it hasn’t been the easiest summer for me. last thursday evening rich and i watched quinn in his theatre camp performance, and then we drove to the farm to fill boxes with hand-picked dusty tomatoes by twilight. we passed by the sunflowers waving in the coastal breeze we must have brought out of the west with us, and i was reminded of the ten minutes i spent walking beneath their bright heads a few weeks ago while my parents were here visiting.

friday afternoon following the tomato adventure, i was shouting maniacially in my office that ipads had no business having a date setting of 1970 before ipads had even been invented, and the only reason i was assessing ancillary tech problems at that moment was that the cold room where i was supposed to be running pre-trial swim-tunnel tests on larval arctic cod had a pool of sewage surrounding its floor drain.

i’ve been struggling in the job satisfaction department, i’ve had the engine replaced in my car, the visit with my parents went by way too quickly, and it all just seems like too much to do in not enough time.

on the other hand, i keep receiving a paycheck, my mechanic showed up seconds after my husband when i broke down, directly via providence, and we were so lucky to get to enjoy a full two weeks with grammy and grampy!

the night i felt the worst was the night before we took them to the farm for a visit and a meal in the farm’s restaurant. that night was when my husband shared his wise metaphor of windblown flowers. when we got to the farm, the sprinklers were watering the flower garden out front in the parking lot, and quinn called out, “look! a rainbow!” then when mom needed to rest, she and dad were sitting on a parked wagon in the shade, so i walked across the road to a field with a lot of sunflowers growing along the edge to take pictures. while i was spending time with them, i was thinking about how low i was feeling the day before, but enjoying the beauty of the day and being with my people. i didn’t feel great but i was choosing to move on as though i felt ok, hoping the fake it til i make it approach would work. i realized just then that the way sunflowers turn their faces to the sun was an apt metaphor.

when we went inside, i was waiting for quinn outside the bathroom and read the bulletin board, to which this note was pinned:

“advice from a sunflower:

be bright, sunny and positive, stand tall and proud. keep on growing, drink lots of water, spread seeds of happiness. embrace your natural beauty and always face the sunshine.”

in case i needed the message from the sunflowers spelled out for me.

one of the things i must do consistently in order to maintain my ability to orient positively is to record the sunny memories (as well as the shadows, honesty matters) and integrate my storyline (one unbroken line). i come all undone without that. i know not everyone needs to write to remain whole and intact, but by now i know this about myself. i do need to, it’s not about producing a piece that people will want to read (much of what is written is never posted). i’ve been pondering something glennon doyle wrote about this topic, and as a “recovering everything” she is mindful that for her, writing can be another form of addiction/dysfunction if she is so busy gathering material she isn’t living in the present moment. i want to stay mindful of such pitfalls myself, and so i have turned that stone over in my mind these last weeks and i find that for me, writing helps me to be present in the moments, rather than grinding the gears of my overthinking cap. it’s consistently better for my well-being to write than not to write. it is an act of love towards myself, never one of self-sabotage. but i’m glad that i checked.


so, in the spirit of orienting sunward, one night i was typing moments-to-become-memories while grampy was playing guitar and singing amazing grace in the kitchen. rich was looking at baseball scores with lisa kitty on his lap, grammy was having hot cocoa on the couch beside me, and quinn was re-organizing his entire pokemon binder in his room. these were some of the bits of this summer i managed to put down on the page:

driving down the coast to spend sunday at country fair with rich, it was like the bay was filled with fog.

while i was at the outer gate waiting to get in, a guy behind me in line was playing his banjo and singing a line that matched perfectly the words i had been reading the night before. “it’s time to reunite your soul, and your mind, and your body…”

like with music and fairies and beauty and nature and sunshine? oh, country fair, how i love you.

rich and i heard the rainbow girls at 11:55 on the main stage. gorgeous three-part harmony, guitars, harmonica, upright bass, other cool obscure instruments. one of the babies dancing in the crowd had on a shirt that said “love is a rainbow.”

a lesson in impermanence. the man who made my ring traded me for a new one of the same design, and asked if it’s okay if he melts the broken one down and makes something new out of it. it wasn’t easy but at the same time it was easy. it’s just a thing, a ring, something impermanent that will pass away… it’s the love that it represents that won’t fade! i like to think it will be part of someone else’s love story, and the yes yes yes energy going out to that other love story from ours… the spiral continuing outward.

at one point i let rich know that i hadn’t brought enough backup items for my period, and i was eyeing the bountiful moss on the trees to make him laugh. then he pointed out that if there is a place for finding alternative items for such a purpose, this would be it (there is at least one actual red tent-inspired zone set aside for women at fair). about 2 seconds later i walked by a booth where a mom was selling off her gently used cloth diaper stash, and i bought one with butterflies on it. definitely another case of providence. (and tmi! but you should know by now that i don’t believe in that.)

