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Entrance to Willamette Valley Vineyards

Lavender and vines along the entranceway to the hilltop facility.

My dragon spawn turned 21 recently. It’s so hard to wrap my head around the concept of this full-fledged adult being the same teeny wrinkly purple thing I brought home 21 years ago. I have realized that 21 years is not that many years. It’s nearly half my life, but dang, it went like a blink!

A small Tara with wooden sword at a Renaissance Faire

Tara and me at one of our first Faerieworlds festivals.

Our tradition, you may recall, is to go to The Enchanted Forest in Salem. I’ve had loads of fun with Tara and their awesome friends, visiting the theme park year after year and living out our childhoods with abandon on one brilliant July day. Right next door to Enchanted Forest is a winery that we had only spotted from the Interstate. This year, since Tara is of legal drinking age, their birthday idea was to visit the winery.

I called Willamette Valley Vineyards and explained it was a birthday visit and asked what a person might do there for fun, other than tasting wines. They suggested a tour, and I made a reservation.

Willamette Valley Vineyards is a first-class destination, which made this a serendipitous choice. Until we arrived, we had no idea what an enormous, visitor-centric place it is. Sadly, I neglected to get some photos of the main tasting room, but it’s huge and oh so beautiful. There are three bars with about 8 people tending, who can all help you with tasting a flight of wines, or purchasing, or eating lunch, or touring, or even booking a night’s stay because yes, this place also has guest lodging. I imagine it would be a wonderful stay.

The main buildings are at the top of a hill, and thus visitors are afforded incredible views in every direction. Just in case you want something even better than the view available in the dining and tasting rooms, there is a tower one can climb, which puts you another 50 feet up.

Tara celebrating their birthday in the tower.

View from the tower.

 

Molly and me, at our main gathering place during the tour.

The tour is also a tasting. We tasted 5 different wines, some award-winning, during the tour. Our guide, Suzanne Zupancic, put us at ease and made us feel like she was our friend right away. Suzanne led us through the different stages of wine production at Willamette Valley, to include the history of the vineyard’s existence, and the bottling station and of course the barrel storage. She told the story of the founder, Jim Bernau, who grew up knowing wines because his father was an attorney for the first vineyard in Oregon after prohibition. She explained how the winery is solar powered, doesn’t irrigate, and instead of typical pest control, partners with a raptor rescue organization to use owls to control the rodent population!

She explained some general concepts to help us in choosing a wine, such as when a wine is sweeter, there is generally less alcohol. Knowing this, a quick glance at the label can help you choose what you’ll like. She talked about Oregon’s famous pinot noirs, a thin-skinned grape that has caught the wine world’s attention. She taught us about cooperage, the craft of building wine barrels, and how to understand the labels on the outside of the barrels. She also explained why so many barrels are stained red. It’s because the wine slowly evaporates and the only way to maintain its integrity is to top off the wine frequently, and not allow any oxygen inside the barrels. Topping off tends to end up with a little bit of wine spill, that drips down the side and stains the barrel. She explained that Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot benefit from aging, but others do not.

Barrels of white wines.

A door leading from the red wine barrels section.

Me with as much wine nearby as I could ever wish for.

It’s not a flattering photo, because everyone is squinting in the bright sun.

Suzanne also told us about Bill Fuller, a legendary winemaker in Oregon. He left California’s Napa valley in 1973 to take advantage of the ideal geography in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. His Tualatin Vineyard 1980 Pinot Noir and 1981 Chardonnay took home “Best of Show” in both red and white categories at the 1984 London International Wine Fair, a feat unduplicated by any winemaker in the competition’s history. Bill Fuller’s winery merged with Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Mr. Fuller began working with Willamette Valley Vineyards in 2013.

She also explained about the remarkable geologic processes that made the Willamette Valley so rich for agriculture and particularly for grapes. The history includes a historic sea, volcanic processes, and the Missoula Floods. Tara, a geology major at Oregon State University, was interested in this portion of the tour.

Brynnen, Tara, me, Molly

After the hour and a half long tour, and five wines, we were all ready for some food! We ate from their gourmet menu and sat out on one of the many outdoor patios to eat it. We were joined by bees. Interestingly, the staff handed us fabric softener sheets to place on the table to keep the wasps away. It was a little effective. At lunch, I gave Tara a gift I had made of childhood photos through the years. Tara read the book outloud to all of us.

Tara opens up the memory book I made as a birthday gift.

Tara reading their birthday book to us.

Finally, we were ready to go and purchased some of our favourite wines from the day. I said goodbye to the kids who were all headed back to Corvallis.

This was the hand-written message at the bottom of a Christmas letter from my Great-Aunt. It brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.

This was the hand-written message at the bottom of a Christmas letter from my Great-Aunt. Look how she first wrote “her,” then used white-out and wrote “them” instead. It brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.

Being transgender does not mean what I thought it meant. It doesn’t mean today what it meant when my kid first taught me. In fact, the definition is probably changing right now as I write this, incorporating more ideas, sharpening the concept. I’m going to share with you my rough understanding of it, from my perspective as a parent.

