How to Find a Therapist

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Looking for a Therapist?

Looking for a therapist can be a daunting task. I know because I have had to find several over the last 40 years. Finding someone compatible can take time and when you are in a crisis, time is not what one typically has.

Here, I will lay out questions that can help with the screening process for who might be a good fit… and who will definitely not be a good fit.

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How to Find a Therapist

Finding who to call can include getting names from Human Resources, your insurance book or Googling “Therapists.”

I find that if you need low-cost therapists, going to support agencies can help more than just Googling. I suggest the LGBTQ+ Center in the nearest town, even if you are not wanting to talk about those issues, they keep a long list of therapists who are low-no cost. You can also search the county’s social services site.

You can call the local college and ask them for recommendations. If it is a school that licenses therapists, that can be a jackpot, asking for newer therapists because they often charge less. It can seem not fabulous to ask for a new therapist, but they are often the ones with the newest ideas in research and are willing to work with you and your desires for therapy.

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Once You Have the List

It can be daunting to call the long list of therapists you have in front of you. Take your time. Call 3, then take a break and call 3 more the next hour or so. Be gentle on yourself even if you are desperate.

Desperate, of course, means NOT in a place to harm yourself or others.

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If you are in a suicidal or homicidal place, PLEASE CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY.

Calling for an Appointment

You will almost always get an answering machine when you call. That is normal. So plan out what you are going to say… write it down and read it if you want to… and then say what you need to the machine. Short and as succinct as possible. Therapist’s appointments end at 10 ’til the hour, so occasionally you might catch a person between then and the top of the hour, but not usually.

“Hi, my name is Barb Herrera and I need a therapist for depression. Your name was given to me by the LGBTQ Center. I am in crisis, but not suicidal, so the sooner I can see someone the better. My phone number is: xxx-xxx-xxxx.”

If you are in crisis, it is important to say you are. Make sure to add the not suicidal part, please… if you are NOT suicidal, of course.

If you are a parent, needing therapy for a child, you can say, “Hi, my name is Barb Herrera and my 10-year old son William needs help with his ADHD and anger issues. We are having a very hard time right now, so the sooner I can see someone the better. Please help!”

I find the phrase, “Please help me,” brings out the codependent in just about everyone. I use it in the ER, in bookstores, and looking for therapists.

You might need to call 20 therapists to get 3 to call you back. That is the way it goes, sadly. Some will be kind and tell you they cannot help, but good-luck, but that is pretty rare.

Try with all your might to answer the phone when a strange number calls (or a blocked number even) because catching each other can be a terribly frustrating game of cat and mouse.

When You Speak to the Therapist

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While it sounds like you want that exact therapist when you left a message, there is a screening process you get to do to see if they are a good fit or not.

I encourage writing down exactly what you want help with:

“I am struggling with my marriage. My partner is distant and I don’t know why./My partner asked for a divorce and I’m scared/I’m having such a hard time getting anything done, my life is shit.” Etc.

If it is for someone else, your child for example, being really clear with what you need is good.

“My 15-year old daughter is using drugs and I don’t know what to do about it/My daughter is 13 and angry all the time. I need help understanding her/My 9-year old son struggles in school and cries a lot. I need help figuring out how to help him.” Etc.

So, when the therapist calls, this is when you bring out that paper and read to him or her what you need. Then ask, “Is this something you work with?” They might say yes (some say yes to anything), but they might tell you that isn’t their skill set and that’s great. Ask if they have a referral, thank them for calling and move on.

If you make an appointment with someone who says yes, WRITE DOWN THE APPOINTMENT DATE AND TIME and keep it handy. I say this because you want to keep talking to the therapists who call you back. Make an appointment with each one, just keep them straight (stars or ** next to the ones you like) so you can cancel  the others when you get a feel for the right therapist. It is rare you will not connect with one of the folks that eventually calls. If you do not, pick the least objectionable and start there.

When you have the appointment with the therapist, please call the others and cancel. You will get a machine again, so no worries on hurting their feelings. It happens all the time. BUT, thank them for their time and that you are holding onto their number for future reference. And then do so so you don’t have to go on the search again in the future if the one you choose does not work out.

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Appointments

The first appointment can make or break the relationship, but I highly encourage having at least 3 before deciding you are not a good fit and moving to the next one.

It is also so so tempting to stay with one that is meh because the prospect of starting over is daunting and can be really challenging when you are in crisis. But, I promise, if you give the therapist 3 sessions and you are still not clicking, the idea that you will eventually is really delaying the obvious. Best get out and start over now. The sooner you do, the sooner you will find the right fit.

When I moved from San Diego after my 28-year marriage ended, I had specific needs because of the situation… needed an LGBTQ+ friendly and knowledgeable person. The first three people I had were very young and I spent those first 3 sessions teaching them about the transgender person. I stayed the 3 hoping after session 1 and 2 that they would learn on their own and come back armed with information they could use to help me. When it was clear I was going to be the educator, I ended the relationship and moved onto the next one. With the 4th, I hit the jackpot and am still with her 3 years later. I did not have to teach her one thing about the trans community or the trans experience. She is older and volunteers as a therapist at the LGBTQ+ Center in town. It took almost a year to find the right person, but it was worth it. (A year waiting for appointments to open up and the down time between therapists when I was frustrated and was too tired to move forward.)

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Lastly

Trust your instincts.

If you are able to be CLEAR about your needs… even if it is merely describing your child’s most difficult behaviors or your most intense emotions about your job… that is a fantastic way to start.

Others who have made these choices, do you have other ideas on how you choose therapists?

Consensus

I have belonged to two groups of women… lesbians in the 1980’s and early 90’s… and midwives in the 2000’s… who swore by consensus, believing it was the way to run a group.

What is Consensus?

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Don’t let these happy faces fool you.

A definition is important. Governing by Consensus is when everyone in the group has to agree with the topic at hand or the issue is not finished/closed/settled until everyone does agree. This means that in a group of 1000 people, if one person disagrees, then the solution offered does not pass muster.

Until that last person agrees.

If the last person never agrees, the subject is tabled for another time. Usually until the last person leaves the group or keels over.

Not Loving This

Navelgazing Writer Consensus
This Sucks by Jaz Higgins

I am not a fan of consensus. I’m just too skeptical to believe everyone in a given group is altruistic enough to really listen to the issue at hand and leave their own egos out of the equation in order to find a conclusion to a problem. That would be because I have been around enough people in these groups who get off on being contrary and don’t give one whit about the group as a whole or even the pieces parts (the others) in that group. Instead, they have a life goal of annoying people, seeking attention and wreaking havoc wherever they are.

I’m a majority rules kinda gal. The feminist separatists reading/listening to this are shrieking, “That is so patriarchal!” Whatever. Majority rules works whereas consensus does not.

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Navelgazing Writer Consensus
Pretty accurate depiction of my Consensus experiences.

For example, I was part of the San Diego Lesbian Press Collective in the late 80’s/early 90’s. A “collective,” pretty much by definition, is governed by consensus. The politics of the lesbian community during that time was extremely separatist… men were persona non grata to the lesbians. Now, I had 2 male children so was immediately suspect, but they let me into the collective because they needed writers and I can write some good controversial shit.

The Press was always needing money. Finding advertisers was a never-ending job for some of the womyn (spelled w-o-m-y-n) in the group. Thankfully, all I had to do was write.

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We Need Money to Survive, but NOT His

That was until a potential advertiser came along who happened to be a MAN, then I was required to attend the collective meetings.

This MAN was going to be a major advertiser, affording the Press to go for at least a year without begging others for money. But, his being a man… using money that a man made… was a serious breach of the way the Press worked.

But some wimmin (w-i-m-m-i-n), myself included, felt okay about accepting the dude’s money because it would mean the Press could stay operational for a long time and our (collective) lesbian voices would be spread further and wider. Many others, of course, did not agree.

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And So We Began

So, discussion ensued.

I committed to abstaining from the beginning, but was required to listen to the discussion lest I not understand what I was abstaining to. Therefore, I began the interminable task of listening to the back and forth of why we should take the man’s money or why we should not.

In the beginning, the arguments were typical and have already been mentioned… we could operate for another year without worry and we could have our message spread further and wider. But the “discussions” began to get heated.

Air Pollution

Navelgazing Writer Consensus

“Talking about a man at all is polluting our environment!” So we moved outdoors so the Universe could absorb the negative energy of the masculine discussion.
(You think I am kidding. You would be wrong.)

