Earth in the soul

I’m drinking my coffee, looking out at morning sun over vineyard rows, the symmetry and orderliness calling to my soul.

What is there about farming that sings to me? I don’t have any real ambition to work the land, to tend crops or fret about the impact of weather on harvest. But there is something there.

I think it’s the heritage of my grandparents, farmers all, at one point or other in their lives: tied to the soil, to the rhythm of seasons and the cycle of labor, prepare, plant, nurture, harvest, rest.

My grandmothers were gardeners. They were primarily gardeners of vegetables, real food. One of them also raised chickens, and the other was an avid flower gardener, in addition to the plants she grew for food.

They worked hard. As a kid growing up, I had the luxury of helping on the fringe, shelling peas or some other child-friendly task. I wasn’t out doing the real manual labor.

I got to enjoy the bounty. My grandmothers’ tomatoes and corn, peas and butter beans, strawberries and cucumbers were all features of their summer tables, in fresh-from-the-field dishes. Canned and frozen versions appeared in the fall and winter months. Pickles, jams, and all things good lined their shelves and filled their freezers.

In my childhood home, gardening wasn’t a hobby, it was a necessity.

I wish I could say I learned this skill from these women, but I didn’t. At the time, I was too young, and later, too busy, to value the knowledge and the work of putting food on the table the old-fashioned way. I thought, in some place in my younger-self brain, that growing your own food wasn’t glamorous. It was too lowly. It wasn’t where I would put my efforts. Give me a nice clean grocery store, vegetables and fruit clean and neatly arranged in artistic rows.

No sweat and dirt for me, thank you!

Now I look out over these rows and I’m wistful. I wish, sometimes, I could be still long enough to see a season through from the planting to the harvesting. I wish I could know the satisfaction of raising my own food. I look back at the women of my youth and I appreciate them in a different way. They were hard workers, and they were so knowledgeable. How did I miss that? How could I think that because they weren’t well educated in a formal sense that I couldn’t learn from them?

I don’t know that I ever really thought that. But I demonstrated it. I didn’t try to learn what they knew. I took it for granted, and shelved what I saw into the category of “nothing I’ll ever need to know.”

I wish I could go back and sit with them, appreciate them from an adult point of view. I wish I could tell them how proud I am of them, how inspired I feel by them. Knowing, as I know now, more about their lives, how hard they worked, how selflessly they gave.

I look out over the rows and I feel it, the call to my blood. Is it some sort of genetic memory? I don’t even know if such a thing exists, or if I believe in that. But something pulls. Maybe it’s just nostalgia for connection to the land that I used to have, through them.

Maybe it’s knowing I missed chances, and I don’t want to do that anymore.

My grandmothers knew I loved them. I said that, many times. But I don’t know if they knew I respected them. I’m not sure I did, as my younger self. I didn’t think of them in that way. But now…now, I wish I could tell them that.

I respect them for the love they showed, for their work, for who they were in their time of life. Their lives were so different from mine. But finally, looking out over the vineyard, I know that’s not important. IMG_0029

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What is important is that they lived their purpose, and planted a heritage.

And I thought they were just planting vegetables…

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Birthday joys

Today is my birthday, and I’ve already heard from so many of my family and friends. So fun to see the notes on Facebook or the texts on my phone, to have morning calls and birthday cards. All sweet!

I had an amazing pre-birthday last weekend, and that was sweet too. Spent a long weekend in Sonoma County and soaked up warmth, sun, delicious food, biking, and beautiful scenery. What a treat that was! Driving the winding country roads, seeing the grapes hanging ready for harvest, stopping to make a photo of a picturesque view or beautiful winery was the perfect way to end the summer. More about that later…that trip deserves much more than a passing mention in today’s post!

Looking across the valley

Looking across the valley outside Healdsburg, CA

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Chateau Montelena, Calistoga, CA

Harvest time!

Harvest time!

And on Thursday this week, I accepted an offer on the house. This is from the same couple that looked at it before, so we’ve already gone through the nitty-gritty of inspection, appraisal, offer and counter. They came back with a better deal, so now closing looks set for October 10th.

Aaahhh.

