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.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Who Gets the Kids?

A common theme in a common scenario. Mom and Dad divorce, and the big questions are: Who gets the kids? Who gets the house?

Yep. Been there. However, in my divorce, there was never any question of who got what. He got the house, I got the kid. Technically we had joint custody, but realistically I was the one who made any decisions related to the kid. It was helpful that our values are pretty similar. Jim built our cabin, and I was the one who left, so he got the house.

But...what happens when a couple splits up and there are no big ticket items to split up? What happens then?

I guess you fight over smaller things, like who bought the lamp or the patio furniture. And for pet lovers, "who gets the dog?" is probably a big concern. Divorce is never easy.

What about an unmarried, not living together couple? Easier yet, at least physically. There isn't any "moving out" for one thing. But still, "breaking up is hard to do".

With all of these various scenarios, there are some things not so easily divided up - friends. Who gets the friends? If I am a friend of one, can I remain a friend of the other? In theory, yes, in reality, this is difficult if not impossible to do.

Which brings me to my last point - what about places? You know - places you used to go together, things you used to do together. Do you still go to that restaurant the two of you used to frequent? Do you still go to the same church, the same grocery store, the same hardware store? What about the same coffee shop, the same entertainment spot? Do you split these up? If not, do you change your behavior to not run into your former lover?

Curious minds want like to know. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. Everyone can participate, regardless of ethnic or religious origin. There is no wondering what to buy for Aunt Martha, no lavish spending on displays of lights and plastic reindeer, no maxing out the credit card on gifts that no one will use.

There is no exclusion from this holiday for those who do not believe in the reason behind it. No requirement that you attend some religious ceremony. Just family, friends, food and drink, and giving thanks. I can not think of a better reason to celebrate, essentially, to have a nationwide party.

For the past eleven years I have spent Thanksgiving with my family in Connecticut. But this year, I will not. This year, I will be staying in California. I decided not to fly across the country this year because I only have four days off from work.

And so I will stay here in California, spending the day at my cousin's house across the bay. On Thursday, I will eat, drink and be merry. And I will give thanks - for my family, for my friends, for my health, for the beautiful state of California that I am lucky enough to call home....and for my job.


By late November, most of the trees have lost their leaves on the East Coast. In California, our oranges and yellows and reds still adorn tree branches. Our "fall" starts a little later, and lasts a little longer.

"What fall?" my sister asks, incredulously. By east coast standards, we don't have "fall" in California; we have a warm green season and a cool green season. It is true, we have many trees that don't lose their leaves at all. But this only makes those trees whose leaves do turn color even more brilliantly spectacular.

And, yes, sister dear, we do have some trees whose leaves turn burning orange and flaming red. We have brilliant red maples, and fiery orange Chinese pistachios, and bright yellow gingkos that can compete with any east coast tree. These trees may not be native to California, having been planted as shade trees in neighborhood front yards or to line city streets, but they are flourishing here now, just like many a transplanted Californian.

Just like me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Own "Miss Rumphius"

It was a memorial to a man who made the world more beautiful, or, at least, his part of the world. Officially it was a dedication ceremony, to dedicate the grounds at Fremont High School as "Stahl Gardens". The ceremony was short and sweet. The high school band played on the large front lawn, friends and colleagues spoke, the plaque designating the grounds as "Stahl Gardens" was unveiled by Bob's family.

I can't say I knew him well. I can't say I really knew Bob at all, except that I knew who he was. Everyone knew who Bob was, at least everyone who set foot on the Fremont High School campus over the last 25 years.

Bob had been the head custodian at Fremont High School, for many, many years. But Bob was more than a custodian. Bob was legendary for his gardening skills, skills that he brought to fruition at the high school. Tall red roses adorned the front walkways of the campus. Hundreds of brightly colored tulips bloomed in early spring underneath the roses. And in May, the tulips were replaced with red and white petunias, Fremont colors, just in time for graduation, while red roses bloomed over their heads, all surrounded by an expanse of bright green grass.

Fremont High School, the step-child in an otherwise wealthy school district, is not a school with funds to spare, and flowers are expensive to purchase and maintain. But people loved to donate to Bob's "flower fund". People not connected to the high school in any way would often stop to admire the flowers that graced the lawn in front of the high school. The local community was enhanced by Bob's gardening talents - as cars passed by on the busy street, or stopped at the light on the corner, people would glance over to the front lawn to take in the colorful displays.

Never in all the time I have spent at Fremont HS over the past 15 years have I ever seen or heard of any Fremont student ruining the flowers in any way.

Although students can learn without a flower garden, the flower garden at Fremont is important to keep. Especially for a school that struggles to purchase the amenities that other wealthier high schools in the area have, the garden is something tangible in which its students can, and do, take pride. For that reason, if for no other, Fremont High School should continue Bob's legacy of making the campus a nicer place, and maintain Stahl Gardens with tulips, roses and petunias, for many years to come.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I cannot think of any other word to describe my feelings. I am besotted with music. Drunk with the music, infatuated with the music, made stupid by the the music. (Definitions curtesy of

In the past week, I have been to several live music performances. American Bluegrass (church auditorium); Bulgarian music (house concert); Czech Republic blue grass concert (coffee house); Quebecquois fiddle music (house concert). This upcoming Friday night there is Irish singing; on Sunday I am going to hear a classical music concert, with a world famous violinist, at Stanford University. I get to hear all of this wonderful music without having to drive into "The City" (ie, San Francisco).

We are most fortunate in the SF bay area, to have so many varied musical options, most of exceptional quality. There is folk music, and bluegrass music, classical music, and Celtic music; there are coffee houses, and house concerts, universities, and major symphonies. All of these venues are within an hour's driving distance from any central bay area location.

I have attended so many wonderful concerts lately that I have become quite drunk from the local bay area music scene. It is both intoxicating and addictive. With just about every concert, I take home a little bit of the music with me, in the form of a CD, so I can listen to the music over and over and over again.

I love this wonderful bay area, for many reasons - cultural diversity, great weather, proximity to the ocean, incredible county parks for hiking - but I think that I love it most of all for its musical diversity.

If I ever have to leave the SF bay area, it will truly be a sobering reality.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mothra, Revisited

I am not afraid of spiders, or venomous snakes, or as it turns out, coyotes, having encountered all of them up close and personal. But, the giant moths kind of freak me out.

These are not your typical flimsy-winged flutterers that hover close to the lights. These are mountain moths, and they are gigantic. You know, like "Mothra". (OK, well maybe not quite that big.)

