Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bring It Home

I used to know some little boys whose mother told me they thought China was Toyland because all the toys were made there. Well, the dream of cheap goods is starting to get a little gunky around the edges. Just read that China has shut down 180 of its factories because of the discovery that ”Formaldehyde, illegal dyes, and industrial wax were found being used to make candy, pickles, crackers and seafood”! Well, okaaay. That’s according to an official with the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, responsible for food safety. Not isolated incidences, they say. First melamine in the pet food, then antifreeze in the toothpaste and now... What more?

Even the quinessentially American Twinkie is outsourced, it turns out. (That’s a story to give you chills). I have to admit, I’m not surprised really. I’ve been suspicious of Made In China junk for years. Not only is there no knowing who made the stuff (prisoners, slaves, kids) but where are the safety regs? Metal stuff especially makes me wonder uneasily. I get creeped thinking about contaminated metal streams and bottom line priorities. That's probably our own hot stuff sitting pretty on Wal Mart shelves. I mean, how do we know otherwise? Assurances, please.

Not a pleasant line of thinking so I'll turn it around. This news just gives a nice push in a better direction. Local, local, local. Seems location matters in more than real estate. It makes me happy that we're growing food in our backyard, support our locally owned stores (Community Market, Copperfield's Books, Stanroy's, Western Farm, thrift shops, local boutiques and restaurants) but of course we could do better. We still don't go to the Farmer's Market and that's a big one. We still patronize Trader Joe's and when Yardbird's became Home Depot we hesitantly continued to shop there just because it's up the road as opposed to miles away (less fuel). So there's room for improvement, as always. Meanwhile, I'm grateful for red plums hanging over my back fence, homegrown tomatoes and this fertile Sonoma County.

Photo by Wetpaint Designs

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Annie Irmer

This one fascinates me. My great, great grandmother Annie Irmer, my Mom's Mom's Mom's Mom. It's easy to project into these old images but, my, she looks grim. Like she means business. Maybe just work worn. Who knows. She seems to have a grip on that unidentified towheaded boy. She's got those, well, they look like wide leg work pants on, her plaid shirt and sun hat. Like she's been or about to be busy out of doors. He looks uncomfortable, sort of half in half out of that frumpled white shirt. Unusual white stockings. Is it a special occasion? Is that a tie or maybe the strap of a bag. Is it the first day of school? Why was the picture taken? The two of them standing there in a leafy yard in front of the flowering yucca. Curious.

Passing Away

Looking up Barnes Road flooding during a heavy rain. My mom grew up in a house my grandpa build out on this road which is north of Santa Rosa and west of 101. I like Grandpa's perfectly hand lettered name on the mailbox (he was after all a sign painter by profession).


I haven't had much juice for blogging lately. Besides working daily in the studio, I've been steeping in personal history. The memorial stirred a lot of emotion as well as interest in the past. There have been boxes of old photographs in my folks house for a few weeks now and it's easy to start rummaging and ruminating when I come in from the heat. I have taken numerous "nab shots". I don't know why I call taking photos of photos by that term but I do. I guess it feels a little like stealing or cheating because it's just so quick and easy. Nab shots, whatever, are not ideal but still pretty great. When I'm sitting with dozens of poignant photos, original prints mostly with no negatives, I can't help wanting them. Some are very old and infinitely interesting. Almost all local shots. I've been gleaning tidbits from the Sonoma County Genealogy Society about some of my family history. This is the George Tyler Trowbridge clan (that's my great grandmother Alice, the pretty one sitting up on the wagon). George was a successful businessman, landowner and developer. So what's with the ratty chair? Ranch life, I suppose. There's more at my Flickr.

