On your Mark!

If you’ve never had the pleasure of attending your child’s first swim meet, please–join me.

The weekend started with a hike. I’m not sure they all start like that.

“It’s going to be a fairly, flat, easy hike,” says Coach Soares. I learned on that hike Coach Soares has penned and published 7 hiking books over the years and, while writing those, would hike 25 miles a day. Are you kidding me?

The driving road to the hiking location gradually became more and more narrow, which meant two cars could not pass at the same time. Occasional bike riders made that even more exciting. When we got to the hiking location, Coach announced the “Cliff Lake” hike was off and this new hike was on. (We’d somehow missed the turn.)

This hike was anything but flat. I exercise daily, but my hair was wet with sweat and I was panting like I’d just ran 10 miles (not that I do that.) We started at 11 and ended at 5:30 and moved at a fairly fast clip without rests, excepting our final Lake Helen destination. Nobody knew where we were, but drilling our hiking author masquerading as a swim coach I discovered this to be called the Trinity Divide. We were on the Seven Lake Trail (and we passed about 4 of those lakes) which crossed the Pacific Rim Crest and dropped down (and I do mean dropped) to Lake Helen. The lake was isolated and serene, the pine trees reflecting in the glass water to create a double forest. Some team members swam. Some wandered. Some practiced skipping rocks. I took great shots, but in an uncanny incident, my camera card cracked the third morning of our trip, especially unfortunate since I was writing an article for the Valley Post and supposed to provide photos. (A little scrambling around Sunday gave us the few shots we got.)

It was phenomenally picturesque all around to be sure and I only fell on my butt once while trying to scale a manzanita sort-of path thing. I felt misled–but I’d go again…even though my legs still hurt three days later. And talk about dirt. I had nasty, dirt ankle rings.

As we arrived at the High School football field, the sun was setting. We’d eaten with the team at Bob’s Ranch House (pretty much all man first names for all things in this town like Ray’s Food Place, Ed’s trucks, Scott Valley…you get the idea). We decided it was fate that the place closest to our truck was open and that must be ours. Close transport of all that stuff.

Remember “Friday Night Lights?” As night came, those were the lights shining straight into our tent and lighting it up like a Walmart! We seriously had to move the shade dome in back of the tent to block the glare. It became obvious why nobody had taken the spot as this was the passageway for all activity.

Our blessing, though, was our kind neighbors. They were campers. Good campers. Good neighbors. They had a stove. They percolated coffee. They were like real live campers…and they liked it. The Streges made our camping trip fun.

The other good news is that we were sort of close to the girl’s locker room. You did need to walk by three really loud snoring tents and a motorhome with puke rolling down the side, but running water was right on the other side. There was toilet paper the first two days.

You really have two choices on personal hygienne: shower in the open high school style showers or don’t shower. I tried to sneak mine in after the morning rush, before the evening rush while nobody was looking. And only one in 3 days which was disgusting.

The meet itself was quite a deal. The kids head over at 7:30 a.m. and get their events written on their hand in sharpie so they don’t forget. (Just when I thought I’d broke my son of that habit, too.) The swimmers are in the pool by 8 a.m. warming up. Parents are getting in timer chairs, or officiating, or working in snack bars, or sitting at the timers who-check-the-timers table or just hanging around under “First Up” shade covers, which line the pool like LA condos.

For first timers, there is a lot to learn. I, of course, filled out the meet sheet on the light side so our son had only one race the first day. This did not stop him from sitting pool side the entire time both days, never to leave a sporting event while people are still there.

Swimmers start oldest to youngest in each type of event. Events are divided by stroke and distance. There is a whole posting system where the heats, lanes and events are put up on a wall and all the kids and parents hover about like ants on watermelon trying to figure out where everyone is going. Next to that hangs the results of who is winning and what their times are.

Meanwhile, there is a huge barbecue going in the background. It starts at 9:00. Cookies the size of a small planet and all kinds of snack bar food abound. Parents flank the pool cheering on (sometimes obnoxiously) their kids.

