Blue Love

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When my mom came to visit me in Boston, along with her clothes, her suitcase was heavy with books and a flashlight and a fossil I found while we were camping in the Ozarks. She used to tell me the story about how I found it – how I was three, in a sling on her back while we checked the gravely shore of a creek and that I was the one who pointed out the ancient ammonite. She likes that story. I can tell, because she has always finished it with the fact that “we were just about to turn back!” My sister later tells me that she was up every night for weeks before visiting me, searching the apartment for things to bring me in my new life. Such a strange assortment of things didn’t strike me as odd until later.

 

My mom gave birth to both my sister and I, at home, before her 23rd birthday, and has loved us generously ever since. Her love for us has always been vulnerable and messy and fierce and felt. I know also that she has consistently done her best to navigate the rough terrain of raising two girls by herself. The older I get, the more I understand this fact – that parents do their best with what they know and what they were given. Every year that we gain on the messiest ones, I understand that the arguments between fourteen years olds and their mothers are just hard lessons in love.

 

Even when we lived with my dad it always felt like us three – my sister, my mom and I. Us three driving to the library on a Sunday afternoon, us three at soccer practice, us three listening to the Canadian radio station that would sometimes come across the border into Bellingham, us three at the beach, at the park, at the second hand store. When my parents split up, to keep things amicable and easy, my mom first moved us twenty minutes away to a yellow house abutting the owners who had goats and chickens and a trampoline. It was the house where I had my first period (that she has always called my “moon,” subsequently making my sister and I cringe with embarrassment!) and when I told her, she did the silliest little dance in the kitchen. All that normalcy, all that level-headed parenting makes our current state feel so surreal.

 

During recent therapy appointments I always find myself repeating to the therapist the fact that my mom was a Girl Scout Leader and a Kindergarten Teacher, as if these facts bring her unwaveringly into my current life – a level of mom anyone could understand. I want them to know so desperately that she existed happily in the world of childhood with us, spent her days immersed in it. She was there on field trips and camping trips and basketball games. There are other details about her that I have been hanging onto as tokens against the reality of her new situation. The fact that she listened to Car Talk on Saturday mornings while she cleaned the house, how she secretly wrote poetry and loved to dance, that she never questioned a daughter who loved skateboarding and Star Wars and Legos. She sometimes baked bread that took all day, played Emmylou Harris on her guitar, always had in her room prayer beads and a Buddha, knew about plants and found God in nature. Every single one of my friends loved her. A Cool Mom. To me, all of these details make her condition so hard to comprehend.

 

Two years ago, she called me in the middle of the night and begged me to go outside, to leave my apartment, that she was rescuing me. I listened hard for the woman who raised me, in between this odd, new voice that was thinner and less convincing. I responded rationally until I realized I wasn’t really talking to that same woman. I paced back and forth, my body shaking with an uncomfortable new agitation I had never felt before. I knew she had changed in the past few years, was aware of, and had experienced, her recent alcoholism, but I hadn’t really understood what had really been going on up until that night. She had sent the S.W.A.T team to my new apartment, told them a wild story about my boyfriend kidnapping me. There they were in my hallway. We  had to rush to open the door and stand in front of them in our pajamas. I thought the episode was the result of losing sleep or had some connection to her recent depression or heavy drinking. In the years before this call she would anger quickly and spent late nights drinking and smoking on the back porch. I had a small room near the kitchen and remember the quiet whoosh of the back door closing behind her as she snuck out to buy more beer. Later, I would learn about her diagnosis of schizophrenia. I still don’t know what to believe. I have spent countless hours trying to piece things together in a way that seems rational. How did she go from the mother I knew to the woman on the phone? I have examined everything for signs and symptoms, combing her life for clues.

 

When I was seven, I saw my mom fall on her bike – a vintage yellow Schwinn. I had been following behind her up a hill. I can remember that I was so angry at her although I can’t recall the reason. She cried when she fell and, because I had been so upset with her a moment before, my heart felt like it burst into a million pieces. She was so vulnerable and human and I was shocked that I could ever have been angry with her about anything. After learning about her potential diagnosis, I have felt this feeling over and over and over.

