The last conversation I had with my grandma Rose was labored. Like listening to someone fluent in a language like Creole or Spanish, I filtered heavily, only catching every fourth or fifth word. She talked in short, slurry bursts. I strained to get her meaning, and somehow managed it.

“Our…family has…always…. helped people,” she said. She gave several examples of do-gooder relatives. She talked about her husband Abe being in the union at the Caterpillar plant in Peoria and then organizing typesetters at a newspaper in Tucson.

Rose and Abe wedding photo

Rose, who outlived Abe by almost 30 years to be 98, also lived this ethos out. In my time knowing her, she was a fervent saver of water, a brilliant teller of stories delivered to neighborhood kids who gathered in her yard, and a persistent volunteer at a local hospice.

Besides being a quintessential good person in my life, she was undeniably a character. I credit her with my love of words, walking and wandering.

I remember playing Scrabble with her a few times. I don’t remember winning even once. The losses stung. Still, they helped me to realize that you don’t need to know every word out there, but it’s a good idea to continually expose yourself to new ones, and to ask about the ones you don’t know. This translated into not only an itch to learn about words and ideas for me, but also a curiosity about other cultures and languages. And those interests landed me in Mexico, Central America and South America. When I got to those places, and long after leaving them, I had developed both the inclination and the capacity to write about them, so I did.

Rose would walk many miles per day in spite of the Tucson heat until her last few years when the mileage on her body began to catch up with her. She made her way to the library, the grocery store, and then home, lugging her groceries, daily. Many people she encountered along the way knew her and would stop to chat.

She was an institution of the best kind – a wealth of compliments and curse-words in Yiddish. A reminder of the 1920s and 30s depression era, and later a time when adobe houses were still the norm on her block, situated on the outskirts of a much smaller Tucson. I used to be embarrassed at restaurants when she would carefully wrap half-eaten biscuits and other food scraps in napkins or stuff them into styrofoam cups to carry them home, determined not to waste. That habit never stopped being exasperating, but it was hard not to admire her survival instincts and determination.

In some ways at least, she had exceptionally good luck. She would enter contests and routinely win cars, televisions and cash prizes. The cash often went into college funds for her grandkids. The last time a stranger broke into her house to steal her television, she told the intruder “I have a gun and I’m not afraid to use it.” When she recounted this to me, I asked, “Rose, why did you say that? You don’t have any guns.” “No,” she said. “But they didn’t know that.” It worked. Proud pause. I’m happy to have you on my bargaining team, Rose.

RoseETgrad

For most of my life, Rose was my only living grandparent, so she defined that role in large part, though I didn’t see her that often with a few states separating us most of the time.

I have some hazy but deeply impressioned little person memories of her: when she fainted from sunstroke while we were watching the San Francisco gay pride parade roll past, when we would walk the familiar paths of the Sonoran Desert Museum outside of Tucson, the profiles of saguaros rising up on all sides.

My deepest and strongest association is one of her walking behind me, somewhere in Flagstaff, I think around the time that Terry graduated college. Her hips and arms swung out to the sides, creating an almost centrifugal, yet forward-moving momentum akin to a spinning top. “Show me the way to go home,” she belted. Her voice rose, and fell and sparkled and bopped. “I’m tired and I want to go to beeed! I had another drink about an hour ago, and it went right to my head!” The next part in her rendition cracked me up, and since she was somehow my first exposure to this old song, it took me a long time to figure out that the lyric “A bottle of booooooze…” was not a traditionally included one.

Rose liked to joke about many things, but you couldn’t pass a visit with her without the term schnapps surfacing in the conversation. She used the word liberally to include every variety of liquor, I think. Part of what made it funny was that I never knew her to drink even a little schnapps. Besides typifying her strain of wit, the schnapps references did something I think she enjoyed immensely and I came to respect profoundly. In her grandma phase, at least, she was tough sometimes to the point of being stubborn. She loved to bust up stereotypes and expectations about little old ladies. And she did a smashing job of it.

ETRoseBest

So, yes, Rose. We will go on helping people in loving memory of you, and Abe and the Terence family. By fighting for better working conditions, health, peace and justice for people, communities and the environment. By treating people like people, hearing them out, going through it with them, and putting ourselves in positions to get new perspectives. By channeling the power of words and good humor. By keeping our minds open and opening the minds of others. By reading, writing, talking, walking, growing and singing our way through this life, however long it lasts.

