A Contemplation on Heat

Spring is turning to summer. Temperatures have risen to triple digits in the East Bay, depending on where exactly you are. The green grasses which have grown thick and long from an El Niño winter now have golden kernels of seed dangling down and dancing gracefully in the wind. The time has come to prune the fruit trees, and it’s probably past time to figure out what to do with the grape vines. I have never had a grape vine, so I don’t have the smallest clue of how to care for them.

In the peak of the day, the light streaks down bright and sparkling in waves of heat. Summer weather is such a visceral experience, calling your very molecules back to historic days when the heat was just as heavy. While I was out in the heat at around noon, I recalled the Florida summer I helped my grandparents move their shelves and displays from the smaller location of Palm Harbor Natural Foods to the new, larger location. The truck we rented had no air conditioning but it sat up high on the road. Higher even than the few trips I’d taken on the school bus. The novelty of this made the radiating heat in the truck cab more bearable.

But once we arrived at the storage unit to unload the dozens (or was it hundreds?) of metal shelves the novelty wore off and exhaustion rolled over us like the mushroom cloud of heat that escaped when we rolled up the storage unit door. I struggled to be helpful as a scrawny eleven-year-old with an able body, but melting will. Eventually I just sat under the elevated chassis, dripping into a puddle, while my uncle and grandfather hauled metal shelves and stacked them like dominos. I can’t remember the particulars, but I think that we went to the beach afterwards. Maybe we didn’t, but my memory will be better if we did.


High Heat on Las Trampas trail, before the grass turned gold

High Heat on Las Trampas trail, before the grass turned gold

Back to current-day California, the hills are beginning to smell of composting grasses. Grass has a sweet and nutty smell if you let it break down into soil. All around our Alhambra hills region of the East Bay there is a nutty warmth raising up like reflected light from the hills. The smell is almost as visible as the golden hue of the grasses.

This same warm nuttiness permeated the air at the farm the one time I bailed hay for a horse farmer. The barn was warm and dusty, the air wet with humidity. Our feet balanced on pyramids of hay, stacked so intentionally in an alternating pattern so that the farm workers would not fall to their doom in a cavernous void in the middle of the barn come January. The hay would have long since given back it’s heat, the nutty smell faded to a stale mustiness. The only other time I’ve smelled the baking of grasses was in our compost bin behind the house in Ohio. That grass pile, added to from March until September would give back it’s heat and smell of nutty decay well into the autumn, melting the snow from the top of the heap on November afternoons.

There’s one key difference between all of my previous high-heat experiences and this crackling dry California heat. Florida and Ohio have a humidity so high you need a snorkel to breathe. The water molecules in the air transfer the heat energy even into the darkest shade of the forest. There is as much similarity between California’s heat and Ohio’s heat as there is between a raspberry soda and a raspberry cobbler. Same scent, completely different mouth-feel.

What will our kids think when we bring them to Ohio again? Will they even be able to lift their bodies against the weight of the air?

Celebrating Life and Grieving Loss

I know the tone of our blog has taken a downward turn as of late. Unfortunately, in spite of great joy in most aspects of our life, we have had more than one instance of bad news. My last post about our dear friends moving was sad to write. But even sadder still was the news of the passing of my sister Brittany at the age of 29. This is our family blog, so we document the thoughts, experiences and happenings of our family. Even though I debated much about adding anything to the blog about her death, it is one of the most affecting events in my life and can’t be excluded. I’m not ready to write much detail about the actual passing, and perhaps I never will be. But I do want to include the eulogy which I shared in Akron at her memorial service in front of at least 100 friends and family members who have known us since our earliest days. I also want to share a letter which she wrote me to accompany my birthday present two years ago, but that will be saved for another post. Below you will find what I wrote for her memorial service:

My Dad gave the eulogy for Brittany at the service we had in Austin. There were over 300 people at there and I hugged each of them, which was hard at first but got easier as the hugging went on. My dad wrote out every word which I don’t normally do when I speak in front of people, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to say to a room of people so I’m going write the whole thing out. I’m going to begin with the poem he read on Thursday. It’s not a poem I would have picked, but when he read it in that room it just made sense. Here it is: Continue reading

A Tale of Two Jennifers

When we had been in California just a few weeks I surprised Rob by sobbing myself to sleep. I have had many wonderful friends in my life, but I was particularly missing my great friend Jennifer. She’s the kind of friend who takes you just how you are. The kind of friend who invited me over for giant salads for lunch while the kids play and we chatted on the couch and folded laundry together. She was the woman I was doing the business of motherhood with. We traded piano lessons for my kids for doula support during her fourth daughter’s birth. My 6 year old stood on her porch in a temper tantrum and refused to take lessons from her. I almost had to catch her baby girl because she was birthing so fast the midwife nearly missed it. We have been in the trenches of life together.

brunch:jenniferI was lonely for her company and the comfort of knowing she was just 5 blocks down the road and I could meet her in the park at any time. I was sad that her sweet children would be growing up and I would only see it on facebook.

We grew close after years of hanging out with a wonderful group of ladies for regular brunches. We both lived in the same neighborhood so we had set up a weekly lunch on Wednesdays so we could have consistent babysitting for doctor appointments and such, and on the weeks we didn’t need a sitter we just enjoyed our time together. We took zoo trips and saw children’s theater performances. We canned tomato sauce and peaches. I loved all the women from our brunch group, but losing Jennifer’s company was like moving away from family.


It was quite a surprise to me when, after moving to California, I met another Jennifer who became like family. We met at a homeschool park day and we were both new to the area. I invited her family over to dinner because we were desperate to make new connections and I thought maybe they’d be lonely for friendships too. That first dinner together we became fast friends. We joked comfortably. Her husband Ben and Rob had a great time as well, and the kids trampled all through the patio playing like long-time friends.

beach:jenniferOver the course of the year and half I have known my California Jennifer our friendship has grown dear. Our kids are like cousins. She’s seen my kitchen loaded with dishes. I’ve seen her floor scattered with orphan socks. I can call her when I’m stuck in a horrible mood, and she can stop over for impromptu dinner on a week night. We have been in the trenches of life together. She’s not my only friend here in California, but she’s grown to be like a sister. Just like my Ohio Jennifer.

And just like my Ohio Jennifer, my California Jennifer and I will be living our friendship at a distance. Jennifer and her family will be relocating back to their beloved Pennsylvania. Though I am happy for them that they are going home, I am sad because they are taking a large piece of my sense of home with them.

So this post is an ode to the two Jennifers of my heart. Ohio Jennifer and California Jennifer. O.J. and C.J. My life is sweeter because you are in it, even if I will have to count on social media and phone calls to stay close.