The little kids have a variety of reactions. Some, as young as 6, go like heck. Others cry and want to get out. Others swim two strokes then hold onto the lane line and stop. And repeat. The big kids swim with such beautifully-tuned strokes you feel like you’re at the Olympics.

You have lots of time between races (especially if you are only doing one) to eat planet sized cookies and get to know people. It’s a very social thing for such an individual sport and I loved the families more than any other sport we’ve ever played. Friendly, inclusive and fun.

After the races, people do a variety of things. Jordan just wanted to play with the kids: soccer, slip and slide, ultimate frisbee, whatever. The parents wandered to such find Etna establishments as the brewery or old fashioned drug store. Some stayed behind and watched the kids. I felt like I was living in a kibbutz.

I don’t really get camping. Planning for days, unpacking, setting up, packing again, unpacking–all while we’re packing to move our home. But Jordan’s words when we got home summed up why we went, and why we enjoyed it, “I miss the Scott Valley meet.”

Yeah, bud. I know how you feel. We’ll always fondly remember our first meet.

Note: Despite the fact my camera card has proved non-recoverable, you can read the article (and my scrambling shots) in the Anderson Valley Post either this Wednesday or next: http://www.andersonvalleypost.com/

Celebrating Love in Mt. Shasta

Mt. Shasta was our Big Island this year. One mountain rivals the other with the added bonus that we didn’t have to fly five hours each way. And we got to stay at our new favorite Shasta MountINN B&B again.

Northern California exudes beauty. We caught some of it and added some firsts to our lives keeping in theme with our 2009. (You know, like moving from a city of two million to a town of two thousand—stuff like that.)

Mossbrae Falls was a destination mismatched by its journey. The Falls are water veils that spray out of the side of the mountain covering lush, green ferns and moss with sheer, delicate waterfalls that pour into the blue-green pool below. A peaceful and serene, meditative space, the Falls line about 300 feet of the cliff. In a gracious moment, the sun reflects off the water to create a rainbow that stretches to the creek below. This is a vision straight off the Island and much like the ginger-lined pool we ride horse-back to reach for four hours. Breathtaking.

The hike to get there is also breathtaking—but in a different way. We moved methodically down railroad ties like toy soldiers on a mission. This is necessary because the path is so rocky and narrow and the best way to travel is on the 1.5 foot spaced ties. Not such a big deal? But wait, there’s more.

Trains are constantly using these tracks and we had to get out of the way of three during our mile hike in and out, running once to get to a large enough clearing not to get hit.

From a more relaxed perspective, we saw train tracks again on our sunset dinner train dinner, a smooth ride through the forest while enjoying a four course meal on china and silver. From the prosciutto-wrapped, date-covered almond start to the turtle cheesecake end we savored our meals. The most interesting part was trying to walk down the train after drinking a nice Syrah and not fall into fellow passenger’s meals.

Another first was the Mt. Shasta Lavender Farm. Picture rows of full Lavender thriving on the lap of majestic Mt. Shasta. In the middle of the fields is a Lavender labyrinth which you can walk while drinking lavender lemonade, which mainly tastes like lemonade but looks purple and has a nice fresh piece of lavender in it. We brought gluten-free crackers and almond butter and sat in the middle of the field surrounded by Lavender. Purple, purple everywhere. We picked fresh bundles of Lavender to take home and learned you do not put it in water if you plan to dry it. Just hang it upside down.

We soaked up the hippie culture of the mineral springs and arrived during the sweat lodge ritual so took our baths to the beat of Native American drumming. I’m pretty sure every toxin that dared to reside inside us took off.

We also met a gracious woman who taught us what Feng Shui can do for a home.

Filled with gratitude for our twelve years together blessed by the mountain, we returned home restored and ready for the pre-moving extravaganza.

Grassroots–not astroturf.

Next month, the NAMI National Conference will be held in San Francisco.

Things will be happening. Steve Lopez will be cruising the hallways. Pete Earley will give his always dynamic speech while accepting his most recent–and well-deserved–award for mental health activism. And on July 5th, the first evening, there will be a screening of how this 50,000 strong grassroots organization all began.

