30 March 2009

In One Moment

It is becoming more beautiful and warm every day here in wine country, feeling more and more like a new season - it's light when we wake and when we finish dinner, and we can walk around outside barefoot. It's a happy time, a transformative time.

I have thought a lot in the last week or so about death and grief. The weekend before last, four police officers in Oakland were murdered by a man who was then shot and killed by police. It was a shockingly violent event, even though we have become accustomed to hearing about hatred and violence and general disregard for human life.

That same day there was a private plane crash in Montana that killed three young families from here in Northern California. Three whole families were gone in an instant as their plane nosedived to the ground. Two of them had two children each and one had three. It is difficult to wrap my mind around what that scale of death means because, while we hear about intense violence every day from other parts of the world, these families lived mere hours from me. Their photos looked like photos of my family 25 years ago. I can relate to what their lives were like before they got on that plane, and that makes what happened after harder to comprehend.

This past Wednesday I went to the second weekly meeting of my 8-week group grief counseling program, where I sit for two and a half hours with other people in various stages of grief. This last time I felt like I actually started to get to know, and like, some of the other group members, although our backgrounds and "grief stories" are all drastically different. I think my participation in these sessions might be able to explain how I've been processing this recent series of sudden, local, and publicized deaths. I've found myself pondering much more the ones left behind - the sister, wife, and father of a policeman who died, the siblings or colleagues of the families on the plane, the mutual friends of those families, the police officers who were in the same units as the ones who were killed, and the family of the man who killed the police officers.

How does one process shock and the early stages of grief when it is seems so collective? The funeral for the policeman in Oakland more than filled the arena where it was held (that normally houses basketball games or massive concerts); so much so that there was overflow into the adjacent coliseum. News reports of the plane crash are still in the paper and on the air. While the public has moved on to dissecting the why's and the hows (Why was this man out on parole? Why did the plane change its destination at the last minute?), I know those who grieve for the ones gone are still just trying to survive each day.

The way I processed the juxtaposition of spring, with all its glorious sunshine, warmth, and blossoms, with the darkness of the violent deaths of my Northern California neighbors was as an observer. I do not grieve for the ones who died yet neither do I feel completely outside of the experience. I felt like I was standing back and watching two different screens of reality put on top of one another to create a completely different image, but yet the images and I are within the same warm bright pocket that is spring. For me it was a new sensation; rather than just feeling or thinking it was an interesting combination of the two.

I hope for the families of all those that were killed that even for just a moment they have been able to turn their faces upward and feel the warmth coming from above.

28 March 2009

Tail Wag Friends

Quick thought:
Does everyone have friends that they are so excited about it's like a present every time they hear from them? I hope so because it's a beautiful thing.
There are a handful of people in my life that I feel like my tail wags when I just think about us being friends. I don't question that I like them but I like them SO much that the fact that they seem to like me too makes my tail go wiggidy wag.
Just a text message, a quick email, an unexpected phone call, whatever, from certain people and I feel like a girl in high school who just got asked to the prom.
I'm a lucky lucky girl.

26 March 2009

I'm a Fan

I love music.
I am not even close to being any kind of music expert or aficionado, but I think there are almost zero situations that music can't improve upon.
(I have a healthy appreciate for silence too, but that's a whole other blog.)

I love that people still make music because it's what they're pulled to do. That is ultimately where the best music comes from. I love seeing music performed live, be it in a smokey bar with three other patrons, on a sweaty stage with beer warming in the plastic cup in my hand because we're outside in august, or in a stadium with thousands of others - there is little that can rival the magic of watching stand up and perform.

I think it is important to go and see people perform the music they've made when they are still working day jobs and pulling it together to tour and just trying to make it happen. Because you know they are putting their hearts into it, that it matters. And if you end up not liking the music, hey, you probably didn't spend more than maybe $10 and a couple beers (if that).