MEN have so much ANGER wrapped into their money-making! I don’t want that energy anywhere near our paper!”

(Never mind the really loud, and not always polite, discussions occurring at that very moment.)

You also might be thinking this meeting would have been a couple of hours long. One would have hoped, yes. But, this topic was a couple of hours long, carried over, every week, for THREE MONTHS.

3-Month

It was worse than that tennis match feeling, watching ideas lobbed over a net only to be returned nearly identically a few moments later. I lost count how many times I said, “I abstain.”

Desperation

It was clear the issue was becoming desperate when creative ways were developed for how to accept the money even though he was a man. My absolute favorite was that he give the money to his wife and she be the one to gives us the money out of her bank account. Seriously. This was a topic of discussion. FOR WEEKS.

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There never was consensus on what to do. The lesbian separatists refusing to give in to THE MAN and those with more mission-minded thoughts knowing that, in order to keep going, we needed that money. Because there was no consensus, the money was not taken and the San Diego Lesbian Press folded a mere two months after the end of the discussion.

See? It should have been majority rules… they might still be in operation today.

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Surgery Scheduled

Excision Surgery to remove the malignant melanoma and the dysplastic nevus is scheduled for next week, March 28th, 2019… the day before my 58th birthday. I keep thinking I am okay, not nervous or worried, but my behaviors say differently.

Cancer Surgery Navelgazing Writer
Surgery No. 10 by Steven Higgins

I was in pain a few days ago so bought a bottle of amaretto. In a 24-hour period, I drank the entire bottle. When I was done, I thought, “Hmmm, this is not a good way to cope,” so called my therapist and had an emergency session with her that night. She offered other ways of coping… distraction being the main one… playing more in Second Life, writing more and finding a good book to read.

(Please don’t tune out the next section!)

I considered calling the psychiatrist for some anti-anxiety meds, but thought that wasn’t a good strategy for a former addict either. Instead, I bought Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

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This is the basis for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the course I took in San Diego several years ago that helped me with a great deal of pain, depression, anxiety and then later, with getting clean from opiates.

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When I was in all that liver pain, I meditated a lot, but when the pain was pretty much gone, I stopped (like a goofball). Now, here I am again, needing to meditate and I am having to relearn the skills I knew so well not so long ago. I am not worried, but BE-ing in the moment (did you who meditate chuckle like I did?) and going with where I am and doing it. Talk about the Beginner’s Mind!

In anticipation of next week’s surgery and not using pain meds afterwards to help with pain management, I am going to stay “In the Moment” and meditate to work through the pain I will surely have. Although I am not trying to anticipate it. laughing I sound like an advertisement for MBSR.

Next week, here I come!

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Blackface

So, we know there are issues surrounding the wearing of blackface by politicians and I wanted to share how I responded as things began.

When the first story about Gov. Ralph Northam wearing blackface in college came out, I listened for his apology and thought, “Well, that was good.” I also thought this was 1984, not too long after I got out of high school (I graduated in 1979) where there were many KKK fanatics and I saw blackface done on more than a few occasions. So, the pounding reality of the horror of blackface for African Americans/Blacks did not really compute. I was tepid in my response.

I also realized I am white and what the heck do I know about what blackface looks like to a black person… feels like… to a black person, so I began listening and reading the comments and thoughts and essays by folks who live the reality of black hatred every day.

And while I still do not believe I really understand how horrible it must be to be demoralized, depicted and demonized by a white person in blackface, I think I am beginning to get it.

I hope to find the visceral reaction to it I should have had when the yearbook picture showed up on TV.

Bettering

I’m feeling much better. I have been for awhile, but forgot to write about it here because I have been writing a lot elsewhere, mostly for work.

My writing is really going well. I am really proud of some of the things I have written and do hope they can see the light of day someday. I’ve come up with a Nom de Guerre (someday will share that, too) with which to show my erotic writings. I’ve been encouraged to write on Literotica for years and am this close (holding my thumb and forefinger a fraction away from each other) to doing so. Will all the years of writing lead to being known for erotica? I find that somewhat amusing.

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I’ve been going through my old Navelgazing Midwife site for some folks looking for things in particular. Damn, I wrote some good crap there! I was reading from back in 2011… my voice is the same as it is now, my feelings pretty much the same now. How reviled I was for bucking the system! Sheesh. That was so so long ago, but seems like a blip in time ago, too. Isn’t time crazy?

I am writing a lot on Second Life, too. I have also been asked to teach some classes, which will be lots of fun. Classes about women’s health, cultural sensitivity in discussing sex workers, issues around pregnancy and the like.

More to write… on my way.

I’m Depressed (Again)

Due to a glitch in my insurance and the Latuda company’s lack of medication, I went about a week without it. Might have been more. I have been back on it for 4 days now, but have fallen into depression. I wasn’t sure at first, but after sleeping 20 hours a day 3 days in a row, I think that qualifies as depression.

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And the crying.

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I hate the crying.

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The welling up of tears for (seemingly) no reason. The way they fall unabated, no amount of logic stopping them. They just turn on and off at their own whim.

What am I sad about? Nothing. There is no precipitating factor here, merely biochemical.

I want out of it.

NOW.

Forgiveness

Mom and I sat at the vet the other day, in that tiny side room with the dogs hiding under our feet. We wept together, apologizing for all our past hurts and wrongs. It was extremely freeing to know my mom forgives me for all those horrible kid things I have done… and she has heard that I also forgive her for her own parental difficulties.

I hope to know that with my own children one day.

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Snatch with Prompt

This was the Prompt:

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This is what I wrote in 30 minutes (unedited):

When Colors Run

Deep inside my colorless cocoon, I have a vague sense of other lives nearby.

I slither through their reality; where is my own? Surrounding myself with the darkness of my depression.

My mirror’d existence bursts into color, fireworks exploding with energy that drains my body, but never my mind.

Having Bipolar Disorder 1 is, quite literally, opposing colors of my brain. I see auras anyway, but during a manic episode, the colors scream off my body, tsunamis of energy crashing into my brain again and again. Voices screech… or whisper… I, never knowing which will be next… raging about how I look, feel, need to act, need to fly, need to find this or that, things that are elusive even after hours of mentally and physically searching.

Exhaustion never comes.

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When the electricity finally dissipates after months of zapping me, I collapse into that dark world once again, struggling to keep breathing and not smother myself with the thought that this will go on forever.

Reaching outward, always outward, needing several hands to keep me alive, I am fed my medication, waking only to swallow, then sleeping yet another 23 hours.

Writing is my emotional gauge. By how many words I write in a day, I’m able to see where I stand psychologically.

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Not writing for days, weeks, months… I am in that dark place and need help. Too often, because I am alone, I do not recognize the need for many weeks and, by then, am buried by the pain.

However, when I write 20,000 words in a day… several blog posts for me, blog posts and essays for work… long emails to friends and family… run-on sentences with divergent topics… it is they who sense my need for help and their well-rehearsed phone calls are made to see who can get me to the doctor the fastest.

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Walking the tightrope, umbrella in hand, I teeter, side to side, always searching for that inaccessible balance.

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NaNoWriMo Redux

National Novel Writing Month kicks my arse!

After getting off to a blazing start, I petered out a little past mid-month… which, it seems, is pretty common. Instead of the 50,000 word goal, I ended up with 35,111 words, which is, admittedly, about 35,000 more words than I have written in the last 6 months. My goal was not a novel, since I do not write novels, but to do a slew of posts for here. Hey, I did that! I still have 8-10 in drafts, waiting for pictures before popping out whole.

However, around Day 6, a fiction story started pouring out of my fingers. Huh? Where did that come from? I have no idea, but sharing it with my audience of one (another besides myself), it seems to be coming out as a pretty decent story.

Not having written complete fiction before, I knew I was making horrendous mistakes, including with dialogue. A group in Second Life (My NaNoWriMos!) suggested several books and I quickly acquired those. Poring through those, I am able to write more clearly than the earlier pages.

My writer friends also suggested Scrivener, a program specifically for writers.

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I loooooovvvvveeeee Scrivener. I did not start learning it until after midnight on December 1, but, so far, it has helped me so so much with my organization and being able to put things down on paper that I am usually carrying around in my head.

This is the synopsis of what I am writing.

