It Takes a Knowledge

It’s early when I turn into the well-rutted driveway that should lead me to the hoop house where Anne grows her tomatoes, but the sun is already fully involved in all the lush greens around the property. I can’t see her old, red and black pick-up truck to tell me I’m in the right place, but I can see the trailer that my husband helped Lois, who owns this property, acquire from one of our neighbors. And Anne grows her tomatoes on Lois’s property so I’m pretty certain I’m in the right place. For all the traveling I’ve done over the years, I remain directionally challenged so I often second-guess myself on things that seem familiar.

The dirt driveway leads past a field on my left, sheltered by a row of short trees, and straight on towards Lois’s house and the trailer. As I get closer to the end I notice I can follow the ruts around to the left and when I do, the large hoop house appears. I bump along, energized by being in the right place, and come to a stop directly in front of the hoop house. Outside the entrance there is a knee-high stack of produce boxes, labeled Organic Tomatoes, Grown by Blue Heron Farm; the morning pick. Anne told me she and her crew would be here, but I don’t see anyone around as I climb out of my vehicle and step toward the boxes. The tomatoes inside them are orbs of perfection; smooth skinned, baseball-sized spheres of cherry red with that dip at the top making them somewhat heart-like. Love apples. Pommes d’amour.

Glorious orbs

Orbs of perfection

Love apple

Pomme d’amour

I wonder if I can take a box and pay Anne for it later but these might be for her CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) customers or for the Food Co-ops she supplies. So I step inside the hoop house, in search of a human being. What I find instead is an exquisite land of warm vines that intimates years of knowledge to me. Row upon tidy row of vines, both sides of a central walkway, painstakingly trained upright on orange twine between homegrown bamboo poles, so the tomatoes are exposed in heavy clusters to ripen naturally. I’m enchanted as I move down the center, my eyes widening at the number of tomatoes blushing to perfection. I tread gently, not wanting to disturb the tranquility of this long plastic dome, where the only noise comes from the fans whirring up by the peak, and I marvel at the experience that has gone into growing tomatoes to this degree of success. Especially in the sun deprived, rain rich, Upper Skagit Valley. We need the passion and bullheadedness of youth, I think to myself, because it encourages innovation and drives us forward; but we also need the perspective of our elders, who have tried and failed – then tried again. I’m sure Anne Schwartz has had her share of disappointments over the years as an organic farmer, but boy, she’s certainly proven that persistence pays off. She and her crew of women, who bring such uncomplicated, chemical-free – not the mention delicious – sustenance to our table.

Tomatoes ripening

Tomatoes ripening

Slicing tomatoes

In clusters

Row Upon Tidy Row

Row upon tidy row

I’m still lost in that gentle musky smell that comes from tomatoes on the vine when I step forward and get an incredible hit of tangy fresh peppers. I look down to see long, curly green fingers hiding in the leaves throughout the rest of the hoop house. The smell is so mouth-watering I want to stand there and browse, like a deer at an apple tree, but I know if I start, I might not stop. So instead I linger a moment, torturing my salivary glands, then head back out of the hoop house before my growling stomach interferes with the peaceful growing that’s going on here.

Green peppers

Long, curly, green peppers

I get back into my car and decide I’ll catch Anne later to buy tomatoes and maybe some of those yummy smelling peppers. I do a three-point turn in the dirt and head back down the driveway, this time glimpsing a gap in the windbreak of green growth alongside the field I passed. Again my eyes widen at the sight of onions, planted in such a way that suggests someone really knew what they were doing. Why can’t I get my onions to look like that, I think. I can’t resist pulling over to snap a photo, and I’m glad I do because I get treated not only to the orderly onions, but also to the sight of crew members picking green beans and kale under the backdrop of Sauk Mountain. It takes a knowledge, I think.

Teri picking beans

Teri picking beans

Rows of Onions

Rows of Onions


Such tidy planting

Anne Schwartz 2

Anne Schwartz

Under Sauk

Under the backdrop of Sauk Mountain

And in case you didn’t catch the links in the text, here they are again for more information about Anne Schwartz and Blue Heron Farm:


My Brain Has More GB Than Your Cloud.

