Where in the World is My Mother?

On September 3, 2022, my 92-year-old mother Donna died from complications of a stroke she’d suffered 12 months earlier. She’d been living in a nursing home in Fresno, California where my sister also lives. My sister reported that a “Dr. Doogie Howser” diagnosed the stroke as major. He predicted another was bound to happen in the next month or so and that one would deal a fatal blow.

My sister and I began to mourn.

The anticipated catastrophic event never happened. As time ticked by, it was painful to watch Mom struggle to communicate—reduced to only being able to say “no” and babble incoherently. She’d been proud of her Scots Irish heritage, which she credited with making her a feisty survivor of this life. One of her biggest fears was to become helpless, and she did everything she could to remain vital for as long as possible. In her later years, as she learned more about Buddhist philosophy, she was able to let go of some—but certainly not all—of those Scots Irish traits that are ill suited to practicing acceptance and creating internal peace.

Despite our grief over Mom’s condition, my sister and I were grateful she was pampered by the nursing home staff and hospice nurses. For two years before her stroke, she made friends with fellow residents and endeared herself to the staff. Some of the nurses regularly took their lunch breaks in her room. These angels continued to do so even after she lost her ability to speak.

I have to confess I often wanted to put Mom out of what I felt was her misery, but am grateful I didn’t have that power. She was deeply loved by the people who cared for her. For the last year of her life, she was nurtured like a baby, given the affection and attention her abusive mother never gave her. I believe this might have been the best year of her life.

Each week that Mom lingered in a barely communicative state, my sister and I wished for her speedy and painless death. In retrospect, this wish was to put us out of our misery—out of the pain we felt by worrying about her.

Shortly after Mom entered the nursing home, my sister and I made arrangements for the eventual disposal of her body. We looked at a few prospects and chose Tulip Cremation because it was inexpensive, had mostly good reviews and, after all, how complicated is it to cremate someone?

I was about to find out.

Three days after Mom died, a Tulip rep named Evelyn sent a short email stating “Donna is safely in our care,” and gave me her email contact information.

I asked how long it would take before we received our mother’s ashes. The following day, someone named Dom answered:
Great question. We like to tell our families the entire process due to include the return home of a loved one takes about 2 weeks. I’m going to be checking in with you every couple of days so you always know what’s going on. I’m here if you ever have any questions.

I never heard from Dom again.

A week later, an email arrived from Cynthia:
 I wanted to let you know that the county has registered your loved one’s passing, so we’re now ready to move forward with cremation. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.

My main question was why in the hell does it take over a week to cremate someone? But I didn’t want to sound like a bitch. Instead, I asked if they were going to send me a death certificate or if I had to order one.

After a week of waiting for Cynthia’s answer, I sent her an email on September 19th (sixteen days after my mother died) saying I was anxious to receive a reply. The following day, I received this:
Hello Kate,
My name is Rose, I am one of the team members here at Tulip Cremation. I would like to express my deepest condolences for your loss.
To confirm, we have received your request. I apologize for the delayed response.
If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know.
Take care.

A woman named Rose works for a company named Tulip. How ironic. Also, ironic is how she didn’t answer my question.

I emailed Rose and asked when my mother was scheduled to be cremated and if they were going to send me a death certificate or if I had to order one.

No response.

On Friday, September 23, twenty days after my mother died, I sent an email to Dom—the one who’d promised to check in with me every couple of days—and asked for the whereabouts of her remains and clarification about the death certificate. The following day, I received a response from Lisa Ann:
As for the cremation progress we are pretty much near the end stages. All legal paperwork necessary for us to schedule cremation has been sent to the crematory we are just waiting now on the crematory to schedule in your loved one for their cremation. As for death certificates, it looks like you did not order any death certificates from us. We always advise families if they need death certificates fast and they live in or by the county of the passing (which is Fresno in this case) to get death certificates in person as it is faster. Then passing has been registered so you can get death certificates from the county in person now if you would like, I would call the county first to inquire if there is a waiting period because some counties require families to wait a certain amount of time before they can get it in person.

Three weeks after the death of my mother—the bearer of five children, a woman who’d endured a pretty awful life—Tulip still hadn’t cremated her. What the hell?!? I imagined bodies waiting in a queue like backed up jets on the runway at JFK Airport. At this point, the thought of her lying in cold storage somewhere—where???— agitated my sensitive nerves and threatened to give me the vapors.

I live in the small town of Fort Bragg, California, across the alley from our only mortuary. When my husband Gary died, those lovely people took expedient, respectful care of him and our family. He was cremated the following day and his ashes delivered to me a few days later. They also provided me with his death certificate. This was my experience. I expected something similar for my mother.

Twenty-one days after Mom died, I was caught in a whirlwind of disgust over Tulip’s handling of this situation. I sat on my patio in the brilliant, warm sunshine with my iPad and researched complaints about this business. There is far more positive feedback than negative, but my vile mood focused on the negative.

At one point, I paused, looked away from my screen and saw dainty flying insects rising from the grass—as if solid ground suddenly erupted in light. They looked like tiny dragonflies with gossamer wings. I know little about bugs, but later learned they might be flying ants. They rose in large clusters like a symphony, one group after another and disappeared into the clear blue sky. I felt surrounded in a halo, engulfed by my mother’s spirit telling me everything was okay, to calm the hell down and stop the nonsense of worrying about what might be happening to her body.

