Organic Watermelon

Into the Desert

When I was a student midwife, I went where the main midwife took me to assist her at births. So when we had to drive over an hour east of San Diego, a chaparral ecoregion covered in small shrubs and lots of desert sand inbetween, I sat back and enjoyed the view, talking about babies, breastfeeding and all things birthy. Another assistant was with us, too, so the three of us chattered during the drive.


When we got to the house, it was… not quite a mobile home, but more like a home built out of scrap materials. Well-made, but small and quite worn, probably by the wind and sand.

See the tiny house in the middle upper third of the picture? That is what it looked like driving to their house. That tiny dirt road was about 2 miles long.

The mom wanted to birth outside, so we set up the Fishy Pool for her.


If I recall correctly, we put more cold water in than hot because it was blazing outside. Flies and bees were everywhere, dive bombing us while we worked.

With Fishy Pools, unless someone had a washer and dryer hook-up, we had to carry pots, pans, coffee pots, etc. of hot water from the stove to add to the cold water going in from the brand new hose.


We set up the pool in the searing sun even though there was a Pepper Tree near. The tree housed a beehive, so a bit of a distance was good.

Howling Silence

The labor was lovely; the birth, magical.

The mom would have contractions that had her howling like a desert wolf, then inbetween, complete silence from all of us around her. If she moved, we would hear tiny splashes, but none of us spoke above a whisper, and even then only when necessary.

But from the Pepper Tree, the bees were not silent. In fact, they seemed to be amplified as our sounds faded. Buzz Buzz Buzzzzzzzing from the Pepper Tree. It was mesmerizing.

California Pepper Tree

In the short space between the end of labor and the beginning of pushing the baby into the world, some sort of surreal experience hit all of us at once. The Pepper Tree emitted a scent, intoxicating… the bees swirled around and buzzed… the flies vanished. I felt dizzy and wondered if my blood glucose was falling, but I saw the others were feeling something as well, our eyes gaping at each other, waggling eyebrows a bit to say a silent, “Yes! Me, too!”

It was as if time had paused for the mom to gather her strength and we were giving her ours as well.


Then the sensation vanished as quickly as it had begun, the world moving once again, moving with the baby who was born in the water soon after, sweetly and easily.

Once the placenta had been born, mom wanted to still sit outside for a bit and wanted under the buzzing Pepper Tree, so we laid out a couple of blankets with towels on them for her. She sat while we cleaned up quietly around her, not speaking unless in a whisper.


I took note the bees and flies kept their distance and respected the new life under their wings.

These moments, from right before the birth until we rose from under the tree were… I really have no other word for it… Holy.

(That says a lot coming from an atheist.)

Mom nursed the brand new baby as dad held her in his arms in front of him.

Eventually, the heat was oppressive and the baby was getting warm and needed a fan as much as the rest of us. (Babies are rarely fanned! Keeping them warm is much more the usual routine.)


Before we could move into the house, the housemates, who’d been out in the garden on the other side of the property during the birth, brought over some watermelons picked mere moments earlier.

Sitting on the small porch, we caught more of a breeze, so, comparatively, we cooled off.

The gardeners proudly held out the odd-looking watermelons (“they are organic!” I was scolded). I frowned that they were not cold, but was hungry so held out my hand for a big slice. The new family was settled on a cushioned (and covered) bench, already taking bites out of the red watermelon.

As I brought the watermelon to my mouth, I caught the scent and it was so powerful, I pulled it back and looked at it quizzically. When did watermelons smell like this? Never before in my lifetime. I then opened my mouth and bit into a hot chunk of melon. I am sure I swooned, newly in love with a food I thought I knew, but really was just meeting for the first time.

“Oh my GOD, this is GOOD!”

Someone smiled and said, “This is organic watermelon.”


I have tears in my eyes remembering the taste, the hot squishiness on my tongue, the juice oozing down my chin, hands, arms and elbows. I looked at the others, equally covered in red natural syrup and dreamily taking huge bites, consuming 2 watermelons in a half-hours’ time.

When we’d all finished, someone turned on the hose and we took turns splashing off the drippy stickiness with too-warm water.

Resting After Birth

I was given the hot and sweaty job of getting mom and baby into her bedroom, a small 8×8 room with a fan strung up high, blowing downward, the electric cord snaking from outside the room, through and back outside the window with holes in the screen. She and her partner, and now baby, had a mattress on the floor.

I got things laid out to protect the mattress, helped her to pee before getting down onto the mattress with the baby. I got her a big glass of water (no ice in the house) and plopped down with her.

But There Were Flies

I swear there were over 100 in that tiny room. Zizzing around, up, down, into the corner of the baby’s eyes, landing on anything they could find… our mouths, noses, heads, hands, arms, legs, feet… it was mercilessly hot and the flies were taking up space and air we needed.