Just recently I read a very troubling blog post about how Apple had stolen the writer’s music collection. The veracity of the writer’s statements are apparently under review but nevertheless, much of what he said, struck a chord with me. Particular coming on the heels, as it did, of my own conversation with a sales associate at one on the Apple stores, in which I divulged that I don’t want to back my iPhone up to the Cloud. “Why not?” she asked, and gave me that look. You know, the one that says you just dropped a bad smell in the room. Or killed their favorite cat. It’s the same look I’ve received any number of times from sales associates in various stores when I present them with cash to make a purchase and they ask if they can have my phone number or my zip code – and I say no. It’s the look that says there’s something wrong with me because I don’t trust people I don’t know (or in the case of the Cloud, an intangible cyber construct) that wants my personal information. Since the sales associate at Apple seemed to be about the same age as me, I tried being honest with her about my distrust of the Cloud, by using my age as my defense. I’ve lived long enough to see what cyberspace can do to people, their finances, their children, their lives, and long enough to remember a time when people didn’t trust others with their personal information, sometimes simply because they didn’t want the barrage of unsolicited phone calls that would undoubtedly come if they did give out their number.

My argument held no weight with the sales associate who looked at me and said, “You wanna talk about age? Look at me.” I thought to myself, then why doesn’t that make you sensitive to what I’m saying? Why can’t you tailor your responses to me as an individual, rather than just another one of the masses who must fall in line with the latest way of doing things? Why, when there are actually other ways to back up electronics, including flash drives, CDs and, oh yes, our brains. Again, I’m old enough to remember a time when I had all the important phone numbers at my finger tips because they were stored in my head. I like the convenience of having contacts stored in my phone, don’t get me wrong, but I do think it’s disabled our ability to do the remembering for ourselves. And we have allowed it to do so on the unstated promise that if something goes wrong, the techno-gurus will help us out. So why is it that the default response seems to be, “Er, no.” Or, if I’m to be honest, and excuse me, my more genteel readers, for the language – “Fuck, no!”

I’m not that old but I have past the golden anniversary of my birth and I find the older I get, the more I like things the way I like them. Or, to use a more hip-term, I have my comfort zone. So while I like my electronics for the things they can do for me, once I get them set up for usage, I don’t like them to change that much. So one of the things that bugs me is the constant need to upgrade my computer and phone and software. Apart from anything else, my writing time at my computer is limited and already I find myself jealous of it because it gets interrupted all too frequently. So when I sit down to write, the last thing I want to spend my time doing is upgrading software – particularly when it turns out to be something I don’t even use in my system. In the TED radio hour The Source of Creativity, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert talks about an American poet she admires called Ruth Stone. She says this poet would be working the fields in Virginia when she was a young woman and would hear a poem thundering towards her, like a massive earthquake, and Ms. Stone knew that the only thing she could do was run. Run like crazy for her desk, to write this poem down once it got to her otherwise she knew it would keep moving through, until it found another poet to take its inspiration. Imagine what would have happened to Ruth Stone’s poetry if she ran like the wind to write it down only to discover she had updates that were CRITICAL to take care of before she could write. It’s like being in the throes of passion and having a kid walk into the room saying, “Mummy, I wet the bed.” You don’t have to deal with it now but, boy, it sure killed the mood. And to have it kill the mood only to find out that’s not enough – you need to back it up to the Cloud too and risk hackers seeing it before you’re ready to share – well, that just makes me bristle.

