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Today is my step-mother's 40th birthday. I feel like writing about our history together and why she means so much to me.

Gael first came into my life in 1985 when I was 5-years-old, a year after my father and mother divorced. My father and her met in Seattle where she shared a house with Mudhoney and worked at the Egyptian Theater in Capitol Hill (I believe a Cocteau Twins concert was somehow involved in their meeting). They were heavily involved in the Seattle music scene, my father playing bass in bands that opened for acts such as Alice In Chains, etc. However his bands, Variant Cause and Next Exit, never quite made it to Chains famedom (I still have memories of playing on the drums while joining my dad at band practice). Dad decided to move to a small town near the San Juan Islands called Anacortes in order to give me a more stable upbringing. Gael joined us shortly after and at only age 20 she took me under her wing.

Gael in my dad's studio, Anacortes, 1985

Gael was my saviour in many ways. My mother still lived in Seattle, but she was struggling with her health and didn't feel capable of taking care of me. My father provided for me well in the years we lived alone together, but his main source of income was scrimshaw which was crippling his back, so he was unable to continue for much longer. Gael often worked two jobs while my dad sold the occasional painting for $1,000+ and yet we still spent most of our lives living below the poverty line. Far more important than finances, Gael provided emotional support and an abundance of humour in difficult times. She is a remarkable and talented woman; she can play the clarinet, flute, saxophone, piano, guitar, and has an ethereal singing voice similar to Elizabeth Fraser's. She's also incredibly intelligent; languages and mathematics come easily to her, as does an ability to quickly memorize prose or lines (she's a great actress), and a published writer on top of it all. You can read some of her writing online here and here.

In 1986 we moved onto the isolated Sinclair Island where she diligently homeschooled me for five years. I'll never forget the comforting sounds of her practicing the flute on the bluff, it's haunting notes floating over the waves. Over these years Gael became a mother and a wonderful friend to me.

After Sinclair we started a coffeehouse in Anacortes called The New Bohemian which my parents modelled after the coffeehouses they spent time in while visiting Paris. It became the creative and community hub of the town and often we would have free meals for the homeless and anyone else who wished to join us. The artistic and musical teenagers loved it and it's where Phil Elvrum of The Microphones/Mount Eerie first had his start at age 14. The coffeehouse eventually failed because it was too ahead of its time for a little conservative American town. It became a haven for the outcasts, misfits, and geeks and because of this the conservatives made it their mission to shut it down. The final nail in the coffin was our chef stealing thousands of dollars from us and skipping town.

During the last days of the coffeehouse we were nearly destitute, I recall having to wash my hair in public bathrooms before school and showering at the marina because we had no home anymore. I moved in with my grandparents and then my mother moved to an apartment in Anacortes where we began the often tumultuous process of learning more about each other. All three of my parents became close friends and my mother always admired Gael, saying she couldn't have asked for anyone better to take care of me. In 1996 my parents moved to Antwerp, Belgium and I joined them in 97'. Over the next several years they travelled around the world showing and performing Snarg in museums and music festivals in places like Mexico City and Barcelona. 1999-2002 were spent in Port Townsend where, as usual, Gael became the most popular barista in town and active in the theatre scene.

My parents divorced in 2002 which was a shock to the system for all three of us. In many ways I still feel like I'm mourning the death of someone, or something -- that entity that the three of us were when together as a family unit. My father moved to Torino, Italy for a year and I moved to London. After years of being so tightly knit we've all split off into completely different directions.

My family may have been extremely poor, but because of Gael's tireless hard work and humour and my father's artwork we were the happiest and most well-travelled bohemians I've ever known. Gael was the shining thread that held us together, kept us positive, and gave me a stability growing up that I may not have had otherwise.

Now for the first time in Gael's life she has her driver's license and is working towards a career for herself in stenography and closed captioning. I am very proud of her and happy she is doing something for herself. She's eternally young in spirit (and in appearance, I swear she doesn't physically age), exceptionally loving and generous, and she constantly inspires me to this day.. but the photographs tell more about her than words can.

I love you, Mom!

