Being bi-coastal is not as much fun as it sounds. Born in California (Hollywood, to be exact) and raised in Marin County (have you read The Serial?), I had a certain perspective about life. People were generally good, you could ride your bike downtown on Saturday to have See’s candy with your fourth-grade teacher, and sneakers were the preferred footwear all year long.

In sixth grade I was one of the “popular” girls because, of all things, I excelled in math. I was captain of the softball team. My best friend and I had boyfriends who were twin brothers. We got into trouble together and our mothers threatened to send us to boarding schools with 6-and then 10-foot-high walls. Until they realized they should be separate schools, as we were dreaming up the things we could do there together.

One day my father came home from work and announced we were moving from Mill Valley to NEW YORK CITY! We would pack up everything we owned, board a TWA plane, and head to new adventures 3,000 miles away. WOW, what fun! We learned about hurricanes and how to say “LonGisland” like New Yorkers. We “warshed” the “ca” and waved goodbye to our California lives. And I became bi-coastal.

I’ll admit that the first few months were interesting, living in a hotel in Manhattan and my sister and I pretending we were Madeline. We even experienced a hurricane, replete with candles and board games and chocolate bars in our hotel room, deciding then and there we should have a hurricane every week.

But the first blush was not to last. We moved to the suburbs, started at a new school, and I was a fish out of water. My homeroom teacher was black, the first black person I had ever seen. There were cliques, a word I didn’t even know. The popular girls didn’t excel at math — they excelled at heather skirts, Peter Pan collars, and penny loafers. No one wore sneakers.

Then my father had a massive heart attack. New York sucked.

I couldn’t wait to get back to California. My friends were there, my aunt and my grandmother (both of whom I adored) were there, my self was there. My father survived his heart attack and I made a deal with him that, if I saved up $150 for the plane fare to go back to California, he would match it. Of course he said yes — I was 12 years old and unemployed.

The summer I turned 14 was my renewal trip to “home.” I came alive again. I had saved my allowance, babysat, sold wrapping paper door-to-door, and was a full-time mother’s helper for two summers, and I surprised my dad with my $150 in crumpled bills.

My die was cast. I had learned that if I wanted something bad enough (and I have always wanted a lot of things), I had to work for it. Summers, school vacations, weekends — all through high school I worked as a deli clerk, a corsage maker at a florist shop, a babysitter, a soda jerk at a hospital coffee shop. I worked and saved for college, which I dreamed would be back in California.

I was accepted at two UC schools and my “safety” school in upstate New York. Then I found out my father had forgotten to save enough money for me to go to college for four years. The only college I could afford was the safety school because they gave me two scholarships and a special waiver to — you guessed it — work on campus starting my freshman year.

I got my wish to go back to California my senior year. My parents and younger sister and brother moved back there the previous year. While I was having a nervous breakdown trying to save money by graduating a semester early, my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I flew home and took on the jobs of being her full time caretaker and my family’s full time stand-in wife. The nervous breakdown was only a slight inconvenience.

Of course I also started my first “real” job. Remember, I said this was Marin County in the early 70s, so real is in quotes. I worked for a major pothead during the day, and listened to Alice Cooper wafting up from the nightclub bar down the hill from our house in the evening.

I tried to keep my father sober, my mother alive, my sister from running off with a tow-truck driver, my brother in naive bliss, and myself somewhat sane. I failed at it all. And then I got married and had to move back to New York.

Did I tell you I hate New York?

I have worked nearly all my life. It started with the lemonade stand when I was 7. I sold wrapping paper door-to-door when I was 13. At 16 I was working 14-hour days at a florist’s shop making corsages for Easter and Mother’s Day. And of course lots of babysitting in between.

In college I was a research assistant for two psychology professors, writing synopses of really boring texts. I worked in the college bookstore as a cashier, and then was a commercial copywriter for a local radio station (wonder where that would lead!). During summers I was a switchboard operator at a club (if you’re old enough, picture Lily Tomlin and “one ringy dingy”) and worked in the deli department at the A&P (on Mondays, Betty White would bring in her Sunday roast beef for me to slice for sandwiches). By my second shift, they wanted to make me manager.

Then there was landing my first job. This is where things got really interesting. I was one of thousands of baby boomers looking for my break into the exciting world of work. My dual majors were English (I was the only English major not going into teaching) and psychology (which taught me not to go into teaching). I went to an employment agency and took a typing test, scoring a lightening 15 words a minute with 13% accuracy. Secretary out. I applied at several banks to be a teller, but scored too high on their tests. Banking out.

Image result for 1960s press room photo

I had an interview at Associated Press (a giant room full of men smoking cigars and banging on typewriters – argh!) and was told to “write something.” AP journalist out. I was promised a job at Glamour magazine and the woman who offered it to me dropped dead the week before I was to start. Fashion columnist out.