A few hours later, I took my dog Lucy on a walk. Before we left, I asked Mom to send me a sign that everything was okay—as if the flying insects were not enough! At the end of our stroll, as we approached our house, a little fox darted from our property and ran across the alley to the mortuary. This made me smile.

I went inside to look up the spiritual meaning of a fox crossing your path. “It helps you see a problem for what it is, rather than what you want it to be. When you realize this, you learn to be flexible and adaptable.”


The events of that day helped me accept that Mom wouldn’t care one bit about where her physical body was located. She didn’t believe in heaven or hell, but in reincarnation. She also believed in karma—which I suspect had a lot to do with her early indoctrination of being raised with Catholic guilt.

On September 3rd, Mom’s spirit began a journey of swirling around the universe, having a grand time, without a care as to the life she left behind and where the next life might take her.

Tulip Cremation personifies the saying, “You get what you pay for.” My sister and I were raised to be frugal and carried that trait into adulthood. I realize my anger towards Tulip was mixed with guilt over not splurging an extra thousand dollars or more to ensure Mom’s body was handled in an expedient manner. Bottom line—my mother doesn’t care, so why should I?

I’m no longer angry with Tulip. I now find their behavior humorous. Mom’s final physical adventure on Earth turned into one of those dark comedies that she so enjoyed while alive. We will get her ashes when we get them—however long that takes. Mom is okay with that. I’m finally okay with that, too.

P.S. My sister received Mom’s ashes on September 27, nearly three and a half weeks after she died.

Stevie Scudder – Roundman’s Smokehouse

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. 

SteviecovidheadshotWhen I interviewed Stevie nearly four years ago, I was impressed by her dedication to the legacy of her family’s business. https://ithappenedatpurity.com/tag/mendocino-coast/

Unlike other small businesses who found their operations suddenly stopped, Roundman’s remained open. When the shelter in place order was announced, they researched the essential business requirements. “As a USDA-regulated and inspected facility,” she says, “we were already in compliance with a lot of the rules. We made adjustments for masks and social distancing. We also began disinfecting contact surfaces after every customer interaction.”

In addition to their retail store, Roundman’s sells to several Mendocino County restaurants. When these had to shut down or start take-out only, Roundman’s braced for a negative impact. Surprisingly, this was offset by a spike in retail sales. “People started placing large orders for their personal stock. Business really took off—albeit in a different direction—but we adapted, have been able to keep our staff employed, and are doing fine.”

Meat shortages soon curtailed Roundman’s ability to order certain products. “We were able to shift some of our sourcing to local vendors and distributors, but even that was limited. We are doing our best to focus our efforts on more Northern California companies when possible. It’s also what the public wants.”

Despite the challenges of running a business during shelter in place, Stevie is pleased to see a slowing down of life. “Our culture has become very go-go-go, with people seeking immediate responses. Safety is now a priority and that adds a few extra minutes to each task. I think the limitations arising from this pandemic have caused people to pause and assess what is truly necessary—what they can go without in a time of crisis. Everyone worldwide has had to make sacrifices. In our little community I see an understanding of that and a comraderie forming.

“People are making masks and donating them where needed. They’re expressing gratitude and rallying to help each other out. We’re coming together—outdoors and distanced—to celebrate high school graduations, birthdays and other milestone events.”

As a business owner, Stevie urges shoppers to show compassion, gratitude and respect. “Follow the orders, read signs, respect the rules and your fellow humans. Respect the employees. Understand that those who are working are not the ones making the rules. They are trying to follow them as best they can to remain in operation and keep you, themselves and their families safe.”

Stevie hopes more people are starting to realize that added safety precautions have been implemented to ensure the well-being of everyone. “I see people more aware of their interactions and their surrounding environment. Safety and sanitation is now a priority and that adds a few extra minutes to each task. For the most part, customers are grateful we’re taking care of them by limiting the number of people in the store, wearing and requiring masks, and disinfecting surfaces between each transaction.

“Going forward, I imagine that some of the changes will remain. My guess is that Covid-19 has made people more aware of what they touch and how germs are passed. I don’t know that face shields and plexi-glass at registers will remain forever, but think we’ll see more people wearing masks—especially during heightened flu season. I think there will be more conscious efforts to wash hands, sanitize and keep a safe distance.

“I hope we can continue to rally together, support and respect each other, and encourage our visitors to do the same.”



Jessica Ehlers

As seen on a Sussex Directories Inc siteAn aura of gentle kindness surrounds Jessica. The lilt to her voice invites people to relax and feel comfortable. She has a great sense of humor and laughs easily. Yet, her outward appearance belies the emotional struggles she has had to overcome. Dealing with these challenges helped her decide at a young age that her life’s work would revolve around helping others.



Jessica was born in 1979, at a time when children were given freedom to explore the world around them. She spent much of her childhood outside with friends. “We built forts, forged for berries, road bikes all over town, hiked the train tracks, and played at the beach.” Set loose without much supervision, she also occasionally got into trouble.

