I ran across my mom’s obituary the other day. Her birthday is coming up and I’ve found myself really missing her lately, so I’ve been looking at old photos and memorabilia. As I reread what I had written for her obituary, I was reminded of what a truly remarkable woman she was: her many accomplishments, her generous spirit, her love of life, and her love for her friends and family. But I was also struck by the fact that I had left out one of her most defining characteristics. Thankfully, the Daily Independent newspaper’s editor, who was also a great friend of my mom’s, added her own comment at the end and filled in what I had missed. She said: “While we join her many loved ones in mourning her loss, we are grateful for the indelible mark of kindness she left on virtually everyone who was fortunate enough to know her. —Ed.”
An “indelible mark of kindness.” What a perfect summation of how my mom lived her life and the impact she had on those around her. Kindness was her superpower. She responded to almost every situation with kindness, love, and humor. She was the first person to volunteer to bring meals or lend an ear to an ailing friend. She elevated, encouraged, and celebrated those in her life. And she could diffuse the most tense situation just by being kind. Here’s a small example of that: One time when we were camping on Lake Isabella, a rowdy group of campers was keeping us awake into the wee hours. Finally, my mom had enough and decided to go over and put a stop to it. But she didn’t go over in anger as I might have. Rather she walked over with a smile on her face and kindness in her pocket, introduced herself to the group, joined in their fun for a minute or two and then with her characteristic good humor asked that they tone it down a bit since we were all trying to sleep. And that was all it took. Her kindness was disarming. And it was transformative, and indelible. She always saw the good in people and worked under the assumption that people really wanted to do what was right.
But she was no pushover. Yes, kindness was her superpower, but her strong sense of justice, or what she called logical consequences, was her sidekick. If we kids make a bad decision, we got to reap “the consequences of our actions,” though those consequences were always paired with a hug and a conversation. How fortunate we were to grow up with that combination of kindness and justice.
So there are two questions I’m pondering today regarding her kindness. The first is why. This was a woman who was abused by her father as a child, whose mother abandoned her family and who lived in foster care with a few horrible foster parents. And that was just the first few years. At a young age, she saw the worst of humanity. And yet...and yet she was the kindest person I’ve ever met. How did that happen? I can’t help but assume that so much of her kindness emanated from her great faith. I’m reminded of the verse: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). I have to believe that this must have been one of her favorite verses because that is how she lived her life. She didn’t pontificate or wear the trappings of Christianity or do anything that would create a barrier to anyone she met. Rather, she lived that verse, providing the world a genuine example of God’s love -- and leaving an “indelible mark of kindness” in her wake.
My second question is: what she would think of these times where so many are being so unkind. How would she respond? I’m sure her poor heart would be breaking to see the discord so prevalent in our country today. I’m sure she would be dismayed by the unkindness of some of our elected officials and their followers. But I also know that her response would be to redouble her efforts to love as many people as she could and disarm them with her kindness. And at the same time, she would demand justice. I’m quite certain that she would be out there marching and writing letters and talking to her neighbors, and imploring us to look inward and reconnect with the goodness we each possess. And she would demand consequences for those whose actions warranted it.
My mom continues to inspire me, even after almost five years since she left us. Her example encourages me to both be more kind and to be more courageous as we head into another year. That is her legacy. And that’s how we change the world.
When we moved to Escondido 25 years ago, our house came with a dining room table — a giant, heavy, slightly beat-up dining room table. The owners were moving to Hawaii and didn’t want to lug the table with them across the ocean, so they left it for us. Now, 25 years later, that giant, much more beat-up table sits in our dining room in Oregon.
Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t gotten a new one. This one is kind of a wreck. I know that farmhouse rustic is in, but this table goes just a bit beyond that. I've tried to make it look presentable, but I can’t seem to clean off the red and white paint marks that were added when Lauren made Christmas ornaments one year. And I’ve tried to chip away at the spots that look like food but are actually glue from the glue gun that Noah used when he was working on his robot -- but when I chip away at it, the varnish comes off too. And then there’s a gouge at one end where Joshua was working on some project with Jesse that involved an axe. And the varnish in the grooves is pretty much gone from when Mark used a steak knife to get the food particles out. Also, one of the legs has teeth marks from when Jake was a puppy and used the table leg as a chew toy. Thankfully you can’t really see that unless you look down. And every morning as I’m eating my breakfast, I have to push in the end of the table since it hangs down a little, maybe from all of the elbows-on-the-table conversations we have had over the years.
