Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Week AFTER Christmas

Really? Already? Another year passed?

I started this year mourning. I had ended a meaningful relationship with a good, sweet man and embarked on a journey towards being comfortable in my solitude. In my solitude, I worked at creating more meaningful relationships with the friends in my life and seeking the company of those I have wanted to know better. I ended a job I loved, only to start one that I love even more. I looked for a new version of myself among new clothes, new hair and long walks in the woods. I reconnected with old friends within new-fangled electronic mediums and found bliss in the written word all over again.

I picked up my dusty camera, played with pastels and allowed my creativity to flow for no other reason than for the sake of flowing. I sang songs, both from my heart and from someone else's. I cooked for myself instead of others.

The fire in the wood stove is blazing hot, the kettle is steaming with the aromas of fresh clementine peels and cinnamon sticks, the tree is beautiful in soft white lights and funky ornaments and my three incredible children are sound asleep upstairs.

The cats have staked their claims in the warmest, comfiest spots in the house, tails curled around their bodies and my old, sweet dog is snoring in his bed by my feet. As I sit in my orange tweed covered chair, drinking tea and feeling sleepy, I can't help but feel so grateful for my life.

Outside, the virgin snow in my backyard is powdery soft and waiting, quietly, for children to mark it with their boots, angels, forts and sledding trails. The moon is full and bright tonight, glowing softly behind the clouds.

I am looking forward to the new year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Running with Dog

Carol Bean and Squirt are farm dogs who live down the road--and I use the term "farm dogs" loosely as they don't have a working bone between them. Carol Bean is a boxer mix, with a body made like a granite boulder and accompanied by a fierce bark. This intimidating countenance belies the sugary sweet personality reflected in her soft brown eyes or in the soft mumbling growls and whines she uses to talk to us. Using her powerful front legs, she will pin down a small child, licking and nuzzling until her "victim" can wriggle out from underneath. Even then, she will proceed to softly talk to you, hoping you will let her do it again.

As you may guess, she is a hit with the kids.

But this story is not about the sweet Carol Bean. It is about Squirt.

Squirt is the physical opposite of Carol with a lean, light-as-a-feather build. Her long muzzle is used to lift hands, enticing their owners into petting her. Unlike Carol Bean, Squirt prefers a bit more distance between herself and all others. You may pet and snuggle her, but only for a little bit before she gently noses your hand away or inches toward her escape route. She is a sweet, quiet dog, rarely speaking unless she is caught up in the frenzied barking that Carol likes to do on occasion. All this means the kids crave her the way they crave off limits holiday candy, hugging and stroking her fur until she is loved into a corner, but I often remind them that Squirt needs her space.

Years ago, when I worked for The Farmer, it was just Squirt--or Squirty as I call her--who kept me company in the dusty office on the farm. It was during my time there that she and I would go for leisurely runs on the backroads of our village. Squirt is graceful and companionable. I had only to look at her and say "run?" and she would turn and squiggle with joy.

The run itself always started slow, warming up as she wandered the roadside, one eye on me while I fished around my iShuffle for the right tune, stretching my arms as I walked quickly. Sometimes, during this 5 minute start, she'd wander away up a small slope and circle a tree or disappear down an embankment to check the river, but she was never gone for more than a few moments - something I appreciated and voiced to her with a "good girl" while giving her silky ears a rub.

Then the run. My stiff muscles would squeak a bit with the effort, but as I broke into a jog, Squirt was right there beside me, keeping pace. We moved like this for awhile, enjoying the rhythm of each other, listening to music or sometimes the slap of my shoes on the dirt road. If this run was in the beginning of the season, I would usually slow down to a walk half way through, her cue to wander off again to explore, running back every couple of minutes to check my progress. Eventually, I would pick up my pace, searching again for that perfect rhythm and silently, without fanfare, she was beside me, as if she never left.

These runs would continue for an hour or so, keeping each other company before wandering back to the farm or going for a quick dip in the river. Then she would either crawl back under my desk or wander off to the greenhouses looking for The Farmer. I would either get back to work or head home, back to my family and the familiarity of humans.

Years later, Squirt and I do not run together as often as we did. I no longer work at the farm, our daily life has changed and our bodies too (arthritis for her, achy knees for me), but sometimes in the spring, when the green around us is still new and the running river is cold and full, I'll go looking for Squirt in the dusty farm office.

With the evening light easing away the cold that still lingers from the snowy winter, we begin with stiff legs that gradually loosen and fall back into the rhythm of the run as if we never stopped.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dear Grandma

I was driving the other day, between my house in Craftsbury and my office in Hardwick, feeling quiet and at peace. The music is playing, my mind is at ease and the car moves smoothly through the S-curves of the road. Those stretches of quiet time are when I am most apt to think of those I have lost. Your memory looms large during those drives, especially now.