I asked the new mom where the flyswatter was and she looked at me horrified.

“We do not kill things at this house! You can use a piece of newspaper to brush them out of the room and then outside.”

I looked to see if she was kidding.

She was not.

I went to find some newspaper, folded it in half and began shooshing the hordes of flies away from the new mother and baby and out of the room as best as I could.

It was a losing battle. (You knew that already, I know.)

Eventually, I just sat down, newspaper in hand, waving it gently around the nursing pair.

“This would be the most difficult part of my living out here… the flies.”

This newly postpartum woman began talking very softly and asked me to close the door.

“Are you sure?! It’s going to stop all the air flow!”

“Just for a minute.”

I crawled the couple of feet, leaned over and closed the door. The temperature climbed 15 degrees within seconds.

She called me to come closer. I could smell her musky sweaty newly postpartum scents. She crooked her finger to come closer, so I leaned my ear nearer her mouth.

Barely above a whisper, she confessed:

“When I am alone in the house, I use the vacuum cleaner hose to suck up the flies. I figure I am not directly killing them, right?”


Wanting to laugh really loud and hard, I swallowed my extreme amusement and wholeheartedly agreed that it was not directly killing them. I did not want her to feel one more second of guilt about getting rid of the nasty flies in her bedroom.

All These Years Later….

It’s been 20 years since this happened and I can still feel the heat, hear the bees, remember the Holy experience… and taste that amazing watermelon.


Baking Bread Memories

When the kids were little, I used to bake bread. A lot of bread. I made bread for 2 and 3 families at a time sometimes. I loved baking bread.

Learning to Bake Bread

I didn’t grow up knowing how to bake bread. There was no Internet either, of course, so I would borrow books from the library or, when I had money, I would buy some books on how to bake it.

The very best bread book I ever got was Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.


I used Laurel’s book so much, it became Scratch-n-Sniff from all the food I spilled on the pages. (My La Leche League Whole Foods for the Whole Family was like that, as well.)

I read and read before ever trying that first loaf. I’m sure I almost memorized the Basic Recipe by the time I poured the first packet of yeast into the bowl of warm water. After a few months, I never had to look at the recipe again; I could feel the different amounts and measurements.


It’s been 30 years since I’ve baked a loaf of bread, yet I can still smell the scent of yeast as it was mixed with the warm water. I tried lots of different sweeteners to “feed” the yeast… sugar, honey… but settled on dark molasses.

When I learned yeast was a living being, it changed how I saw raw dough. I began treating the dough with more purpose and attention. I respected the yeast more, hence also the dough.


I didn’t know anything about Mindfulness back in the 80’s, but if there ever was a mindful meditative state, it is when kneading huge blobs of dough.

I learned that adding flour (I always used whole wheat flour, spring wheat if possible), even to the counter so the dough didn’t stick, wasn’t the best idea, that dough stops being sticky after kneading until you feel like your hands are going to fall off. Then you knead that long once again.

My dough was darker because of wheat flour and molasses.

Before learning to respect the dough, I plopped it into any ol’ bowl, even plastic ones. Forgive me! I didn’t know any better! Once I learned more and shifted my attention, I bought 2 enormous glass bowls, specifically for rising dough. Learning to cover the dough with plastic wrap was an epiphany, but I also got myself 2 white cotton dish towels to protect the dough as it rose. I didn’t realize it, but I’d developed a Bread Baking Ritual.

The Periphery

I always had to set some dough aside for the kidlets, so they could knead at the dining room table. I’d sprinkle flour over much of the table and the kids would be busy for an hour, creating their dough shapes, letting them rise and then waiting to eat them after they came out of the oven. Oh, how I wish I had pictures of those times. I can see it clear as day in my mind, though. It’ll have to reside there forever.

When it was time to “punch” the dough down after it rose the first time, I did just that… punch… finding it amusing to watch the dough curl around my fist. After my this-stuff-is-alive realization, I began being gentle pushing the dough down again. I would use my hand like a spatula and slide against the side of the bowl, watching the (gluten) threads stretch then snap back to the mother-dough.



I nudged the dough down before folding it neatly, then covering it with plastic wrap again and placing the white cotton dish towels on top, allowing it to rise (in half the time as the first rise!) once again.

Into the Oven

After the second rise, I hand-spatula’d the dough down once again before separating it with a plastic scraper into the proper sizes for the bread pans. Over the years, I tried a variety of ways to keep the baked bread from sticking to the pan: oil (yuck), Crisco (not bad), but finally settled on Pam spray. I curled the raw dough into the bread pans, covered them with plastic wrap and the dish towels yet again, allowing them their last rise.