Witness Mistress Lara’s training of Esmé , a natural submissive, to her eventual collaring by her new Owner, Master John. The path is not without its obstacles, Esmé requiring not only gentle guidance, but sometimes harsh punishments… neither of which are what they might seem at first blush. Everyone, from Dominants to submissives, learn what it means to maintain their roles and when it might be necessary to cross the lines.

(Title of Book [still unknown]) exposes the intertwined connections between BDSM, sex and love.

How far would you go to prove your innate worthiness to someone you desire?

Dang, I can write a decent synopsis! Hopefully the book is as yummy.

Re-reading it, I can already see the changes I have made because I learned I needed a Villain or three. A Villain?! Really? So I found her (the first?) and am doing her backstory. She seems so tender and was so hurt in her youth, you can hardly help but care for her. Oooo, until she does naughty things to Esmé.

I’m really having fun watching this story unfold. I have some idea of where it is going, but am much more a Seat-of-the-Pants kind of writer… not much of a planner it seems. I can’t wait to see what, if anything, ends up with what I have written. For all I know, it could be a short story instead of a novel.

We shall see.

Second Life (for me!)

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I once wrote:

“I love being able to have unencumbered sex with cyber lovers, relieved of the logistics that real life would dictate. And what’s wonderful is they, too, are able to suspend reality, allowing me to be free… outside my body… and flying inside my mind. It is a gift that is completely dependent on the mechanism with which we communicate; the computer. Together, we tangle, we swirl together, we move around as if we were two feathers dancing on a current of air. Real life sex was never so uninhibited. It is a joy to be in this luscious place without my lifelong concerns… and occasional anguish… revolving around my body size, history of sexual abuse or even (seemingly) illogical psychiatric issues.”

This was written before I knew anything about Second Life.

Second Life is a virtual world. Mind you, I have never played a video game past Pac-Man nor done anything with virtual reality. In fact, when someone tried to get me into Second Life, I balked, thinking it was a religious thing. She finally dragged me to screen share with her, to show me what it really was, and within moments, I was hooked.

I was able to make myself into an Avatar… and Avi or AV… and I could make myself anything I wanted. Not just a woman, nor just a man, but Second Life has an endless array of creatures from vampires to mermaids to fairies and elves. If you feel like being a tiger one day and a transgender space person the next, you can do it! Easily and all but free of charge.

I, however, created my AV as a woman. An adorable blonde woman with a bit of flesh on her (and I know she looks small, but believe me, there are plenty of women with stick legs and enormous breasts in Second Life). I have my girl’s hair short almost always, but look! She has hair! After being bald for years, it is delicious having a choice of hairs to wear.

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I am also able to wear clothes that are lovely, classy, dressy, sloppy… whatever I want, I can find it in the Marketplace. Yes, I have to buy most of my clothes, but many things can be had for very, very inexpensive prices.

And the SHOES!

The shoes.

I can wear the highest heels every single day if I want. I can dance for 6 hours and my feet never hurt and I am not crippled with pain the next day.

I can wear angel wings and be amazingly sexy if I want to be.

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I have not been in Second Life for a year yet, so I have not explored a fraction of what it has to offer. I have not ridden horses, driven a car, been a mermaid in the ocean, gone sailing, ridden a surfboard… even role played… which is a huge offering of Second Life.

I have also not had SLex… Second Life sex. I decided to be there for at least a year before having any sex or doing anything kinky. I am certainly a weirdo for it, too, but so be it. I have 3 more months until I am 1 year old (in Second Life time) and have to make any decisions. For now, I am having a blast with what I have done.

I hang out at a Commune.

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I have flown while dancing.

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I found an enormous writing community that is extremely supportive of everyone’s writing progress. It is with this group with whom I am participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge and doing the Snatches and Dashes.

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We even have workshops where published authors and professional editors come in and teach us wonderful new skills.

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And Live Music!! Who knew there was live music online like this! I have found all kinds of genres from ballads to Bagpipe Rock to amazing folks music.

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I’ve also gone on a date to France.

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And the museums! So many museums.

And a million parks to go to… to have fun on playgrounds, to meditate in Japanese Gardens, to wander the Botanical Gardens… just so, so many places to enjoy.

There really is so much more than I can even express. I am glad to share my experiences with anyone asking.

I am purposefully not sharing my name because I also love the anonymity of Second Life. I want to create my own community of people that do not know me in real life. At least yet.

Are you in Second Life?

Lest We Forget

My dad bombed Vietnam.

It was decades before I realized that when I said, “My dad works on B-52’s,” that that really meant he flew missions over Vietnam and bombed the country to smithereens. Men, women, children, babies, dogs, goats, high-rise buildings, houses, generations of lives… gone because of my father “working on B-52’s.”

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I never talked to him about it. He did not discuss his missions. Instead, he sent us pictures of himself in lush Guam or Okinawa, lovely girls by his side. Or he and his friends with flowers behind their ears, drinking beer as they grilled a pig outside on the sand. He sent souvenirs back from Iceland, the pelt of an Icelandic sheep, the wool many inches long and a very white white.

He died before I could ask his feelings about bombing a country that would be forever scarred because of his actions.

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Bomb craters 50-years later.

I wonder what he thought as he watched the rain of bombs falling from the enormous plane, seeing them from above, not below where they exploded and killed so, so much life.

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I wonder if he ever had any regrets or was The Mission the most important part. Was his need to follow so great he never even had one nightmare about what he was doing?

My dad was 19 when he went into the Air Force. 19 years old. That is such a baby age! At 19, I was still dancing in the disco, had barely had sex for the first time, was still years from marriage and having kids. And there he was, killing whole villages with one sweep of the carpet.

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Perhaps my dad never talked about these things because he was better able to compartmentalize pain than I. Maybe it really didn’t bother him at all. Maybe he just didn’t think about it once the mission was over and he was back in the barracks playing poker with his buddies. Maybe they didn’t even talk about what they were doing amongst themselves.

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If my dad was still here today, on this Veteran’s Day, I know I would still not bring the topic up. His never speaking of missions gave the clear message that the topic was verboten.

I wonder if I were to bring it up, could I have unleashed a gushing onslaught of hidden pain and anguish? Would I have realized, too late, that this should not be discussed outside of a professional’s therapy room? Might I have alienated my father forever? That I did not and allowed our relationship to stay calm and even is something I am glad about.

And even as I am happy things turned out the way they did with my father, that I never spoke about my growing understanding of the Vietnam War and his role in it, I am comforted only in regards to my dad.

When it comes to the country of Vietnam or the Vietnamese people, I can never erase the shame or hide the sorrow for what my father did to obliterate their lives.

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Water-filled craters after a B52 bombing.

Kakigōri & Michael Flatley

June 6, 1999

The girls and I headed to Epcot at Walt Disney World, me in an Electric Convenience Vehicle… an ECV… and they walking.

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I always had my camera equipment and we carried our yellow Mickey ponchos for the inevitable afternoon thunderstorms.

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As we wended our way around World Showcase, we went inside The American Adventure to listen to the Voices of Liberty, an amazing a Capella group that sings beautiful songs about America… and a couple of Disney tunes thrown in. (Not quite sure where the other voices are coming from, but they vanish around 2 minutes in.)

America Gardens Theater

When you walk out of the The American Adventure (which we had been in dozens of times so did not go this day), across the way, is the America Gardens Theater. I have to show you several pictures because they will be relevant later in the story.

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America Gardens Theater, Epcot, Walt Disney World

It’s a wonderful theater with great acoustics.

The day we were there, Michael Flatley Lord of the Dance was performing. I had never seen them before so was really excited.

Because I had the ECV, we were led to the Handicapped Section. It was about 8 rows from the stage and I was on the far left of the benches.

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This is the handicapped row. I was sitting on the other side by the man walking in the blue shirt. You can see how close we were to the stage.

Kakigōri

It being June in Florida, it was damn hot. I tend to get to places early (movies, shows, parties, etc.) and this was no exception. Waiting, it was suffocatingly hot. While we always carried water, that Kakigōri booth in Japan, which is next to The American Adventure, beckoned. We needed something cold!

Kakigōri, a Japanese treat, is a sort of snow cone, or if you know Hawai’i Shave Ice, it is similar to that as well. Besides the syrups they add (your choices), some people enjoy cream in theirs. (Blech!)

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Not long after we were sitting in the flippin’ hot sun, the girls were sent on a mission to get the Kakigōri cones. I love cherry, and when they have it, grape. Yum! We three sat eating our snow cones, waiting for the show to start.