The media coverage I’ve seen on the challenges transgender people face did not prepare me for the challenges their parents face. That process has been an ordeal. It’s a swim through an emotional stew, dipping into and out of the murky grey sea of sex and gender, pride and shame, loss and reward. I have to face all of the hard and icky feelings to get at the good stuff that comes with it.

Thank the gods I became a parent. The best, best, best thing I ever did to help my own education as a human being was to have a child. I’m sure I would have learned more if I had more children, but this only child has helped me grow much closer to the person I always wanted to be.

Tara is the one who is teaching me what it means to be transgender, and how to treat a transgender person. It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned in life. I was raised by a religious mother and a conservative father in tiny, rural communities. This type of upbringing around the world tends not to be supportive of alternate definitions of love, family, sex, and gender. And while my people are good people, I did not have the opportunity to learn about these topics. I am deeply ashamed to admit that when I was 18, as Tara is now, I was outspoken about how homosexuality didn’t make sense in nature, and so shouldn’t be taken seriously. I had never even heard of transgender people then, and I’m certain I would not have been accepting of them.

The most common questions I get when I say that my child is transgender, are “Female to male, or male to female?” and “Has your child had an operation yet?”

Just like them, I yearn to place people into simple categories, binary if possible, and assign distinct characteristics to them, so I can know where I stand and then move on to the next category. Categorizing people was probably really handy 3 million years ago on the African savanna when humans were only recently upright and spent most of the day surviving. But in the 21st century it gets in the way. It got in the way when Tara finally told me they are transgender.

Strangely, rather than the day when we talked about what it means to be lesbian, it was the day Tara talked to me about being transgender that finally forced me to consider that this was not a phase. Instead of exploring the idea of homosexuality for a couple of years, then drifting back to heterosexuality as I expected, Tara just kept going farther from the norm. Not that I was actively insisting that my kid was heterosexual, I just hadn’t given it any serious thought. I had decided everything would ‘work out’ in the end to something that would make sense to me, and in the meantime it wasn’t important enough to dwell upon.

About two years before our talk about being transgender, middle-schooler Tara had asked, in tears, in an apprehensive voice, “What if I’m a lesbian, Mom? What does that mean about me?” This question didn’t scare me because the categories were easy: females and love. Those are two words I am used to defining. I told Tara to stay away from a label like “lesbian,” and just stick with the facts. “You like girls, that’s all it means about you. And liking girls doesn’t change who you are.” The girl-crush thing persisted, and I wondered whether it was my fault for making my kid that way, because I can never seem to find the right man for myself.

But see what I was doing there? I was judging Tara, doing exactly what I had done as a teenager: dismissing the preposterous idea, assuming it was a phase, assuming it was not important, assuming it was something I could have caused, waiting for Tara to turn out ‘normal.’ What kind of subconscious unsupportive messages was I sending to my own child? I am appalled at my own behavior.

The day of The Talk, I sat on Tara’s bed while they explained that a dictionary definition of “transgender” is a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth. It can mean a person born a boy feels like a girl, or vice versa, but does not necessarily mean that.

Gender is a person’s individual awareness or identity or role that they fill. Sex is a person’s physical anatomy. Tara was born with female anatomy, but explained they did not feel female. And the startling part: they do not feel male either. Tara asked me on that day to stop using the pronouns “she” and “her,” and to use “they” and “their” instead. They do not even feel as though their gender is fixed, but that it moves from day to day.

“Think of a spectrum in the shape of a triangle,” Tara told me with wisdom, clarity, and calm that belied their 16 years of life. “On one point is a concentration of female qualities, one is male, and one is no gender. As you go toward the middle of the triangle, you move away from one gender and take up parts of the others. I am somewhere in the middle, and on some days I feel more female, some days more male, and some days I don’t feel either. I cannot predict how I’m going to feel, but usually I can tell when I wake up in the morning.”

I asked how this is different from what everyone feels. Doesn’t every person feel a little female some days, a little male some days? Tara was certain that it is not the same thing, but had a hard time clearly explaining the difference. For a time we settled on this concept of change, of “fluid gender,” and later we used “gender neutral.” I asked if they thought their gender would always be in a state of flux, or if the changes are a part of trying to figure out who they are. Tara said they didn’t know yet. There was a period where Tara got completely fed up with both male and female, and began identifying as “agendered,” meaning neither male nor female. Even within the very tolerant community that Tara has built around themself, there was pushback. People simply hate vagueness.

Tara’s current preference is “non-binary gender,” to emphasize the fact that gender is not either-or. But I still struggle to grasp the real meaning of Tara’s identity. They say that it is hurtful to be thought of as female or male. “Each time a person calls me ‘she’ isn’t that bad, but what happens is that after a series of people thinking of me as a girl, all day long, it becomes very painful. So uncomfortable that it hurts.” I asked, “How is it different from when, for example, people make incorrect assumptions of me because they see me as female,” I asked. “They think I am not smart enough or strong enough to handle something. How is what you feel different from that kind of pain?” Tara answered that they can’t really explain the difference, except that when it happens, they feel two distinct reactions. One is that the person wrongly assumes they are female, and two is that the person wrongly assumes they aren’t smart enough or strong enough. “They aren’t the same reaction, they aren’t the same kind of hurt.”

