Glimmers please!

Monday, January 3rd

Dear friends & family,

Happy new year! A new year in this new world. I wish with all my heart for it to be a good one – for the coronavirus to become no more of a nuisance than the flu, for us to get our heads out of our asses (to paraphrase Ariana Grande in “Don’t Look Up”), and for hope to grow. It’s hard not to feel a wave of hopelessness wash over now and then, sometimes more often than that. Hoping for some glimmers in 2022!

That said, the five of us have stayed relatively safe, busy, and excited about the things in our lives since I last wrote in April. More than ever, I’m thankful that we live on top of a mountain, with plenty of room to run and scream and breathe, and with opportunities to sometimes forget about the rest of the world. Tristan, Phoebe, and I finished up their year of home schooling last Spring with lots of reading in front of the fireplace, early trips to the river for freezing cold swims, and our own homegrown ag curriculum. With enormous dedication and perseverance, Phoebe mastered the milking of Jolene, the goat whose babies she and Tristan delivered in April. Jolene was not particularly interested in being milked, but, with the help of Phoebe’s brothers, who designed creative distractions like playing guitar and doing umbrella dances in front of the stubborn doe, Phoebe procured many gallons of beautiful, rich milk. We made, and are still making from frozen milk, gobs of chevre. It is, by all accounts, delicious. (Sadly, Tomas-the-foodie refuses it, after having seen where it comes from.)

Spring (not wet enough) melted into Summer, and we planted our garden in new gopher-proof raised garden beds. (The gophers had won too many battles over the last few summers, so it was time for an overhaul.) Gary busted his behind to bring truckloads of horse poop and old hay to the new beds, and the garden was a roaring success, with an astonishing harvest of plump cherry tomatoes, delicata squash, green beans, corn, sugar pumpkins, parsley, and enough kale to feed a nation of vegetarians for a year. Phoebe planted flowers throughout her herb bed, and they exploded in colorful waterfalls that poured over the sides of the box. Our fruit trees also went berserk this year – the apricot tree was loaded with golden fruits, the plum kept on giving, and we had hundreds and hundreds of pounds of apples. The kids and I made jam, Gary brewed gallons of hard cider, I donated apples to the food bank, and our horses were thrilled to eat a slightly bruised apple with each meal for a couple of months.

We had some smoky days that got in the way of outdoor fun, but the smaller kids and I still fit in a lot of horseback riding and all of us had a good number of hot summer days at the river. We bought three goslings in May and spent the summer watching them grow, taking them out to graze in our orchard / garden, and learning their amazing gestures and calls. They greet us at every morning and every afternoon feeding with a complex routine that involves bowing their graceful necks, beating their huge, beautiful wings, and, of course, squawking and shrieking. They live with Phoebe’s bucks; known to be excellent livestock guardians, their job is to keep foxes and mountain lions away. Indeed, I can’t imagine any wild creature wanting to approach them when they are in full chorus. Tristan has come to be our chicken, duck, and goose-minder, and the geese absolutely love him.

During that brief pandemic pause in the summer, when numbers were down and it seemed safe to see friends, we had several sets of visitors, including my good friend from grad school Tanya and her niece Saysha, as well as our friends Peter and Laurel and their grandsons. Saysha rode horses with our kids, and Peter and Laurel’s grandkids enjoyed three nights in a tent with Tristan, giggling and wrestling til late at night. Tristan and his good pal Cassidy had a sleepover on our porch. When plans to camp in Lassen National Park with my friend Jackie and her girls were thwarted by wildfires that closed every route there, Phoebe, Tristan, and I instead enjoyed time at Jackie’s family cottage on the Van Duzen River.

