2020: The year of tipping points

​Sunday, October 4th​​

“Well,” Gary said, “this year hasn’t been what I expected.” Um, yeah. While in the back of his mind he was referring to the general clusterfuck of disasters brought by 2020, he was at the moment speaking directly to the specific disaster-of-the-day: our realization that the solar system we just finished installing over the summer doesn’t power us during PG&E outages that coincide with days when the sky is orange-purple with thick wildfire smoke. Go figure! The outages, we predicted. No sunlight at midday, we did not.

Indeed, this year is full of big surprises, a Spirograph (remember those?) of intersecting disasters and unexpected life changes. We’ve all listed them by now with awe and concern: the current presidency and the looming election (with Trump’s new Covid infection twist); racial unrest; the crumbling economy; the burning of California, smoke so thick on our mountain that we’re stuck inside for days at a time; and the stinking pandemic, making life so damned WEIRD. No hugs for friends, masks everywhere, six foot spacers and one-way aisles in the grocery store.

Our family’s newest big surprise is this: I’m now homeschooling Tristan and Phoebe. I don’t mean distance learning with our school. I don’t mean Zooming with their teachers. I mean real, honest-to-god homeschooling. I NEVER imagined I’d be doing this. I grew up having the fairly mean misconception that homeschooled kids wore potato sacks, had long greasy hair, and were pretty weird. These days that image has melted away, and I know plenty of homeschooled kids who are neither badly socialized nor badly dressed, but I still never figured I’d have my own.

We lasted three days this year at our tiny school on the mountain, which is able to be open in person thanks to its small numbers. After that, for a combination of both pandemic-related reasons and others entirely unrelated to Covid, I realized that it was time to leave the school. (It wasn’t the first time I’d had the thought, and suddenly we had reached the tipping point. I’m guessing the global monthly average of tipping points has risen sharply during the pandemic.) Gary and I have been big fans and devoted supporters of our tiny school for almost ten years, and I was really upset about how things went pear-shaped at the end. I called several other moms of families who chose to leave the school over the last few years, including one who had moved on to homeschooling. The women I talked with gave me wonderful support and the consolation I was looking for, as well as advice on how to start homeschooling. I filed the State’s private school affidavit (which enables one to homeschool by opening a “private school”; the kids named our school Happy Raven Homeschool, despite my push for the decidedly less granola-toned Treeline Farm Homeschool), and early the next week, after a weekend visit to Oma and Nagypapa full of beachcombing, we were up and running.

Yes, of course there was heartbreak for the kids. They love the school, and they love their wonderful friends. But staying at the school was impossible. I really struggled with this, but I finally realized that there was nothing I could say or do that would take away the pain the kids would feel, other than to make our Happy Raven fabulous and arrange as many outdoor play dates with the kids’ friends as possible.

To my great surprise and delight…homeschooling is wonderful! I absolutely love it, and the kids are happy. I love the flexibility. All of the State content standards are accessible online, and I know what both Phoebe and Tristan are supposed to cover this year…but WE get to decide how to do it!

Math seems to be the one area where there’s a need to be at a particular, concrete place at the end of the school year. The kids​’​ math workbooks were easy to get, and I figured out how many lessons we need to do a week to finish the grade level by the end of the year. Tristan is a full grade level ahead already in math, which pretty much takes any stress off. He’s one of those lucky kids whose brain is simply wired to do math, and he literally does math in his head that I have to do on paper, sometimes faster than I do it on paper. In addition to the State-endorsed books, I found a whole math workbook online that is entirely focused on food and cooking – Phoebe is delighted with it! Anyone who loves cooking as much as she does is only too willing to multiply fractions to double or triple a recipe. Tristan likes it, too, and was happy the other day to fill out a party-planning worksheet listing the food items he will serve and calculating the total cost of the menu.

Phoebe’s love of cooking inspired an integrated, multi-subject project for both kids: I pulled out all of my cookbooks, had both kids hunt for a recipe they wanted to try, took them to the grocery store with clipboards, had them find the ingredients and calculate the total cost, and brought them home to cook. Tristan, who loves fruit and is also very efficient at keeping things simple, chose a Finnish fruit smoothie that had only three ingredients. Phoebe made churros. Both dishes were delicious! Over the following week, the kids researched the countries of their recipes – Finland and Mexico – and then created travel brochures, complete with colorful photos and fancy fonts (with some help from me on formatting). Tristan and I were especially thrilled to learn about the 5:2 ratio of Fins to saunas and the Finnish tradition of “wife-carrying”, an annual obstacle course race in which men carry their wives slung from their shoulders and over their backs; we’re planning a post-pandemic trip just to see it. Phoebe’s brochure was bursting with color and featured chihuahuas, quinceañeras, and The Day of the Dead.

Language Arts are easy to cover. Both kids started writing novels about dragons this summer and are happy to work on them whenever given a chance, and they are both doing lots of writing in other subjects; spelling words and handwriting practice just spill out of these. Phoebe is reading the Wings of Fire series and Tristan is working his way through the Calvin Coconut books.

For Social Studies, inspired by The 1619 Project, I’m reading out loud to the kids An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and we’re jumping around National Geographic’s Atlas of Indian Nations. I’m learning so much and want so badly for the kids to understand much earlier than I did how this country was born and how so much of what we’re seeing right now is related to its historical treatment of Native Americans and Blacks. As I read them the Introduction of Dunbar-Ortiz’s book the other day, the kids were both enthralled and horrified, and they kept drawing parallels between the treatment of Native Americans and the many conflicts among dragon tribes in the Wings of Fire series (which is full of metaphors for human atrocities and their associated psychological traumas). I think we’ll turn that into a writing project for Phoebe. Honestly, it could be a PhD: Genocide of the Leafwings, Enslavement of the Silkwings, and Appropriation of Rainwing Territory by Nightwings in Tui T Sutherland’s Wings of Fire as Metaphors for the Settlement and Development of the United States. Or, Psychological Trauma in Wings of Fire: PTSD in Dragonet Veteran Soldiers of the War of Sandwing Succession With a Focus on the Cases of Sora, Icicle, Carnelian, and Flame.

Geography is much more fun than I remember it being. I think we did very little of it outside of US states, really. The fifth grade CA content standards require the kids to memorize the US states on the map and learn their capitals. While I think that memorizing state capitals is a really stupid requirement, we’ve been having fun making a game of it (I’m almost there!), and learning the states has lead to all kinds of fun; I discovered a website (Seterra) that has dozens, maybe hundreds, of map quizzes. Tristan is obsessed – he learned the states in under a week and is on to Asia now. Phoebe is not quite as inspired by maps, but she likes the map games as well. Honestly, I don’t care if she doesn’t learn all the states. I can’t break 86% on the quiz myself because the sea of unidentifiable Midwestern states and all those tiny Eastern states are baffling. Who decided to make Vermont and New Hampshire upside down identicals of each other? But, I love that she’s picking up one or two every time she plays and I know she will develop a general and useful sense of the map from the exercise. Also, we hung a giant world map in the stairwell and are pasting colorful labels on places of interest that come up; of course, Hungary, Italy, Indonesia, Singapore, Finland, and Mexico are already labeled. Just arrived in the mail is a map to Native American language groups that we’ll hang next to it.

The kids requested to learn Bahasa Indonesia, so a few times a week we sit in the living room while I write words like anjing, kambing, suka, mau, lapar, and pergi on a whiteboard and the kids make up silly sentences about how much they love goats or about being hungry for lunch.

Science is enormously fun. I can find gobs of short lessons online, and I love finding things to teach that I know nothing about so I can learn something new; last week we dabbled in Earth Science and plate tectonics. I’m clueless about Astronomy, so that’s in our future plans, as well.

But of all, Biology is the best. We began our first day of homeschool with a drive to the coast to go tidepooling. Both kids were absolutely delighted at the hermit crabs and starfish and anemones and explosion of green and pink seaweeds. We made bar graphs of sea creatures we counted in one tide pool and came home to make tidepool art out of patterned scrapbook paper. On another outing, we hiked in our woods to look for owl pellets, hoping to identify mouse and vole species eaten by the owls. Alas, we didn’t find any pellets that day but were thrilled with the pile of deer and cow bones we collected. Treasures, to Tristan. We went to the zoo with clipboards and worksheets I had made and learned Linnaean taxonomy, performed animal observations, and make sketches of some critters. We dove into the human body with lessons so far on the digestive, circulatory, and respiratory systems. (Next: the immune system.) The digestive system inspired a comparative anatomy art project in which Tristan diagrammed the guts of a chicken in colored pencil, Phoebe cut and pasted out of patterned paper the (amazingly complicated!) digestive system of a goat, and I took on the human digestive system. We’ve started learning about ecosystems – Tristan went to the lowlands to focus on savanna while Phoebe climbed the Andean peaks to learn about cloud forest – and about keystone species found in those ecosystems. Tomorrow we’re heading (literally) to the coastal redwoods to talk about ecosystem roles and to find examples of producers, decomposers, scavengers, and consumers. And on Friday, when the tide chart tells us that low tide will be at the perfect time of 11am, we’ll hit the tidepools again to see if anything has changed in a month. There is simply no end to the excitement and fun of spinning one Science project off into another – I​’m really enjoying it.​

Each day is intense and fun. Phoebe and Tristan sleep as long as they need to, eat breakfast, and then we start learning. We work hard, and then we’re done and, if it’s not smoky, we go ride the horses. We do not do school for six hours a day. Also, when the kids have had enough of one thing, we do another, or we’re simply done. I love the flexibility in timing, and the flexibility on what we chose to study. I love that I am learning, really for the first time, how my kids learn best, and what doesn’t work for them, how to make this the best possible experience for them. I love that I am figuring out how to help Phoebe rebuild the confidence in math she lost last year. She is a smart kid, but she gets frustrated and flustered when she doesn’t understand something right away, or when math is boring and she doesn’t understand why she needs to learn a particular thing. I was so excited last week when I figured out that if I turned the boring word problems about lengths of wood and the weight of coins into ones about goats or about cooking, she had no trouble doing them. I love Tristan’s eagerness to learn, and I love that I can always give him more when he wants more. And, best of all, Phoebe and Tristan are happy and like how we’re doing things.

