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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.

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.

Newly painted wall in Tara's room

I finished painting my daughter’s room. Dark grey. I protested, not a little. She stood firm (ooh, I raised an independent girl. A fact which bites me in the butt sometimes). It wasn’t until I got all the way around with the first coat, and could see it more or less in a complete state, that I realized it looks nice. Tara said, “I like how you called it ‘my cave’ Mom, because it is! It’s my cave!”

Grey. What a color.

I want to know her desperately. And, she shares a lot, but she is also very private. I think it is the time when I will begin to be left out of a significant portion of her life inside her head. I don’t want to let her get that far away from me. I think she is such an incredible person who is so different from me and so interesting and amazing, I just want the inside scoop forever. But now she has a cave, and it’s her space. Not mine.

New dress and fancy shoes

My little girl is now out of Middle School and on her way toward being a high-schooler. Very cool, a little scary, and a recipe for adventure. Life is so full of doors of potential. All around us, doors stand in their frames, just waiting for our inquisitive minds to try the handle and see what it’s like to walk through. Nothing brings that thought to mind lately, more than my thoughts about Miss Tara graduating from the 8thgrade. How often I wonder where her life will take her, and how eager I am to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch her leap into it!

me, my girl, my mother

Last month we attended the Portland Title VII Indian Education graduation ceremony. Tuesday’s ceremony was at her own school with her classmates. It was really fun to be there with all that Eighth-grader energy and with their proud family and friends. I tease Tara, tongue in cheek, that I’ve got Gypsy blood, and always on the edge of being blown into the next town with a change in the winds. Contrary to my natural instincts, I’ve allowed societal and psychiatric pressure to coerce me into holding still for awhile for her sake. It paid off when I watched her classmates graduate and knew half their names and could tell you something special about almost as many of them. Holding still helps me connect to my community, and that’s a beautiful thing.

goofing around in the cafeteria

She’s a cultural minority at Harrison Park School, like all of her classmates there. It’s probably the first time I’ve experienced a clearly demarcated group that has no obvious physical qualities that make up the majority. The group is so unlike her very white upper middle class elementary school in Beaverton (on the other side of town). Sorry Beaverton, but over here we SO have it going on! The students beaming as they crossed the stage were descendants of families hailing from places as diverse as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Nigeria, Mexico, and, uh, Oregon. There were American Indians, Muslims in their headscarves, tall and dark, short with red hair, loud, quiet, smart, popular, shy, and all obviously loved by not only one or two who might be related to them, by also by supporters throughout the auditorium. There were cheers, yelps, clapping, and whistles scattered amongst us all when a new student made their way into the spotlight to collect their certificate of promotion.

My neighbor, Herbert, also the parent of a graduate

It was obvious when a student was popular: sometimes the place would erupt in a roar of appreciation. And I often could guess why: they cheered for the sweet-natured but fierce team player on the volleyball team, the beautiful chess champ, the tall traveling athlete who cherishes friends, the pianist, the scholarship winner, and the one who makes everyone laugh. What a great group they are. I am proud of my girl and proud of her classmates. I’m so glad to have witnessed their last three years together.

My mother sewed a dress for Miss T, who had chosen the design and the fabrics. (She also sewed her own dress that you see in the photo above.) Tara felt like a beauty in her lovely dress. I was delighted to see my tomboy in GIRL clothes! She thought at first she wanted to wear my old combat boots with her dress. It was a way for her to match the dress code and retain her individuality. She wasn’t ready to make a clean break from her typical fashion preference (ripped jeans, Vans, and a hoodie) to satin and tulle. But… after twenty minutes in front of a mirror in the dress, she was rummaging through my closet and pulled out my Kenneth Cole sandals. It was a sweet moment. It’s not always easy to accept growing up gracefully, and I understood the small steps she was taking to try on a new role.

happy graduates

All the graduates ended up in the cafeteria where we gathered for photos and hellos to old friends and goodbyes to dear teachers. The graduates were bursting with high spirits and joyous celebration. They decided to gather at Jonah’s house for ice cream afterward, so Mom, and Aunt Eireanne, and I went home and left T with her friends to celebrate their special evening together.

wearing my own letterman's jacket

As an aside… The following night my girl was getting ready to head out to Cirque de Soleil with ex-boyfriend Mark. Looking through the hall closet for something warm to wear, she pulled out my old high school jacket. Talk about bringing it full circle. I wore that jacket not too long ago. Let’s see, it was about 6 weeks ago. No, more like a year or two ago. Well, actually – now that I think about it – that was 23 years ago. She wore the jacket and I reminisced. I can’t believe I’m the mother of a Freshman.

Back! Back! You creeping monster!

Funny how a distinction created by humans can be a sign portending such spiritual and elemental evaluation. Last day of August. Last days of Summer. Last days of freedom before school. Probably because the dates and the seasons are so cleverly merged with the way our earth tilts and whirls, we react on a chemical level to what we are/would react to anyway, with only a little number on a calendar trigger.