A highlight of the summer was the arrival and set-up of a new tiny house, which we have perched in a quiet spot between the house and the stable where it overlooks the nearby coastal hills and, in the distance, the tippy tops of the Trinity Alps. Now we have room for guests (it’s tiny but has a loft and can sleep four), a place for kids having sleepovers to hang out without annoying siblings, and a quiet study spot for me. My parents visited in the Fall and took it for its maiden voyage; my father reported that it was quite excellent, which I was happy to hear, as he provided the loan to me that paid for it. I’m doubly happy to hear the good report, as getting it to our property and into place was a bit of a fiasco: the truck hauling the tiny house couldn’t clear some trees at the top of our drive (my fault, poor planning) and plugged up our driveway until our forester neighbor saved the day with his chainsaw. This delayed the final placement and leveling of the tiny home until nightfall, which induced great stress in the driver, a six-foot-four ex-Marine who was afraid of the dark, flying insects, and spiders. In the end, rather than driving down the mountain in the dark in his shiny new cherry-red truck, he drank a lot of vodka with us, spent the night on the couch, and left in the morning with a very big tip. So, to make the driver’s stress worth it, I hope you’ll all find a time to visit and stay in the tiny house!

Gary worked hard over the summer on his treehouse, a multi-year project that he has undertaken single-handedly. When you come to stay in the tiny house, you will see and appreciate from the tiny house deck how phenomenal this undertaking has been. Straddling two thick branches of a three hundred year-old pepperwood tree, the tree house is an architectural feat. With floating brackets that allow the house’s platform to move with the wind (which is no joke up here) and a hexagonal design, it’s AMAZING. I anticipate that Gary will soon move into the treehouse, I will move into the tiny home (we’ll wave to each other as we sip our morning coffee), and we’ll leave the house to our three children and the dogs. I should teach the kids how to cook and vacuum in anticipation of their imminent independence.

We lost Lucy the dog over the summer, which was particularly hard for Gary and me. We adopted Lucy, whose mother was a street dog in Jakarta, 16 years ago. We knew Lucy before we knew Tomas, and Lucy knew us when we were still young and relatively carefree. She was with us through all kinds of shit and through massive life changes – our car accident in Jakarta, having kids, moving to the US, having another kid, building our farm – and it was hard to see her go. She was ready though, and we all held her at the end and told her it was okay to leave us. Now we like to say that she is happily dumpster-diving in West Java again, her favorite activity when we lived in Bogor. (Kneeland was always sadly devoid of chicken bones and rotten food for sweet Lucy.) To honor her, Tristan re-wrote the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” to this new theme – it was something like “Lucy in the sky with dumpsters…”. He typed the whole thing out on his computer.

Tomas’ summer was…insane. He finished his Freshman year at Eureka High School with excellent grades and new friends made over the final few in-person months of school. His summer schedule was packed full of soccer events and camps that he was looking forward to. In July, he and I headed down to San Diego for a tournament he would play with his competitive team in Santa Rosa. We arrived early, with half a day to walk around the UC San Diego campus, which he loved. We bought the requisite hat. The next day the tournament began. Fifteen minutes before the end of the game, Tomas’ ankle connected with a mighty kick, meant for the ball, from an opponent. He played the rest of the game, but, as soon as he was off the field and his adrenaline began to ebb, the ankle started to hurt. Tomas couldn’t make it back to the car, and our carpool friends had to bring the car around for him. He said it was cramping and he needed a hot bath, so we went back to the hotel, but it wasn’t long before we were in the Scripps ER. The x-ray didn’t show anything, so Tomas was given a splint and a prescription for Norco and sent packing. The pain was tremendous and barely, if at all, touched by the Norco for well over a day. It did lessen enough by day 3 that Tomas felt he could go back to the fields to watch his team play their final games…but within half an hour of arriving on the sidelines the swelling began again and the pain was excruciating. Poor Tomas, who wants attention as much as he wants a hole in his head, had to be fireman-carried off the field, golf-carted to a car, and lifted into it. Back to the ER, where x-rays still showed nothing. Tomas was given a shot of Tramadol, a new splint, and sent packing again. I tried desperately to get the attention of the ER doctor and our nurse, to explain that Tomas’ level of pain was very real, not a play for attention, and was at a totally unacceptable level. They didn’t give a crap. “It’s gonna hurt,” the ER doc said as she turned away from me. I was reminded of a study that was published a few years ago about the solid statistical evidence demonstrating that people of color are not given the same amounts of pain meds that white people are given in hospitals. Gggrrrrrrrrr.