Then I saw an ad for a copywriter. Memories of working at the radio station for all of 3 weeks fueled my bravado and I sent in my resume. (I still wasn’t exactly sure what a copywriter did.) I was called in for an interview and brought a “portfolio” of what I had written for my high school newspaper and college yearbook. They told me there were 123 applicants. But they hired me, and I quote, “because you have great legs.” (NB: I do, but that’s not the point. I had a portfolio, dammit.)

The company was running a pyramid scheme with a megalomaniac at the helm (I exaggerate not – William Penn Patrick – look him up). This being Marin County in the early 70s, my direct supervisor came in at 10, made marijuana tea which he drank until 1, and then left. Every day. Except when he stayed home “sick.” My job was to wax glowingly about their non-existent products in full-color brochures and newsletters. Which I did for three months until I arrived at work once morning to see all the doors padlocked, armed guards out front, and news that William Penn Patrick had been killed in a mysterious plane crash, and the second-in-command had stolen all the secret formulas for the non-existent products and all the money in the banks and skipped town. Copywriter out.



Today is some kind of special holiday. But for farmers, it’s hard to fathom what a “holiday” really is like. Here’s what our day looked like:

Let sheep out to “mow” lawns. Check chickens and collect eggs. Plant pepper seeds in flats in greenhouse. Say goodbye to guest in cottage. Strip bed, wash sheets. Check email. Play WWF while eating lunch. Finish newsletter. Water. Prune rest of apple trees, all of the Asian pear trees, start on roses (roses??!). Weed hoophouse, plant more lettuce mix. Put sheep back in pasture, feed hay to sheep and goats. Collect eggs, close chicken coop, put guard dog in pasture with sheep. Make farro and squash for dinner. Bag up more farro and flax for farmers market. Check email, play WWF again, type this. Happy Whatever Day This Is!

I woke up a worm today.

It’s Sunday, and I try not to work much on Sunday.  It’s not a religious statement – the newspaper is bigger on Sunday and so I take a longer morning with it.  Then we usually take off for somewhere – anywhere – to escape those far-off but incessant whispers all around the farm calling, “Hey there!  I need a new feed bin.  What about that faucet you were going to fix?  How about some hay over here! Can’t you put a better latch on that gate?  What’s with all this poop in the coop!”

Today I escaped to the hoophouse. It’s not Paris, or the beach, or even downtown Petaluma – all much better choices.  But it was where I could get to today.  (And it’s also where the snap peas are overgrowing the much too short trellis I made for them, but peas can’t whisper as loud as animals, so it was okay.)

A hoophouse is an unheated greenhouse.  Ours is pretty big.  There are metal “hoops” that are, oh, maybe 20 feet high with plastic stretched over them and the entire structure is 30 feet wide and 48 feet long.   It is a place I go in the middle of winter when I want a dose of summer.  A very humid summer.  With water dripping off a plastic sky.  (Okay, I really do have to pretend.)

ImageAnyway, I moved a flat of beet seedlings and there she was.  She was reddish and new looking – very moist and fresh.  She slowly unwound her body, then stretched and gave a little twitch of her backend (that’s how I knew she was a she).

She didn’t seem to mind being awakened.  But I did.  I know we’re supposed to love spring and the rebirth and awakening of our new selves, fresh and dewy with anticipation of adventures to come.  But it’s too soon for me.  I’m not ready.  I want to curl back up and go into someplace dark and warm and stay for a while longer.  I haven’t made enough cups of tea or learned to spin yet or finished clearing out my office files.  I want to take a fabulous candlelit bubble bath, like the women in those magazine ads, and this was the winter I was going to do it.

So I covered the little worm with the warm, moist soil and put the flat of seedlings back down.  And I slowly and quietly backed out of the hoophouse and closed the doors and walked back down to the house and started the bathwater.  A little while longer please.

This is a story that my family has heard many times, and my brother has encouraged me to write down.  So I did.  I also will attest here and now that I am not making a word of this up.  This really, really happened. 

The year was 1983.  I was living in upstate New York, completely against my will as a California native.  After a long, dragged-out divorce, my ex finally moved into his own apartment which I had to rent for him (so now you know at least one of the reasons for the divorce).  I was alone – at last – with my 3 ½ year old daughter, Jenn.

Our family tradition every year was to go out to a Christmas tree farm in the country, find the perfect tree, and haul it home.  It was a beautiful tradition, one that I was bound and determined to continue in my newly single state.

ImageTwo weeks before Christmas, it was a cold but clear morning as I bundled Jenn into her snowsuit.  Now, for you west-coasters, a snowsuit is de rigueur for the northeast.  It is a one-piece snow-proof thing inflated to bursting with insulation and hopefully a young child somewhere in its depths.  When donned and zipped up, the child’s cherubic face is all you can see as he or, in this case, she stands looking for all the world like a giant gingerbread cookie – legs apart, arms sticking straight out, unable to bend.  Add some boots and a scarf, and she is ready to go.

Go we did in my little Subaru sedan.  Over the hill, through the woods, to a Christmas tree farm not far from our house.  We were the only car there on this weekday morning, so the farmer gave us a tree saw and pointed across the field to where the trees were.  This also was a “low key” (read “cheap”) Christmas tree farm — no Santa’s helpers in cute hats, no sled to bring the tree back, no plastic netting to wrap it in and help put on top of your car. Nope. “The trees are over there,” and back in the house he went.

The field road was frozen, so the ride was slow and bumpy but the little Subaru made it.

As soon as we alighted from the car, Jenn announced she had to pee.  Jenn “announcing” things would shake the earth to its depths – “I HAVE TO GO POTTY!!!” she screamed, her words piercing the frozen air like icicles. 

Okay, among the many drawbacks to snowsuits is they are impossible to get off once on.  I unwrapped the scarf, pulled off the hood, unzipped the front, pulled down the suit, pulled down her pants, and proceeded to instruct my little girl in the fine art of peeing in the woods. 

Which she managed just fine.  All down the front of her snowsuit.  She was soaked, and it was just below freezing out.  So, back to the car we went.  I told her to wait in the car while I went to get our tree, put the saw on my shoulder, and headed down the hill to the trees.

I wasn’t alone.  Jenn’s screams had brought the farm dog around, who was jumping and barking alongside me as I looked for my tree.  (Forget the “perfect” tree – at this point, any tree remotely round and green would do.)  I could hear Jenn too.  She had rolled down the window in the car and was “announcing” that she was cold and wet and wanted to “go home NOW!”
I found an acceptable tree and started to saw it down.  This was not as easy as it had looked when my husband had done it in years past.  I sawed and sawed and sawed, finally realizing the farmer hadn’t sharpened the saw in years.

But, with a sharp kick, the tree came down.  I put the saw on my shoulder, grabbed the trunk of the tree, and started for the car.  I got about 5 feet and realized the tree was a whole lot heavier than it looked.  And bigger.  I couldn’t lift it, so had to drag it with two hands back up the hill to the car.

Sweating, struggling, swatting at the barking dog, serenaded by Jenn’s continuing wailing, I finally got back to the car.  There was Jenn, standing on the front seat, totally naked, with the window wide open, yelling at the top of her lungs.  I tried to put the tree on the roof of the Subaru, but it was too heavy to lift. So I stuffed it into the backseat.  It wouldn’t fit, of course, so I had to leave the back window open with the trunk of the tree between the front seats. 

I put my sweater on Jenn, started the car, put the heater on super high, threw the car into reverse, and ran over the farmer’s dog.  Actually, just its leg.  I jumped out, put the bleeding, yelping dog on the floor of the car next to the naked, screaming three-year-old, and gunned it back to the farmhouse.

Except the field had thawed.  I left the wailing dog/screaming kid-filled car in the mud and ran to the farmhouse to get help. 

The farmer was not surprised to hear I ran over his dog – “that dog is always getting underfoot” – but he was surprised to see the naked kid standing in the open window of the car.  “She always like that?” he asked politely.  While I tried to explain the snowsuit thing, he got behind the car and pushed it out of the mud.

Back at the farmhouse, we transferred the dog to his car to get it to the vet, I gave him money for the tree and my phone number for the vet bill, and Jenn and I headed home with our fresh-cut, farm-raised Christmas tree.

Back home, I gave Jenn a warm bath, put milk on for hot chocolate, took the fresh-baked cookies out of the jar, and went to get the tree out of the car. 

Except (and I know you KNEW this) I had put it in backwards.  You NEVER put a Christmas tree in trunk-first, silly, no matter how much easier it is that way.  I pulled, I pushed, I got the saw out and cut off lower limbs, I pulled some more, cut some more, and finally just pulled as hard as I could through the open side window it was sticking out of.  Limbs broke, needles went flying, bark shredded – by the time I got it out of the car, it was the ugliest tree I had ever seen.

I put it up, put the lights on, hung the ornaments, poured a very big brandy, and the following year went to a tree yard and had a good-looking guy put a perfect tree on top of my car for me.

Merry Christmas from our house to yours.

This may not be a popular post. I’m going to suggest that is just darn okay to add a few pounds to your waistline in winter. In fact, it’s a very natural thing — and has little to do with Aunt Jane’s pecan pie or Uncle Joe’s eggnog.

I am not a nutritionist, but I know that I unconsciously (and unfortunately!) want to add a layer of fat as the weather gets colder. Give me calories!

If you watch animals, many naturally gain weight in winter. For some, it’s because that is often when they are pregnant. For others, it’s part of the storing of fat to hibernate or survive long, snowy winters with little food. This was probably vital to survival for our ancestors too. Extra layers of adipose tissue on the body protect against the cold. It is then used as fuel in the late winter and early spring when food stocks would historically be very low due to the now melting frost.

At the same time, the lack of daylight caused by the shortening days during late fall and winter can bring on seasonal affect disorder (SAD)* or winter depression. A quick boost to energy levels and emotions comes from eating high carbohydrate foods like chips, cookies and cereals that give us a fast blood sugar ‘fix’.

But there’s an alternative!

If you’re paying attention to seasonal eating, you’ll notice how your body requests and responds to different foods in different temperatures: cool, crisp, juicy things in summer, and denser, meatier, sweeter things in winter. Sweet equals carbs equals calories. And endorphins. Which may be what allays seasonal affect disorder.

And what vegetables are loaded with “sweetness”? Kale, collards, chard and broccoli actually taste noticeably sweeter in winter than they do in spring and fall. Winter squash, as opposed to summer squash, is really sweet. Roasted beets, Brussels sprouts, potatoes and carrots all bring on the endorphins. If you’re interested in the biology, in warmer months, the energy absorbed by plants converts easily into fruit and seed production, giving us the juicy ripe food of summer. But shorter days and colder nights cause plants to stick with the basics of leaves and roots. Fortunately, when that energy concentrates in the leaves and roots in cold weather, it also converts starches to sugars, making winter vegetables sweet and tempting.

So, instead of reaching for the pastries or a pint of chocolate ice cream to chase the winter blues away, add more of the naturally sweet winter vegetables to your plate. Eating seasonally appropriate foods (and tolerating a slight weight gain in winter) might counter-balance cases of seasonal affect disorder.And don’t worry so much about the little weight gain. That’s natural too. And natural that you’ll lose it quickly when spring brings a renewed level of sunlight and activity. 

*Seasonal Affective Disorder, known as SAD, is a mood disorder affecting approximately 10 to 20 percent of the population in the United States. It is a type of depression that occurs during fall and winter as the exposure to sunlight is reduced. Sunlight not only assists in producing vitamin D in the body, a vitamin essential for calcium absorption, but it also assists in releasing endorphins, elevating mood, vitality and overall health.

I witnessed a pretty amazing thing this past week. We were vendors at the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, sponsored by Baker Creek Seed (the “Seed Bank” in Petaluma). People from all over, from all walks of life, from all political, religious, and social persuasions, came together en masse to taste and talk about heirloom vegetables.

Alice Waters was there. Dr. Vandana Shiva was there. And so were hundreds of school kids, college sustainable agriculture students, moms pushing strollers, and old men who remembered (and wanted to share stories of) what a tomato used to taste like.

The message? Heirloom vegetables — those magic things that taste like their beautiful photos, that produce seed that you can save to plant the following year — are under attack. Monsanto, makers of RoundUp and other noxious pesticides, now owns almost 40% of all the vegetable seed in the US, and nearly 100% of all the corn, cotton and soybean seed in the world. In other words, they control our current food system.

The economic impact alone is staggering. Their genetically modified (therefore patentable) seed must be purchased by farmers year in and year out. And they just announced that they are raising the price of their corn seed 5 to 10%. No reason given.

If you care about the ability of farmers and backyard produce growers to plant a seed that is not genetically modified, that can be saved and planted again the following year without having to pay corporate royalties, that is a true representation of its parent in taste and flavor, and that can be sold to consumers as a pure, unadulterated food, then please learn what you can to help control this disaster. If a company can control a seed, they can control our food — it’s that simple.

Here is a list of seed companies that carry seed owned by Monsanto:
* Territorial Seeds
* Totally Tomato
* Vermont Bean Seed Co.
* Burpee
* Cook’s Garden
* Johnny’s Seeds
* Earl May Seed
* Gardens Alive
* Lindenberg Seeds
* Mountain Valley Seed
* Park Seed
* T&T Seeds
* Tomato Growers Supply
* Willhite Seed Co.
* Nichol’s
* Rupp
* Osborne
* Snow
* Stokes
* Jungs
* R.H. Shumway
* The Vermont Bean Seed Company
* Seeds for the World
* Seymour’s Selected Seeds
* Roots and Rhizomes
* McClure and Zimmerman Quality Bulb Brokers
* Spring Hill Nurseries
* Breck’s Bulbs
* Audubon Workshop
* Flower of the Month Club
* Wayside Gardens
* Park Bulbs
Park’s Countryside Garden