With so much love and appreciation for you, Rose.

Katie

A few days ago, I squirmed at the prospect that an electrical circuit in my friends’ home placed in my care for a few weeks could have fried during a power outage. At the same time, I had to laugh. I’m so accustomed to the convoluted but effective method we’ve developed of fixing our off-the grid power systems at home, but when it came to a breaker box full of switches, I was intimidated.  So, I gave myself a little get-over-yourself talk and asked one co-worker, then another, and a third.

One of them gave me some helpful advice. My discomfort with the whole situation must have been palpable, because he offered to come help me troubleshoot the problem. A few hours passed, and I couldn’t focus, so I went back to my friends’ place to see what I could do with his advice. Just as he’d suggested, a switch needed to be levered back and forth several times before it fully flipped back into the power-consuming mode designed for a utility load.

While I worked, I found myself saying aloud a refrain I often repeat when faced with the need to solve a problem or fix something. “You are smart enough for this.”

Living in the country, we get used to things not working right, or just generally not going according to the plan. Roads? Ha! Don’t get too used to having those. Pipes? They break. Electricity, water? Sometimes you might have them. Other times not. Make the most of them while they’re in good supply.

The “You Are Smart Enough” refrain may sound silly. In fact, it does to me. But even having had at least 20 years of time to absorb the rural sensibilities required to find and fix our own problems – essentially to adapt – in places like this, the fact remains. The nuts and bolts of mechanical function behind the tools we use, the chemical and biological makeup of our world, the physics of subsistence in the vast mountains and rivers here, and the math of what makes it work or not work are all extra challenging for women much of the time. It’s not that we’re not smart enough. It’s that we’ve witnessed and heard how the world thinks we’re less capable, and we’ve internalized that, often to the point where we’d deny it if asked.

And reminding myself that I’m smart enough helps. So show some love for the women who persevere to figure things out, who are smart enough to ask for help and make it work. And save some love, also, for the men who share what they know without laughing or making fun of these women, and who share in the feeling of pride and victory when these small battles are won by women who feel empowered to fix their own shit on their own. (Shout out to Michael Stearns, in particular.)

Last weekend, I sat down to get going on exercising my right to comment on pipelines, dams and suction dredging, and this was the map that my mind issued.

dam-dredging-4

Today, I’m again surfing my caffeine surge and dedicating my Saturday morning to doing something about a few of the world’s many injustices. My to-do list is actually much longer than this, but I wanted to share with you a convergence of opportunities to protect our gorgeous rivers around this state and this country. They need our immediate attention. Please join me – here’s how.

River Gorgeous To-Do List:

  1. Find ways to voice peaceful protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and all pipelines that threaten clean water. Today: Call on Wells Fargo to divest from DAPL, in solidarity with these guys. I called these numbers: Arcata branch – (707) 822-3642, Eureka branch – (707) 443-4542, Dedicated Wells Fargo DAPL feedback line – 1-844-931-2273. Let’s insist on corporate accountability and social responsibility. My takeaways from today’s conversations with bank representatives: (1) They aren’t hearing from us enough. (2) Wells Fargo employees are concerned about the impacts of DAPL. (3) Wells Fargo is falling back on lending practice regulations as a defense, encouraging concerned citizens to call Congresspeople and lending regulators for enforcement of existing regulations and/or changes in lending practice regulations.  Tomorrow: Call again. Day after tomorrow: call again to register concern. Tuesday: Think about who you know who has a Wells Fargo account. This could be an individual, a business, a municipality, a union or so on. Talk to them. Empower them with information and support to close their account. Wednesday: Write comments on the scope of the DAPL EIS that is getting underway and add them to the record. Address your comments to: Mr. Gib Owen, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, 108 Army Pentagon, Washington, DC 20310-0108. Use the subject heading “NOI Comments, Dakota Access Pipeline Crossing.” E-mail your comments to gib.a.owen.civ@mail.mil
  2. Write and submit comments supporting Clean Water Act section 401 water quality permits for removal of four aging and harmful Klamath dams. These are due by Feb 1. After more than a decade of advocating for decommissioning these environmental albatrosses that block more than half our 300-mile river system to salmon migration and spawning, we can’t let our foot off the pedals now. We are on the verge of a major breakthrough. This is an example of something we can get right locally, in spite of all the retrogressions we are witnessing on larger scales.
  3. Write and submit comments about the negative impacts of suction dredging on our streams and the aquatic life they support. We call this the Stop Miners From Sucking (up river bottom and spitting it back out downstream) campaign. We are only half joking. Here’s some background. You’ll have to actually go outside the bounds of social media, but trust me, your input carries more weight that way. Open a document, address your comments to the right place with the right subject line, and write a paragraph or two opposing hobby gold-mining at the expense of rivers, fish, concerned citizens like you and me, and indigenous peoples.  Address your comments to State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Quality – NPDES Unit, P.O. Box 100, Sacramento, CA 95812-0100. Entitle your comments “Discussions Concerning Potential Actions To Protect Water Quality From Suction Dredge Mining.” Send them to suctiondredgecommentletters@waterboards.ca.gov
  4. Get in some cold water in solidarity with the good guys in the Potomac watershed today!