JessicaEshykid“I was a dorky, insecure kid who could not spell, read out loud in class and didn’t seem to have any real talent outside of being obsessed with MTV. When I was nine, some friends and I began shoplifting and engaging in property destruction. I eventually got caught breaking into a vacation rental. I began sobbing and confessed to everything. I felt so guilty and ashamed. I think the deputy knew he had done his job terrifying me into never doing that again.”

At the age of 12, she spent two weeks in Japan on the first Mendocino Miasa student exchange program. It was an eye-opening experience for this young teen who was living in the tiny hamlet of Albion on the Mendocino Coast.

“It was interesting to see the contrast of the architecture of this ancient culture right next to the bullet train. How people lived was so different from my experience—the food, smells, the schools. The formality was unlike anything I had seen before.”

In 1997—when she was 17 and a student at the Mendocino Community School—she traveled to Bali for two months to research her high school senior project. “At the time, I thought I wanted to become a midwife. My friend, Anna Marie Stenberg, knew Robin Lim, a midwife in Bali. I made arrangements to work with her.”

Upon her arrival, she learned that Robin had gone to Texas to deliver her daughter’s baby. “I’d gotten sick with laryngitis before I left and had started antibiotics. A driver picked me up at the airport and took me to Ubud where I stayed in a one room bungalow with beautiful tile flooring, woven thatch walls and huge, flying cockroaches. ”

JessicaEBaliThe antibiotics were not working and the weather was uncomfortably wet and hot. The next day, Ketut, the semi-adopted daughter of the midwife, put her on the back of her scooter and took her to a doctor. “I was sent off with a bottle of mysterious green pills that eventually cured me. Ketut drove me through the Monkey Forest to Robin’s family compound in Nyuh Kuning. It was like the ‘Jungle Book’ with monkeys hanging out in a temple.’”

Jessica studied Balinese midwifery through reference books while working at the Pondok Pekak Library. “This practice is tied to Hindu culture which is tied into everything in Bali—offerings in the street, protocols on how to pray, and their beautiful elaborate ceremonies.”

“My parents didn’t have an email account so I’d send messages to their friend once a week and they would email me back from their friend’s computer. One time, I sent them a carefully constructed email that told them not to freak out, but I had something to tell them. They probably thought I was pregnant, but the big reveal was that I had gotten a tattoo.”

She loved the people of Bali. “They’re Hindu, very spiritual and friendly. I learned I didn’t want to become a midwife, but thought maybe nursing would be fun until I realized I wasn’t comfortable with potential of death and complications. Not to mention my tendency to pass out around surgical equipment.

“The biggest thing I learned from that experience was that I was a privileged white girl.” This realization was reinforced when she went to Cabrillo College the following year and took a Race, Class and Gender English 2 class taught by Ekua Omosupe, a radical female professor.

“That class made me realize I never had to deal with people assuming things about me based on the color of my skin. While I thought I knew what poverty looked and felt like—the commodity cheese, short pants, and trailer parks I spent time in when visiting relatives—my parents were college-educated and people in my family owned their own homes. That class made me want to learn how to be who I am—a  white, bisexual female—in a way that didn’t make other people smaller, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual preferences.”

JessicaECollegeAs Jessica grew through her teenage years, a darkness emerged. “I partied a lot in high school. We called it partying, but many times it was miserable. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant so it definitely didn’t help my depression.”

At age 19, she became lost in a deep depression that nearly took her life. With the help of healthcare professionals and her parents, she was able to function, but continued to struggle. She spent the following year taking every art class available at the College of the Redwoods coast campus, especially classes from Bob Rhodes.

“It was tremendously therapeutic to stop analyzing and use my hands to make things my head wasn’t exactly planning. I love to make art, but don’t do a lot of it these days. I spend free time gardening. I like growing things instead of making things that will just get dusty.”

In 2000, Jessica went to Prescott College in Arizona for a year and then to the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. “In 2001, I got a BA in Integrative Studies, which qualified me to work at a Starbucks in Portland.” She laughed.

She lived with her sister in Portland. “I got sober and was in therapy, but still felt depressed. I moved back to Fort Bragg in 2003. I was diagnosed bipolar by a psychotherapist who referred me to a psychiatrist. That’s when I decided to became a caregiver. It was a very sweet time in my life. I worked for Eva Andersson’s Caregiving agency on and off for the next eight years and loved it. I got to be a person in a family who wasn’t really in the family. I could support and help people.”

During this time, Jessica married and had a child. The marriage ended in 2009. In 2012, she entered the Master’s in Social Work Program at Humboldt State. “It was a distance learning program that focused on serving rural and indigenous communities. It allowed me to live and work in Fort Bragg so I could be available for my child. I stopped caregiving and started a housekeeping business in order to have more time and flexibility.” She also volunteered for local agencies that helped the homeless and troubled teens.

JessicaEMatt&AliceNine years ago, she became smitten with Matt Howard, the sales manager at Sport Chrysler Jeep Dodge. “I asked him to a movie with a group of friends, but didn’t invite anyone else.” She laughed. They live a sweet life with her 13-year old daughter Alice and their rescue basset hounds Miss Daisy Duke and Flash Bandicoot.