For the uninitiated, those of you who don't watch 1950s Godzilla movies, Mothra is a Monster Moth who battles with Godzilla. (And I know this how? Lets just say my son loved watching old "B" horror movies.)

These moths up here on the mountain have enormous bodies, which take enormous amounts of energy just to become airborne. As a result, their wings sound like mini chain saws buzzing at a million flaps per second just to keep them aloft. And when 25 of these creatures are beating on your sliding glass door to get close to the light - well, its just creepy that's all.

Then again, perhaps I have watched one too many Alfred Hitchcock movies. ("The Birds" comes to mind.)

Sunday, October 16, 2011


It was a memorable event. The dignitaries were introduced, official proclamations were presented. Stories and accolades to his memory were told. The plaque was unveiled, songs sung, reception held. And then, the show went on. (Literally.)

The auditorium at Fremont High School has now been officially dedicated as the Shannon Theatre.

Tim's step-son wrote - "As true as "What, I had to die to get the theatre dedicated to me!?!" might have been, I know this would have really meant a lot to him." Yes, it would have Drew. It certainly would have.

The real reason that the auditorium was named after Tim is not because he died at a relatively young age (49); it is because of the effect that he had on the lives of all of his students. As drama alumnus Andrea Nysen pointed out so well at the dedication - Tim didn't just teach drama and stagecraft; Tim taught "life".

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 11

The sun is shining, the sky is a clear blue and a hint of coolness fills the air. Crows in the redwoods are cawing to each other, back and forth. Periodically, I hear the muted roar of motorcycle engines, as they race up and down the ribbon of asphalt that is Skyline Boulevard. It is a beautiful fall day up here on the mountain.

And yet...there is a melancholy to my happiness. Last night, I dreamed of Sean, eleven years gone, still a boy in my dreams. I dreamed that I had forgotten him, that he was alive and I had not seen him in years.

Part of that is true - I have not seen him in years. Eleven years in fact. But I have not forgotten you, Sean. I will never forget you, ever. I have been distracted lately, I will admit that. But I have not forgotten.

Later today, Jim and I will meet at the Land. We will winterize the bench, the bench your friends built in your memory, like we do every fall. We will go up to the old cabin, what's left of it, and think of all the good times we had with you up there when you were young. We will walk to the deck and to the pond. And then Jim will come with me to see my new place on Skyline. Yes, I have a new place. Life moves forward, without you; I cannot change that.

Tuesday I will visit the high school and the auditorium, your home-away-from-home. It will be hard, because Tim won't be there, but I will visit none-the-less. And I will remember you both, and miss you both, the two of you, forever entwined in my heart, forever associated with Fremont High School and its auditorium.

And on Tuesday, I will lay a red rose - one at the condo where we lived, one at the railroad tracks where you breathed your last breath, and one down at the high school, as close as I can get to the auditorium. Because, now matter how busy or otherwise distracted one gets on this earthly world, a mother never forgets her child. Ever.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Third Class

Despite efforts at integration in America, we are not a class-less society. In the US, there is the upper class, the middle class and the lower classes. We have premium, super and regular; first class, business class, and economy. And now, there is third class.

I am speaking of the airlines. I thought there were just the three seating classes, but I have found out today, when booking my winter holiday vacation, that I am mistaken. There is definitely a class lower than the "regular" economy class.

It appears that American Airlines, who usually has the best times and prices for my wallet and destination, has created this extra class. I have now been relegated to the very, very, very back of the airplane, right by the lavatories. First class and business class sit much further up front, and have all kinds of amenities which the "economy" section lacks, such as a place to put your legs and feet. For years, economy class has been where most of us "regular" (ie, non-business, non-wealthy) people sit.

But now, it appears that American Airlines has split economy class into two sections. If I want to sit closer to the business and first class sections, and board and exit the plane two minutes sooner than those at the very back of the plane, I now need to pay an additional $75. I refuse to pay $75 for this "privilege". We regular folks already bring our own food, our knees hug our chests, and we are (or were) the last group to board.

What scheme will the airlines think of next to wring a few dollars out of air travelers? Perhaps they could sell tickets to use the lavatory, or require payment to reserve an oxygen mask or flotation device. I wouldn't put it past them.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Sooner, the Better

I admit that my Prius is not the fastest car on the block, but I chug along at the speed limit or better most of the time. In general, I have no problems on the bay area major highways. But up here in Foggy Redwood Country, they all think I'm a slow poke.

The main drag up here is called "Skyline Boulevard". Long ago, locals realized this gently curving two lane ribbon of road was their own "Autobahn". It is a favorite of bay area motorcyclists on the weekends. I hear them roar by from my humble abode and I see them in the parking lot of the local eatery if I head out to town in that direction. Bicyclists love riding on Skyline, and on downhill sections they whiz by just as fast as motorized vehicles. I have no problem with either kind of cyclist.

Its the weekday commuters who drive me crazy. I drive the speed limit, more or less, mainly because I never know if I might run into a deer or a bicyclist as I come around the bend at 50 mph, especially with limited visibility in foggy weather. But the commuters seem to think they are race car drivers on a limited access road. Seriously.

They tailgate me, at night, with their headlights on BRIGHT, until I pull over. Or they stay 10 feet from my bumper as we navigate through thick morning fog. At some point, I usually end up pulling over to let them pass. The funny thing is, when we reach the end of the road, at a yield sign at the entrance to the highway, I usually pull up right behind them. So they can't really be saving any time to speak of by streaking down the road a few seconds ahead of me.

The only thing I can figure is that an "autobahn complex" is responsible for such behavior. And, I doubt anything I do will change the situation. In the meantime, I think we should rename the roadway, to reflect the driving conditions. I propose that the name be changed to "Skyline Speedway" - immediately, if not sooner.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

68 Degrees

Its the new normal - 68 degrees.

When I was a kid, my mother used to make her children wear sweaters if the temperatures dropped below 72. Of course, once out the door, we kids would run around and get all hot and sweaty in minutes, and the sweaters peeled off in no time. But at least we walked out the door with our sweaters on, which probably made my mother think that she was being a good mama. Parents forget that kids engines run at much hotter temperatures. Kids and women with hot flashes that is.

As if I would know about things like hot flashes. Just saying, you know? (Unhhhhhuhhhh....)

They keep the air conditioning pretty cool where I work. I am very comfortable in my typical workday attire, which essentially consists of a fancy tee shirt, brightly colored, and stretchy black slacks, while my (younger) co-workers wear long sleeves and additional layers. They must have grown up with that 72 degree rule and a mother complex.