It was over two years ago, The Talk, and the trauma of it lingers. I won’t kid you: I was stunned. I was so confused that I couldn’t even begin to respond to Tara. My questions along the lines of “Aren’t you simply giving a high-falutin’ name to what everybody feels?” were based not in love, but in denial. I was trying to flush out the proof that it was not real. I was mostly in shock, but at least able to recognize that this was a pivotal moment in my child’s life. The only thing I could do was to help Tara get it out and to feel safe talking to me. I said,  “Tell me more about that,” when I wasn’t sure I could handle hearing much more. The more Tara talked, the more I felt part of my world breaking apart and falling out from under my feet. Out of loss.

I don’t know if I can explain it, but my love, respect, and appreciation for Tara never wavered. In fact, I was a bit in awe of the kid for having the presence of mind to initiate this conversation with me, and to stick with it while I was so obviously gobsmacked. But I was flooded with a profound sense of loss. It felt like I lost my child that day. I lost my daughter. The one I had constructed in my mind because…well, how was I supposed to know I had to keep my mind open to something else? I just assigned “girl category,” and filled in all the rest.

For the next few days I was in a deep depression and I experienced a very real grieving process. I felt sorry for myself. I cried and cried. It was so hard to explain it to friends, “I have to give up who I thought my child was, and give up the future dreams, like marriage and children. There will be no giggling over boyfriends, not ever. Well, of course Tara can still get married and raise children, but every bit of it will be different than what I had imagined.  Not that it’s bad…it’s just…confusing. And unexpected.” My friends, bless their hearts, gave me hugs and didn’t quite understand what I believed I was giving up.

My own child was not who I thought. Sixteen years of a relationship based on misconceptions. It really, really hurt to face that.

“I can be physically attracted to just about anyone,” Tara corrects me today. “I could easily have a boyfriend one day and children. It’s just another vagueness of my future I am not sure of. My non-traditional identification stems from gender and sex, and also how I choose to appear and how I define my romantic relationships.” Just for context, Tara’s been in a relationship with another transgender person for three years, so the boyfriend comment is more to make a point. “Brynnen are you Tara’s boyfriend?” I asked, “Yes,” they answered without hesitation. And it was a relief to laugh.

Two years later, we are the same tight team we have always been, and – get this! – I am actually not assigning Tara into a gender category in my mind so much anymore. I didn’t realize it was possible, but with time, I am able to give up “female.” I am getting much better at using the difficult pronouns, which for a somewhat OCD grammar-freak, is extremely difficult when I’m constantly using a plural pronoun to describe an individual person. I am doing better at using “them/they” at work and with relatives and acquaintances. Without exasperation or anxiety, I can respond to their confused questions, calmly explaining that I am only talking about one person, and Tara prefers that I use those pronouns.

I am not over it. I hate it that I am not. Who knew I would so stubbornly cling to my traditional upbringing when I have made it a point most of my life to be as open-minded and tolerant as I can possibly be?

But I am not sorry for myself anymore, which allows me to give more of the emotional validation that my kid needs from me. I’m on board, and I actually get irritated when I fill out forms and have to check a box to identify myself as male or female. These days, I often check male, to be difficult, because I’m finally starting to understand how frustrating it could be to live in a binary world. And I’m done thinking of it as a phase. This person who has been right next to me all these years, is actually way more genuine and brave than the one I gave up.

My Tara and me, September 2014

My Tara and me, September 2014

Not my adulthood, of course. Tara turned 18 years old on Sunday. My baby is a legal adult now, and – just like 18-year-olds everywhere – remains part child even though they are now part adult.

It’s a really exciting time for us both. Tara has more fear about it than me. With all my adult years of experience, I can see that Tara is ready to take on the world. My child is not so sure I’m right about that, but I have confidence based in years of watching Tara meet challenges and come out victorious.

The new status doesn’t make me feel old, but does make me nostalgic. I still can’t believe that hollering, impatient, needy infant is already packing bags to leave home. Wow, how did that happen so fast? And only a month ago (wasn’t it only a month?) my index finger was being squeezed by a tiny, damp, chubby hand of someone very small learning to walk. Last week my heart thumped every time that little person ran on unsteady feet, and then the next day…off they went on their bike.

I taught Tara how to cross the street without me. How to watch the lights, and the traffic, and to think of how heavy and dangerous a car can be. And I stood on the sidewalk and held my breath till they arrived safely on the other side. Then with the glee of freedom without the weight of responsibility, Tara watched the lights and the cars, and when it was safe, came hurtling back to me. And I didn’t tell their dad for a long time, about what I had done.

And then we practiced taking the bus to ballet lessons. The #15 went right from our house to the studio. I rode with Tara the first time, telling them what to look for, what to listen for. We rode together a second time, and I waited for my child to give me instructions. We missed the stop. It was ok. And after that, Tara made the busses, the streetcars, the lightrail their own territory, and off they went again. Off to ballet, off to school, off to the mall and to a friend’s house on the other side of the city. Gone far away to return to me much later, always to the relief of my pounding heart. Always putting away the nightmares of the headlines that could read, “Reckless mother teaches child to be independent in the heart of the city.”