I know a guy that one might call an 'up and comer' in the music world. I first heard of him because my brother played the drums in his band off and on, so I started listening to him about a year or so ago. He writes and plays his own music and I swear he reminds me of Bob Dylan sometimes, only way sexier (taller and he's got some sweet boots, and a really cute puppy named Waylon.)

So, if you're in the mood to support some music that doesn't have big money behind it and is actually good shit, check him out. I've seen him perform on a casual occasion or two and can't wait to see him on an actual stage one of these days, so if he's in your town you should go and let me know how much fun you had. Nathan Xander is a kid with talent and heart and I bet you won't regret it.

In the meantime, listen to him and maybe even buy a song or two (or, even better, the whole album - I've had it on repeat in my car the last few weeks.)

This is a great review and describes almost perfectly how I feel about this music.
Another Nice Review

20 March 2009

Letter to My Brother

March 20, 2009

Dear Brendan,

Happy Birthday. You would have turned 25 today.
It falls on a Friday this year, and I think you would have made a party out of it. Last year on your birthday you played in a show and you posted a comment to me about it. I remember saying something like, "Man I would love to but it's gonna be tough to get to from California." You'd probably do something much the same this year, drink some beer, maybe play some music. I'd call you at some point during the day and I'd do that creepy happy birthday singing thing I like to do to you and Megan to creep you out and make you laugh because I keep it going just long enough to make it awkward. You'd answer the phone saying, "Hiiii Sister!" because that's what you did, to both Megan and I and man I know we both loved it. You were our baby and you really could do no wrong. I know you'd have friends around you to celebrate and you'd probably get drunk and stay out late putting stickers all over your city. At some point today you'd probably think about the fact that you are a quarter of a century old now (because I'm sure that's how dad would remark upon that milestone). I'd probably tease you about being closer to 30 than 20, and then make it about me by whining about how I can't believe my little brother is so big and grown up. Your hair would have noticeably receded by now so I'm sure I would tease you about that too, because I could, because I'm your big sister and that's my right.
So Happy Birthday Brendan. I can't believe how old we're getting. I can't believe you're gone.


Your little big sister, Caitlin

19 March 2009

Spring is Springing and making me thirsty

Spring is popping out everywhere I look and the hope and beauty of this season are intoxicating. I'm intoxicated.

And really excited for summer eating and drinking...


This is a drink everyone should try:
THE RIDGELY (named for my uncle, who invented it)
-glass full of ice
-Mount Gay Rum
-equal parts (Schweppe's) ginger ale and tonic water
-fresh lime juice - squeeze some right in there and then drop the lime in.

My standard drink is usually a vodka tonic or dirty martini, but this is a cocktail that just makes me smile. By the pool, before dinner, whenever, it's a party in my mouth. I love cocktails and this is a goodun'.


The chickens are laying like crazy and for the first time today I actually witnessed a chicken lay an egg. I was scooping eggs from the neighboring coop when I noticed sort of a fluttering noise coming from this nesting chickens rear end. I watched for minute, it half stood up, and out popped an egg. Pretty incredible.
After the hen hopped down I gathered the eggs, brought them inside, and Megan excitedly cooked the freshest one (which also happened to be the biggest and bluest) for her lunch.

My sister is visiting me in California, and as expected she has already blessed me with some priceless nuggets that I feel the need to record for posterity:

"I just need big paper to make this thing happen."
- Megan, referring to assistance she provided to a school focus group.)

"I'll go. I don't understand derivatives, but that's ok."
- Megan, after reading about how Teasury Secretary Timothy Geithner doesn't have the administrative support he needs because of all the vetting problems.

14 March 2009

Saturday The 14th

Today is Saturday the 14th, which means yesterday was a Friday the 13th.

As with every other Friday the 13th I can remember since high school, people seemed to use it as a reason to celebrate, maybe go a little crazy.

