Category Archives: Family

Palawan! (In which she reminds herself to maintain perspective)

This week I am trying frantically to finish preparations for the first big business meeting of the year and my first international trip of the year.  This evening I was griping to the kids about the insane pace right now and the loss of even a day off for the next two weeks – not even a day to slow down and pack!  Argh.

And then I paused for a moment, randomly clicking around the interwebs because I had reached that point where the words and the graphs on the PowerPoint slides no longer made sense to me and remembered.  After the big, stress-filled business meeting I am going to Palawan!  Immediately after my business review is complete I am climbing aboard a Philippine Air flight to Puerto Princesa with my colleagues and coworkers to attend our annual strategic, team building and development meeting.  On Palawan!!o-PALAWAN-PHILLIPPINES-900

I really lost perspective.  Palawan is the largest of the 81 provinces in the Philippines.  In ancient times Chinese traders traversed land bridges from Borneo to Palawan.  They were followed by many, many migrants to the Philippine Islands.  The caves of Palawan have revealed china, pottery and other artifacts from those first visitors.

Palawan was also the first area within the Philippines colonized by Spain in 1622.  Centuries later the Japanese invaded the province on May 18, 1942.

What excites me, though is that Palawan is considered the last ecological frontier in the Philippines.  Its 1700 islands are covered with tropical rain forests and vast areas of marine wilderness.  One of those unique treasures is the underground river in the Puerto Princesa National Park.   Check out the Wikipedia info on the park and the river, but also check back here in a few weeks and I will post my own pictures and impressions.


The first day of our Leadership Meetings includes an excursion down the subterranean river.  After that we get to listen to some speakers from Frost and Sullivan and Forrester, play some team building games and flesh out our 2015 strategy. And I almost opted out.  I almost chose to just fly home to have a weekend.  Forfeit my voice in the strategy sessions.   Watch the snow melt in my yard rather than paddle down an underground river.  I was ready to burrow back into my winter hibernation cave rather than explore a Unesco World Heritage site, one of the New Seven Natural Wonders  – paid for – in full – by my employer.

It is so easy to lose site of the bigger picture when we are caught up in the urgency of the now.  It is important that I am well prepared for the upcoming meeting.  It’s important to my career that I present well and dynamically, that I engage my audience and that my presentation is relevant and vital.

It’s not necessary, however, to lose site of the rest of my life.  I am still lucky enough to have two of my adult children who choose to live with me (and yeah, I know, rent is cheap with me, but I don’t care!) and the one who doesn’t live with me, who lives thousands of miles away in New Hampshire, works for the same company I work for.  We are connected.  So, so connected.

I just had to report all of my vacation days for 2014 (apparently there was a glitch in the tracking software and although the hours were deducted from my accrual, the actual dates were lost – try recreating every day you took off for the last year, not easy!) and I took a lot of time off in 2014.  I was lax about taking time out for the first few years working for my company so I had a lot of days accrued.  And I took 29 days off in 2014.   That’s a month and a half of paid time off last year.

Some of that time was to be a barely-needed care giver when my mother had surgery  (a post will follow some day about my appalling lack of ability to handle a real crisis during that time, but I am still processing it and can’t get it written yet).  However, even more was time off during the Holidays and a leisurely trip to North Carolina to wonder at my sister’s brilliance and revel in my parent’s garden.  Another week was to ride the train from Colorado to California and play with food and photographs and paper with my sister.  I had a month off to just be me in 2014.  That’s a luxury many don’t share.

And now I have the all-expenses-paid opportunity to experience warmth in winter and wonder in our world.  And I nearly lost sight of what was being offered to me, and I completely lost perspective.underground palawan Palawan-1 puerto_princesa_underground_river_04 palawan

Lucky for me I still have time to reaffirm my willingness and even my strong desire to participate in creating strategy, building teams and being a part of this oh so wonderful world – and a chance to paddle down an underground river in just a little over a week.  I need to go pack!

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver

Extended Family and a Wild Goose Chase

lettersToday I started a wild goose chase.

My family has a treasure.  A cache of family letters from 1892 to 1927 was uncovered several years ago.  The letters are funny and sad and at times horrifyingly poorly written.  Sometimes they are truly charming.  I find them endlessly fascinating.

I started building out the family tree beyond my direct ancestors to try to understand just who these people were who wrote the letters.  Challenges and news in the letters piqued my interest and I started researching the areas in which they lived, what was happening in the country and the world at the time the letters were written.  What was happening where they were, in their world?  A lot happened in those three and a half decades.  Spanish flu, the first world war, droughts, diphtheria epidemics, land grants and migrations west. My second great grand uncle was adamant that the family vote for Weaver in the election of 1892.  Neither my uncle’s campaign nor Weaver’s was successful.