Sinclair Island, 1986

Planting carrots on Sinclair Island, 1988

Gael looks so beautiful. I'm the tomboy looking uncomfortable in the pink frilly dress. Sinclair Island, 1988

Gael and Dad

Katy and Gael, Sinclair Island, 1990

Sinclair Island, 1990

Gael and Dad on San Juan Island sailing trip, 1990

Uncle Greg (looking very 80s) and Gael, Anacortes, 1990

Gael and I on Halloween, Sinclair Island, 1991

(Gael's practicing her best vulcan stare)

Anacortes, 1991

Seaside, Oregon, 1991

Gael, Dad, and I, Anacortes, 1991

Gael and Dad performing at The New Bohemian on Halloween. Anacortes, 1992

Framed at The New Bohemian, Anacortes, 1992

Making an italian soda at The New Bohemian, Anacortes, 1992

Behind the counter at The New Bohemian, Anacortes, 1992

Anacortes, 1994

I always associate Gael with rings and liquid eyeliner. Those rings are etched into my memory.

Portrait of Gael made by my Dad, 1994

Dad and Gael, Anacortes, 1994?

(I used to love showing this one to people and saying, "They're my parents!")

Annick, me, and Gael in Antwerp, Belgium, 1997

Gael and Guy. Antwerp, Belgium, 1997

Gael and I at a party, Antwerp, Belgium, 1997

Polar Opposites. Antwerp, Belgium, 1997

I love this photo. This was taken at our local pub, The Cuveeke, where we would drink with the locals until dawn. After about 1am most of our drinks were free, either given to us by the owners or bought by the locals who became good friends with us. I don't remember the name of the very typically Belgian looking gentleman to the right, but he was also a regular.

Gael and Ludwig jamming at The Cuveeke. Antwerp, Belgium, 1997

Ludwig ran our local friterie and became a good friend. We used to sing karaoke with him until the early hours of the Belgian morn.

Antwerp, Belgium, 1997

Gael and I spent the day making paper cranes and she handed them out to businessmen on the street.

Gael and I (Dad and Chan in the background). Antwerp, Belgium, 1997

Gael has fascinating feet. Around the table: Neil, Annick, Dad, Chan, and Guy. Antwerp, Belgium, 1997

Gael and Neil in Antwerp, Belgium, 1997

As a geisha for Halloween, Anacortes, 1998

Backstage pass photo for Benicassim in Barcelona, Spain, 2001

Port Townsend, 2002

At my bachelorette party, Port Townsend, 2002

Gael with a Bebop stole, Port Townsend, 2002

At a friend's wedding, Anacortes, 2002

At the Kinetic Skulpture Race, Port Townsend, 2002

Macsen and Gael (as the proud mom) at my wedding, Port Townsend, 2002

Gael and Kirsten at the Pisces Party, Port Townsend, 2003

Visiting me in London, 2004

Pints for the girls, London, 2004

A few from before I knew her...

Growing up in Pullman, WA

Gael, her sister Sharon, and her brother Steve.

(I know, I cheated, it's a few hours past the bday deadline in this timezone, but in it's still bday-time in PST!)

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On March 9th, 2005 08:23 pm (UTC), therealbird commented:
Woah, was that surprising.

I'm from Anacortes, too. But my family got there in the early 90s, I guess too late for the New Bohemian. Where was it?
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On March 9th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
Rare to come across others from Ana. :) The New Bohemian was open from around 92' to early 94', it was located on 5th in the block of buildings across from The Majestic. I think there's a self-help bookshop or something there now.
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On March 9th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC), heuteistmeintag commented:
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On March 9th, 2005 08:39 pm (UTC), snowmoa commented:
awesome. I love homages. She looks like Kristen Hersh of the Throwing Muses
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On March 10th, 2005 05:23 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
I never thought of the Hersh likeness before, the hair-do is certainly similar!
— On March 15th, 2005 07:37 am (UTC), interimlover posted a reply · Expand
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On March 9th, 2005 08:52 pm (UTC), dawaioser commented:
Happiest of birthdays to her!
She looks like a lovely person, very beautiful and full of vibrant spirit! ':^)
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On March 11th, 2005 06:17 am (UTC), nomi replied:
Re: Happiest of birthdays to her!
full of vibrant spirit