 

 

 

Today was one of those days when I woke up with food on my brain. Not what I would eat for breakfast, or lunch or even dinner. Apparently, I’ve recovered enough from making wild mushroom cobbler for more than 150 people to benefit the Mid Klamath Watershed Council last weekend to begin obsessing over the next culinary project.

I’m part of a cooking commune, inspired by a similar arrangement I participated in during my college years. So, having committed to making a main dish for about a dozen people on New Years Eve, I was turning it over in my head, what wanted so badly to be made that it rose above other things. The process of figuring these things out for me is fairly intuitive, and infinitely fun. The food finds me more than the other way around. When I’m tired, however, as I was yesterday, my foodie receptors don’t work well. But today, I got up around 5 a.m. and just fooded out.

Roast pork marinated in soy-garlic sauce served with a shitake gravy. Or maybe roast pork rubbed in pepper and served with a vermouth sage sauce. Perhaps something with fresh crab because its seasonal and supports a local fisherman. Or could it be the time to make clams steamed in butter and wine? All the seafood ideas got me thinking about paella. And that got me going on saffron. Then I switched tracks again, surfaced from Smitten Kitchen and started down the Ottolenghi rabbit hole and started dreaming of making quails with burnt miso butterscotch and pomegranate walnut salsa. None of these are practical ideas – it must be something I can cook at home and transport to my friends’ home a half-hour drive away, then serve. But that’s never stopped me – just ask my friends and family. Still, none of these ideas feel quite right. I’m still searching, still feeling around for the thing that talks back, that says affirmatively, I want the job and here’s why.

In my casting around, however, I found this grilled saffron rack of lamb which has secured a central spot on my Christmas Day menu. I only need to start preparations a day before, as opposed to a month ahead with my brined duck eggs wrapped in red bean paste and two separate pastry casings, or a solid week ahead with the wild mushroom cobbler. So, I’ll call that practical, relatively speaking.

The last few years, lamb has made a strong bid to be part of my holiday cooking and eating plans. Butterflied rack of lamb has captured my imagination, I think because of a time in the meatpacking district of New York this country mouse was out bar hopping with friends. The whole evening felt like a spinning teacups ride, because of the imbibing, sure, but even more so due to the wildland-urban interfacing happening inside me the whole time. By far the most memorable part of the evening was a platter of this cut of lamb, seared, glazed and encrusted in something delightfully obscure. It put my stomach at ease and tickled my food feelers.

Coincidentally, all this food feeling-out has made me curious about how much of our lives we spend cooking and eating. The answer, according to this site: You spend 2.5 years cooking. You spend 3.66 years eating, about 67 minutes a day. That’s an average. I bet my data point ends up higher. At least, I hope it will.

 

 

Today, I had to do something in defense of the brave people in North Dakota defending every American’s right to get together and speak up.

Using this link from YES! magazine, I began making phone calls. The comprehensive list of agencies with some say over the use of militarized force and violent tactics at Standing Rock was better than most. The phone rang when I dialed these numbers, and I was able to leave a few messages. But, it was a Saturday, and many voicemails were clogged full already, not accepting messages until Monday, or not designed to accept public input.

Besides, I’ve always understood that letters (not the cookie-cutter kind, but the personally written ones) are worth more weight with decision makers, because if someone took the time and effort to write their own letter, the issue is clearly important to them.