I remind myself again..life works out. Not always as I thought, and certainly not always neat and tidy, or even as I’d like. The house is still selling at a loss. But it is selling, and I won’t have to live through a 2+ year street replacement project. (Apparently that doesn’t trouble these buyers.) If I thought this was a forever home, it would be worth it. But that’s not the case.

As to what’s next, that’s still up in the air. For now, completing some fall work commitments, a break for the holidays, spending time catching up with family, and taking time out to make a good decision is the plan. The things that will ship out will go to storage in Seattle, so that’s an easy solution for a while.

Aaahhh.

I’ll admit my anxiety level has been high. Nice to see some light peeking through the clouds, and to acknowledge: it’s important to step back, take a breath, await events. I learn again that solutions sometimes come, not at once, but at last. And there’s probably a reason for that.

I can’t see the reason at the moment. I certainly can’t make sense of the house selling at a loss, and I’m not suggesting that there’s divine meaning behind everything. Just that I find it helpful to evaluate…is there a lesson here? Some takeaway I should file for future reference? Sometimes I get it, and sometimes not. Or maybe I’m overthinking.

But regardless…today is a good day, and I’m thankful to be spending at least a part of it sorting and boxing, taking up that task again.

And I think about “next” and the options on the horizon. There’s a piece of my brain that wonders about all this. I’m 54 today. Shouldn’t I be snug and dug in?

Yes, that would make sense, so of course that’s out.

The funny thing is I don’t see myself as the adventure loving type, not really. I’ve stumbled into some interesting choices, but I’ll be honest to say that’s been more a result of following the leader, rather than my own instincts.

But I’m curiously excited by the chance to mix it all up again, to live in anticipation, to wonder where the next birthday will be. And today, it’s enough that I can dream as I sort, letting my imagination roam at will, thinking about the constants in my life that keep me sane, regardless of the mailing address.

Faith. Family. Friends. That’s security, and that’s continuity.

The rest is just temporary anyway, and I know that more surely today than on any of my previous birthdays. It’s a good thing to understand, a good place to land.

Clean up and clean out

We’re in California for a few days. Came down to take a short break from winter, and just missed a big storm in Ketchikan. Perfect timing!

Winter, at least here in north-central California, is minimal. Nights are cool, with temps in the 40s, but so far we haven’t needed more than a light jacket. That makes spending a few days in the RV very doable, even though we’ve been inside more than out.

But our main task is not relaxing, it’s cleaning. We’re trading the RV for a travel trailer, and we’ll turn the RV in to the dealer when we leave at the end of the week. We don’t pick up the replacement until spring. So we have a gap. We have to store everything coming out of the RV until we get back: bicycles, beach towels, coffee mugs, and all the little extras we’ve picked up along the way. All extremely valuable (!) and now has to be sorted and evaluated. Sort of like, in a real move, when you come down to cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer. Lots of little odds and ends of stuff, about most of which I wonder: a) what is this? b) where did it come from? (closely followed by, “who’s been filling up my RV?!”) and c) should I keep it or throw it out?

Yes, it is a slow process.

We bought the RV in the fall of 2008, so we’ve had a few years to squirrel away. We’ve cleaned out a bit, now and then, but we’ve never had to empty it. So now we know. We know just how much we’ve packed in, and how much we’ve used all those little things we thought might come in handy. You know…the things you keep…just in case.

So guess what our new resolution is?! That’s right, we’re not going to fill up our new space. We’re going to be picky. Very, very picky. Only the useful, the really essential things are allowed in. 🙂

Guess how long that will last?

Well, it’s a nice fantasy to entertain. We’ll start out strong. But it’s only a matter of time.

I’ve known for a long time that the best way to stay on top of accumulation is a move. That’s it. It forces you to sort and thin and see what you’ve stashed. And now I know that’s true, even in vacay mode.

So, we’re off to rent a storage unit…a very small one. We’ll be down to essentials, and that’s the way it’s going to stay. Right?!

Road trips

Road trips

Fresh from California

Biscoff spread. Has 5g of sugar so it's out of...

Biscoff spread. (Photo credit: programwitch)

So here I am, back in Ketchikan on Labor Day Monday, ready to work the rest of the week. My end-of-August flirtation with California sun and big beach hats is done, and I’m moving into work mode.