Because I am so endlessly fascinated with the letters I began trying to track down far flung, distant relatives, descendents of the authors of the letters.  First cousins four times removed and fifth cousins and people who aren’t blood relations at all on the off chance that they would find the letters fascinating too.  And I have found some.

So today I wrote them letters, and printed out copies of the old family letters the are written by, or reference their distant direct ancestors.  I have no idea if I will ever hear back from them.  No idea if they will even read the packets I put together.  But it felt good.

Wild Goose Chase Letter_001And maybe, just maybe, it will make someone’s day to get a soft, brown envelope in the mail with words written by their grandmother, or great-great uncle or cousin talking about their day, their life a hundred years ago.  Maybe my own personal community, my village, will expand just a bit to include people I never would have known, but who have ancestors in common, if someone had not decided to renovate a house years ago, and taken the time to call my grandparents and return these letters to our family.

If you are interested in reading a few of the letters you can take a look here.  Letters


Sitting sentry in the hallway
Rough with wear and dirt
Symbol of her father’s strength
But sometimes
They frightened her
Dark and waiting
Full of his essence
Resting by the door.
In his dark times
There were no smiles
Or stories
No great booming voice.
He would sit alone
In the dark and quiet.
Then she would tip-toe
Quickly past
Not wanting to wake
The darkness
That seemed to linger
In her daddy’s boots

My grandfather died well after I was an adult.  My memories of him are of warm, rough hugs against wool work shirts, the scent of hand rolled cigarettes, strong fingers grasping ours, or our shoulders, always working with his hands on wooden bowls, or stone jewelry.  He was a warm, loving man and just thinking of him fills my heart.  But like many of us he had dark times.  When my mother was a small child she remembers running past her father’s boots sitting by his chair.  She was afraid of them, but only when they were off and waiting.  On him, they were just a part of Daddy.

Mom, Mom, Mommy, Momma

or the Evolution of My Identity as a Daughter and Mother
Teri with InfantWhen I was young my mother was always “Mommy”. That’s also what I heard my mother call her own mom. Once I hit the teen years calling my mother “Mommy” where people could hear made me uncomfortable. I started talking about my Mom, but at home, she was still Mommy. Over the years, though, I gradually started both referring to her as and calling her “Mom”.

I became Mommy. My own children called me Mommy (although when writing Cassie tended to use Mommie) and my own mother gradually became Grandma, even to me. As my children grew they started calling me Mommy less and less, repeating that pattern, and I became Mom, or Mama.Mommy/Grandma Painted in Waterlogue

In recent years I have noticed I refer to my mother as “my Mom”, but I call her Mommy much more again. It’s who she is, and for me it holds much more weight in terms of affection and history and meaning than Mom ever can. Mom is a bit reserved and a bit distant and maybe more of a public persona than Mommy, for me. I needed my mother to be Mom, with that implied distance, as I was learning to be my own person, my own adult with a family and home and traditions all my own.

I don’t have any grandchildren, but I have noticed that I am sliding back into being Mommy for my kids as well. I think it comes as a byproduct of their growing confidence in themselves as adults. They are less concerned with being cool (because they just are cool!) and more focused on relationships and family ties.

So my mother has evolved from Mommy to Mom to Grandma to Mommy and I am moving through those same, if slightly altered, evolutionary steps. I don’t have any need for distance anymore and I am enjoying this second time around with my mommy, whom I greatly admire and love to spend time with. I only hope I have enough of her in me to complete the cycle with my own kids.

What do you call your mother?  Has it changed over time?

The Flavor of Childhood Summers

For me scenttuna chowder can evoke a memory better than any other sense. A bit of salt and sea in the air and I am transported to my childhood home. A certain mixture of lemon Pledge, Downy and warmth brings my mother’s face instantly to mind. Jessica McClintock perfume does both – it brings both the beach and my mother to me.

But there’s a reason why we talk about “comfort food” not “comfort smells”. With food we get both scent and sustenance. When we eat our special foods we can relive the warm feelings of the experiences that made a certain dish comfort food for us.

Summertime, and the living is easy….
I spent most of my summers with my paternal grandparents in the Bay Area. Like many kids of my generation I had two parents with vital careers which made staying home for summer vacation complicated. My grandmother cared for me and my cousins during the long, hot California summer through the seventies and into the eighties. The flavor of summer when I was young was frozen grape juice-bars, home-made lemon yogurt, poached-eggs-on-toast-with-cheese, and tater-tot casserole. I celebrated a lot of birthdays with my grandparents being an August baby.

When I got a little older and my sister and I could stay home for the summer the flavors were of pancakes with Karo syrup (shudder!), Kraft macaroni and cheese and McDonald’s chicken McNuggets. But in those teen-aged summers I was also home for my birthday.

The birthday dinner I asked for year after year was my maternal Grandmother’s Tuna Chowder. A hearty soup, but a relatively light dinner in the hottest month of the year. It’s a wonderfully easy and quick recipe and served with a green salad and some home-made bread (or my mom’s green onion and jack cheese biscuits) it tastes just like summer to me.