I miss our chats on the telephone, our email exchanges, the cards. I miss your laughter and your smile, your stories and your songs. I miss you. We all do.

I wish you knew my kids better. They are so full of giggles, with a sense of humor that is like your own. Peals of laughter fill my house most days and their happiness is thick.

Oh and the chatty-ness! Wow...they are a chatty group, striking up conversations with most anyone. Again, so joyfully like you.

Songs are sung most waking hours. We all like to sing. Recently, Mason came home with a note from the teacher, explaining that his penchant for singing at all hours of the school day were proving to be a distraction from the class' school work. Apparently, sometimes, all the kids join in. See? Even now, I can hear you chortling with laughter over that one.

I was glad to know you differently as an adult. We developed a friendship that I cherished and now miss. I'm thankful for the comfortable conversations, loving advice, stories and songs these past several years. I'm thankful, that you left in your wake, a group of strong women from who I continue to draw my own strength from. I'm thankful, that in spite of your absence, our family continues to gather and celebrate.

I don't believe in God or heaven, at least not yet, but I do believe in people and that is a belief that you had a large part in nurturing in me. I believe in the energy of people touching the lives of other people and having that carried on through the generations. I see in your children, my children and in myself, pieces of you that will continue to live on beyond all of us. Pretty cool, eh?

I love you Grandma. Merry Christmas.

Love always,


Friday, April 03, 2009


Today, it hit 60 in the sun. God it felt good to be outside. The littlest one and I raked leaves, moved wood around, laid down cardboard to make new beds and picked up the bits of trash until recently, were covered by snow. We watched quietly as robins, grackles and other unknown birds hopped around with bits of twigs and string in their beaks, surreptitiously flitting away to build their hideaway nests.

Spring in Vermont is kind of hard. Freezing nights, cold days, mud. Sugaring alleviates it a bit, but only when the weather is "just so". Skies tend to get cloudy, sun is still a bit scarce. Ice and mud everywhere and nothing much to do outside. Yet...

My friend Cheryl says it's a time of transition and you only deserve to enjoy the summer if you suffered through "mud season". My view isn't quite as harsh, but summer is definitely appreciated after weeks of mud, ice and brown grass. So, here it is. April 3rd. I've planted my eggplants in recycled plastic containers and my calendar says tomatoes are next. A couple of the farms around here have begun selling their greenhouse greens and in about a month, the days will be warm enough to wear short sleeves if not short pants and the crab apple out back will be in full bloom.

Happy Spring!

Friday, February 20, 2009

And Tonight's Dinner Is.....

(drumroll please!)

Brown Lentils with Bacon and Chard.

I cooked the lentils in one pot, with plenty of water and a bit of salt, for about 20 to 25 minutes. Do not use red lentils as they turn to mush (which is perfect for dal, but not for this dish).

In a cast iron pan, I slowly cooked my homegrown bacon, took it out and chopped it.

In the same pan, I cooked chopped onions (from the farm down the road) until soft then added roughly chopped Swiss Chard, stirring until wilted then added the bacon back in.

I added the veggie mix to the cooked lentils, and coated with a simple vinaigrette made of Dijon mustard, walnut oil and cider vinegar. A quick turn of the pepper grinder brought everything together.

This one bowl meal for one (or two!) washed down with a dark beer was perfect for this wintery night. I finished off my meal with a large spoonful of homemade, creamy rice pudding topped off with a drizzle of a friend's maple syrup.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

1. I tend to be nicer to other people's kids, even though I think mine are the coolest in the whole wide world.

2. I tend to be a little bratty, a bit of a know-it-all and can occasionally be bossy.

3. I like to sing. A lot. I chortle often, at the top of my voice, much to the chagrin of my children.

4. When I was little, I wanted to be a truck driver when I grew up. I like to drive and apparently lacked lofty ambitions...but am totally at peace with that.

5. I am at peace with my body, being in my 30's on my way to 40, graying hair and wrinkles around my eyes.

6. Potty jokes and the word "fart" make me giggle.

7. At one time in my life, I truly believed I was adopted. In light of this, I convinced my sister Elizabeth that she was in fact, adopted too.

8. When I had my children, I was forced to acknowledge that I am not adopted. They look more like my family than i do. Not sure if Elizabeth has yet to make the same acknowledgment for herself.

9. Many people cannot tell when I am joking. Please refer to #2 as an example. Occasionally, #5 is an outright lie. Not surprisingly, #7 is the absolute truth.

10. I prefer cooking over baking and frankly, I am a very good cook. Yet, bread hates me and the cakes i bake, scare my friends.