 

She is the only person that fully understands my humor, our humor.  All the goofy faces and details of it. It is lonely not to be able to laugh at the same dumb things with someone, not to have someone to talk to who made you and then watched you grow for surely they know you more completely than anyone outside of yourself. We haven’t spoken in over a year.  I moved away two years ago and there are so many instances when I desperately want to call her to tell her the most menial things. She has remained unreachable, hasn’t sent any letters or texts back to me nor called on my birthday or any other day. The last few conversations we had were from the psych ward. She told me heartbreaking things about the food being good and the fact that they had Maeve Binchy books – an author whose cozy tales about Ireland we both used to check out at the library. The last I heard she is living with a man I have never met and has slowly gone from beer to vodka, but really it’s the diagnosis I am most afraid of. I am convinced she won’t call me because she believes she is protecting me from her. This is how she is. A grizzly bear mama protecting me from everything she can, even herself. Recently, in an terrifying demonstration of how far she feels from me, as I was texting my sister, I wrote out her full name and then stopped to stare at it. Was that right? Did I spell her name correctly? Does this name belong to someone I know? How can the familiarity of her existence have been punctured so easily by alcohol and something else I have such little knowledge of?

 

The sadness of her present sits heavy on my chest like an ugly gargoal only I can see. Sometimes I can feel it grooved into my ribs or taut against my stomach. It is a patient and determined feeling that demands my attention at the strangest times. One moment I will be working and suddenly remember a small thing, how she placed a mint on my grandmas pillow before she came to visit, and my body feels like it is weightless with worry and will float right up into the clouds. For my entire life, my absolute worst fear was and is losing my mom. It feels like an impossible, impossible thing that might cave my being in on itself. I was afraid to think about this when I was a child. I wonder many times if I’ve told her this enough or if I can ever tell her this again where she will understand. It is a strange oblivion to feel that I have lost her while she is still here. The first time I felt this, I doubled over on the hardwood of our apartment, the terror an intense blooming up from my knees.

 

Recently, I attended my second Al Anon meeting to try to find some comfort in the mutual experiences and particular limbo of alcoholism as I am convinced it is a major factor in her situation. Right after I said my name and everyone chorused back the friendliest “Hi!” you will ever hear, my voice shook in a way that teaches you the meaning of the phrase – that the shaking comes from your heart beating fast and loud. Your voice shakes over the thump, thump, thump that makes it sound like you are having a hard time breathing. I ended my story by doing something I thought to be the pinnacle of embarrassment, by crying in front of twenty strangers. It was awful and then it felt really, really grand. Afterwards, I walked home lighter. I could finally start to picture my mom coming back. “Of course” I told myself as I walked to the train. How can it be any other way? This is the way forward from now on. I think that the confusion, disbelief, and acceptance will keep coming in spirals. Right now it feels like ten suitcases of meticulously packed emotional baggage sits in the middle of the apartment. I have no interest in examining it and want to walk past it everyday, but I have to unpack or those suitcase get heavier and heavier. 

 

My boyfriend, Ben and I, talk about our own someday-babies. We are at a point where we talk about it often. I always thought my mom would be there to shine her fierce love on them. It was a given. She is so mad about babies. She once told me “when you have children I will be at your house so much that Ben will have kick me out!” There are moments when I am so utterly afraid that she won’t ever come back and that, if I ever become pregnant she will hear from someone else instead of being the first person I call. I know she would have the best mom advice and there are things she’s already told me for the future like “nap when the baby naps!” Despite all this, I am consciously creating a life that she will be proud of and can fall into comfortably if she will. For now, I keep the fossil on my shelf and the flashlight under the sink for emergencies. I’ll keep going, waiting for our lives to run parallel again.

 

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Words of Wisdon

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Lauren Hutton, On personal style:

“People say you’re either born with style or not. That’s hooey unless you happen to be born, like my friend Anjelica Huston—you got Monets and Matisses on the wall and people are coming in and out—you might be born with it. But we’re all completely different and whatever fashion is telling you, guess what, it used to be two times a year they offer you a new fashion, now it’s five times a year, so that’s what you’re being offered. But to have actual style, it’s what you pick out of that fashion, and if you put on whatever they’re trying to sell you, you will always be out of fashion because they’ll always be trying to sell you something new. The job is to have everyone else out of fashion all the time. The thing is to really look at yourself really hard—lock that door, don’t let anyone in. It doesn’t matter how young you are, how old you are—you can always change it. If you put a stripe on me a quarter of an inch bigger, I’ll look funny because I have small bones. Just because someone says it’s in fashion doesn’t mean it’s you. Get in the mirror and really look at yourself—not with your mother’s eyes or your sister’s—just try to get rid of everyone’s ideas of what you are, who you’re supposed to be and take a good look. Try to remember things that people have said look really good on you and always ask someone why they think it looks really good on you—you can add some humor so they don’t know you’re studying it and you’ll start putting it together. Usually minimalism is a good place to start. Don’t look for big and bold and blustery when you’re just starting out, especially if you’re young. You have to know that your bones are different from everyone else’s bones. You have to know what works for your bones. Whatever they tell you is fashion, chuck it out.”