Yeah...it’s kind of a wreck. Maybe I should get a new one. Thanksgiving is coming and I want everything to be nice.
But I can see our family dinners and our kids doing their homework at this table. And I can see my mom sitting at the table setting up her appetizers for our "March birthday" get togethers. I see the large holiday dinners where everyone could fit (thanks to two also-very-heavy leafs that made a giant table even bigger), and the smaller dinners with our Japanese exchange student or guests from England or friends or co-workers. I can see the long conversations Mark and I had about the kids, or about his company closing or about us moving to Oregon. A lot of life happened at this table. And it shows. How could I possibly replace it?
So in a few weeks, my family will gather around the table, eat lots of good food, drink lots of good wine, laugh ourselves silly, and continue to make memories. And they won’t care about the paint and the glue and the gouges. They will just be glad that we are sitting around a table together. And we will count our blessings — one of which will be that 25 years ago, this beat-up old table was left behind.
I’ve started and stopped a few different essays for this month’s newsletter...one on the importance of honesty, one on growth mindset, one on what we all can learn from 2020. But none of them seemed quite right. It’s easy for me to sit here in my comfy warm living room and pontificate about what WE can learn from this experience, but everything I wrote rang hollow. There are so many people who lost so much this last year-- family, friends, relationships, jobs, homes, community. So it feels quite arrogant for me to think I have anything worthwhile to say that could sum up our collective experiences with 2020, because they have been wildly different. Sure, there are some common experiences -- zoom calls, empty toilet paper shelves, or the struggle to find the right mask. But as far as lessons learned, that is a very individual experience.
So I guess all I can really do that feels authentic is to share what I’ve learned, and hope that it resonates with a few of you out there -- recognizing that my experience is very different than that of so many others. So here are just a few of the many lessons I am learning.
Lesson 1: The Little Things
Every year at Christmas time, our good friend Scott sends out a Christmas letter unlike any Christmas letter I’ve ever received. In it, he chronicles the little things...things he noticed about his wife or kids that made him proud or made him laugh (usually the latter) -- things like maybe how his daughter pirouettes down the hallway or the way his son lays down next to the Malibu lights in their yard. This year, I am learning to be more like Scott...to notice and appreciate the little things. Bright pink sunrises, fresh green eggs, drizzly walks,the gift of art, the joy of Lauren’s shepherd’s pie, tuna sandwiches heavy on the relish with Mark, ridiculous zoom calls with my boys, Rammus’ specific bark when he sees Lauren. I resolve to continue to notice and cherish these small joys once things get busy again.
Lesson 2: Community
I’m inspired by the people in our community of Newberg/Dundee. I’ve watched them step up during this crisis, feeding people, organizing “gofundme”’s, opening their homes, supporting mental health, “pivoting” again and again. I am so grateful and inspired by their generosity and kindness. I am trying to be more like them. I have found some really amazing organizations to donate to (YCAP, Oregon Food Bank, World Central Kitchen, Legal Defense Fund are a few of my favorites) and have found great joy in being able to support their work. One of my favorite quotes by the great Dr King inspires me to do better: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
My community includes amazing and supportive family and friends, who I realize I have often taken for granted. I have watched the anguish of those who have lost loved ones and my heart aches. I can only pray that mine stay safe during this time. I am especially in awe of and grateful for my husband Mark, who is fixing our refrigerator as I write this and who works tirelessly to make our life together as fun, as meaningful, and as full of love as he can. He is a prince among men and I know that I am lucky (He says I should take this part out but I REFUSE!). I resolve to tell him (and all of my family) that I love them much more often.
Lesson 3: Truth = Growth
During my time as an English teacher, I was a big fan of “growth mindset.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it just means a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone, to take risks, to seek out more information, to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them. Someone with a “fixed mindset,” on the other hand, will blame others for their failure and see it as an indictment of their character or worth.
2020 was the ultimate “step out of our comfort zone” and I was so inspired by the successes -- Red Hills Market’s roller skating take out, Rosmarinos’ daily Instagram video describing their specials, Ruddick Wood feeding those who were evacuated from local fires -- and that’s just a few examples from this one community! There are so many others -- I’m sure you can think of a few yourself.
While there were many successes, there were also plenty of failures that we can learn from, mostly from our elected leaders, quite honestly, who tended to blame others and not address the problems we are facing in any meaningful way. Leaders who would hide the truth rather than admit a failure. I have realized that I would much rather be told a hard truth than live in a fantasy. With the truth, I can prepare, offer support, and do what I can to help. If I don’t know the extent of a problem, how can I prepare?