I don’t know what will happen next year. I have Tristan and Phoebe on the waitlists of two out-of-district schools where they may be able to go if school is back in-person. If not, I really don’t want them sitting on Zoom doing remote learning. They don’t want that either. I’m still hoping to start nursing school. We might need to hire someone to help them through homeschooling three days a week while I’m at school myself, if the schools are still doing distance learning.

Tomas. Poor Tomas. To be 14 and stuck at home with your mom and much younger siblings. He’s on Google Classroom five hours a day, five days a week. I feel sorry for him, but he’s doing great. He’s very self-motivated. Every day, he gets himself up, fed, showered (he has to make his hair perfect before class), and onto his computer. He pops downstairs for lunch, then back up to his room again. His grades are great. Best of all, every once in a while he asks me for help on Algebra, which I love. Soccer has been up and down, with local air quality frequently too poor to allow for outdoor sports, and with Santa Rosa fires making travel down there dangerous and often axing those practices. Once or twice ​a​ week he’ll have friends over, either Noah to play soccer or Elisha to strum guitars and make music in the outbuilding where Gary set up drums, a keyboard, and a sound system. Tomas isn’t overjoyed with the current situation, but he’s hanging in there. This weekend he’s rearranging his room (which is truly un-rearrangeable) to stir things up a bit in the place where he now spends most of his time. Ugh, poor kid.

A sad note: a couple of weeks ago, Camp Okizu, the AMAZING, free, beautiful camp near Oroville for pediatric cancer patients and their siblings, burned to the ground along with the neighboring town of Berry Creek. All three of my kids love Okizu, and I really like the family camps I’ve gone to. All three were meant to go this past summer, but didn’t because Covid prevented the camps from happening. All three were sad to hear that it’s gone, and Tomas was stunned at the post-fire photos we saw in a CNN clip. Camp Okizu and Family House, the non-profit that works alongside UCSF to house families of pediatric patients, have the best fundraisers in the universe, so I’m sure they’ll rebuild. Nevertheless, it’s devastating that it went up in flames.

And finally, a bit of birthday news: last week, Tristan turned eight. He had a birthday cake with an 8-shaped snake on it. One of his best friends, Ora, and her family came over to celebrate, along with Noni, Gary’s sister Tina, the kids’ cousin Olivia, and her partner Abby. We prepared pizzas on a picnic table and passed them indoors to Gary to bake in our pizza oven. Tristan was thrilled with the whole thing, and I was enormously pleased that we managed to pull off a pandemic birthday party. Poor Phoebe and Tomas might not be so lucky, as February and March are positively dreary up here and outdoor birthdays will be tough. Of course, who knows what February and March will look like. “Expect the unexpected” is a particularly scary thought these days, as my range of “unexpected” is now considerably wider than it was seven months ago.

More photos…

Summer fun in the pre-apocalypse

Tuesday, September 1st

Woah. I’m alone at home, maybe for the first time since early March. It feels pretty good! Good enough that I’m tempted to nap here on our outdoor couch, in the shade under the walnut trees. Nap or write, write or nap…? Maybe write, then nap. There’s much to tell.

I last wrote in the Spring, as the kids and I were immersed in both the Humboldt fog and home-schooling. And now, Summer has ended, the kids are back in school, sort of, and the break was totally full of events and adventures and stories, despite the cancellation of absolutely everything.

The kids finished up school during the lockdown just fine, really. Tristan and Phoebe had lots of fun and creative take-home projects from school, and we organized many outdoor play dates, usually on the tarmac of our local tiny airport, to ensure that they didn’t suffer socially. Phoebe made her fourth grade honor roll for three trimesters of excellent work. Tomas went about his online schooling totally independently. Apparently his parents’ negligence in overseeing his work was no biggie – he was named salutatorian of his eight grade class. We attended a belated, mid-summer graduation at St Bernard’s, where the masked graduates sat far apart and the audience was seated in family clusters separated by lots of lawn. Tomas was presented awards for being one of the top students in four subjects. He, too, continued to see one of his best pals, Elisha, for regular biking and skateboarding dates up at the rarely-used Kneeland Airport. Only once, in all of these airport play dates, did the parents have to grab their lawn chairs, round up the kids, and sprint off the runway to allow a helicopter to land.

Summer was definitely not what we had planned, but…maybe it was even better? By early last Spring, the June-July-August calendar was chockablock with plans involving long drives all over California, different kids in different places for a week or two at a time, and even an international trip for Tomas. None of that happened, of course. Instead, the summer was filled with trips, dozens of them, once four days in a row, to our local swimming hole on the Mad River. It was delightful, and reminded me of all the summer days spent at Princeton’s Community Park Swimming Pool when I was a kid – but better, because it’s a river. We often met friends there, and usually took snacks or a lunch. Tristan and Phoebe became strong swimmers, paddling across the river or diving for toys that I’d toss into the water for them. Phoebe’s sweet little Quarter Horse filly came back from the trainer ready and willing and cooperative, and Phoebe, Tristan, and I did dozens of rides together, often with Tristan behind me on my mare. Phoebe and I signed up to ride a virtual Tevis cup, with the promise of t-shirts and stickers upon completion. The “real” Tevis cup is a 100-mile, one-day endurance race ridden every year in California. It won’t be run this year, thanks to corona, but has been replaced by the virtual one – 100 miles in 100 days. We’ve ridden about 30 so far, nice and slow, and it’s been a great way for both Phoebe and her young horse to gain experience.

Tomas often comes along on his mountain bike when we ride; he is not interested in horses at all, showing instead a growing interest in skateboards and bikes. He sometimes joined us at the river for our summer swims, but, in his new, teenage form, he seems to be suffering from the perception that his family is indescribably humiliating. He often declines to join, choosing instead to bike, or work on his bike trail, or train for soccer, or teach himself guitar and ukulele. He is incredibly self-driven. I definitely wasn’t like that at 14, and I’m sort of in awe of him.

Tomas’ summer also included some soccer in a surprise turn of events that really might have saved the vacation for him. Reflecting, I think, a general confusion about state mandates governing youth sports during the pandemic, while Tomas’ local soccer club was not practicing together all Spring and Summer, an elite competitive team in Santa Rosa got county-level permission to do so. Tomas tried out for the team (all in socially-distanced, no-contact tryouts), and was invited to join after just a couple of practices. Gary and I took turns driving him the four hours to practices; while Gary drove Tomas home late at night afterward, I took whichever kids I’d brought along to visit my parents for the night in San Francisco after each practice. The coach is truly excellent and Tomas loves the team. It’s not clear whether they will ever, any time soon, get permission to really play, but this is way better than nothing. Currently the practices in Santa Rosa are on hold while the air is choked with wildfire smoke, but by some stroke of luck Tomas’ local club is beginning socially-distanced practices in small cohorts today. So, we’ll patch things together and keep Tomas playing in one place or the other.

Summer also included a camping trip with two other families on the 6000-acre ranch of one of them. We slept in tents on the banks of the Van Duzen river, swam, drank delicious/deadly frozen margaritas, barbecued, and watched the gaggle of eight kids splash, look for marine fossils in the river bed, and build forts. On another weekend, I was invited to join the same ranching family in a round-up. They patiently tolerated my total lack of experience in Western riding (“Ya might want to use a longer rein on ‘er,” drawled my friend Lauren’s cowboy brother Jake), showed me how to tie a half hitch (“Let me show you how to do that right,” said Lauren’s mother as I sloppily wrapped the end of my lead rope around the saddle horn; we don’t even HAVE saddle horns in English riding and I don’t have the faintest idea how to tie anything to one of them!), and gave me simple jobs to do while they did the hard work of cutting calves out of the herd (“Toni,” they said, “why don’t you sit here on Princess Patches and make sure those cows don’t try to get back in through that gate to their calves” – the cowherding equivalent of playing right field). Despite my many deficiencies, which I attribute to having been raised on the East Coast, I had an absolute blast on the portly Princess Patches and am hoping I was useful enough to be invited back for another roundup. It was incredibly fun!

We had a series of visits over the summer, all involving tents and efforts to limit contact and shared air as much as possible. Chris and Agi brought the boys up in mid-June, after they were sufficiently nuts in their Ocean Beach apartment. Ori and Chris camped in our orchard while Agi and Felix slept in Tomas’ room. Tomas slept in another tent outside of the kitchen door. We ate, drank, caught up, and enjoyed seeing the kids play together. Felix, who is more or less a pandemic baby, was mildly horrified to learn that more people live on this planet than his parents, brother, American grandparents, and aunt. He seemed to adjust over the three days they were here.

In late July, my parents came, also for three days, also to sleep in a tent in the orchard. We, too, ate, drank, and chatted. We made a trip down to the river to swim together, and we had our first meal in a restaurant since March at Eureka’s Bayfront One, where hearty Humboldt County residents and their visitors can eat sushi (or pasta or burgers) on the waterfront in fog so thick you can slice it with a knife. Nagypapa did some electrical engineering with Tristan, Phoebe demonstrated her riding skills to her grandparents, and Tomas enjoyed their company in his quiet way.

Last week we had unexpected visitors. We had just returned from our camping trip on the Van Duzen when my friend Kinari called. [I’ve known Kinari for almost 20 years, overlapped with her in Indonesia for many years, and worked with her both in Indonesia and the US when I was associated with Health In Harmony. She is the doctor who founded the organization. Kinari now lives in the East Bay with her wife Stephanie and a young woman named Kahayag, who I knew as a child in Bogor. Kahayag’s parents worked with non-profits in Indonesia, and her mother had an office across the street from our house. Kahayag was stranded in the US when the pandemic began and thwarted her attempts to head to the Philippines, where she has family, and to Europe, where her parents now live. Kinari and Stephanie took her in.] Kinari was calling from Ukiah and sounded a bit desperate. She is pregnant, and four days earlier she, Stephanie, and Kahayag had fled the smoky East Bay for cleaner air when Kinari was having trouble breathing. The smoke, however, followed them to Ukiah, and they were looking for fresh air further north. “Come,” I said, and they showed up late that night. They, too, stayed in tents in the orchard. The weather was fabulous and we ate every meal outside. It was a wonderful time of catching up, getting to know Stephanie, and re-connecting with Kahayag. They weeded my garden, which I had all but abandoned to the monstrous pocket gophers that felled most of my vegetables, helped Gary buck hay (which means load it into a truck and bring it in from the field, for you deficient East Coasters out there), played with the kids, and generally gave us an absolutely fantastic close to our summer. Alas, we have our own fires burning nearby, and the smoke eventually settled on our mountain. After a week, our fire refugees moved on to camp on the farm of other friends in Corvallis, Oregon. They might be on the road a while, as the rains won’t really come until October. What incredibly crazy times. Over dinner one night with our evacuees, we began calling these times – times of pandemic, fire, racial unrest, election fears, climate crisis – the pre-apocalypse. Too over-the-top? I dunno.

