It has been a rough week, hasn’t it?
Are you feeling it too?
There have been bombs flinging nails and pellets into the backs and legs of people standing at the finish line of the marathon, cheering on people crazy and wonderful enough to have the endurance to continue on in spite of it all. There have been egregious acts in Congress. There have been massive explosions, lives lost and people burned. And those were just the events talked about on Twitter, in the United States.
I cried for an 8-year-old boy, who died after giving his father a hug. His sister lost her leg. His mother has unimaginable brain injuries. And then I remembered: how many 8-year-olds around the world died that day? As that kiddo wrote on a poster in his classroom: “No more hurting people. Peace.”
If only we listened to the 8-year-olds more often.
I thought we could all use a little blue sky right now.
And we could probably use some silent time in the garden.
Last week, we were in Point Reyes, on the coast of northern California. Lu was asleep in the back seat, worn out after days of running in the sunlight. Danny ducked into a market to buy us coffees, chocolates, and ripe strawberries. Strawberries! In April! I sat with the car door open, the sun meeting my skin. And I saw this woman shuffle slowly to the bench underneath the garden sign. She sat there for 10 or 15 minutes, silent, sipping her tea and closing her eyes to feel the sun on her face.
I bet we could all use a little of that right now. It has been a rough week.
The week before was anything but rough for us. We were in the Bay Area, the three of us, driving through lush green fields under blue skies. I was scheduled to go down to San Francisco for some events at the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals), and to teach a baking class with Attune Foods. The weeks before that weekend, I had been working so hard to re-launch this site with its new design that I plain forgot to book my ticket. By the time I went to the last-minute low-fare site, the ticket was still over $500. I looked at Danny and said, “Hey, how about a road trip?”
So the three of us piled in the car, along with suitcases, the laptop so I could work, and our lovely camera to try to find the light in it all. It wasn’t hard to find the light in the Bay Area.
It had been a long winter here. I was sick for months, enduring another season of medical tests and perplexing questions. And then a burst eardrum with no hearing in my right ear. I tried to nuzzle through it, tried to find the softness in what felt like walking through a field of pointed sticks. Before we left, I could feel the start of healing.
After six days of being in blue-skied sunlight, the company of good friends, and calm, I felt restored.
Of course, the food didn’t hurt. We had picnics in as many places as we could, to stay outdoors and soak up that vitamin D. When Lu woke up from that nap in Point Reyes, we walked to Cowgirl Creamery, one of my favorite places in the world, and shared the food you see above. Lu kept asking for Prosh-utti! (I love how she says prosciutto.) We told her that we ate Mt. Tam cheese on our third date together, which is how it became part of our wedding ceremony. To share some with her, in the place that it’s made, was such a joy.
So was the picnic we had on the sidewalk outside the Ferry Terminal building in San Francisco. We gathered friends we wanted most to see during the conference and walked to the ferry terminal, all of us marveling at the sunlight. At the opening to the building, we decided, spontaneously, on a picnic. “Everyone gather something good to eat. Go!” 15 minutes later, we sat on the sidewalk, dipping our knives into gooey cheese and smearing it onto gluten-free baguettes from Mariposa Bakery. Hands reached for briny green olives, crisp cornichons, sweet dried apricots, and sheep’s cheese. There was head cheese and spicy spreadable ‘nduja, followed by swigs of cold ginger brew. It was one of those moments that most makes me love food and the power it has to gather us. We all knew, in those moments, how lucky we were.
There were meals at the home of our dear friends, Anita and Cameron, who were kind enough to let us stay with them on three days’ notice. The first night, Danny cooked while Lu sat on the floor in the hallway, telling Anita animated stories. Later, at dinner, she sat on Cameron’s lap and shared all the stories of her school and pretend brothers and sisters. She giggled and giggled when our friend Michael pretended to be asleep on the couch and let her wake up him. She especially loved when he started singing all the songs from Bedknobs and Broomsticks for her. We sat around the table, eating the good roast beef, herbed brown lentils and roasted potatoes, and asparagus with preserved lemons that Danny cooked for us. (Lu could not believe she was in a place with asparagus growing out of the ground and a lemon tree waiting to be plucked. “Magic!” she kept saying. Magic.)