I resolve to approach 2021 with honesty and a growth mindset. To take a good long, honest look at myself and what I can improve. How can I do better? How can I be part of the solution? And I resolve to seek out the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Lesson 4: Speaking Up
I have been inspired this year by the many people who stood up to protest a wrong they saw in their community -- and I am so thankful for the mostly young voices that emerged to lead us in demanding a better world. I have been especially inspired by the courage of my shop partners John, Jeremi, and Zach and their willingness to call out a wrong, often receiving backlash or losing relationships in the process. Because it’s not easy to put your voice out there. I have very different views than some members of my family or some longtime friends, so I often stay silent in order to keep the peace. But I’m realizing that if I am silent in the face of injustice, I am complicit. So I resolve to speak up more, even at the risk of straining or losing some relationships.
So that there are just a few of the things I learned from 2020, with I’m sure more lessons to come in 2021. Thank you for indulging me.
Happy New Year friends! Wishing you a more gentle, calmer, kinder year!
This is certainly a holiday season like no other.
Usually, right after Thanksgiving -- after we’ve gathered with friends and family and stuffed ourselves with turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and the many many other required delicacies of the day -- we are off to the holiday shopping races, that frenzied time between Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa where we plan, and budget and make lists and shop and make cookies and send holiday cards and shop more and gather for parties and eat more and drink more and shop just a little more and keep going, going, going until we finally flop in front of the tv on New Year’s morning half watching football in between naps and shoving those chips and dips and an occasional carrot stick into our yawning mouths. Exhausted. And many of us promise that next year we will focus on what is really important, make more of our gifts, send more than just a photo card, slow down and really savor the season.
Could it be that the universe is calling our bluff?
With so much uncertainty and so much pain, it’s hard to fall back into those habits of yore. We hear about a neighbor’s father passing away or a friend losing their job or the former roommate who has COVID and it’s hard sometimes to even feel festive at all. We are asked to stay home, to social distance, to wear masks and it all starts to wear on us. And it’s hard to imagine that anything good could come from such a time. But really, if you think about it, we have been given the opportunity to rethink our lives, including how we do this holiday season -- and actually do things differently this year. Maybe this year, the focus won’t be on the giving of the traditional mall-bought gifts, but on giving in other forms-- by giving of ourselves, our prayers, our care, our attention, our talents, as well as by the thoughtful and generous giving of our resources -- to the local food bank, to local businesses, to the family in need, to family support organizations. Perhaps our greatest gift to those around us, especially to our exhausted health care workers and our most vulnerable citizens, is to stay home as much as possible and wear a mask if we must be out. We often talk of sacrificial giving -- but this year that has taken on a whole different meaning. Because this year it's not just about what we do for others, but what we don't do. Yes, this is hard. We just want to live our lives and be with our loved ones and have our holiday parties. But this is a time where we really get to put our love into action -- or inaction whatever the case may be.
So while I will certainly miss some of the usual festivities during this time, I am going to savor the stillness and the time for reflection, and really focus on why we celebrate this time rather than how. And then when we all gather together next year, what a celebration we will have!
Stay safe, be well, savor the season, and Happy Holidays.
Just a few short months ago, in February to be exact, I learned that a tiny little shop in an alley in Newberg, situated between a Pizza place and an acupuncturist, was about to become available. I knew this because this was the tiny little salon I had been going to for the last few years and my hair stylist told me she was moving to a bigger space. Immediately, the wheels started turning -- because the first time I had walked into this space I had looked around and thought it was just about the perfect size for a lavender shop. So the next day I contacted the landlord, told him I was interested, and immediately started freaking out. This was a big commitment after all. I would be tied to the shop, I’d need to work all the time to keep it stocked, I’d have to remodel -- what in the world was I thinking? But I kept pushing forward.
I imagined that I could sell local flowers along with my lavender products, and I just so happened to know a couple of amazing flower farmers, John Peterson and Jeremi Carroll of Pollinate Flowers, who also happened to be neighbors. So I texted John and told him that I was thinking about opening a little shop and would they be interested in selling their flowers wholesale to me. He texted back a few minutes later asking, “Would you be interested in a partner?” I immediately texted back, “Yes I would.” This was one of the quickest and best decisions I’ve ever made. And together we moved forward.