I am happy to have slightly cool-to-the-touch skin and an engine in my chest that's not on fire. Sounds like an advertisement - "Never burn with the Cool-Touch iron". Right. That's me. Cool-touch.

I used to LOVE wearing turtleneck shirts; now I cannot stand wearing them, even in the coldest winter, in Connecticut. I must have my neck open, as a major component of my ventilation system, in case I get overheated, which I do, quite easily and quite often.

I read a post on a friend's Facebook page recently, whereby she was talking about how her family was complaining because she had the A/C set to 68 degrees, and they felt cold. But 68 degrees sounds pretty comfortable to me.

When I get in my car after work, in my fancy tee shirt and no sweater, unless the outside temperature is less than 70 or so, I turn on the car A/C, to 68 degrees. (Well, until I hit the fog bank, which is a very consistent 55 degrees.)

68 degrees - its the new normal, at least for women of a certain age.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Horse Country

On top of the mountain today, our foggy weather was "dripping", all day. Regardless, I pulled on my rain jacket and set out to get the mail. In the mail box was the town newsletter, which I have not seen before. Instead of the newspaper rag pages I am used to seeing in my San Jose neighborhood free newsletter, this newsletter is printed on glossy paper and dropped in every mailbox with a town mailing address. (I live outside of the official town limits, but received one anyway.)

The newsletter appears to be issued quarterly, as this edition simply says "Fall 2011". So, what is going in Woodside these days? Let's take a look inside. There is a Rummage Sale in early October at a local church. That's pretty exciting. There is a town "clean up" day in early November. Hey, there is a Barn Dance on October 1st. Big time excitement here! And, the biggest spread of all - the Horse Fair, on October 8th at Woodside Town Hall. Whoopee-do!!! And this event is Free!! It features a Progressive Trail Ride through town, live music, and pony rides! Petting zoo and a carrot cake and apple juice social! How can I resist? This is must attend event!

I live in a converted barn. It is not unusual to see people on horseback on the trails behind my house, or even in town. I pass by the "Horse Park" on my way into town, which is a large parcel of land on which you can ride your horse and socialize with other riders. So, having a Horse Fair should hardly surprise me. In fact, it doesn't. I am actually kind of excited about the Horse Fair and the Barn Dance. After all, I live in Horse Country. I might as well embrace the local culture.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Robin's Egg Blue

As I clean up, the liquid swirls around the kitchen sink drain, the color and consistency of skim milk. At least the paint is water based and not oil.

A small patch up paint job turned in a two hour late Sunday afternoon project. There were no signs of late afternoon fog, no chill breeze whispering over the hills from the coast. In fact, there was no wind at all this afternoon. A good day for paint to dry up here in foggy redwood country.

The landlord painted my small deck two months ago, the day after I moved in. I moved my few small plants, in rust colored terra cotta pots, onto the deck after the paint had dried. A few weeks later, when I went to move them into sunnier spots on the deck, they took the paint with them. So, I thought I would patch up the bare spots with a few swipes of the paint brush.

Except, when I was done, the rest of the deck looked - well, dirty, after only two months. I ended up painting the whole damn thing. It looks nice, right now. Give it a week or two, and it will probably be covered with dirty footprints again.

Who in their right mind paints a deck robin's egg blue? (Which is basically white with a little blue tint thrown in for coloration) Especially up here in the hills, where we have dirt driveways. Dirt, people, dirt. As in "becomes mud in the rainy season". Painting the house a light color, that I can understand. But the stairs and deck will look dirty in no time.

My landlord, whose house I can see through the trees, has painted all the buildings on the land he owns up here in the same colors. The barn, the house and the garage are all the same robin's egg blue, with dark blue trim. And all the decking and stairs to the decks (each one of the three building has stairs and a deck) are robin's egg blue.

As I wielded the paintbrush this afternoon, I couldn't help thinking that maybe a medium grey would be a better color for a surface that gets a lot of foot traffic.

For now, as we head into fall, I have a deck painted robin's egg blue. Come spring, I'm going to see if my landlord will let me paint it the same color that I am sure it will have become by then - a nice shade of Sierra Foothills Brown.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fitting In

A young friend of mine, who moved to Israel almost a year ago, is having trouble "fitting in" among other kibbutz members who have lived on the kibbutz since they were born. They view her as a outsider, an "other" as she calls it. She is young, pretty, blonde and from LA. "It will take time", friends tell her. She may never be truly accepted by some people on the kibbutz, especially those who have difficulty accepting those who are different from themselves.

I cannot say that I have ever experienced similar problems. I have always lived in my home country, always spoken the native language. And yet, her situation reminds me that "home" is where we feel the most comfortable, and that is not necessarily where we were born.

I am the oldest of a large Catholic family of six kids, raised on the East Coast, in southwestern Connecticut. And as much as I love my siblings and feel that we are quite close, in some ways, I have never quite fit in with the rest of them. My five siblings always seem at ease in the mainstream of the local community; I never did.

My siblings like playing tennis, and listening to popular music on the radio, and are happy going to the movies for entertainment. There is nothing wrong with those activities, I just always seemed to be just a little different. I am a terrible tennis player, a sport my step-mother encouraged as a family activity, and I have never warmed up to popular music.

In my younger adulthood, I enjoyed playing adult soccer; I like international folk dancing and listening to world music, all pursuits I learned to love in California. These things do not exist in the small towns of Connecticut, even today. I love going out and listening to live music performances. My favorite genre, bluegrass, cannot even be found on the radio stations in Connecticut. (I have checked, as recently as a year ago.)

So, what's the problem you might ask? You live in California. True. However, I have accepted the fact that I may have to move back east someday, if one of my siblings or my dad becomes ill. It is likely that I will have to re-establish myself somewhere close to east coast family members at some point.

While the landscape will be familiar, I know that it will not be easy to make new friends. People in California are more open and accepting, since just about everyone is from someplace else. It is harder to make friends on the East Coast, especially with people who have lived there all their lives and have enough friends, thank-you-very-much. Nothing personal, just not interested.

And so I dread the day I have to leave my beloved California, although I am quite sure that one day it will happen. I will have to leave Foggy Redwood Country, and my wonderful friends, and the great bay area cultural experiences....some day.

One day, that day will come.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Long Island Voices

The dirty dinner dishes sit on the counter. The bills remain in their envelopes. Tonight is the first time I've had all week to sit down and write. But the mundane tasks can wait.

I've been looking forward to sitting down and being able to write all day. All day, in between routine household chores, I have had time to think what about I would write about when I sat down tonight. The feral pigs and goats I saw on my late afternoon hike up here in Foggy Redwood Country? The San Francisco bay during a recent unusually warm evening? My friend's foray into growing vegetables for the first time?