There was a visit to Zest Bakery, in San Carlos, which delighted Lu no end. We’ve met Charissa and Patrick before, but this time Lu really took to Patrick. “He’s a really funny man, Mama!” (Naming you funny is Lu’s highest compliment right now.) After my baking class, Patrick and our friends Tracy and Kim joined us for dinner. We wandered for awhile and ended up in a dinky Pakistani restaurant with plastic trays, flourescent lights, and tremendous food. Lu just shone and shone on Patrick. By the time we arrived at his bakery the next day, she insisted on going back to the kitchen before eating anything. “Some day, I’m going to be a baker like them,” she said, again and again.
They’re doing really wonderful work there. You should go.
We also had the good fortune of seeing our friend Kyra from Crave Bakeshop in Portland twice, once on the way down and the other on the way up. She makes great cupcakes, this girl. Danny crunched into one of her gluten-free cream puffs and said “That girl knows what the — she’s doing.” True.
On the way down, we ate lunch with Kyra, her lovely mom Jana, Laura Russell, and our new friend Leela, at Jade Teahouse. This place is a revelation: an Asian restaurant that almost completely gluten-free. (You just can’t have the sandwiches.) We shared a huge spread of food: tapioca dumplings, squash curry, vermicelli salad with pork. The gluten-free hamburger was glorious, especially because the beef had been marinated in lemongrass for 24 hours before being cooked. We lingered at a long table upstairs, all of us feeling safe with the food and happy to be together.
Also, there were macarons from Bouchon Bakery on this trip.
Mostly, though, this wasn’t a trip about the food. Food fueled us and helped us slow into the gathering instead of rushing to the next place. Mostly, though, it was a trip about the three of us, under the blue sky, liberated from grey clouds and schedules. We stood on the beach at Santa Cruz and watched Lucy run into the waves. She ran, in complete freedom, giggling at the warm sun and cold water. In that moment, I felt entirely home.
Danny and I struggled a bit with this. We were so happy in the Bay Area. Sure, it’s vacation. Everyone feels better on vacation. But I responded so quickly and hugely to the sunlight, the open skies, the warmth. Over and over, we both wondered, and then started saying out loud, “Gosh, if we all do well in so much light, why are living near Seattle? Why are we making it so hard on ourselves?”
I don’t think we’re moving. When we did reach home, we felt so happy to be on Vashon again. We have a community here, a life we love. We are firmly grounded here, even when the ground is soggy. But oh, that blue sky.
Lu loved it down there too. She made a new best friend in Tracy’s little guy, Cooper. They played in Dolores Park, shared hot chocolates (and lovely smiles), skipped down the street singing and holding hands, and shared ice cream cones later. Everywhere we went, she talked about Cooper.
But we’re also lucky. We have an adaptable kid on our hands, one who loves to sit in the back seat of the car reading as we head down the open road. By the time we hit this view, above a huge open lake outside Napa, she cried for one of the first times on the trip. “Can’t we stop driving and climb those high high hills? I want to walk up those high beautiful hills.”
Maybe, if we had stopped for the afternoon for a hike, instead of pushing north in the car, the next thing wouldn’t have happened.
We drove late into the night, long after Lu fell asleep, Danny and I taking turns driving north to Oregon. We turned on the music softly and talked and talked about the trip. I had such a visceral memory of all the car trips my family took from Claremont in Southern California to Seattle, up and down I-5, to visit my grandparents and back. I remember reading all of The Death of a President one trip, keeping the window open for the warm air to rush across my face and blow the pages. Suddenly, it hit me: I was no longer the kid in the back seat. I was the tired mama, driving the car toward a road-trip hotel.
We pulled into the parking lot of the hotel in Eugene, Oregon past 11:30 at night. We had already checked in, so we parked just below our room. We grabbed the sleeping kid, the iPad that needed charging, and the bag with my contacts. We didn’t need much. We were leaving in the morning. We locked the car and trudged up the stairs.
The next morning, early, Lu woke up singing. She also woke up hungry. Danny went down to the car to find her an apple. Except, when he returned, he said he couldn’t find the car.
