A Gentle Soul

Posted August 23, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: Becoming A Winemaker

Tags: , ,


Last night, for the first time in 16 months, I dreamed of Shel’s death. It wasn’t his actual death, in that inscrutable way of dreams, but another death. What I dreamed was that moment of leaving, that stark knowing that I’d never see him again. Perhaps I whimpered in my sleep, I don’t know.

What I do know is that this sweet three pounds of feathery fluff, who’s only lived with us for two days and hasn’t yet revealed his name, came to me at that moment, climbed onto my chest, just over my heart, and settled in to purr. And when I opened my eyes to look at him, tears that I hadn’t know were there slid slowly down my cheeks, and he patted my face very gently.

It’s a week now since I left my old life, my Shel life. I’ve worked on the crush pad, driven two forklifts, worked in the tasting room. Today I’m going to meet some new people and play boules. I’m well and truly gone from the world Shel and I shared, which in a way is like having him die all over again. I hadn’t expected this grief, because this is the new life I spun for myself out of the merest wisps of hope, the life I chose, the life that seems to be the very best life I can live at this moment. But still, in starting over I left him behind, in a profound way that still fills my eyes to overflowing.

And now I have a kitten who might read my heart. I love Toby, but he’s not an empathetic cat, doesn’t notice how I’m feeling. It’s one of the hardest things, to lose the one who always knows how you feel. Of course, a kitten and a husband are not the same thing, but maybe, just maybe, now I have someone to pat my cheek if I whimper in the night.

Up, Up, And Away

Posted August 14, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: Becoming A Winemaker

Tags: , ,


Wow, here I go. All that planning, talking the talk, telling my story, it’s boiling down to the hairy here and now. Often, in sorting, packing, schlepping, cursing, despairing of ever getting all my stuff to the other side of the state by Sunday, I feel like I’m circling the drain. But a friend gave me this card, saying it reminded her of me, and yes indeedy, if I get my head up out of the dust and bubble wrap, it does remind me of myself.

Sunday I’ll drive, with Annie’s splendid help, over Snoqualmie Pass, across the high desert, down along the Columbia River, then cross the Snake River and head into the golden wheat fields and lush vineyards surrounding Walla Walla. Monday we’ll unload the truck. Tuesday I have my first class: Forklift Operator Training. And I just got an email that the first grapes will be picked and processed on Tuesday as well, earlier than ever before, and that I should arrive at College Cellars in closed toe, waterproof shoes, and be prepared to get sticky. Ok, now I know I’m not in Kansas anymore.

Untethered, heading away from home, getting closer to the sun but prepared for weather, kicking up my heels, trusting myself to the updraft, eyes on the prize, that’s me. Or as close to me as a little girl in a slip of a dress, crossing the wide, blue skies can ever be.

Blue Moon On The Rise

Posted July 31, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America



Every so often you get a second chance. Once in a while, oh so rarely, there’s a moment of grace, life pauses, then begins again, two spectacular moons in a single month. Another full moon, another chance at a full life. A new life rises and shines.


Tonight, knowing that there would be a blue moon, I sat outside and waited to see whether it would speak to me. Since I’ve been alone I grab gratefully at any chance at renewal, look for signs, seek moments of redemption. Perhaps this would be one.


Looking right, looking left, like a careful child crossing an unknown road, I waited to see what it would bring me. Christmas morning, or the apocalypse now, it was hard to say. I live on the water, but I lost my anchor when Shel died. When he left me I was full of questions. Might I float away, unmoored, untethered? Might I sink under the considerable weight of my sorrow and solitude? Would the world notice that he was gone, and that I was still here? The moon and sun are indifferent to me, would I succumb to the vast uncaringness of the universe?


Or might I let myself rise like new dough, freshly punched down, but still wanting to grow? Peeking over the rim of the bowl, exhaling, that fresh smell of yeast growing, of night flowers blooming, of the sea swallowing up the hottest day and gulping in the freshness of evening.