It finally did.

Michael Flatley Lord of the Dance

The show began with an amazing display of Irish dancing, men and women, moving in unison, the legs kicking while the tops of their bodies were stock still. It was delightful fun!

Midway through the show, a soloist came out and began singing the most lovely ballad… her soprano voice soaring into the air around us.

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Feedback

Then the feedback started. A blaring eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee that was the strangest thing ever! Disney is meticulous with their sound systems, it was bizarre having feedback.

People were looking around. Why hadn’t the sound people fixed it yet? Crazy!

Then I see a Cast Member wending his way through the crowd… in a hurry… was everything okay? Holy crap, he was heading… towards… me?

“Ma’am, can you get off the ECV’s horn?”

I looked down and my bulging fat belly was leaning on the red horn button, causing the horrid “feedback.”

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

I leaned back and, miraculously, the feedback stopped.

People everywhere were staring. Right at me. I was filled with embarrassment.

And then I started laughing.

The girls and I got the sillies, thinking about me causing all that ruckus. It took every bit of control to not howl with laughter through the rest of the performance.

We’ve continued laughing for almost 20 years now.

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Our Trip to Lubbock (food is involved)

Heading to Lubbock

Meghann had worked in our Holistic Healthcare Center for the summer and Zack and I were driving her back to Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Zack was driving his F250 and we had a new washer and dryer for Meggie in the cargo bed. The path from San Diego to Lubbock is one of the most visually boring trips in the country. Lubbock is in West Texas, in the middle of nowhere.

Now, I cannot pee outside. When I have tried, I have had it running down my legs and into my shoes. It’s just gross.

But then there is the issue of finding a bathroom that doesn’t make me gag. Unfortunately, sometimes gagging is involved with urinating in a public toilet.

The Stop

We stopped at the smallest gas station on earth to fill up and let Meghann and I go to the bathroom. When we walked inside the tiny building, the man behind the glass counter…. Yeah, the man behind the counter.

He had no teeth and was holding a half-cooked greasy hamburger (without the bun) in his hand. The grease was dripping down his arm. Lots of grease. A river of grease. Dripping off his elbow onto the newspaper he seemed to be perusing.

It was revolting.

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We knew the bathroom was not going to be pristine.

Meggie and I took turns in the bathroom, one guarding the other because there was no lock on the door. And what if that man wanted to wash his hands. (As if.)

Walking out, we took one last look behind the counter as the man took a gummy bite into his burger, the grease oozing down his arm.

When we got in the truck, we laughed hysterically, partially from fear release. We kept asking each other if what we saw was real and validated each other over and over. That remains one of the most surreal experiences in my life.

BBQ in Lubbock

Once we delivered the washer and dryer to Meghann’s new apartment, we headed out for some Texas BBQ.

Walking in and sitting down became an adventure in staring; them, not us. Zack is transgender, but had not come out yet so people saw him as a very butch lesbian. I’m guessing that LGBTQ people are not a big part of Lubbock or Texas Tech. The whole walking in experience seemed to be in slow motion, every step taking 5 minutes before taking the next. I swear the place went silent.

We were seated at a large table against a wrought iron room separator. Zack sat next to the fence thing and cooed a hello to a baby hanging over a mother’s shoulder. The mother shot up out of her seat and tromped to the other side of the table and sat down for the duration of her meal. I’ve always wondered if she thought the baby would catch The Gay from Zack.

We could not miss the hushed volume compared to when we first walked in, and the stares continued. Looking around, we saw many men in cowboy hats and Zack made the comment that if we were in San Diego, they would be the ones being stared at. True, true!

The next morning, Zack and I hightailed it out of Lubbock. I was never so happy to leave somewhere, barring leaving my daughter behind, even though there was the greasy hamburger man a few hundred miles ahead.

It seemed more than worth it.

kyle polzin
Photographer: Kyle Polzin

Writing in Jail

When I first went to jail in Orlando, I was freaked out and so very alone. I got to talk to my former partner Zack and my other former partner (we were in a triad at the time), but those calls were limited and I spent the majority of time bawling my head off.

I needed to write about my pain. In the worst way.

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I did not know how to get pencil and paper yet (through the commissary) and when I did, I ordered it right away. Still, it took a couple more days before I laid hands on writing utensils.

In the meantime, I came up with a creative way to “talk” to my friends and lovers.

I typed on the computer to them. Not a real computer, of course, but a keyboard hovering in the air in front of me. And I typed. A lot.

I was put in my own cell for a few days, which was heaven because I could pee and poop in a tad of privacy except for the one wall made of bulletproof glass.

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Once in a cell with other women, the peeing and pooping was entertainment for them and I did everything in my power to wait until they were gone from the room; not always possible. Being extremely fat, it remains one of the most embarrassing experiences in my life, this doing bodily functions in a room with 3 other women.

But, at first, I was still by myself. No one to talk to except the tearfully short conversations to my partners.

So, as I said, I wrote on an invisible computer.

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I poured out my fears, sadness, confusion and concern that I would never leave jail ever ever. (Which was ridiculous, but I could not be convinced I would not die an old woman in there.) I wrote to my Disney newsgroup friends, telling them how, as I tried to go to sleep, I would “ride” It’s a Small World or even the WEDWay PeopleMover, rides I knew by heart. I told them how I could hear the music, the announcers, feel the PeopleMover slowing at the right spots or flew over Captain Hook on the Peter Pan ride.

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I wrote about how I laid on the flat mattress with no sheet or pillow and only a wafer-thin blanket in this freezing place, singing songs from a myriad of Disney movies. Over and over in my head, I would pull Disney memories and walk or rode or sang them to myself. And I told my friends this as I typed the soundless clickity clack of invisible keyboard keys.

I was absorbed in my “discussions” with my friends. Sometimes in non-existent chatrooms, all of us sharing stories of what we were doing that day or where we would go on our next Disney outing.

So when I heard knocking on the window and looked up, I was rather surprised to see 5 faces watching me. I did not stop typing, my fingers mid-air, moving continuously.

“What the fuck is she doing?”

“That bitch is crazy!”

“They better not put her in with me.”

I glanced up again to see a couple rolling their eyes at me as the all turned away to do something else in the Day Room.

And I smiled that they could really have thought I was crazy… and might just leave me alone to my writing.

writerss

Napa Rose at Disneyland

Ahhhh, Napa Rose at the Grand Californian at Disneyland/Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, California.

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Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa, Disneyland, Anaheim, CA

So Many Stories

Napa Rose is my absolute favorite Disney restaurant. Besides the exquisite food, the staff is one of the most unobtrusively attentive.

I’ve eaten at Napa Rose with my family (several times), just Zack and I (several times) and by myself (a few times). I can remember almost every dinner, too. That’s gotta say something.

Michael Jordan, Master Sommelier

The very first visit, Zack and I were in awe. The decor of the restaurant, how it overlooked Disney California Adventure… and then there was Michael Jordan.

Jordan isn’t at Napa Rose anymore, but we were blessed to experience him during his 8-year tenure. He’s a Master Sommelier, 1 of 15 in the world!

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Master Sommelier, Michael Jordan in the Wine Room at Napa Rose.

When we were seated, we studied the wine list, then decided to ask Jordan for his recommendation. He came up, a delightful smile on his face… one of the most humble men I’ve ever met. We talked for a long time and when he learned I was a midwife, he said his mother was a midwife and she’d delivered Frank Sinatra (who was 13.5 pounds and had an incredibly difficult birth) in Hoboken, New Jersey. Apparently the birth was so difficult, they called in a doctor who used forceps on the baby Frank Sinatra, scarring him for life. And then he said that Dolly Sinatra delivered him! What a fun story that bonded Jordan to us within minutes. And he did, indeed choose an awesome bottle of wine for us. That night and every other night we ate there.

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Napa Rose interior, overlooking the wolf (or bear) inside Disney California Adventure.

Mushroom Soup

After my gastric bypass in 2001, a woman in Anaheim wanted to meet to talk about my experience. I was eating tiny bits of food at the time and did worry about what I was going to eat. I didn’t need to! The chef blended up some of their mushroom soup for me and I took my first slurp with him standing there, loving the soup so very much.

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Napa Rose Mushroom Soup

About 10 spoonfuls in, I began to feel ill. The mushroom soup was incredibly rich with cream and my new gastric bypass body could not handle it. I began to dump (when the body cannot process sugar or fats and floods it with insulin to try to metabolize the offending food… called Dumping Syndrome).