“Oh, our Cloud has never been hacked,” the sales associate boasted and I’m sure that’s true. But I’m equally sure that other big companies (remember Target? and Sony?) as well as government agencies (remember the IRS?) thought they couldn’t be hacked – until they were. What I want to tell my young friends, some of whom encourage me to just do it – use the Cloud, take the latest upgrade, download the latest software, sign up for every possible social media and then use it as an app – I want to say that my little frisson of distrust that I carry around – that comes from somewhere. That comes from my brain having enough storage capacity to remember that this has happened and can happen again. Because my brain, as small as it may be compared to some other people’s brains, my brain I’m pretty sure has way more gigabytes than any company’s Cloud. And unlike our electronics, when my brain freezes, all it usually takes is the act of sitting down a comfy chair to reboot it. No trip to The Genius Bar required.
Brain 3
Plus, here’s an interesting dichotomy. We’re made to feel like we must keep up with technology and we must give up readily our personal information and yet, if you try calling one of these hardware or software companies – even e-mailing them – for help, you’re going to find you have to sift through an overwhelming number of FAQs or scripted responses that actually have nothing to do with your problem because, you know why? They don’t want you bugging them! And that happens no matter what your age or what operating system you’ve upgraded to or how many passwords you have judiciously memorized to make sure your life information is protected. In fact, I think I’d respect these big techno-companies more if their products came with a warning label. Something along these lines: TRUSTING TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES TO BEAT HUMAN ERROR MAY BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE. That way, those who give up everything to be in step with the latest advances won’t be surprised when they drop their phone off the side of a mountain and say, yes, they backed up to the Cloud, but no, they can’t remember their password because they stored it in that phone since their memory has been compromised by never having to use it, only to hear the unflattering reply, “Oh. Sucks to be you today.”

But okay, I get that these big companies have had way too many people yelling at them for not being able to restore their contacts or photos after they drop their phones in the toilet that they’ve come up with what they think are idiot-safe ways to protect that information. But then I tell myself, if they’re capable of that, why aren’t they capable of designing items that take into account the comfort zone of the biggest sector of the population – the baby boomers? And why can’t they train their staff to talk to said baby boomers like there might actually be some validity to the way they see the universe? Because – and herein lie’s the rub – we may be old and crusty in our ways, but even the lowly like me, tends to have more disposable income than our younger, techno-hipster counterparts.

Something to think about.

A Walk in the Woods

Pumping up the hill in the State Park this morning, my dog, Molly Moon, gamboling easily, happily, ahead of me, I think about a monologue I wrote some time ago – I was an Illegal Alien – and how I haven’t recited it in a while. It’s quiet in the park, morning moist and aromatic with the gentle scents of the abundant foliage. I’m not someone who likes to listen to music as I walk but rather hear the sounds of nature as I run dialogue or envision plot twists in my head for things I’m working on. Or sometimes, I choose to do a monologue for an imaginary audience. Today that audience is in New York, in a small space, maybe a reading room at the Dramatists’ Guild.

“For a short while, after I first came to this country,” I start, seeing the straight up and down of the bark on the tall cedar trees that stand sentinel, on both sides of the grassy path I’m climbing. It’s amazing how different the bark is on a cedar tree from a Douglas fir, both of which are prolific in the Pacific Northwest. Firs trees have chunky, swirly, pitted bark, like a walnut shell, that will put you out of your house with the heat it can create in a fire, whereas cedars have long strips of paper thin bark, reminiscent of tobacco in cigars.

Somehow my mind captures this information without me really thinking it because I’m well into my recitation by now and enjoying the response of the imaginary audience. “Not that I intended to break the law,” I tell them and I can see them vacillating, wondering whether they should believe me or not. Peter Brook says all you need is am empty space to create theatre but I think all I need is an imaginary audience in my head. Of course, maybe my head is an empty space…

I watch Molly stop to sniff a frond of a sword fern and my eye is drawn to a series of tiny magenta blossoms strung like Christmas lights on a Salmonberry vine. I push on getting to the part in my monologue where I describe being offered a job making fundraising calls in the development department of Metropolitan Opera, and I hear the audience chuckle as I say, “I think she thought my British accent would be just the ticket for talking people out of their hard-earned cash.” Ahead of me, sunlight filters through the trees and I wish, as always, that I had a way to describe the many shades of green I see in these woods. Somebody told me once that Norwegians have many different words for snow and I think we should have an equal number of words for green. Maybe, if I were like Shakespeare, I would invent these words and people would sit behind the actors on the stages of my plays because they want to “hear” the play rather than see it.

But I’m not like Shakespeare. I don’t invent language, I just enjoy it. I wrote this monologue for an artistic director who was at the end of her life and wanted her last hoorah to be an evening with playwrights she had nurtured in her career. She overheard me once telling the story of my student days in NYC, and she said, “You outta write that down.” So for her last hoorah, I wrote I was an Illegal Alien, and shared it first that evening. Now I find myself slipping parts of it into my new novel and feeling ahead of the game that I already have this sticky note of material.

