Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Oh Goody, a Teenager

The biggest unknown for me had nothing to do with island life, living in the middle of nowhere, scratching out a living or even following my heart and getting married. I’ve done all those things before. I’ve taught hundreds of kids and taken in a few when life got rocky for them. But I never, ever wanted to be a parent, let alone a stepparent.

I dislike the term stepparent. The kid has two living sets of grandparents, a dad and a mom. I don’t think she needs any more parents. I’ve tried to be just Ti, who’s out here doing the best that she can, being some sort of adult role model.

The kid is now deep into being a teenager and her relationship with her dad is both persnickety and normal. I keep explaining to my husband that her behavior is perfectly OK, that I was every bit as snotty/nice when I was 16 and that we gals do move on (hopefully) to more balanced behavior. He admits abashedly that he was no angel as a teen himself.

They are yelling at each other downstairs right now. I am thinking of writing down every single word they say: recorded for all posterity. But I don’t dare. Who wants to be reminded of their teenage conversations?

One of my husband’s goals was to give the kid a more open and (warning -- teacher-ese!) student-centered educational experience and we have certainly done that. The island kids might complain about their tiny community and the crazy commute, but they certainly have unique experiences.

After eighth grade, it’s a toss-up as to what island kids do per school. Some kids are home-schooled, some do Running Start, some go to town, others go to the high school one island over, or fly to another high school three islands away.

We do a combination of home schooling and commuting by boat to one island over. It is only three miles by water, but in stormy conditions we might as well be going across the Bering Strait. We can’t wait for the fog to lift or the wind to subside: the school bus arrives at 8:05 AM and the school is a two-hour walk from the bus stop.

We just got a new elementary principal, a new middle-high school principal and a new Superintendent. The new high school schedule looks as complicated as a NASA launch sequence. But two more years and the kid graduates from high school—a big milestone, no matter how we get there.

2011 update: the new principal left, the new superintendant is leaving and high school one island over got too crazy. The kid—like Kristi’s kids Emily and Rose, opted for Running Start. She left just about a year ago to live in the city and pursue Running Start. I am still homeschooling from the island, though!

The Worst

While I’ve been here, a Baker’s Dozen—thirteen—of my friends have died. The first was Ellen, one of my closest confidantes, who inspired me to keep doing the computer giveaway and community work long after I would have quit in frustration.

I called her when I was in the throes of moving out of my apartment. She and her partner Pat dropped everything to help me out, just as they’d dropped everything the year before to be a witness at my wedding. She seemed a little “off”, a little cross with me, but I didn’t blame her.

Five months later she would be dead of a brain tumor.

I saw her the day before she slipped into a coma: brain-damaged, rambling, but still sounding like herself. I touched her shaved head, the stitches from the biopsy. She took both my hands in hers, looked into my eyes, concentrated hard and said, “Don’t worry,” then dropped my hands and wandered out to the patio.

Ellen and Pat had packed my computer and all its peripherals into boxes for transport to the island. After she died I noticed a note Ellen had scrawled in pencil on the inside of one of the boxes: “Tell Ti not to worry.”

I sat on this damn island and cried: ten minutes before I had learned that she’d left me enough money to make it through another few years. Thank you Ellen, for providing the means.

The last death was the first friend I’d made on the island. She was an artist, a master teacher, a woman with a goofy sense of humor and a knack for having fun. Her cabin was filled with her art and friends and laughter. She gently pushed me to be an artist: if I mentioned that I was having trouble with color theory, she brought information on color theory. When I wanted to take up encaustic work, she brought me a heat gun, a propane torch and her leftover beeswax. Above all, she encouraged me to keep taking pictures, hiring me to take photos of her friends, her time here on the island.

For months after her death, her cabin looked as it always had. How could someone so alive not be here anymore? Even now, though the cabin has been cleaned and cleared it’s hard to believe that she won’t be back next summer and the summer after that and on and on until we all go gently out on the ebbing tide. Thank you Lynne, for providing the way.

The Best

The Farmer’s Market is a new addition to our island life. It’s been very successful—beyond anything I imagined, both financially and socially. We are a talented group! There are usually a dozen or so vendors: quilters, bakers, potters, weavers, lithographers, and master gardeners. We have French fries, BBQ sandwiches, coffee, granola, strawberry lemonade, ice cream, jams, jellies, pickles, preserves and lavender syrup, a dozen kinds of chocolate treats and cinnamon rolls.

I sell garlic – boy, do I ever have garlic: fresh, pickled, in garlic butter and garlic sage salt. And I sell sheep. Those darn little felted sheep. And ugly carrots. When I first brought my dented, bent carrots to the Market, the other vendors teased me: “Got a little clay in your soil?” or “We call those horse carrots.” They were right. They had lovely, smooth, straight carrots. So I made up a sign that said:


(but sincere and tasty)


…and sold a few carrots every week. I started featuring the ugliest carrot of the week and the most obscene. I had some great conversations about carrots, especially with folks who asked if I had any beautiful but insincere and tasteless carrots.

I thought after five years on this island that I knew as much as I wanted to know about my neighbors. We saw each other often enough at potlucks and school events. But the Farmer’s Market brought us all together in a different way. Despite all the hard work getting ready for each market, I looked forward to seeing my neighbors and talking with customers. It’s the heart of my island life, my social life and my artist’s life and it’s just right.

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