After she obtained her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) in 2015, she worked for the Mendocino Coast Clinics for a year and then for Redwood Community Services (RCS). She focuses on assessing the needs of kids and working with them and their parents. By early 2019, she had amassed the 3200 clinical hours necessary to sit for her Licensed Clinical Social Worker exam. On April 1, 2019 she took the exam and passed.

Jessica continues to work for RCS, and also opened a private therapy practice in November at 327 Redwood Avenue.

“My goal in providing psychotherapy is to meet people where they are and offer tools to develop skills to make the changes they are willing to make. My own background has given me the assurance that anyone can make changes, lead a deliberate life, overcome addictions and childhood traumas.”

Jessica continues in recovery and appreciates the gifts that depression has given her. “My experience with my own mental health helped me develop deep compassion for people who struggle in this way. What could be considered liabilities have become my ninja skills.”


Mrs. Biklen

Over a decade ago, I wrote this as a tribute to my dear friend. As we celebrate the Day of the Dead (which technically should be called Days of the Dead since it runs from October 31-November2) , I’d like to share it with you.


Mrs. Biklen on her 90th birthday

Her daughter Anita meets me in the lobby of an extended care facility that is subtly disguised as an upscale apartment building.

“This isn’t one of her best days,” Anita warns.

“It’s okay.” I’m prepared for anything.

We ride up the slow elevator to the third floor. The doors open to an elderly couple supported by aluminum walkers. They jockey for position, the woman elbowing the man to win entrance onto the elevator. Anita and I squeeze past them and hold the doors as they shuffle to get inside.

The apartment doors are actually hospital doors, the central lobby a nurses’ station. Mrs. Biklen’s door is open. She sits in a wheelchair in the center of the room, her back to the door, her shrunken body silhouetted by a large picture window.

I sit in a chair facing her and take her hand. Old age has been her bitter enemy, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. At nearly ninety-one, she’s more beautiful than ever. Gone is the apprehension that once plagued her eyes, and the excess weight she picked up after she quit smoking forty years ago. Her fine champagne hair wisps in silky curls about the delicate bones of her face.

She looks at me as if she’s just unwrapped the most cherished gift anyone has ever given her. Her smile lights up her face with a sweetness that breaks my heart.

From the windowsill, Anita pulls down a recent photo of me with my daughter. “This is the same Kate as in the picture.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Biklen says with an element of surprise, drawing out the word.

Anita leaves to search for refreshments.

Mrs. Biklen, her face serious, her voice barely above a whisper, asks, “When will I be one hundred?”

Still holding her hand, I lean close. “You’ll be ninety-one in a couple of weeks, so you have nine more years to go.”

“Oh.”  Her brow furrows. She appears to struggle to grasp the concept of nine years, a complex mathematic formula that escapes her.

A smile slowly blossoms. “I’ve known you for a long time,” she says, her eyes expressing it as a question.

“Yes, you have.”

She looks delighted with my answer.

“Forty-five years.” The realization of such a large number brings tears to my eyes. “Since I was four years old.”

I try to believe she grasps the significance of what it means to have shared a forty-five-year history with someone who has touched me so deeply, so greatly influenced the path of my life. Throughout our long friendship, she taught me the meaning of graciousness and dignity, of kindness and hospitality. As a child, she opened her home to me, a treasured place where I could practice her teachings.

From the ages of three and four, my sister and I invaded the boundaries of the Biklen’s property and insisted that Mrs. Biklen become our friend. Once we entered grade school, we began making weekly appointments with her. In a shirt-waist dress and high heels, she led us into the beauty of her home where we often sat in her kitchen, practiced good manners, and told only those stories that shed us in a good light.

L & K 06Mrs. Biklen served iced Cokes in leaded crystal glasses and store-bought cookies on china plates. She treated us with respect, listening to our stories and offering gentle advice. No one had ever paid such attention to me.

My sister and I would mark each pending visit on our mental calendars, and remind each other not to make any after school plans that day. After changing into play clothes, a careful surveillance of the neighborhood identified the positions of any kids, and influenced the strategy for leaving our house and going to Mrs. Biklen’s. Once inside the walled tree-lined Biklen compound, we safely avoided detection from our neighborhood peers—the poor saps who weren’t allowed entrance—and casually walked up the long brick driveway. To this day, I don’t know why we were allowed access when other children were not.

“Do you have the pictures?” Mrs. Biklen asks.

Years ago, I’d carelessly let my sister get away with the photo album filled with childhood memories as the surrogate grandchildren of the Biklens. “Yes, I have the pictures,” I lie.

“All of them?”

It occurs to me she’s speaking of memories. “Yes, all of them.”

I look at her feet, one of which is covered by a suede fur-lined slipper, something she would have never worn in her younger years. The other foot is bare, red and badly swollen. These are the same feet, perpetually clad in high heels, that once whisked her through her elegant home. They now rest immobile on the footrests of her wheelchair.

Anita returns with two glasses of ice water. We sit, facing my dear friend, and share the recent events in our lives. I can’t take my eyes off Mrs. Biklen, who appears to lazily drift down a river in the warm sunshine. Occasionally, she opens her eyes, her smile telling us she’s grateful we’re still here.

An hour into the visit, her granddaughter Jenny arrives with her two small boys. The room shifts from the slow, gentle rhythm of the end of life to the whirlwind of its beginnings as the boys capture the room with their high energy.