I got home today to find that summer is still here. That was a surprise. I haven’t seen the weather forecast for Ketchikan the past ten days, and I figured we’d used up all the available sunny days we’d be allotted for the season. But not true, there are several more on tap this week. I rode across on the airport ferry standing outside the cabin…that doesn’t happen often. My car was delicious, the warmth causing it to release its lingering new car smell (after 4 1/2 years…that should tell you how much this vehicle is used!) My house was roasty and welcoming in the afternoon light streaming in the big front windows.

And to add to the summer temps lingering a little longer, I imported seasonal flavors to enjoy the next few days. We took frozen salmon down with us to grill while we were camping, and I made use of my emptied fish box to bring back tomatoes, corn, squash, peaches, and a jar or two of Biscoff Spread. (No, no, that’s not produce…just an item I can’t find in the local market.)Would you believe the last time I bought a jar of this delight and tried to bring it back with me in my carry-on luggage, TSA took it from me?!  This stuff is definitely not a liquid. I was assured that the staff can’t consume anything they confiscate, they’re required to dispose of food. That’s almost worse than thinking of some stranger eating my Biscoff. Seems like a waste all around!

Of course I can buy all the fresh produce in Ketchikan. But the charming thing was that I bought it yesterday at a farm stand in California. Whenever I have the option of buying produce from a roadside stand, I’m drawn like a moth to flame. What is it about the farming heritage that makes produce at a farm stand more alluring than neatly stacked fruits and vegetables in a lovely market setting? I always think it’s my grandmothers’ farming blood singing in my veins. Although I’ve grown little beyond tomatoes and rhubarb and flowers, I like the idea of farm fresh. Never mind that I have seen enough of the work side of gardening to know that it’s not the glamorous occupation it’s cracked up to be!

So, when it occurred to me that I could dine on home-grown tomato sandwiches all this week, I couldn’t resist the temptation to bring up just a few things. A couple of guys at the airport this morning saw my fish box and wondered aloud why I was taking fish to Alaska. You see these iconic cardboard boxes all summer as tourists and fishermen take home their catch, flash frozen and ready for travel. Well hey, I figured if the styrofoam-lined box can keep fish frozen on a trip down to the lower 48, it could keep veggies in good condition to travel back up. And I’m happy to report that I was right. All produce survived amateur transportation. My sandwich was delicious! I know I’ve waxed eloquent about my favorite summer feast before…just can’t help myself. A sign that I’ve had almost enough tomatoes is that I begin to get mouth ulcers from all the acidity after overindulging. But I’m not even close yet. Maybe after this week. It’s a painful condition for a day or two, and I’ve never been successful at timing…I only know I’ve had too many tomatoes when the little ulcers begin to appear. But this is my dedication: I’m willing to suffer for the mayonnaise-and-tomato-on-soft-white-bread symphony. Especially when the best flavor is only a summer treat.

We went to a huge flea market last week. Found a beautiful straw hat, very Audrey Hepburn style. I loved the hat so much I wanted to bring it home. But that seems a waste as it’s likely to get more wear when we’re RVing. Not really much occasion for Audrey big hats in Alaska.  Well, this is not exactly how my hat looks. But it is lovely, take my word for it, and big enough I could have sailed a small vessel with it. Very useful for shading small countries that are lounging at the pool and have forgotten sunscreen.

15 apr 1963

15 apr 1963 (Photo credit: fred baby)

I also found a couple of elegant glass bottles for holding sparkling water or juice…whatever…really the contents don’t matter. My clear glass fetish kicked in and I was compelled to buy these two lovelies. Rob just looks at me like I’ve grown a third eye or something equally hideous. He cannot understand my need for clear glass objects. Most of the time I control it very well. But let’s just say one day I’ll have a thing or two to leave some like-minded clear glass aficionado. You know who you are. I think I raised one of those people, so that will probably work out to be my son-in-law’s storage issue eventually.

So, home, treasures unpacked, and a few eaten, and on to next. September and pumpkins and all things fall. I had a maple latte at the airport this morning. Aaahhh, it begins!

Three little words…

And those would be…you guessed it! Electronic health record! Life has been busy this summer, working between two clinics, both in the midst of major technology changes. I’m learning and growing with the rest of the staff. In one setting I’ve been more a facilitator, in the other, I’m a super-user. I’d like to have a cape to go with the title. Then I would know I’ve really arrived!