For Sylvia

Grandma's memorial was this Saturday past. Mom had asked if maybe I'd get up and read my blog post about her. I was torn because, as anyone who knows me would agree, public speaking is not one of my strong points. But this was my grandma and my Mom had asked me (she doesn't ask for much). I said I'd mull it over and I did. For days. I pretty much didn't want to read that particular piece and thought maybe something else would come. Well, come Friday evening....nothing. Mom said no pressure. OK. The next morning it came in full. I typed it out and did get up the nerve to read it at the podium. I barely did it, being choked up, nervous, eyes in a teary blur, but I did. Here's what I read:

When the sun fell that morning on your empty chair, I cried. Ancestors and guardian owls peered out from the niches in your room and spoke so silently. I felt all your things begin to whisper and hum a story, filling the space you left. Stray thoughts and memories, scattered back through the years, began to gather like birds to sing about you. I remember you, Grandma. Full and soft and strong, sometimes stern. Raising six children is work and, though I was the first grandchild, I was also one more in a long line of girls. Being underfoot at times is how I got to see you and know you, vigorous in life. The little joys of my childhood were probably no nonsense practicalities for you, just the necessities of running a large household. A self-serve gum drawer that smelled like cinnamon, a chalkboard in the washroom to draw on, the Little Garage stuffed with mysterious things, a pool, a hammock and at least six kinds of cereal to choose from in the morning. I remember your sure hands always doing. Peeling the Gravensteins into pie and crisp and sauce, the best. Rolling dough. Cookie cuts. Thumbprints and jam. At Christmastime the table groaned. Embroidering birds and flowers onto pillows and endless white linens. I still have the dishtowels you stitched us for our wedding 21 years ago, grayed and fraying but still beautiful to me. Hooked rugs, candlewicked runners and those glittering sequined calendars. Precious now, just because you fastened each shiny bit. I remember camping with you and Grandpa in the redwoods, hiking to the falls, screaming at the banana slugs, eating wood sorrel and making Jiffy Pop in the camper. Birthday cards, faithfully sent with your curving cursive, looped and graceful. Seeing you at my school, volunteering, first grade and feeling like I was home. That Halloween when you insisted I wear something (an orange Charlie Brown sweatshirt) over my Red Riding Hood costume because it was so bitter cold outside. I was mad but you were just looking out for me. I will always remember your softness. Your giggle. I liked it when you laughed and I tried to say amusing things to make you. You grew an enormous zucchini too tough to eat and I wrapped it in a blanket to be my baby for a week. That got a smile. I was smitten with your full-skirted square dancing dresses and was transported when you gave me one of your old ones complete with crinoline, a gift that was good for months of pretend. You were enamored of things fine and beautiful and really settled into enjoying them in your last years. Beautiful food, opals and pearls, handsome hats, a particular color of turquoise, these will always make me think of you. Grandpa painted and drew the redwoods but you planted fuchsias and drew the hummingbirds. I have a vision of you from some years ago, sitting in the backyard, in the sun, your blouse covered in a bright flowered print. Suddenly a hummingbird flew right up and hovered before you, heart high, contemplating you as a flower garden. You held you hands up, cupping the space he held. Just a few seconds and then he flitted away but I like to remember you that way, like a flower, bright and strong with a center of sweetness.

I love you, Grandma.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

OurMoney Fair

It's taken me a week to recover from the Harmony Fair. Strangely, it was difficult for a number of reasons. I hesitate to rant (law of attraction and all) but I was strangely affected. Dealing with a health issue that kept me in a steady state of physical discomfort colored my lenses, surely. With that in mind, I give myself some slack for writing the following:
Sometimes I just get so tired of commerce. I love energy exchange, the give and take pulse that charges us up but I felt more of the take and almost none of the give. My fire was not being kindled. The vibe sucked. Literally, it milked me. An incongruent materialism dominated. If you aren't into spending then you just aren't in. I definitely wasn't. A lot of my people didn't even go because of the prohibitive cost. At the gate a day pass was $37 adults/$20 kids age 6 to 12. Yow! In fact, I didn't see as many local folks at all. Who were all those people? The music was so loud that often I couldn't talk to my friends out on the grass, which has always been one of the key pleasures, hanging out with my community. We had to migrate to beyond the bathrooms to put a physical block between ourselves and the sound waves just to be able to hear each other. A lot of booze. Redundant imports. Too much cool. Not enough community. Bottom line was, I wasn't nourished by the experience and will have to contemplate long and hard about attending again. End rant.