The time comes when I have to catch a ferry back to Seattle, to my vacation with my family. I reach out, take both of Mrs. Biklen’s hands, and kiss her goodbye. Unlike a few years ago when she clung to me and cried as we parted, she is gracious and sweet in her farewell. I know this is the last time I will ever see her. I struggle against a desire to cling, but cannot keep the tears at bay.

I’m grateful for the hour-long ferry ride. It allows me to be still, to think of the wonder that is Mrs. Biklen. For the first time in her long life, she appears to have finally accepted the inevitability of all things. It is easier this way. She doesn’t alternate between complaining about her circumstances and dissolving into tears. It’s also harder this way. She’s pared down to the essence of love, and I am overpowered by its presence. It swirls around me and throws me off balance before settling in my heart, leaving me in a new and better place.

A few days after my visit, Mrs. Biklen stopped eating, and after six weeks succumbed to the final inevitability of life. I find comfort in knowing that she lives on in every gesture of kindness I show, every spot of beauty I create, and every expression of gratitude I make to loved ones for being the most cherished gifts I will ever receive.


Mary Durigan Iversen

maryheadshot2When I first met Mary, I was captivated by her cheerful energy. She is vibrant, articulate, and has the gift of being able to listen as intensely as she speaks. She is quick to smile and laugh, and evokes the same in others.

Perhaps if I’d had a teacher like Mary, I wouldn’t have felt like a such a underdog when I graduated from high school and my only option for affordable post-secondary education was community college—a place, I thought, for losers. Mary knows that feeling. She, too, was not afforded the luxury of going directly from high school to a four-year university. However, she grew to appreciate how success at community college offered her the gateway to a becoming a teacher, a career that she loves.


Most of Mary’s high school friends were teachers’ kids. When they graduated from Fort Bragg High in 1995, they were headed to four-year colleges. “Since I didn’t have the money to do that, I went to community college,” she said. “I felt I wasn’t as good as they were.”

She decided to pursue some sort of technical training where she could get in, get out, and make a living wage. For the 18-year old Mary, that decision led her to the dental hygienist program at Sacramento City College.

While in Sacramento, she often visited her best friend at Chico State. “I loved being on that campus. It made me realize that I really wanted a four-year degree. The following year, I went to Sierra Community College in Rocklin. I liked it better than Sac City, mainly because there was a much younger crowd.” She eventually transferred to Chico State.


Proud 4-H kid

Mary financed her education through a combination of working, help from her family, grants, and student loans. “I was a retail clerk at a western wear store in Sacramento. In Chico, I did filing for an attorney. During the summers, I came home and worked fulltime. One summer I was a file clerk at the Ten Mile Court where I made a whopping $4.15 an hour.” The former 4-H kid graduated from Chico State in 2001 with a degree in Ag Science with an emphasis in education.

While pursuing her degree, her dream was to return to the coast to teach Ag Science. Her boyfriend, John Iversen, lived in Mendocino and worked for his family’s logging business. During her final year in college, she applied for a position to teach Ag Science at Fort Bragg High School through Mendocino County’s Regional Occupational Program (ROP).

Was it weird to return as a teacher to her alma mater? “Not really. It took me a while to call my former teachers by their first names. For my first staff yearbook picture, the photographer asked me what grade I was in.” She laughed.

Mary and John married in December 2003. “When you marry a logger, you have to have your wedding in the winter if you want time to take a honeymoon.”

Two years later, she was pregnant with her first child and felt her schedule required too much time away from home. “I started transitioning out of ROP by teaching the Achievement Via Individual Determination [AVID] program and eventually taught health. I now teach a freshman seminar which is health one semester and college and career success the second semester.” Every incoming freshman is enrolled in these classes. “If you’re 32 or younger, I’ve probably taught you.”

maryfamilyThe Iversens live in Mendocino where John attended school. Son Alex was born in 2006 and daughter Avery in 2009. Mary feels motherhood allowed her to become a better teacher. She protects each student as the child of someone who loves them very much.

As her children approached school age, she and John contemplated where to send them. Mary entertained the fantasy that she would get a job at the Mendocino Middle School. “I could live and work in Mendocino and the kids could go to school there.” She announced she would give the high school one more year. “A week later, I realized how much I love teaching at the high school. I decided I’d be there forever.” Alex and Avery both attend Fort Bragg schools.

Mary finds students still feel shame about going to community college. She works to take away the stigma of a four-year only option. “I tell students to choose what they want to do and take the path that will get them there—whether that be an apprenticeship at Fort Bragg Electric, going to a tech school, or becoming a doctor.” Community college can be an excellent place to start. The point is to keep the end goal in mind.

Mary has been able to formalize her beliefs through teaching classes that focus on college and career success. “The curriculum is called ‘Get Focused, Stay Focused.’ I work with freshmen to help them develop life skills, like creating a budget. I help them explore their aptitudes, interests, and passions. What do you value—fame, money, family? During this semester, they are dually enrolled in a class through Mendocino College.” Each subsequent year, students are again exposed to these concepts through a three-week course. This process deepens their insights into who they want to become, and culminates in a formal senior project where they research career choices and report their findings.

maryroomMary views her students as her clients. “I want my classroom to be an inviting place where they feel comfortable. People often say that the décor makes it look like a party.