But today is "9-11", the tenth anniversary of that terrible day, which we as a country remember with sorrow for the victims and their families and with reverance for the first responders and with renewed patriotism and courage for our country. How can I not comment on this bittersweet day, a day that will not be forgotten by anyone who has lived through it?

I cannot do justice in a blog posting to all the wonderful articles I've read written by writers with better wordsmithing skills than I . Indeed, words fail me when I see the heart wrenching photos of family members touching a loved one's name on the wall at the Ground Zero memorial in New York City.

But reading my brother's Facebook posting after dinner tonight brought it all back to me. You see, my brother lives on Long Island in New York, only twenty minutes from New York City. While the terrorism event affected everyone in America, I think that New Yorkers felt it more intensely than most of us.

Everyone in the New York City area, which includes surrounding suburbs north of the City where my sister lives, on Long Island where my brother lives and south-western Connecticut where my dad and two siblings live, knew someone or of someone who had lost a loved one that day. In my dad's church alone, five members of his parish died that day, all family men who commuted to and worked in the City. Some of the firemen who responded when duty called that day lived in the suburbs of Long Island.

A while back, a musical director on Long Island decided to create a concert to commemorate the anniversary of 9-11. He also composed his own choral music for the concert. In addition, proceeds from the concert are to benefit local veterans, some of whom were in the audience tonight. When the veterans and First Responders in the audience stood up to sing one of the songs with the chorus, my brother said he almost lost his composure, he was so choked with emotion. My brother, who is a not only a singer but also a community theater actor and director, said that it was the first time he had ever received a standing ovation at intermission.

Even though I didn't hear the concert, I read the heart felt tributes to the choir on the choir Facebook page. It sounds like there was not a dry eye in the house. I can only applaud from afar for the Long Island Voices, directed by composer Michael Bussewitz-Quarm, who presented his own original work "Dies Magna", a major choral piece with instrumental accompaniment, written in honor of the heros of September 11, 2001 and sung with sincere emotion on this tenth anniversary, September 11, 2o11. We will not forget.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Labor Day

It is often referred to as the Last Day of Summer, although tecnnically the "summer" season doesn't end for three more weeks. It used to mark the last few days of summer vacation before school started up again in September, but these days, school usually starts sometime in August. As a child, I remember the holiday being celebrated with family barbeques, a day off from work for my dad to spend with his family. Now, it seems it is nothing more than a holiday for shopping bargains, or perhaps a day at the beach.

Do most people in the U.S. know how our "Labor Day" holiday tradition began? I doubt it; I didn't know, until I looked it up on the internet. (President Cleveland declared it a national holiday in 1894, which was an election year. Meant to appease striking workers, the gesture was obviously politically motivated.)

Perhaps knowing the exact origins of the holiday does not really matter, because the name of the holiday says it all - its a holiday for the working man. It is a paid holiday for most, except, if you work in retail or the tourist industry or the restaurant business. Ironically, those workers, mostly paid hourly and with few benefits, often do not have this day off.

Technically, I have the day off. Realistically, I do not. Accountants march to the beat of a different drummer, namely the immovable deadlines set by the SEC. Unfortunately, my company's "quarter end" is August 31st, which means we work long hours the week before and two weeks after that date "closing the books". We have another quarter end on November 30th. I don't even have to ask if I will get any holiday off time at Thanksgiving.

The labor unions in the US have long pushed for a standard 8 hour workday and over the years Congress has passed laws that limit certain industries to an 8 hour workday for their workers, unless the workers get paid for "overtime".

Considered a "professional" (CPA) I am exempt from those labor laws. I am not paid on an hourly basis, but on a salaried one. I make good money...until you factor in all the overtime hours I put in. Then, I am not so sure that I make any more money than the typical factory or retail worker.

For me, at least this for year, Labor Day is just another day to go to work. (Well, except for the two hours mid-day that I ducked out to join a friend's barbeque. Just dont' tell my boss.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Plain Jane

It is not yet quite the end of August, and yet the leaves are already turning color. The buckeyes are the first to go. In a week's time, they have all turned from supple green to curled up brown. Right behind, as if cued by the buckeye, are the leaves of the poison oak vine, still shiny but turning from bright green to hues of orange or dark red. These are the first sign of impending autumn here in the bay area of northern California.

And yet, when I walk down the trail behind my house, what I notice most is the crunch of tan leaves underfoot, and here it is not yet September, the buckeye leaves not yet fallen. These are the leaves from the tan oak, fully brown by mid-summer and already underfoot. Some tan oaks have a few brown leaves amongst the green, many have leaves half brown; some trees stand fully leafless like gaunt skeletons; other have already fallen over onto the forest floor.

A fellow hiker passed by me, an older gent, swinging a pole in each hand as he walked swiftly past me up the steep slope, watching me look at the trees. "Sudden Oak Death Syndrome?" he asked. "Think so" I replied.

The tan oak is especially susceptible to this particular oak disease. SODS is ravaging our northern California forests, leaving skeletal remains of once healthy trees.

The tan oak is kind of a mundane looking tree. One hardly notices the tan oak amongst its taller and more glamorous cousins - sky reaching redwoods, thick Douglas firs, sexy madrones with mango colored skins, sweet smelling bay laurels and mighty California oaks. The tan oak is a "plain Jane" amongst its tree cousins.

But now that they are dying at alarming rates, the plain tan oak is finally quite visible amongst is bretheren. And I wonder - what species will take its place once the tan oak becomes nothing more than mulch on the forest floor?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Hype

The powers that be are closing New York City subways tomorrow. Trains and planes won't be operating in the Tri-State area. East Coast residents are hunkering down and stocking up for a week without power.

Some say, the mayor of New York City doesn't want to be caught by surprise, as he was in December when a storm unexpectedly dumped two feet of snow on NYC and the city came to a standstill. Some say, all the talk about the storm is just a lot of hype. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

My dad is taking refuge at my sister's house, where at least he won't be all alone for a week, living on canned beans. My sister has a gas stove, so at least they can cook. And she lives on a main road, which is likely to have power restored more quickly than my dad's house. But, the rain is gonna fall, and the wind is gonna blow, and trees are gonna come down, and the power will surely be out. The only question is - for how long?

My step-mother, who died ten years ago, would have stayed put and toughed it out, even at the age of 83, I am sure of it. "Nah" I can hear her say, "what's a little wind? We'll just stay inside and play Monopoly til it blows over" with a big smile on her face. She wasn't afraid of the weather, ever.