I reach the top of the hill and turn left, starting down the trail that runs alongside the creek. Coincidentally my monologue also makes a turn, away from illegal work activities and onto what it took to become legal. “Did you know, for example, that in order to become a permanent resident I had to swear that I was not a sexual deviant?” The audience laughs out loud, and I add the line, “Who gets to decide what that means?” although I think it might be too much. They get it. To my left I see a dogwood tree in full bloom, its wide, white petals laid flat around its yellow stamen. To my right the creek water clatters uninhibitedly downstream but it’s a sound that blends rather than distracts because it belongs in this environment.

We’re in the final stretch of our walk now and I’m at the place where my husband looks at the Immigration Officer and says, “What if she’s lying?” Audiences love that line and the one in my head is no exception.
“I look at him dumbfounded. Doesn’t he know these people don’t appreciate jokes?!” I complain. But it’s the character’s blatant honesty that they love. Don’t hide your past, is my husband’s mantra; that way people can’t hurt you with it later. I enjoyed writing this piece because it demonstrates that even someone who looks like me can have been an illegal at one time.

Molly skitters into the brush after something – maybe a squirrel – and I pause my monologue to click in my cheek and bring her back. She emerges, tail high in the air, front shoulders kicked back, as if to say, “Perimeter’s secure now, Ma’am.” Ma’am like ham, not like farm. Hey, if I can have my internal dialogue, she can have hers.

We ride home in the car next to each other, our lungs flush with new oxygen.
“What do you think about when you’re on your walk,” my husband asks me as I take off my sneakers.
“Well today I performed a monologue for an audience in New York,” I tell him.
He laughs and says, “You’re such a little girl!”
I think about that for a moment. A little girl, or a consummate performer? I shrug; who cares? I’ll take it.

The author as a little girl

The author as a little girl

The Serendipity of it All.

My late father-in-law wrote beautiful, rambling letters to us on yellow legal paper about twice a week when he was alive. He would get up at 4:00 am, come down to the kitchen in his Upstate NY home, make himself a cup of coffee, light a cigarette and sit down to share the family news with whichever of his children was in line for the daily epistle. Having four children, each with a spouse and most with children of their own, he had plenty of colds and exam results, weather, hockey/football/softball and work news to fill a couple of pages in forward sloping cursive that was both elegant and easy to read. And in one of these letters, he dropped a gift in my lap. He wrote that our ten-year old niece, Jessica, had asked, “What happens to the hour we lose to Daylight-Savings time?” I was already writing creatively by then and that question inspired a children’s story – The Lost Hour – in which Six O’Clock gets booted from a grandfather clock and travels east, to find other employment. After jobs in music, mathematics and one as a price sticker on a vegetable stand, he finds he’s traveled full circle, back to the grandfather clock, where he becomes the hour gained at the other end of Daylight-Savings time.

I sent the story out to small presses after I shared it with my niece and my own children and received lovely letters, often with handwritten notes on them, encouraging me to send it to bigger presses, where it would surely be welcomed. It wasn’t. And I didn’t have the time or the inclination to keep trying. So I slipped The Lost Hour in a drawer and went back to raising children, running a business, seeing my plays in production and writing more stories.

But apparently not before I shared a copy of the story with my friend, Deborah, a gifted, elementary school teacher, recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Award and three times included in the Who’s Who of American Teachers. Deborah was teaching 3rd grade at the time and I gave her the story to share with her class, something that I completely forgot about until she reminded me a couple of days ago. We were discussing the upcoming launch of the published version of The Lost Hour when she told me about reading it to her classes every spring, as the clocks went forward. Then she told me that she used the story as a jumping off place for the children to write their own creative versions of what happened to Six O’Clock, and she heard tales of him riding on a magic carpet, floating on clouds, backpacking across America, and sailing on cruise ships around the globe.