“When I walk through the doors of the school, I’m happy. Even if I won the lottery, I would keep my job. I have a fulfilling life as a teacher, which also gives me time to be fulfilled as a mom. I feel at home at Fort Bragg High, it’s comforting. I have great colleagues who love their jobs, work hard, and are dedicated to kids. We work well as a team.”

She credits two teachers in particular with mentoring her in her early years. “During my first week, Cindy Rusert gave me a lesson planning sheet that I continue to use to this day. Mary Makela and I bonded over our shared passion for teaching. She brought the ‘Get Focused, Stay Focused’ program to the school.”

Mary feels fortunate to have a career where she’s given the opportunity to encourage the youth of our community to think about their futures and explore a variety of scenarios. Lucky for them to have a teacher with such enthusiasm, a stellar example of how community college can start a person on the path to success.


Mary with fellow teachers Tara Larson, Stacie Morse & Mary Makela

Zoe Berna

zoeheadshotThe moment you meet Zoe you know she’s something special. You don’t know what kind of special, but you’re about to find out. Her fresh, wholesome look invites conversation. Her voice is filled with tenderness and she’s quick to laugh. She’s a violinist and horsewoman (since the age of four), and married with two young children. Most importantly to our small community, she’s an experienced physician.


Until her last year of college, Zoe never entertained the idea of becoming a doctor. “My mom’s twin sister was a pediatrician and worked late every day. I wanted to be like my parents and be home in time for dinner with my family.”

zoe&momThe only child of Loraine and Ray Duff, Zoe grew up in Caspar in a house overlooking the ocean. She graduated from Mendocino High in 1993 and went to UC Davis. “I lived in an honors dorm, surrounded by focused, intelligent people. My roommate became a chemical engineer.” In her last year of college, Zoe planned to further her education, but in what? “I thought about taking the GRE or applying to vet school. Instead, I took the MCAT, applied to medical schools, and got accepted at the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University. Everything flowed so I went with it.”

She graduated from medical school in 2001 and accepted a three-year family medicine internship in Modesto. It was there she rekindled a friendship with Myke Berna who was a former boyfriend of one of her college friends. Myke worked as a bicycle mechanic in Davis. “He’s been fixing bikes since the age of 12.” The friendship blossomed into romance. “We went to Costa Rica over Christmas 2002 and I expected him to propose. He didn’t.” She laughed. “Instead, he gave me a very expensive mountain bike and a pair of diamond earrings soon after we got home.” She smiled as she pointed to earlobes graced by those earrings. He eventually proposed and they were married in 2004.

zoefamilyZoe practiced Family Medicine with Sutter Health in Vacaville then Winters where Myke opened the bike shop Velo City. Along the way, they had two children—Emily (eight) and Max (six). Having kids sparked a desire to move back to the North Coast. “I wanted to live closer to my parents and raise my children there. I also wanted to start horseback riding again with my mom and share this with my children.” Myke agreed and she looked for job opportunities.

“I was offered a position with the North Coast Family Health Center in December 2015. In June 2016, we moved from Winters and I took a month off.  Seven weeks after my start date, I fell off my horse and broke my left humerus [the long bone in the upper arm]. Despite trying to sit still for two months and keep my arm stable, I ended up requiring surgery, plates and pins. It was so hard because I’m such a doer. I was finally able to start work in January 2017.”

zoe&EmilyLike many couples with young children, Zoe and Myke juggle their busy schedules to provide childcare and spend time together. Myke still owns Velo City and travels to Winters a couple times a month. He also operates a bike repair business from their home. Zoe has Tuesday and Thursday afternoons off. Her parents babysit two afternoons a week. “My mom also helps by making us dinner a couple times a week.”

On her full days, Zoe sees 18 patients. She acknowledges that such a rigorous schedule can cause burnout. “I’ve been told that in order to avoid this, doctors need to make a deep connection with at least two patients a day. I connect with every patient. I love getting to know people and finding ways to help them get better.”

zoeviolinBesides spending time with family, she’s made new friends and is delighted to have reconnected with those who never left the area. Zoe, Loraine, and Emily ride their horses in Jackson State Forest. Like her mother, Emily began playing the violin at age four. Mother and daughter often play together. Zoe played throughout college and medical school and recently performed with the Symphony of the Redwoods and during the Mendocino Music Festival.

Zoe notes changes in the area from her time as a child. “The summertime traffic is a lot heavier and it seems there aren’t as many Mom and Pop stores. I remember Brown’s Market where my parents used to buy half a cow. The student population in Mendocino has gotten smaller. There were 65 kids in my graduating class. There are only 25 in each of my kids’ classes. However, the solitude, the beauty, the wonderful community of people and the arts remain the same. I never want that to change.”

Zoe is delighted with her return to the North Coast, and describes practicing medicine in a small town medicine as awesome. “I love that my medical assistant also grew up here. Together we already know many of our patients and how to work with the local population.”

“I’m getting to know people I knew before, but in a different context—as patients. I’m no longer the kid. I’m a doctor. Sometimes, though, it’s hard. Before I walk into a room, I’ll think, ‘This is the last time I’m going to know this person in the way I used to.’ I have to remind some of them that I have 16 years of experience and can tell them what to do.” She laughs.