Grandma Hazel’s Tuna Chowdertuna chowder
2 Tbs butter
¼ C chopped celery
1 C chopped onions
1 C diced potato
8 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 ¼ tsp coarse salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1/3 tsp thyme
¼ tsp dill
2Tbsp flour
3 C milk
1 large flat can tuna in water, drained
2 Tbsp parsley
1 C grated Monterrey Jack cheese

Combine the butter, celery, onion and potato in a large, heavy stock pan or Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, until potato is softening. Stir in salt, pepper, thyme, dill and flour. Cook, stirring constantly about 5 minutes until the flour is slightly browned. Add tomatoes, milk, tuna and parsley. Heat, stirring, until soup is thickened and boils. Stir in cheese and serve.

Be careful after adding the thickening as it can scorch.

Enjoy! (and share your summer favorites!)

I feel the ghosts return here


I feel the ghosts return here

I feel the ghosts return here, although I have never lived in this place before. The land feels ancient in a way that is different from the history that steeps all of New England. The ghosts return here.

If feel the ghosts return here, although I have never lived in this place before. I feel them walk with me when I am on the dirt path behind the house. They pace beside me, companionable and as undemanding as my dog, but I hear their soft footsteps beside, in front and behind me. I am not sure what they are here to tell me, if anything, or if they are just company. Maybe they are not here for me at all, but for the place, the space, that seems to be home for me.

I feel the ghosts return here, although I have never lived in this place before. The settlers and homesteaders, gold miners and First People are as real and immediate here as my grandfather with his scratchy wool shirts, beard stubble and smoky scent who seems to come down the stairs to check in a couple times a day.

I feel the ghosts return here – I talk to them, sometimes even out loud if I am the only one home, or on a walk by myself. I feel the ghosts return here and they are such good company. I feel the ghosts return here.

Where I am from

Last Fall I attended Patti Digh’s summer camp for adults.  One of the bonus sessions was a writing class facilitated by Patti Digh, Susan Piver and Jennifer Louden.  All three of these women have been part of my virtual world for a long time.  In fact I picked up Jennifer Louden’s “Woman’s Comfort Book” over twenty years ago when I was a young mother.

One of the assignments in that class was a “Where I am From” essay or poem.  I wrote my first “where I am from” in high school and really wish I still had a copy of that first version.

Here is where I am from… today.Santa Barbara Mission

Where I am From
I am from a small city in a big state.
I’m from beaches and rose gardens and hardwood floors.
From bougainvillea and La Tolteca.
I’m from story tellers and listeners, from writers and thinkers and hard workers.
I’m from peasant stock and from scholar farmers.
I am from white stucco walls and red tiled roofs.
From unlocked front doors and secrets in families.
I’m from muesli and chocolate croissants for breakfast and creamed tuna with egg on toast for dinner.
I’m from multi-family gatherings and symphonies, from high school plays and ten performances of the Nutcracker in the week before Christmas.
I am from concerts at the County Bowl.
I’m from “the smart people” and from insecurity.
From creativity, from painting and writing and gardening.
I’m from intellectuals with libraries and lectures and museum memberships.
I’m from high expectations and higher fear of failure.
I’m from many generations at every Christmas and starting our families young.
I’m from home-made school clothes and from vacations in Europe.
I am from attending seminary, from church every Sunday, from choir practice and high liturgy.
I am from agnostics and atheists.
I am from real people, trying to be the best we can be.

On being away….

I have been away for a while.  I traveled to Asia for business immediately followed by a sisters-only vacation (first time since before we had kids of our own!) and suddenly, back in my real life there are a lot of things that I needed to catch up on. Overflowing in-box, looming deadlines, and a lot of virtual blank space here at Autumn Journal.

Even with the incredible pace since I have been back, the warmth of the vacation peace hasn’t worn off. 

I took the California Zephyr from Denver, Colorado to Truckee, California.  It’s been a long time since I traveled long distances by rail.  The trip takes about twenty-four hours  following the Colorado River and then the Truckee River over the Rocky Mountains, across the Utah and Nevada deserts and into the Sierra Nevada.

Recently Updated2

It’s easy, in our busy, city centric world to forget that there are still vast, open spaces in our country.  Amazing views; long, long stretches of space and sky.  There’s nothing quite like sleeping on the train, although I will bring my down pillow next time.  On the way home my sister and I packed fruit and pretzels, some chocolate and a nice bottle of red wine so I could skip the pre-fab food options in the dining car.

I desperately needed this trip to fill the creative well and I would recommend a trip via train to anyone who doesn’t have a tight timeline and who doesn’t get ruffled when departure and arrival times are variable! 

So what did you do on your summer vacation?  Did you fill the well?

Here’s a Google+ auto-generated Story about my trip.  I love this feature!