I excused myself from my new friend and hightailed it to the bathroom so I could moan in peace. The hypoglycemia was so bad (and I did not recognize it at that time), all I could do was lay on the cool floor, curled into a ball. Someone heard me and went to Jordan who called EMS. They got there fast, while I was still clinging to the ceramic floor and kept asking me if they could give me an insulin shot. I was in a daze, but haltingly explained the gastric bypass and the dumping that comes from it. After 30 or so minutes on the floor, the distress slowly lessened. EMS stayed to take care of, or transport, me. I remember when I could sit up again, realizing I was laying on a bathroom floor… one of the grossest places on earth. Blessedly, the restaurant had just opened so at least it was still clean and I wouldn’t have nightmares about acquiring germs and laying in filth.

I said goodbye to my friend and drove the hour back home.

Dining with the Kidlets

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I can see us eating at Napa Rose right this moment… as if it was yesterday.

The 4 kids (Zack’s son included), Zack and I and Napa Rose. Michael Jordan would choose us a nice bottle of wine and we would settle in for some great food and fun conversation.

One particularly hilarious conversation occurred when I was on-call as a midwife. San Diego was 90 minutes away, so when I went, I asked my ladies to give me an earlier heads-up than they might have otherwise. So when one of my moms called, I excused myself and went to talk in the bathroom, away from the table.

When I came back, the kids started peppering me with questions: Did her water break? Does she have gloppies? (Gloppies are when women are getting ripe, losing their mucus plug, etc.) Is she engorged? (If she was nursing.) I could hardly talk from laughing so hard at how my entire family knows so so much about childbirth and breastfeeding… through osmosis!

Our Favorites

We ate here so often, we all had our constant favorites.

Zack’s son loved the Sizzling Beach Rock Appetizer.

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Sizzling Hot Beach Appetizer

The rock under the shrimp was hot as fire and the food on skewers would be laid on the rock to cook. It really was an awesome display of creativity.

My favorite was the Lobster Martini. I can taste it right this second.

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Lobster Martini

Lobster, avocado, mango and a pinch of something spicy combined to delight me every time. If I went to the restaurant and it wasn’t on the menu, the chef would make it for me anyway. I sure would love one now!

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Heirloom Tomato Salad

Michael Jordan had an enormous garden at his home and when the heirloom tomatoes came into season, he harvested them and brought them to work. Organic, so so so sweet, with a light mango dressing. Delicioso!

While the desserts at Napa Rose were amazing, sometimes I wanted the Cheese Plate. Exquisite cheeses and breads, always something new each time I went.

Diligently Selected Cheeses @ Napa Rose Lounge
Cheese Plate

As I said, the desserts were amazing.

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Dessert Sampler

This Sampler Plate has 3 of my favorite things at Napa Rose: the Vanilla Crème Brûlée, the “World’s Best Hot Chocolate” (at $13 a cup!) and the crunchy lacy thing standing up on the Chocolate Mousse in the back.

I loved the crunchy lace cookie-like treat and would ask for a big bowl of them. Yum! Especially with the Hot Chocolate!

Zack, on the other hand, liked some dark chocolate while he finished off our delicious red wine that Michael Jordan had chosen for us.

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Dark Chocolate Discs

heavy sigh

I would love to visit Napa Rose again. Tonight! Instead, you go for me!

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Extradited to San Diego

I was in jail twice.

I went to jail for Welfare Fraud, accepting Food Stamps and AFDC while also working at Planned Parenthood in San Diego.

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I justified it at the time saying I could buy food and pay rent in the same month for the first time in what seemed to be forever.

But it was wrong and I got caught, forgetting that I even had done something illegal. My former husband turned me in after finding me on a website saying there was a warrant for my arrest.

But, as I said, I was guilty so it was time to pay up.

The first time I was in jail was in Orlando, for 6 days.

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Orange County Jail… exactly as it was when I was an inmate.

After I posted bail, I hired a lawyer in Orlando and one in San Diego. Then I waited to see what I needed to do next. It was decided for me when neither lawyer realized I had to appear in San Diego’s courtroom on a certain date that I missed and the police came and arrested me again on a Governor’s warrant. At the time, I had no idea that meant extradition, but yes, indeed it did. (My lawyers sucked at giving me information. The inmates had better legal advice than the guys I hired to do so.)

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This second time, I was in for 12 days before being taken to San Diego’s jail where I stayed 3 days before being released.

The second time I was in the Orlando jail, I had the system down pretty well. I bartered for paper and pencil on day 1. I also bartered for a Chapstick, albeit used, promising candy when the commissary food was delivered. Thank goodness those who loved me put money on my books so the moment they took the commissary order, I was able to do so to pay women back for their kindness and generosity.

paper

In jail, I had no idea how long I was going to be in there and what was going to happen until I was awakened one morning at 3am and taken down, strip searched, allowed to put on my clothes, shackled by my ankles with a chain around my waist and handcuffs on my wrists that kept my arms in front of me at all times. A female and male US Marshal had flown from San Diego to Orlando to pick me up and escort me back to San Diego.

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At Orlando International Airport, I walked… hobbled… chains rattling, people staring wide-eyed at this fat lady in cuffs until we got to our gate where I sat with a Marshal on either side of me. Guns in their holsters at the ready; I reassured them I was not going anywhere.

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I was put on the plane first and we sat in the last row of the plane, one of them on either side of me. I know I’ve said I was fat, but I mean really fat… spilling over the seats in the airplane fat. They both had to keep the arms of their seats up to fit me in with them. When I had to pee mid-flight, the female Marshall came and stood outside the door waiting for me. You’ve not had fun until you are a very fat person, in shackles, using an airplane bathroom. It was a treat for sure.

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Tom Casson, Illustration

When we got to San Diego, I was the last to get off the plane, still having to walk by all the people waiting to get on the plane we just left. Chains clanking on the floor, my wrists still in front of me, I am sure I was a pretty sight. I cried the whole trip so know my face had to have been red and my eyes puffy. I was so filled with shame.

Here’s the retrospective caveat: I deserved every second of shame. I know that. I know I asked for it. I know it was right for me to feel the shame, embarrassment and humiliation. I know. In the moment, which is how this is being written, memories of a certain time, my deserving it was far from my awareness.

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Outside, the Marshalls gave San Diego Police custody of me, their signing off on Chain of Custody before wishing me well and turning to go. I was put in the squad car and we drove off, going east to Las Colinas jail.

My then-partner, Zack, who was presenting as female at the time, not having come out trans yet, worked at Las Colinas as a Deputy Sheriff. (I will use male pronouns as is appropriate, but it can be confusing at times, just remember I knew him as a woman and he presented as a woman, not coming out until many years later.) He knew ahead of time I was destined for arrival any day and had prepared me, telling me he would be there to watch over me when I got there. We’d devised a signal, tugging on the ear (like Carol Burnett) to say “I love you.”

carol-burnett
The amazing Carol Burnett.

After intake, I was put in a room with windows all around and could see Zack walking around, tugging on his ear.

I was in a triad relationship with my Sheriff partner and another woman living in the DC area. The DC lover helped get me out of jail in Orlando; I was now in Zack’s jurisdiction.

The door opened and woman after woman was called out and never came back. Then it was my turn and who was there to escort me, but Zack. I was flooded with shame about being there and his having to see me. He was very kind, but brusque as he needed to be. If they’d known we knew each other, they would have sent me 50 miles away to another jail. This way, he could really make sure I was being taken care of.

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He took me to a large room and told me to strip. Fuck, he was going to do my strip search. I was humiliated. Over the years, as I have told this story, people think, “Oh, how sexy! Every woman’s dream to be in jail with a lover who is a Sheriff” or, the more common one, “Aren’t you glad it was him and not someone else?” No. I would have given anything for it to be someone else. Bending over, spreading one’s fat ass cheeks, then squatting and coughing are not remotely sexy, I promise.

I learned later that he was assigned to one of the back barracks of women, but they were short-handed and was randomly assigned me to take care of. He could not have asked to take me, they would have known there was something amiss, but the universe took care of it and assigned me to Zack for that night.

After I was in a uniform (a man’s large again), I was given my toothpaste, toothbrush and other things I do not remember… soap I think. (Looking for pics, I see it is called an Admission Kit.)

