Stranded in comfort

Tuesday, November 26th

Ugh, this is horrible. I’m stranded in Colorado, where a huge snow last night drifted into piles four feet high. There’s no way out, so I’ve been forced to sit in front of my friend Tanya’s fireplace, sipping a mug of hot Earl Grey tea and tapping away on my laptop. Gary, who has all the luck, is at home for the Thanksgiving break with all three kids, while I suffer here, eating three different delicious soups that Tanya prepared before my arrival, sleeping on lovely cream-colored flannel sheets, and playing Scrabble with my friends. I just wish I had something to vacuum, some laundry to fold, some lab practicals to grade.


Yes, I’m kidding about the suffering. This is a delightful place to be stuck, with gorgeous views of the snowy High Plains visible from every window, Tanya’s herd of horses in colorful blankets chewing their hay in the nearby field, and a gigantic flock of rosy finches eating happily from the feeders that Kevin, Tanya’s husband, just refilled. The only suffering I’ve really endured was this morning, when Tanya and I dressed in 19 layers and hiked two miles through deep drifts to feed a neighbor’s alpacas after the neighbor was stuck in town last night. That was hard work, and I’m not so good at breathing at 7300 feet elevation. The alpacas seemed grateful though.

Although there is a phenomenal amount of snow on the ground, the prediction is that the driveway and roads and airport will all be plowed out by the time I fly home tomorrow night to join Gary and the kids for Thanksgiving Day. In the meantime, there’s time to write! I know it’s been ages, but life has been full and very busy…

Although the summer on the mountain was strangely cool and we spent less time at the river than most summers, it was filled with fun stuff and some exciting adventures. For me, at the top of the list was Camp Okizu – this past summer, for the first time, all three kids attended the free, gorgeous, amazing cancer camp in the hilly pine forests south of Chico. Tomas, who went once before for a Siblings session, happily went again, this time joined by Phoebe and by a soccer friend whose little sister had recently been diagnosed with a scary sarcoma. The following week, Tristan went for the first time to the Oncology kids session. And I, bolstered by audiobooks for the six-hour trip, drove the 299 and 5 to Oroville no fewer than three times to deliver and pick up kids. All three had a great time – Okizu truly is a wonderful place. I think of it as a sort of Hogwart’s; you can’t be an ordinary muggle to go there, and it is truly magical.


The summer was also filled with lots of horseback riding. Both Tristan and Phoebe are becoming more comfortable on my mare, Bella, and they rode often. Phoebe is now trotting about on her own, and Tristan likes to be led, sometimes down our long drive and into the neighbor’s woods. (Tomas prefers to kick a soccer ball!)


I rode frequently, as well, and invested in a pair of horse boots for Bella’s forefeet that allow us to gallop bits of the logging switchbacks and the field below our property. Bella seems to love it, and all the riding at home helped me to get ready for my first ever endurance ride. In July I joined my friend Tanya (with whom I am currently stranded) in Colorado to ride the Spanish Peaks 25-miler on one of her horses, a half Arab, half Quarterhorse rescue mare. It was an enormous thrill! So enormous, in fact, that Tanya and I have applied and have been accepted to ride the Gobi Gallop, a 400-mile endurance ride on Mongolian horses across the Gobi Desert. We’ve both got this and that going on over the next couple of summers, so we will do this mega-ride in 2022.

Despite the cold, yesterday Tanya and I fit in a ride near her place before the snow started. I dressed like an Arctic ninja to avoid freezing to death.

Phoebe, Tristan, and I have gone in diverging directions with karate. In the late Spring, Phoebe tested for her beginning green belt and then decided to “take a break”. It may, indeed, not be her sport. I continued through the summer, tested for my green belt, worked on my brown belt into the fall, and then decided that I, too, needed a break. I have found it a relief to not be away from home and the kids for the two nights a week when the adult classes are held. Tristan, on the other hand, absolutely loves it, and he shows impressive focus for a seven year-old when he’s on the mats. He recently tested for his advanced purple belt. I think it’s a good sport for him and hope he continues.

Although the summer was cool, our garden did pretty well. I grew arugula, broccoli, lettuce, snap peas, cabbages, cucumbers, and enough kale to feed a small village. The pocket gophers, however, commenced a siege on my bush beans and tomatoes, cruelly waiting until the plants were heavy with unripe fruits and pods before felling them from the base. Phoebe and Tristan had a whole garden bed to themselves, which they filled with pumpkins and a beautiful chaos of flowers. In addition to the garden, it was a bumper year for both our native blackberries and the introduced Himalayan variety. We stuffed ourselves standing at the bushes, and we picked berries for pies until our hands were stained purple and our wrists were crisscrossed with scratches.

Fall brought a windfall of apples, the first after many years of frostbitten blossoms. We had four trees, of four varieties, all loaded heavily with plump fruits. Gary bought an apple crusher and his mother happily handed over a press that his father used years ago to squish wine grapes. We made delicious, tart apple juice, in which my father overindulged at one point (who drinks a pint of apple juice in one go?!). I boiled gigantic pot after gigantic pot of apple chunks and cinnamon sticks and mashed them through a chinois to make applesauce, which Tristan adores. My only regret is that I still haven’t learned to make hard cider – this would have been the year to launch a Kneeland line!


