Keg-Stand on the Sun

The earth has received the embrace of the sun and we shall see the results of that love.
–Sitting Bull

I used to tan at Zuma Beach. You know it: it’s where Mitch, C.J., Shauni and Hobi jogged across the sand in all too tight or high cut red suits.

If I wasn’t at Zuma catching the rays, I was poolside in our backyard, or in a tube top–lest I get tan lines–on my horse. My sun worship has caused sun poisoning, cancerous moles and an array of freckles.

I’ll not even discuss the years I spent mostly undressed except for plastic goggles over my eyes, prone in a tanning bed. Foolish, silly girl.

Despite this addiction, the lack of sun here in Washington has not sparked Seasonal Affective Disorder. I’ve taken N’s Danish roots and attempted to create hygge in my house, lighting candles and cozying up the place where I hunker when it’s dark and pissing rain. And I came to the conclusion that for 30 years, I had been mislead: my natural skin tone is not almond. That was my tan.

But today–oh glorious day–the sun broke across the sky. Today I wore sunglasses for the first time in four months. Today I thought about putting on sunblock. Today I strategically placed myself in the sluice of sun when practicing shavasana. I never. wanted. to. move. I felt like Sissy, the cat at the barn, seeking out the light and lounging endlessly in it. I could feel the vitamin D permeate my skin, zip around in my brain, energize my every cell.

Bellingham Bay

Bellingham Bay crawled with the sun seekers. We were all bundled up–the wind was damn cold–but the sun! She was resplendent, radiant. She does this thing, when you see her, where she throws herself on mountain peaks, which are coated in snow, and they glisten together, like the lights off the sequins at a Madonna show. The sun casts rays through water, then bounces off the surface and throws a deep shadow against the trunk of a tree. She makes the world sharp; she makes people smile and giggle. It’s like we’re drunk here on the sun–a honey mead that we’d forgotten about, found again and chugged down. I want to do a keg-stand on the sun.

It wasn’t like this in California. If Zuma was grey or even overcast, we were pissed. How dare this marine layer edge in here! Which reminds me of a 60 Minutes segment, where they declared Denmark as the happiest nation in the world. They have low expectations, it was partially concluded, so when things are above average, they are blissful. Likewise, up here, we expect the gloom. But when it gets pushed out, when the sun wins the great arm wrestle match in the sky, well then, we are elated.

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Wild Mustard-Prologue

Dear god. Posting what I’m about to post makes me want to vomit a bit. All around me I keep seeing women who have quit/are quitting their jobs (quitting! ha! take that, unemployment rate!) to immerse themselves in their craft. No, no. Don’t worry, N. That’s not anywhere in my near future. But…

What am I doing with my craft? Nothing? That’s right. Nothing. Drinking Apricot beer, eating chocolate ice cream and reading other peoples’ writing is not helping my story take shape. And just today, I heard the most brilliant news piece that I would love to turn into a story. But first, LK, first. Wild Mustard. I like how I italicized that, like it was published and all.

Here goes, kids. Biting the effing bullet.

Mustard by Steven Mills

Prologue

Costa Rica, 1990

For their twentieth wedding anniversary, Mom, Dad and I retraced a route they had taken ten years earlier. We traveled up Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, from Montecillo to what is now Torteguero, encountering more howler monkeys and crocs than electricity or tourists. I fumbled around with my new fourth-grade Spanish at road-side fruit stands, with taxi drivers and in the markets.

In the first of five weeks, I lost one of my bathing suits, so the entire summer, I wore my turquoise–Dad’s eyes sparkly turquoise–suit. Mom and Dad had other suits, but I, always in the blue one, grinned like a monkey, looking straight into the camera. Only thing that changed was my tan.

One afternoon we made our way to a sleepy town called Bataan. A taxi driver took the three of us down a road dimpled with potholes. Dad’s head hit the ceiling of the little red four-door, but he didn’t seem to mind. We were dropped off at the edge of a mossy river. “What are we doing, Mom?” I asked.

“It’s an adventure,” she winked back.

A dark-skinned man waited in a boat at the water’s edge. He and my mother exchanged kisses and “Que tals.”

“Miguel, this is my daughter, Olivia,” my mom said to the local, the Tico.

“Oh, you the one who steal the red,” he said in broken English, tousling my hair and grinning at my mother’s new bottle brown. With our packs loaded in the shallow boat, we navigated the canals and plowed through debris from falling trees. Thirty minutes later, the ocean emerged before us. We took a left, headed up a channel just broad enough for our narrow skiff and puttered up the jungle arteries. Howler monkeys screamed in the canopy.