The 14th of June last year was a Saturday, preceded, as always, by a Friday the 13th. Like yesterday, there was a stir because of the connotations of this day and date.
It ended up being a calm, boring night for my girlfriend and I, going out for a while but being home before midnight.
Around midnight Pacific time we went to pick up her roommate whose car hadn't started, which was about the same time my little brother was being pronounced dead after being stabbed in the chest, in an alley in Chicago.

I of course didn't know this until the next morning. I walked into my aunt and uncles house just before 8am that morning of Saturday June 14th with lattes and a smile on my face; it was a beautiful morning and we were about to do the local farmers market.

My aunt was holding the phone in her had and looked at me as I walked in; I don't remember anything out of the ordinary other than her not being busy with something. My uncle stayed just out of sight right around the corner as she reached the phone towards me and said, "You have to call your mom and dad..." and then she put both arms around me as I did.

My father answered the phone right away in what sounded to me like a normal voice. I remember thinking "It must be Grandma..." and then my daddy said "Honey it's really bad." I said, "Ok." I didn't hear my mother's voice but I knew she was also on the other end of the line. Dad paused and said, "Brendan was killed last night..." and then it all gets pretty black.

I know my aunt and uncle were both standing there when I dropped the phone (I remember having this feeling that the phone was heavy and it just leaving my hands). When I dropped to the ground I remember both of their bodies holding me. They were sitting somehow behind me and next to me on the floor and the first thing I remember being able to focus on was the phone on the floor a couple feet in front of me, and I wondered if my father had hung up. Some matter of time later when my uncle picked up the phone and handed it back to me I remember feeling surprised that my parents were still on the line. That was the first moment I heard my mothers voice, but it was the sound of her crying.

I've often wondered, morbidly maybe, what it all looked like from the outside. What sounds I made, what I said, how long I was on the floor, how did my aunt and uncle get down there with me... I know it wouldn't bring any comfort but I am curious.

The holidays and birthdays, the weddings and babies and funerals, the birth and death dates of the deceased (especially if they were young and it was sudden) - those are the events when you think people are thinking of the ones who died. This is true, of course. But in fact it is every day, almost every phase of every day, when I am thinking about Brendan, punctuated by the "important dates", which for me now include Fridays that fall on a 13th day. Every Friday the 13th now when people are getting ready to get into some troublesome fun, I will be remembering the last moment, the last breath I took before my heart broke on a Saturday the 14th.

13 March 2009


Some recent things that have made me smile:

I received this text a few hours ago from my sister:
"Fucking flight delayed 2 fucking hours. But i'm pretty sure i just bumped into maggie gyllenhal asking her kid if she needed to take a poopie"


I also had the prettiest breakfast today, and it was pretty tasty too:

Plain yogurt with plain almonds with honey drizzled over it. Sour/tangy, savory/creamy, sweet, beautiful.


The puppy is having a grand old time as it warms up and is raining less - more fetching time, more mud to roll in. This made me laugh off and on all evening yesterday:

09 March 2009


I walked in the house yesterday afternoon after getting back from out of town and the first thing I saw was two piggies in a cage.

I know, living on a farm in wine country, I experience a lot of things that would seem unusual to most of my contemporaries. However, piglets in a cage in the entryway of the house threw me for a loop.

At first, I thought maybe the farm cats they'd been talking about getting had arrived until I heard the small grunting noises coming from the cage. Then I noticed that they were not cats, not kittens, not a new puppy, not even a duck (which wouldn't be the first time, since my ex decided it was a good idea to get pet ducks and have them live in our garage.) Nope, they were indeed little black and white piglets. Piggies. Swine.

Now, my family here and the farm manager raise pigs for food; they get them as younguns and then they grow up in a big pen up towards the top of the hill, rooting in the mud and eating food scraps to their hearts content. However, there is a distinct difference between FARM animals and pets, and never did I ever think a pig would come into the house unless it was in pork form.