So I sat down, wrote the following, and spent the past several hours addressing and readdressing it to the recipients on the list, then e-mailing it or entering it into online feedback submission forms. This process has not been quick or easy, but has been a cinch compared to suffering hypothermia from water cannons in extreme winter conditions, internal injury from rubber bullets, teargas and pepper spray, dog attacks and other repressive tactics.

I can’t decide what’s worse: the fact that our country is unapologetically attacking peaceful people for exercising their First Amendment rights, or the fact that we give white people a pass for this type of civil disobedience while turning our backs on or even harassing Native American people for showing the same proactive love for country.

One concerned citizen rightly wrote on Instagram recently: “Reminder that DAPL was re-routed through Standing Rock because Bismarck’s residents feared it could poison their drinking water. The Sioux are literally being forced at gunpoint to accept ecological risks that North Dakota’s white residents refused.”

If you’re – like I have been – feeling powerless and stuck, start calling or writing or both (add your own contact information at the bottom)…it will take all of us to weight the scales for justice in the face of such grave abuses of power and resources.

DO SOMETHING! After the agencies and lawmakers, start on the banks invested in this pipeline.

Here’s the text of the letter I wrote. Take it, make it your own, and send it.

Morton County Sheriff’s Office, 205 1st Ave NW, Mandan, ND 58554

December 3, 2016

Dear Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier:

I am writing to appeal to your sense of human decency and ask you to do everything in your power to halt the use of inhumane, violent and unconstitutional tactics to suppress free assembly and speech by water protectors at the Standing Rock camps in North Dakota.

Please, bring all your resources to bear to right this wrong. Please, help prevent a 21st Century atrocity. Please protect the proud American traditions of First Amendment freedoms, honoring and supporting First Peoples, and protecting the water we all depend on to live and sustain our families and towns across this great nation.

The use of militarized force, government resources, denied access to emergency and medical services, media suppression and infiltration to shut down people exercising the most fundamental rights guaranteed to American citizens is unjust, morally reprehensible and completely unacceptable. It is even more shameful because it shows that we are still, in 2016, asking Native people to bear the social, economic, and environmental burden of our actions while we won’t treat them like people.

The use of water cannons in extreme winter conditions, close-range use of rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, dogs, military equipment and weapons, barbed fencing police raids, blockades, eviction notices, media gag-orders and blackouts, surveillance, and “free-speech zones” are inexcusable, and they represent grave civil and human rights violations. Further, use of these tactics is un-American.

The people there in Standing Rock standing up for the rest of us should be protected, not attacked. If there is any illegal action here, it is the use of violence against peaceful people. Please do something. Please do the right thing. Please investigate and speak up. Please call on others to do the right thing. Please refuse to participate in the brutal treatment of the water protectors gathered there. Please send and defend human rights monitors. Who do you have to answer to, at the end of the day? Yourself? Your God? Your children? Your neighbors and fellow American citizens? How can you explain initiating this aggression or sitting on your hands through this injustice? That could just as easily be any of us speaking up and standing up for what we believe in.

Please get in touch to discuss what you are doing about this situation.

Thank you.

Erica Terence

 

 

 

When you break out the syllables of the word “meme,” (silent e included)  it sounds pretty ego-centric, and in a way I guess memes are that. But maybe they should be titled “usus” instead.

What I find so fascinating about the phenomenon of memes is that they are contemporary and culturally telling. To me, they are one of the most interesting developments of recent generations. They are reflexive, humorous, cheesy,  even mocking. They can be sarcastic, or serious, or both at once. They give unsolicited advice, usually propogated through (un)holy social media. They capitalize on the power of the image and words. They can capture a zeitgeist, like looking in the mirror for our society, and they are brilliantly open-sourcey.

In the past few years, I have made a practice of saving memes that spoke to me for one reason or another. I’ve been looking back through them lately. Here are some greatest hits from the file. Upcycling them somehow feels like the right thing to do, the way a cover band emulates a great musician, or a hip hop artist honors their predecessors by spitting their names and splicing up and then remixing their material.