Fall also brought soccer season, which was a delight because all three kids enjoyed it so much and because I love the sunny Saturday mornings at the fields down in Eureka. Tristan and Phoebe both played in the local league, and both played goalie for their teams and loved it. Tomas continued to play on his competitive travel team in a boys’ league. His “boys” team is fully half girls. Tough, gorgeous, athletic girls who don’t take shit from anyone, and one of whom plays goalie. These girls pop right up after being knocked down by their male opponents on all-boy teams, and they score goals, and they are equals with Tomas and the other boys. Although living in Humboldt County means that our kids don’t have many of the perks, in athletics and in other areas, that the Santa Rosa and Bay Area kids have, I truly believe that playing on a co-ed team in a boys’ league at this level will have positive effects on how Tomas and his male teammates view and treat women. I’m very proud of Tomas and the guys on his team.

In addition to playing on this team, over the fall Tomas also tried out for Northern California’s Olympic Development Program…and he made it. ODP is a feeder program for national and Olympic teams. Tomas will have practices every few weeks near Davis and games in California and in other states, as well. Yes, it sounds like a logistical nightmare, but Tomas works so hard, is so self-motivated, and was so sincerely happy when we showed him his name on the list of the 30 boys from all of the north down through the Bay Area and Santa Rosa who made it – it’s worth it. I love that kid.


Fall also brought another trip to Camp Okizu, this time for Family Camp. Gary was travelling, so the kids and I hit the 299 again and spent the weekend with my friend Susan and her family at the camp. Susan’s son Noah, I’m happy to write, is doing very well after receiving several rounds of Car-T immunotherapy. Noah and Tristan were two peas in a pod, and Phoebe and Maisie had loads of fun together. They even hit the ropes course, and Susan and I were blown away by our brave little girls, who fearlessly climbed ridiculously high into trees and swung down on their harnesses. I loved meeting other parents who’ve been through similar fun times in the world of childhood cancer and hearing what they’ve done to get through: there was a dad who began playing Masters level competitive ultimate frisbee; an actress who shifted gears and is just finishing nursing school; and a nurse mom who lauded the medicinal and emotional benefits of red wine. I get them all, each of these folks and their strategies for coping.

Halloween was a blast. Phoebe, Tristan, and I were thick in the middle of the Harry Potter series (thank you, Audible Audiobooks!), and Tristan elected to dress as a Dementor. I found a ragged black cloak for him in a thrift shop and smeared his face and hands with ashes from our woodstove – he was terrifying. Phoebe chose to go as Heidi from the Swiss Alps. She dressed in perfect Heidi gear, also from Thrift, and took her goat, which may have been the most successful Halloween prop ever. Its little bell jingling, the doe followed her and Tristan up the stairs of every house in Freshwater, a sweet little town at the base of our mountain. The candy-givers were too besotted with the tiny grey and black goat to complain when Baby Girl nibbled their nasturtiums and uprooted potted plants on their porches. Tomas has expressed a negative interest in Halloween since he was tiny, and he happily sat this one out, too.

Through the fall semester I have been teaching a Mammalogy lab at Humboldt State. This is the fourth time around, and it has become wonderfully easy. I simply pick up my notebook from last semester, when I really pulled all the material together, give it a quick glance before class, and head on in to teach. I really enjoy it. I’ve also been taking a speaking class at the local junior college. It has not been a fantastic class – the professor is about to retire and doesn’t give a doodoo – but I’ve enjoyed creating each of the presentations. Among others, I did one on mammalian anatomical adaptations that are convergent in very different mammalian evolutionary lineages, and another on the advantages of raising your children to be bilingual (which I haven’t done, so no higher ground here). Did you know that bilinguals and multilinguals show signs of Alzheimer’s years later than monolinguals?

Tristan and I are down to UCSF visits every three months. He is crazy tall, is doing second grade math (he’s in 1st), has learned to read, and is very healthy. The only concern, which his doctors assure me is a very minor one, is that his iron is low, so I’ve been cooking lots of broccoli and beef chili and steak. I’m happy that, in this long blog entry, only a few sentences are devoted to Tristan’s health!

And more pictures…




2 thoughts on “Stranded in comfort

  1. Toni, I am so glad that you are stuck in the snow (poor baby, ha, ha!) but thank goodness you decided to send your fantastic, newsy blog and all those wonderful photos of you and your great family. I am ALWAYS blown away with the way you write and tell your story. Thanks so much!!!
    Andree, John and family


    1. Toni, I am so glad you are stuck in the snow (you poor baby, ha ha ) but thank goodness you decided to !
      send your fantastic, newsy blog and all those wonderful photos of you and your great family. I am ALWAYS blown away with the way you write and tell your story. Thank you so much!!!!
      Andree, John, & family


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