Friday, December 30, 2011

A Foreign Language

I have never lived in another country where the native language wasn't English, except on a short vacation, which doesn't count. I do not speak another language, unless you count three years of high school French, dusty from 30 years of non-usage. However, two years ago I did move back to the New York City area for six months.

In the New York City area the culture is so different from California, where I make my permanent home, that it certainly qualifies as a "foreign" to me. They claim to speak English here, but sometimes I wonder if the California bay area and the New York metropolitan area are even part of the same country.

I know that I am in New York as soon as I board the shuttle from JFK and hear the airport traffic cops yelling at the vehicles. "Hey buddy, MOVE IT!" said with a New York attitude and a New York accent, difficult to translate to the written page.

When my sister came to visit me in California, she was amazed. "Are they always this polite?" she asked me after returning from a simple trip to the grocery store.

And so, as I visit the east coast for the holidays this year, I am constantly asking myself if I can see myself living back here, an eventuality which I am more and more certain will one day happen the older I become.

The cold grey winters, the wariness of strangers, the conservative politics, the old dilapidated buildings, the small minded attitudes, the rudeness of all seems so depressing to me. While it is true that everyone speaks English, it is the general attitude that seems so foreign to me.

I miss the California sunshine, the cultural diversity, the friendliness of Californians, the liberal politics, the diversity and acceptance of alternative lifestyles.

Even though literally we all speak English, figuratively speaking, we do not speak the same language at all. And I am at a loss for how to translate.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Newest Fad

No, its not the iPad. Or some fashion wear from "Forever 21". Or designer shoes or handbag. I'm talking serious fad here.

I am speaking of the newest "diet". And I know this how? Because this new diet has finally made the magazine slots by the grocery check out stands. I have seen the magazine, and it is called "Gluten Free".

I have known about the gluten free diet for several years because my sister jumped on the bandwagon a number of years ago. This was after her "no-white-sugar" diet of several years. And her "eggless" diet, which I think she still follows. Now she touts the gluten-free-way and preaches its merits to any bread or pasta lover willing to mend their ways.

Over the past few years, more and more products have been sold in a gluten-free variety. At first, Rice Chex and a few other products that had never contained wheat gluten to begin with, began advertising that they were gluten free. Then some gluten free products that were usually sold in health food stores started appearing on Safeway shelves - pancake mix and the like. A year or two ago, Betty Crocker came out with a gluten free brownie mix. And now, this.

Not an article in a magazine, not a magazine devoted to health food devotees, but a $4.95 recipe magazine at the checkout counter, with all the other women's magazines.

Does this mean the gluten-free-way has moved from fad to mainstream? My sister seems to think so. Ask me again ten years from now. Only time will tell.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

37 Degrees

I am the first to admit that I am not good with cars. I am speaking of fixing them or keeping them properly maintained. I suppose I could be better at it, I am simply just not interested. And as I get older, and my memory gets worse, my car maintenance becomes more lacking. If there were a service to keep track of my car maintenance and drive my car to Jiffy Lube at the appointed times, ideally while I am at work, I would gladly pay for such a service.

Within two months of getting my current car, a 2005 Toyota Prius, I ran out of gas, not a great thing to do with any car, but really, really bad for a Prius. My beloved red 1990 Toyota Corolla met a similar but slightly worse fate when I bled it's lubrication system dry. (Not 100% my fault - the oil gauge had stopped working.) I also managed to blow out a very worn tire on this same vehicle, before it met its untimely end. The tow truck driver really blasted me for driving with having such worn tires, saying I was a menace on the road.

Yes, we drivers are responsible for making sure our cars are in good working order, lest we cause an accident due to poor auto maintenance. I am aware of this. But the thought just never crosses my mind to check my tires or my oil. On my older cars, I was used to bringing the vehicle into the mechanic every 15,000 miles, whereupon he would check the tires and the oil and the brakes and fluids and other important things. (Truth be told, I did change my oil in-between check-ups, although I wasn't religious about it.)

Because I know all of this, when a bright red flashing light starts blinking on my dashboard, I take it seriously. Out of gas? PULL OVER NOW screams the light. I get it.