 

orginally published on Bazaar.com

Befriending the Tomatillo

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For the longest time, I was intimidated by the tomatillo. I regularly shied away from it at the market. It just wasnt a vegetable I was very familiar with. Something about those papery skins turned me off. It seemed like a vegetable that probably didnt taste all that good since, to me, it looked like it was never ripe. It wasnt until I realized that salsa verde, that pleasantly refreshing condiment at my favorite Mexican restaurant, was made from those pretty green vegetables that always show up at the farmers market this time of year. I was determined to make something with this new-to-me vegetable in my own kitchen. Soon after, this soup was born. And it has become one of my favorites. Im already coming up with other ways to use the tomatillo because it is my new best friend.

 

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Pasole Verde (serves 4 generously)

 

1 cup dried hominy (alternatively, you may use 1 can of prepared hominy)

olive oil

2 onions

12 tomatillos, papery skins removed

1 jalapeño, deseeded

8 cloves of garlic

1/2 teaspoon cumin

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs

1 large bunch cilantro

 

For garnish:

avocado, radish, cotija or feta cheese, crumbled tortilla chips, lime, chopped cilantro

 

  1. Soak the hominy in plenty of water the night before you plan to make the soup. When youre ready to prepare the soup, drain and rinse the soaked hominy and put in a pot with enough water to cover by two inches. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the hominy is tender and most of the kernels have bloomed open. This could take up to an hour.  Reserve the cooking water to use as the broth in the soup. *Note: Skip this step if you are using canned hominy. In which case, just strain and rinse the hominy and set aside
  2. Chop the onions, tomatillos, jalapeño, and garlic. In a large pot over medium heat, add two tablespoons of olive oil and cook the onion with a pinch of salt until its beginning to soften. Add the tomatillos and jalapeño. Stir occasionally until the tomatillos begin to soften, about 7 minutes or so. Add the garlic, cumin, and enough pasole cooking water to just cover the vegetables. *Note: If using canned pasole, use water or broth of your choice in place of the cooking liquid.
  3. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until it is almost smooth. Bring the pureed soup back to a simmer and add the chicken thighs. Cover and cook 20-30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Turn the chicken once or twice during that time to encourage even cooking.
  4. While the soup simmers, chop the cilantro finely. You may also include chopped cilantro stems, as well. When the chicken is cooked through, remove the thighs from the pot and shred or cut them into small pieces. Return the chicken to the pot, along with the chopped cilantro and the strained hominy. Stir well to combine and allow the cilantro to wilt a bit. If the soup is too thick, add more cooking liquid, water, or broth to your desired consistency. Taste and add salt as needed.
  5. Serve the soup garnished with avocado, cilantro, sliced radish, lime, cotija cheese, and crumbled tortilla chips.

 

Find plenty more food inspo & recipes by Renee over on her blog space HERE

Repost / Taylor Camp

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  • Originally published on Feature Shoot here 

Taylor Camp, says Hawaii-based photographer John Wehrheim, was not a commune, and there were no rules. Set at the edge of the road along the beach of the ancient island of Kauai, the tiny village was home to restless souls longing to escape from the unrest of their generation, from the traumas of the Vietnam War, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations. Youngsters from around the country fled to Taylor Camp, where they erected and lived in makeshift tree houses of bamboo and tin, rode the surf, lounged in the nude, smoked weed, fished and farmed, and raised their children.

Wehrheim arrived in Kauai in 1971 at the age of twenty-three, bearing only a bag, a surfboard, and a bong. He and a former student from his time teaching at Honolulu’s Hawaii School for Girls were invited to stay on the property of Howard Taylor, who at the time owned the land on which the camp stood. After the first thirteen hippie campers to settle on the island were jailed under state vagrancy laws, Howard, who happened to be the brother of starlet Elizabeth, bailed them out and offered them the land that stood just across the bay from his home. By 1969, the camp was officially Taylor Camp, ultimately growing to house nearly one hundred men, women, and children, whom Wehrheim frequently visited for sleepovers and photo shoots.

