Archives for posts with tag: grief

In February I started a garden in bare, neglected ground. Over five months I dug out green plastic netting, dog shit, pieces of asphalt, mallows, too many weeds to count. I added compost, coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable scraps. I carted home pine boughs and pine needles, sticks and leaves I found in the gutters. I bought plants, I was given plants. I raised tomatoes and peppers from seed. I planted squash and beans, basil and tomatoes. The Sun Gold tomato took over almost an entire fence line. I added sunflowers and blue sweet peas.

With the miracle of sun and water, things grew. Two-inch squash appeared on the butternut vines, more than one, more than two, as the vines reached out into the yard for more sun. The beans and tomatoes were awash in blossoms, the green beans too tiny to pick yet, the shelling beans swelling. I was so happy and proud of my first home vegetable garden in sunny San Leandro. I fed friends chard and kale and gave away extra tomato seedlings.

And then I had to leave, not an easy decision. A situation arose that I could not live with and we could not come to an agreement about it. There is plenty of love left, but nothing to do with it at present, just as there were plenty of vegetables in the garden when I left and no one to tend them. Unless my ex-landlord or someone Johnny knows steps in to take care of it, the garden will die. In its death as in its life the bean roots will nourish the soil, fixing nitrogen. The plants will go back to the soil which gave them part of their life. I had custody of the garden for a brief time, enough time to grow things, but not enough time to gather in the entire harvest.

June finds me back at my mother’s house, sleeping on a sofa, my belongings in the capacious living room in boxes and bins and garbage bags. My mother and brother have been working on the never-refinished hardwood floor of my old bedroom and I can’t move my stuff in there yet. I brought with me several tomato seedlings and three pepper plants. One of the pepper plants appears to have a broken stem and may die soon. The other two are sitting outside in a copper bowl, waiting for me to find somewhere to plant them. My sister-in-law brought a large, healthy-looking tomato seedling from her house and we must find a place for that, too. We put three tomato plants in cages in two large buckets. I have many seeds left, but nowhere to plant them: I’ll find a pot for some Thai basil and perhaps some other herbs, but I will be beginning again in the foggy land in the path of the Golden Gate.

Meanwhile, I blanch and scrape citrus peel — I had saved peel for five months in the freezer and there is no room for it here. To save it, I have been working for three days, blanching and scraping lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit rinds. As I write, the orange peel is done and beginning to dry, the lemon and lime simmers on the stove and the grapefruit in the refrigerator awaits its hour-long sugar bath. The methodical scraping of pith with a steak knife was meditative, the long hours of labor calming the mind: it was good to have something simple to do, although after twelve hours or so I would be glad to see the labor ended. I thought I might be canning tomatoes and beans this summer — instead I am harvesting citrus peel for baked goods. As I blanch and scrape, perhaps I will leach any bitterness from my soul and let my heart rest in the sweetness of life, the sweetness of each tiny blessing. I am grateful to be able to read and write, to smell the clean, sharp citrus in the air. I am grateful for my readers, friends and family and grateful for a sweet life that I had for nearly two years.

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This month my friend Bob Chrisman died, suddenly and unexpectedly. He was a writer and zen student that I met many years ago in Taos, New Mexico. After awhile he stopped coming to Taos but we corresponded and talked on the phone and saw each other during his occasional visits to California. I always assumed I’d visit his house in Kansas City someday to see its multicolored rooms, but low funds kept me home in the Bay Area. During our last conversation Bob told me he was thinking of going to a retreat in France in 2014. Bob had always told me if I became homeless I could come live with him in KC.

Beyond that, my beloved is troubled, struggling with demons for his very life and happiness, unable or unwilling to communicate with me for much of June and July. I sort through a basket of grief, pain, anger, despair, loneliness — it is like one of those cooking shows where they give you a basket with tuna, rutabagas, cinnamon and bananas and tell you to make a main dish in thirty minutes. Where do you start?