I was tickled that my little story had inspired such creativity but more than that; I felt the kind of goose bumps you get when something makes sense and you have no logical explanation for why it makes sense. Like the serendipity of ideas coming together that Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in her wonderful new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. You see, when I got The Lost Hour out of my drawer and decided to publish it, I knew I needed an illustrator and the universe brought me ten-year old Maya Keegan. I loved Maya’s artwork as soon as her grandpa shared it with me and, fortunately, she loved The Lost Hour. But I knew she was predestined to illustrate The Lost Hour when one of the first drawings she took on was that of Elizabeth, in England, who puts Six O’Clock in her mathematics notebook. When I looked at the finished drawing I was struck by how much Elizabeth looked like my niece, Jessica; but Maya had never met Jessica. Never even seen a picture of Jessica. Yet somehow she sealed the connection to the person who inspired this story by drawing her.

UK Elizabeth

Elizabeth in England



When Deborah told me about all the children writing new adventures for Six O’Clock I realized that while he was in my drawer, they kept him traveling around the globe until he found the perfect person to illustrate him. Like a man once told me, when I was sitting across a kitchen table from him, marveling at how I had become a wife and mother six thousand miles from where I grew up, when it was the last thing I had planned to do with my life.
“He was a good guide, wasn’t he?” the man said, pointing to the baby in my arms.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“He led you to his father.”

All those student storytellers must have led Six O’Clock to his illustrator because otherwise why would I have been so lucky to have found Maya and ended up with a book as beautiful as The Lost Hour.

It’s magic. Big magic. And I’ll take it.

P.S. For those who follow my blog, please note that later this month it’s getting a make-over, and a new title – Musings from the Mountain. So when you get an e-mail saying musingsfromthemountain has a new post, it’s just me.

A Comedy of Canines.

It’s 6:00 am, pitch dark and raining out. Molly Moon, my 3-year old Springer Spaniel/Lab mix just had knee surgery and needs to be on a leash while she goes out for her morning ablutions to make sure she doesn’t wander too far, or too fast. Or fall over. My eyes are still bleary from sleep as I step into my muck boots and pull my fleece jacket on over my sweats, and I wonder if our new puppy, Pinky, can be trusted not to jump on Molly if I let him come on the short walk with us. Part of me wants to leave him in the house but, at only 12 weeks old, he still needs a little company when doing his morning business otherwise he gets distracted and forgets. Which in turn can lead to oopsies in the house. Yeah, he’d better come too.

I grab a leash for Molly, who is already struggling to her feet, and think – flashlight! Molly likes to lead me away from the motion sensor light on the back porch so she can do her business in private, and it’s too dark and too early for me to want to trip over a tree root on our property. I grab the flashlight, connect the leash to Molly’s collar and then go through a brief farce at the back door as Pinky decides he wants to bring the door mat with him and Molly’s tugging to go down the steps and she won’t stay and he won’t come and I’m beginning to feel the rain down the back of my neck so I lean back in to encourage Pinky to let go of the mat and come outside while Molly thinks she’s supposed to go back inside now and Pinky wants to show us how fun the mat is all balled up and why can’t we bring it with us? I finally get them both out and this is how it starts.

“Pinky, no! Don’t jump on Molly. Pink-Y!!”

My cockerel crows in the chicken coop, probably woken by my yelling at the puppy, and then a second crow, louder, stronger. I sigh. Two of the three chicks hatched this past fall must be roosters, not just the one I already gave away. Their crowing distracts Pinky who, as part Chesapeake, is a bit of a bird dog. Molly’s left in peace but she’s not inclined to pee yet. Even on three legs she’s doing the leading and makes a beeline for the shadows, between the wood shop and the pottery studio. Pinky barrels up behind us and starts nipping at the backs of my legs.

I love you. I love you. I love you, his little love bites say.
“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” I yelp. “Pinky, stop that!”
Can I play with the leash then?
“Pinky, NO!”

I tug him away and he veers off, distracted by a twiggy length of salmonberry bush. Molly tries to crawl under the studio.

“Don’t go under there!” I snap.
“What are you…?
I smell skunk.
“You’ll get all tangled up – Pinky, NO! Leave her tail alone!”

I manage to get Molly back out into the open without getting the leash tied in knots but then she seems determined to lead me even further into the woods. I can see the grassy pathways between the brushy areas fairly well with the flashlight but the ground is uneven, and I’m worried she’ll stumble and hurt her bum leg. Plus I took my husband’s advice and put her on one of those leashes that unravels from a housing, so she could wander a little further and feel more private; but this particular leash was one of my husband’s “treasures” from the dump and the lock button sticks, so Molly keeps getting further and further away from me.