What a gift this special woman has given us by settling here with her young family and sharing her skills as a physician to promote the continued health of our community.zoefamily2

The Bing Crosby House

I recently returned from a family gathering in my hometown that I would have not been able to imagine as a child.


When I was nine or so, my dad was a middle school teacher and studying for his doctorate. He often spent Saturdays at the Bing Crosby Library on the Gonzaga campus in Spokane, Washington. These sessions ended with his crossing the street to drink at the house of a friend. On some Saturdays my mom insisted he take a couple of his five kids with him—to relieve her burden and possibly keep him from drinking too much.

bing20I was infatuated with Gonzaga. In the sixties, the campus was home to some fine-looking young Jesuits. I remember them as well-trimmed blondes in slim gray slacks and light blue cotton shirts with the unfortunate clerical collars signaling they were off limits to my desire. In contrast, the flocks of formidable-looking nuns, their copious black robes rustling in the breeze as they left Mass, made me quiver in fear. I imagined the church, Saint Aloysius, to be a replica of heaven itself.

Later in life, my dad claimed, “I raised you kids to be independent.” I couldn’t argue. His neglect was sufficient to keep us from ever thinking about depending on him. Such was the case whenever he took his two oldest—my brother and me—along with him to Gonzaga. We followed him into the Crosby Library and were told to meet a few hours later at his friend’s house. My first stop was always the Crosbyana—a small room filled with Bing memorabilia the singer/actor had donated to his alma mater.

bing12My favorite pieces were the framed gold record “White Christmas” and his Oscar for Going My Way (which I recently discovered is a replica). I remember the room as quiet, cozy, and rather dark, but recent pictures—that I cannot show because they’re copyrighted—reveal it to be light and airy. I curled into a plush chair and imagined it was my room, a den perhaps in the mansion that was my home.

Afterward, running around campus with my brother, I marveled at the coeds and longed to live in the Madonna Hall dorm when I went to college. Unbeknownst to me, my future husband was a student at the time. I never went there, but 40 years later our son Harrison would enroll and live his first year in that same dorm.

My last surviving Spokane relatives—a brother- and sister-in-law—moved to Phoenix a decade ago, but live in a cabin on Newman Lake, near Spokane, during the summer. This past spring, I thought it would be fun to have a family reunion with them, our kids and grandkids. Their cabin isn’t big enough to accommodate many overnight guests, but the overflow could stay in hotels and spend days at the lake.

Harrison suggested I look for a vacation rental on Coeur d’Alene Lake where we could all stay together. Many of the cabins available online are rustic with photos that hint at large spiders and mice. I found a couple of luxurious places that, when split four ways, were affordable, but not available on our chosen weekend. I grew frustrated and hateful.

I backed off and let it go for a few days. One morning, I girded my loins to try again. I expanded the search to include Hayden Lake, a few miles north of Coeur d’Alene. Lo and behold, up popped the Bing Crosby House! Bing Crosby, the inspiration behind the Crosbyana Room, the oasis that had comforted me as a child.

My fingers trembled as I clicked the link. I found a 3,000 square-foot log house built in 1955, lovingly kept in its original condition by Bing’s heirs (including the kitchen appliances). With four bedrooms, three and a half baths, and a stone deck running the length of the back facing the lake, it was perfect. But it required a five-night stay. Given everyone’s busy schedules, we could only eke out three nights to be together. I emailed the owner (Bing’s granddaughter) and asked for an exception. She agreed. I was beside myself with excitement.


bing19Entering the circular driveway of the Crosby House, I got chills. It doesn’t look like much from the front, but upon entering I was awestruck by floor to ceiling windows spanning the western border with a magnificent view of the lake. In the expansive great room, the walls were made of bleached paneling and logs that stand vertically.

bing3The entryway had a framed page from an American Home magazine article written, I assume, soon after the house was built since there was no year is on the cover. Subsequent framed pages line the hallway. Each room holds a page about that particular room.

We took great delight in these. A highlight: as a rough and tumble kid in Spokane, Bing often got in trouble for fighting, most notably beating up a “boy who called his sister tubby (she was).”

bing18We fell in love with Mrs. Lemmon, Bing’s dowdy French cook who was cordoned off in the kitchen and, unless the swinging door was open, could not be seen from the living area. According to the article, whenever she heard Bing’s car enter the driveway, the tiny woman stood on her tippy toes, looked out the window above the sink and cried, “Mr. Bing, God bless him!”

bing16To me, the most unique feature of the house was the original draperies. According to the article, “Bing’s famous theme song, ‘Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day,’ is motif on the living room draperies, done in square Gothic notes from 15th and 16th century parchment panels of church music that hung over piano. In his bedroom, [the] tune changes to ‘Home Sweet Home.’”

It was thrilling to stay in Bing’s house, a place custom built for him, where he and his kids spent summers fishing and golfing. This was the perfect setting to gather a family who enjoys spending time together, a family far more wonderful than my childhood fantasies could have conjured all those years ago when I nestled into that plush chair in the Crosbyana Room.


