Family Legends

Every family has a story.  Even if there isn’t much known about the actual family history, the family story is being written, day by day.

I married a man with an  intriguing family history that includes a German scientist dad (who actually met Hitler!) who married his secretary and eventually escaped East Germany with her and their three little kids (and one on the way–Tom), fleeing to Canada and eventually landing in the United States.  The German scientist had another family before the one Tom was born to, and he didn’t know about his half siblings in Germany until he was a young teenager.  There are so many Bickel Family legends spanning many years, including such things as the “special friendship” my father-in-law had with (the actor) Michael Douglas’s first wife’s mother…try following that one after a glass of wine…and the time he was hired to find water on the land on Figueroa Mountain that is now known as Neverland Ranch.  Truly fascinating stuff.

My own family of origin has stories too though I’m not entirely sure if some of our family legends are actually true.  Since reconnecting with some of my paternal cousins, I’ve learned that they too grew up believing that the Friar family has Native American blood.  I grew up hearing that my dad’s family had blackfoot indian blood; one of my cousins recently shared that our great-great grandma (who she believed was named Minny) was Cherokee.  However, my brother Jerry did some genealogy study using Ancestry.com and found no evidence of Native American ties.  Is it possible that our direct Native American ancestors belonged to unrecognized tribes?  I suppose.  But to be perfectly honest, I’d be more interested in learning how this belief originated in the family and how it was told and retold through the generations.

One of the most mysterious and troubling family legends was something I overheard my parents arguing about many times during my childhood:  that my dad fathered a child when he was stationed in Germany (before he met my mom).  He told my mom that he was involved with a woman named Annelisa, who became pregnant by my dad.  That baby was a boy who was adopted by an Air Force officer (or some higher rank) and his wife; they named him David.  This subject would come up during arguments that I think started when my parents were drinking and my dad would start to accuse my mom of being unfaithful.  I wondered, so many times, if I actually had an older brother somewhere and if he would ever try to find my dad.  Was I not actually my pop’s firstborn?

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This was my mom’s most favorite picture of my dad, here with me.

Another family legend involved the song Oh Lonesome Me.  My dad claimed to have written and then sold this song for $50, with no rights to claim that he actually wrote it. Ghostwritten by him, he said.  Is this true?  I have no idea.

I’ve allowed myself to travel back in my memories lately; this wasn’t always safe for me and as a result, I pushed many memories so far back in the recesses of my mind that it can be a bit hard to retrieve now.  But I’ve grown up a bit, grown strong, thanks to the stable family life that Tom and I built together.  I wonder, when we are gone, what family legends our kids will remember and share?

In other news…we are in the process of digging up our parched and gopher-damaged front yard to prepare for a new sod planting.  When I say “we” you should know that I actually mean Tom.  I have been banished from any yard work after my six weeks of hell due to poison oak reaction.  So while Tom is sweating and shoveling, I occasionally go outside to wave at neighbors and to comment on his progress, telling him he’s doing a good job.  This project is taking a long time, mostly because Tom is doing it alone and maybe because every time I casually mention how long it is taking, Tom slows down even more.  I don’t know if the slowdown is purposeful, but  I do know that Tom DOES NOT like to be bossed around, and that includes casual mentions and letters from the Homeowner’s Association about the state of the yard (Tom’s comments while reading that letter, well, I won’t repeat here).

Progress, as recorded today:

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Tom’s ability to fix stuff is legendary in our family so I know, even though this project is taking much longer than I’d like, that he will make something beautiful happen here.

Work is done for the day around here; we are getting ready to grab our fold-up chairs and head to Ryon Park to listen to a band we like.  The Lompoc Valley SpringFest closes today, and Holger’s Heroes will be playing some classic rock favorites.  The perfect way to close out our weekend as well.

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My Friend Iceland

I’m the daughter of a native Icelander.  My mom was born in Iceland, adopted by an Icelandic sea captain and his wife as a baby and raised in Reykjavik, Iceland. She met my American-born dad when he was stationed at NAS Keflavik, Iceland; he had a band and hired my 18-year-old mom as a singer. She thought he looked like Elvis. That’s the family legend in a nutshell. This picture was obviously taken when they returned to America, I assume, as my dad’s two brothers are part of the band and they were not in Iceland with my parents. Music is part of the family legacy as well.

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My mom wasn’t your typical Nordic beauty with blonde hair and blue eyes, rather, she was an exotically beautiful brown-eyed brunette.  I was born just nine months after they married, here in northern California where my dad was stationed following his tour in Iceland.

