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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!”

Jason Malsom

jasonheadshotAs I approached the massive hull made more ominous by being back-lit by the sun, the sounds of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” echo from the dark recesses of the ship. I got the chills. A young man—Jason Malsom—moved forward, framed by the colossus behind him, and greeted me with a warm smile. Despite his height, sculpted face and a sleeve of tattoos on each arm, he looked much like the round faced five-year old I met 25 years ago when I worked with his mother Michelle.

jasonhullIn January 2017, Jason bought Van Peer Boatworks and changed the name to Noyo Boatworks. He began building a 60- by 28-foot fishing vessel that will fish for black cod and halibut in waters along the west coast and Alaska.

As we walked around the boat’s impressive hull, we were serenaded by a symphony of classic rock mixed with the crackling of blow torches welding steel. I asked Jason how he became the owner of a highly respected 44-year old business.

“I went to work for Chris [Van Peer] in late 2012. I started out as a tacker—someone who fits the pieces of a boat so the welder can follow along and fuse them together. I was a quick learner and Chris trained me to do welding. Towards the end of 2016, he was ready to retire, but had this boat to build for Nick Jardstrom, a commercial fisherman. He asked if I’d build it.”

To me, this seems a tremendous undertaking. Jason shrugged and said in his humble way, “I needed to keep my job so I bought the business.” He smiled.

Jason graduated from Fort Bragg High School in 2005. He stayed in the area and worked a number of jobs—from a laborer for Rantala Heating to building logging roads for Stan Stornetta and part-time tattooing. “Before I went to work for Chris, I’d get up at 5:00, work until 3:00, then tattoo from 4:00 until 8:00. After a few years, I got tired of the long hours. A friend of mine worked for Chris and was planning to move to Ukiah. I always wanted to learn how to weld, so I contacted Chris. He signed me on and I liked the work immediately.” Between the end of 2012 and 2016, Jason helped build three commercial fishing boats.

jasoninteriorI wondered how one builds a boat this enormous. “An architect in Seattle did the design,” Jason said. “After it was approved by the owner, it went to an engineering company in Oregon who cut the steel and sent to us. I’ll build the basic structure, do the plumbing and mount the engine. The wiring and finishing work will be done by someone else.”

Throughout the construction yard, thick pieces of steel are arranged by size. Jason takes the plans, much like a blue print to a house, starts with the keel (which runs the entire length of the bottom of the boat) and moves upwards. Each piece is welded into place.

Side pieces have to be cinched in to fit the curve of the deck. This is done by welding a metal “eye” to the inside of the piece and cranking it inward. I marveled at how hard it must be to bend such a massive amount of steel. Jason laughed. “It really doesn’t take much strength.”

For years, Van Peer Boatworks was located on the north side of Highway 20, under a huge canopy that still marks the spot. Whenever a boat was launched, crowds gathered to watch it painstakingly hauled down the steep slope of South Harbor Drive. In recent years, insurance liability issues caused Chris to move the boatyard to the base of the drive, which provides level ground for boat launches.

When I asked Jason why the canopy remains in the old yard on the highway, he said, “If we move it, we’ll violate the manufacturer’s warranty and we’d have to pay for any repairs. If the manufacturer moves it for us, it’ll cost several thousand dollars.” For now, the canopy stays put.

jasondeck2Although he loves what he’s doing, he feels some frustration over not having the time to take on side jobs. “Fishermen constantly ask if I can help with a boat repair and I hate turning them down. If someone wanted to start a mobile welding business, he could make a good living in this harbor.”

Jason has found a way to establish a career in the town of his birth by working hard and being a dedicated employee. By taking over this iconic business, he’s safeguarding the tradition of large boat building in a community that is anchored in the fishing industry. The sight of the gigantic steel structure being erected is enticing. Jason is amused that nearly every day people stop to watch and take pictures.

He hopes to finish this boat in August 2018, but thinks it’s more likely to be completed in October. “I could use another welder, but can’t find one.” He laments what a number of local employers express—how difficult it is to find people willing to work. “Chris taught me everything I know about welding and boat building. I could do the same for someone else.” He’s grateful to have one experienced welder in Daniel who was hired by Chris in 2015 and another whom he’s training.

jasonyardI asked Jason how he handles the responsibility of this a multi-million dollar project. In his humble way, he said, “It requires patience.” He smiled before adding, “I take it a piece at a time.” He’s grateful that Chris remains available to him whenever he needs advice.

There isn’t another boat project waiting in the wings, but Jason’s not concerned. “There are only a handful of boat works on the West Coast and I’m one of them. I hope to be doing this for some time to come.

“The best thing about building this boat is watching it all come together. I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like when I see it tied up in the harbor and from there going to the wild waters of Alaska.”

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Jason’s rough sketch of what will become his permanent sign.

Update: I visited Noyo Boatworks about a month ago. Jason sent a photo of what the boat looks like now: jasonfinal

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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