I wanted slashes in the top of my bread. It took at least 100 times before I didn’t deflate my dough trying to get a lovely slash in the top. I tried sharp knives, serrated knives, forks… even razor blades… and always struggled with that part of baking. Eventually, I learned to zip the knife through fast, not slow and deep. Just pull the knife quickly. Poking around for pics, I see there are now dozens of tools to make beautiful scores in your bread. But back in the olden days….


My Nose Knows

It was when I began baking bread that I realized I had an interesting cook’s gift; I can tell when baked goods are finished cooking with my nose. I need no timers, there is a distinct scent that wafts around the house and I’m able to get the bread or brownies or pie out of the oven before any burning occurs and without any under-baking.

Out of the Oven

There is no smell so heavenly as fresh baked bread right out of the oven.


It was a red-letter day the first time I tumped a loaf out of its cooking pan without it falling apart. Once the loaves were out, I put them on cookie racks to cool.

As with the slashes, I had to learn how to cut the bread. This was a shorter learning curve, quickly passing on the dinner knife and non-serrated knife. A sharp serrated knife is definitely the way to save your loaf from looking like crumbs. If you have the capability to let the bread cool even just a few minutes, it won’t fall apart as easily as right out of the oven bread.

And then the butter. Ahhhhh, butter. Not margarine… ever! The fresher the butter the better. Slathering it on, watching it melt into puddles on the bumpy surface, air bubbles holding the creamy sweetness aloft, just waiting for your first luscious bite.


Types of Bread

Besides the Basic Whole Wheat Bread I made every day for years, I experimented with other types, rarely finding success.

Sourdough Starter

I could not ever ever ever get Sourdough Bread right. I tried a dozen “full-proof” recipes, believed the promises that grandma’s 100-year old starter would be The One to give me a lovely loaf of sourdough bread. Nope. It never happened. It was worse trying to make starter myself! It reminded me of how I could never keep a plant alive… cultivating living things just was not one of my fortes.

Desem Bread

In Laurel’s Bread Book, she waxes poetic about Desem (Day-zum) Bread. It is a massively complicated process that includes burying your small starter loaf in a 50-pound bag of whole wheat flour for a few weeks, taking it out for air every few days, taking away some of the dough, replacing it with new flour… on and on. And on. (I have not looked at the recipe in 30 years so I could be telling you something totally false, but this is how it was for me trying to make the Desem Bread.) How I thought I could make Desem when I couldn’t even keep sourdough starter alive was beyond me. But I tried. More than once. Failed every single time.

Where I did find success was in Laurel’s Banana Bread recipe. I started with hers, but quickly altered it to my tastes. For real, you need 6-8 ripe (not over-ripe!) bananas (“the bread will only taste as good as the ingredients”… great life lesson right there.) to make this 85-pound loaf of bread. 6-8. In each loaf. Not kidding.


I usually made 2 loaves; one with raisins and one with nuts. I like raisins, Zack liked the nuts. You can put cranberries in there… cran-raisins, chunks of chocolate, cherries… anything your banana heart desires.

The scent of banana bread in the oven is exquisite. (I could smell when it was done as well. No timers for me!) Eating hot banana bread with gobs of butter… I’m nearly weeping remembering the taste.

Passing It On

All of my kids have made bread. I like to believe I had something to do with offering fearlessness when trying those first few times.

Technology has given us bread makers, but I know I would not use one because of the hypnotic deliciousness of kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, watching the second rise, then into the pans for their third rise… all before baking.

Looking from this vantage point, there is something special about the length of time it takes from yeast proofing to butter on hot bread. Lessons in patience, small attentions and watching the making of a staple of life humbles me.

Hmmm… didn’t know I would say so much! Hope the kids enjoy this.

Whole Wheat Bread

Holding the Space

“Be kind to the children, for they are close to the other side.” – unknown

When my father was given 3 months to live when he had the intestinal cancer, everyone had an idea of what he should do. Take this herb! Try chiropractic! I was in the “Call Hospice” camp. But my father had a different plan. Instead, he wanted to do chemotherapy. Those of us in the medical arena of his life, holding the labs in our hands, shook our heads at the futility of that… and it might/probably will make him feel much worse. We did what he wanted anyway.

My dad did 2 sessions of chemo and then said, “Call Hospice.”

His death 2.5 months later was peaceful and gentle. And he was so so loved.

My dad, Saturno Herrera, about 1 month before he died.

When We Need to Listen

In my life right now are a couple of people who have family or friends with terminal diagnoses. Those around them are rushing to help with all sorts of remedies, diets and even insisting on the “power of positive thinking.”

Instead, perhaps this is a time to ask the dying person what they want, not foist on them what we want.