rich bought me a new pair of spiral earrings. a little girl named sailor pearl at the spiral jewelry booth bonded with me, because she loves the ocean and is a self-proclaimed mermaid.

looking for a souvenir for quinn, i found “peace in every language” pendants, and got quinn an egyptian hieroglyph green pendant of “peace”. he loves it.

driving back home, the sun was a single smoldering ember touching down in the ocean.


country roads… you know how i feel about that song.

my heart threatened to burst multiple times throughout the visit, as quinn would emulate things he’d observe grampy doing. he started sprinkling pepper on his food, presumably because he has come to realize it’s what the men he looks up to in his life do, so he now does it, too.

i introduced quinn to spirograph, one of the childhood treasures lovingly extracted from the attic and delivered from new york by my parents. it is the perfect time in his development. he is into mathy drawing and patterns, and deeply appreciates the awesomeness of creating spirally flowery scallopy mandala shapes. also, he is capable of all the fine motor coordination required, but it is still just hard enough that it’s a good discipline for taming the inner perfectionist. there was a hilarious moment when we discovered my younger handwriting indicating how “dumb” that one really, really difficult spirograph design was that i so desperately wanted to master back in the 1980s when i was working on my own inner spirograph perfectionist.

also in that tote was my great grandma rew’s italics typewriter. the ink was dry but i ordered new ink ribbons. quinn loved pushing the keys and seeing how the mechanism works. once the ribbon came a few days later, we started typing! some old technology is so beautiful, it’s worth holding onto.

dad talked all about his memories of the farm when he was a kid, of how all the farms in the “neighborhood” (which included my great grandpa’s and great uncle’s farms) would get together to make lighter work of the oat threshing. grandma (his mom) would make a big meal for everyone, and then they’d all go to the next farm the next day. dad remembers being 5 and getting introduced to pumpkin pie, which he thought he wouldn’t like because it didn’t look good, but one of the farmers from one of the 10 or so farms said he should just try a taste, and he has liked it ever since.

another topic we discussed was musical talent in the family. i never knew that nana sang in the u.s.o. in new york city (a soloist!) during wwii! we were all laughing because mom would tell nana to shush so she could hear poppy sing his silly songs in his tuneless bronx accent.

friends of all ages hitting it off at a nacho potluckaversary.

tenderness towards a tree indicating the right emotional switches are being flipped in my human child.

i was a bit grumpy about having to go to work and cut fish for two days while grammy and grampy were still here, but my dad was undaunted and made himself an ambitious errands list. i heard later that they almost lost quinn at the library, where they went to do research for dad’s book. he and quinn had gone downstairs to nonfiction, but quinn wandered off and was reading diary of a wimpy kid on the floor behind a couch in the juvenile section. dad only found him because our favorite librarian said, “hi quinn!” just as dad was getting worried he’d have to have him paged. thank goodness for librarians, and for 4 out of 5 librarians being on a first name basis with quinn.

a nice drive along the coast with frequent stops at overlook vistas resulted in my parents getting to see a few whales!

family boating! quinn and i attended this free local port activity with camp boss and it was completely rad and awesome! i had on my schooner hat and so was deemed qualified to sail a 15-footer. quinn and i embarked. he decided he didn’t prefer sailing because you’re never level. he switched to a kayak and paddled around like a boss. it was awe inspiring to watch him maneuver and be so strong and capable. i took photos of everyone from shore and then i took koala out in the little row boat for a while. he wanted to get out at one point “see mama” and swung his foot up onto the gunwale. he did not seem to be concerned about disembarking while we were underway. luckily little kid life jackets are made with a built-in handle to grab the scruff of their neck like an errant kitten and plop them back inboard. genius.

one night i made chili for dinner and dad said it should be renamed hottie, so now i may have to always call it that.

hummingbirds in flower garden.

(that was a pretty note. i’m not sure what it meant other than we must have sat around watching hummingbirds in the flower garden. i took these photos a week or so after their visit.)

the penultimate afternoon of grammy and grampy’s visit was when quinn went back to his dad’s. that night after they went to bed, quinn the eskimo/the mighty quinn played on the radio. i admit i felt a little vashnicken. but mostly happy and full of love.

and now the tomatoes are tucked snugly into their canning jars, just as the memories are now tucked here in their cyber canning jars, the tastes of summer preserved to lend their flavor to a colder month.

2 comments to heliotrope

  • camp boss

    ohhhh so well said!! It was so great to see your folks, I know I look forward to their next visit already!!!

  • Holly Fugate

    I have not been posting comments on your blog lately, but I’m still pondering your words and savoring your photos. In this post I appreciate your honesty. Social media, blogs, and life that we show in public can be tricky. Your posts are often so positive and beautiful. Sometimes I start to think you have an awesome life, and me, not so much. I realize how much I filter my life in my writing too. It’s natural to put our best foot forward, but I appreciate when you share the shadows too. I always look forward to reading what memories you’ve canned.

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