I spent a few days with Lydia, my dear friend and long-ago mission trainee.
My Wisconsin-centric brain was so giddy to spend Christmas Eve playing outside in 60 degree weather. I went barefoot as often as I could.
Lydia’s great family and I shared colorful stories, ate mind-numbingly-delicious food, hiked abundant countryside, discussed heart-expanding topics, evangelized the wonders of kefir (which may or may not actually be manna), sweat liters at the Bikram yoga studio, and slept in as long as we wanted. Looking back through my camera, it turns out I mainly just took photos of plants.
Over Christmas break I flew to San Francisco and made a visit to my friend Briana Blackwelder’s grave. Thank you for the great directions, Candice.
For those who haven’t yet visited, here’s a bit of the journey to Fernwood:
That’s her grave in the foreground.
A few small plants have begun sprouting over the freshly-turned earth.
Despite being the winter solstice, it was one of the sunniest days I’d seen in a long time.
I laid down right next to her grave and just started talking.
It felt so much like the last time I saw her, when we’d spent a sunny
April afternoon lounging under the sun.
I believe Bri is doing much more exciting things than lying under the earth,
but here are some photos of the view she’d have from her final resting place:
I felt a lot of peace being there.
Afterwards, my friend Lydia and I scouted out some delicious food
and soaked up the city that will forever remind me of Bri.
Man, I miss you Bri.
Three days after my last blog post, one of my dearest friends was killed in a car accident. Any words I write feel insufficient. Briana and I talked on the phone that afternoon while she and her brother were driving home for Easter. Within the hour of our conversation, she was gone. Her broken body left on the side of the highway.
I met Briana on a beautiful April day in 2008. Tess, my favorite botany study-buddy, insisted I meet her sister—a young single woman my same age—who had just become a midwife. We decided to celebrate the end of the semester by lounging in the grass, soaking up the warm sunshine. When Briana arrived, she sat tall in a cross-legged stance. She looked me in the eyes and listened as I told her about my interest in birth. After a few questions, she tore a page from her notebook and began writing: the best doula course to take, the essential books to read, the websites to reference. On our second visit she gifted me a copy of Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery. It was my first birth book. Months later Bri invited me to witness my first homebirth, to inspect my first placenta, to perform my first newborn exam.
Saturday, April 16, 2011. Briana had an apron tied around her waist and a phone cradled between her ear and shoulder when she came to the door. Her counter tops were crowded with scrumptiousness she’d spent days creating, in preparation for the “Momma Party”. I helped put together a blood orange salad and placed the shortbread batter into the oven. The house was flooding with women and babies who Briana had, or was, serving. I loved looking at them all, and hearing them talk of their birth experiences. Bri asked us all to introduce ourselves; she expressed that when she looked at each of us, she saw powerful women. She encouraged us to share with one another our thoughts on true power and womanhood.
The hours of good conversation and delicious food passed quickly. As people left, Bri took photos with the women and children and sent the families home with platefuls of baked goods. In preparation for moving, she was pairing down her belongings and had items for the taking: books, a child’s easel, plastic dishes, napkins…
By mid afternoon, Bri and I were the only ones in the house. It was an uncharacteristically warm and sunny April day, and so we decided to soak it up by lounging in her back yard. She grabbed John’s childhood blanket—the one she always chose—and we spread it across the grass. Bri sighed a deep, relaxing sigh, and said how happy she was with how the party had turned out, but said it was hard to have everyone all together only because she wished she could have spent more individual time with each momma and baby.
Our conversations that afternoon bounced from topic to topic, as we drifted in and out of lazy summer sleep. We laughed at the love-struck quail that lived in her bushes. We talked about her family and her excitement at spending the upcoming Easter holiday with them. We talked about relationships. We talked about the value of change. I asked her to describe her ideal birth experience, and she explained how it had transformed over the course of her midwifery experience. She used to want the midwife with the most knowledge and skills. Now, she figured, she just wanted to be accompanied by those who had the most compassion.
I remember watching her as she lay there, eyes closed, grinning up at the warm sunshine. She was bathed in light. I remember her saying, “It has been such a perfect day. I just feel so full.” She repeated it with a soft smile. “I feel so full.”
Saturday, April 23, 2011. I played phone tag with Briana that morning. She called while I was at yoga. I called while she was busy with pre-travel plans. When she called back, she asked if I could do her a favor. She wanted to pay her tithing before our church boundaries changed. She explained that she didn’t have a tithing slip, but had left two checks in her house, and asked if I wouldn’t mind filling out some slips for her and delivering them to the Bishop. She was only going to be gone a week, so I thought it was a little odd, but of course it wasn’t a problem. I asked for Candice’s number so I could call and make sure someone was home when I went over. The phone conversation was brief.
A few hours later, when I called Candice to ask if it was a good time to pick up Bri’s tithing, I learned the heart-wrenching news. Briana was dead.
That Easter Sunday I handed the Bishop the most meaningful tithing slip I think I will ever touch in my life.
I know I am not alone in missing Bri. I only knew her for three years, but she absolutely changed my life. Two weeks after her death, I started school to become a midwife. Briana wrote one of the letters of recommendation for me, and it was because of her that I had sufficient birth-related experience to enter the program. But more than that, she was a kindred soul. Few days go by without me wishing I could just call her, to hear her voice, to ask her advice, or to share a story that would make her laugh.
Looking back, I am struck by the similarities between the first day I met Bri, and the last day I spent with her. They were both gorgeous April days, full of sunshine. They were both spent lounging in the bright green springtime. They were both days that felt full of goodness. That is how I will always remember her.