I took notes in the Tokyo Narita airport when I went through, and then emailed them to Tara a couple months later, so Tara could make the same trip, alone, to come visit me while I lived in Japan. “Keep your passport on you, and handy, and never never set it down. There are signs in English when you get off the plane. After you pick up your luggage, you’ll have to go through customs, and hand them your forms. Then find the terminal for domestic flights. If you don’t know where to go, follow the other people. If you get scared, ask for help.” I actually cried with relief when my 15-year-old walked into the tiny Hiroshima terminal from the plane.

And look what I’ve done to myself: ensured that this beautiful, strong, smart, brave, amazing used-to-be-child is ready to leave again. We were talking about last week’s college orientation the other night, and about Tara’s move to Corvallis when school starts. Tara says, not in an angry way at all, but matter-of-factly, “I’m sure you’re as sick of living with me as I am sick of living with you.” And you have to understand our relationship to know that it wasn’t a hurtful comment in it’s delivery or receipt: we are two very strong and independent people who respect each other enough to be honest.

Much as I am sad about the separation that will happen this Fall when it’s time to go to University, I see that I have done my job properly.

Tara checking out their Oregon State University dormitory room during orientation last week.

Tara checking out their Oregon State University dormitory room during orientation last week.

There used to be a

There used to be a “No Hunting or Trespassing” sign on a tree by the lake. Tara has it in hand, after replacing it with a different sign.

Yes, this sign suits us much better.

Yes, this sign suits us much better.

A, T, and Tara on the right, on the gorgeous Oregon State University campus

A, T, and Tara on the right, together making the Oregon State University campus even more attractive. 😉

Colleges have been on our minds for awhile, but the pitch and volume are increasing. We’re mostly past the application period, as deadlines for most colleges and universities have come and gone. Still in the nail-biting period of not having heard from any of them whether Tara has been accepted.

I said “we’re,” and it’s a little inappropriate to say it was a joint effort, as Tara has done most of the work. However, Mom has done a bucketload of essay support and editing, which involves not only the writing part, and having to recall the exact date of ACT testing and volunteer work at the Buddhist temple, but the morale and emotional support of keeping a freaked out teen full of hormones from totally wigging out and having a nervous breakdown after the 27th time of clicking word count and finding that the essay is still 12 words over the limit. It has been a super great exercise for me in being an editor, in that when I manage to keep my suggestions out of it, Tara has written some unbelievably good stuff. Really good. As in, I’m wondering if the people in Admissions who read Tara’s essays are going to believe that all I did was point out run-on sentences and changes in tense. How good are teen writers these days? Well, if Admissions will only condescend to an interview, they’ll find out in 2 minutes that Tara is as eloquent and wise beyond their years as the essays seem to imply.

In Boston, over Halloween, we checked out my Alma mater, Brandeis University, as well as UMass Boston and Harvard when our friends showed us around the other campuses. “Why do you guys want me to go to school in Boston?” Tara asked of R. He replied with a smile, “Because if you go to school here, we get your mother.” It’s nice to be loved.

My brother in Seattle has been pestering me for a year to get Tara up there to visit the University of Washington campus, particularly since it’s a school that offers an environmental program that Tara is interested in. It’ll be our next stop for sure, along with Western Washington University, right next door to UW.

Lovely lawns and buildings of the OSU campus.

Lovely lawns and buildings of the OSU campus.

While Tara initially insisted that no Oregon or California school would even be considered, due to the proximity to parents coinciding with a deep and abiding desire to get away from parents….we discovered that one of the best Forestry programs in the whole world is 1 1/2 hours south, in Corvallis, Oregon at Oregon State University. Tara has wanted to study Forestry since about 5th grade. After some agonizing over the implications of being in the same state as Mom, Tara gave in and applied. Once that hurdle was crossed, the applications to Portland State University, University of Oregon, UC Davis, Humboldt State University (in the same town Tara’s dad lives in California) and Stanford followed. I’m relieved that the potential for in-state tuition now exists. I consider it absolutely unfair that I have to contemplate helping Tara with student loans while I’m still paying my own. And trust me, FAFSA does not give a flying pig about whether parents are paying student loans, when calculating the expected family contribution.

Six stories of books! What prospective student wouldn't get a little excited about this?

Six stories of books! What prospective student wouldn’t get a little excited about this?

Sixth floor of the library. Shhhh! Students are studying here.

Sixth floor of the library. Shhhh! Students are studying here.

After telling other parents which schools Tara applied to, a comment I’ve heard frequently is something along the lines of, “Wow, Tara must be brilliant to be able to apply to those schools!” I know what they’re thinking, and no, my kid does not have straight A’s. Tara gets pretty good grades – that’s the best I can say about it. The thing is, colleges and universities – particularly the very best ones – do NOT want carbon copies of straight-A automatons filling their Freshman classes.