If you don’t know this technology, you will. Coming soon (if not already) to a health care facility near you, and pretty much everyone in this country, electronic health records take medical charts from paper, print-outs, and dictated notes to digital documents that will securely hold lists of meds, diagnoses, treatment plans, test results, diagnostic images and demographic information, all neatly and legibly…no more scrawled physician’s notes to decipher, no more jumble of physical charts.

No matter how much advance planning is done, the transition from paper to digital, or in the case of the second clinic, from one digital system to a new and more robust one, is painful. Painful, painful, painful. Workflows are different, responsibilities shift, new terminology abounds, tasks change. People get upset. Some are excited and adjust beautifully, others see it as the end of the world as they’ve known it. I see it as inevitable, and know that like any new process, a few months from now no one will think about it anymore; it will just be the way work is done. No drama, and hopefully minimal frustration. But that moment of recognition is still somewhere on the far horizon.

So this is my world, for the moment. Or it has been. I’m on a break, warming up in sunny California, escaped to a few days of RVing and slow living. I go back next Monday, ready for the “go live” in one clinic and ramping up to welcome new provider staff to the other clinic. Part-time contracting is interesting, and it can be rewarding. But this summer it’s also been just a wee bit hectic.

So, I’m glad to be back in my own little corner of the digital world, excited to pick up the threads of the blogs I’ve missed reading, and checking in to see what everyone’s been doing while I’ve been largely pre-occupied. I’ve missed my friends, and hope I’ve been missed too. Funny how you can spend all your time in front of a computer and still feel like you’ve been away!

Taking the plunge

Skydive in Central New York (CNY) at Blue Sky ...

What a view!

What do you give for a memorable birthday present, to truly mark the moment? Well, there’s no one right answer. But for Rob, who’s birthday is today, it had to be an experience. He always says he values experience more than things, and anyway, as most people have sorted out by 50, there are only so many things a person needs. He’s not one to collect status symbols, or to collect anything, for that matter.

Since we’re in California, it’s easy to focus on the outdoors, another love of his. So I planned a day of:

~early morning walk on the beach

~favorite breakfast

~11:00 AM reservation for tandem skydives…yes, we’re taking the plunge!

~afternoon birthday cake

~Sushi for dinner

~Day’s end in a jacuzzi under the stars

Happy Birthday to Rob, my one and only. And may this be the beginning of the best years of your life!

Image from Wikipedia

New tastes

Rob’s sister, Angela, who lives in California, introduced me to a lovely new treat last weekend. We stopped by a boutique bakery, which is actually part of a franchise, “Nothing Bundt Cakes.” This is what happens when you live in Alaska…yummy things appear and you don’t even know you’re missing out…there are no bundt cake bakeries in Ketchikan!

So check this out: http://www.nothingbundtcakes.com/   If you’re lucky enough to live near one of these little stores, I suggest you take yourself on an outing immediately and enjoy a sample, pick up a bundtlet, or a full size cake. The texture is amazing, the flavors (both I’ve tried, so far) are luscious, and the look is fun.  The small size is perfect for sharing with one or two others, if you must. But you may want to enjoy it alone, just you and a fork. And if you don’t live in a community with one of the stores, the website offers nation-wide shipping. I know, I know…it’s just cake! But wait till you try it. Then you’ll be like me, planning your next trip while checking out the store locations.

Thank you, Angela!

The other thing I just tried that was easy and fun was a recipe for Coconut Thai soup. It was simple and delicious, and the ingredients are basic enough to be found in any market. I followed the ingredient list, but I went a bit heavy on the lime and cilantro. I also saw a version of this recipe without the curry paste, for non-curry fans.

Coconut Thai Soup

Ingredients

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 stalk lemon grass, minced
2 teaspoons red curry paste
4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 (13.5 ounce) cans coconut milk
1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 pound medium shrimp – peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook and stir the ginger, lemongrass, and curry paste in the heated oil for 1 minute. Slowly pour the chicken broth over the mixture, stirring continually. Stir in the fish sauce and brown sugar; simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and mushrooms; cook and stir until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp; cook until no longer translucent about 5 minutes. Stir in the lime juice; season with salt; garnish with cilantro.

Here’s to a happy kitchen adventure in cold January!