“Can’t you just go here?” I plead with her, pointing to a tree stump surrounded by soft mulch. “I’m hungry.”
Pinky leaps this way and that in the air. Me too. Me too. Me too.
Molly gives me a baleful look. I can’t. You’re watching.
“I’ll look away.”
You’ll know.
Pinky jumps on her. Can I ride on your back?
“Pinky, no! Will you get OFF her!!!”

I pull the puppy away and Molly disappears around the back of the studio. I move faster.

“Where did you….. Oh, you’re peeing. Good girl.”

A glorious sense of relief washes over me. Then I remember the puppy. I look left and right. Behind me.

“Where did Pinky go?”

I shine the flashlight all around and catch sight of him under a fir tree, doing his business.

“Good boy,” I coo.

All is well. The rain is a steady drizzle, fresh against the skin on my face even if my head is getting wet because I forgot to put on a hat. I hear the rooster crow again, followed by his echo, but they’re both more muted this time since the studio is between us, absorbing some of the sound. I feel peaceful standing in the oxygen rich woodland; until the puppy nips at the back of my leg again.

“Ouch! Stop that!!”
I love you.
“That hurts!”
I love you.
“Find something else to chew on!”
I love you.

As I swat him away, Molly spins to the right, heading into an area of thick brush. The vines snap as she clambers over them, trying to get in where she won’t be seen. I’m worried that she’ll get her leg tangled in the leash so I push my thumb hard against the lock button, but it’s stuck. Pinky bounces against my leg and yelps when I accidentally step on his paw. Then he tries to grab the flashlight with his mouth. Molly moves further into the brambles as I try not to trip over the puppy. Then I hear the leash being sucked back into the housing as Molly hobbles back out to join us, not having gone poop.

“What was wrong with that spot?” I wail.
The thing on my neck was bothering me.
“Pinky, NO! Leave her ALONE!”
I just want to ride on her back.
“Get off her!”
Okay, let’s play bite-the-open-mouth game.
Molly’s tail wags. You’re too short. You’ll never get me.
I will if I jump.
“Pinky, no!”

They run forward together, making hawing sounds as they move their mouths this way and that, trying to get a purchase on each other, tails wagging. Pinky jumps and jumps, his little body jostling her neck as I worry about her leg, thinking – she’ll never poop at this rate. I step forward to separate them. The ground is soft and wet but my boot lands in something softer, wetter. Something that smells….

“Did you poop here?” I bark at the puppy.
He looks down, surprised. No. That’s yesterdays.
“Good Lord!” I complain. “Can’t you poop in the brush like Molly?!”
She gives me a scathing look. Oh, so now it’s a good thing that I poop in the brush?!

I’ve had enough.

“I’m an actress! And I haven’t had my morning tea. So do your business!”
Molly looks at Pinky. Now you made her mad.
No. You made her mad.
It was your poop. You should learn to be more discreet.
What’s disskreeet? I’m hungry. Can I ride on your back?
“Pinky, NO!”

I separate them – again! – and walk a little further, around to the big Maple tree next to the garage where Molly often goes in the morning. The puppy dances away and I wait, hoping Molly will get busy. When she doesn’t, I decide this isn’t working.

“You probably don’t need to poop, do you?” I say to her in the quiet of the morning.
She looks at me. We can go with that.
“Come on. You can try again later.”
Can I at least get a drink?
“You want some water?”

I walk her over to the bucket that catches rainwater dripping out of the gutter on the garage but she prefers the puddle in the driveway. As she balances on three legs, lapping noisily, the puppy appears beside us, something white in his mouth. It’s a small plastic flag, a marker for the invisible fence that denotes the limit of where he should stray on the property.

Look what I found.
“Give me that!”
Okay, can I bite Molly’s ear then?
He’s touching me!
“Pink-Y, NO!”

And we head for the house as the cockerels take up their duet in the background.

(Well, until tomorrow morning)

Molly Moon & Pinky

What? I’m just hugging her.