Who knows when that light will fall on the water in a way that illuminates your soul? You have to be out there, waiting to capture it, or you’ll miss it altogether. Tonight I sat under the sky, alone, waiting. The moon rose, and so did my spirits. I am going to be alright. I am going to be more than alright. I am going to rise again.

Marshmallow Magic

Posted July 5, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America, Posts Containing Recipes

Tags: , , ,


Do we ever outgrow s’mores? I can’t eat them, but even I can’t imagine camping without them. So for this year’s camping trip, I decided to really up the ante in the s’mores department. I bought Annie’s Organic graham crackers, Lindt chocolates in milk, dark, and chili. And then I made the marshmallows.


Now I’ve made marshmallows before and wasn’t very impressed with them. Mostly it was just the wow factor that saved them, and not any real flavor difference from Jet-Puff. But then I made this epiphany of a recipe, and the confection turned marshmallow-rejecters into dévotés, and the s’more-indifferent into ravening, s’more-scrounging beasts.

This marshmallow toasts, it melts, it smooshes, like a marshmallow should. The real big deal is that it also tastes wonderful, addictively so, judging by the fact that after the camping trip Eric and Jessica insisted that I show them how to make marshmallows, and were likewise adamant about the fact that we should have more s’mores around the chiminea as we watched our neighbors’4th of July fireworks.


And the secret? In the most improbable way, they’re made with Lillet. Quite a bit of Lillet, whose haunting flavor I love. The recipe for Lillet Marshmallows is here, and I didn’t change a single thing about it. The recipe works perfectly if you follow the instructions exactly. The marshmallows hold their shape, cut nicely, and of course, make the best s’mores anyone’s ever tasted. There’s lots of summer left, don’t miss your chance to bedazzle your friends and family with this treat.

These Boots Are Made For……..

Posted June 21, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America



I’m here to report that I’m well and truly on my way. It’s the longest day of the year, and it’s also Father’s Day. Our second solstice, our second Father’s Day, without Shel. I’m in my new home, however temporarily, in Walla Walla. I had solstice dinner guests tonight. This is progress. I’m halfway here, half way to a new life, and in that new life I still cook, still invite people over, even though my kitchen is lacking the most basic things. No sheet pan, no spatula, no Shel as a sous chef. Hey, I can make do!

I drove over earlier in the week with a huge carload of winter clothes. I’m actually prepared for life in the Arctic, and will probably never wear half of what I brought with me. It’s especially hard to contemplate right now, when I have the air conditioning running pretty much constantly. Peeling fava beans this afternoon, in preparation for my dinner guests, made me sweat, as in drops running down my nose. I kid you not.

In a couple of days I’ll be heading back to the island, to spend the rest of the hot, hot summer by the cool, cool water. But still, I’m loving this preview of my new life. It’s true that Laura and Haven were up from Eugene for a couple of days, giving me the false sense of life as it used to be. Old friends, easy together, no need to explain. But it’s also true that Joel, Chandler, and Leila were here tonight, giving me what I hope is a true sense of life as it could be here – convivial, intellectual, engaging.

A cool thing about Walla Walla is that everything you need is here. On the island, there are mostly tourist-related things, and if you need tires, big packs of toilet paper, or a tune-up, you are probably going to drive off-island. Here, there’s everything, right within reach. Okay, so far I haven’t found pimenton, but most things I require to begin my new life are right here. Especially Mexican groceries – this is far and away the best place I’ve lived for local Mexicana. Asian, not so much. But then, Asian and I, carb-avoider that I am, are no longer compatible, so I’m not complaining.

Shel would have loved my new house, and I wish he could have seen it. But it’s mine, all mine, and it doesn’t make me ache for him, like our island home does. He would be so proud to see how I’m going on with life, even in his absence, and I dedicate this longest day, this shortest night, this day to remember fathers, to him. I wish there were a Husband’s Day, so I could celebrate it in his sweet memory.

But I am building a new life, and it’s about to begin. My own life, ma vie à moi, and those boots will take me there, waterproof for the vineyards of my future.