When I was 15 or 16, there was a big ice storm in the middle of winter. My grandmother, who had power and lived in the next town over, offered to let all eight of us come stay at her house until our power came back on. But, no. My mother lined us kids up in front of the fireplace, with the dog, for warmth, while she and my dad took turns stoking the fire throughout the below zero degree night, while we kids (and the dog) huddled next to each other under piles of blankets.

When Mother Nature dumped three feet of snow in a hurry, Mom got out five shovels, one for each of us kids. When it rained and rained and rained, we bailed and mopped and bailed and mopped the basement floor. Our driveway was always shoveled and our basement floor always dry. Need to put in a drywell to help keep the water that always ran down the hill away from the basement? No problem -- Summer project for the teenage boys (and, of course, the dog, whose middle name was "Dig").

But my mother was not afraid of hard work herself. If we weren't around, she would be up to her knees in snow shoveling herself, or bailing the basement, or painting the house, or pulling weeds, or dragging the dead deer up from the back 40 to the road so that Animal Control would come pick it up.

My step-mother, Pat, died ten years ago - exactly ten years ago this month. She died the way she had lived. She died of a massive heart attack, while cutting down a tree, at the age of 73.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Above the Clouds

I am sometimes, above the clouds, quite literally.

Sometimes I find myself in the middle of a heavy fog,with water dripping from the redwood trees like icicles melting in a sudden thaw. At times like these, when I have to drive at 25 mph in a 50 mph zone because I cannot see more than ten feet in front of me, driving home quickly becomes very tiring, like driving in a whiteout.

But tonight, on my way home from work, I reveled in all the reasons I moved up here. Tonight I sped down a gently weaving ribbon of highway, above the clouds. The sun set into the never-ending cotton to the west, splattering the tree tops with an intense orange rosy glow that made them look as if they were burning from within.

Nature is capricious, often bringing us fog and wind and bitter cold But occasionally, nature is generous with her beauty. Like tonight.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


We have an unusual weather condition up here in Foggy Redwood Country. When it the sun is out, it is sunny. When the rain falls, it is raining. And when a heavy fog rolls in, it is dripping.

I can stand in the meadow where the Blue Barn sits, and see the fog swirling above me. The ground is dry beneath my feet. However, a few yards behind the Barn, it is dripping.

I learned something a week ago, when my niece and I visited the John Muir Redwood Forest just north of San Francisco. I learned that our very tall redwood trees collect moisture from the fog on their needles, and then those needles funnel those tiny droplets down the needles to the end of the branch, and then to the forest floor, where they are picked up by the very shallow root system of the redwood tree.

If you walk down our road in a heavy fog you will be drenched in minutes, as I found out the other day, in my jacket that was not waterproof. "Dripping" is like the first few minutes of an approaching thunderstorm. Big, fat drops of wetness falling from above in uneven patterns, quickly soaking the ground. Dry ground over here, puddles over there. The soft patter of heavy drops splatting on the matted forest floor. That is "dripping", up here in foggy redwood country.

In fact, sounds like its going to drip all night.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Am Not There....

I had an idea for my next blog post....I really did. But by the time I recovered my un-remembered password, my idea had dissappeared into thin air...or wherever ideas go when they vanish like wisps of mist at the edge of a fog bank. Truly, the fog was beautiful on my way home tonight, through the hills of the mid-peninsula, painted pink like cotton candy, pulled apart in thin faint layers against the baby blue of the twilight sky. Quite lovely.

Ah, I remember...I was going to write about a slightly more serious topic - grieving. A much more serious topic actually. This post could also be called "other people's behavior - when its none of your goddamn business".

Sometimes other people's behavior is your business....for instance, when a family member you are concerned about is having a difficult time emotionally, physically, or financially. And even that one is a "maybe". If your adult children have told you to butt out of their business, then its probably none of your business. Unless your aged parent appears to have Alzheimer's disease and is still driving for example. Lets just say this is not a cut and dried issue; judgement is involved concerning each situation.

But, back to grieving. Everyone grieves in his or her own way, in his or her own time, and on his or her own terms. Some people cry; some never do. Some like people around to comfort them; some like to spend time by themselves. Some people like to talk about their grief; others prefer silence. For some, visiting a grave site is important; others feel the spirit of the deceased elsewhere - in a favorite photo, in a favorite memory, in a place special to the deceased.

Personally, I am partial to "place", and by this I do not mean grave site. My mother died when I was 13 and I can count on one hand how often I have been to her grave in the forty-plus years since then. And yet, every chance I get I visit the old neighborhood in Connecticut where I grew up, where my birth mom was a mother to me for 13 years. My 17 year old son died ten years ago; we scattered his ashes in a place he loved, the place where he grew up, in the peninsula hills. Its a long trek to get there but I go out there when I can. I go out there not because his ashes were scattered there, but because this is the place where we lived, this is the place that he loved, this place is where I remember my son best.

What is that poem? Do not grieve for me, I am not there.....

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush.
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
-- Mary Elizabeth Frye

I think my son would understand.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Locked Out

I had been meaning to make a duplicate house key ever since I moved into my new place a month ago. In fact, I was planning to have a duplicate key made the day I dropped my niece Caitlin off at the airport to head back east. I just didn't get it done soon enough.

I suppose it was bound to happen. Lately, I seem to have an adversarial relationship with keys. I often misplace them or forget them or take the wrong set with me. Which is odd, because for thirty years I had the same key ring from college, which I never, ever lost. Until I sold my house two years ago and my keys mysteriously vanished. After that, wham, bad key karma.

I clearly remember the time I got locked out of my dad's house in Connecticut, where I had moved temporarily to wait out the recent recession. My dad was out. It was winter, and bitter cold. I had only ventured out for a minute, to get something from my car, when the front door blew shut. Shut and locked that is, with me on the outside of the door, in flip-flops, a tee shirt and sweat pants, in 32 degree weather, with no cell phone and no car or house keys. And no idea where my dad went or when he would be home.

I tried the other two doors; no luck - locked tight. As I went up the wheelchair ramp from the slate patio to check the sliding glass doors, I slipped on a patch of ice and landed on my knees on the slate, hard. Over a year later, I still have scars on both knees from that fall. I checked the family's secret place to hide the spare key, which used to be in the garage, but the garage door was also locked.

I didn't seem to have any other options, so I set out to meet the neighbors. In my dad's town, there is minimum one acre zoning, with houses tucked away up long winding driveways, which means sometimes you have a long walk just to go" next door". I don't remember trudging through side yard and two feet of snow to get to the "next door" neighbor's house; I might have gone the long way - up my dad's steep driveway, out onto the street, over the hill and then down the neighbor's long and winding driveway. In any case, no one was home. So I trudged on to the next neighbor a little further away. Fortunately, this neighbor was home, and he made me some tea while I called my dad on his cell. My dad, who had planned an afternoon of errands, interrupted his plans and came home to let me in. The neighbor let me stay at his house, sipping tea, until my dad came home.

When I moved back to California, to San Jose, my housemate had the habit of keeping all the doors locked, all the time, even when she was home. This drove me crazy, as I am always puttering in the back garden and I don't always bring my keys with me. Fortunately, I had a great neighbor across the street, who helped me several times when I got locked out, before I got smart and had half a dozen duplicate keys made, which I hid in various places in the back yard.

So now, here I was, up in foggy redwood country, locked out. I had car keys but no house key. Landlord up the hill - not home. Downstairs apartment neighbors - not home. What to do? It was 4 pm in the summer, so weather was hardly an issue. I washed my car, which was streaked with dirt and road grime from my recent vacation. Left the landlord a note to please unlock my apartment. Did some exploring down a backyard trail. Went on a short hike to get the mail at the bottom of the road. Checked my dashboard clock - 6pm and no landlord in sight. I started to think about possible overnight plans. And then, I remembered Barry helping me open the backdoor at my house in San Jose - with a plastic credit card. So I tried it, with my health insurance card, in case I mangled it while squeezing it between the doorframe and the door. After a few tries, the door popped open, much to my surprise.

Such good security we have up here, although not any different than my house in San Jose. However, my landlord is in the process of putting in a locking gate at the end of the driveway. People are gone all day at work here in foggy redwood country, just like anyplace else, and stuff gets stolen up here, just like anyplace else. On my way to get the mail, I ran into a group of people who don't live out here, car pulled to the side of the dirt road, picnic blanket and food laid out on the ground next to the car, even though there is a red "Private Road" sign nailed on a tree at the entrance to our road. These people were probably harmless, but you never know.

Me: This is a private road. Guy: Yeah, we know. Me: incredulous look on face. Guy: We'll be out of here in 20 minutes. I think to myself as I continue down the road: What is it about "Private" that you don't understand? There are six different county parks within a few miles of my house, including the one in my backyard, which has trail access forty feet from where you parked your car and a dirt parking lot across the street. Yet you drive your car and spread your picnic things on a road that you know is a private road. I don't get it.

The group had packed up by the time I returned with the mail, and I assume drove out shortly thereafter. The whole locked out and private road incident made me stop and think. If I can do it, anyone can get into my place with a simple plastic library card. I figure I have two choices - change the lock on my door to a deadbolt, which seems like overkill....or just throw away the damn keys and not bother with locking the doors at all.

I just hope the landlord gets that gate working soon.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

All Grown Up

My 22 year old niece, Caitlin, who recently graduated from college, just spent a week with me traveling around northern California. Before this trip, she had never been away from the East Coast. In fact, she had never even flown in an airplane.

I wasn't sure how spending an entire week with my niece would work out. I have been living in California since before she was born. In the past, I would go back to Connecticut once or twice a year to visit my family, take the nieces and nephew to an amusement park, or the beach, or the movies. The day after Thanksgiving, we would have a "family day" with all of my siblings, and their kids, and play board games, make cookies, and play ping-pong in the basement. But the "kids" were always together - Caitlin, Michael, and Chloe; Chloe and Caitlin; Caitlin and Michael. Caitlin and I never spent much one-on-one time together.

I took Caitlin to see the requisite Golden Gate Bridge and redwood trees and ocean beaches; I could have played tour guide to any distant relative and had an "OK" vacation. But I was pleasantly surprised at how well Caitlin and I got along. Not only were we good traveling companions, we also enjoyed being in each other's company 24X7 for a whole week.

It turns out that Caitlin likes to do many of the same things I do - hiking in the woods, walking along the beach. That certainly helped our vacation compatibility. But in addition, I found that my niece has grown into a funny, intelligent adult who is a joy to be around. We had many interesting conversations, and quite a few hilariously funny ones. And that made all the difference in turning a "nice" vacation into a great one.

Friday, August 5, 2011

California, Here I Come

I remember the first time I visited California. I was 21 years old. It was my first time ever flying in an airplane. The plane from New York to Chicago was enormous, some big jet fuel wasting machine, and less than half full at that. I had a connecting flight to Sacramento. My rock climbing buddy, Greg, was going to pick me up at the airport in California.

Except that Greg thought I was arriving in Fresno, some three hours away. BC - Before Cell phones, you just waited. Sometimes, a long time. I didn't think it was unusual . Finally, I heard my name being announced on the airport loudspeaker "Nancy Emro, please pick up a white courtesy telephone". I did. I was connected to my friend Greg, calling from the Fresno airport. He would just drive to Sacramento to get me. No big deal. I sat down to wait some more.

After he picked me up, we headed in the direction of Rock Climber's Heaven - Yosemite. Somewhere along the way, we stopped for the night. We slept in the car, in the front bucket seats, and finished our drive in the early morning.

I spent a week in Yosemite, camping in tents, climbing during the day, and a week in Colorado, doing pretty much the same thing. Drove back with three other rock climbing pals, in a Volkswagen van, straight through from Colorado to New York, sharing both the driving and back of the van for sleeping. I remember waking up to dawn in some midwestern state, flat as the eye could see in every direction.

My niece is coming to California for the first time tomorrow. From Connecticut. I have sent her tons of travel advice via email - what to do and what not to do at the airport; how early to get to there; what to bring; how much to tip the skycaps. We spoke on the phone last night, and I went over a few last minute instructions.

And then I thought back to my first trip. I made it, certainly not without a hitch, but I arrived safe and sound, without email or cell phone, just a little late to my final destination. Life was simpler then. We didn't have to worry about not packing liquids in our carry-ons, or going through security checks. We slept in the car on the side of the road. Someone actually put a call through from Greg at the Fresno airport to me at Sacramento airport. I cannot imagine that happening today.

And so, I think Caitlin will do fine traveling on her own. If something unplanned happens, as the young people of today say, we will "just deal". The vacation will go on.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Fog

Carl Sandberg was a well known poet, but I don't think he ever lived in San Francisco, and he most certainly did not live up here on Skyline Boulevard. Sandberg wrote a famous poem called "The Fog".

"The fog comes in on little cat feet.
It sits looking over the harbor on silent haunches
and then moves on."

Fog does not come in on little cat feet up here in foggy redwood country. It gallops over the hills and roars through the mountain passes. There is nothing cat-like about it.

From afar, fingers of fog gently grip the hillsides, filling the empty spaces between the ridges, like a giant white-gloved hand creeping over the top of the mountain. But in the thick of it, there is nothing gentle about it. The temperature suddenly drops ten degrees as soon as I start my ascent up the mountain. As I climb higher, the fog races over my windshield like the North Wind itself is blowing it, hard, from behind.

The tiny droplets collect on the redwood trees, and I can hear the drip-drip-drip of the collected water raining down from the evergreen needles onto the matted forest floor.

And then, at some point, unpredictably, the fog simply vanishes, like a wisp of smoke disappearing into the atmosphere.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Mother

I had two actually. My birth mother and my step-mother. My birth mother died when I was 13, the oldest of five kids. My dad married my step-mother about a year later.

My step-mother had her faults (what step-mother doesn't?), but she raised five step-children (and one birth daughter) and we all turned out basically all right. We all finished high school, are responsible adults, and have regular jobs. None of us have been in trouble with the law. She taught us, through difficult and sometimes even harsh lessons, how to be independent. She died ten years ago, of a heart attack. I knew her for 34 years and have many memories of my step-mother - how she loved growing flowers, how she loved her dogs, the countless hours she spent volunteering, how important religion was to her, how important "family" was to her, how much she loved my dad. Even after ten years, I remember her Brooklyn accent, which my dad sometimes teased her about and which she could never change.

My birth mother is a different story. Her youngest three children do not even remember her. I was barely 13 when she died; I was twelve the last time I saw her. How much can a 12 year old remember? I remember her telling us every year that she didn't want any gift for Mother's Day - that having her children was enough. I remember she wore a bright red lipstick. I remember her curly reddish-brown hair and green eyes and freckles. I remember she was compassionate, and when we did something wrong, we could count on her compassion and understanding. I remember her teaching me how to bake cookies and cakes. I remember her often with a baby in her arms. But I don't remember her voice....or her laugh. I can see her laughing, but it is like a silent movie.

She died in a hospital, of breast cancer, at the age of 37. She never got to see her children grow up. I never got to know her as an adult. All I have for memories are a few hazy silent movies in my mind.


I never thought I would actually appreciate Walmart. At least for today, I do.

When you shrink everything you ever owned into a 10X12 storage space, and a year later return to set up a household, after you've purchased a couch and dining table on Craigslist, it is amazing to me all the little things you still don't have - wastebaskets, desklamp, broom, and vacuum cleaner to name a few. I have no idea what happened to these mundane household items in the packing, but somehow they did not make the cut for the storage unit. On the other hand, I have enough dishes and silverware to serve a Thanksgiving feast for twenty people. I will not run out of mugs in the foreseeable future, even if I break one every week for a year.

It is the little things that make me happy. I bought a flowered shower curtain to go with my very pink bathroom (think 1950s pink). I looking forward to taking down the gun metal grey plastic curtain and replacing it with something pretty.

Most important of all, I bought a phone. A landline phone. (Cell phones don't work up her in foggy redwood country.) I have a landline phone number. I have a phone jack in my bedroom. Once I recover from spending two hours scouring Walmart for wall hooks and sliverware trays and dish drainers, I'm going to find out if I have dial tone, and maybe a friendly voice at the other end of the line.

And tomorrow, I am going buy a vacuum cleaner.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Turning Thirty

I don't remember turning 30. I remember turning 40. I had a large pot-luck birthday party at the big yellow house I shared with two other single parents and our three kids. I remember turning 50. I had an even bigger party, outdoors, in a county park with a contra dance band to play for listening or dancing. I had not one but two scrumptious cakes from the Prolific Oven, chocolate fudge and orange-almond. I have not yet reached the big 6-0. I have time yet to plan for that one. I'm thinking smaller and simpler. Maybe just a party for one, someplace I've never been, Greece perhaps.

The summer I turned 30, Jim and I did not have a permanent home address. We were house-sitting for various friends, with a five month old in tow, moving from one gig to another with motel stops in between. I was still on crutches, having broken my femur six months before. For most of that summer, I was hooked up to an electro-magnetic stimulation device for twelve hours a day, taking care of a baby while Jim worked on building our cabin. For one month of that summer, before I found out I needed to be connected to the grid twelve hours a day, we camped out on the land where we were building our cabin, up in the hills above the peninsula, all three of us, in a large tent, with running water from a spring. We drove to town five days a week for work. I don't remember what we did for showers. A quick plunge in the cold creek probably sufficed. We had no phone in case of emergency, just an hour long ride into town.

It didn't seem daunting at the time, as it does now when I look back on those days and wondered how I coped. We just did it. We were young and strong. We were willing to take risks.

So today I have been thinking of my friend Sarah, who turns thirty tomorrow. During the past year, she has uprooted her familiar life in LA and moved to an Israeli kibbutz with her husband and two young pre-school age children. She has started a new life in a new land, with a new language and new culture, a new life far from her LA home, her family and friends.

And I wonder...when Sarah looks back at her 30th birthday thirty years from now, what will she remember?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Exciting Times

I met a neighbor this evening on the dirt road that has become home to me over the past ten days. He was going to check out the dead deer down the way. That's what passes for excitement out here in foggy redwood country. Yep.

He asked he if I had heard the coyotes last weekend. I hadn't but I am sure I will in the future. We watched the little bunnies cross the dirt driveway, back and forth and back and forth. "Bunny" is just another name for "snack" to the wily coyotes. We talked about the local trails and the other (TWO) houses on our dirt road. (Apparantly the families like each other about as much as the Wyatts and the Clantons did.)

I watched the golden sunlight filter through the trees on my way out for a short walk. On my way back, I found a spot on the road where I can actually see the ocean.

The other day, I actually got some mail in the community mailbox. (A birthday card from my sister.)

Exciting times up here in foggy redwood country. Yep.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Goodbye Willow Glen

I passed the Starbucks on the corner where I used to stop after my mile long walk from my home to downtown Willow Glen; the Nicknacks and Doodads used goods store where I got my flowered armchair in which I can sit cross-legged; the wonderful Vietnamese restaurant that has lines down the street during Chinese New Year's; John's Greek restaurant, where I left my green sweater, never to be seen again; the old-fashioned Candy Store that has several real theatre seats in the back and runs "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" on infinite do-loop; Aqui, the Mexican restaurant, a favorite spot for friends to gather; the Kids Clothing store where I bought summer dresses for Maytali; the frozen yogurt shop on the corner of Lincoln and Willow, worth the very long wait in line in the summertime; and last but not least, Bill's Cafe, where Tim and I would occasionally meet for breakfast.

I turned the corner on Lincoln and Willow and headed north to my new place further up the peninsula, and thought about my 18 months in Willow Glen. I will miss the big backyard, where I could grow flowers and vegetables, or just go out and sit way in the back of the deep shady backyard. I will miss the neighbors - the older gentleman across the street, who sells home grown vegetables from his garden in the summertime, right on the sidewalk in front of his house; the family across the street, the Frorens, who helped me out time and again when I got locked out of the house, or needed a garden tool, or help moving; the next door neighbor, with whom I discussed gardening over the fence.

Yes, there are some things that I will miss. But I am already looking forward to new adventures up here, in foggy redwood country.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Big Blue Barn

It sounds like a name from Sesame Street. I can hear the television show announcer now: "Today's episode is Big Bird and the Big Blue Barn". Yup.

But the truth is that I now live in the big blue barn. Well, it was at barn, at one point. The barn has been converted into two separate apartments, one upstairs, one downstairs. The outside has been painted sky blue with dark blue trim, the barn doors still visible, although sealed. Kind of strange color for a barn, or building of any kind. But I like the fact that its a bit unusual. Most of the people who live up here in foggy redwood country march to the tune of a slightly different drummer.

My part of the big blue barn, which is upstairs, has a small deck off the living area. The deck is also painted sky blue, with dark blue railings, where I can commune with nature in my pajamas in the morning, drinking my guava juice. Or check my emails in the evening, sitting in a chair on the deck, laptop on my lap, feet up on a footstool, as the sun paints golden colors through the trees.

It may be a Big Blue Barn in the woods, but that's just fine with me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Joe Wouldn't Like It Here

My sister said that our brother-in-law (my other sister's husband) has mastered his goal of keeping bugs out of his house. As this was an instant message on Facebook, I didn't get details. But it is no secret that Joe is not fond of hiking in the woods, communing with nature and encountering all kinds of nasty little critters.

My new place is in the woods. I see a forest of redwood trees out my back door. The new place is a converted barn and somewhat funky, although everything works. I even have indoor plumbing! (Don't laugh. When I lived out here 25 years ago we had an outhouse for a toilet, and an outdoor shower.) Not all the windows have screens, but I don't really care. I open the windows anyway to let in fresh air. So far, the bugs that have come in have been amenable. A few Daddy Long Legs. No yellow jackets, no misquitoes, no flies, no brown recluse spiders. If it ever gets hot out here this summer, I may resort to closing the two screen-less windows at dusk to keep out misquitoes.

We are fortunate in the Bay Area. Our summer weather is fairly dry. Many insects prefer their weather both hotter and wetter. We rarely have Lyme's disease and only an occasional case of West Nile virus.

Yes, some bugs can be deadly. But I've decided to take my chances. The view out my back door is worth it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lions, Tigers and Bears

...Oh My!

They were young and athletic and sometimes graceful. And naieve. The "boys" of All Reasons.

They ran up and down the stairs like teenage boys, complity-complity-clump. And yet when their profession called for amazing grace, they went into slow motion ballet. With furniture.

I asked if they had done this before. "Yeah, we seen it once in a movie."

The four "boys" were from All Reasons Moving. They weren't really boys, but they seemed so to me.

I paid extra to have the four of them. Four is better than two. At the large house in town, ballet as they danced my large and heavy desk around the corner and down the stairs. Packed and loaded in an hour; closed-my-eyes truck manuevering up the treacherous steep narrow and winding driveway; unpacked with amazing speed as they passed the boxes from the back of the pickup, up the stairs and onto the landing.

One after the other they asked me "how did you find this place?" (Craigslist) "Are there animals in the woods?" "Bears?" "Snakes?" No to the bears, yes to the snakes. California rattlers. I have seen a few rattlesnakes, up close and personal. But mostly deer, and an occasional bobcat. And the incredible beauty of the woods. (Yes, I have done this before.)

So now I sit early on a Sunday morning, looking out the patio doors into foggy woods, the only noise collected water dripping from the trees onto the forest floor. The still unpacked boxes sit behind me, some unopened, some with contents scattered about.

It is serene. I am happy. I am home.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I've Been Probed

It reminded me of those abduction scenarios you see in science fiction movies. Bright lights. Steel tables. Having your body physically probed.

I have now been officially probed through every orafice of the human body, without the benefit being lifted up into the belly of a starship. The routine colonoscopy celebrating my 50th birthday occurred several years ago. For the uninitiated, they stick a flexible camera up your colon. I had an endoscopy a few years before that, where they stuck a camera down my throat to see the lower end of my esophogus, which did not turn up anything serious.

Most females endure invasive procedures on regular basis. We are used to having hands and metal instruments shoved up into our "private parts" and I am no exception. The doctors don't need camera to perform this procedure; they have a bird's eye view at eye level. (Maybe they should use a flexible camera; it would certainly make the procedure more comfortable.)

Today, I think I had my last orafice probed - and I'm not even sure what the procedure is officially called. They stuck a tiny camera up my nose and down my throat. I got to see my vocal chords in action, which was actually very interesting. (No, I don't have Lou Gherig's disease, just a tiny polyp on my vocal chords.) He even looked into my ears with the flexible medical marvel.

There is no need to go back to the mother ship. All my inner workings have already been probed and have been captured in glorious living color on some data chip in some computer somewhere. On Earth.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Can't Wait for Saturday

The green pickup truck was gone from its ubiquitous spot in the driveway, my housemate gone for the evening. A few minutes later, I watched as the twenty-something year-olds rattled keys and stumbled out the front door.

Yes! The house was mine for a few hours. The evening air was cool, the house was quiet. The cat had even stopped her incessant whining. A cool summer salad, corn on the cob simmering on the stove. I headed for the dining room.

The dining room table was covered with a corrugated box and packaging material. The living room floor looked like Jeff just turned his gym bag upside-down and dumped his dirty gym clothes on the floor. Dirty plates littered every surface. My plan for eating dinner downstairs had been thwarted.

I headed upstairs to my room, where I usually eat dinner sitting in a chair with my plate on my lap. Plate in hand, I kicked Andrea's shoes, which had been carelessly discarded at the bottom of the stairs, out of the way.

After dinner, I planned to ice my back, injured in a recent minor car accident. I usually lie down on my back on my folded comfortor, which I place on the floor, with an ice pack under my back. However, the cat peed on the comfortor the other day, after getting shut in my room by mistake for the day.

My life with housemates is over, or will be on Saturday. I can't wait.