Turns out, some friends were hunting boar and grazed a sow, and then rescued the babies. Since these friends live in the city during the week and the piglets need to be feed every couple hours, my uncle said, "Sure!" without really thinking about the maintenance that goes into to caring for a baby piglet.

I had the great idea last night after a cocktail party/pig roast (Ha! I just noted the irony) that I could just wrap the little guys in a towel, a swaddling per say, and get them to feed that way. This is when my Uncles' conjecture that "These are not cuddly fellas..." was proven true. Two pounds of pure muscle can wriggle like hell, and the term "squeal like a pig" has a whole new meaning for me. Needless to say, I ended up with more goats milk on me than on the pigs face, and certainly more than in the pigs belly since it was too busy spazzing out to actually drink any.

Lessons learned:
Pigs are, indeed, not cuddly; Piglets in a cage confuse pet dogs; Goats' milk mixed with piggy spit is not a good smell.

03 March 2009

It's raining hard outside right now. There is a frog (toad?) croaking directly behind my bedroom window, and it is such a happy sound.

I have always loved rainstorms. There is something about being inside, sheltered, when nature is letting loose that I find incredibly appealing. There is a comfort, a safeness that this brings that is incomparable to anything else.

One of the things I miss about Wisconsin is the summer thunderstorms. When it is so hot and muggy, and then finally the sky opens up with pounding rain and thunder and lightening... I love that. I used to get a blanket and sit on my parents screened in porch just to be as close as possible while still being sheltered. I could feel the spray of the wind through the rain on me, and the power of the thunderclaps through the cement, and I remember feeling so calm and peaceful in the middle of that.

01 March 2009

Gratitude and Awe

Warning: What follows is on the mushy mush side, so consider yourself warned...

I've had a rough couple of weeks.

I have been feeling more fragile since I have been since last summer, and everything has been hitting me harder. It really kinda feels like the world is falling apart, got some bad news regarding the murder trial for my brother's death, and to top it off I had some sort of back spasm that resulted in me being in pain for the better part of this week.

Yet there is such undeniable beauty and love around me that it can't help but filter through my clouds - I am so thankful.

I spoke with my mother last weekend on her birthday and I got off the phone choked up because I love her so much, and because I get to have her love me too. We haven't always had the easiest of relationships (basically, 6th through 12th grade had some pretty rough spots) but she is one of the more amazing women that has ever walked this planet. She has survived unimaginable heartbreak, more than one time, and still loves us fiercely and beautifully.

I had talked to my aunt and uncle last night for about an hour about my mental/emotional state, and I am still so in awe of the love and support and advice that they give me so freely, so generously. They have been my soft place to land in some situations that could have been so much more horrible. AND I get to see them every day and learn from these two incredible people.

Today I drove down to the city just to spend the evening with a group of friends at a barbecue at a beautiful house on a hill. This is an incredible group that is made up mostly of people that I grew up with in Wisconsin who have ended up in northern California. Most of us have known each other since 9th grade, if not before, and we've traveled wildly different paths to get here. Some are married, some in grad school, and we are about to add the first baby to the group! We manage to get together every few months or so and it never fails to be damn good time that I never want to end. They are such different and interesting and good people, and I get to be included. I just love that. My stomach always hurts after these gatherings from laughing so much.

I went out last night with two best friends and I just had so much fun. Drinking, laughing, flirting, being a big fishy in a tiny tiny pond. The hangover was so worth it. Krystal told me today that the best part of last night was seeing me laugh and just be Caitlin, having fun. And I just did - after talking to auntie and uncle and being with my girlfriends I was able to shake off some of this weight and feel good. (Even if it was party fueled by booze and the weight comes right back tomorrow, it was so worth it.)

Shortly after Brendan died I told someone that I didn't believe in a god, but if I'd ever seen God, it was in the love and support that carried my family through those first weeks. I'm expanding that. I still see whatever That is in the people I am so unbelievably fortunate to have in my life.