She is, she affects whole rooms when she walks in. She may be small, but she gets noticed. :)
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On March 9th, 2005 08:57 pm (UTC), ginamoog commented:
wow wow & wow. Happy birthday to her.
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On March 16th, 2005 02:27 am (UTC), nomi replied:
thanks! I'll have to make sure she reads the comments to see all these bday wishes. :)
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On March 9th, 2005 09:03 pm (UTC), sebastian commented:
she's gorgeous . you were blessed with her inner beauty as well as your natural beauty . ( phew, i manoeuvered enough so that it didn't sound like a backhanded compliment, gome . ) happy b-day gael !
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On March 10th, 2005 05:35 pm (UTC), nomi replied:
Thank you.. even though we're not blood-related or similar in appearance we were always asked if we were related, perhaps because we share a lot of the same mannerisms.

(For a second I thought you had called me "gnome" which was what my parents called me when I was little.. I was wondering how on earth you knew that. ;)
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On March 9th, 2005 09:10 pm (UTC), cnwb commented:
Before I read the part about singing like Elisabeth Fraser, I was going to say the first photo looks like she was in the Cocteau Twins (a total compliment, of course).
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On March 11th, 2005 06:18 am (UTC), nomi replied:
She'll love that compliment.

I wish I had some recordings of her singing. There's snippits on snarg.net, but sadly that's all I have.
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On March 9th, 2005 09:16 pm (UTC), vizzygoth commented:
naomi, this is such a beautiful, thoughtful tribute to a special person in your life. over the years of reading your journal, i have developed an idea of how amazing gael is, but reading the whole story nearly brought tears! you are both so lucky to have had each other in your lives...

i especially love the closeup sepia tint photo of her.

happy birthday gael! :)
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On March 10th, 2005 11:24 am (UTC), nomi replied:
thank you, sweetie. I count my lucky stars she came into my life when she did.

That photo is one of my favorites, it's all in the eyes. :)
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On March 9th, 2005 10:32 pm (UTC), m00t commented:
YAY GAEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I miss Gael :(
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On March 10th, 2005 11:34 am (UTC), nomi replied:
I miss her, too.

I hope we can all get together again someday.

by the way, did you ever receive any gifts from amazon? For all I know because of the mix-ups you may have received 3 gifts now.. if so then happy birthday, merry christmas, and happy valentine's day. ;)
— On March 10th, 2005 11:57 am (UTC), m00t posted a reply · Expand
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On March 9th, 2005 11:21 pm (UTC), crankmagnet76 commented:
It's already been said, but... wow.
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On March 16th, 2005 02:32 am (UTC), nomi replied:
I obviously think she's pretty amazing, so it's cool to see others agree. :)
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On March 11th, 2005 06:22 am (UTC), nomi replied:
Thank you, it is much appreciated. :)
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On March 10th, 2005 03:22 am (UTC), josef_barghest commented:
What a thoroughly splendid read.
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On March 16th, 2005 02:25 am (UTC), nomi replied:
Thank you and thanks for taking the time to read it.
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On March 10th, 2005 03:23 am (UTC), localcharacter commented:
Thank you for this! I don't know her that well, but... she really is that beautiful and sweet and unique. Happy Birthday, Gael!
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On March 16th, 2005 02:22 am (UTC), nomi replied:
It's a shame we all didn't get to know each other better before we jetted off. I admit to having match-maker thoughts about you two, but I think the time has passed. Damn. ;)
— On March 18th, 2005 01:28 pm (UTC), localcharacter posted a reply · Expand
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On March 10th, 2005 04:00 am (UTC), blueaspic commented:
Beautiful tribute.. beautiful lady.
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On March 10th, 2005 06:03 am (UTC), celie commented:
This is a lovely entry...

Happy belated birthday, Gael!
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On March 11th, 2005 06:30 am (UTC), nomi replied:
the cow is staring at me.
glad you enjoyed it. :)
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