Back in the day (and sadly, not so many days ago) the docs were pretty sure children who “caught” schizophrenia had really “cold” mothers. It wasn’t about brain chemistry. It was about faulty parenting. Just another strand of prejudice to claim as our heritage.

There were a few families, however, who bravely stood up and said two things. The first thing was, “We have mentally ill people we love.” Still today, some people are afraid to tell anyone if they have a child, sister or parent with a mental illness. Yet, I find as soon as I start speaking about the novel I am working on with a young mentally ill protagonist based on our own family story, I consistently and unintentionally solicit stories that have never been shared. It makes me wonder just how inaccurate the statistics truly are.

The second thing this group of heroes said was “Docs, you’re wrong.” They challenged the notion that mothers who don’t breastfeed their children long enough cause them to have schizophrenia. (As ignorant as this comment seems, and despite years of research to the contrary, there are still some old docs out there who believe it.)

These people–these roots–dug their heals into the ground and challenged the medical community. In the documentary to be released Fall ’09 called “When Medicine Got it Wrong,” NAMI goers will see what advocacy is all about. This is not the astroturf activism we so often see where advocates just advocate to look good. This is the kind of activism that needs to spread to all areas of predjudice and discrimination to truly form a more peaceful planet.

Wouldn’t that be cool?

Chestnut Ridge Farm

This year has been about exploring different lifestyles. This weekend we soaked up Boonville, CA.

Boonville, located in the Anderson Valley about 50 miles east of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County, is a short collection of quaint stores with a Restoration Hardware feel (but smaller) and an assortment of whole grain, organic spun eateries without a happy meal to be found. Refreshing, really.

The Farmers’ Market, held Saturday mornings, houses a few stands of plants, fruits and leafy greens, a folksy trio playing background music and a group of people who all seemed to know each other chatting about a small plot adjacent to the Boonville Hotel where, rumor had it, John Scharffenberger had stayed over, possibly in town to check on his former winery–or is it still his winery?–down the street.

I think the story goes he sold the winery to make chocolate instead and now does something else. We were really interested in seeing it mainly because the other Scharffenberger delivered Jordan and we felt somehow connected that way.

We did take a trip by Scharffenberger Cellars and the nice tasting man gave Jordan some organic juice so he would feel included in the tasting experience. (He then proceeded to skewer the juice bag and juice went squirting everywhere which somehow just added some down home fun to the champagne tasting.) We also stopped by our oh so fave Roderer Estate Vineyards and discovered that when you bottle the same vintage in a regular champagne bottle and a magnum, the results are wholly different, with the magnum rounding and mellowing the sparkling wine. Who knew? (After two vineyards, Jordan was pretty sure we were alcoholics so we decided to go hunt down Scharffenberger chocolate instead.)

Our main purpose for going to Boonville, however, was to visit my Uncle Tom’s and Aunt Pam’s Chestnut Ridge Ranch, a pastoral 160 acres atop a hill via dirt road which overlooks the Anderson Valley. When you start on the dirt road, you have 30 minutes straight up with lots of blind turns on the one way dirt road before you reach the ranch. You’re committed once you’re there. There’s no “running out” for milk in these parts.

On the way up you pass an “intentional community” where people build homes from strawbales and live in a self-sustaining commune type fashion. Kind of an organic, Haight Ashbury meets the woods feel.

You drive through forest, past vineyards, cross a creek and through meadows and eventually roost on top of the world, or at least that’s how it feels.