“We’re here!” Mom declared as the boat slowed to a crawl. I looked in both directions, squinting for a sign of life. Just us. The boat chugged away. “Here” consisted of a muddy bank and an overgrown path leading up a hill to the beach.

The sand sloped and waves carved embankments as far as I could see down the coast. Behind us, palm trees danced high in the air; in front, tourmaline water crashed in cacophony. The horizon hung as far away as my backpack at home in Santa Barbara.

The bangles on Mom’s arm wind-chimed as she spread out a blanket. Meanwhile, Dad, bare-chested, except for the patch of hair running up his chest, scampered around collecting firewood and pitching our tent. I loved watching my parents set themselves up in a new landscape. Though we always traveled lightly, Dad seemed to have just the tool to crack a coconut, Mom, just the elixir for a tumultuous stomach. That day on the beach was no different. Mom produced cheese, crackers and champagne. My eyes grew wide. A celebration? For what? It was moment like this, when my parents produced a home from a deserted beach and a fiesta from a backpack, that I also thought they could fly through treetops and outfox death.

Mom poured me a splash of bubbly. Then she and Dad told me their “most important story.” Over the next five years, I would hear this tale as some hear dinnertime prayer—religiously and without pause. But on this evening in Costa Rica, with the sun fading like a dye, I heard the story of my conception for the first time.

According to Mom, she and Dad watched the last colors of the day wane from the sky on this very beach ten years earlier. He was on assignment for the London-Herald, where he had secured the post as the travel editor; she had sold a commissioned story to Outside magazine. At thirty-two and four, they gallivanted around the world, uncovering stones and stories, exploring lives and legacies. They had no mortgage, no health insurance, just brimming passports, three-page writing resumes and a ten-year-old Volvo without a bumper. That afternoon, Mom had felt something tickle her thigh. She scratched and returned her gaze to the horizon. Again, more tickling. She examined the sand to her left. A black nubby object fought its’ way out of the sand. She called to Dad. Flippers emerged. More pointed heads. Turtles surfaced.

Dad impersonated Mom’s shriek. “I wasn’t scared,” she tried to convince us.  In a matter of minutes, my parents had watched twenty-four baby turtles clamor from the depths of the sand and head toward the white caps of the ocean.

Mom continued the show. “Was that real, John?” she re-inacted, for my sake. She paused dramatically and then walked into the Caribbean waters, just as she had that night, sat cross-legged in the salty water and let the waves play around her.

“So dramatic,” Dad winked at me, then trotted off to Mom.

I giggled so hard that I slumped back into the sand, spilling a bit of my taboo champagne. My parents were such thespians.

Mom stood up and returned to Dad, her clothes wet with the lap of the sea and continued the decade-old scene: “What will we send out into the ocean?”

“Maybe the sand you have on your butt.”

“No. What are we going to leave behind?” They re-told these lines with the same drama each time—she clutching his arms, he staring confusedly into her face, thinking it was a joke. “We need turtles,” Mom pleaded.

“Land or sea turtles? In a cage or a pond?”

She slapped his chest. “Seriously. Our writing will always be…ugh…but this—” she pointed to the turtle track with her toe, “this is real.” She turned and winked at me, a this is important wink, which was different than Dad’s earlier Your mom’s nuts, but don’t you worry, kid, we’ll make it wink. I could read their whole squint-based language, even when I wasn’t supposed to.

My father looked at my mother. I can imagine his blue eyes searching my mother’s soul, one of those tangible gazes—the kind of look that speaks, that says, I get you. I’m listening to you. My father had a way of loving quietly, without words: the dance of fingertips on an arm, the clasp of an oven-warm hand, a series of fluttering lashes that spoke despite an unmoving mouth.

And then they made love.

So they said. I squirmed in the sand. At ten years old, talk about baby making was, as I told my mother, gross. She threw her head back and let loose her roar of a laugh. Then she came to cradle me in her long pale arms, which I have always thought were rays of the sun.

Upon finding out she was pregnant, my mother audibly thanked a God she had not believed in for decades. “Those turtles…something about them,” she’d told all of her disbelieving family and friends, and me, whenever she told the story. “All that creating and protecting and nurturing garbage–it’s true.” So I settled inside her womb for nine months; my seed, planted deep in that Costa Rican sand, brushed over by a steady stream of salty waves.