Shifting Patterns

Posted May 4, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

Tags: , ,


You’re looking at the colors, and patterns, of my new life. Bold, different, not shrinking from stepping forward and proclaiming “here I am!” Not what Shel would have picked. Not a life that includes Shel. My own separate life. Such a concept, at the nexus of joy and pain.


It’s time to let the cat out. Of the bag, that is. I’m moving, for a couple of years. Maybe not “moving on,” as one is said to do after a terrible loss, but moving, fair and square.

I’ve bought a little house in Walla Walla, WA, and I’m going to live in it during two school years. Why school years? Because I love to go to school. And in this case, I’m thrilled to say that I’m going to be studying at the Center for Enology  and Viticulture. Learning to grow grapes, and make wine. And writing about it, of course. What could be a better way to spend the next two years?

And after that, it’s anyone’s guess. Mistress of Reinvention, I christen myself. Skipping in to the Vast Unknown, Shel no longer by my side, but always in my heart, forging ahead, not quite fearless, but determined. And thrilled to be learning something so cool, to have this chance, and to have seized it.

Keep A Fire Burning

Posted April 7, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

Tags: , ,


Yesterday was the day. The earth has traveled 584 million miles around the sun since Shel left the planet, a full year of a Shel-less world. I still don’t understand how one day a person is here, full of love and passions and fun and sorrows and history, and the next day it’s all only a memory, so long as someone remembers, but I have been forced to recognize that it happens, and will happen to us all.

It seems impossible, a year already. I’d been dreading the day for a couple of weeks, thinking that it would shatter my new-found peace. But in the event, it was not at all what I expected. On Sunday, the one year anniversary of Shel’s last day on earth, I remembered what a good day that last day had been. Tom and Nancy, who were here with us on that day, called me Sunday morning and we reminisced about how happy we had all been to be together, not one of us having the slightest premonition that we were living Shel’s last hours. So the day before the anniversary itself was unexpectedly sweet.

I wondered whether I should set an alarm to wake up at the moment Shel died, about 5:00 in the morning, to re-live and release those terrible moments, but then Eric and Jessica and their friend Brian and I stayed up very late and drank far too much, and so I slept blissfully past the hour that had been so terrifying just a year ago. I thought I would awaken to find myself overwhelmed by loss, but no.


Instead I thought, all day long, about how much has changed in just one year. Nearly everything. I would never have imagined that in one short year I’d be able to regain my equilibrium, be eager to make plans, to create a new life for myself. Yes, it’s true, that tight-knit circle the two of us formed has begun to melt away, ever so slightly, and I’m finding myself again, at the center. And I’ve found my own center again, in the process. Throughout the last few years, and most especially the last year of Shel’s life, I was always off-balance, so afraid that he’d die any minute, that he’d be suffering and I wouldn’t be able to help, that I’d be left alone and fall into the abyss. And then, he did suffer, he did die, I couldn’t do anything to stop it although I know I eased his passing, I was left alone, and I didn’t fall, at least not into the abyss. I fell out of a kayak, I fell on my face taking out the recycling, but that was the worst of it. The abyss did not beckon as I’d thought it might.

Yes I stumbled, yes I wandered blindly, yes I sat alone through hundreds, no thousands, of hours of trying to find my way. And yes I drank too much, smoked too much pot, slept too little, didn’t brush my teeth every single night before bed, and some days ate hot dogs for breakfast and almond butter from a spoon for dinner, and slept too often in the recliner just to have the warm and comforting weight of Toby sleeping in my lap. I’m human, and I forgive myself for all of that. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, making it through this year, but really, amazing as it seems, I think I’m mostly alright now.


I’ve learned that the strong heart prevails, and I’ll always have him in mine, even if he’s no longer in my life. Our twenty years together were the best part of my life so far, and I’m not saying that I know that the next chapter can be even better, because I’m getting older every day, and that has its own perils. But I do have a plan, a really good plan, for what comes next, and I’m thrilled about it. Is it better to love, lose, be alone, and come up with a great plan, or to be with the one you love and live in daily fear of losing him? Think about it. I sure have.


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