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My mom died the day after Mother’s Day in 2003 at the young age of 62 after a brief but brutal battle with lung cancer that had metastasized to her bones and brain.

This is one of my favorite images of my mom, in our swimming pool probably just about two years before she died. In Iceland, she’d told me when I was little girl, children had to learn to swim by the time they were six years old–they couldn’t move up a grade if they didn’t (not sure this is really true). My childhood brain understood this to be  necessary since Iceland was an island and who knew when you might just fall off the edge into the frigid, icy waters. She also convinced me that because I had her viking blood I never had to worry about seasickness because I was made for the water. More family legacy.

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People say I look like her; I knew this was true when I was a little girl, there was enough photographic evidence of it. Now, when I look at this picture of my mom at just about 60 years old and look at my 57-year-old self in the mirror, I see that it’s still true. I don’t have her vibrant, extroverted personality however. I think I got my introversion from my dad.

As a kid, no one I knew ever heard of far-away, mysterious Iceland. Now, a visit to Iceland is on many a bucket list, and lots of movies have shot on location there. In the early 80’s Iceland elected the world’s first female president who served for 16 years. I am even Iceland’s “friend” on Facebook, and you can be too.

So, all things Iceland are now cool. Iceland to me always makes me think of my  mom, and she would love Iceland’s popularity. Yesterday in the grocery store I found Icelandic-style yogurt (called “skyr”) so of course, I bought some. This stuff is SO GOOD.  Have you tried it? This was my breakfast today.

Now, if I could just find a local source for Hangikjöt I’d be all set.

Have a healthy day, and make it a point to  learn something new. Iceland is interesting!

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Tom and Alexa

For Christmas I got my husband a girlfriend.

And if you believe that then hell has in fact frozen over.

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What I did get him was his own personal assistant, the Amazon Echo.  I got a great Black Friday deal on it and just for the music listening feature alone I figured it was worth it when you consider how much you’d spend on a Bose home stereo.  I also figured he could ask it weather questions instead of watching Extreme Weather on the Weather Channel all weekend.  I also figured I could use it while cooking to convert millilitres to ounces and such.  Or when we are watching TV and want to know how old someone is (do other old people do this?  We do this ALL THE TIME) we could just ask Alexa.  Kind of like a present for both of us.  I’m smart like that.

Anyway, a couple of days before Christmas we heard on the news that people are freaking out about Alexa listening all the time and recording conversations that are stored in the cloud (even though, HELLO, do you have Siri on your phone?  Same thing, people).  There was also a news story about an Arkansas murder case where a prosecutor is trying to get Amazon to release Echo recordings from the home where a dead man was found.  I was really starting to feel like my gift-giving thunder was being stolen by the media!

He opened his gift on Christmas Eve and I think he was pleased.  I kind of thought he’d set it up right away, especially since our tech-y son-in-law (who has his own Echo) was over for Christmas festivities. Didn’t happen, but son-in-law assured Tom that Alexa practically sets herself up.

Late on Christmas day he decided to tackle it, and like any other assembly project, he just dove right in there with minimal instruction reading.  Alexa got an earful while he tried to figure her out and I tried to convince him to cease and desist and read the friggin’ email Amazon sent me with very clear and simple set up steps.

Sigh.  We’ve been married 38 years.  This is nothing new.

Anyway.  After a bit of sniping and maybe even a bit of name-calling, Alexa was up and running but Tom was having a problem getting her to respond.  And this is why: you need to say the prompt word (Alexa) and then make your request.  For some reason, my husband wants to talk to Alexa like she’s his girlfriend: “Um hey, how are you doing, Alexa!  I’m wondering about the weather…”

Crickets.

Even though I’ve made huge fun of him for this he still tries to smooth talk Alexa and his reason is this:  he wants her to become accustomed to the way he requests things. Over time, he believes, she will get him.  Tom, honey?  ALEXA IS NOT A PERSON!

I guess it’s possible that I’m just a little bit jealous of the sweet way he talks to her. I also kind of feel sorry for him when she just shines him on because he didn’t ask right. And since I know he’s a very smart person, I’m starting to think he’s doing this just to entertain me.

I do know how to activate Alexa (I’ve had plenty of practice with Siri) and just to be safe, this is what I told her:  Alexa…just so you know, Tom only has one girlfriend and GIRLFRIEND, it is not you.  Now play  some mellow rock.