I was the first person in my family to get a college degree, and I figured out why that is a big deal. Because I know things that I can teach Tara that my parents were not able to teach me. For one thing, there is absolutely no reason to limit yourself when thinking about college. Someone pushed me until I learned that lesson, so I was able to do it for my own child. What schools actually want is to know how a potential student will contribute to their college. So the ability to get good grades is definitely important, but so are creativity, involvement, motivation, diversity of perspective. This is what I was able to tell my kid: you are more than your grades, and yes, these colleges know that and they are dying to see it in your applications.

It took nudging and some psychological gymnastics, but I got Tara to apply to tons of schools covering a wide range of school cultures and reputations and donor levels and numbers of (and lack of) famous alumni. Public and Private. Easily affordable and ridiculously expensive. And now my kid is out there in the world. I got Tara to visualize being the kind of student who could apply to Stanford, and have a decent chance of being considered. Now THAT was my goal. Academic program and Financial package are the two main things that should determine where Tara goes to school. “Am I good enough?” cannot be one of the factors.

In my opinion, any college with a view of a volcano is worth considering. Mt. Jefferson rises in the distance.

Any college with a view of a volcano is worth considering. Mt. Jefferson rises in the distance.

Home of the Beavers! OSU and UO are sports rivals, as nearby Universities always are.

Home of the Beavers! OSU and UO are sports rivals, as neighboring Universities always are.

President’s Day I took my kid and besties A and T down to visit the OSU campus. We showed up with 535 other registered visitors that day and we filled the auditorium for the 8:30 am welcome. We were then shuttled off to a briefing just for students interested in the College of Forestry, and heard that OSU is ranked 7th in the world for Agriculture and Forestry studies. We learned that there is an 11,500 acre demonstration forest a few miles away that is considered part of the campus, and that students attend many classes there learning silviculture and preservation and identification and a hundred other things.

Oregon State University has a gorgeous campus. Tara got pretty excited about the six-story library, so we went inside and took an elevator to the sixth -and silent!- floor to look around. Apparently there are some Nobel prizes displayed in the library, but we were already getting ready to head to the next campus when we heard about them, so we did not go back and look.

These UO campus buildings remind me of the Harvard campus.

These UO campus buildings remind me of the Harvard campus.

Pink blossoms didn't show up well in the shade and on my phone camera.

Pink blossoms didn’t show up well in the shade and on my phone camera.

UO does a better job with branding. The signature "O" is everywhere.

UO does a better job with branding. The signature “O” is everywhere.

Thirty minutes down I-5 is the University of Oregon – home of the Ducks. We were not registered to visit here, so there was no planned itinerary. We just walked around and soaked up the atmosphere, and there’s something to be said for that. Kids were sprawled everywhere in the warm sunshine. Groups sat all over the grass, laughing and studying. There were pick-up basketball games, frisbee, and hackey sack. Music was playing. It was definitely a place a kid would want to spend 4 years. It made the focused and subdued OSU students seem rather uninteresting, I have to say.

I was glad for the big Jeep being large enough to haul the kids in comfort. They wanted to sit together in the back seat, so we filled the front passenger seat with jackets and backpacks and gluten-free snacks and maps and college brochures. Sometimes….yes, sometimes I’m ok with fitting the image of a suburban Mom.

Basketball game in the courtyard.

Basketball game in the courtyard.

Very cool glass building at UO.

Very cool glass building at UO.

University of Oregon has much more apparent involvement of the American Indian community, including a longhouse on campus.

University of Oregon has much more apparent involvement of the American Indian community, including a longhouse on campus.

Thinking about the future can be exhausting.

Thinking about the future can be exhausting.

My lovely Tara

My lovely Tara

I’m a mom. I’ve got to go on about my kid now and then. Can’t help myself.

Tara has been dancing for years and is not among those ballerinas who is fiercely focused and driven and denies herself the pleasures in life to get a landing just right. She dances because it makes her feel good, and because she gets to share in the dancing of her dear friends. At first, that frustrated me, because I am driven and competitive and aggressively pursue skill, as if it has something to do with how valuable I am.

Over the years I have learned from my kid: how to work at something for the love of it. Tara makes sacrifices to be at practices and endless rehearsals, missing out on parties and homework time and eating meals at reasonable hours. But it’s all for the pure joy of it, and in that way, she keeps ballet fun for herself. Years and years of practicing the same moves over and over, and yet the desire to get dressed and go do it again remains strong.

From the steps of the Rose Garden, looking down onto the Washington Park Amphitheatre

From the steps of the Rose Garden, looking down onto the Washington Park Amphitheatre

Tara, before the show. The shank is going out in her pointe shoes, so she is testing another pair to see if they are in better shape.

Tara, before the show. The shank is going out in her pointe shoes, so she is testing another pair to see if they are in better shape.

Saturday we went to Washington Park in Portland, at an outdoor amphitheatre just below the International Rose Test Gardens (did you know Portland is also called the Rose City?). Her studio is Portland Metro Arts, which hosts all kinds of artists including those who paint, who play piano, who Irish step dance, who sing, as well as those who ballet. Saturday’s performance was a showcase of different talents.