Being near those that are dying is an amazing honor and privilege. For one thing, it isn’t a sudden, unexpected moment where there are always regrets about things not said or done. When you are at the side of a dying person, you have the opportunity for completion and the giving of your heart in a way you might never have before.

It is not a time for airing grievances that will never be resolved. Not a time for your confessions of guilt (find a Priest for that). It isn’t even a time to just sit keening and crying your eyes out, the dying person trying to comfort you in their time of need.

Nanea Reeves with her husband Vic as he gets closer to dying.


Holding the Space is a concept I learned in midwifery, but had been doing a long time already with men dying of AIDS decades ago. Holding the Space is sitting quietly, perhaps praying silently, seeing golden light of love surrounding them or just Be-ing with the person heading to the other side (into parenthood/through death/in illness/etc.). Allowing the person to say what they want… rambling speech or exquisite poetry. I like to keep notes, but not at the expense of my complete attention.

One caveat: Take as many pictures as you can… with each person separately, everyone together… take pictures holding the person’s hand… get video of them if they are still talking. I have nothing with my dad’s voice on it and regret that terribly.


Mindfulness is a buzzword right now, but if there was ever a time to be Mindful, it is when with someone in transition. Not worrying about getting to the store, checking your phone or even talking to others in the room about mundane life crap. BE with the person. Give your full attention to them. Watch them. Witness their transition completely.

If you get tired, you rest. No one can be expected to be Mindful or present 100% of the time. Do go for walks outside. Walk the dog. Eat a good meal. Be mindful of your needs, too.

There But for the Grace of God Go I


When I am with someone in this holy place (which does include childbirth, of course), I want to share with them how I hope to be treated during my own transition through death. Not that it is my prescribed way of dying, but simply respectful and kind attention.

My family knows how I want to go. At home. People happy, laughing, music blaring, telling fun stories, remembering all the wondrous things I have done in this life. I also want to be read to. Read to me when I am tired and need to close my eyes for a moment.

But that is me. Not everyone wants the levity part that I have requested.

Perhaps the person you are with wants to smoke again, drink until they are drunk every day, wants to go out to a forest and dig their toes in the dirt one more time. Take them! Even if you have to hire an ambulance service and need to push dirt through their toes while they are on a gurney. Be creative to give the dying their wishes. If they want to watch a favorite movie on a 24-hour loop and it makes you crazy…

…so what?!? Let them!

Talk to your loved one. Ask them what they want and need from you.

Then do it.


An added note: I understand that children dying slowly can be another aspect entirely. I have not lost a child to cancer or another illness or malformation, so cannot speak to it accurately. But, as with everything anyone in the world writes or says:

Take what you want & leave the rest.

A Moment with a Little Girl

I was at the Hematologist’s office the other day getting my weekly iron infusion (yeah, have not written about that yet, sorry) and afterward, I ended up waiting 2 hours for the medical transport to come pick me up.

Taking Notice

Sitting across from me were 2 kids, a boy about 10 with an iPad and earbuds in, sitting away from, who I found out later, was his grandmother. Next to grandma was a girl who told me she was 6. She looked bored to tears.

After a few minutes, I invited her over to watch videos with me on my phone. Sheepishly, she crossed the space between us, sitting in the chair next to me. I asked her what we should watch. She shrugged. I suggested baby goat videos; they are always great for a laugh.

baby goat.gif

We spent the next 20 minutes laughing at the baby goat antics, my asking her questions every once in awhile.

“How old are you?”


“When is your birthday?”

It had just passed, so I asked her if she received any gifts and she excitedly told me…

… something I asked her to repeat several times. Confused, I pleadingly looked at Grandma for help.


Shopkins,” she said.

I was still clueless, so told the little girl I had to Google it to see what that was. She looked at me, incredulous I could possibly have gone one day without this knowledge.

They are teeny-tiny toys… that revolve around… grocery shopping? Marketing groceries to a 6-year old? Good lord.

Oh, and there’s a whole Shopkins series of cartoons, too. My new friend wanted to watch one. I vetoed that.


Muddy Fairy

My head was swimming after the Shopkins talk, so I decided to show her pictures of my grandkids. She liked that, pointing out various things.

I got to my grandson at a fairy birthday party, wearing wings and a crown. I told her who it was and she said, “But, he’s a BOY! Boys can’t be fairies!” I said there he is, so clearly he could be a fairy. She didn’t believe me.

I scrolled further and found the one with my grandson covered in mud and said, “See? He can be a fairy and covered in mud. Everyone gets to do that if they want to.”

(That turned out to be the kernel I’d hoped I could impart on her young mind.)

Soon after, grandma was called back and the little girl had to go with her (my ride should have been there at any moment anyway) and she ran to go through the door.

But not before she turned around and waved one last time.

It was a good day.