Tomas and I spent another three days in the hotel room, Tomas struggling through the pain, until he was well enough to fly home with crutches and airport wheelchairs and the whole deal. Eventually, multiple MRIs showed a break through the growth plate of his tibia, as well as a badly bruised talus. The swelling and the distribution of bleeding looked so weird to our local orthopedist that he sent us to consult the oncologists at UCSF. You can imagine how fun that was for Gary and me. Fortunately, unlike most folks, I have my own personal family pediatric oncologist on speed dial; the absolutely amazing love-him-to-death Dr Sabnis got us right in with all the right doctors, who quickly put us at ease, both about cancer and about the fractured growth plate. Long story short, Tomas was on crutches for over a month, and then slowly and carefully eased back into walking, then jogging, then, finally, hitting the field again. He went to every practice and every game of his Eureka High School soccer team, helping his coaches on the sideline and cheering for his teammates. Mid-season, he began to play again, carefully, slowly working his way back to full speed. His coaches noticed his dedication and his skill, even at half speed; at the end of the season, Tomas was awarded All County, an unusual honor for a Sophomore. Tomas was very surprised and pleased – he deserved it.

Here’s the really crazy part of the story: Tomas was scheduled to fly to Spain a couple of weeks after the injury to spend two weeks in August with his friend Alex and the Brickle family. The Brickles were neighbors of ours in Bogor – Nick and I worked together at the Wildlife Conservation Society and Anna taught at an international school in Jakarta. Alex and Tomas are the same age and have been friends since they were babies. The Brickles now live in Madrid. Somehow, by some miracle, and with a delay of only a few days, Tomas still made the trip. It never occurred to him not to go. All alone, on crutches, off he went. He even weathered a 24-hour delay in the Newark (the NEWARK!) airport, poor guy. Now, a 24-hour layover in the Singapore airport could have been quite fun, as Tomas knows (movie theaters, laksa and satay, swimming pools, and shopping-lah), but Newark sucks! In Spain, the Brickles adjusted their plans, scrapped the hikes, scheduled in more tapas, and gave Tomas the ground-floor room in the beachside villa they rented in the North. Tomas, though wishing he wasn’t on crutches, had a marvelous time. The kid loves to travel, and he feels like he belongs in beachside villas.

Tomas just completed his first semester of Sophomore year, and Phoebe and Tristan both started at new schools this year. Phoebe is in the sixth grade down in town at St Bernard’s, where she is co-Class President with an opponent with whom she tied in the 13-person class vote (complicated, I know), an enthusiastic participant in Drama Club, and about to begin rehearsals for a play in which she got a part. She loves the school, is happy for the things a bigger school is bringing to her, and is making new friends. Tristan is in the third grade at Garfield School, a little red schoolhouse at the foot of the mountain. It’s a small school, but bigger than Kneeland School. He loves his teacher and is outrageously happy to be in a class of 24 second and third graders. Both kids couldn’t wait to get back to school today after the Christmas break. Tomas is working hard, with an AP class and two Honors classes. He just completed his online driver’s education course and will soon get his learner’s permit. The joy and freedom of having a car and driving is a bright star ahead for him.