All the World’s a Stage

Sitting in Le Pain Quotidien at St Pancras Station, drinking coffee and eating croissants, I mention to my husband that the flat serving tray, a ceramic cutting board of sorts, with a small hole at one end to hang the item between uses, and slight, inward curvature like a fish tail at the other, might be an interesting new object for him to make in the pottery. People race by on the main platform of the station, the to and fro from England to destinations European, and a man raises his voice to one of the serveuses, accusing her of being rude instead of responding to a simple question.

“I could make these,” my husband says, turning what he thinks is a handmade object over and around in his hands. “But I’d ask the waiter if he likes using them.”

“Ah no,” the waiter tells us in English laced with just enough of an accent – maybe French, maybe Italian – that it’s charming. “They don’t break or chip but for eating, is not so good. Messy,” he adds and flaps his free hand in the air over my plate, to indicate crumbs falling off the sides.

Behind him the belligerent customer opts not to eat in the café and as he storms out, a young man enters and immediately apologizes to the now smiling waitress for something he wasn’t even part of but senses was not her fault.

“I think he’s right,” my husband says to me, meaning the waiter’s opinion of the ceramic object. “They need a return on the sides.”

“But we wouldn’t sell them as plates,” I explain, “I’m thinking cheese boards. Or vegetable trays.” The rectangular flatware has a small bread motif stamped into one corner. I point at it and add, “You could put your tulip stamp here.” Three tables down from us, two men in elegant, silver-grey suits keep up a lively discussion in French about the percentage decline of the stock market. I lean into our table, so my husband can hear me over the background noise. “I really prefer cutting cheese on a flat board.”

“Uh huh,” he says, inspecting the tray again. “But I’m sure there’s a compromise in here somewhere.” He runs his index finger around the perimeter of the clay. “I could make a simple groove just inside the edge.”

I nod; that makes sense. I tear a section off my croissant and look beyond him, to the small Marks and Spencers food shop on the other side of the main platform. We went in there before coming to the café, to buy a green smoothie for me, and I was very impressed to see that they sold pairs of peeled, organic, hard-boiled eggs on fresh spinach in plastic cups to go. I should tell my friend, John Scott, about those, I think, remembering that I owe him a reply to the beautiful missive he sent me about morning time on the beach in Costa Rica. I dip the piece of croissant in my coffee, noticing the remnants of flaky pastry now on the table around my plate. Maybe he could suggest they sell something similar at the Co-op, I continue in my head. I bite down on the coffee softened croissant and nix the idea, realizing that John Scott probably doesn’t want me reaching across the miles with a business suggestion while he’s got his toes on a sandy beach in paradise. Although, I think with a certain amusement, here we are on our way to Paris and I’m talking plate design with my husband. How curious.

After we finish our petit repas (the time wasn’t right to call if breakfast or lunch, just a little snack) the waiter clears up our plates and cups and I hear myself saying, “Shoot! I should have taken a picture.”

“If I were a journaling kind of person I’d draw it,” my husband says and immediately my mind buzzes to the red writing journal I have in my backpack and the drawing he could make in it. I want to get it out and let him do just that but the backpack is behind him, the table is fairly cramped and now it’s covered in croissant crumbs, so I resist.

But not before thinking how strange (yet appealing) this idea is, a journal with sketches of pottery in it. Not birds or wildflowers, things we’ve come to expect in journals, but cups and bowls and plates and cheese trays.

Quick sketch cheese tray

Quick sketch cheese tray

And then I wonder how my life went from thinking almost exclusively about acting to discussing serving ware over café au lait on the way to Paris? And if I didn’t know that businessperson was just another role for me, I could let that bother me. Fortunately all the world’s a stage in my head and I love the range of roles I get to play.

Now about those flat, ceramic trays; how about a Mishima drawing of trees in the corner?

Who’s To Say What Love Is?

We often give people the tour when they come to visit our pottery shop, which includes seeing the studio where the pots are made and the kiln where the pots are fired. And often, if there are children with the adults (and sometimes just for the adults, because they ask) the tour ends at our chicken coop. Well, my chicken coop, my husband tells me, because he doesn’t consider the chickens community property. Although he built a lovely coop for them to live in. But still, apparently I have sole custody.