The highlights were being inspired by some fellow artists at the Transformational Art Village, hanging out with dear friends, touching base with folks I hadn't seen in awhile, deep conversations about art, watching the kids play and seeing Ricki Lee Jones. Poetess, radical visionary and epitome of true cool she, who I've been listening to for over 25 years. It was great to see her live though the sound system screwed her over, fuzzing out her whimsical nuanced voice. Oh, well.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Grandma Sylvia

This morning, at a little after seven, Sylvia, mother of six daughters, grandmother and great grandmother to many more of us, passed away swiftly and peacefully at age 86. She had struggled with her heart and her bones these past months but was a lucid trooper 'til the end. She left many sad ones behind, family and friends old, new and dear. As many of the daughters as could (my aunts) gathered in her little apartment at Brighton Gardens among her curios and keepsakes, all which struck me suddenly as poignantly ephemeral and precious. I felt blessed to be among them to say goodbye. Grandma looked serene in the soft light and we all felt relieved that her pain was over at last. Still, it's hard to accept the finality of death. Her body that bore six beautiful women is now outgrown. She left its weight and became light. Her particular softness, strength and smile is no longer tangible in the physical world and that is true sadness. Worthy of grief. Only heart and memory and the faces of grandchildren now hold her. Her earthly story is ended. Secret dreams and struggles, unspoken experience, joys, pains and intimacies are lost to us. That ruthless severing is the sharpness of death but the brightness outweighs. She is free from pain. She lived a long and full life close to her family. She was loved and will be remembered by many. Lastly, I happen to believe she has gone to join up with her love, my Grandpa Albert and that's a happy thought. Reunion with the beloved is a good good thing.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Adopting Adaptogens

The hottest topic at The Herbal Symposium for me was adaptogens. The term was coined by Russian scientist Nikolai Lazarev during the 1940s while researching substances that produce a "state of nonspecific resistance (SNIR)". Seems the Cold War military wanted something to give their boys an edge. To qualify for the moniker a substance had to meet three criteria: 1) It had to be harmless 2) It had to increase broad spectrum resistance to stress 3) It had to have a normalizing effect on all system functions. Is there such a substance? Many, it turns out. And all natural, too.

There is a long list of herbal adaptogens but my first experience was with the humble rhodiola rosea. My friend Amy invited me over for some tea, a porch sit and a chat. We ate pineapple guavas and drank cupfuls of fragrant rhodiola tea. The most pleasant effects followed. I felt mentally alert and full of ideas. Everything was striking me as quite lovely. We talked for a good long time and then I practically danced home. I just felt so gently alive. It was reminiscent of the last vestiges of a psychedelic mushroom trip. High vibes. I thought maybe I wouldn't be able to sleep but indeed I did and deeply, too. This was all something because I tend to have bouts of insomnia (especially moon related) and I have always been a slowish sedentary type (I'm a zero without my java). Being hyper-sensitive, I cope by energetically holing up. What was that stuff?

Well, my other friend, Karen had the answer (herbalist she) Oh, rhodiola is one of the adaptogens, the herbs for our time. Rhodiola (or golden root) grows in barren high mountain environments and the cold regions of the world...Siberia, Arctic, Scandinavia. It has adapted and learned to thrive in the harshest conditions on Earth. The Vikings, the Sami and peoples of Siberia have used it to cope with these severities for centuries. Not surprising that this plant offers a gift to modern humanity with our unique "harsh conditions".

So rhodiola ranks up there with the many others, all with their particular qualities and subtle differences (warming, cooling, calming, stimulating, feeds the brain, the liver, etc.) so that anyone can find the perfect match. Here are some others we learned about in our outdoor classroom: ashwagandha, reishi, american ginseng, asian ginseng, bupleurum, bacopa, shatavari, coryceps, eleuthero, schisandra, gotu kola, holy basil, astragalus....the list goes on.

So, what's your adaptogen?

Photo: Rhodiola Rosea growing high in the Ural Mountains. Photo taken from the University of Lapland website.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Blue Moon June

Last night, beyond the unseasonal fog, rose a blue moon, meaning the second full moon to occur within a calendar month (this being the youngest definition though not the only). It is also an extra or thirteenth full moon to occur in a year (an occasional but inevitable event due to the discrepancy of solar and lunar cycles). A May moon for us Western time-zoners but if you live east of the Greenwich zone then you get a full blue moon in June. How poetic. Add it to the lyrical list of moon tags: wet moon, sturgeon moon, sugar moon, sap moon, cheshire crescent, waxing gibbous...on it goes. What to do with a full blue moon in June?