Someone stole our car.
Someone stole our car with all our belongings.
Someone stole our laptop, on which we do all our work. Someone stole our camera with which we take all the photos for our site.
And the strawberries we had bought at the roadside stand in Napa, the ones that had been picked that morning.
Danny and I just stared at each other.
There was a split second where I could hear the screaming start up in my mind. And then I looked at Lu, dancing around the hotel room, unaware. Danny and I looked at each other. And then I said to her, “Hey Lu, guess what. It’s another adventure!”
We explained to her that someone had stolen our car. She listened, confused. When we told her what that meant, she started crying about the new car seat we had just bought for her. (Luckily, she had been cradling her most-loved stuffed animal in her arms when we carried her up the stairs, sleeping.) We held her and let her cry. And then I said, as she climbed on my lap, “You know, sweetie. We can always get more things. But we also have to remember that whoever the person is that stole our car? That person must have a very sad and hard life if he or she feels he has to steal a car for money. So let’s send out some love to that person.” We all put our hands on our hearts and opened our arms wide, throwing love toward the sky.
And that was it for her. She danced to the Music Man while we made dazed calls to the car insurance company and the police. She loved the police officer, who told us this has been happening often there, and we might never see our car again. He gave Lu a sticker, though. We waited for insurance to ask us our thousand questions before they rented a car for us. Lucy and I built forts out of all the blankets in the hotel room while we waited for Danny to return. He had to stop at a store to buy a new car seat, shoes for Lu, clothes for us all, some snacks. By the time we climbed in the enormously tall truck that had been the only vehicle available for rental on that lot, Lu clapped her hands in delight. Adventure!
And so we drove home.
Since then has been this swirling emotion of exhaustion, gratitude, shock, and awe that it all happened. But more, our car being stolen —— even though it does mean a host of paperwork to fill out and genuine money worries for us —— seems so small in comparison to the suffering in Boston, in Texas, in Iraq, in so many homes across the world. I’ve started to write this piece and erased it so many times that I’m not sure why it’s here now. In the face of all this confusion and loss, all I knew how to do was write.
And just when I needed it, I read again this piece by Ruth Reichl after the Tsunami in 2011:
“There is no time, ever, in which a terrible disaster is not taking place somewhere on the planet. And thanks to modern technology, we know all about it almost immediately. As I see it, we have a moral responsibility to respond to those disasters in the best ways that we can. Write letters, send money, do whatever possible to alleviate pain, end suffering and make the world a more just place.
But in the face of ongoing disaster, it is also our moral responsibility to appreciate what we have. That is why cooking good food for the people that I love is so important to me; in a world filled with no, it is a big yes.
So eat a good breakfast. Be grateful for what you’ve got. Enjoy the sunshine while you’ve got it. Then go out and save the world.”
Enjoy the sunshine while you’ve got it.
Instead of thinking constantly about the shock of our car being stolen, my mind goes back to the redwood forests. We spent much of the road trip singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” as sung by Elizabeth Mitchell. Lu knows all the words, thanks to a preschool teacher. We sang “From California, to the New York Islands!” with great gusto as we drove past Mt. Shasta on the way down. As we walked into John Muir national park, Lu shouted, “Now we’re in the Redwood Forests!”
As soon as we walked to just before Cathedral Grove, we found this bridge. Lu requested some alone time. “May I have some privacy, by myself, please?” So we let her stand on the bridge, in the sunlight, to listen to the burbling stream below it. After snapping this photo, I walked into the silent place in the park, the place where they request no on talk so you can hear the way the forest might have sounded before humans started changing it. I stopped to read a sign that explained that men from around the world gathered in San Francisco in 1945 to form the United Nations. One of those days, every delegate came to John Muir woods, to stand together in silence in Cathedral Grove. I’m assuming it helped them to remember that there is something much larger, and more important, and more silent, than our individual borders and squabbles and losses. I stood in Cathedral Grove and craned my neck to see up up up toward the sky.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry
That’s why I haven’t erased this piece yet. Why I’m about to hit publish, even though it feels small in the face of all else that is going on. Because, like the day-blind stars, waiting, I’m just trying to shine.