Our pre-apocalyptic but very fun and full summer was punctuated by a sad, and also happy, and important event. About two weeks ago, Gary’s father passed away. He had become very ill, and there were many difficult weeks toward the end. But, the end itself was the best anyone could hope for, very peaceful and quiet and loving. Gary’s father spent his last few days in a hospice in Eureka, with French doors open to a beautiful, tall, shady redwood grove. He wasn’t in pain, and he was surrounded by family. Gary’s mom held his hand and talked to him about their marriage and their life together, and he smiled as she spoke. Gary, his sisters, and his mother were all with him when he passed. Gary has written a beautiful obituary that was published in our local Times Standard, our online Lost Coast Outpost, and Gary’s Facebook page.

The last month had some ups and downs for me. I both watched our local Covid counts carefully and waited anxiously for news from the kids’ schools. Would Eureka High, where Tomas is starting his Freshman year, open in person or go online? While I can’t imagine the disappointment of starting high school online, did I want Tomas mingling with 1200 other teenagers every day? Would the tiny Kneeland School, which stated from the get-go that they would be in-person, commit to teaching outdoors while the weather is still good? Although Tristan is strong and healthy now, I’ll never be totally at ease about what his immune system can handle. On top of his cancer history, he’s had pneumonia five or six times and always sounds scary-terrible when he has a cold. And nursing school – what would happen if the kids ended up at home mid-semester? After a lot of angst, I decided to defer nursing school for a year, which guarantees me a start in next Fall’s class (versus risking having to drop out mid-year this year, which would mean having to reapply and waiting another two or three years to start). I’ve been pretty sad about the delay, but I think it’s the right thing to do, and the decision to do so will ultimately mean that my stress level will be much lower during the upcoming months of uncertainty than otherwise.

Tomas’ high school ended up opting to start online. It’s unclear if that will change, as Humboldt’s corona numbers keep bopping up and down. Kneeland School is making an enormous effort to be outdoors as much as possible, and I’ve decided that Phoebe and Tristan can be there for all outdoor portions of the day. With nursing school set aside (and no job at Humboldt State, as I didn’t expect to be able to teach while in nursing school and didn’t put in for a lectureship), I’ll ferry the kids back and forth. Yesterday, the first day at Kneeland, was a big success: Phoebe got to stay all day, as her class never went indoors, and Tristan came home only for a short bit of the middle of the day. Both outdoor classrooms have shade canopies. Both dealt with new challenges, like papers blowing away in the wind and sun glare on computer screens…but honestly, these seem like small annoyances compared with the dangers of sharing air indoors. I’m so happy with and proud of our tiny school for making the effort. Who knows what the November rain and fog will mean, but, for now, we’re happy.

Shoot, I’m out of time for that nap!

More photos, of course…

The new world

Tuesday, May 19th


Our seasons run late up here – we often have frost in May, and our hot summer runs into November. But Spring is finally in air! The wildflowers are blooming in the meadows and in the forest, our grass is growing green and tall (so much so that sometimes our horses don’t come in for their dinner), and, most significantly, our lone male duck is trying to hump our hens. Springtime!


It hardly seems worth writing about anything pre-COVID, from that other universe where we shared air with strangers and were free to cough, sneeze, and wipe our noses on our sleeves without inciting terror. I last wrote around Thanksgiving, so in between then and the start of the new world there was Christmas, New Years, and the beginning of a new semester. There were a few trips to San Francisco, including one to UCSF for a check-up, and Tomas and Gary made a trip or two for Tomas’ Olympic Development Program soccer. That pretty much covers the interim period.


And then there was corona, which we sometimes call “the ‘Rona”.

We went into lockdown in mid-March, and now it’s mid-May. I have so many feelings about the new state of the universe, and they are mixed, and they are all strong. I’m sad that so many people are sick and dying, I’m devastated that more people yet are hungry while farmers cull their herds for lack of operational processing facilities, I’m scared that so many people are angry, and I’m in dismay about our president. (I mean, I couldn’t have imagined how much worse it could get, but it sure has).

On the other hand…I absolutely love being at home. Life has been very, very busy, but so much simpler.

Locking down was no biggie. Honestly, most of the residents of Humboldt County are ready for armageddon on a good day. Between fires, power outages, being locked in by landslides on the only three roads that allow access to the south, and other regular disasters, a good majority of Humboldt folks have armed themselves with large freezers, generators, and um, actual firearms so that, should the end of the world come, they’ll still be able to barbeque, watch Netflix, and protect their grows. While we may not be THAT armed, we do have a big freezer and a sizeable pantry, both of which Gary and I stocked at Costco, Safeway, and our Co-op.

Putting my teaching at Humboldt State online was slightly more of an event. I taught two mammalogy labs this semester, to about 45 students total. I love teaching these labs because I love playing with skulls and bones – it’s like a game, and I enjoy teaching undergrads the game. Also, now that I’ve done it a bunch of times, it’s easy! I get out my old notebook, now perfected, and skim over my notes to prep. That’s it! I often took Tristan and Phoebe to my extra office hours on weekends before exams, and they loved the game, too. COVID was just becoming a conversation topic when I administered the second lab practical in early March. As the students handed in their exams, a tissue-clutching, sniffling young woman lamented how hard it was to take the exam as sick as she was. Gross. I was obsessive about hand-washing as I graded the stack of germy exams. That was the last lab, as the students were thereafter dispatched on Spring Break, and they never came back. The other lab instructors and I worked to create the remaining online labs, and they were fine, but they were nowhere near as wonderful as handling mammal skulls and learning the tricks of distinguishing them in hand. It simply wasn’t a fun game anymore. Also, creating the labs, and then grading the exercises was WAY more work than playing the mammalogy game in lab, and that was tough on top of home-schooling…


When the lockdown began, the tiny Kneeland School, where Phoebe and Tristan are students, prepared a two-week packet for home study for its fourteen K-8 students. The first two weeks were SO HARD. There was a TON of work, and I spent four or five hours a day struggling through it with the kids. Gary joined in to help Phoebe through her math, which has suddenly become a stress. (How did she end up with Girl Math Fear??) I was tearing my hair out to juggle the online labs, and two online classes I was enrolled in at our junior college, and the home schooling. By the end of those first two weeks, it turns out, the teachers had received the universal message that it was too much. They scaled it back enormously and, since then, it’s been really enjoyable. I’m happy to be more in touch with what the kids are doing in school, happy to play a part in teaching them, and really proud of how they tackle their work and (mostly) like doing it. Phoebe has a fabulous running project that involves writing a story every Monday, having it edited on Tuesday, re-writing on Wednesday, designing a cover on Thursday, and submitting it to her teacher on Friday. The best part is, on Monday she blindly picks the hero, the villain, the central event, and the place out of plastic baggies provided by her teacher, and then designs the story around them. They’ve been brilliant! Tristan has been chugging through lots of math, which he LOVES, but we both agreed, by the time we finished the English system and the metric system, that we never wanted to measure anything again. One of his assignments was to keep a Quarantine Journal for a few weeks; his short entries were very sweet, mostly lamenting how much he misses his best friends and fellow first graders, Ora and Cassidy. The school has been brilliant about not overdoing the Zoom events, using them only to do a once-a-week Zumba class for all of the students and a once-a-week story hour with Linda the librarian. The kids love both of these.




St Bernard’s, where Tomas is in 8th grade, smoothly set its teachers up on Google Classroom, and I’ve been so impressed with what a good balance the school had achieved. Tomas is busy every day, but not too busy. I have friends whose kids are on Zoom all day for six hours, and others whose schools have given them no structure at all. St Bernard’s has been great – Tomas generally has a couple of online class meetings a day, and projects and homework in each class, but he’s neither over- nor underwhelmed. If the weather is good, in between calls, he often stomps down the stairs from his room on the second floor to ride his bike, or ride his skateboard, or shoot soccer goals in our horse arena-cum-soccer field. His history teacher has assigned a fantastic project making a “decades slide show”; Tomas is doing the 70s. As you can well imagine, Gary and I have been bombarding him with ideas and screenshots – on the pop culture side, awful 70s hair, Keds sneakers, Frogger, Space Invaders, the first home computers with their green and black screens, the breakup of the Beatles, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and pants suits. (By the way, who on earth decided now was the time to bring those godawful pants suits back?! Ross was full of them when I went right before the ‘Rona.) On the politics and events side, the end of Viet Nam, John McCain and bringing home the POWs, the Hanoi Hilton, Watergate, and many more – Tomas has to make 50 slides! He’s got an amazing design sense, and they are really impressive so far.


So, home schooling is good now, after those first two tough weeks. I’m proud of how well Tomas is managing his time, and I’m in awe of how fast Tristan and Phoebe are growing and learning. I don’t think any of the three are suffering academically…but socially, this is tough. Phoebe desperately misses her best pal, a fantastic girl named Aubrey who lives a few miles up the mountain. Tristan sorely misses Ora and Cassidy (Aubrey’s little sister), who also live up here. They video chat fairly regularly – Tristan had me call Ora yesterday so that she could watch his snake Tickle being fed. (When Tristan called her, Ora was out in a prairie with her mom and little brothers, where they had gone to feed the Anatolian guard dogs that protect her mom’s herd of Boer goats. From the middle of the herd, Ora watched Tickle eat his dead mouse.) For Tomas, this lockdown is a real bummer. Although he’s a quiet guy and doesn’t crave just hanging out with his pals, he gets his social interactions via sports…and his whole soccer season got canned. He busted his butt last summer to try out for the Olympic Development Program down in the Central Valley, and he was one of thirty boys picked from northern California. He had only a few practices before corona folded it all. He’s keeping very fit on his own, but he misses the game and the interactions with his teammates. Also, he’s been looking forward to high school since he was about 10, and now so much is in question – what will it look like in the Fall?