Shortly after her death, I saw Briana in a dream. She was beautiful. I was struck by how radiant she looked, fully cloaked in light. She didn’t say anything, but just looked at me with soft compassion. As if she recognized my pain, but wanted me to know that she is ok. Her face was full of peace.
A few weeks later, in another dream, she knocked on my door. “Briana!” I gasped. I pulled her into a tight squeeze and whispered, “I have so many things I’ve wanted to ask you!” In my dream I asked, “Have you seen God?” She looked at me with smiling eyes and laughed as she responded, “Of course I have.”
Briana still exists. This has become a familiar mantra to me. I look forward with hope to the day when I can again embrace her in my arms and share stories that make us both weep and laugh. Until then, I am trying to be a better doula, midwife, sister, daughter, teacher, friend, and woman because of her.
This is a photo I copied from Briana’s website: http://www.fernmidwifery.com
For a few years now I’ve been welcoming in the new year by greeting the sun. This year at sunrise I hiked up a mountain with a dear friend…for eight hours…in 25 below zero weather. Stunning…in many ways.
Fall is here in full force (nod to the full moon on the same day as the fall equinox)! While I anxiously await jumping into my first leaf-pile of the year, I thought I’d just give a little recap of some summer highlights.
- Summer began as any well-respecting Wisconsinite might wish: with snow!
- It did a number on my tomato plants, but my harvest is still plentiful. Here’s a look into my bag after a recent harvest from my community garden, and a photo I treasure of my cantaloupe babies. They are definitely adolescents now, but are still in need of the vine.
- Early this summer I was privileged to be present when my sister was called and set-apart as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She will spend the next year-and-a-half living on a small northern island in the Philippians, serving the people and teaching them about how the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring added happiness and peace to their lives. Here’s a picture from the last time I saw her, as well as one she just sent home:
- While the summer was still green and lush, I spend as many evening after work as possible roaming through the mountains:
- Here’s a shot from one hike with my friend Kelsey- just days before she took off on a mission to Florida:
- In June, my work flew me out to San Francisco to do some training at the nation’s oldest science museum, the Exploratorium. The PIE (Playful Inventive Exploration) training was hands-down some of the most inspiring education I’ve ever received. More to come shortly on how we’ve been using that training to inspire more innovation and creativity from the middle-schoolers I work with. Here is a picture of me outside the museum, inside the workshop space, and beside some lovely sea lions down on pier 39:
- I flew on an overnight flight from CA to WI to spend a week in the great outdoors with my dear family. Here we all are under uncle Bob’s tarp. The thunderstorms helped us to get extra cozy!
- I spent Independence Day with my brothers, sister-in-law, and nieces at the Bees Stadium. Nothing like thousands of people cuddled on blankets, watching small explosions in the sky:
- I also spent some time exploring natural hotsprings:
- Discovered a new species of maple:
- (kidding about the maple….well maybe. Have you ever heard of a variegated maple?)
- Joined a group of daring souls on a search for the infamous kokanee:
- Saw some sunsets that literally brought me to my knees:
- Traveled through Utah wilderness with dear WI friends and family:
I love summer meals.
This evening my newest roommate, Adriana, and I headed out with a plastic bag and an old sheet and returned with the makings of a feast.
Our salad consisted of 4 kinds of lettuce, spinach, broccoli, arugula, dill, sweet basil, thai basil, nasturtium leaves, calendula flowers, borage flowers, olive oil, vinegar, and grated parmesan.
We turned our heap of mulberries into a scrumptious pie. When stewed in a pie, mulberry has some surprisingly deep flavor — teetering somewhere between blackberries and blueberries. “Purple” was Adriana’s best description of its flavor. Next time we may try adding a little lavender.
(The icecream was foraged from the neighborhood grocery store.)
Next time you should join us. In fact, we do still have leftovers…
I recently returned from a week in my motherland. It was a wonderful adventure. Within minutes of landing, I was whisked away to a lake in northern Wisconsin where I spent a number of days camping with 48 people who share much of my X chromosome (or married someone who does).
Here’s Fern and Harold, the common ancestor we all share. See any resemblance? My brothers lovingly refer to me as Fern3.
We had a blast playing water baseball, catching frogs, telling stories around the campfire, and playing the annual fear factor games.
Here we are blowing mounds of flour to uncover pieces of bubble gum. The first one to be able to blow a bubble wins.
On the menu for the “fear factor” eating challenge were: bleu cheese, anchovies, sardines, a full can of evaporated milk, and gummy worms soaked in water. My brother Caleb downed everything without a problem but started to dry heave with the gummy worm because he thought it was alive!
I loved spending so much quality time with family, and can’t wait until next year.
Also while in WI, I glommed with some dear high school friends
Visited with my 80-something-year-old great aunt and uncle who still farm as if they were in their 30’s.
I visited with my bosom friend and heroine, Fran Kelly, who was one of the most magical figures of my childhood and who is the motivation for much of my current life
I visited the old house where I grew up:
Picked berries behind the house where my mom currently lives:
Biked around Madison with my Dad, brother, sister-in-law, and niece:
And bought delicious produce at the nation’s largest out-door farmer’s market:
And spent my last evening hanging out with my dear friend (and niece) Ava.
She held my hand all the way to the airport. When I said goodbye, her bottom lip quivered and then she burst into tears and told me not to go. She almost persuaded me to stay. Here she is blowing me a kiss goodbye.
I’ll miss you!