A Life In Pictures

I was born in a small Oregon town chiefly famous for its massive lumber mill, where both my father and grandfather were lifetime employees.

I entered the world after a heinous 36-hour labor, and according to my mother, looked just like the Gerber Baby. I was my parent’s first child, and the first grandchild on both sides of the family. I was also the catalyst for a teenage shotgun wedding!

Mom wanted to name me Crystal Amber, but my grandmother told her, “If you name that child Crystal Amber, I will not love her.” So I became

Christina Ann

 

Three years later, my baby brother was born. His labor was shorter than mine, but no easier: he’s a whopping 11 pounds.

Mom wanted to name him Michael Ulysses, but once again was foiled by grandparents, this time the sight of my grandfather’s puppy dog eyes. She follows the family tradition of naming all first born sons Jerry, and he becomes

Jerry Michael

Two years after Michael is born, mom and dad divorce. We soon move to California, destined for a tiny mountain town in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains of no more than a handful of residents. Nevertheless, our family is instantly convinced that we will die in a horrible gang related shooting, and put the fear into us before we go. The first winter, it snows a dramatic (and it turns out rather unusual) 6 feet of snow overnight. We’re thus primed for years of future winter disappointment. 

We spend our summers in Oregon with dad and family, camping and riding ATVs on the sand dunes. In California, I experience my first job, crush, kiss, heartbreak, drunken party, and massive hangover – in that order. I am a girl scout with my best friends, and we travel to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. I read trashy romances late into nights, and I know all the words to Top Gun. Michael is accidentally caught in the middle of a fight between two older boys, and is kicked in the chest, sparking a terrifying asthma attack. He is rushed to Children’s Hospital in a helicopter. He thought this was pretty cool.

Eventually, we move to Washington State. I do very badly with a mid-high school move and have trouble making friends. Mom meets and shacks up with Mr. Foley, and he turns out to be a genuinely nice man. I learn to drive and buy my first car. Nirvana makes its monumental entrance into the world right under our noses. I have graduated from romance novels to history, and want to travel the world; a feeling that persists throughout my life.

I graduate high school and roommate with two old friends from California, who have moved to Washington. I spend the next year experiencing my first taste of adult freedom; reckless, ebullient, and full of life. Eventually, they decide, not without merit, that Washington is a soggy, backwoods disaster, and they return to California. I stay behind to start college, but it is short lived…

In Oregon, my beloved father dies in a car accident while driving home alone from a fishing trip. I am overcome by grief. I abandon Washington to move back in with my friends in California. However, I am struggling with dad’s death, and not doing well.

I wear his locket around my neck for years after.

I stay in California, working at a coffee shop and making many new friends. One of them, Maryanne tells me about a friend of hers, Chris, who is traveling to Europe in September. She thinks I would like him, and she knows I want to travel. She suggests I speak with him, and I do. He’s a musician, with blonde hair and green eyes that crinkle with laughter.

He and I agree to meet in Europe to travel together. He leaves in November, and I’m to join him in December, but he unexpectedly has to cut his trip short. Despite the prospect of going to Europe alone filling me with fear, I decide to go anyway.

I get scammed for 20 pounds my first night in London, and tell my hostel mates about it. One of them, Jacob, says he’ll show me about the next day. He introduces me to the local’s version of pub crawling, where I happily discover hard cider.

Gaining confidence, I tour the city by myself, visiting Hampton Court Palace where Anne Boleyn lived, and the Tower where she lost her head. I tour the Cathedral in Bath and watch my first play at the Theatre Royal. On a whim, I take a flight to Amsterdam, where the weather is so bitterly cold that the canals are frozen solid, with frozen fish visible beneath the ice. I tour the Red Light District and a local coffee shop, then take a train to Brugge, where I go on a bus tour of WWII bunkers and cemeteries, then finish with a Belgian chocolate and brewery tour. Everything is cobblestone roads and ancient architecture.

By American standards I am certainly no beauty, but wherever I go in Europe, I find myself inexplicably pursued by men. I mention this to Chris on the phone and instead of scoffing, he says, “You’re a walking Venus,” matter-of-factly, without any hint of sarcasm. I am surprised and charmed by his simple kindness, honesty, and humor. I don’t know it yet, but I will spend the rest of my life with him.

Chris and I move in together, living with my mother and brother in Washington. After Chris cooks coconut shrimp for her, she declares him a catch. He buys an old Chevy van that we use to tour Olympic National Park, a gorgeous place of deep old growth forest set beside the chilly, rough northern ocean. But as summer passes and Washington’s rainy season begins, we both grow increasingly dissatisfied. We decide to move back to California where we met, and get a little place on the lake. I go to my first music concert, Jamiroquai, and we smoke a lot of weed while playing Nintendo and generally getting to know each other.

We adopt a wee grey kitten. At first, we think she is a boy and name her Tobias. A week later, the vet reveals she is a girl, and we’re so confused that we just end up calling her Miss Kitty for the rest of her life. She likes to play catch, sometimes fetching like a dog, and will walk on a leash. She earns a reputation for slinking up to friends with a come-hither look in her eye, only to lash out with her claws when the visitor reaches out to pet her with a lightning speed slash that strikes fear into the heart of all who enter our home. We adore her.

Maryanne, who introduced us, briefly moves in with us, bringing her two enormous cats. They terrorize Miss Kitty, but she gets her revenge by eating Maryann’s hair while she sleeps.