And she did.

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The Road Trip

In August of this year I spent a very long day driving from my home on the central coast of California to Eugene,Oregon…800 miles in just 12 hours if you didn’t need to stop for the necessities of life such as Starbucks iced tea or rest stop bathrooms.

My daughter was soon to deliver her second child and I’d secured four weeks off from work in order to be there to help.  My daughter moved with her family to Eugene right around the time she learned she was expecting child number two; needless to say, this complicated the move somewhat by elevating priorities such as securing a good doctor and hospital for delivery, health insurance coverage in a new state, and what to do about their not-yet-two-year-old son when she went into labor.  Hence, my trip.

I do like to travel, and traveling alone is peaceful in a strange and lonely way.  For a time my job required monthly road trips to Sacramento to attend meetings–a six-hour drive one way.  I used to fly until nonstop flights from Santa Barbara to Sacramento were eliminated and flying meant connecting in San Francisco; airport and security logistics made for a very long day even though the actual flight time was about an hour and a half. At that point it was simply faster to drive, so that’s what I did.  I’d check out a book on CD from the library and head up I-5.

We helped our daughter and son-in-law move in February, so driving to Oregon wasn’t a new thing.  The husbands drove the moving truck and I drove their SUV loaded up with clothes, baby things, my daughter and grandson.  We took two days to travel, staying overnight in Redding, CA.  As we wound through the mountains at Shasta we saw lots of snow, and as we crossed the border into Oregon we marveled at the lush greenness of everything, coming as we were from drought-devastated California. We moved them in and flew home.

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In May my husband and I hit the road for Oregon once again, this time loaded down with baby things for the new one coming in August.  We had diapers and presents and a hand-me-down swing from our younger daughter.  We were surprised to see that Mt. Shasta still was covered with snow even though the temperature outside was low 90’s.  The trip took us about 13 hours.  We spent a wonderful week with the little family and then took the scenic way home via the Oregon and California coasts.  That will be another story for another time.

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Back to my solo road trip in August.  I felt familiar enough with the route so there wasn’t any stress about that.  Making it to Oregon in time to be of help, specifically, before my daughter went into labor, was the biggest stress.  She didn’t know anyone yet that she felt comfortable leaving her child with and definitely no one she felt comfortable calling in the middle of the night if need be.  But made it, I did.  I arrived safe and sound after about 13 hours on the road, just after dinner time on August 13th, and the baby didn’t come until around noon on August 23rd.  Perfect timing.  My Oregon adventures during those four weeks will also be another story for another time.

My solo road trip was enjoyable thanks, in part, to Sirius/XM radio.  I listened to 70’s on 7, The Groove, Hits 1, Classic Rewind, The Bridge, NPR, The Message, and Watercolors.  I heard songs I hadn’t heard in a long time and that I’d forgotten all about.  One of those songs was Hummingbird by Seals & Crofts.  What a mesmerizing song!  I couldn’t get it out of my head.  I mentioned it to my husband during one of our FaceTime calls and he (classic rock aficionado) remembered it immediately.  I sang this song to my grandson.  I googled its meaning  and learned that it was on the same album as another of my all-time favorite songs, Summer Breeze.  

Hummingbird has become sort of like a theme song for me.  The hummingbird is a miraculous creature of God, accomplishing what should be impossible. And that’s what I want to do in this new place in my life, in my marriage, even in my career.  I trust my instincts, I trust my common sense, and I’m going for it (whatever IT is) because life IS too short. Taking a four-week trip, away from my husband and job and home–I didn’t ask permission, I just decided to do it.  Deciding, in my mid-fifties, to pursue a master’s degree even though it may not make a difference in the course of what’s left of  my career. Encouraging my husband to retire because I know he’s tired, even though I’m newly energized in my own career; him taking care of the house and me seems like a positive change.  Looking for the perfect little house to downscale; and considering a move far away from the town I grew up in.  And even deciding to invest in my wardrobe, experimenting with my fashionista side, because I lost about 70 pounds in the past two years.  Stitch Fix is my new favorite obsession.

My solo road trip gave me time to consider the changes I want to see in my life and a quiet space to recognize revelation through a haunting, beautiful song.  Maybe this explains the purpose of this blog or maybe it doesn’t but to me, it all makes perfect sense.

Alas, here comes the gardener
He’s come to till the flowers
The drought of understanding
Wisdom, peace and love is ours now