And the summer…last week I pulled a schedule I had typed up for the summer off of the refrigerator, where it has been getting stained and withering in the few months since I taped it up there, and I had a look. I grabbed a pencil and, one by one, I crossed EVERY single item of the list. Toni – Endurance ride in Colorado in June. Axed. Gary – wedding in Prague. Axed. All three kids – Camp Okizu aka “cancer camp” in Oroville. Axed. Tomas – friend Alex visits from Madrid. Axed. Tomas – goes with Alex and family to England. Axed. There was nothing left after I finished crossing off the cancelled events. On one hand, I’m sad for the kids; Camp Okizu is a fantastic experience, full of incredibly cool counselors, ropes courses, swimming in the hot sun, and sleeping under the stars, and Tomas’ international exchange with Alex was sure to be brilliant – the UK plans included London, Cambridge, Stratford on Avon, and, per Tomas’ one request, watching a football match in a pub. On the other hand, well, this is way less complicated and I myself am perfectly (and selfishly, I suppose) happy for us all to be home. I am absolutely loving not driving around all day; it was six weeks before I refilled my gas tank for the first time since the shut down began, and there were cobwebs behind the little door to the tank. No joke.

Aside from teaching, taking classes, and home schooling, the days have been filled with fun stuff. The kids and I have hit the beach several times. Unlike Huntington Beach, up here you’d have to kidnap a bunch of people, bus them to the beach, and tie them together to make social distancing difficult. Occasionally we see the vague outlines of others a quarter mile away, blurred by the thick fog, but their germs are well out of sneeze distance. If the weather is good, Tristan, Phoebe, and I take my mare Bella for a ride down into the woods. Sometimes the kids ride together, or I’ll ride with one or the other while the other kid walks or stays home, or we take turns. Often Tomas comes with us, either on a bike or on his mountainboard. (He’s not interested in riding the horse, never has been). We also made a trek into the woods, where the kids had a phenomenal nerf gun battle in the thick fog. Otis, Tomas’ big husky-shepherd mix, comes with us to watch for bears and lions. I absolutely love our outings together – love that the little kids like riding and are learning to be horse(wo)men, love that Tomas is finding his own ways to love the outdoors, love that we’re all together and have time to do this. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s really special, and I’ll remember how much I enjoyed this time home together.





Also, we’ve made some special exceptions for Tomas – being stuck at home with one’s family has to be the worst when one is 14. About once a week, I take Tomas to ride his bike or skateboard up at the Kneeland Airport (which is an empty, airplane-free place 99% of the time) with one of his best pals, Elisha, as the two are grown-up enough to stay far apart. Recently, on a sunny day, his other best buddy, Noah, and Noah’s sister came over to kick a soccer ball around. These small social events have been good for Tomas.


Gary is doing well, too. So far, his business has not been suffering. On days when Phoebe has math homework, Gary helps her in the morning, and then drives his “office” (a Ford pickup) out onto one of the slopes on our property, pulls out his phone and laptop, and gets to work. Some days he brings home shed deer antlers, on others he watches wild turkeys as they forage, and once he saw a bobcat skulking around. Aside from the ergonomic challenges of working in a pickup, I’d say it’s not half bad.


Now, I have finished grading the mammalogy lab final exams, I finished taking my junior college Sociology and Psychology exams, and I am settling into helping the kids on their last month of school. I’m looking forward to the summer and have been getting ready to plant the garden beds in our orchard, moving composted horse crap there and turning the soil. I made a masked visit to our local garden store to buy seeds and starts, which I’ll plant today with Tristan and Phoebe, after they finish their schoolwork. Gary mowed and weed whacked the whole orchard, and then he and Tomas carried Phoebe’s new quail pen into it and set it under the shelter of some apple trees. (The quail are the product of Phoebe’s science fair project, for which she was just days away of attending the county-level competition when corona derailed the whole thing. Up the upside, a local radio station interviewed her live about her results: baby quail who were incubated to pop music played on that station produce a greater diversity of songs and fewer alarm calls than baby quail incubated to no music or to Bach. Go figure!) I’m looking forward to the vegetables and sunflowers and orange and red tomatoes that will fill the garden in a few months, and to the calls of the quail in the background, and to setting up a garden table and chairs under the apple trees.



Here’s the really whacky news: In a plan conceived in a COVID-free universe, before the world changed, I’m en route to making a big career change, starting nursing school to get my RN at College of the Redwoods, our local community college, in August. I began to incubate the idea when I spent so much time with Tristan in hospitals, and when incredible nurses made all the difference between terrible experiences and good ones. The idea took further hold when Tomas started talking about where he wants to go to college, and Gary and I looked at the trajectory of college costs over the next few years. Yikes. The money will be helpful. I am very, very excited…and also…I don’t know the word…confused? Like all of us, I have no idea what is going to happen over the next year or so. The nursing program I’ll attend puts its students into clinicals right away, meaning into hospitals right away. I’m not afraid…but I don’t know what the future holds. What a weird feeling. My classes will be online at least for the Fall, and I’ll be in a local hospital for clinicals twice a week, but I don’t know if my kids will be in school. I don’t know if Gary will work in his real office, or if he will travel anywhere. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find childcare. I’m drawing lots of blanks, and that’s an odd feeling. Reading the news brings no relief – what an immensity of nothing. I suppose we all feel that way – no idea what’s coming. What an odd feeling.

Some more photos….

Phoebe and Tristan’s Science Fair posters: Phoebe’s was a study of quail incubated in different “sound environments”, and Tristan’s involved running his snake through a maze to find his weekly mouse. Tickle was more interested in looking for a way out of the maze than in finding his dinner.


Some Phoebe photos:




Kids in trees:




And more:


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…




Good times after a hard winter

Monday, May 26th


I’m on a positive trajectory. Winter was hard. It was long and dark and cold, and it especially sucked when the power went out for three days and it snowed a foot and I got my car stuck in the driveway while Gary was away. Major low point. Also, I think I sank into a wintery, dark place emotionally after Tristan finished his treatment in September, and I was there for several months – I guess I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself and was at the same time overwhelmed by things that I’d put aside for four years. But now I feel great! I’ve had some great adventures over the last few months, I’ve been running a fair amount, the kids are doing great, and I have a major purge of boxes and files and junk planned for the summer. But that’s not all! Good things are happening all around. About a year and half ago, I wrote about a really bad period, when all sorts of miserable and unfair and tragic things were happening to people whom I love – Phoebe lost her beloved giant-eared Chihuahua when Otis didn’t bring him home from one of their long walkabouts; Gary’s nephew and his partner lost their baby, who had a malformed heart; a good friend and neighbor’s toddler had a terrible and fatal accident; and sweet Noah, Tristan’s friend in Mill Valley, seemed to be losing his battle with leukemia. It was awful. But, now…Phoebe’s silly new puppy Pip is blossoming into a terrific dog, and he adores Phoebe and dances around her when she comes home from school; Gary’s nephew and his partner are pregnant with a healthy baby; my Kneeland friend just gave birth a few days ago to a beautiful baby boy; and Noah finished first grade, shows no signs of relapse, and is a happy kid. That’s good news for four Warrior Moms who have big patches stitched all over their hearts. (Phoebe is counted as a dog mom here.)


Our biggest adventure over the last few months was my three-week trip to Europe with the kids. We left Gary at home to work, take care of the menagerie, and repair fences. Apparently he ate nuts and seeds while we were gone. He doesn’t appear to have suffered for the experience; I’m guessing any shortcomings in his diet were counterbalanced by the blissful silence and lack of kids needing rides.

It was a fabulous adventure! Even the horrible parts were fabulous! The trip began with one of these horrible fabulous bits, when, after the 14-hour first leg of our Turkish Airlines flight, we were stranded overnight in the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Tomas wisely suggested we try to get into its world class Business Class lounge, which we managed to do because Gary’s superhero status with United somehow transferred to us. Tomas and I spent ten hours sampling every kind of gourmet cuisine the lounge offers, e.g., Thai curry, the olive bar, fresh pasta, etc., and I also sampled, several times, the wines and gin-and-tonics. Tristan slept for hours on lounge chairs I pushed together to make a bed while Phoebe happily rotted her brain with video games after eating countless pieces of cake.


In Budapest, we stayed in Chris and Agi’s lovely apartment, upstairs from Oma and Nagypapa (who were there on their annual Spring migration). We zoomed around Hungary, making short trips to the beautiful old city of Pecs to visit my cousin Palko and his family; to Hajduszoboszlo in the countryside to visit Agi’s wonderful parents, who fed us course after delicious course during meal after meal, took us to the natural spa for which the area is famous, and treated us to a tour of the nearby horse-capital of Hortobagy; and to towns and villages on the outskirts of Budapest to visit with my good friends, the children of my father’s old schoolmate and close friend Odon. In Budapest I visited with many old friends and with family, introducing the kids to so many people who were an important part of my childhood. On our last night, my aunt Agnes held an early Easter dinner with family, and it was a wonderful night filled with stories and toasts and palinka and chocolate bunnies.


During the longer visit to Hungary, Tomas and I took off to Madrid for three days, leaving Tristan and Phoebe to be spoiled rotten by my parents, who took them to the zoo and to the Var (Budapest’s old castle in the hills) and let them have seconds of ice cream. In Madrid, Tomas and I stayed with our good friends the Brickles, an English family who were our neighbors in Bogor. Anna teaches at international schools, thus the long stint in Indonesia and now what looks like a permanent move to Madrid (pending various things to be determined by Brexit). Tomas was schoolmates in Bogor with Alex and Robert and is only three days older than Alex; we have many fond memories of birthday parties in Bogor and trips to Pelabuan Ratu, a beach on the southern coast of Java, with Alex and Robert. Nick and Ann gave us a wonderful walking tour of the city, complete with tapas, lots of wine, and an eatery dedicated to bullfighting and associated gruesome photography. We all went together to see Getafe play Athletico Bilbao, where Alex translated for me the colorful and unbelievably lewd shouts, aimed at the officials, of the Spaniards sitting behind us. Tomas and I toured the Real Madrid stadium with Anna and Alex – Tomas was absolutely thrilled.