Between the Pages: The Town That Food Saved

“In 1930, the average American family spent 24.2 percent of its income on food…By 2007, that number had fallen to 9.8 percent…The average European spends nearly 20 percent of his income on food…Of course, it’s almost fashionable to discuss the hidden costs of our “cheap” food diet. They’re real, and they matter, but the truth is most Americans simply don’t have the luxury of looking beyond the tangible metric of money in, money out…You’re not considering its health costs, or the erosion of the topsoil caused by monocropping, or even the backward logic of a subsidy system that pays farmers not to farm; you’re too busy trying to find that Coco Puffs coupon tucked in your wallet.”

The Town That Food Saved, Ben Hewitt

This year, I paid an undisclosed amount for our family’s Christmas prime rib. It was so expensive that it made me–a girl who believes adamantly about paying paying a fair wage for the food which sustains me–just about bowl over. When I asked the farmer’s daughter, a student of mine, if the holidays were a profitable time for them, the question seemed silly. At that price, how could they not be raking it in? “Welp. If we sell all our cuts, we just about break even.” Break EVEN. As in, they’ll be able to pay the winter heating bill and put new tires on the farmer’s market van. Forget about contributing to the college fund.

So I finally picked up Ben Hewitt’s The Town That Food Saved and devoured it. Hewitt, a farmer, gardener and Gourmet writer, delves into the local food politics of Hardwick, Vermont, and digs into the gritty questions that loll about in my head: what is sustainable, how local is local, is it working if it’s not feeding the immediate community, can should there be profit when it comes to our most basic need, how have we managed to move so far away from this basic need: to feed ourselves?

Hewitt is out to help the average American family. He wants us to find a way to afford fresh strawberries, a healthy cut of beef, and yes, even bacon. If people like me have sticker shock at the true value of meat (granted, my usual veggie status means I’m out of the meat pricing loop) than how can the entire nation buy into–literally–paying fair cost for food? Hewitt’s out to figure out if and how it might be done. Can the magic of Hardwick duplicate itself across the nation, ultimately saving our food system? Would we want a Hardwick to duplicate itself? Would we be able to feed our entire gluttonous nation? (This question from a girl who gorged on two scoops of ice cream and several servings of green curry in one sitting.)

His investigation, basted with humor, ride-alongs and an eye for food equity, kept me flipping pages well past bedtime. The book reminded me that winter lends time to plan my first Washington garden. That my purchase of the Christmas prime rib was necessary to support an alternative system and a family. And Hewitt watered ideas in my head planted long ago on the earthen floors of Pun Pun Farm in Thailand: that I need to find my local foodie community, roll up my sleeves and get dirty.

 

And you, my dearies, what have you been reading?

A Favorite Mount Vernon Day

Last night, the storm clouds set with the sun. Before I went to bed I could see Orion’s belt. I had a day packed with plans: hit the co-op, make this soup, run this trial and ride this handsome horse.

Echo, the mighty steed

I woke with sleepy eyes and rubbed them once, twice, again as I looked out the window. Soft heaps of white snow capped every surface. I’m not just talking about a dusting of snow; I’m talking about quarter-sized flakes falling from the sky so quickly I could not believe my eyes. My neighbor’s roof had almost a half-foot accumulation. Out my front door the world glistened white.

I knew my CA plates and driving skills would not suffice in this weather. Besides, I wanted to be out IN it. I pulled on my beanie and snow boots, grabbed my canvas bags and headed out. Snow gathered like cotton on bare trees.

A Mount Vernon Cotton Tree!

I watched as cars skidded and slid down our huge hill. I watched snow plows push, busses chain up and people step outside in wonderment. Funny how crisp white looks when you’re used to gray. Cashiers at the co-op said they’d never seen this much snow in the lowlands.

I figured out, first-hand, the cliche: Up hill, in the snow. Make that, up hill, in the snow, with groceries.

The snow was soft and light, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to make snowballs and toss them at passing cars. (Don’t worry, I didn’t heave them at little old ladies in Buicks.) It packed so perfectly I had to make a snowman. I raced inside, hardly putting away my groceries. Snagged a soggy carrot leftover from last night’s broth-making. In earnest, I scooped the snow from behind my car. Two birds, one stone, right? Clear the driveway and have some fun? My snowman woman took shape.

She was a bit petite for my liking. I found an old plastic tub and scoured snow from the entire alley. I darted here and there, packing the fresh power into nooks and crannies, giggling like a kid. In fact, I hadn’t noticed anyone else making a snowman or playing in the snow. I was the only one–the only loony, solo, 31 year-old out in the snow making a friend. And I was having a delightful time.