You start where you are. You taste your ingredients and smell them, look at the texture. Are the bananas green or ripe? Is the rutabaga woody or tender and sweet. Bob’s death sent me to my meditation cushion each morning at 5:30 to recite the Heart Sutra. It is an unexpected gift from Bob: I sit and I cry, but as the days go by I am calmer and quieter in my crying. I find myself voicing a wish that my heart fill with love. I also find myself angry and reactive, hurting, but in those moments I turn to the page to write or tell my friends how I am feeling. Telling the feelings airs them out somehow and I see that I do not want to act out of anger if I can avoid it. The quiet space each morning helps me go on, as does the support and fellowship of like-minded people.

It is traditional to say the Heart Sutra for forty-nine days after someone’s death, so I will be at this for awhile, gathering strength and peace from the cushion. In the meantime, I continue my life, which feels too spacious today. My life is never the frantic scramble of many American lives since I left the regular workforce against my will a few years back. In fact, I work six days a week, usually, but my work consists of one or two shifts of singing in public for tips. When I am not working or traveling to work I have lots of time, time to sit and write and read. If Johnny calls, I have plenty of time to talk with him, time to listen.

I have Sundays off, unless there is a singing gathering. Today I didn’t even get dressed: it is a typical Bay Area summer day, shrouded in fog, the trees dripping this morning. By afternoon it has only lightened a little. The summer markets are full of their glory. Last week I bought green beans and basil, corn on the cob, ollalieberries (a form of blackberry), peaches and ten pounds of Gravenstein apples. This week I spent all of the money I earned at the market on a pizza of the first red and yellow bell peppers and green onions. I ate it for lunch and dinner yesterday and for lunch again today. It was delicious, even if I had to forgo peaches and beans to get it. I bought it on impulse, wanting to treat myself — it’s not often that I permit myself a sixteen-dollar splurge these days. It didn’t hurt that the vendor plucked a big roasted tomato and put it in my hand and then showed me every pizza he had for sale so that I could choose one. I’m not sorry I splurged — I thoroughly enjoyed it. If I were rich, I might eat this pizza every week, or get back to making them: Sunday is the only day I can make pizza now, the day when I have enough hours to wait for the sourdough crust to proof. As it is, I’m grateful to have had the treat.

Last Sunday I had a different treat: I heard about a documentary movie about back-up singers. I checked the show times and headed out the door to the theater. taking a ten-dollar bill. I bought a ticket and walked down the street to get a dollar coffee toffee ice cream on a sugar cone. Let me say that these treats are rare: the last movie I saw was in May when Johnny and I saw “On the Road.”

Of course, I’ve just been to France. I could not have gone there without scholarship money and a work scholarship. I saved the air fare out of my monthly earnings which range from $300 to $500 a month, depending on how the busking trade is going and how many CDs I sell. Every month I work first to pay my phone and internet bill, then to get a monthly bus pass, then to afford a pair of twenty-dollar shoes (I wear out a pair of shoes each month due to my odd gait from cerebral palsy). Strings, food and treats come next, and money for savings to afford the next airline ticket. I borrow books from the library and listen to the radio or play CDs I’ve loaded into iTunes. I sing with friends. I talk on the phone. I pick up the windfall apples from our neighbor’s tree and will dry them in my dehydrator. Meditation is free, only taking time and effort.

I continue with things that take time and effort. I make the effort to open my heart, to tolerate my anxiety and grief. I take plenty of time to rest, although I look hollow-eyed with dark shadows. I know that everything changes, quickly or slowly, that one season follows another, that apples and pears are early this year in California. I am grateful to be alive and grateful that my suffering is not greater, grateful for moments of respite and hope, of companionship, grateful for the comfort of books and music and occasional delicious food. I hope July finds you well and, if not, that comfort is available to you.

Original watercolor painting shows fruit crisp and ingredients.

Peach and Plum Crisp. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and acquarelle on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

I am not the most informed person in the world: I find that reading a daily paper depresses me and paralyzes me with all that I don’t know and all that I can’t do about things. I watch Bill Moyers on PBS and occasionally dip into The Newshour. I read a local weekly rag, The East Bay Express, sometimes focusing on the astrology column and the restaurant reviews, although I usually read the cover story. Other than that, I get my news from Facebook updates and a few chosen sources that I subscribe to.