Some memes sum things up better than you feel capable of doing yourself:

99-problems

Other memes reflect perfectly the school of thought you subscribe to:

There are those designed purely for the enjoyment of sports fanatics:

goat-curry

Some memes make valid, political points:

Some of them help you to laugh at yourself:

periodwhattimeisit

While others just make you laugh out loud:

pokemongo

crownvics

Memes often quote important historical, artistic and literary figures:

Some memes are pleas for more rational behavior:

debate-commandmentsbereal

Sometimes, reality surpasses the power of a meme, so you just rely on the crafty, the comic artist, the author, or the camera to make a point:

Obstacle

Other times, you just need some instructions to follow, or at least some diagrams:

sinkunclogbigbubblessunsalutations

Some memes make good use of stick figures:

jarofhappinessshowntellmindvomit

This meme seeks to make some sense out of a pretty non-sensical world by acknowledging how senseless it all is:

whatthefuck

This one highlights the absurdity of it all:

lakewatermeloncat

This one needs no words.

sky-painting

While these make graphics out of words:

 

Lots of memes are schmaltzy as all get-out (but also sort of heart warming):

ts-elioti-love-your-feet

just-be-there

11021519_10153400049349101_3593147680888695519_n

light-in-the-darkest-places

There are countless memes that state basic, universal truths:

While some give conflicting, if not bad or mutually exclusive, motivational speeches:

This one speaks aptly to the choices we face in life:

crossroads

Last, and most important, this meme rightly reminds us of our priorities:

say-i-love-you

 

Sue and Kate copy

I have a great mom. Not only because she raised me with love and an unswerving moral compass in a place where salmon skeletons and zinnia stalks make our shadowy backbones in the late summer sun. Not just because when I proposed last November going to a Joe Hill centennial concert in a boxcar in the scrub brush down an unmarked road hours from home surrounded by pierced and tattooed anarchist hobos protected by canine body guards around dusk, she was in with both feet. Not least because she is taking her health into her own hands now and working to strengthen her body in hopes of avoiding surgery.

The latest evidence that my mom is great came in the form of a phone call earlier this month that made me cry from a spontaneous kind of joy that bubbled up in me like a cold, clean spring. That’s another thing I inherited from Sue  (and her father before that) – the ability to cry a river in its entire profile, whether from happiness or sorrow. “Happy Birthday!” piped the voice on the other end of the phone. Confused silence on my end. “But it’s not my birthday yet, not even close!” I protested. “I know,” Sue said. “But I just got your birthday present!” she burst out. I was worried.

This might be a good time to interrupt my narrative and explain that I can be funny about gifts, especially those given under the weight of expectation. Not ha-ha funny, but ungenerous in my reactions, a poor faker and a person who usually wishes to avoid getting gifts. Even from my family, who know me better than anyone. You see, unless you know me well enough to know what I would actually want (and many of those closest to me haven’t the foggiest), I’d rather not be given any material thing that I will need to feign interest in, invent a use for, find a space to store, forget about and later weed out of my life. My favorite gifts are usually time with the people I love and appreciate, who make a point to show up, in person, on the phone or in the mailbox, bearing good food and drinks and stories.

This gift from my mom is a brilliant illustration of what happens when someone knows me well enough to bypass the discomfort factor and override my general aversion to senseless accumulation of stuff – one that must be stored in three garages. “A complete set of Gourmet magazines!” she nearly shouted “From the 1980s to the early 2000s!”  Hydraulics and boils and holes of tears flooded in and caught me in a happy eddy near the bottom of the rapid.

A dear friend and neighbor up our winding, country road has gifted me a subscription to Bon Appetite magazine for several years now. It’s another rare and sweet example of a value-added gift in my life, as it helps me to show up for my friends and family with good food, drink and stories. If I could, I’d trade it in for a Gourmet magazine subscription, as I prefer the simple approach in Gourmet to the busy and often ridiculous Bon Appetite style, by contrast (though it is almost always intriguing in its own chaotic, over-the-top way.)  For whatever reason, however, the publisher of the two magazines chose to discontinue Gourmet and carry on with Bon Appetite. Like many of the things that bite me in my life, capitalism seems to be behind it. Sue and I had lamented this exchange of a foodie gold standard for a superficial, flashy fools gold of cooking, apparently enough times that she knew just what to get me.

In any case, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, partly for the decades of food files that came to me via my mama’s newfound fascination with Craig’s List, but more so to be understood and loved so well by someone. And I’m honored to get a chance to love her back for as long as this life lets me. Anyways, what are birthdays for if not appreciating our mothers?

SueEriMarinCullenwedding