The trip home was – thankfully – on Swiss Air, after Turkish Airlines bafflingly lost all evidence that we had completed our outbound trip from Istanbul to Budapest, cancelled our return flights because of our “no show”, reinstated the homebound flight after Gary spent 24 excruciating hours on the phone with the airline and with Expedia, and finally put us on a different airline when the Budapest-Istanbul leg was too delayed to meet the Istanbul-San Francisco one. Swiss Air was neat and clean and organized and all very on time. Muah, love you Swiss people!

It was so wonderfully clear on the way home that the kids had had a great time, and that it was a good experience for all. And I was damned proud of myself for doing it! Back home, Gary was a bit slimmer for the squirrel diet, but he seemed rested and like he had enjoyed unfettered time to do work work and farm work.

And now, a more recent adventure…we are all just returning from a fabulous Memorial Day weekend trip to San Francisco. All five of us travelled down to watch Tomas play in a big soccer tournament. For the third and final game, a big crowd of my family was there, including Tristan and Phoebe, Oma and Nagypapa (jetlagged and newly returned from Budapest), and Uncle Chris. Tomas’ coach likes the parents to sit quietly on the sideline – in his own British-accented words, he’s “not a huge fan of hootin’ and hollerin” – but soccer-loving Chris wasn’t having any of it. The boys had already lost two games, and they didn’t seem to have any spirit. Initially Chris was a one-man cheering section – he’s so loud that he pretty much had it covered by himself – but his enthusiasm was infectious. By the second half, most of the parents had decided to screw any concerns about pissing off the coach, and we were cheering like nuts. It was so clear that it had a positive effect on the boys; their energy picked up and they played a great game. They didn’t win, but it still felt like a win. After the game, we all fell silent on the sideline as the coach approached us. Here comes, I thought. Uncle Chris is going to be banned from the sidelines forever, and we’re going to get a talking to about the hootin’ and hollerin’. But instead the coach thanked the parents for picking up the boys’ flagging spirits! Woohoo, a coup! For god’s sakes, it wasn’t’ a f#$%ing piano recital. In my view, one goes to athletic events to hoot and holler.

Susan brought Noah and Maisie down from Mill Valley to watch part of the game, and they joined us afterward to play with Orion at the apartment (he was thrilled with all the big kids!) and to have dinner with us at Chris’ local Chinese restaurant. It was incredibly fun, with fourteen of us around a gigantic round table. Chris ordered dozens of fabulous dishes and beers, Phoebe and Maisie chatted and played and were BFFs, Tristan and Noah giggled and roughhoused and were loving each other’s company, and I was so happy to have Susan, my favorite Warrior Mom of all, there to meet my family and share dinner with us. It was a special night.


Other bits and pieces…

Both Tristan and Phoebe nailed bike-riding during the week after we returned from our trip! New bikes and padding from head to toe helped. Phoebe is reasonably cautious, but Tristan, only fifteen minutes after mastering the art, began to slam on his brakes to skid to a stop, plunge off road to see what riding in a ditch filled with woodchips feels like, and pedal as fast as possible to enjoy the danger of speed.


I finished up an online class in Nutrition a couple of weeks ago. I had expected it to be pretty boring and silly, but I was totally wrong – it was an excellent class with a great teacher, and I had my lovely Phoebe in mind throughout. Phoebe’s weird diet consists of pasta, rice, bread, rice crackers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cucumbers in vinegar, radishes, sunflower seeds, pistachios, peanut butter, salami, tempeh, apples, pears, Cheerios with milk, pancakes from batter loaded with eggs, and my ground beef and bean chili. And, of course, ice cream and Annie’s cheddar bunny crackers, whenever allowed. Now I’m pretty sure that somewhere in there, in those mere 20 items, is a complete diet. I hope.

I ran the half marathon at the Avenue of the Giants a couple of weeks after returning from our big trip. I wasn’t exactly ready and it was a last minute decision, but I absolutely loved doing it. There’s something incredibly fun about running under the gorgeous redwoods with a 1,000 other crazy people. That run is one of the things to love about Humboldt County…


Nordic bowling & old and new adventures

Tuesday, February 19th



The last time Gary and I had a vacation – just the two of us, alone, for more than one night, not just someplace nearby – was 1998. We had both just finished long stints of field work in West Kalimantan, and we needed hot sand and sun to dry up the mold that had grown on our skin and our clothes while we were in the wet, green forest. Gary planned the trip. Well, “planned” is really too strong a word. “Loosely sketched” might be more appropriate. We would hire a car to drive us to a port north of Pontianak, take a klotok (putt-putt) boat to a small island in the South China Sea, and spend three nights at a resort, relaxing and drying out. Gary, always thinking ahead, bought two 1.5-liter plastic bottles of water and some crackers in case we needed a snack along the way.

The three-hour boat ride was pleasant enough, but things started going pear-shaped when the pier of the small island, Pulau Randayan, came into view. Rickety and missing more than a few piles, it appeared to have been out of use for a while. The boat captain double-checked with us on our pick-up date and encouraged us to put on our backpacks. We’d have to leap onto the rickety pier from the moving boat, he explained. I guess there wasn’t really anything for him to tie onto. “Sampai hari Selasa!”, or See you Tuesday!, the captain shouted as he waved goodbye. Gary and I hopscotched our way up the remaining planks of the pier and walked onto the sand. The place was strangely quiet for a resort; not a soul was in sight. We crossed the beach to a small building that looked like it might be the resort lobby. Indeed, it had ONCE been the lobby, and, when we pressed our foreheads against the shaded glass of the doors, we could see a dusty glass counter that displayed a few snorkel masks. The door was locked. We settled down at a picnic table to contemplate our options, which were precisely none. Some coastal equivalent of tumbleweed blew across the hot sand, and the leaves of coconut palms rustled in the breeze. We each ate two crackers, figuring we’d need to ration the package.

Eventually, after long enough that Gary and I had begun to wonder…worry…about what we’d do, a lone fisherman rounded the curve of the beach. We nearly scared him to death, but once we’d greeted him in Bahasa, chatted a bit, and established that we were two morons who had arrived without food or arrangements for accommodation, he took pity on us. The kind man led us to the other side of the tiny island, where it turned out there was a seasonal community of fishermen. They gave us an empty shack to stay in, where we slept on our sarongs, and they fed us rice and fish and coffee for three days. We taught them how to throw a frisbee, and we listened to the musical chimes of bleached coral skeletons rolling on the beach with the waves. On Tuesday, now sufficiently dried out and each a few pounds lighter, we teetered to the end of the wobbly pier and leapt onto the same moving boat that had dropped us.

I don’t think I was mad at Gary for his crummy planning – our three days on Pulau Randayan were truly a magical adventure – but I was hungry, and these days I want a bed, and really good food, and internet, so this time I planned the vacation. And here we are, in a small town called Sayulita, less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. It’s not fancy – there are potholes in the streets and the faint smell of sewage hangs in the air – but just enough to remind us fondly of Indonesia. Tomas has school, and is staying with his Aunt Tina in Eureka, while Tristan and Phoebe explore San Francisco (so far Cal Academy and the de Young Museum) with Oma.


We are on the second full day of four full days here, five nights total! We have a bungalow on the beach, great food in every direction, internet, and a web of winding, cobbled streets lined by colorful art galleries and bright murals. Yesterday, on Day One, I had a morning jog on the beach and then Gary and I hit the Playa de los Muertos (where we did not run into any dead people) in the afternoon. Gary is deep into Sapiens by Harari, and I’m into a Jack Reacher book. (God I love that guy. Not the Tom Cruise version, but the one in the book. The real one.) Today, Day Two, is a bit cloudy, so I had a morning run through the twisting streets and now we’re taking things slow. We may go to the beach again later for a swim if the sun comes out.



Being here is, I think, made twice as good by the fact that the week leading up to this trip was really rough and actually getting here was an uncertainty. Gary was in Helsinki for work. I mean, why wouldn’t Finnish biofuels company Neste choose the dead of winter for its annual planning meeting with its sustainability consultants? Makes sense to me. Our good friend and neighbor, Lindsay, whose husband went to high school with Gary, now works with Gary, and she attends the meeting every year with him. Most years they find time during their trip to go bowling together. In Helsinki. In the dead of winter. So, I like to say that Gary and his friend’s wife go to Finland together every February to bowl. Somehow that just doesn’t sound right, does it? Well, this year, while Gary and Lindsay were on their annual Nordic bowling trip, it snowed and snowed and snowed on Kneeland Mountain. On top of that, trees and wires came down, and the mountain, as well as a bunch of other parts of Humboldt County, lost power for several days. Tomas’ ride down the hill for school couldn’t get up its driveway, and I twice got my car stuck on our driveway. At this point, none of this should be a surprise to you – does disaster ever NOT strike when Gary is gone?




For two days the kids and I were in the house. Tomas helped me haul up wood from the woodshed to keep the fire going, and the kids played card games and chess. I dug out my car (twice) with the help of neighbors, and eventually parked it in the drive of a near(ish) neighbor who lives close to the county road. Tomas helped again, this time to lug groceries down our almost half-mile long driveway. We recharged computers and cellphones in the stable, which my father rigged with a USB port and socket when he set it up with solar power. Tomas, bless ‘im, helped again, hotspotting his phone so we could watch Netflix movies in the evening. On the morning that we (minus Tomas) were due to head down to San Francisco, the kids and I hiked up the driveway to the neighbor’s house through new snow, in a shower of half rain-half snow, all of us carrying big backpacks and Tomas clutching his Science Fair poster, which I had wrapped and taped in garbage bags. I dropped Tomas at a friend’s where he would spend the weekend before moving down to his aunt’s house in town, and the little kids and I continued to San Francisco to meet up with Gary and deliver the kids to Oma. When we got below the snow line on the mountain, I breathed a big sigh of relief. I mean, Pulau Randayan was a great adventure and all, but it’s high time, after 21 years, for a new one.


Old adventures, new vacations, and snowstorms aside, the last few weeks have been filled with goats and kids and dogs. Of note:

One night Phoebe and Tristan made a fabulous dinner for the whole family, complete with table-setting, a menu, pizza, and salad. It was wonderful!


Phoebe is learning to knit. Her first project is to make leg warmers for the baby goat. Seems like a perfectly reasonable place to start, if you ask me.


Also, Phoebe celebrated her ninth birthday with a birthday party and sleepover. She asked for a goat picture on her cake, and, short of finding a goat pinata, we smacked around a paper Fortnight llama filled with candy. Baby Girl and Pip the puppy were present for much of the party.



Tomas seems to be in a great place, mentally and physically. He’s doing great in school, had a fun season of indoor winter soccer, and doesn’t seem to be longing for anything. He just seems happy! A good phase.

Tristan’s blood counts continue to be good, and he looks strong and healthy. Because this is the way things always happen, he did get a cold and terrible cough right before we drove down to San Francisco, and he was running a fever by the time we got there, and we did end up having to visit the ER at the UCSF Children’s Hospital to do a pneumonia check on the evening of our arrival in SF. After we were shown into our ER room, Tristan curled up on the bed next to me, we turned on Guardians of the Galaxy, and he sighed, “Oh mom, we haven’t gotten to do this together in so long.” In some weird, twisted way, it did feel warm and comfortable and familiar. Ugh that’s weird. I really wasn’t sure Gary and I would be able to leave the following morning, but Tristan’s lungs sounded good and the wise doctor gave us an antibiotic prescription to fill in case the fever and cough worsened. They didn’t, and Tristan is just fine.


It’s almost time to visit the bar down the street for a passion fruit margarita, so I’m going to sign off here. I do have photos back home of that absurd and wonderful Pulau Randayan trip, so I’ll update this post with some of those after we get back. Much love to you all, and, jeez, sorry about the weather to those of you back in the Kneeland snow.


And, of course, some more photos…





Bleed Me Dry Farm

Thursday, January 3rd


Happy new year! The last few months of 2018 were absurdly full, and we’re enjoying the winter break and looking forward to the new year, a fresh start, the lengthening days.

I had thought that after Tristan finished treatment in September, and after the giant party that marked the end of chemo, things would be simpler and calmer and quieter for a while. Not so. The void was quickly filled by chaos in various forms – pets, visitors, sports, and more.

First, at the end of September, Tristan received a long-awaited gift, finally fully approved by his oncologists at UCSF: Tickle, the baby corn snake. Tickle was installed in an aquarium in our kitchen and is the easiest pet in the universe. He is quiet, un-stinky, and totally undemanding. He rarely makes an appearance, preferring to stay snuggled under his aspen shavings. He pokes his head out now and then to see what’s going on around the kitchen table.



Then, Phoebe got two baby dwarf goats. She has become passionate about the idea of raising and selling bottle babies, which are admittedly the cutest things on the face of the earth, and she’s done gazillions of hours of internet research, compiling pages of neatly penciled notes on goat breeding, delivering babies, and raising the young. The first two babies, Sugar and Spice, were brother and sister. Unfortunately, it turns out that whoever invented the urinary tract of male goats was either out of his mind or a real jerk – they’re full of twists and turns and constrictions in all the wrong places – and poor Spice developed an obstruction. Of course, this all unraveled while Gary was on a two week-long trip to Indonesia, and it happened just after Phoebe’s filly needed an abscess in her foot drained, and simultaneously with my mare needing steroid treatment for a cough she gets every winter; I think that, all in all, in the space of two weeks, there were a total of six veterinary appointments with the large animal practice, some at our place, and some involving hauling nickering goats to the clinic. (I have suggested naming our place “Bleed Me Dry Farm” or “Financial Hemorrhage Farm”, but the kids nixed those ideas.) In the end, poor Spice and his tangled urinary tract didn’t make it, and Phoebe was crushed. I buried him at home and we painted a headstone.


Goats are unhappy alone, we rapidly replaced Spice with Baby Girl, a teeny tiny dwarf goat still on the bottle. Baby Girl is ridiculously adorable. The day after we brought her home, she attended Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ apartment down in town. I think that both Chris and my father were initially horrified that I brought a bovine guest to the celebration, and they did draw the line at having the goat at the table, but, by the end of the evening, Nagypapa had held the goat in this lap and Chris was crooning over her and saying that he wanted one. Baby Girl in still on the bottle, and, when we open the door for her, she click-clacks on her tiny hooves straight into the kitchen and hops up on the couch to wait for her milk. She’s been to school with Phoebe and Tristan, and she’s been to their karate classes as well, where Gary held her in his lap, thronged by goat admirers, while the kids were on the mat.



Finally, we’ve got a new puppy as well, bringing our canine total to four. (It feels like a wolf pack now.) Pip is small and cute, and his DNA test came back with absolutely hilarious results: German Shorthaired Pointer / Shih Tzu / Chihuahua / Dalmatian / and a bunch of other stuff including sighthound, e.g., Russian Wolfhound. He’s about one twentieth the size of a Russian wolfhound.



Somehow we fit in lots of sports activities around all the pet drama. Tomas played competitive soccer with AC Samoa. He loves it, and he’s good at it, and it’s a pleasure to watch him. The weekend traveling is pretty intense, but Gary willingly takes it on, and, when he can’t, Tomas is always welcome to join one of his teammates’ families for the away games. Tristan and Phoebe continued their karate lessons, and both tested during the Fall, Tristan for his advanced orange and Phoebe for her beginning blue belt. I shifted my runs from up the county road to down the logging roads below our place deep into the tall forest on our neighbor’s property, and am now usually accompanied by Otis the dog and Bella the mare; when I get tired, I hop on Bella and she brings me the rest of the way home.



We had two fabulous visits in November. First, Jim Patton, my undergraduate mentor – now emeritus – from UC Berkeley, and his wife Carol, stayed with us when Jim came up to lecture at Humboldt State and to demonstrate a collection of specimens from Berkeley in the mammalogy labs I was teaching. Jim is a wonderful friend and a fantastic teacher. He’s also the reason I became a mammalogist and went to Michigan to study with Phil Myers, who had been Jim’s first graduate student. It was loads of fun to reconnect with him, inspiring to watch him teaching at Humboldt, and an honor to have him in our house for a few days. What a great guy. Among other things, over this visit he clarified for me that my front yard is riddled with mole mounds, not pocket gopher piles. There you have it.



The second visit was from our old friend Betsy Yaap and her three-year old son Stanley. Betsy came for two days and stayed for a week, and that was just fine. It was fine because nothing has to be explained with Betsy – there’s a lot of shared, totally crazy history in our pasts – and Betsy is just about the mellowest, most chilled-out person I know. Gary and I met Betsy 20 years ago on Borneo, where she had come to participate in an orangutan study and where we were doing our PhD research. While we were all there together, she met a crazy, very hot Australian who was living on a river on the logging frontier and building a boat out of Bornean Ironwood. They fell in love, had two gigantic baby boys, and traveled the South China Sea on the boat. Alas, the crazy Australian was too crazy, Betsy jumped ship with the boys somewhere near Flores, and that marriage ended. She’s now married to another Australian (a chopper pilot who works in Alaska, go figure), lives in Australia, just finished a PhD in Biology, and is raising red-headed Stanley, who is quite a handful. Stanley does not wear pants and carries a red plastic spatula (a “fireman hatchet”) tucked into his underwear at the hip. For a week we laughed with Betsy, re-told all those old stories about Borneo and the ironwood boat and the forest and the orangutans, caught up on news of old friends (e.g., the crazy Australian is now wrangling feral camels and setting up a camel dairy near Adelaide, and his crazy Australian brother is still drinking Dayak hooch, still married to a smart, savvy Dayak named Yupita, and still living in Ketapang, which is no longer the logging frontier), and talked about the future.



Other bits and pieces of note:

Tomas loves his new school! He’s getting terrific grades and has made good friends. I’m totally convinced that this was the right move for a shy guy, and that two years at mid-sized Saint Bernard’s will make the transition to gigantic Eureka High School smooth and easy for him.


I packaged up all of Tristan’s remaining chemo and other meds and got rid of it all. It wasn’t easy! It took phone calls to three local pharmacies, UCSF, the local police department, and the local waste authority to figure out what to do, as the chemo is, apparently, a hazardous waste. (Well, if that doesn’t make me feel good about having fed it to Tristan daily for three plus years…) I finally found a DEA-designated pharmacy that would take the stuff, and I greatly enjoyed cramming all of that horrible shit into their receptacle. Goodbye chemo!



Tristan’s bloodwork, local checkups, and December quarterly appointment at UCSF all went well. He looks good and he feels good!


Oma and Nagypapa have moved to San Francisco and are settled in their beautiful second floor apartment of Chris and Agi’s building near Ocean Beach! The kids and I spent four days there over Christmas, joined by Gary for the second half. We miss them in Eureka, but it’s so nice to see them settled and happy there.



As for 2019…I’m taking the semester off from teaching, hoping to make our daily schedules a little less full and also do some traveling, now that Tristan is good to go. I’m planning a big trip to Budapest for April – Tristan and Phoebe’s first visit there! I’m also hoping to make a few other shorter trips, perhaps to see friends in Vancouver with Tomas and maybe to the East Coast with Phoebe to finish our previously abbreviated trip. Tristan and I will continue to make quarterly trips to UCSF, which now will involve visits with all of the rest of my family on Ocean Beach.

Wishing you all health and happiness for 2019!














Friday, October 5th


On September 6th, Tristan had his last treatment at UCSF. On September 22nd, he took he last dose of oral chemo. On September 24th he turned six, and, last Saturday, on September 29th, we threw a party to celebrate his birthday, and the end of treatment, and the family and friends who have helped us over the last three and a half years.