11. As a kid, my mom wanted me to look like Connie Chung, the only Asian news anchor on the big networks in Los Angeles. I wanted to look like Cheryl Ladd or Jaclyn Smith from Charlie's Angels.

12. As a teenager, I thought looking Asian was cool and wanted to get more in touch with that. My mom wanted me to get a nose and eye job.

13. I believe that children do not belong to their parents. They belong to the world and are ours only for a short while. Our job is to love them unconditionally, teach them without bias and give them the foundation to go out into the world as contributing, authentic adults so they can reach their full potential...or not. Parents take too much credit and too much blame. Thank you Dad and Peggy for those bits of wisdom over the years.

14. I believe that strong women are vital in creating a strong community. I believe that strong men who are not afraid of weakness are important to our future. I believe that being an environmentalist is about saving the human race from extinction.

15. I believe supporting local businesses and farms and food does not HAVE to be an aimless, yuppie sojourn into elitism. It just makes good sense, especially if it is accessible to everyone.

16. Obviously, I am partial to soap boxes.

17. I believe moderation is key to contentment.

18. I believe being too moderate in moderation will lead to a stagnant life of apathy and fear.

19. As a child, I believed I was actually a mermaid, lost to my real parents and would dream of swimming out to sea on adventures.

20. As a grown-up, I still like to think being a mermaid isn't a lost cause.

21. I have been madly in love once; quietly, but deeply in love twice. Marriage was wonderful, but I think I've found my peace in being happily single.

22. I can be moody, difficult, closed, affectionate, easy going and transparent all within the space of one conversation. No, I am not bi-polar, just complicated.

23. At the age of 36, I still use the words "totally", "like you know", "awesome" and "cool". Thank you Frank and Moon Unit Zappa for giving this Valley Girl her "like, gag me with a spoon!" speech that somehow fails to completely turn off my east coast counterparts. Someone please kick me if i ever use the word "wicked" in my speech.

24. When I die, I hope my loved ones will credit me with being a prolific writer, a generous lover, a good friend and neighbor, a loving mother, a world traveler if only in my mind, a believer in the innate goodness of the human race and someone who loved living life.

25. I get chatty when i drink a leeetttlllee too much. By the way, I'm currently sipping my second glass of yummy scotch. Thanks Meg and Pete!


I like Sundays. The sun rises, but for many of us, it can be ignored for a little bit longer when the day is Sunday.

Sundays are the tail end of a busy week. A day or two before, family and friends chatted on the phone, making plans for Sunday whether it be brunch or lunch or supper. The churches are clean and ready for their congregations, the houses are quiet with children still in their pajamas, the farmers are out milking because their crew has the day off.

Today, I have quite the chore list, but for now, I am typing my thoughts and drinking coffee. It's Sunday. I can do that on a Sunday.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jog

Went to the Highland Lodge tonight for supper with the kids. Simple, yummy fare and a foos ball table just can't be beat on a winter's night.

On our way home, we turned up the tunes and sang until our voices cracked. The kids wrestled in the back seat, best they could with seat belts and car seats (a damn nuisance, I'm sure) and it was a grand drive home. The night is crystal clear, the temp is minus 12 and the fire is roaring in the front room. Good to be home with full tummys and faded tunes in our heads.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Heart California

California, the place I still think of as home, with its smog, cars, people, sunsets, people, asphalt, tract homes, people and...the ocean.

Anyway, California. It's where my heart is. It's where my heart will always be. Sometimes I miss it so much, I feel it in my gut. I can smell the sage of the foothills where I grew up, feel the dry heat on my skin or the cool mist of the coastal fog. I miss hearing the spanish, korean, the broken english that only a native Californian can speak.

In my sleep, I hear the waves crashing, feel the cold sand on my skin from countless nights sleeping on the beach. In my mind's eye, I see the brilliant orange sunsets over the mountains, my mother's rose garden and the lemon tree we used to climb as children. In my speech, I still over use the words "awesome", "cool", "totally" and "like, you know". I put the word "the" in front of every highway, freeway and road when giving directions (as in, "take the 14 to the 15 and turn right to the 2 which will take you to Montpelier). No local would waste so much breath.

Three days after my grandmother's burial, I drove up the coast, stopping in Pacific Grove/Monterey, on my way to San Francisco where I would catch a plane back to Vermont. The highway, winding up the coast like the proverbial snake, was choked with travelers. Beautiful weather, folks in their cars, never stopping to get out and breathe in the air. Eventually, I found a spot to pull over, climbed over the barbed wire and scrambled down the side of a sandy embankment to the ocean. Sat there for a long while, just taking it in, sitting idly.