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When he first ventured into the camp, the photographer was met with a degree of suspicion. It wasn’t until he came across a 75 feet long party house, known simply as “The Big House,” that the face of Debi Green emerged from the treetops. She welcomed him into the fold, introducing him to her sister Teri and allowing him to snap their portraits. When he came knocking with the gleaming silver prints, their trust was his, and he found himself booked full of sessions on the camp. In exchange for his photographs, Wehrheim was paid in meals, weed, and parties, where clothing was always optional. Looking back, he affectionately calls it his “dream assignment.”

People came to Taylor Camp in search of an existence sequestered from the violence that dominated mainstream media and life. There were college kids, war veterans, and young adults fleeing from the law and from the shadow of the draft. Here, they found the peace and solidarity that had eluded them in their previous homes. They found friends, lovers, brothers, and sisters. While some held steady jobs, others found work with the locals, who generally resented the mass hippie migration but also valued that the campers were willing to labor for small amounts of cash. The children rode the bus to the local school, and they had an in-house mid-wife and a medic returned from the war. Food grew naturally all around them, and many were supported also by welfare and food stamps. When he visited on weekends, Wehrheim brought with him cucumbers and bananas, farmed fresh between the photography courses he taught at a local college.

Taylor Camp stood for eight years, until in 1977 it was razed to the ground. As the state government began to close in, the community enlisted the help of Legal Aid attorney Max Graham and his assistant JoAnn Yukimura, who would go on to become both Wehrheim’s wife and the country’s first Japanese-American woman mayor. Although the evictions were delayed over a few years, most the campers were ultimately persuaded to abandon camp of their own volition, relocating to different parts of the island and country. The few who stayed behind were robbed and beaten by local troublemakers until they were carted out by the authorities and every last remnant of the camp was burned. A mother and her infant were among the few who remained until the end.

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These days, Wehrheim is a member of the Taylor Camp Facebook group, and he frequently reconnects with former residents, and in addition to the book, he has created a film to honor his friends from Taylor Camp. While Wehrheim admits that he has moments of homesickness for Taylor Camp, he knows that it was never really his home to mourn. The people close to him had all left before the torch hit the ground. He knew, he says, that the time had come, and from the rubble, he had lifted a gleaming set of memories. What he remembers best is the quality of the light, the shimmering rays of sun that flooded through trees and into the houses. Those eight years at Taylor Camp are a small and glittering sliver lodged in the memory and imaginations of all who lived there, but still the photographer cautions about living in the past, concluding, “I feel a sense of nostalgia for ‘the good old days,’ but I also realize that right now we’re living the good old days.”

Purchase the Taylor Camp book and film here.

Excerpt “Hands Free Mama”

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“THERE WILL COME A DAY . . . There will come a day when she no longer wants to hold my hand. So I will hold it while I still can. There will come a day when she no longer tells me what’s on her mind. So I will listen while she still wants to talk to me. There will come a day when she no longer says, “Watch me, Mama!” So I will observe and encourage while I still can. There will come a day when she no longer invites me to eat school lunch with her. So I will join her while I still can. There will come a day when she no longer needs my help to bake cookies or hit the tennis ball in the sweet spot. So I will stand beside her gently guiding and instructing while I still can. There will come a day when she no longer wants my opinion about clothes, friendship, death, and heaven. So I will share my views while she still wants to hear them. There will come a day when she no longer allows me to hear her prayers and her dreams. So I will fold my hands and absorb every word while I still can. There will come a day when she no longer sleeps with her beloved stuffed animal. And that day may come sooner than I think. Because sometimes unexpected events happen, causing the days to rush by, the years to tumble ahead. Sometimes what I thought I would have time to do, Like listen to her laugh, Wipe her tears, Breathe her scent, And hold her close, Will no longer be available to me. What I thought I had all the time in the world to do, May no longer be an option. The little pink dog that my child must now learn to sleep without after eight precious years reminds me that tomorrow may not allow for all the things I planned to do. So instead of being too busy, Too tired, Or too distracted when she seeks my love and attention, I will be ready and waiting To make her a well-loved child While I still can.”
Rachel Macy Stafford, Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone,