Monthly Archives: October 2010

My dog, myself

Hello folks,

My last post was a reflection on the passing of my mother. This post, sadly, on the heels of that one, is about the passing of my most devoted dog of 9 years, Gracie. But talk about keeping it simple…what’s simpler and more special than the love of a dog?

My sweet companion, Gracie

I found Gracie on a blustery, cold day (much like this one) at the San Leandro animal shelter, nearly 9 years ago. She looked bedraggled, skinny, old, and filthy. Despite the rotten teeth and nasty dog breath, I had to have her! I told her she was my dog, her name was to be Gracie, and not to go home with anyone else (she had to have the required vet exam and a week’s time to see if anyone would claim her). Just after Christmas, I was invited to pick her up from the vet’s office; no one else had come forth to claim her; she was all mine.

Gracie loved to help with gardening


When I arrived to take her home, they set her down on the floor, and I said, “Let’s go home, Gracie!”. I remember it like it was yesterday; she excitedly wagged her tail, immediately followed me out the door, and piled onto my lap, as if we’d been together forever, and had just been reunited. Why did she trust me so much, I wondered? When she came into our home, there was no transition period. It was as though she’d always been with us, with me, my little shadow, my little side-kick; my kindred spirit. (Note, I was never before a dog person; I’d always had cats, and Gracie was my first dog.)

Gracie’s only been gone six hours and already I’ve been brought to tears so many times. There was no barking as the UPS truck drove by the house this afternoon (I barked in her honor). She was not here to greet me when I arrived home from running Noel to the ferry this afternoon, nor was she riding in my car, squeezing her coughing self into my lap. I ran into our postal carrier at the grocery store, the woman who Gracie loved to hate, despite the delicious treats she tried to bribe her with (Gracie just hated anyone in uniform). I keep thinking that I see or hear her, but it is only other dogs, or a bird flitting by in the yard, or just my imagination.

Gracie in the Aveo- she loved the wind!


Gracie was my longest and most successful relationship in life, aside from my son. Sad to say, but it’s the truth.

Gracie taught me much:

There’s just nothing like soft, processed American cheese for cheeking distasteful medication.

The best place in the world is to be resting on the lap of someone you love (or chest, or arms, or back of…)

Flies are a great form of entertainment (and nourishment).

Don’t mess with the (big) neighbor cats (or raccoons).

Laying in bed during the day is the best, most decadent thing ever.

If you need to be loved, petted, or held, then just demand it.

Routine is good.

Love unconditionally.

Don’t follow the rules (salmon, wine and chocolate won’t, in fact, kill you; neither will two percocets).

Be excited when your loved one walks in the door. Act as if you haven’t seen them in months. Shower them with attention, kisses, and devotion.

Don’t nag; just look incredibly cute.

Feel gratitude for the small things in life.

I’ll miss her cuddled up against my back in the dead of night. She knew my spirit better than anyone else.

I love you, Gracie, and I’ll miss you so much.

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My mother, myself

Last weekend, I attended my mother’s memorial service. She died of cancer at the young age of 68, and was followed to the other side by her husband and dog, within 6 months after her death.

We held a simple, informal, non-religious service at the site where she and her husband’s ashes were buried, in the family cemetery out side of Memphis. The day was unseasonably warm and sunny and we were joined by family members from three different countries.

As we each shared our memories and thoughts of mom, a few themes became prominent. Mom was a woman unto herself – a cheerful recluse, who doted on her dog, and made long honey-do lists for her husband, who in turn, doted on her. Everyone agreed that mom was a great conversationalist, both on the phone, and through highly detailed correspondence. Mom had a great laugh and most of all, mom lived a simple life, and truly appreciated the small things in life. She loved herbs and spices, natural beauty products, a good fabric softener, caring for her schnauzer, and keeping a tidy home. Although she and my step-dad traveled throughout Europe for several years, she was happiest at home, studying new recipes, listening to NPR and reading esoteric books and magazines.

I found it striking how little her siblings are like her, how they all had careers and pursued material success and lived more extravagantly than the average person. Mom was surely the black sheep of her family.

As much as I admire mom’s contentment with her life, I also recognize that she was pretty obsessive compulsive, to the point where we would miss ferry boats and airplanes as children, due to the house having to be perfectly clean before we could leave. Mom had a form of agoraphobia, which made it difficult for her to leave the house without her husband. She hadn’t driven in years, and although she could be quite sociable, visits frequently were shortened by migraines induced by the stress of hosting people at her house, or being outside of her very controlled environment. Most of us had great phone relationships with her, but few of us ever saw her!

I admire many aspects of my mother’s lifestyle. I value her appreciation of everything from a pretty rhododendron to pictures and letters I sent her over the years, all of which she valued and kept. She was unconditionally supportive and encouraging of me. She accepted me as a lesbian. She was a curious and positive person, despite her self-imposed limitations. She loved sharing recipes and health tips.

As an Aries, I have a much greater need for social interaction, new challenges, and physical stimulation than my Aquarian mother ever did. We couldn’t be more different on the surface. But I seek to live with the kind of appreciation and gratitude she felt for all she had in her life.

Days before her death in hospice, she was having the nurses Google “laughter therapy” as a way to beat cancer. She entertained them with all kinds of stories, and there were many laughs coming out of her room right up until the end. I’ll miss our phone conversations, mom, and our giggles and laughter shared, despite 2,000 miles and the Canadian border between us.

Last photo of mom and I together in hospice, just before she passed:

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How Resilient Are You? — YES! Magazine

How Resilient Are You? — YES! Magazine.

Hello dear readers!

Click on the link to Yes! Magazine above to find out how resilient you are.

I scored a 60, mostly due to my social and spiritual supports and my gardening acumen – less due to my ability to find an alternative source of water or employment! How will you score? Share your findings…How do you feel about how you scored? I definitely need to ramp it up – ride that rusty bike, improve my health, and learn how to use some tools, if I want to survive in a less than perfect world.

Oh, and it’s oddly reassuring to live only one block from the offices of Yes! Magazine! It’s true!

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Urban living with a minimalist twist. OR – Decisions, Decisions

If I’d taken my father’s advice whenever I had an opportunity (or created one for myself!), I’d be a childless, single, secretary, never fully living this great adventure, I call my life…perfect or not.

During a conversation yesterday he discouraged me from seizing an opportunity to take a lucrative job that I would absolutely love, because it requires a move back to San Francisco (and off my quaint little island where I admittedly have built a sweet life and cultivated a few very meaningful friendships).

He suggested I examine my life-long patterns of switching-up my life every 4 or 5 years, and asked if I was just “pulling a geographic out of boredom”. I told him I have done a little soul searching (thank you very much), and I’ve decided to embrace the fact that I’m all about adventure, learning, growing, self-discovery, building community – a free spirit, who thrives from taking risks. I have unique skills (I love setting up new programs and businesses, and I’m willing to take risks), skills that it turns out, people will pay for! I’ve also maintained very close ties to my friends in the Bay Area over the last 5 years, which honestly surprised me…so on my last visit there, it felt like home.

It then occurred to me that my father has discouraged me from taking any opportunity I’ve encountered, including having a child (too expensive and burdensome), getting my master’s degree (you have a perfectly good job as a secretary, with great benefits, and a child to support). Or leaving a really unhealthy relationship (what about your financial security?) All of this is somewhat ironic giving his love of living on sailboats, and his dislike of traditional American culture. But I’m his daughter, and he worries.

I realize that dad is motivated by fear, and the need for security, while I’m motivated by the need for adventure and freedom. No judgment. It just is.

What’s your primary motivator? Love, safety, family, adventure, continuity, peace, new challenges?

Let’s discuss.

All this said, this tempting opportunity begs the question….could I continue to embrace this minimalist life I have now cultivated, while living in San Francisco? Or would I be lured back into eating out every night, shopping for recreation, buying another home, and consuming my way through the city like a PacMan on speed (given a better salary than I earn with my non-profit here in the Pacific Northwest). I’d like to think so.

I ask myself many questions. Would my spirit die from the city noise, heavy traffic, street litter, and the dense population? Will I regret a move such as this, when I’m stuck in my first traffic jam while attending meetings in San Jose? On the other hand, I look forward to seeking out my SGI brothers and sisters, living in a thriving lesbian community again, the accessibility and variety of independent local theater and music, a thriving nightlife, and exploring my beloved Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. And not least of all, reconnecting with long-time friends who have remained my confidants all these years.

Having watched the incredible movie, Return to the Garden, last night with my son and kindred spirit, Deborah Milton, at the historic Lynwood theater, I have cause to pause. The lives these rugged hippie individualists choose to lead are appealing, admirable, and enviable. I’m reminded that I live a sweet life on Bainbridge Island, and it’s true – it is lovely. And like the protagonists in our story, I don’t quite earn enough to support my son, and while I like my job, I admit, I’m ready for new challenges, and the stress of insurmountable old debt (from my previous consumer-driven lifestyle) is overwhelming at times.

Back to the Garden Film

Meanwhile, Noel is much more likely to find a tax attorney job in SF, and my son is chomping at the bit for the move (an Aries, like me, he’s always up for something new). Having already decided to leave high school a year early to get his GED, he wants to work at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in SF, which used to be our extended family, when his other mom and auntie worked there – until they went on to “professional” careers as a nurse and social worker. It’s a great idea – connecting him with folks who have our shared values, and many of whom remember and love him, still. Could we live in the Mission district and raise chickens and drive an electric car, like my friend Julie? Or live like Rita, who lives in a fantastic flat in Northbeach, and walks to her corporate job in the financial district each day, writing and painting by night? Could we live communally with others, enjoying shared resources while saving the extra money, paying down debt and continuing to adhere to these new values (which took me several years to achieve, after leaving the bay area)?

Here are some ideals I have, for simple living in a big city:

Ride a bike and take public transportation – ditch the car
Join a food coop, or better yet, put in a few shifts a month
Rent a place with a patch of dirt for some veggie gardening
Raise chickens
Build or join a community garden
Join organizations to meet people and cultivate personal interests
Use the higher salary to pay down debt, increase monthly cash-flow, and put money aside for the future (rather than buying the next pretty thing)
Buy experiences, not things
Seek out and build community with like-minded individuals
Spend a lot of time in parks and nature
Join on-line communities such as Urban Homesteader to learn more. Or to have a laugh, AND learn more, check out My Intentional Life

What do you city dwelling readers to do simplify life in the city? I’d love to hear from you!

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Another Story (via Awakening Storylines)

This story by Deborah Milton is a must-read. It beautifully describes an experience we shared this week, sitting around the fire, listening to a very long and beautiful Iroquois story. The evening was magical – as we called in our ancestors with our howls, we were answered back by coyotes all around us, and later, then came to join us again as we closed our circle. Like Deborah, I thought of my own ancestors who would have passed their evenings in the dark, around a fire, sharing stories – not watching “The Bachelor” on television!

Another Story The story seems endless. In that way maybe the plotline replicates life. We keep thinking we’ve solved a problem, reached a conclusion, turned a corner only for another something to show up. The story is so long that it helps me imagine my ancestors sitting around a fire for days listening to a zigzagging ramble of a tale. What really impresses me, though, is the storyteller’s ability to remember. His drumming hands don’t miss a beat and his narr … Read More

via Awakening Storylines

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