And so, I was confused when an orange light began staring at me the other night from the dash. Not urgently critical, but still, it was a dash light, trying earnestly to tell me something that must have been important. I didn't understand the symbol, and had to pull over under a street light and pull the car manual out of the glove compartment.

37 Degrees. That's what the symbol means - 37 degrees outside temperature. Okey-dokey. What happens when the temperature drops to 37 degrees? I have absolutely no idea. This must mean something universal to the Japanese, but its a mystery to me. Perhaps if it was warning of freezing temperatures (as in "remember to put antifreeze in the coolant system") I could understand it. But 37 degrees? What the heck that mean? The manual was of no help in explaining why a dashboard light goes on at 37 degrees, as if everyone should know why this information is important.

It is December, that is true. Temperatures have been known to drop to freezing in December and January, at least overnight, even in California. But we usually don't panic about these things, unless we are headed to the mountains. Our daytime temperatures never stay below freezing, ever.

I am still at a loss as to the importance of this information, so if anyone out there has a clue, please let me know. In the meantime, my odometer says 94,000 miles, which is 34,000 miles since this car was last "tuned" up, which is about 4,000 miles overdue.

Anyone know a good mechanic in the Redwood City area?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Question

I think Shakespeare had it all wrong. According a query I recently saw on Facebook (the touchstone of our times) the major life question today is not "To Be or Not to Be", but "To Go or Not to Go".

My friend's son Nicolas is a freshman in college. He is attending college on a wrestling scholarship. But he hates it there and wants to come home. Hmmmm....he could always go to school elsewhere, but the other scholarship opportunities that once begged for him are long gone.

When I lost my job (and house), there was no question that I would move back "home", to the area where I was born and where most of my family still lives, which is 3,000 miles from my beloved California. I didn't want to "go"...but finances dictated otherwise. Fortunately for me, some six months later I was able to return to CA and find a job. But sometimes it doesn't work out the way you hope.

I watched a documentary on life in China the other night. The filmmakers followed a Chinese couple who had left their two children in the country with grandma while the couple moved to the city in order to find work, so that their children could have a better life. The thing is, it was a two day journey from the city back to the farm, and the couple could only afford to make this trip once a year. Perhaps unfathomable in the US, but this is not uncommon in China. Which is not to say it is not difficult. How hard it must have been to make this decision, for this couple to leave their young children and not see them for a year at a time?

My ex-boyfriend is from Israel. When he was 40, after spending all of his life living on a kibbutz, he moved to the US after his marriage fell apart. He left his young children in Israel, and left his homeland, to find better job opportunities than he was facing in Israel, and he made this move in order to support those very children he left behind. I don't think that his children, who are now adults, ever fully understood this very difficult decision he made. He was able to see them more often than once a year, but still ended up spending huge blocks of time away from them.

I think of all the people who have tried to escape brutal dictatorships. Some made the decision "to go" early, and got out. Others waited too long, and didn't have a chance. By the time they changed their minds, it was too late to leave.

To Go or Not to Go? To college? Across the country? To the City? Halfway across the world?

There are all major life decisions certainly. But then there is the other question, the other decision, the more difficult one, the one much closer to home, the one that involves a relationship with a spouse or "significant other". Many of us have been there. At what point do you stop trying to fix the relationship, and move on? And how much more difficult is this decision if children are involved?

To Go or Not to Go, that is the question.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Its Raining Cats and Dogs...and Pine Needles

When I moved up to the hills, to foggy redwood country, I expected dense fog, which results in weather that I call "dripping". Dripping is like a soaking rain, except that the heavy drops fall not directly from the clouds but from the ends of the redwood tree branches.

I did not expect to need a four wheel drive vehicle to get through three inches of "green" that fell yesterday, a particularly windy day. Small redwood twigs and branches littered the ten miles of skyway I take to get home. In some places I had to drive on the wrong side of the road, or slow to 10 miles an hour, there was so much debris on the road. And still, I got stuck - with a large branch that got jammed in my undercarriage for the last two miles of my drive home.

Seeing the road covered in several inches of greenery was bizarre to say the least. I felt like I had landed in one of Dr. Seuss' books.

I fully expect that winter storms are a comin' my way, with wild rain and wind, and the inevitable fallen trees blocking the road. There may be mud and rock slides and even roadway washouts. I am expecting these.

I just did not expect pine needles to be a hindrance to my commute.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Non-Custodial Parent

I would have thought we as a society would have come further in 25 years. But this does not appear to be the case.

My husband and I split up 25 years ago, when I left our marriage and our home, taking my four year old son with me. I won't splatter the private details of our married life all over the internet; if you are looking for salacious tidbits, I can refer you to another blog.

By the time we finally divorced after living apart some two years later, it was an amicable separation. I got the kid, he got the house. Sort of. I had physical custody of our son; we had joint legal custody. Jim stayed in the cabin he had built (on land that did not belong to us) and in which had all lived as a family, up in the peninsula hills.

I don't recall much squabbling over legal papers. It was a do-it-yourself divorce; there were no attorneys, only a paralegal. There was not much property to separate; the cabin was not ours; we each kept one of the two cars we owned. Custody was the only issue for discussion.

By the time I started legal paperwork two years after we had split, our emotions had calmed down. We had established a routine for physical custody and visitation. I had rented a house on the peninsula and Jim would visit Sean at the house one night a week and every other weekend. This arrangement gave Sean great stability in having only one place to call "home". At some point, we put the arrangement on paper, and filed it with the court. It was a pretty typical divorce, mom gets physical custody, dad has visitation rights.

Fast forward 25 years. In this much changed world of today, at least technologically speaking, I have come across a blog written by a divorced mother of three children, who gave up physical custody of her children ten years ago to her ex-husband. She gave up physical custody solely in the best interests of her children at the time of the divorce, not because she didn't love her kids and want to be with them and not for any other reason. So here's the rub: why do I even find myself explaining this? Because we as a society still expect the mom to get the kids, unless there is "something wrong" with her, as in she is an "unfit mother".

And I know one or two who are unfit mothers. Drug addicts, alcoholics, emotionally unstable women whose ex-husbands ended up being the custodial parent. But, why is this the assumed reason if the wife does not end up with the kids today? We are living in a time when women can have just as successful and demanding careers as men, have just as much earning power to afford a nice place to live, in a time when dads have more flexible work schedules thanks to the ability to work from home, in a time when dads taking "paternity leave" is not unheard of - why do we still poorly judge those women who have chosen to give up physical custody?

We do, still, jump to that conclusion. At least, according to one woman's story.

But I have also read a few comments on Facebook regarding this issue, which indicate that there is some progressive thinking out there on the topic. So perhaps we are making progress, even if I find that progress glacially slow. Couples living together was not socially accepted by my parents generation when I met my husband some 35 years ago. Today, unmarried couples living together is hardly questioned, if not always sanctioned. Perhaps there is hope for other alternative lifestyle choices, such as non-custodial mothers. I certainly hope so.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

How I Forecast the Weather

There is no location for mountain weather. I live outside city limits of the nearest town. Even if I lived within the limits of the nearest town, the town center is at the bottom of the hill....and the mountain makes its own weather.

I have to check three different locations (north/west, south, and east) to get any reasonably accurate predication of the coming weather. And even then my "forecast" is often not reliable.

Today it is raining and foggy up here on the mountain. According to, it is merely "cloudy" in San Francisco, Woodside and Redwood City, while the mountain is getting doused. I live high enough up the mountain to be right smack dab in the middle of the "cloudy" part of that weather prediction.

But, sometimes, I am above the forecasted "cloudy" weather. On those days, it can be brilliantly sunny at my house on top of the mountain. When I drive down the ribbon of skyway towards town, I am above the tops of the clouds on either side of me, pink or orange or rose colored from the rising sun.

And so, I have learned that a "cloudy" weather forecast on could mean sunny...or raining...or foggy....up here on the mountain...or, it just might actually mean cloudy. I guess I will just have to look out the window to know for sure.