the World Cup.

The bailiff sits down.

I make note of Bob’s full name in order to later check the online Mendocino County Sheriff’s Booking Log. I’m certain—willing to put money on it—that  he’ll be arrested before nightfall for causing a kerfuffle at a house where nobody wants him, yet where some of his clothing still resides.

After he leaves, my case is called. For Bob, my experience would have been a day at the beach. For me, it was stressful enough to send me home to lay on the floor with an ice pack under my back and feeling what Southern women used to call “having a case of the vapors.”

The party I’m seeking a restraining order against, someone who made an obsessive series of calls to my home, someone who is well known to law enforcement, has a right to be served with notice of the filing. He cannot be found. I’m granted my continuance, but scheduled to return the following month. I want nothing more than to have this process over and done with, but fear I’ll spend the bulk of 2019 going to court.

A few days later, I remember to check on Bob to see if he escaped arrest the evening following court and made it safely back to his new life in Ukiah.

Exactly one week before his appearance in the coast courtroom, he was arrested in Fort Bragg for being a public nuisance. He was held overnight.

The day after his release, he was arrested in Ukiah (about an hour and a half drive from Fort Bragg) for disorderly conduct: alcohol, and held overnight.

Two days after that release, he was once again arrested in Ukiah on the same charge and held overnight.

The following day, he appears in the Fort Bragg courtroom to make it a matter of public record that he’s getting his life together.

Bob might have issues with substance abuse and appropriate public decorum, but the underlying struggles he’s dealing with have been visited upon all of us to some degree or another.

We’ve all made the Monday morning promises—“I swear to God I’m going to (fill in the blank).”

  • Quit smoking. Until you can no longer suppress the desire to chop someone’s head off (usually by noon on Monday when you bum a smoke from a co-worker).
  • Quit drinking. Until you get home after a stressful Monday at work.
  • Go on a diet. Go to the gym. Get in shape. Until, on your way home from work, you stop by McDonald’s for a value meal to pair with your tequila shots.
  • Give up that toxic girlfriend or boyfriend. Until 10:00pm when you start drunk texting.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—we’ve all made such proclamations, and we’ve all inevitably failed until for some reason—grace?—we follow through and actually turn things around.

Like a worried mother, I visit the booking log website every few days to check on Bob. I’m hopeful he’ll stay out of trouble for good—or at least for a time. Five days after I’m made aware of him, he’s arrested again in Ukiah for—you want to take a guess?—disorderly conduct: alcohol.

At least he’s not on meth, I tell myself.

Twelve days later, he’s arrested in Ukiah for indecent exposure.

I hope Bob eventually finds the grace to overcome his demons and find peace.

I hope I eventually get my own act together and stop checking on him.

Seven on Sundays

satchelApparently many Scandinavians believe that by the time we die, the sum of our possessions should fit into a satchel. I suppose this makes disposal of our property easy for our kids—simply pick up the bag and toss it in the garbage. Being half Scandinavian, I suspect it’s really designed to make us feel guilty for accumulating stuff that makes us happy and comfortable. I was raised with the concept that it’s best to live a life of misery and deprivation.

I’m not planning to leave the planet any time soon, but after learning this I viewed my things differently. What is truly necessary to quality of life and what’s not? If I had to whittle away to the barest minimum, what would I get rid of? How long would it take? I’m a busy person and decided it would take way too long. I tried to banish the idea, but it haunted me.

I know I have too much stuff—things I don’t use, things that if occasionally needed could be borrowed. I finally devised a plan:

Break it down into small steps. Make it a game. Yay! I love games. Call it “Seven on Sundays.” Each Sunday, seven items or more can be tossed, but not less. If I got excited and went for more, the count couldn’t be carried over to the next Sunday. Make it an exercise in moderation. Place each week’s stash either in the garbage, recycle, or a box to haul to a thrift shop at the beginning of each month. By the end of the year, I’d have rid myself of at least 365 things.

I started Sunday, January 7, 2018. Here’s what I learned:

My enthusiasm tempted me to go on a spree, but I knew such obsessiveness would quickly cause burnout and failure. I mostly forced myself to stop at seven.

It took two months to get out of the laundry/utility room! I was shocked to find three full bottles of Murphy’s Oil Soap within the dark recesses of the cupboard’s upper shelves. (I used to take pride in housekeeping and would pick up extra bottles when this was on sale.)

amoireIn my armoire, I found:

  • A pair of cute red polka dot slipper socks given by my daughter and worn enough times to create holes in the bottoms. When she was in college, she bought them with her limited funds because she knew I’d like them. The memory of this sweet gesture caused me to hold onto them long past their usefulness. It was sad to throw them out.
  • Two little mesh bags that once held forgotten gifts and could be used to present a little treat to someone. I had to concede they would never be filled with anything but air.
  • A sweatband I’d tried on only once because it made me look like Keith Richards. I like Keith, but the resemblance gave me the creeps.
  • A holder for a lightweight winter jacket that can fold into something resembling a small umbrella. It’s far easier to stuff the jacket into a suitcase.
  • A reading light that clips to a book. Years after receiving, it had never been used.
  • An expensive bra with straps that can be moved about to create a backless look. I was done with washing it and having the straps come loose only to refit them into the tiny holes where they continually pursued their fight for freedom. What possessed me to buy it in the first place? For the rest of my life I’ll never need a backless bra.
  • A sweater I knitted six years ago yet only wore a few times because it didn’t fit properly. It’s beautiful with fabulous buttons and cost me a bundle in yarn. I loved knitting it, which made the decision to relinquish it painful. There was no reason to keep it folded away when someone would find it marvelous and the Hospice Thrift Store would benefit from the sale.

sweater

The following week, I determined it would take more than a month of Sundays to clean out the armoire. After the laundry room fiasco, I didn’t have that kind of time. So I modified the rules to seven minutes. I got rid of 24 things. Fifteen went immediately into the trash: socks without matches, panty hose with failed elastic bands and two half-slips bought in the early nineties (when was the last time I wore a dress?).

A week later, I braved the master bathroom. Makeup primer I’d purchased to enliven my aged face for my son’s wedding (two and a half years before) and never used since. Extra buttons that came with clothing purchases. Where was this clothing? Scraps of paper with reminder notes. Yes, apparently I once wrote reminder notes in the bathroom. (Go ahead, judge me. I’ve done worse.) A 10-year old pair of prescription glasses.

7onSundayshoesThe last Sunday of January, giddy that the dismal month was coming to a close, I celebrated by getting rid of two pairs of expensive, yet uncomfortable, shoes. Toward the end of the day I realized I hadn’t completed my seven. I went to my closet—the perfect place for unused crap to hide. I spied an old gym bag—some swag from two decades ago. I debated over and shoveled five pairs of shoes inside it.

The most difficult pairs to part with were in the back—black velvet shoes with embroidered Christmas decorations—pumps and flats. For years, I wore these during the holiday season. I bought them at Mervyn’s in Santa Rosa shortly after we moved to Fort Bragg (25 years before). They were covered in dust. I felt the heartbreak of bygone Christmas seasons when my kids were little. I cried as I put them into the bag. Our possessions are only things, but some evoke memories that make grief a part of the removal process.

Knives

Set of 30-year old knives

I won’t bore you with the details of what I tossed each week. There were weeks when I forgot until evening and went into a panic over finding seven. That was eased by throwing away things as simple as old pencils (Who uses pencils anymore? Certainly not Scandinavians!) and pens with dried up ink. And blurry photographs that don’t make sense to keep. And spices—we all have spices in our cupboards that are long past expiration dates.

A few more revelations:

7onSundaysunglassesIf you’d asked me how many pairs of sunglasses I own, I’d have said two: a cheap-ass pair bought about 10 years ago and an expensive pair bought two years ago. Imagine my shock to open a cupboard door in my office and find SEVEN PAIRS OF SUNGLASSES!!!

The red framed pair are fashionable, but bulky and heavy. They’d been replaced with the cheap-ass pair. Don’t ask me why I couldn’t bear to part with them. When I started jogging seven years ago, I bought a pair of lightweight wraparound sunglasses that fogged up as I heated up. I’d bought a funky purple pair in Portland when I visited my son years ago. How could I possibly give those up? And so on…. Five went into a zip-lock bag for the thrift store. (The Portland funky and cheap ass pairs will have to wait for another day.)

One Sunday, I was mumbling curses as I scrubbed an old Pyrex glass casserole stained by years of use. It was so gross that I’d never show it to company. If I moved, I wouldn’t take it with me. If I died, my kids would throw it away. Gone!

A laminated map of San Francisco. How long have I had a smart phone to access for directions? At least six years. Gone!

Christmas decorations. I have many and love every single one except the bunch I don’t take out of the storage bins each year. For the first time, I questioned why I keep them. Perhaps it’s those blasted memories of bygone holidays, avoiding the grief that trashing might bring.

I was sad to give away the little grapevine wreaths I’d wrapped with ribbon and hung about the house when my kids were young. These had not seen the light of Christmas for years. Someone will find them festive and delightful. I cried as I put them in the donation box.

7onSundayusermanual

Disturbing find in kitchen drawer

By the end of the year, I’d gotten rid of at least 500 things and don’t miss a single one. When I started this project, I had no idea what a relief it would be to get rid of stuff. More importantly, allowing myself do it systematically instead of manically, where I would quickly tire and give up.

I’m taking a brief hiatus, but will revive Seven on Sundays on March 3rd—a date arbitrarily set because it’s winter and right now my goal is to sleep as much as possible. Yes, there is more to toss, but I don’t aspire to get my possessions down to a satchel. After all, I’m only half Scandinavian.

7onSundaywriting

Old writing projects read one last time before putting in recycling bin

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Dogdentalcare

Bought when Lucy was a puppy before learning she did not have the temperament to allow such indignity

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.

dirt

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!”