For me, this party was the symbolic end to Tristan’s leukemia. For a few years, I have been envisioning the event; it’s been long in the planning. Throughout the two weeks leading up to the party, Gary, my mom, and I watched the weather. This is Kneeland’s best time of year – warm, sunny, lovely. This is when my tomatoes ripen. So we couldn’t believe it when the forecast read: Monday, sunny and clear; Tuesday, sunny and clear; Wednesday, sunny and clear, and so on, all the way up to Saturday the 29th, which read: thundershowers. WTF?! We get, like, two thundershowers a year on the mountain, and it’s simply too early for rain.

Party prep went ahead. Gary mowed and weed whacked, built another table out of sawhorses and plywood, and ordered kegs. I bought cases of wine and tons of food. Two days before the party, in 80 degree sunshine, we arranged the outdoor tables and furniture in the shade of the walnut trees. My mom and I made enough potato salad and black bean & rice salad to feed an army. We bought lots of reusable glasses and borrowed bins of cutlery. Chris smoked a pork shoulder down in San Francisco and drove it up. Phoebe and Tristan helped put up balloons and streamers. Tomas planned for soccer games in the paddock.


But on Friday afternoon, when the thunderbolt symbols lined up perfectly with the 3pm start of the Saturday party, Gary and I began to empty out one of our outbuildings; we’d need to move the party under roofs. With the help of a small wooden bar (complete with metal footrest and stained glass cabinet windows) abandoned in the building by the previous owners of our place, and more streamers by Tristan and Phoebe, the old building became a pub and foosball court. Gary somehow hauled our 500-pound wood-burning grill down into the woodshed, where our barbecue guru could grill away without being drenched.

Saturday morning was grey and gloomy, and by early afternoon, when the rain drizzled down, it was clear that the outdoor summer party would instead by a barn party and an indoor party. Also, as it often does when the weather is bad, our electricity began to brown out now and then. We mostly ignored the electricity fluxes (though I was frustrated that a single load of laundry was taking four, six, ten hours to run). While Gary took Tristan and Phoebe to their soccer games, I set up the dining room and kitchen to serve food, dragged the outdoor furniture into the outbuilding, and laid out the wine and sodas and glasses on an old workbench. Chris and my mom did final salad assembly. My friend Ian, the barbecue chef, arrived and was installed in the woodshed, where he fired up our grill, in addition to a rented one and a borrowed one. I set up our fabulous guitarist, a gift of my wonderful friend Jackie, not on the wet porch but instead in the kitchen.


I was pretty worried about how 100 people would fit in our not-so-big house and the outbuilding…

But it didn’t matter! Guests began to arrive at 3, and by 4:30 there were gobs of people here. And, I had forgotten – this is Kneeland! Nobody gives a shit about the rain! Grownups holding a beer or glass of wine stood around in the drizzle in front of the outbuilding, totally unconcerned with the wet. Teenagers clutching San Pellegrinos slouched around, teenager-style, in the drizzle by the paddock, totally indifferent to the rain. Little kids swung and ziplined in the drizzle, not giving a hoot about the rain. Some folks sat inside and listened to the guitarist – some even danced – and others crowded around the kegs in the outbuilding. Kids played dress-ups upstairs in Tristan and Phoebe’s room. People munched on plates of appetizers. Meanwhile, Ian, surrounded by three grills, sweated in the outbuilding. Near 5, he began to send trays of spare ribs and jerked chicken wings and hamburgers and hotdogs up to the house, and we moved onto dinner.











Some of us waited impatiently for a margarita, which is was slow in coming – we had rented a slushie machine that, we hoped, was producing home-made margaritas of fresh lemons and limes, but the electricity brown-outs were seriously impeding their emergence. In the early evening, when the electricity cut out totally for the first time, Uncle Chris wisely unplugged the slushie machine and pored the contents over ice in salted pint glasses. They were perfect, perhaps made even better by the hours of on-and-off not-quite-freezing gyration!


With the big crowd, and the good moods, and the margaritas, and Chris’ terrific smoked pork, and Ian’s awesome BBQ, and the drizzling rain, and the electricity back on again, things were feeling pretty good. But then, just as dark fell and I was cutting the birthday cake, the power went out…for good…and it was epic! With my knife poised over the chocolate cream cheese icing, and the darkness suddenly descended over us, there was a moment of silence. And then we all let out a huge whoop! This is Kneeland, after all, and we can party in the dark just as well as we can party in the light. The candles came out, the cell phone lights came on, and I served the cake to the crowds of kids eagerly bunched around me, and then to the crowds of adults eagerly bunched around me. In epic Kneeland style, the party went on, and a gaggle of kids played foosball by cell light for at least another hour or two, while grownups in the outbuilding and kitchen continued to eat and drink. A lost friend, an oncology nurse who took care of Tristan and me during our very early days in the hospital, whose GPS sent her to Kneeland “the back way”, arrived after a 12-hour trip on dirt roads that should have been a six-hour trip on pavement, and we quickly administered a few glasses of medicinal Zinfandel. She was the last of 102 guests to show up.



At some point soon after the outage, there was a bit of excitement when a few people excited told me that sparks had flown out of our PG&E transformer. The PG&E truck showed up while Gary was trying to call them – that was fast, we thought! A cable, rubbing on a tree in the wind, had worn through, producing the brown-outs and therein explaining why we had never achieved slushie margaritas, and had eventually snapped completely. This also explained why it had to rain on this day, at a time of year when it doesn’t rain – it rained so that Kneeland wouldn’t go up in flames when our electrical cable broke clean through! As the party wound down in the kitchen and the outbuilding, the PG&E guy fixed the cable and brought light back into the house, just moments before our cell phones were almost dead.

Now, almost a week after the party, I am still happy and still exhausted. I’m happy for the wonderful friends and family and neighbors we have – people who have fed us and taken care of our animals and driven our kids around and who can party in the rain and pitch black. I’m exhausted because, for me, this was the end of a long and scary-but-also-incredible adventure, and because, well, I’m tired. But that’s okay. I’m happy tired, and I am planning to nap a lot in the near future. To those of you who were here, or who couldn’t be here but were thinking of us on Saturday, thank you loving us and taking care of us and celebrating with us in person or in spirit.





Friday, September 7th

We’re done! Yesterday afternoon Tristan had his final chemo at UCSF. With the five us all there, as well as my whole family, and our lovely hospital social worker (there for us on her day off), and many of our doctors and nurses, and our favorite medical assistant, Tristan happily and confidently rang the bell that signifies the end of treatment.


In the days leading up this event, in long, run-on sentences, Tristan excitedly told lots of people – the clerk at the Discovery Museum, a shoe saleswoman, and others – that he would soon ring the bell at UCSF because he had leukemia and he’d been in treatment for a long time but he’d soon have his last chemo and then he’d be done with treatment. When Gary and I asked him, so what makes you excited and happy about being done and ringing the bell?, Tristan replied, “I don’t really know! I’m just excited!” I really think it sort of felt like graduating from pre-school: pre-school wasn’t horrible, it was actually pretty fun, but it’s exciting to move on. He doesn’t really know anything else anyway – he doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t have leukemia and wasn’t making trips to UCSF with me. To him, it felt like a graduation, not like the end of a prison sentence filled with torture and suffering.

I wish I could say the whole trip south went off with out a hitch. Of course it didn’t. On Tuesday, the day before we drove down to the city, a massively-long wide load trailer heading up the tight curves of Kneeland Road (almost a geometric impossibility) screechingly grazed the metal treads of the humungous digger it was carrying along the left side of my car while I headed downhill. In a turnout, the trucker and I resolved the unfortunate incident most civilly (he’ll straight-up pay) while his lead truck guys duck-taped various frayed, loose pieces of my car back together again. With a chunk missing from its left front end, my car made it to soccer practice and home again, but Gary and I decided it might be pushing our luck to drive it down to SF. The kids are, of course, thrilled with the minivan we rented for the trip.


Tomas suggested before the trip that in San Francisco we try to do our favorite things, things that have become traditions over the last three and a half years. Although Chris is now back from Budapest and his place was available, staying a night at Family House seemed important. I wanted to share with some of our favorite Family House staff that this was Tristan’s last treatment at the clinic and have a celebratory night there. We arrived in the evening, settled in, and headed over to the food court for dinner and a pitcher of sangria. The kids love that place, and, after they finished eating their fries and nuggets, Tristan and Phoebe made themselves comfortable in a group of complete strangers sitting around one of the fire pits. They chatted with two gorgeous young Asian women, almost sat in the lap of a medical student who was trying in vain to study a textbook, and handed out marshmallow sticks to the crowd. Gary, Tomas, and I watched them for a long time while we ate our Vietnamese barbequed pork, laughing and wondering when their charm would wear thin. Eventually I intervened when Tristan began to climb on top of the metal cage closing in the fire pit. Seemed like a good time to step in. Back at Family House, Tomas, Gary, and I finished a Mission Impossible movie we had started a day before, while Phoebe and Tristan watched some kids’ garbage on Netflix. Good fun for everyone.


On Thursday morning we hit the Aquarium of the Bay, one of our favorite San Francisco destinations. Tristan petted sharks, Phoebe fell in love with a chinchilla (no idea why there was a chinchilla in an Aquarium), Gary loved the jellyfish, and Tomas liked the otters. My favorites are the baby stingrays, who sometimes poke their puppy-like heads out of the water for a good look at you.



From the Aquarium, it was straight to the children’s hospital for a pre-chemo lunch. During lunch and on our way to the clinic, I ran into: a nurse I know from the OR, a single mom who likes to tell me about her teenage daughters; Angel, the receptionist for the OR who is unbelievably kind and always tells me what a wonderful mother I am (she hasn’t heard me yell at the kids); and Kristina, the mom of Ivan, a young man who’s long been engaged in a battle with leukemia. Years ago, at Family House, Kristina fed me wonderful enchiladas topped with a fabulous smoky salsa that her husband had made. It was touching to feel like I was running into friends right and left in the hospital.