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Inmate Admission Kit

Then I was led by my love through the halls and then outside, surrounded by tall fences with barbed wire, to a barracks-like building.

barbed wire

It was the middle of the night and the 40 or so women inside were sleeping. My partner took me into his office on the side and this is where he flicked me his Chapstick, which I put on copiously, feeling very loved in that moment.

Then we went into the room with the sleeping women and he woke one who was on a bottom bunk and told her to get on the top one, giving me the bottom bunk closest to his office door that was always open.

cell room
The space had these types of bed, but not quite that many people. About 40, but not that close together.

I am sure there are cameras everywhere now, there have to be. Back then, no cameras… crazy, right?

I fell asleep quickly and that was the last time I saw Zack during my time at Las Colinas. Later, he told me he was watching out for me, making sure I was safe and not being abused.

I spent the rest of my 3 days in there crying and trying to sleep. I got to use the phone more often, though it was surely terribly expensive, my calling collect and at inmate rates. I didn’t think of such things, though. I thought about having comfort given.

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In San Diego, they took my diabetes seriously, checking my blood glucose 3 times a day and making sure I had snacks inbetween meals. The fat girl welcomed more frequent eating. Before bed, I was given milk and graham crackers. I was happy.

The day I was released… well, the night, actually, my sister-in-law picked me up, handing me a Blistex Medicated lip balm as I got in the car. I asked her to roll all the windows down and let the cool night air whoosh over my body.

I was free.

free

Baking Bread Memories

When the kids were little, I used to bake bread. A lot of bread. I made bread for 2 and 3 families at a time sometimes. I loved baking bread.

Learning to Bake Bread

I didn’t grow up knowing how to bake bread. There was no Internet either, of course, so I would borrow books from the library or, when I had money, I would buy some books on how to bake it.

The very best bread book I ever got was Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.

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I used Laurel’s book so much, it became Scratch-n-Sniff from all the food I spilled on the pages. (My La Leche League Whole Foods for the Whole Family was like that, as well.)

I read and read before ever trying that first loaf. I’m sure I almost memorized the Basic Recipe by the time I poured the first packet of yeast into the bowl of warm water. After a few months, I never had to look at the recipe again; I could feel the different amounts and measurements.

Dough

It’s been 30 years since I’ve baked a loaf of bread, yet I can still smell the scent of yeast as it was mixed with the warm water. I tried lots of different sweeteners to “feed” the yeast… sugar, honey… but settled on dark molasses.

When I learned yeast was a living being, it changed how I saw raw dough. I began treating the dough with more purpose and attention. I respected the yeast more, hence also the dough.

proofing

I didn’t know anything about Mindfulness back in the 80’s, but if there ever was a mindful meditative state, it is when kneading huge blobs of dough.

I learned that adding flour (I always used whole wheat flour, spring wheat if possible), even to the counter so the dough didn’t stick, wasn’t the best idea, that dough stops being sticky after kneading until you feel like your hands are going to fall off. Then you knead that long once again.

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My dough was darker because of wheat flour and molasses.

Before learning to respect the dough, I plopped it into any ol’ bowl, even plastic ones. Forgive me! I didn’t know any better! Once I learned more and shifted my attention, I bought 2 enormous glass bowls, specifically for rising dough. Learning to cover the dough with plastic wrap was an epiphany, but I also got myself 2 white cotton dish towels to protect the dough as it rose. I didn’t realize it, but I’d developed a Bread Baking Ritual.

The Periphery

I always had to set some dough aside for the kidlets, so they could knead at the dining room table. I’d sprinkle flour over much of the table and the kids would be busy for an hour, creating their dough shapes, letting them rise and then waiting to eat them after they came out of the oven. Oh, how I wish I had pictures of those times. I can see it clear as day in my mind, though. It’ll have to reside there forever.

When it was time to “punch” the dough down after it rose the first time, I did just that… punch… finding it amusing to watch the dough curl around my fist. After my this-stuff-is-alive realization, I began being gentle pushing the dough down again. I would use my hand like a spatula and slide against the side of the bowl, watching the (gluten) threads stretch then snap back to the mother-dough.

threads1

I nudged the dough down before folding it neatly, then covering it with plastic wrap again and placing the white cotton dish towels on top, allowing it to rise (in half the time as the first rise!) once again.

Into the Oven

After the second rise, I hand-spatula’d the dough down once again before separating it with a plastic scraper into the proper sizes for the bread pans. Over the years, I tried a variety of ways to keep the baked bread from sticking to the pan: oil (yuck), Crisco (not bad), but finally settled on Pam spray. I curled the raw dough into the bread pans, covered them with plastic wrap and the dish towels yet again, allowing them their last rise.

bread-risen-in-pan

I wanted slashes in the top of my bread. It took at least 100 times before I didn’t deflate my dough trying to get a lovely slash in the top. I tried sharp knives, serrated knives, forks… even razor blades… and always struggled with that part of baking. Eventually, I learned to zip the knife through fast, not slow and deep. Just pull the knife quickly. Poking around for pics, I see there are now dozens of tools to make beautiful scores in your bread. But back in the olden days….

slashing

My Nose Knows

It was when I began baking bread that I realized I had an interesting cook’s gift; I can tell when baked goods are finished cooking with my nose. I need no timers, there is a distinct scent that wafts around the house and I’m able to get the bread or brownies or pie out of the oven before any burning occurs and without any under-baking.

Out of the Oven

There is no smell so heavenly as fresh baked bread right out of the oven.

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It was a red-letter day the first time I tumped a loaf out of its cooking pan without it falling apart. Once the loaves were out, I put them on cookie racks to cool.

As with the slashes, I had to learn how to cut the bread. This was a shorter learning curve, quickly passing on the dinner knife and non-serrated knife. A sharp serrated knife is definitely the way to save your loaf from looking like crumbs. If you have the capability to let the bread cool even just a few minutes, it won’t fall apart as easily as right out of the oven bread.

And then the butter. Ahhhhh, butter. Not margarine… ever! The fresher the butter the better. Slathering it on, watching it melt into puddles on the bumpy surface, air bubbles holding the creamy sweetness aloft, just waiting for your first luscious bite.

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Types of Bread

Besides the Basic Whole Wheat Bread I made every day for years, I experimented with other types, rarely finding success.

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Sourdough Starter

I could not ever ever ever get Sourdough Bread right. I tried a dozen “full-proof” recipes, believed the promises that grandma’s 100-year old starter would be The One to give me a lovely loaf of sourdough bread. Nope. It never happened. It was worse trying to make starter myself! It reminded me of how I could never keep a plant alive… cultivating living things just was not one of my fortes.

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Desem Bread

In Laurel’s Bread Book, she waxes poetic about Desem (Day-zum) Bread. It is a massively complicated process that includes burying your small starter loaf in a 50-pound bag of whole wheat flour for a few weeks, taking it out for air every few days, taking away some of the dough, replacing it with new flour… on and on. And on. (I have not looked at the recipe in 30 years so I could be telling you something totally false, but this is how it was for me trying to make the Desem Bread.) How I thought I could make Desem when I couldn’t even keep sourdough starter alive was beyond me. But I tried. More than once. Failed every single time.

Where I did find success was in Laurel’s Banana Bread recipe. I started with hers, but quickly altered it to my tastes. For real, you need 6-8 ripe (not over-ripe!) bananas (“the bread will only taste as good as the ingredients”… great life lesson right there.) to make this 85-pound loaf of bread. 6-8. In each loaf. Not kidding.

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I usually made 2 loaves; one with raisins and one with nuts. I like raisins, Zack liked the nuts. You can put cranberries in there… cran-raisins, chunks of chocolate, cherries… anything your banana heart desires.

The scent of banana bread in the oven is exquisite. (I could smell when it was done as well. No timers for me!) Eating hot banana bread with gobs of butter… I’m nearly weeping remembering the taste.

Passing It On

All of my kids have made bread. I like to believe I had something to do with offering fearlessness when trying those first few times.

Technology has given us bread makers, but I know I would not use one because of the hypnotic deliciousness of kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, watching the second rise, then into the pans for their third rise… all before baking.

Looking from this vantage point, there is something special about the length of time it takes from yeast proofing to butter on hot bread. Lessons in patience, small attentions and watching the making of a staple of life humbles me.

Hmmm… didn’t know I would say so much! Hope the kids enjoy this.