On March 1 I signed the lease and picked up the keys and the shop was ours. On March 13th, schools shut down and on March 23rd our world came to a screeching halt. COVID had hit Oregon and our dream of opening our shop on May 1 (May Day) was put on hold. But as we looked around at the teal ceiling, the pink chandeliers, the warped white floor, and the light mustard colored walls, we figured that while we were waiting for the world to open back up, we might as well remodel. So we planned and dreamed and Pinterested our way into a look that we all loved and then with the incredible talent, vision, and crucial guidance of another member of the Pollinate team, Zach Goff, we started to work demo-ing, painting, building, and sewing so that we could keep moving forward.
In June, before masks were mandated, we very tentatively and partially opened our doors, wearing our masks and setting up tables at the entrance to the shop so that visitors could see our products and could purchase what they wanted. A few weeks later, once masks were required statewide, we were able to fully open our shop. We couldn’t be more pleased. One side of the shop carries Little Lavender Farm products and the other side carries Pollinate flowers. We share expenses and take turns manning the shop, which allows us time to work on our farms. This has been such a wonderful experience with such generous, supportive, community-minded partners as we’ve worked together to make our dream of bringing a little beauty and comfort into this world a reality.
Now we’re into September and just last week, the final touches to the outside of our shop were finished and the remodel of our shop was complete. And this week Oregon has been on fire. And once again our hearts break for the pain and sadness that we see around us. But we will lock arms and together we will all keep pushing forward, helping and supporting each other along the way. Because we are all part of the same family, and that's what family does.
You know all of those sayings and quotes about dogs that you’ve read over the years? All of them are true. Yes all of them. Yes, dogs are our best friends. Yes, all dogs go to heaven. Etc...
Case in point: Mornings start with Henry, our white Lab, politely barking (just one short bark) that it’s time to get up because he needs to get fed. I walk out to the living room where they sleep and they both greet me with barks and wagging tails, but Henry throws in his “bucking bronco” dance, bouncing back and forth, tailing wagging, tongue hanging out. After we’ve all had our breakfast, I open the back door and announce that it’s “time to feed the goats!” and Rammus just about pops a gasket with his high pitched and very loud barking, acting as if this is the very best part of his day, and then runs just a little ahead of me to clear the way, running back and forth between the goats and the chickens, giant dog smile on his face.. Henry trots more slowly behind us, pausing somewhere between the house and the barn because he has found something to nibble on -- blackberries, grass, goat poop…anything really. Henry lives for food; Rammus lives for his “job.” As the day progresses, everywhere I go around the farm, they are right there by my side -- standing guard as I work in the field, walking right next to me as I am doing my chores, and laying right next to my feet when I’m reading or watching TV. Sometimes I talk to them about what’s on my mind, and they listen politely (and as if I have just said the most profound thing ever!), and sometimes we just hang out. And when the day is done and it’s time for bed, all I say is “OK boys, it’s time for sleeping,” and they get up and walk over to their beds.
These two sweet puppies are my daily companions, protectors, confidantes, and comic relief. How is it even possible to have a bad day with two such loving souls by my side? I don’t know that we deserve these benevolent, loyal, loving creatures, but a big shout out to the Creator, for knowing we would need such steadfast companionship on our turbulent human journey.
Living most of my life in Southern California, first in the Mojave Desert and then in San Diego, I had always wanted to live someplace where it rained more than twice a year (a slight exaggeration, but not by much). I can remember running outside when it rained, lifting my face up to the sky, and then jumping in a few puddles (even as an adult). I became a bit of a weather geek, watching the weather forecast constantly, hoping for a "chance of precipitation" in the five-day forecast, and becoming very grumpy if that chance dissipated, as it often did. The light mist of a foggy morning didn’t cut it for me. I wanted rain, real rain, pounding rain, saturating rain. Rain that would soak everything, running off of the house onto the pavement, rain that I could hear on the roof and that made me suck in my breath with the power of it.
When we moved to Oregon, I got my wish.
She’d been struggling for a while. She’d just ended a tough relationship and quit a soul sucking job with a racist, homophobic, misogynistic boss. She’d tried all the things you’re supposed to try -- exercising, no alcohol, eating well -- and nothing was working. She was depleted and had nothing left with which to fight the darkness that was overtaking her. Life seemed pointless. She didn’t want a therapist. They didn’t seem to help. And she didn’t want meds because the last time she tried them, they made her feel even worse. Maybe only if she was desperate. So I talked to her when she wanted to talk and hugged her when she couldn’t talk. I told her I would be there no matter what, that I loved her, that she was amazing and smart and beautiful and that her path would emerge if she kept forging ahead. And she limped along.