It’s very exciting to get my girlie ready for the sixth grade. I haven’t had the opportunity to usher her through the first days of school for a few years. I’ve already had administrative snags, met the office people trying to clear up the snags, toured the school, and found her classroom. Though I tried to get everything set up for her in May while people were still at the school, when I went to double-check last week, they didn’t have a record of her anywhere. I am so glad I checked! Our bonus gift was that we showed up the day classes and teachers were being assigned, and we learned the name of her new teacher. The next prize was getting a letter from her teacher in the mail yesterday, addressed to her new students and anticipating a fun year ahead.

West side still waiting to be tamed

I just love this stuff. I always loved school, and many of the teachers, and the activities and friends, and clubs and events and sports. Girlie struggles academically, but I hope that she is getting other positive things out of school.

Did some yard work yesterday, because it’s got two things that heal my soul: hard physical labor, and hands in the dirt. Well, ok, it wasn’t entirely a spiritual pursuit. I also really needed to chop back that horrible ivy before we completely lost sight of our sidewalk. I eagerly anticipate the day when all that will be GONE! We would like to terrace the hill in front of our house, and landscape with attractive, non-invasive plants. But for now, I’ll just incessantly hack at the ivy.

We also went to Freddies and bought a new backpack, two pairs of jeans, and a shirt. I can’t BELIEVE she’s wearing a women’s size 1 already, and women’s size 4 shoes. Jeez! My man reminded me that what this really means is that she’ll soon be raiding my closet for clothes. ha ha. She does already actually. She met me at the bus stop after work Friday evening in a darling outfit that included one of my shirts. “Can I just have it, Mom? I really like yellow, and it’s so cute!”

She changes clothes about 4 or 5 times a day. Everything she comes up with is adorable, so I have a hard time getting mad at her for wearing all those clothes. We just decided that she can do her own laundry, and then she can wear whatever she wants and deal with the consequences herself.

Her Saturday chore is to vacuum the whole upstairs (which is a trick to get her to clean her room). Then I had her come out in the street where I was clearing ivy and pick up all the trash out of the gravel in front of our house. She is such a good worker, such a good girl. She never fusses. I have not heard her whine or have a fit about chores yet.

Work is so good for a person’s well-being. Just hard work. Builds up your body, forces you to gulp in the air and get your blood pumping. It builds a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Sometimes you can even see what you accomplished. As I sit here on the couch in my fuzzy jammies next to my kid tearing it up on her DS, the aches and pains in my back and shoulders have erased all guilt I might have felt for sitting somewhat unproductively at the computer.

My growing girl in a cherry tree

It has been fun watching my daughter grow up. I’m not one of those moms who ever says, “Oh, I just want to keep her a baby as long as possible.”

I adore my kid. I think she’s so smart, and so funny, and so genuinely caring. I can’t help but be proud of her amazing life. I have already learned from her. What a gift she is to me.

We’ve been brushing up against the “growing up” topics for about a year now. We’ve had many many “period” talks, till her questions of the mystical nature of being a woman were somewhat satisfied. And then the more practical side came up. “Why do people use tampons? Doesn’t it hurt?”  I realized that we needed to address it for real. So I bought a box of pads and a box of tampons and we sat at the breakfast table and I had her open up whatever she wanted. She poked at them, and pulled and wadded and then tore one to bits. I got a glass of water for her and she poured water and dunked them and played with the adhesive parts and opened a couple more.

After awhile, I could tell she was completely satisfied. She looked up at me, and then started cleaning it all up. She asked if she could take some of it to Dad’s house and leave some at my house.

No more mystery. Not as scary. Now all the stories her 5th grader girlfriends tell her won’t freak her out so much anymore. Man, I wish someone had done that for me. I got all my education on the playground and by stealthily reading the backs of boxes in the feminine hygiene products aisle at Shaver’s grocery store.

Sunday it was stage two. She asked if I would speak with her in her bedroom. Alone. So we trotted up there and she explained that some girls had teased her about the hair in her armpits. She said, “I didn’t realize I was at the age where I was supposed to be shaving! I didn’t know it was time.”

So, I explained that there is no “time.” It doesn’t have anything to do with age. It is completely up to her when she shaves or even whether she ever shaves. I really tried to diffuse the peer pressure, but it was too late. She had made up her mind that it was time. Which, I guess, is the way to go about it – wait for it to be her decision.

I did try to beat her little friends to the next one though, and told her to wait on shaving her legs. “In fact,” I said, “If you never shave your legs, the hair will stay light and fine. Because as soon as you begin, it comes out like whiskers and then you have no choice.” To my pleasure, she had already heard this, and was glad to hear my reinforcement of what someone else’s mom had said.

She wanted me to recommend a brand of razor. And I told her what I use. And since I always have extras, I gave her one and popped her into the shower and gave her a 5-minute crash course. She was scared about how to do it, scared of cutting herself. I told her about how to move the razor, how not to ever share or  borrow, how some people’s skin needs to be wet or it breaks out in a rash.

This stuff is *so* exciting for me. It’s silly to be this excited maybe. And I’m not a girly girl by any means, so girl stuff in general usually causes me to roll my eyes. But I can’t help but feel a thrill that my little one is not so little anymore.

Good luck my love. Go out into that big world and be who you are!

One of my many guises

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