31 October 2007

Playing the Game/Pumpkin Bread

Saturday was the annual professional organizers’ conference down in the Bay Area. While I normally dread conferences, I kinda like this one. It’s smaller than the national conference, and is attended by a number of organizers I know and like. Also, this being the San Francisco Bay Area, the flavor of organizers is more to my taste: more playful and hip.

I had put together and moderated a panel on Simple and Sustainable Organizing for this conference. The panelists discussed conscious consuming (issues to consider when making purchases), earth-friendly organizing products, recycling, and how to speak to our clients about being more “green.” We had a decent turn out, and not nearly enough time to answer questions. Given that I’m committed to living a fairly simple life – which extends to running a simple business – I was encouraged by the response to the panel. The more people living simply and consciously, the healthier the planet and its inhabitants can be.

After the conference, a few of us organizers went out for dinner. Walking back to the hotel afterward, I was talking with one of the more influential women in our industry. She commented that being focused on simplicity and environmentalism makes it hard for me to be mainstream. I responded that I don’t even try, to which she employed the Dr. Phil line of “And how’s that working for you?”

Ouch. Disapproval for not playing the game.

I told her, truthfully, that not being mainstream works fine for me. I live in a community that shares my values, and attract clients who appreciate my NOT being like all the others. I’ve had clients hire me because of the picture on my website where I’m bent over, feeding chickens. They were so relieved to find an organizer who didn’t look “professional,” i.e. citified and suited up for success.

Still, it’s lonely out here on the fringes. When asked if I’d rather “be like everyone else,” of course my answer is “no.” But it takes courage to stand firm in my difference, to be the outsider in my industry. Especially since, by normal standards (specifically, money made), I’m not “successful.” Eleven years in the business and I still have a light client load, still wonder how I’m making ends meet many months.

But money isn’t how I measure success. I’m living the life I want: waking up with no alarm clock to cuddle with purring cats and gaze out my window at trees; puttering around my beautiful little house in the mornings; having time to cook and write and read; eating well; spending time with friends and neighbors; making a real difference in people’s lives.

I’ve written before (I think) about how much joy I get, walking over to the neighbors to buy my eggs. A few weeks ago, Larry (the father) came by and insisted that we pick tomatoes before they rotted. Being good neighbors, we obliged. While filling our Farmers’ Market basket heaping with tomatoes, Larry further insisted that we pick a pumpkin from his patch. (Every year he grows a pumpkin patch that school children come to on field trips and pick pumpkins to take home.)

Today I cooked up the pumpkin. Six cups of it is in the freezer, waiting to be turned into pie for Thanksgiving (and maybe a soup sometime this fall). But some of it went into the following recipe. Which turned out pretty good, if I may say so…

By the way, you’ll notice it has wheat. The eating for my blood type (no wheat) made me feel like crap, so I stopped it some months back.

Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin-Cranberry-Pecan Bread

2 cups flour (½ whole wheat, ½ white)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves (in that order of emphasis)

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add:
2 eggs
1 cup oil
2 cups puréed pumpkin
A splash of Triple Sec (optional)

Mix quickly to combine wet and dry ingredients.

Fold in:
1 cup chopped cranberries
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup chopped pecans

Pour into bread pan (this made two loaves when I made it)

Bake at 350 for about an hour, maybe longer. (I use the top-is-cracked-and-browned cue to determine doneness. Inserting a toothpick and having it come out clean works, too.)

22 October 2007

Thunder & Lightning & Downpours, Oh My!

While traveling from Prince Rupert down the Yellowhead Highway to the Canadian Rockies, I stopped in a public library in Prince George. A kind librarian there turned me on to Yahoo! email accounts, set me up with one, and explained that I could access my email from most public libraries. (This was almost a decade ago, remember. It was still exciting stuff back then.) The following is an email I sent about a third of the way into the journey. It is excerpted from my new book, Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home.

JULY 11, 1998

Thunder & Lightning & Downpours, Oh My!

Greetings, all, with a quick update from Nelson, B. C. They boot you off in 30 minutes at this branch, and the librarian is very strict – the first and only truly uptight librarian I’ve ever met. I suppose I should have compassion for her, but I feel more like challenging her, especially since she got so upset when I truthfully answered “none” as my address on the form they make me fill out, promising to be a good girl on the net. “It sounds…” and she cuts herself off. Sounds what, lady? Homeless? Uncouth? What are your assumptions? But I’m a nice girl, eh? Only felt like challenging her, didn’t push it. Changed the address from “none” to that of Kokanee Creek campground.