We scrimp and save to afford a vacation in Maui. We eat the best, freshest sushi of our lives, drive up to the top of Haleakala to watch the sunrise, snorkel off Molokini, and drive the winding road to Hana. 

Eventually we decide it’s time to get serious, and move to Santa Rosa to attend the JC. I take a photography class there that fosters my lifelong love, and changes the direction of our lives. We live in a small upstairs apartment. The neighboring roof acts as a giant balcony where Miss Kitty likes to sunbathe. I get a job at MIXX Restaurant, where I get my first taste of expertly prepared California Cuisine and sample the wines of Napa Valley. This begins a love affair with gourmet that will be one of Chris’s and my chief pleasures in life.

I am introduced to the MMO Everquest, and begin playing as Scarabae Calliste, aka Red, a wood elf ranger with the guild Sphere of Transcendence. 

Following my passion for photography, we move to Santa Barbara so I can attend Brooks Institute of Photography. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived, I am enchanted by the beach, warm weather, restaurants, culture, and vibe, but the cost of living is exorbitant.

While at Brooks, I start an internship in the web design division of a local company. A few months pass, and the manager of the division quits. I am offered his position and remain there, first in the Santa Barbara office, then later via telecommuting, for the next 12 years. 

Eventually I graduate from Brooks with a doctor’s worth of school debt, and a good deal less enthusiasm than I started with. I quit Everquest and begin playing World of Warcraft as Luxe, a blood elf mage with the guild Blackwatch.

After 10 years of bumping around the planet together, we tie the knot in Montecito at The Barefoot Wedding. We honeymoon in Ojai, at a fancy golf course where we don’t golf at all, but rather zip around the property in our golf cart, hang out in the spa, enjoy breakfast in bed, and play lots of Lego Star Wars. Glorious!

Following gold, we move to Palm Springs. I begin working from home, and Chris delves far into the world of schlepping booze. We eat well, spend time in the pool, attend the Palm Springs Film Festival, ride ATV’s at Algodones Dunes, tour Joshua Tree National Park, and drive around in Idylwyld. It is a lovely area full of sights and tasty treats.

My grandma on my mother’s side passes away after a wasting battle with lung cancer. I was never terribly close to her, but I admired her firecracker spirit and loved visiting her garlic farm, where I learned to braid garlic. She married several times, had 5 children, and generally did as she pleased. Her death is a great blow to my mother.

We vacation in Mexico: Pyramids, Cenotes, Mole, Diarrhea! Yeah! 

And in Hawaii again, this time to The Big Island with the family: Fresh Fish, Kayaking, Boat Tour, Kona Coffee, Locals Drunkenly Arguing Into The Night, “You evil!” “No, you evil! You go now!”

To be closer to family, we move to Placerville. We love picking blueberries at the local U-Pick farms and dream of owning our own land. It’s lovely being close enough to family to spend Holidays, but we also chafe at the small town limitations. 

My granny on my father’s side passes away suddenly. We had been very close during those childhood summers in Oregon, but I had not seen her for many years. She never recovered from dad’s passing, and I am heartsick at having not visited her more often before her last days.

That same year, after 14 years of cuddles and scratches, Miss Kitty passes on to Kitty Heaven. We’re devastated.

We take an epic vacation in France. Chris’s association with the wine business gives us access to private cave tours and dinner with Edouard Nazelle of Veuve Clicquot. Not to brag or anything, but we small town hippies were completely out of our element. We visit: Veuve Clicquot, Dom Perignon, Grivot, Romanee Conti vineyards, Michele Cluizel, the Louve, Gordes, Notre Dame, and an endless array of restaurants, bakeries, charcuterie, and patisserie.

Think a simple lunch of ham and eggs can’t be the most transcendental meal you have ever experienced in your entire life, such that you can’t even explain it to people later, and wonder if that shit wasn’t spiked with acid? Think again. And don’t even get me started on random, everyday roadside bakeries of no particular note that serve pastries and quiche so good that it’s just confusing.

However, if a French server tells you that Americans don’t normally like the dish you just ordered…believe him. It is almost certainly 50% feces. And don’t even try to order American style breakfast, unless you want to be told, in the most dismissive manner imaginable, “No, c’est impossible.” Unless you do want that. It’s charming and delightful. Fuck, I love that country.

Once again following gold, we move to Las Vegas to pursue Chris’s short-lived career working for Douchebag Dan. We take up hiking in Red Rock and The Valley of Fire, become addicted to ramen, and die over mashed potatoes at Joel Robuchon and chicken at Bouchon. And discover that Mario Batali is a fucking fraud.

Over the years, we visit: Napa! Yosemite with the Boy! Phoenix and the botanical garden! Washington DC!

Following the unsurprising discovery that Douchebag Dan is indeed a douchebag, we move to Reno to be near family and open our first business. We also adopt a little insect eating, leg batting, food beasting, silky soft black kitty who warms laps and bevomits carpets: Lotus of Loud Ninja Clan, aka, Bug.

After several years working on the biz without rest, we sneak away for a mini vacation to our old stomping grounds in Santa Rosa. We visit our old JC, Bodega Bay, Armstrong Redwoods, and Napa for Ad Hoc and Mustards Grill.

And we buy our first home! To embark on the joys of DIY renovation and a COVID victory garden.