Upstairs in the clinic, there was a buzz in the air. The receptionist, who’s usually grumpy as hell, said cheerfully, “I understand it’s a special day today!” Our appointment was with Dr Sabnis, our primary doctor at UCSF and my absolute favorite. Sporting a hip bow tie, he gave me a big hug and congratulations, and he told me he remembered clearly the night Tristan and I arrived. I do, too. He signed off on Tristan’s chemo, and we went through the usual routine: the chemo nurse assigned to Tristan had trouble getting draw from a vein in Tristan’s hand, so she went to find Stella, the Russian nurse who never fails to get flow right away. Stella didn’t fail us this time either, and Tristan played on an iPad throughout the whole thing. And then we were done, and it was time to call in the rest of the family, and to page Dr Sabnis and Evans the medial assistant and Jenee the social worker, for the bell ringing.



At the other end of the hallway, near the bell, doctors and nurses and other staff assembled, holding up a big sign of congratulations that they had made for Tristan. In his “No regrets” t-shirt, he marched straight down the hallway with us in tow, and without ado, he grabbed the rope hanging from the bell and gave it a good yank. The crowd gave him a huge cheer, and there were hugs and thanks and good wishes all around.



We reassembled with my family at Chris’ near Ocean Beach, played a little soccer on the turf fields near his place, and made our way to our ultimate destination: the Chinese restaurant where Tristan could partake in roast duck. Chris did a fabulous job ordering pea greens and green beans and beef noodles and hot and sour soup and wonton soup and a lot of other stuff, and we all ate until we could eat no more. Back at Chris’ we toasted with moonshine palinka Chris had just smuggled back from Hungary, and then we all fell into bed.


Today we went with Nikki and Oma to the Cal Academy (another site on our Favorites list), then lunched at the Beach Chalet (Favorites, as well). Tonight Uncle Chris is making gulyas, which Tristan loves.


How do I feel? I don’t know yet. Silence on the radar. I’m not sad. I’m not elated. I guess I’m wondering what comes next.

I do know that my life is much richer than it was three and a half years ago. I have met truckloads of incredible people, some warriors, some guardian angels. Susan (Noah’s mom); radiant Bianca (of the double lung transplant); Della (who forty years ago had two children develop leukemia in sequence); Coco (who patiently and skillfully henna-ed the whole smooth canvas of her daughter’s bald skull) – all warriors. Anna (Family House staff who, as a child, lived in the old FH for years while her older brother fought acute myeloid leukemia); Ilana (our outpatient nurse, who answers emails 24/7); Jenee (our social worker, who promised me at the beginning that she’d be there to see Tristan ring the bell, and who started a different job today) – our guardian angels. Actually, lots of the angels got there via being warriors; Jenee lost a leg to bone cancer in her teens, and then had ovarian cancer in her thirties, and Anna earned warrior status when she was the bone marrow donor for her brother. Maybe, if I’ve learned something from these folks, whatever comes next involves a bit of warrior and a bit of guardian. Still working on it…






August fun & a passion for milking snakes

Friday, August 31st


The summer break is over. The kids are back in school, and the fog was been rolling all the way up the mountain to our place, sometimes lingering all day. I realized on Tuesday, when I had the day home alone, that it was the first time I’d been alone in almost three months. It was an awful feeling; I couldn’t stand the silence and felt lonely and sad. JUST KIDDING!! It was absolutely dreamy, and I sat outside under the walnut tree (no fog that morning) plugging away on my laptop and finishing bits and pieces of things needing to be done.

Tristan is now in proper Kindergarten (last year was Transitional Kindergarten, a lovely California phenomenon), Phoebe is in third grade, and Tomas in seventh. Tomas has, for some time now, been engaged in a campaign to convince his parents that he should be transferred to a bigger school, down in town. After a few drama-loaded conversations with him over the summer, his campaign succeeded. In short, he’s a shy guy, and he would like to be able to connect with the kids on his soccer and baseball teams. He said to me, “They’re all talking about fifth period. I don’t even know what fifth period is.” So Gary and I decided he should know what fifth period is. Today he’ll finish his second week at St Bernard’s, a mid-size Catholic school in Eureka that has a reputation for good teachers and gently but firmly squashing nasty Middle School bullying and horribleness. Tomas is in heaven. He gets up early to shower and put on his uniform. (Uniform! I, public-school-kid from Kindergarten through PhD, now have a son who wears a uniform to school. Guess what? I love it! He looks so handsome in his grey pants and white polo shirt.) He has already made a friend, a good student named Logan. Tomas is cheerful in the morning, and he does his homework cheerfully, and he’s cheerful when he comes home. He’s just so damned happy, and he loves fifth period, and first period, and second, as so forth. He also looks back happily at his experiences at Kneeland School and is looking forward to when he’ll next see his friends from there. I’m so happy with Tomas’ perseverance in his campaign, and with our decision a few weeks ago.


Phoebe and Tristan remain at Kneeland school. They, too, are happy. Phoebe has a new classmate – a third grade girl – whom she now calls her BFF, and Tristan has a new classmate, as well, the BFF’s little sister. Over the summer, magical fairies stocked the sandbox with loads of marbles and shiny colorful stones, so the kids come home each day with new treasures. And sand in their shoes.


August was sunny – though not hot – and busy with fun stuff. Even our August trip down to UCSF ended up being extra special. I took all three kids, and Oma joined us so that Tomas and I could walk down the street from Family House to ATT&T park to catch a Giants game. We were given tickets by Gary’s uncle’s friend, who has the truly esteemed position of maintaining the field at the stadium. Holy smokes we had the best seats ever! From the fourth row behind the bullpen I could have reached out to high five Buster Posey had he offered. (He didn’t offer.) Unfortunately, in addition to having the best seats ever, it was also the dullest game ever, with no score til well into the sixth inning. As the ninth inning began, it looked like the Giants would win. Tomas was freezing and begging to leave (arrrrggggg why didn’t he bring the jacket I told him to bring?!), so we began to make our way out of the stadium. Then, with two outs already and three on base, the Astros hit a big one and won the damned game. Poor Giants. Had I still been in my seat, I would have reached out to give Posey a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

The next day, fresh out of chemo, Tristan and I returned to Family House to find that the lead singer from the band Train and two of the other band members were making a surprise appearance there. Together with Oma, Phoebe, Tomas, and dozens of other Family House folks, we watched Pat Monahan and his pals perform Hey Soul Sister, Play That Song, and Drops of Jupiter. What fun! Tristan sat up front with a Hungarian family we’d made friends with, and engaged the band in all kinds of banter, including a request for a song that’s not theirs. (He has three or four favorite songs, which range from good stuff like U2 to some real crap. It was the crap he requested, to the great entertainment of the whole crowd and Pat Monahan, who worked a few lines from the requested song into the Train song he sang next.) [Right photo below: Family House 2018]

In addition to the San Francisco fun, we had several fabulous visits during the month. Our good friends Peter and Laurel, who live just north of Ukiah in Redwood Valley, came for a few days with their grandsons Max and Luke. The boys were staying with them for the week, but as luck would have it, for the second year in a row, fires nearby blackened the sky with smoke and barred any outdoor activity. To escape a week trapped indoors with two energetic little dudes, Peter and Laurel brought the kids to Kneeland. It was absolutely loads of fun. All the kids ziplined. They rode Bella. They played with the dogs. They played chess and Uno. We took them to a birthday party. Max and Tristan slept side by side, wedged snugly under the eaves that slant above Tristan’s bed.

In late August, we had a wonderful visit from English friends who had lived in our neighborhood in Bogor. Their older daughter, Millie, who is now fifteen, and Tomas had been to school together at the International School of Bogor, and Tomas was a frequent guest in the family’s swimming pool, where he splashed around with Millie and Ines and Robert and Alex and gobs of other neighborhood kids. Soon after we left Indonesia, Jacqui and Terry adopted a baby boy from the orphanage where Tomas had spent his first ten months. Caleb is now five, just a few months younger than Tristan. It was such fun to be together again; we reminisced about fun weekends together in Pelabuan Ratu on the southern coast of West Java, the ungodly traffic involved in getting there and back, and the gin and tonics (standard tropical expatriate drink) consumed together at someone or another’s house. Jacqui, Terry, and the kids have recently moved to Vancouver. The re-entry ain’t easy, and we also talked about the ups and downs of leaving Indonesia. I introduced Jacqui to my Roomba, and she seemed committed to ordering one on her return to Vancouver. Roombas should be part of a standard expatriate repatriation-to-the-West package.

Also in August, my father satisfied Tristan’s frequent and persistent request that someone give him lessons in engineering. (He begged for engineering camp, but that isn’t among the local options. Weed trimming camp is a better bet…) Nagypapa ordered some fabulous kits with switches and conductors and wires and bits and pieces in different bright colors, and together he and Tristan built various things that turn on and off, light up, and make sounds. Tristan was thrilled. And, in radiant closure to the summer’s engineering lessons, the other night Tristan handed me a flashlight and explained that he had just fixed it by opening it up and bending some wires so that he could close the circuit. I guess he learned something. Good work Nagypapa!


That’s the news from August!

September has big things in store for us. Next week Tristan will have his final chemo infusion at UCSF. This is big, good news…but I have no idea how I will feel when it happens. There’s this sort of void around my heart and my stomach when I think about it. It’s just hard, I guess, to imagine this being over. It’s also scary to think, oh crap what if it’s not over. (Sweet Noah has just flown back to Philly for another go at the Car T immunotherapy at Philadelphia Children’s, after the second appeared to be losing its effect.) All that stuff. But, yes, this is exciting news, and we have great fun planned around the event. There is a special bell mounted on the wall of the clinic, a bell that we have seen each of the dozens and dozens of times we have been there over the last three years, a bell that kids get to ring when they have finished their last treatment. We will all be there for the bell-ringing, including my whole family. In the evening, we will all go out to dinner in a Chinese restaurant so that Tristan can eat roast duck.

On September 22nd, Tristan will take his final oral chemo. And on September 24th, he’ll turn six. What a month it will be!


And then, after all that, I just have to get the kid safely to adulthood…which, if the events earlier this summer are any indication, may not be easy. On top of all those, uh, fun events early in the summer, Tristan recently announced a passion for and commitment to pursuing a career in milking the venom from poisonous snakes. He has been watching YouTube videos on the subject and is begging me to let him practice on the garter snakes in the orchard. Good god, he may never give us a break.