Whole Wheat Bread

Potatoes in Tacoma

The US Army Sends Us Packing

The kids’ dad and I moved to Tacoma with an Army transfer. We were at the bottom rung of the pay scale. Poor. Poorer than poor. Tristan was 16 months old and I was several months pregnant with Meghann. It was a wrangle to get a lease on a house, but we did it.

8RipsLane
8 Rips Lane, Tacoma, WA

(I swear the house did not look like this when we rented it. This is the new & improved exterior.)

Our Household goods were super-slow getting to us, so we were given a few things to tide us over… one of which was a crib mattress for me to lay on. Tristan slept in the playpen and the kids’ dad slept in a sleeping bag (if I recall correctly).

One middle of the night, I heard something skittering above me, in the attic. Humorously, my former husband put his boots on (and nothing else) and grabbed a trenching tool and stomped around looking for the noisemakers. He didn’t find anything, but I laid there listening to the scratching far after he fell back to sleep.

When our household goods still hadn’t arrived a month later, the Army bought us a bed. A waterbed. How time-warp is that?!? We had those rainbow sheets on it.

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We also had satin hearts in a swirly mobile hanging over the bed.

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Meghann & Me

I had Meghann at home, in an Unassisted Birth (called a UC or “freebirth”)… the stupidest thing I have ever done in my entire life.

Relevant to this story, however, is my never-ending time breastfeeding.

I’d nursed Tristan for a mere 4 months and had big expectations to nurse until Meghann weaned herself (which she sort of did at 2.5 years old). So I was a nursing zombie. I was so tired, but then we got our tv and (we had to have gotten) cable because voila! there was MTV.

Meghann was born May 27, 1984. MTV had been around since 1981, but it was really in its heyday during the time I was watching it in the middle of the night, baby at my breast. In fact, the first Top 20 Video Countdown began in March 1984 (and it SUCKED! Watch it on YouTube!), so right before Meggie was born.

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The songs that stood out most for me, the ones I waited for with baited breath:

Cyndi LauperGirls Just Want to Have Fun – (WOW! The people in it are incredibly diverse for that time period. I never noticed before.) Tristan loved this video, especially the part where the girls are floating in the bubbles/circles and going around. I can see him as if it was yesterday, in his footie pajamas, dancing and pointing at the TV.

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Michael JacksonThriller

Because Thriller was so so long, it came on rarely. I would nap with one eye open so I could catch it. The dancing still is amazing, even 30 years later.

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MadonnaBorderline

While Holiday was Madonna’s first hit, her first video hit was Lucky Star. From the first moment I saw her, I was enamored. She came out with a string of hits in 1984, but when Meghann was a newborn, Borderline was the video I salivated for. (Clearly, I know wayyyy too much about Madonna’s early career!)

Madonna In New York

The Couch

We’d inherited a sofa bed from the kids’ dad’s parents, a little larger than a loveseat, with two big square pillows to sit on. I’ve scoured my thousands of pictures and the Net looking for the sofa. This is the best I could find.

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Here is how the sofa opened into a bed.

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I sat on the couch on the right side. Every time. Before Meghann was born. And after she was born. That was my spot. I plopped a feather pillow with the rainbow pillowcase under my right arm, holding up my elbow, and I would nurse for hours. Sitting on that right side of the couch.

At night, we just sat nursing by the light of MTV. We kept the volume low for her dad who had to work the next morning, but we still bee-bopped to whomever MTV put on in the wee hours.

One dark early morning, I was nursing on the right side of the couch and out from behind the huge square furnace we had in the living room, came a rat. Then another rat. Then 3 baby rats.

I screamed bloody murder and the kids’ dad ran out, scaring them so they skittered back from whence they came.

How to Kill a Rat

When the Landlord finally came over, he gave us some mouse traps and rat food. He walked around showing us where they were getting in. One place was behind the toilet which freaked me out every time I had to use the bathroom. Picture fat pregnant me with my legs raised while I did my business. Ugh.

The landlord gave us the perfect solution to keeping the rats out.

Crush some glass and sprinkle it where the holes are.

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I stood there blinking.

“Uh, I have a toddler! I cannot have crushed glass around the house.”

“Well, that’s the best idea I have.”

We checked the traps and poison a few days later and the bait had all been taken, the poison eaten… and the rats twice their size and twice as active.

We had to move.

By the time a solution appeared, Meghann was 4 months old.

The Apartment

Some friends of the kids’ dad were managers at an apartment complex and said they had a place we could move into. The challenge was we did not have the deposit, so they said they had not cleaned it yet and if we were willing to clean it ourselves, it was ours.

Done.

We headed over right away to go clean, taking some more friends from the military. When we opened the door, ghastly smells wrapped around us; cigarette stench was the main foulness, but there were others we could not parse out.

The walls in the living room were vile. Drips of nicotine painted them.

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Where the previous tenants removed photos, we could see what the once pristine white walls had looked like.

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Looking at the white areas, we saw we really had our work cut out for us.

We set to cleaning.

Being fat and not able to climb, I chose the kitchen. Kitchen HELL I should say. Not only were there nicotine streaks, the people before us cooked with grease. A lot of grease. A lot of spattering grease. Within 5 feet of the stove, the grease and yellow cigarette goop challenged each other for dripping space.

The only way I could think of cleaning this disgusting mess was with SOS Pads. Steel wool with soap on them if you aren’t familiar. I set to wetting the SOS pad, then  scrubbing the wall, that blessedly, had glossy paint. Small favors.

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I was cleaning madly (literally, not very happily doing this hard work) and got right there around the plastic plate where the plugs go in the wall when suddenly there was a huge -POP- and a giant blue flash that zipped up my arm and threw me against the refrigerator across the kitchen. People ran in to see what happened and I innocently told them what I was doing and their eyes all bugged out.

“THAT’S METAL AND WATER YOU PUT IN A LIVE SOCKET!”

I didn’t know!

What I did know was my right arm felt like it had been smashed with a baseball bat from fingers to shoulder.

I was banished to the couch that had just been brought in. I quietly smiled, grabbing Meghann and sitting on my side, nursing not only my baby, but my really hurting right arm.

Potatoes

We cleaned as best we could, the place looked normal again, but there were lingering smells we just couldn’t seem to get rid of.

One night, while I was sitting on the right side of the couch nursing Meghann, Tristan playing on the floor, their dad had had enough of the growing stink. I told him it smelled like rotting potatoes and maybe we accidentally left some in a box somewhere in the closet.

He set out to find the horrid stench and pulled the boxes out, throwing stuff wildly around the room. I yelled asking if he couldn’t please be neater? He did not answer. I just heard him as he went from room to room, under the bathroom sink, into the kitchen, under the cabinets… digging digging… and throwing things, many of which ended up on the hall floor.

He came up empty. Then looked at me menacingly.

“Get up.”

“What?” I was still nursing Meghann.

“GET UP NOW!!!!”

I jumped up, Meghann  still attached and he pulled off the cushion I always sat on and there, on top of the mattress mechanism, was a rat. A dead rat.

A SQUISHED FLAT AS A PANCAKE DEAD RAT.

It had been under my ass! FOR MONTHS!

My former husband began laughing his head off. Reliving the rat’s last moments.

“I can see him! ‘Oh, some peanut butter and jelly leftovers!’ Then SQUISH, you flattened A LIVING RAT!”

He jumped around the room, doing the killing-the-rat routine half a dozen times.

Yeah. Me and my fat ass had killed a rat that had been 3 inches from my lap and my baby. I started crying which made him laugh even harder, telling me how funny it was.

Then he said he was going to get something to get the gross flat thing off our sofa. I begged him to throw the couch away. He refused, loudly reminding me we had no money for furniture and it was the only place I could nurse. He came out of the kitchen with Playtex yellow gloves on and a spatula. I could not watch.

He laughed and laughed as he scraped the disgusting animal off our couch’s pull out bed top, then danced outside to the dumpster and threw it all in.

The room still reeked and he looked in the kitchen, finding the Carpet Fresh. He came back and sprinkled the carpet fresh where the rat had been squished to death by my flopping-on-the-couch butt.

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To this day, the smell of Carpet Fresh reminds me of that horrid stench. The smell that lingered until we were able to throw the couch away a year later.

Potatoes Revisited

As you can imagine, I hate rats. I can barely write it without shuddering with revulsion. Because of my rat-phobia, everyone in my life has agreed to call them “Potatoes.”

And damned if that flat rat didn’t smell like rotten potatoes.