Today I had my first quiet day alone in two weeks, and my first quiet day alone with NO studying to do in five months. I just finished my first semester of nursing school at our local junior college. It was an enormous amount of work and had its moments of frustration, but I loved it. I’m thrilled by learning the physiology, and I enjoyed the eight weeks of clinicals we had in the hospital during the latter part of the semester. Each of those weeks, we spent two days in the hospital caring for only one patient, a luxury I know I won’t have again. Each patient had a story worth hearing and worth telling; most of the stories weren’t very pretty. Four of the eight were diabetic, three were meth users, some were both. I’m glad I met every one of them. On the rosier side, my clinicals cohort was a group of ten women, including a very pregnant pastry chef who curses like a sailor, two cannabis trimmers, and a doula, and one guy, and they were all fabulous. I made particularly close friends with a woman who has a Masters in psychology and who hopes to be a mental health nurse; each week Kelly eagerly snapped up the patients with dementia or who were in alcohol withdrawal, while the rest of us squabbled for nasty wounds and unexplained bleeding. Kelly’s got kids exactly Phoebe and Tristan’s ages, and we made a habit of meeting to study in a cafe while the kids drank cocoa and played games at another table. I’m looking forward to next semester, and even more to starting work after I finish the program.

I love the photo below. In it, I have just finished the physically-challenging and sweat-inducing task of applying compression stockings to the legs of Ryan, the sole male in my group, with the aid of talcum powder produced circa 1975. Those things are damned hard to get onto oneself, and almost impossible to apply to someone else. We were in hysterics. Fortunately, it’s not all compression stockings and changing sheets – in a couple of weeks we’ll begin learning some fun stuff like IVs and lectures will include things like the body’s acid-base balance, which is incredibly cool. I recommend the topic for anyone looking for good reading in 2022!

Finally, just a few words on Christmas: it was very, very loud and included wonderful food. We spent three nights in San Francisco. On the first, the grown-ups plus Tomas-the-foodie attended my 50th birthday dinner, which Chris organized at an AMAZING restaurant in Bernal Heights. We all dressed up for it, which meant for me a trip to Ross, where I found a fake-mink-trimmed black cloak that was perfect for the occasion. Tomas was very handsome in a sports coat and batik shirt, Agi was glamourous in pearls, and Nagypapa wore suspenders. The following day Agi took the kids to the Nutcracker with her cousin Michelle and her twins. Chris and Agi also treated us to the Lego sculpture show, which was terrific, a strangely emotional experience with sculptures entitled “Despair” and other very un-Legolike themes. Christmas Eve was a madhouse of kids and wrapping paper and Felix with a blossoming ear infection. I think it wasn’t fabulous for Feli, but the rest of us had a ball.

We came home on Christmas Day, spent the evening with Gary’s mom, and had 15 inches of snow dumped on us over the next two days. Now, with steady rain in the forecast for the next week, we start the new year. None of us has Omicron, all three kids are vaccinated, Gary and I are boosterized. Onward!

And more photos…

10 thoughts on “Glimmers please!

  1. Toni, loved the wonderful photos of you and your gang, loved the interesting, funny, and hopeful stories of you and your exceptional family! Thanks for keeping us in the loop and sharing all your dreams. Good luck and enjoy a Happy and Healthy 2022! Lots of love, the whole van Raalte clan.


  2. To think we are only a short walk away and yet our lives are on such different paths. It’s wonderful to read and see highlights of what’s going on in your lives. Thanks for sharing. Let’s find time in 2022 to connect!


  3. Great to be able to see these photos and how the kids (and your gardens!!) are growing. Quite a nice window to peek through…on a chilly gray Brooklyn day. A belated happy birthday and happy new year to all of you!


  4. Brilliant and beautiful peek into your family life- your descriptions of each are remarkable and thoughtful of their individual successes in the face of a challenging year. I’m so lucky to have intertwined stories with you and am grateful to have more time to know you all.


  5. It is such a pleasure to read your “ mommy” reports!

    It is also a pleasure to be part of your family’s life.

    Till death do us part! Ham. Ha

    Love. Peter

    Sent from my iPad



  6. What an amazing update…what a beautiful situation you and Gary have created up there, I absolutely loved seeing all these photos, how much the kids are thriving (in these insane times, that is such a feat! thank god for outdoor living) and jesus that chevre are you kidding me??!?! Happy belated 50th – you look terrific! An exciting career change too – it feels right.


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