As it turns out, I’m not so good at keeping things alive. Birds, hamsters, kittens and that garter snake I left in the sun; every one of my childhood pets met a tragic end. My backyard is filled with the bones of long-dead dogs and one beloved cat. The pots on the back porch boast the skeletal remains of various herbs and vegetables I planted with great expectation. I’m still surprised that my children survived early childhood – not an accidental electrocution or drowning in the bunch. Still, I felt a sense of apprehension when the 167 year-old sourdough starter arrived with carefully printed instructions for its revival and maintenance.
The enclosed pamphlet details the starter’s impressive heritage and celebrates its champion Carl Griffith, whose sourdough culture has been passed on nearly 40,000 times. In his honor, I print CARL with a permanent marker on the side of the tub I’m intending to revive the starter in.
I’m skeptical as hell. It’s just a few flakes, off-white in color and crumbling to the touch. I mix it with flour, water and sugar, then leave it out on the counter overnight. Every day for the next two weeks, I feed it. First, just white flour and water. Then some rye flour, a little apple cider vinegar and a pinch or two of potato flakes. And the thing is, the crazy thing is, it is alive.
I make J and Mouse look it. I call my mother and tell her to come over. I’m so fucking proud of this smelly little science experiment that everyone who graces our doorstep for the first month has to peek into the Carl’s little plastic tub and get a whiff of what he’s got going on. I, who am lousy at keeping things alive has an ancient sourdough culture bubbling and growing on the counter in my kitchen and there is somehow something hopeful in that.
[For the price of a self-addressed stamped-envelope. you can get your own bit of Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter through the "Friends of Carl".]
I’m walking alone in an unfamiliar neighborhood, pulling a child’s bicycle along beside me. I find Ash along the way, playing with some little girls. I turn over the bike, like I came specifically to deliver it, but Ash shoves the bike away and it clatters to the ground. Clenched jaw and defiant eyes. Oh yes, I know that look.
Like every mother ever, I grab an arm and pull my child away from the others. I hunch down until my face is level with Ash’s and I growl. “Look kiddo, in my real life, you’re dead. So I come all the way down here to spend time with you and THIS is how you’re gonna act?”
The odd thing is, I can’t remember what happened after that – if Ash responded, if the mad mood broke or if I realized how funny and sad it was to say such a thing to a child. Even a dead child. Even in a dream.
Intensely personal stories often illuminate universal truths. Writer and actor Jim Beaver’s memoir is one of those. In October 2003, his wife Cecily was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. In an effort to keep loved ones abreast of the situation, Jim began sending a nightly e-mail to 125 friends and family members. These messages, eventually reaching an audience of nearly 4,000 and spanning a year, are the basis of “Life’s That Way”.
Jim writes: “I’ve attempted to flood the path with light where I could, and where I could not I’ve wanted at least to hold up a candle so that others coming this way might not stumble too painfully.” And indeed he has. The first 1/3 of the book traces the course of Cecily’s illness, painting her so vividly that her death in early March is a punch in the gut, even to the reader who met her a mere 125 pages earlier.
The remaining 2/3 of “Life’s That Way” deals with the aftermath in a way that is immediate and intimate. Beaver continues the nightly e-mails, processing his experiences, sharing the struggle of raising a young daughter alone and mourning his beloved wife. “I will bear this grief. I will endure it. I will reach a point where it doesn’t kick me down an abyss whenever I turn my back on it.”
As someone who still deals with the abyss of grief on a daily basis, I found this beautiful book wrenching and yet somehow hopeful as Jim Beaver weaves wisdom and humor into his story and their lives. I recommend it highly, not only to those who have faced such grief but to anyone who someday might. As Beaver so pointedly writes: “Some kind of Providence keeps us blind to the intensity of suffering so as to keep us sane, until that day when the suffering is our own or that of someone we love beyond imagining.”
But taking this journey with Jim, Cecily and their daughter Maddie has made me more acutely aware of the necessity for life beyond the grief.
[You can find "Life's That Way" now on Amazon or GoodReads.]
When I was a kid, I got bit by two dogs. The first was a stranger’s beagle and the second, our own persnickety Irish Setter. After that, I became particularly shy with dogs and remained so for many years. A couple of boxers I met in the mid 90s started rehabing my relationship with the canine family and now, well I’ve got more dogs than I know what to do with. These days, I go out of my way to show children how not to startle dogs, how to hold out their hands for a sniff before petting, how to read wary body language and stay safe. So it is particularly embarrassing, this utterly stupid thing I did on Thursday night that landed me in the E/R and earned me eight stitches in my lip.
For the record, if you know that a dog is particularly protective over chewy treats because other dogs tend to sneak up and take them while said dog is sleeping, it would be best to NOT tuck a fresh treat in beside him after he’s already asleep and then lean in to kiss the top of his cute little head.
I don’t know which one of us was more horrified in that moment, just after.
I left the hospital with a stitched-up lip and an antibiotic that gave me full-on flu symptoms for four days. Fortunately, THAT bit is over, so it’s just me and my laced-up lip left to deal with. We didn’t cancel our Monterey trip on Friday and I’m so glad because it was good in spite of everything. The Mr. keeps trying to drag me out of the house and has been intermittently successful, but for the most part, I’m kinda keeping to myself until I don’t feel like Sally any more. As for the penitent pup, he’s curled up beside me just now and under house arrest at the behest of local law enforcement until Sunday night at which time he may get a walk but will NOT be kissed upon the head at bedtime.
Let sleeping dogs lie.
There’s a reason that’s a thing.
This is an open letter to the transphobic group Privacy for All Students which has been working overtime to repeal California’s new law protecting transgender kids in the schools:
I get it. You’re trying to protect your children from a perceived threat. Some of you are even willing to file false reports of transgender kids doing the things you imagine they’d want to do so you can get the ball rolling. I’ve lied to protect my child. I understand the urge. But the reality is that your children aren’t the ones in danger.
Our transgender children are routinely harassed, humiliated and violently violated by sweet little darlings like yours. Our transgender children are singled out, attacked and shunned by those good little boys and girls you’re raising to be ignorant, hateful and terrified of anything they don’t understand.
Your misplaced indignation and transphobic rhetoric is a real and present danger to our transgender children and your obsession with peeking over stalls honestly freaks us out to the point that we wish we could keep YOU out of the restrooms our children use. Quite honestly, you are the reason a law like this needed to exist in the first place.
Our transgender children deserve the right to use the restroom in which they feel safest, because they are subjected on a daily basis to small-minded, cold-hearted, bigoted little bastards like the ones you’re raising to be just like you.
one pissed off trans-parent