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Organic Watermelon

Into the Desert

When I was a student midwife, I went where the main midwife took me to assist her at births. So when we had to drive over an hour east of San Diego, a chaparral ecoregion covered in small shrubs and lots of desert sand inbetween, I sat back and enjoyed the view, talking about babies, breastfeeding and all things birthy. Another assistant was with us, too, so the three of us chattered during the drive.

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When we got to the house, it was… not quite a mobile home, but more like a home built out of scrap materials. Well-made, but small and quite worn, probably by the wind and sand.

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See the tiny house in the middle upper third of the picture? That is what it looked like driving to their house. That tiny dirt road was about 2 miles long.

The mom wanted to birth outside, so we set up the Fishy Pool for her.

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We put more cold water in than hot because it was blazing outside. Flies and bees were everywhere, dive bombing us while we worked.

With Fishy Pools, unless someone had a washer and dryer hook-up, we had to carry pots, pans, coffee pots, etc. of hot water from the stove to add to the cold water going in from the brand new hose.

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We set up the pool in the searing sun even though there was a Pepper Tree near. The tree housed a beehive, so a bit of a distance was good.

Howling Silence

The labor was lovely; the birth, magical.

The mom would have contractions that had her howling like a desert wolf, then inbetween, complete silence from all of us around her. If she moved, we would hear tiny splashes, but none of us spoke above a whisper, and even then only when necessary.

But from the Pepper Tree, the bees were not silent. In fact, they seemed to be amplified as our sounds faded. Buzz Buzz Buzzzzzzzing from the Pepper Tree. It was mesmerizing.

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In the short space between the end of labor and the beginning of pushing the baby into the world, some sort of surreal experience hit all of us at once. The Pepper Tree emitted a scent, intoxicating… the bees swirled around and buzzed… the flies vanished. I felt dizzy and wondered if my glucose was falling, but I saw the others were feeling something as well, our eyes gaping at each other, waggling eyebrows a bit to say a silent, “Yes! Me, too!”

It was as if time had paused for the mom to gather her strength and we were giving her ours as well.

Onward

Then the sensation vanished as quickly as it had begun, the world moving once again, moving with the baby who was born in the water soon after, sweetly and easily.

Once the placenta had been born, mom wanted to still sit outside for a bit and wanted under the buzzing Pepper Tree, so we laid out a couple of blankets with towels on them for her. She sat while we cleaned up quietly around her, not speaking unless in a whisper.

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I took note the bees and flies kept their distance and respected the new life under their wings.

These moments, from right before the birth until we rose from under the tree were… I really have no other word for it… Holy.

Mom nursed the brand new baby as dad held her in his arms in front of him.

Eventually, the heat was oppressive and the baby was getting warm and needed a fan as much as the rest of us. (Babies are rarely fanned! Keeping them warm is much more the usual routine.)

Nourishment

Before we could move into the house, the housemates, who’d been out in the garden on the other side of the property during the birth, brought over some watermelons picked mere moments earlier.

Sitting on the small porch, we caught more of a breeze, so, comparatively, we cooled off.

The gardeners proudly held out the odd-looking watermelons (“they are organic!” I was scolded). I frowned that they were not cold, but was hungry so held out my hand for a big slice. The new family was settled on a cushioned (and covered) bench, already taking bites out of the red watermelon.

As I brought the watermelon to my mouth, I caught the scent and it was so powerful, I pulled it back and looked at it quizzically. When did watermelons smell like this? Never before in my lifetime. I then opened my mouth and bit into a hot chunk of melon. I am sure I swooned, newly in love with a food I thought I knew, but really was just meeting for the first time.

“Oh my GOD, this is GOOD!”

Someone smiled and said, “This is organic watermelon.”

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I have tears in my eyes remembering the taste, the hot squishiness on my tongue, the juice oozing down my chin, hands, arms and elbows. I looked at the others, equally covered in red natural syrup and dreamily taking huge bites, consuming 2 watermelons in a half-hours’ time.

When we’d all finished, someone turned on the hose and we took turns splashing off the drippy stickiness with too-warm water.

Resting After Birth

I was given the hot and sweaty job of getting mom and baby into her bedroom, a small 8×8 room with a fan strung up high, blowing downward, the electric cord snaking from outside the room, through and back outside the window with holes in the screen. She and her partner, and now baby, had a mattress on the floor.

I got things laid out to protect the mattress, helped her to pee before getting down onto the mattress with the baby. I got her a big glass of water (no ice in the house) and plopped down with her.

But There Were Flies

I swear there were over 100 in that tiny room. Zizzing around, up, down, into the corner of the baby’s eyes, landing on anything they could find… our mouths, noses, heads, hands, arms, legs, feet… it was mercilessly hot and the flies were taking up space and air we needed.

I asked the new mom where the flyswatter was and she looked at me horrified.

“We do not kill things at this house! You can use a piece of newspaper to brush them out of the room and then outside.”

I looked to see if she was kidding.

She was not.

I went to find some newspaper, folded it in half and began shooshing the hordes of flies away from the new mother and baby and out of the room as best as I could.

It was a losing battle. (You knew that already, I know.)

Eventually, I just sat down, newspaper in hand, waving it gently around the nursing pair.

“This would be the most difficult part of my living out here… the flies.”

This newly postpartum woman began talking very softly and asked me to close the door.

“Are you sure?! It’s going to stop all the air flow!”

“Just for a minute.”

I crawled the couple of feet, leaned over and closed the door. The temperature climbed 15 degrees within seconds.

She called me to come closer. I could smell her musky sweaty newly postpartum scents. She crooked her finger to come closer, so I leaned my ear nearer her mouth.

Barely above a whisper, she confessed:

“When I am alone in the house, I use the vacuum cleaner hose to suck up the flies. I figure I am not directly killing them, right?”

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Wanting to laugh really loud and hard, I swallowed my extreme amusement and soberly agreed that it was not directly killing them. I did not want her to feel one more second of guilt about getting rid of the nasty flies in her bedroom.

All These Years Later…

It’s been 20 years since this happened and I can still feel the heat, hear the bees, remember the Holy experience… and taste that amazing watermelon.

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Brownies

I have always loved brownies. My mom made amazing brownies. Later, I learned they were from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, one she gave me when I got married.

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Deliciously chewy, not cakey (too dry), when I made them, I underbaked the treat so they were even a tad wet inside.

I also doubled the batch and put them in a 9×12 pan; that helped the middle of the pan’s batter to be gooshier than the edges, which were never burnt because I took them out right when they smelled ready.

Yes, smelled ready.

I have a weird skill of being able to smell when baked goods are done cooking. Early, when I was learning to cook, I was meticulous with the time the recipe said to do. Then, as I got more relaxed, I realized that I could smell when things were done.

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I remember baking brownies so often when the kids were little, I no longer needed the recipe. We always kept a decent stash of unsweetened chocolate squares, plenty of sugar and flour and, of course, butter!

In Germany, when I was with my new lesbian love (he was really transgender, but had not come out yet), I made brownies at least twice a week. Between brownies and snickerdoodles, I was nearly a specialty bakery. This was when I was baking bread, too. The years when we were isolated in Germany with very little to do but BE with each other remain some of my favorite memories of my life. The kids were hilarious, Zack and I were always nursing one or the other of the babies and I attended lots and lots of births.

Zack loves nuts, but I am allergic to them, so I would sometimes make the 8×8 pan recipe with nuts for him.

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When my youngest was living with Zack and me in San Diego, it became clear that brownies were her PMS food of choice. The day before she started her period, she would break out a box of brownie mix, crying while she stirred it all together, and bake a batch that she alone would eat over the next 2 to 3 days. None of us ever asked for one; we knew better.

(I just asked her permission to add this information in my piece and she said she had no idea she did that, that she ate brownies all the time. I smiled into the phone and told her it was like clockwork, her brownie-baking-while-crying session.)

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I rarely eat brownies anymore and I never make them. If I partake, someone has made them, always from a box.

The memories of mine are much sweeter.

My Brownie Recipe (really, Better Homes & Gardens’ recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped if desired

Baking Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350℉ (180℃).
  • In medium saucepan melt butter and chocolate.
  • Remove from heat; stir in sugar.
  • Blend in eggs one at a time.
  • Add vanilla. Stir in flour and nuts; mix well.
  • Spread in greased 8x8x2-inch pan.
  • Bake at 350℉ (180℃) for 30 minutes.
  • Be careful not to overbake. Cool completely.
  • Cut into 16 squares.