What a glorious, loud storm there was last night! Thunder rumbling and roaring and shaking the ground, lightning four to seven counts away, shocking the whole sky awake. I could feel the electricity vibrate up from the ground and through me. Couldn’t help but think of Zeus roaring in anger – but why do we think of these storms as angry? Yes, they feel angry, but maybe there’s another way to understand them. Ecstatic? Undeniably, raw and powerful. So alive.

Took an impulsive detour last night – 16 kilometers up a gravel, pitted, bouldery sort of road – just to see what was at the end. At the end was a lake and a trailhead, and a sign with a funny, cartoon drawing of a porcupine that warned us that critters will eat your tires, brake linings, etc., and to protect your vehicle with chicken wire. “We are not joking,” concluded the sign. And they weren’t. The cars parked there were indeed surrounded by chicken wire. The things I learn… .

I love Canada, especially the road signs. One, warning of wildlife (animaux sauvages) in the vicinity, is a large, white cutout of an antlered wapiti (elk), with a neon-orange round eye. The picture for falling rock took me a moment to decipher – it looked like a bear’s paw at first. And the one for trucks entering the roadway looks like the truck is going to run smack into the road: Kaboom!

On the way here from Fernie, via Cranbrook and Creston, is a kitschy place called The Glass House. A guy in the funeral trade (trading corpses for what?) decided to build a whimsical home for himself and the missus out of empty, sealed embalming-fluid bottles. It’s actually quite livable and sweet: round rooms. He had so much fun, he kept building, mostly little round watchtowers, an arched bridge, what-have-you. Then came the landscaping. (Mind, all this is built on bedrock along the shores of Kootenay Lake – an idyllic setting). The waterwheel isn’t bad, but all the dwarves, Snow White, deer, etc. get a bit too cute. Still, it’s quite charming and worth the five bucks for a tour (given by his sweet, early-20s granddaughter). Beat the heck out of the wildlife museum that I stopped in (seduced by the roadway signs), which was a morose collection of stuffed mammals and live pheasants (gorgeous plumes on those caged birds).

Some moments, being on the road is fabulous: driving along two-lane, line-less highways, blasting the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Other times, I long for a stable roof over my head, particularly when it comes to fixing myself a meal. God, I’d love to have access to an oven just to bake myself a spanakopita, or maybe a cobbler, or… . Cooking in the rain sucks when you don’t have adequate shelter, and I don’t even try. I’m spending far more than budgeted on eating out. (What else is new?) On the other hand, I prefer bathing in the eddy of a fast-flowing creek to a bathtub any day, and my hair is so much softer when rinsed regularly with creek water. True, hot running water is one of our finer inventions, but those creeks sure are fine, too.

Time’s up. I’ll keep y’all posted as I can. My love to everyone.

16 October 2007

Roaming Home

I come from a family of wanderers.

My father was born in Jugoslavia, the only son of parents whose own parents had migrated from Spain, through Hungary to Belgrade. After WWII, which he spent as a child in hiding (ages 7 to 11) with his mother’s sister (who had married a Greek Orthodox and converted) he moved to Switzerland. Eventually, his mother’s brother got passage to the States, and brought my by-then-teenaged father over. After finishing high school in New York, he took the Greyhound to Berkeley. Many years later, after 13 years and 3 kids with my mom, he moved to Oregon, then to Ottawa. Eventually he relinquished his U.S. citizenship and became Canadian. These days he lives in Victoria. (You won’t hear me complaining about visiting him there!)

My sister, Jessica, spent many years living with our father in Ottawa, alternating lives between Canada’s capital and our rustic maternal home in the redwood hippie refuge, Camp Meeker. At one point, Jessica lived in western B.C. Eventually she met Gavin (a fellow fiddler), married him, and followed him to New Zealand. They have since settled on his family’s farm in Scotland, where they are raising my two nieces (and organic vegetables and chickens).

Tristan, my brilliant-artist brother, is also in Europe, having lived in Germany, Italy, and now Denmark. (He’s another topic altogether. Someday I’ll write about him.)

Relatively speaking, Mom was a stick-in-the-mud. She was a native Californian – first generation, both her parents having immigrated from Eastern European shtetls – and never really relocated out of the state.

I guess I haven’t gone very far, either, although I wandered all around our country and parts of Canada before deciding that Humboldt County was where I wanted to stay. I find it ironic that, given that my siblings and I are first generation Americans (second on Mom’s side), I’m the only sibling left on this continent, and the only immediate family member left in the country.