The farm is filled with flowers late this year due to weird weather patterns. Landscape roses cascade over lattice in every color you can imagine. The Georgia rose stands about six foot high with deep red blooms and tells the story of a lady who brought the cutting from someone else right before she died. The Dogwood tree out behind the bass-filled pond was planted when my grandmother passed and stands tall to commemorate what would have been her 100th birthday this past May. The Lorraine Lee rose in bright pink is showy and fragrant, with no thorns on the stems. Every plant has a story. Amazingly, Uncle Tom and Aunt Pam know every plant like parents do children, reminiscing about them the way parents remember their child’s first steps. It’s too much work for two people so WOOFers (World Wide Opportunity for Organic Farmers) come and help work the land. These are people from all over the world who trade room and board for an agreed upon work schedule. Two girls from Estonia recently came and shared with Uncle Tom great music. (So many Woofers have turned him on to music he actually burned a CD called ‘Woofers’.) Then there was the Vegan who taught them how to make a really awesome chocolate cake. Everybody brings something different and they help each other in unique ways.

The Brewers have taken time to build 15 sitting spots fully equipped with footstools and tables across the property so that you may get different perspectives of the valley, a grouping of flowers, the forest, the chestnut orchard. The perch’s call to you, “Sit here. See things from this perspective. Smell the sweet rosemary waft by from the herb garden. Feast your eyes on the bright reds and purples where the butterflies dance. Sit here.” And we did. Sitting with my family, laughing and talking while overlooking the Valley–priceless.

This morning I took Bailey out on a walk through the forest loop just after dawn. It was a bit spontaneous. First, we were just out for our morning poop (her, not me) and then we headed down the first part of the path to check it out. After starting down it, it was so steep I didn’t want to walk back up.
Off we went deep into the forest. I knew it was about a 3 mile loop. Half way through, I had to trust the masters and angels surrounding me to bring me back because I really had no idea if I was following the right road. We were on a high cliff with jack rabbits darting out of the forest and across the path, and Bailey being the city dog she is would likely have chased it right off the cliff had she seen one.

Your mind wanders in the forest. During this time, I started thinking about how life is like walking through the forest. Sometimes you can see around the bend and up the hill and sometimes you can’t see anything up ahead and you feel like wild animals are watching you from the thicket. It requires that faith arm wrestle doubt–and win. It urges you to walk through what could scare you if only to experience the exhilaration at the other end.
And the forest is there to teach you. The towering Redwoods so firmly rooted in the ground reach towards the sky yet stay grounded. Multiple species of birds sing just because it’s morning. Each tree seems to work with the next, knowing that they are connected, and creates such a peaceful forest because of it.

This weekend reminded me of the poignancy of the Dali Lama’s annual message: go see somewhere new each year. In seeing some place new, you sit in a different seat looking out from a different perspective, and in so doing learn a deeper meaning for the seat you sit in each day.

Proud Mama!

Have you ever just felt so proud you feel like you start lifting off the ground with bright red cheeks and eventually you are going to fill up like that snotty blueberry girl on “Willy Wonka” and just pop with joy?

That’s how it felt to watch my oldest daughter walk across the stage and get her college diploma at the ripe age of 21. With honors. Senior of the Year. Best Educational Series for activist training. Strongest Committment to Diversity.
It wasn’t just the awards. It wasn’t just the diploma.
It was what that represented. For Amanda, these represented living out loud, being who she is, touching so many lives, reaching out to those who can’t reach for themselves, speaking out for those who can’t speak for themselves. Being who she is…her unique self. College for this little Indigo was much more than partying and getting by. In fact, that stopped early on. College was about finding a place in the world where she belongs and where she is going to make the biggest difference. College for her was about narrowing in on her purpose on this planet and preparing herself to navigate that. What a blessing to know that so young.

Amanda has been an activist from birth. She has always had strong opinions stemming clear back to her insistence that she would not be using a bottle in this lifetime despite the fact her single mother worked full time. She held strong and never gave up, though her pediatrician assured me she would. He was just one of many doctors Amanda would go on to prove wrong.

Her activist nature, fueled by a heart of gold, is not always appreciated by people with other opinions. College was about learning the finesse to listen kindly–and then convince them they were wrong. Her final year was about learning that both sides could be heard…she not only taught others tolerance, but learned to practice it herself.

This world will not be the same after Amanda is done with it. It will be oh so much better. And I will sit back and learn from her, for she teaches me more and more each day.