But finally one day she was desperate. She wanted -- no, she needed -- to talk to someone. But the therapists she contacted couldn’t get her in for another two weeks. She couldn’t wait two weeks. She needed to talk to someone now. And maybe she would consider trying meds again. Anything had to be better than this.
So we drove to a hospital emergency room about 20 miles away that had mental health services. She got out of the car looking scared, defeated, exhausted. We walked in together and talked to a receiving attendee -- very nice, very attentive, very understanding. And he walked her through the options. If she wanted to talk to someone today, she would need to check in. But something spooked her. She hesitated and moved over to a couch to think about it. A nurse was sent over to talk with her. Yes, there was the possibility that they might admit her. Yes...even if she didn’t want to be admitted. That probably wouldn’t happen, but no guarantees.
This, understandably, terrified her. Yet another area of her life where she felt that she didn’t have control. She balked. She stepped outside of the admitting room and into the hallway, standing against a white pillar along the wall. Crying.
I went back inside to talk to the nurse and ask a few more questions. What if I took responsibility for her? Could she be released into my care instead of being admitted? Again, that’s a possibility, but no guarantees.
I stepped out of the admitting room into the hallway to see her still crying, leaning against that pillar for support. And then I saw a small woman with long dark hair in a long colorful skirt stop by her side. The woman held out a bouquet of home-grown red roses, giving them to her, along with a hug. And then the woman walked away. This was maybe a 10 second interaction. A 10 second angel sent from heaven. I’m not sure what the woman said, or if the woman said anything at all. But when I walked up, she was still sobbing -- but not the sobbing of someone in pain. Instead, it was the sobbing of someone who has just experienced something beautiful and pure. It was the sobbing of someone realizing that there was still goodness and hope in the world.
What happened after that doesn’t matter. What matters is that some sweet soul saw a young woman crying in a hallway in a hospital and gave her hope in the form of flowers and love in the form of a hug. What caused the woman to do that? What motivated her to cut flowers from her garden and then walk through the hospital on that particular day? Does she even know the impact she had? What a generous, loving thing to do. I wish I could thank her. But since I can’t, I send up a prayer of blessing to her every time I think of this, which is often.
Today I received a Christmas card from my sister with these words inscribed on the back: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love” ~Mother Teresa. What that sweet woman did was a small thing, but it was done with such great love. And it made all of the difference.
So as this year comes to a close, and I think about the things I am grateful for, at the top of my list is that sweet little woman with home-grown roses who made the world a better place and changed someone’s life simply because of the flowers she grew and then gave away on that one day in 2018 to that one person. And this is something I will take with me into the new year -- to remember that any kindness, no matter how small it may seem to me, could be life-changing for someone else.
I was about 10 when I first met Uncle Jimmy. I don’t remember ever even hearing about Jimmy until one day in the car-ride over to one of our much anticipated trips to my grandparents’ house, Mom and Dad tried to explain that we’d be meeting Dad’s younger brother and that he was different and that we should all be very kind to him. I really didn’t understand what “different” meant as my exposure to different had been pretty limited in my small-town, Catholic school childhood. So when we walked in Grandma’s front door, I wasn’t prepared for the grown man that came walking over with short, quick steps and extended his hand to my Dad. “How do Brother John” Jimmy said with a big toothless grin. After my dad said hello and shook hands with his brother, my dad turned to all of us and introduced us to Jimmy. I remember shaking his smooth, limp hand as he said “How do Pammy.”
Jimmy was indeed different. I starred, I’m sure a little too long and intently, at my uncle, a tall lanky man with questionmark posture, his pants hiked up a little too far over his white button-up shirt, and his hair combed over and plastered down like a young boy’s. He was like no grown-up I’d ever met before. Grandma tried to explain. “When he was only two,” she said,” Jimmy got very sick -- so sick that his brain stopped growing and got stuck. He’s been about 2 ½ or 3 for his whole life.”
Greetings friends! Wishing you the peace, love, and joy of this holiday season!
As this year comes to a close, it provides a time for reflection about what this year has held for us. And it’s been a doozy. There are been times of great joy and excitement, but there have also been times of great heartbreak and sadness. I guess let’s start with the bad first...
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife /English teacher and lavender farmer located in Dundee, Oregon.