But this is home for me. Sometimes I’m tempted to move further north, deeper into the Pacific Northwest. There are parts of Washington that I crave, particularly along the Olympic Peninsula. The thought of starting all over again – building new friendships, recreating my business from scratch – stops me from moving. As does the thought of leaving the life I’ve built here.

Besides, this is my cats’ home. They have 3 acres to patrol, and they love every inch of it. Although, come to think of it, even my cats are wanderers. Each of them appeared in my life from whereabouts unknown. Ochosi was abandoned at a campground in Trinity County. Jules showed up mewing his little kitten heart out one August night around 10:00. Zachy limped onto my porch with a broken leg two autumns ago. And Sam… well, no one really knows where Sam came from. He was here when I bought the place 7 years ago.

It's a Contest!

Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home is here!

Told through journal entries, dreams, and emailed travelogues – with an occasional recipe tossed in – this heartwarming story of one woman’s midlife search for Home winds through terrain both personal and public. From the Pacific Northwest to the Canadian Rockies, from Yellowstone to Maine and west again through Santa Fe, Claire describes the inner and outer landscapes with poetic honesty and subtle humor. This book is a beacon to all who step into uncertainty in search of where they belong.

Freelance writer and poet Carla Baku writes:
Joseph Campbell once said that there are really only two stories: A hero sets out on a journey and A stranger comes to town. Claire Josefine tells both stories in this slender in-search-of odyssey. Claire’s keen eye for the beauty of small things in the natural world and her willingness to disclose doubts, fears, joys, and humble triumphs along the way, leaves the reader with the distinct sensation of having come along on her solitary journey. This lovely little read will have you thinking about what “home” really means. Curl up and enjoy a ramble from the comfort of your corner of the world.

To celebrate, Winter’s Daughter Press is running a contest. Write an essay (maximum 500 words) on how you found your home town and why you chose to stay there. Submit your essay to Winter’s Daughter Press at organized@humboldt1.com. The winner’s essay will be “published” on this blog, and the winner will receive a signed copy of Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home. Entries must be received by November 1, 2007. (All submissions retain their copyrights.)

P.S. – Please let everyone you know about this contest. The more entries, the more interesting the results!

12 October 2007


Nine years ago, I became voluntarily homeless and hit the road, traveling 15,000 miles solo across 29 states and 4 provinces, searching for what I took to calling “Capital-H Home.” My new book, Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home, is the story of this journey, told through journal entries, dreams, and letters I wrote along the way.

But what is Home? While on the road, having hit an emotional bottom, I posed this question to my family and friends. Mostly they responded with well-worn clichés: that home is inside of you, or home is where you make it. Yes, I answered, but how do you know where you want to make it? Eventually I defined my own criteria – a cool, coastally-influenced climate along the Pacific Northwest with people of like mind (left-leaning, spiritual, environmentalists) and an artsy culture, not too crowded, where people have a sense of community and I can see the stars at night.

I’ve found that place – have settled down on 3 acres, spent 8 years with one guy (the longest I’ve ever been with a sweetie), and built my business and reputation within the community. By all appearances, I’ve done a very good job of finding, and creating, Home.

And yet.

And yet, I think there is another layer of Home that I’ve never found, and for this I feel sorrow.

Home is place and community and friendships – yes. But I think Home is also the deep connection, the intimacy of sharing one’s life with a best-est friend, with a mate, with children. None of which I’ve ever managed to create in my life. Yes, I have a few good friends (most of whom live at least 200 miles away), lots of friendly acquaintances, and I have my sweetie. But I long for a bosom buddy, a sister – a best-est girlfriend. I’ve never had one. (A psychic once told me that my best friend wasn’t in body this time around.) And I long for a husband, a partner and mate, which my sweetie cannot be for me. (As for children – well, I do prefer cats … )

I imagine that the home we find in deep relationship soothes the loneliness of life, that loneliness that makes me want to cry wordless tears, wishing someone in my world understood and would just hold me and stroke my hair for a while until the lonely blues passed and I could return to being the strong, competent, (etc. etc.) woman people know me to be.

I’ve had a recurring dream for 25 years now, the basic theme of which is this: I find myself living at either my mother’s house or my old apartment in Oakland (it differs from dream to dream), aware that I have a life and home of my own somewhere else, but unable to remember where that is. Recently, in the dream I am able to vaguely recall that I have a place in the country someplace north, but that it’s been a while since I’ve been home and I’m not sure what condition it’s in or even really where it is. For 25 years, I’ve felt lost and confused, trying to remember something and being unable to. But what am I unable to remember, to find? What is this home that I’ve been dreaming of for so many years?

Ideas are welcomed…