Which is fine because I think my chickens are wonderful. I wanted chickens because I’m partial to fresh eggs and when I found myself living on five acres with an existing coop, sans chickens, the connection was obvious. But aside from the incredible eggs my hens lay, they have also taught me a lot about love. Once I was down at the shop, about 150 feet from the coop, and heard the high pitched cheeping of a baby bird. One of my hens had recently hatched some eggs and the cheeping made me wonder if something was amiss. I strode up the graveled path, past the garden, to see the mama hen inside the coop, frantically running a groove into the dirt floor. I wondered what was making her so nutsy and then I spotted the chick, outside in the long grass between the coop and the garden fence. The chick must have pushed its way through the chicken wire to the great outdoors only to discover mama wasn’t coming too. Couldn’t come too, because she was of a size that wouldn’t fit between the holes in the wire. So the chick peeped its fear and mama hen sped back and forth on the inside of the wire like a bat out of hell. Or should I say, like a chicken with its head cut off (ooff!). I managed to capture the tiny chick (and trust me, that’s not easy to do because they’re so fast!) and when I deposited it on the ground, next to its mother, I was very impressed to see her immediately sit on it, as if to say – that’ll stop you from wandering off!

I used to think that being likened to a “mother hen” was an insult but since I’ve had chickens I’ve realized it is one of the highest compliments you can receive. Because chickens are excellent mothers. I remember going into the coop once with a group of visitors that included a friend, who also happened to be a prosecuting attorney. We looked at the chickens in the outer range, strutting and pecking and chasing each other, then my friend wanted to look in the inner sanctum, where one of my hens was sitting a clutch of eggs. “How many does she have under her?” my friend asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let me see.”
I slipped my hand under the hen and she ‘bwauk, bwauk, bwauked’ softly at me as I felt around for the eggs. “Six,” I said, having touched at least that many.
“Can I try that?” this friend asked, fascinated.
I nodded – sure – but as she moved her hand towards the nest the hen ‘bwauk, bwauked’ much louder, fluffing out her wing feathers and reaching forward to stab her beak on the invading hand. My friend pulled back immediately but not because she was upset or hurt. She was impressed. “That hen definitely knows the difference between you and some stranger,” she said, as we moved back out towards the garden. “And I’m glad you showed me that.” Her face became more serious. “I’m prosecuting a case right now that involves some boys tying a chicken to a pick-up truck and dragging it down the street, then hanging it in a tree and setting fire to it and their lawyer keeps telling me – it’s just a chicken.”

Really? Because we sit higher on the food chain than these creatures that gives some people the right to think we can be cruel to them? Why? Why?! I hear that kind of thing and I think everybody should have a chicken coop, just so they can see reflections of love that might grow their hearts bigger. But of course, not everybody has five acres in the country or, for that matter, a spouse that is willing to build them a coop. So since this is the start of a new year and since last year was peppered with enough pain in the human world that too many of us found ourselves asking why – why? – I thought I’d share a moment of tenderness from my chicken coop that really made my heart sing.

One of my hens – the Chanticleer – hatched three chicks in late September and once she started moving around with them, I watched her dig a hole in the dirt floor and tuck the chicks back under her at night, to keep them warm, rather than roost on the perch with the other chickens. The main growing season was over in the garden so I let the chickens range outside the coop every day, to peck for bugs and run through the rototilled soil, and then in the evening, I’d go back up and close the door to keep them safe from potential predators. And of course, before I closed the door, I’d go inside and count that they were all back on the perch and then look down at the mother hen. Sometimes I’d talk to her, asking her if all the chicks were back inside with her, especially if I could only see two tiny beaks peeking out from under her. Invariably as I chatted the third one would squirt out from the other side of her and cheep at me as if to say, “Yeah, I’m here.”

The days got shorter as fall progressed and the chicks went from fluffy balls of yellow to more pint-size birds with sleek black feathers, not at all the coloring of the Chanticleer but more like the Black Orpingtons, who I noticed backstopped the Chanticleer every time she needed help in her mothering duties. As the chicks grew I kept expecting to find them on the perch at night, moving away from their mother, but still she dug a hole and tucked them underneath her. Then one night I went into the coop and they had moved up to the perch but instead of sitting independently from the mother hen, she was sitting over them, her wings stretched out to cover them all and keep them warm.
Chanticleer & chicks

Now if that’s not a moment of love, I don’t know what is. Happy New Year.