As a child, I believed that I was a mermaid. I'm a good swimmer, never afraid of the water and figured it was only a matter of time before I figured out how to breathe underwater. Eventually, as puberty set in and reality took hold, I let go of that fantasy, but to this day, still think of the ocean as my final destination to retire and rest and repose. I love that word. Repose.

As much as i wanted to, staying in that part of the world couldn't last forever. I needed to get back to my life. Back to sleepy and wonderful Vermont, where my old farmhouse waits, frozen pipes and empty of children and dog. In Vermont, where my children are going to sleep at night, without me to sing them songs or read them stories. In Vermont, where I live a good and full life that I love, in spite of being landlocked and snow bound a good portion of the year. In Vermont where I found my heart again, lost a bit of it...again, then realized it works just fine in spite of being a little beat up.

It's good to be home.

But I will always love California.

Goodnight, My Someone

Almost three weeks ago, my grandmother died. Her name was Eleanor and she was...well, she was awesome. I spent two weeks in California from the day she died until three days after we buried her.

I flew on New Year's Day, panicky with the thought she might be gone before i got there. I sat next to a man who lost his only brother to a car accident on Christmas Eve and on the other side, a young man who lost his grandfather to cephalitis on New Year's Eve. What a trio we were. We talked, we read and we slept. I awoke, just before we descended, hoping it wasn't too late.

My little sisters were there to greet me, my parents arriving minutes later. I already knew by then, my sister Hannah breaking the news when I asked and when my dad arrived with my stepmom, I cried. We arrived at the La Loma house and upon walking into the living room, walls awash in peach and surfaces gilded with Christmas decorations, I cried again. Her presence was everywhere I looked, yet her voice and smile were glaringly absent.

In the kitchen with my cousins, we ate food from plastic containers brought to us by family friends, we drank wine out of Christmas themed glasses Grandma had set out earlier in the month and we laughed and argued and cried...a lot. For the next two weeks, there were hugs and handshakes, thoughtful silences and strained conversations. We snipped paper, read sentimental poems, stamped angels and made fun of each others' photos from the was a bad decade for all of us.

We sorted through endless arrays of cosmetics and costume jewelry, each time feeling our throats tighten with every glittery tidbit flashing in the light or her perfume filling the air from an open drawer. We found small mementos to take home and treasure: metallic and bejeweled bracelets, purple scarves, lavender slippers, ceramic angels, a felted red hat. We joked and poked fun at each other...a lot. Hugged some more, cried some more, ate some more. We sang, we hummed, we cried, we laughed and yes, we cried some more. We shopped for purple outfits, ties and scarves, because she would not have wanted us to wear black to her funeral. No way.

Eventually, the flowers were picked, the hall was booked, the priest confirmed for the service, the photos were placed, the memories written down, the tables set, the programs printed, the deep purple sequined dress lovingly placed by our hands on to her body. Her hair was curled, her make-up applied with care, her rings slipped onto her beautiful hands; hands that I still see in my mind and on those of my youngest child. We sang to her, we cried, we laughed over her stories and then we cried some more.

Days later, we watched our grandfather, her husband of sixty four years, nearly collapse with grief upon seeing her body at the viewing. We hovered nervously, a box of tissue on the only seat next to him that no one dared to move or replace with our selves. Eventually, each child, grandchild and friend, quietly hugged or kissed him, squeezed his shoulder, whispered a word of comfort and love. We all knew the grief he felt...or at least a shadow of it. Soon, surrounded by children and grandchildren, we chatted to each other and to him, slowly bringing his attention to the living, if only for a brief time. We read the rosary, thanked friends, hugged each other, cried and went back to our beds to reflect.

Two days later, in front of the church where she and Grandpa were married 64 years before, her grandsons both by blood and marriage, carried her coffin up the steps, down the aisle of the sanctuary and to the front of the church. Her great-grandchildren passed out purple ribbons with golden angels and programs with her picture. We cried, we sang, we read, we sang, we cried and we laughed. We remembered her love of music, her love of family and friends, her love of God and her love for her husband. We took photos, we ate food, we sang and listened to song. We ate more, we hugged more, we cried and we laughed.

Grandma would have loved it. Every single bit...and I bet she was sorry to miss it.

Eventually, each of us slipped quietly back to our lives, to continue with living and laughing, loving and crying. Grandma lived life with gusto and warmth. She left us gifts of music and song, a smile that is repeated in every generation, a love for stories and the telling of them. She reminded us that a single life is extraordinary in the ordinary-ness of it. She will be sorely missed, everyday.

Eleanor Elizabeth Gunn Gustavson
Born September 14, 1920
Died December 31, 2008

Thursday, January 15, 2009