I squished in my snow woman’s nose and ran back inside to source eyes: who needs coal with you can have shallots? A hat, my newly knitted scarf…voila!

My pants were soaked and my fingers mostly frozen, but I didn’t care. I haven’t made a snow person in, oh, I don’t know, twenty-five years? And somehow, between walking to the store and collecting snow to construct my new neighbor, I had the best few hours I’ve spent in Mount Vernon.

Snow Women of Mount Vernon

Something tells me it’s gonna be a pretty good year.

A Slice of Saturday Sun

The best way to predict the future is to create it. –Peter Drucker

My angel, Assisi, and candles gather light

We’re between snow storms here in MV. Can you believe I live in a place that  accumulates three plus inches of snow? That this seems to happen frequently here? I’m not sure I believe it yet.

But guess what? Still loving it. And despite my first trip back to San Diego, despite a walk around Mission Bay just when the sun clacked itself on palm fronds, just when the water turned glassy and the pelican alighted on a buoy to preen her wings–despite that Pacific desert beauty I witnessed, I didn’t feel home. My soul didn’t jump or shout. In fact, I think it rumbled. A hungry-like sound. Growled that it needed smaller highways and a two-lane road to work that heads into a great mountain range, a sky filled with winged creatures, a landscape dotted with lakes and towering trees.

Since this place is home–as much as it can be without N–I guess I ought to make some commitments to it, to me. While these sound like, feel like, dance like New Year’s resolutions, and it is that time of year, I’m thinking of these more as Mount Vernon Resolutions. I’ve spent my first five months here trying to sleep enough and figure out how to drive in pissing rain. Now, it’s time to live here. And what–what shall I undertake?

When I look back at this first year of Washington living, I’d like to say I’ve done this:

Marry the man better than any of my dreams. This one should be easy. He asked, right? More difficult: remembering the day is about sharing our love, joy and vibrancy for life and each other, not cute table runners, monogrammed napkins or a boat-get-away lined by people holding sparklers. But damn, those sparklers are cute.

 

Picture by D.M. Photo

 

Get the DSLR camera fixed and take (another) photography course. The light up here is like nothing I’ve seen before. Just yesterday I had to fling open my classroom window and stick my head out to take in the afternoon light. Something about falling sun rays through heavy storm clouds. I took a photography course in college, but I despised my professor, so naturally, I refused to learn a thing. Which of course, was super helpful in the long run.

Pour over another revision of Wild Mustard and harden my ego for another round of soliciting agents. This blog was one attempt to get my writing brain and typing fingers in working order enough to undertake this monster again. She’s a pretty monster, though, and I owe it to us to see this thing through. This scares the absolute crap out of me.

Learn how to make a perfect espresso in my stovetop doo-dad. Maybe if I had bite-sized nibbles of whipping-topped deliciousness like these it would help.

Run a 5-9 mile trail. Without stopping. I know, I know, the range is great, but I’d be happy with any of those numbers, and I’d hate to cap my running abilities. One of the happiest times in my life was on a long, lost (literally) trail run through Mission Gorge with Heather. We must have done seven or so miles, and it set me free.

Isn’t this a beautiful pose, picture, studio? I’d be happy with legs straight, but couldn’t resist this lovely.

 

Eek out 3 sets of 25 perfect-form push-ups. One of my life-long goals has been to perform a 5 minute headstand. I’ve come close, but my upper body always fails me. Instead of setting the headstand as the goal, I’m going to ninja its ass and will work on something else I’ve always wanted to be able to perform: push-ups. Hopefully, I’ll kill 3 asanas with one stone: chatarunga dandasana, sirsasana and adho mukha vrksasana. Cause that’s what yoga’s all about right: kicking the poses’ ass–finally? I know my friend, Bentley, will agree with me on this one.

Mount Olympus

Make a date with the Olympics. I can only see them some days, but their jagged tops whisper my name. Is it their locale across the water, that their name spurs Atlas and Athena to mind, or their rain forest that lures me?

Figure out how to leave the house before noon. Those who have been here know what I’m talking about. So much to do, so few daylight hours.

T minus 357 days. I expect to hear from you: You: Linsey–how many push-ups you doing? Me: two.  You: Why haven’t you posted that chapter of WM like you said you would? Me: Cause I’m a lazy bum and too busy eating chocolate. You: Have you done anything on your  list yet? Me: No, but I’ve thought a lot about them.