The dancers did short pieces from their recent full-length ballet, Alice In Wonderland, with additional classical ballet pieces, and some swing dance. Sadly, the sky was getting pretty dark by the time the swing dancing began. I was sitting far away from the stage and had my lens in full zoom. The exposure was longer because of the dark, and extra-sensitive to movement. This meant that all of the later shots were blurry, but they did make some pretty interesting images, so I included them anyway.

Earlier in the week there had been a threat of rain, and Tara worried about what rain on the stage would do to their ability to dance well. Instead, the weather was brilliant. It was sunny, dry, not windy, and warm. The steps of the amphitheatre filled with people of all ages and the murmurs of talk and laughter filled the green bowl we occupied.

Flowers from Alice. Tara in red in the center.

Flowers from Alice. Tara in red in the center.

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Alice scolds a weed in the back of the flower garden.

Alice scolds a weed in the back of the flower garden.

blurry swing dance

blurry swing dance

taekwondo maybe?

taekwondo maybe?

Tara and me at the Keller Auditorium during intermission for Once.

Tara and me at the Keller Auditorium during intermission for Once.

It’s time to catch you up on many little things I have neglected to blog about in the past month. It’s summer time and I have had a lot going on!  Please do not feel obliged to go through the whole thing unless you’ve got an easy morning to fill, while accompanied by a large cup of coffee. It’s not only for you that I write, of course. My blog is my journal, and its alternate purpose is to entertain me on days when I want to reminisce and to be used as a reference when I’m trying to get my facts right (harder and harder as the years go by…).

My kid had her last short haircut at age 4. She has had long, flowing, cascades of blonde hair down her back ever since. That is, until the beginning of June when she made up her mind to get it cut short, and dye it dark brown. We were both in shock for 36 hours or so (she didn’t want to go to school the next day), and then we fell in love with the look.

At least a decade ago, I found some to-die-for Cat Eye glasses in a bin of old glasses at Goodwill. I was looking for an accessory to a Halloween costume. I pushed out the coke bottle lenses and have used them now and then for  years. As I told blogger friend Boomdee a little while ago, I finally did what I’ve been wanting to do all that time, and had my own prescription put into them. The optometrist who checked them out for me confirmed they are legitimate antique frames, possibly 60 years old. I have been having a blast wearing them.

Pre-show performance of Once, with audience members onstage enjoying live music from the actors.

Pre-show performance of Once, with audience members onstage enjoying live music from the actors.

Tara’s recently been keen to experience Broadway, so we went to see the show Once. I didn’t like it, but I think she did. The music was wonderful, inspiring, impressively played live on stage in every scene. But the story was so very sad. Like Fiddler on the Roof, it began heartbreaking and just got miserable. I had broken up with Arno only one month earlier. In fact, these tickets were my birthday gift to him, but he couldn’t go because of his son’s graduation ceremony. So seeing a love story where nothing works out was lemon juice on a cut. Many people have said “Oh, just like the movie!” But I had never heard of the movie, and I can’t say if they are the same. Nothing can compare to seeing people on stage though, or to the effect of raw emotions washing over you when you’re in the same room with people battling through their own agonies.

Movie poster for the Cherokee Word for Water

Movie poster for the Cherokee Word for Water

We went to see a great documentary called The Cherokee Word for Water. From the website: “The Cherokee Word For Water is a feature-length motion picture inspired by the true story of the struggle for, opposition to, and ultimate success of a rural Cherokee community to bring running water to their families by using the traditional concept of “gadugi” working together to solve a problem.” And it was a love story of when Wilma Mankiller (future Cherokee Chief) and Charlie Soap met and teamed up to make this project happen. Mankiller died in 2010, but Charlie Soap was able to attend the showing of the film. It was humbling to be present and to experience his passion and hear his words, when he participated in the question and answer session afterward. Go see this film if you get the chance!

Seeing Disneyland this spring put Tara in a mood for theme parks, so I agreed to take her and her friend to Enchanted Forest; Oregon’s home grown Disneyland. I won’t say a ton about it, because Enchanted Forest deserves its own post for the real estate of all the photos. Enchanted Forest was created by a man with a dream to create a theme park based on children’s storybook tales and nursery rhymes. We saw representations of Hansel & Gretel to Alice in Wonderland to Rip Van Winkle and Pinocchio. All the original versions before Disney got ahold of them and morphed them into cartoon characters. There are a few rides that were actually pretty fun.  And no lines!

Wicked witch at Enchanted Forest

Wicked witch at Enchanted Forest

The very next day I drove Tara to California to spend some time with her dad. Dennis is a Harley man, and unfortunately wrecked his bike pretty seriously and is laid up for a time. Even more unfortunate is the fact that it’s his second bad wreck in two years. This time he broke his hip, so he was not able to drive up to Oregon to get Tara.

On the way, something strange happened with my Saturn Dragon Wagon. It’s been the Dragon Wagon ever since I lived in California and forecasted weather at the National Weather Service office in Eureka. I had personalized plates that said “DRAGNZ” because I love (and collect!) dragons. The boss’s husband gave the car her nickname and it stuck. I love, love, love my Saturn. Dennis and I purchased it brand new in 1998 because Tara’s car seat wouldn’t fit into my Mustang anymore. Like so many parents, I had to give up my sports car for the kid. Anyway, with and without embedded car seats, I’ve taken that car to surf beaches, to alpine trailheads, on no less than 4 coast-to-coast moves, and many shorter moves in between. She’s started up without fail every morning in Vermont’s below-zero winters, and never ever died in Nevada’s 110 degree summers. As we climbed a hill outside Grants Pass, Oregon, she gave a great shudder and the Service Engine light came on.

Earlier, the metal band holding the muffler had rusted through and the whole apparatus rattled whenever the car vibrated, so as the shuddering continued up the hill and down into Grants Pass, it made a metallic rattling that sounded much worse than it was. It was nerve wracking. Long story short, we made it to California. I was staying the night with my longtime friend Margaret whose boyfriend works at a dealership with a great service department. Sam insisted that I bring it over first thing in the morning. After awesome personalized attention, Sam began listing all the things that needed to be repaired. He estimated it would cost $3000-$4000. “Crystal. I’m sorry, your car is just not worth it.”

New Jeep with the Saturn Dragon Wagon humbly in the background.

New Jeep with the Saturn Dragon Wagon humbly in the background.

Well, since I was trapped with an old, broken dragon at a dealership, you can guess how the story ended. I’ve known Sam for years, which eased my worries about being forced to buy a car in the spur of the moment. I wasn’t able to get my perfect choice of vehicle, since I needed something available right there, right then. I think I’m going to end up loving the new Jeep Cherokee though. Especially if it gives me 16 years like the Saturn did. In honor of my old girl, I shelled out the clams to get personalized plates, and I think I can even spell DRAGNS with an “s” this time.  I’ll post a photo when I get the plates. If my first choice doesn’t work, I want UKTENA, the Cherokee winged serpent.

I haven’t mentioned the Jeep online yet, because I’m embarrassed of my conspicuous consumption. I’m never the kind of person who purchases to just to look good or have the newest thing, but you wouldn’t guess it from seeing me in the Jeep. Aside from the great cargo capacity and hatchback which will be so useful with all our camping, the technology makes my inner Geek Girl so happy. It’s from a different planet than cars in 1998. This one has a ginormous touch screen in the center of the console, to control radio, separate driver’s and passenger’s climate, apps (yes, apps) and whatever else. I can answer my cell phone through the steering wheel – built in hands-free! It’s got a back-up camera, how brilliant is that? I start the dang car by pushing a button as if I’m Jane Jetson. All the ISB and SD card ports are built in. And BEST of all, at the credit union the other day, I tried to lock my keys in the car, but after I closed the door, it went “beep beep beep!” and I was able to open up the door and grab my keys before it locked. Whew!

Summertime is beer season! I sampled the latest local microbrews.

Summertime is beer season! I sampled the latest local microbrews.

At the orthodontist, Dr. Angle (great name for a teeth guy, huh?) decided my teeth are organized enough to finally switch to Invisalign. So off came the braces. Yay! Yay! I’m not done with my orthodontia, of course, because I still need tweaking by the Invisalign appliances. But now I get to take them off to eat and to brush my teeth. No more torn up mouth, no more avoiding carrots and apples and corn. No more picking nuts out of the metal for two hours.

Part two of very cool orthodontia story: Invisalign are clear plastic shells that fit around teeth and hold them in place or move them. The shells are built on a plaster cast of my teeth. I asked Dr. Angle how Invisalign can move my teeth if they are built on where my teeth already are? He said the original cast is made into a digital image in a computer which he can then manipulate by a millimeter here or a millimeter there. Then a new cast of teeth is built in a 3D printer, and the next set of clear plastic shells is created off that. Wow! Technology in my face!

View across the Snake River from Pa & Chelle's house.

View across the Snake River from Pa & Chelle’s house.

On the 4th of July long weekend I drove to see my Pa and Michelle on their place on the Snake, south of Boise. It may very well be the last time I visit the Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch. They have decided to sell it because it’s just too much neverending work and money to maintain. Pa & Michelle have worked hard to be able to retire, and they should have the chance to enjoy it now, not spend most of their time saving every penny for the next catastrophe, or spending their free time doing repairs. Much as they love their oasis in the Owyhee desert, they have decided to give it up.

The visit was a good one. Pa’s health is much better than last time I visited, which was good for my soul to see. My visit was long enough to really spend some good time with them, talking, joking, sharing recipes and talking about the future. Pa showed me his winged archer avatar in his online gaming world – a truly fascinating place. It reminds me of the incredible depths of story and artistry of the world my friend Vlad spends time in. I joined Michelle on a morning walk and we talked about some common history, which makes me understand better why I love her so much. Michelle also joined me again on a trip to Map Rock, the Shoshone petroglyphs I wrote about in 2010. I was hoping that in sunset light I could get the images to show up better this time, but bright sunny skies aren’t conducive to displaying the basalt carvings. I’ll probably make this a separate post too.

Saturday afternoon I managed to squeeze in a quick trip across the river to Boise to visit my brother Eli and his wife Addie, and get another good look at my growing nephews, Parker and Paxton. I am crazy about this family. Salt of the earth people, I’m telling you. In my next life I want to come back as them.

Brand new rings signalling a brand new chapter in life!

Brand new rings signalling a brand new chapter in life!

July 7th I was able to join two dear friends of mine as they were married in a hot air balloon! I got to meet their parents (and a niece and a brother), and all of us shared a blissful morning ride soaring over the Willamette Valley packed with vineyards, hops fields, and acres of Hazelnut trees. Oregon’s state nut is the Hazelnut (and I thought I was the state nut…). My friends are both enormously sweet, shy, thoughtful, gentle, hardworking people. It must be so hard to find a match when you’re a quiet and shy person, and thinking that makes me so glad they found each other. I am tickled to death that they are married, and so very deeply honored to have shared the morning with them.

That’s it! You made it to the end! I am planning a late start to my next adventure for the sole purpose of getting this blog posted (and putting some cards into the mail) because it’s about dang time I join my Internet community again. I love and miss you guys. In a few hours I’ll hit the road for California again, this time to one of my favourite places on the planet: the Trinity Alps. I’ll spend all week on the trails, battling poison oak and mosquitoes and sharp elevation gains, then I’ll head down to the valley again, good and stinky. I’ll go pick up my kiddo (prolly beg Dennis for use of his shower) and bring her back to Portland in time for her birthday, and her birthday present: another Broadway show. This time, the Book of Mormon. I am dying to see it!!

To my blogger friends: all your new posts are in my inbox, waiting for me to go read. I’ll find some time soon to discover what’s been happening in your worlds too. Till then, happy Solstice, happy Ramadan, Happy Independence Day, and Bastille Day, and… well, you get the idea.

Future site of Dharma Rain Zen Center. This is from the center of the campus looking west toward 82nd street.

Future site of Dharma Rain Zen Center. This is from the center of the campus looking west toward 82nd street.

One of Tara’s 11th grade classes is AP Environmental Science (affectionately called APES). One of the projects that her science class has been involved with all year is the future campus of the Dharma Rain Zen Center. At different times during the year, her high school class has visited the nearby site to assist with soil samples, vegetation identification and counting, and most recently tree planting. Sometimes the work is part of class, and sometimes it’s offered as extra credit points. Last Saturday was an extra credit day for T to pitch in with tree planting at the site, so I agreed to drive her up there and leave her for the day. Her class had been told the goal was to achieve 1,000 plantings in one day.

After we arrived, we encountered a monk who showed us where to go to sign up. One of my favourite local organizations, Friends of Trees, had set up a tent and was efficiently and expertly coordinating the volunteers. (Click here for another post about Friends of Trees.) I waited aside while Tara went up to the registration table. The man there said, “You’re 18 right?” Tara answered that she was not. The man turned to me, “So you’ll be signing her in, then?” And… before I  knew it, I had volunteered to plant for Dharma Rain.

On the east side of the campus, near the base of Rocky Butte.

On the east side of the campus, near the base of Rocky Butte.

I love the idea that Portland hosts a Buddhist community with plans to build a temple and campus in my own neighborhood. Hidden out of sight beyond the frontage buildings along 82nd, I would never have known something was going on here without getting the information from Tara.

I had obviously come unprepared, but Friends of Trees is a well-oiled machine. Boxes of gloves I could use, labeled according to size, were beside the table. The registrar pointed out the shovels and planting tools available for us to take. He explained where we needed to go to find our planting team.

Banner in a tree beside the parking lot

Banner in a tree beside the parking lot

Dharma RainWe received some quick instruction on how to plant Salmonberry bushes, which provide a natural cover and food for birds. Soon we were raking aside dead yet thorny blackberry vines to clear planting areas for the Salmonberry. I’m not exactly sure why the blackberries would be killed to make way for salmonberries, which seem a variant of the same plant in my mind, but perhaps the salmonberry are less aggressive plants. Some of the blackberry debris we moved through hosted monstrous root balls and vines as thick as small tree trunks.

Tara talked about what it used to look like before all the blackberry was killed, and the heaps of vines towered above her head. She also explained that it used to be the site of a landfill (that probably explains why 14 acres in the middle of the city was available for purchase). So we were instructed to collect any large pieces of trash and move it to a pile near the entranceway, so that it wouldn’t be a hazard to others.

This is how ballerinas plant.

This is how ballerinas plant.

Starting out cold, getting covered in dirt, scratched from blackberries, and tired from clambering up and down the hill was worth it in the end. Friend of Trees provided food and drinks when we needed breaks, and a follow-up when it was all done. This is from the email I received later in the week:

Thank you so much for your hard work Saturday morning at the Dharma Zen Rain Center in NE Portland!  It was a bright and beautiful (if chilly) morning and together we planted more than 1,200 native trees and shrubs!  We appreciated getting to partner with the Dharma Rain Zen Center on this project and look forward to the restoration transformation taking place at this site!

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