Because of that, I learned about the movie theater shootings in Colorado on Facebook on Friday afternoon. A friend of mine, Deby Dixon, posted a link to a blog she wrote about the brevity of life and the importance of following your dreams while you have time and health because none of us know when our life will be cut short, when our health will fail, when life or death will intervene in some unexpected fashion. Deby wondered if some of the people in Colorado died wishing that they had gotten to some dream of theirs. Deby’s story and her reflections moved me to tears and I asked permission to share it with you. You’ll find her post here, along with some of her photographs: Deby is traveling and photographing the beauty and majesty of our national parks.

What do you do when life smacks you down, when you suffer a loss? You grieve. You tell the story to others. You seek comfort. Perhaps you seek to comfort others. What comforts me in my most dire straits is beauty. Which is not to say that beauty makes me feel all better right way: beauty breaks open the heart, opening it up to the full catastrophe of grief, but beauty also helps you bear having your heart open in its pain. Beauty is a reminder that in the face of loss there are moments of great beauty and tenderness, that we are in this together, that the sun rises even on our worst day, scattering light through the atmosphere. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair that the sun is shining — how can it be when we have suffered such a blow?

How to deal with a tragedy on a food blog? When you are grieving, it can be hard to eat. But you need to eat. In my hardest times I have found it was easier to eat with other people, that I could eat a few bites in the company of a trusted friend if I could not eat alone. So my recommendation for you this weekend is that you find some way to share a meal with someone else. It could be a version of David Lebovitz’s tomato tart.

You could go to a potluck and bring a loaf of bread, a dessert. a salad. What matters is that you eat with others to ease your hearts and theirs. And that someone puts something beautiful on the table: a vase of flowers, a special tablecloth, a rose from the yard, a silver pitcher, a photo of your best beloved.

Original ink and watercolor sketch of old Harmony guitar.

Harmony Guitar #3. 5″x 7″ ink and watercolor on paper. Sharyn DImmick

After I heard about the shooting in Colorado I spent a few hours sketching my old Harmony guitar that I got from a pawn shop in San Francisco. I listened to music as I worked. The Harmony is beat up, but has a sweet tone: to me it is beautiful. I share it with you and I urge you to look at Deby’s photographs and, possibly, to listen to some music you love, hymns or loud rock and roll — it matters only that you love it.

A simple seasonal dessert we have been eating lately around here is mixed peach and plum crisp. I’ve been making it with fresh Santa Rosa plums (both from the farm box and from my sister-in-law’s tree in Vallejo) and fresh peaches from Frog Hollow Farm. I usually use a Betty Crocker apple crisp recipe for the proportions of the topping ingredients and make the topping with rolled oats, unbleached and whole wheat flours, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon, but a few weeks ago I made a gluten-free version to take to a party: what I did was use more oats and substitute a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch for the flour (Oats are gluten-free if you make sure to buy oats that have not been processed in a facility that also processes wheat and other grains). You can make it either way. I usually make it in an 8″ x 8″ Pyrex pan, but sometimes I double the topping amounts, use more fruit and bake it in a 9″ x 13″ pan.

Gluten-Free Peach and Plum Crisp

Preheat oven to  350.

Slice enough fruit to cover the bottom of an 8″ x 8″ square pan. If you have small plums, it might take a whole bag; if you have average plums, use four or five, plus four or five peaches.

Combine 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats and 2 heaping tablespoons cornstarch.

Add 1/2 cup  brown sugar, plus nutmeg and cinnamon to taste.

Cut in 1/3 cup butter.

Sprinkle topping over fruit.

Bake for 35 minutes or until sufficiently browned to suit you.

Serve with creme fraiche, whipped cream, burnt caramel ice cream, or just with a little milk or cream drizzled on top. Share with someone.

For the standard version, use 1/2 cup of flour, 1/2 cup of rolled oats and the same amounts of butter, brown sugar and spices as above and follow the same baking and serving instructions.