Seven Things Smarter Than Me

DSC025891. My Honda Civic. It has a warning light that looks like a like a horseshoe with an exclamation point in the center. The first time it came on, I panicked. Over the years, I’ve driven my share of crap cars that did odd things like overheat, not start, or get flat tires without warning.

Turns out this light is my car’s way of communicating that one or more of my tires is under pressurized.


(I’ll spare you my issues with the car’s Bluetooth—just know that it mocked me to the point of wanting to beat it with a hammer.)

square2. The Square. As a board member for the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, I recently (make that a year ago) volunteered to set the organization up with the Square for processing credit card transactions. With a week to spare, I ordered it and attempted to download the app on my iPad2.

The app would not download because my crazy old iPad2 had an outdated operating system. It needed iOS6.0 or better. I tried several times and was denied. I Googled it and followed some lying blogger’s instructions.

It seems the outdated iPad2 cannot be updated and the Square is useless on my machine. I hate them both.

iTunes3. iTunes. On those rare occasions when I download music, it adds songs I didn’t request.

There are a few delightful surprises like “Sugar” by Imperial Teen. I love that song. I also adore “One Moment to Another” by Jon Dee Graham and “San Francisco” by Secondhand Jive. Who are these artists who help me push through the barfing sensation when I jog? I must meet them all.

On the flip side, there’s a song that I do not like—a country-rock tune about “sweet Mary Lou was left standing at the altar.” I don’t want it, but don’t know the title so can’t get rid of it. Fortunately, I know how to skip it on my iNano (or whatever it’s called).

twitter4. Twitter. I Tweet and Follow, but I don’t often go to the site because I’m busy! I believe the point of Twitter is to allow busy people access to short messages and decide whether to spend their precious time reading links.

I wonder how it makes sense to follow 100 Twitterer’s when I don’t have time to even glance at their daily Tweets? I’ve got the shakes right now—I truly do.

iPhone5. iPhone. I had a non-smart phone for years before recently getting an iPhone. This prompted iPhone cultists to ask if I loved it, if I didn’t think it was the coolest thing ever, and so forth.

I guess.

I didn’t use it much until I discovered that I could download games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles.

Okay, so I’ll admit I like being able to access Facebook and the ability to take pictures. I recently discovered Instagram, which is fun. Early on I was able to get emails until one day I couldn’t. The phone asked for my password and after I typed it, told me I was stupid. I tried again and again.

I asked my kids for assistance. They gave me instructions in what sounded like Norwegian, and when I started to cry, they advised: “Google it.”

I followed Google’s step-by-step instructions. They didn’t work. On a trip to San Francisco, I stopped by an Apple Store. A friendly employee tapped about the screen, handed it back, and looked away while I typed in my supposed email password which—yes, you are correct—did not work. I tried again and again before starting to cry. He offered a goofy smile and shrugged his shoulders. (My only consolation is that my iPhone is smarter than him, too.)

As I left the store, I stared down my phone and hissed, “I don’t care if I can’t access email on you. I’ve lived a reasonably happy existence for decades without it and will carry on just fine you smarty pants bastard.”

selfcheckoutjpg6. Self-checkout Counters. The screen asks, “Do you have a bag?” I only have two items and don’t need a bag. But if I answer No, will I be charged for one? So I answer Yes and the woman inside the machine tells me to place my bag in the loading area. But I don’t have a bag and there’s no place on the screen to change my mind.

What to do? What to do?

Mumble curse words as I leave and wait in the Express Lane while playing a crossword puzzle on my smarty pants phone.

One afternoon I went into our very busy Safeway and heard an alarm blaring at the self-checkout stand. A man who looked like Jerry Garcia yelled, “Help me! Help me!” as he shook his arms over his head. I felt a deep connection.

roku7. Smart TV/Roku. If my husband ever leaves me before switching the Smart TV from the Roku to television mode, I’ll never be able to watch television again.

I’m certain I’ll add more to this list as I continue through life. My hope is that it will force me to become a better person by learning humility—and maybe discover the title of that song about how sweet Mary Lou was left standing at the altar.help

Taaka Goes Home for the Holidays

The Christmas season wouldn’t be complete without a special Taaka visit home to The Purity.


Spreading cheer among some of my favorite things.


If you haven’t tried Alden’s Vanilla Ice Cream, you must.

Gary's favorite section.

Gary’s favorite section.

Look! The Purity has coffee beans you can grind yourself!

Look! The Purity has coffee beans you can grind yourself!

If you don't want to grind your own coffee, pour yourself a ready-made cup.

If you don’t want to grind your own coffee, pour yourself a ready-made cup.


Uh-oh, where’s the rest of Taaka’s family?

Haaka Taaka Christmas

Since the discovery of Taaka Vodka at The Purity, Gary, Wilson, Little Mister, and I have created a new Christmas tradition. It’s a game called “Where’s Taaka?” We take turns hiding and searching for the Taaka bottle among the holiday decorations.

Little Mister gets so excited that he has to be sedated.


In the spirit of holiday generosity, I invite you to play along.(Warning: The game gets progressively more challenging when Taaka dons a disguise)

040508DSC_0019DSC_0010DSC_0008DSC_0014DSC_0005Some might ask what they can expect to receive if they discover all the Taaka locations.


Happy Holidays!