I’ve been to Hollywood. I’ve been to Redwood.

But I’ve never been to Canada.

A sweet aroma seeps in through my window with jasmine and honeysuckle blooming in the breeze. My next big adventure is just around the corner – plane, trains, buses and automobiles. I’ve got to fit a boat in there somewhere. I think I know where.

West coast to east coast and return via, mostly, Amtrak and Canada Rail.

The whole thing started with three very special reasons. One daughter. Two brothers. Looking forward (of course!) to my daughter’s BS in Nursing graduation celebration after a short plane hop to Denver, spending a bit of time with Mom’s 93-year old cousin in Gunnison CO, joining up with the famly exploring Estes Rocky Mountain National Park outside Denver, all followed by a brief road trip to the tiny town of Chimayo, New Mexico.

Then it’s “All Aboard!” from Lamy, NM to visit family and friends on the east coast. Seeing Niagara Falls and Canada for the first time. Walking through Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Getting to know new “couchsurfing.com” friends along the way. Having just helped my own family and neighbors put together a big 4th of July block party, I’ll be enjoying the 4th on a train ride in the country to the north of us.

One little easy-peasy trip led to a whole string of things to do and 5-7 weeks of visiting friends and family. Places to go. People to see. Connections to miss.

All I have to do now is make the list. Or lists.

Ten Things to do before I leave the homestead.

  1. Finish reading the last twenty pages of Romancing the Pirate, Michelle Beattie, and take it back to the library. LOL. I know. I do have a wide variety of reading materials.
  2. Upload my grandmother’s journal, written thirty years ago in the summer of 1938 when she was off on her own solo train trip from San Francisco to Alaska. I’m planning on reading it with a drink in one hand in the observation car as the rest of the world rolls by.
  3. Make a list of what I want in that traveling backpack of mine. Laptop, misc. electronics, lotions, potions, sundries and something to wear.
  4. Put a hold on the daily newspaper & provide the new nurse in the family with instructions on how-to-care-for-my-orchids (Raylan & Ava). Yes, they have names.
  5. Do my spring cleaning. It’s not summer yet, but it will be when I return. Cobwebs, be gone.
  6. Settle on my itinerary once and for all. Or not.
  7. Count my blessings.
  8. Sort out what I want in my wallet. Passport.
  9. Finish Writers Club tasks to hand off to the team.
  10. Offer up my cottage to a couple of friends and family to stay in if they wish to visit the valley and need a place to crash.

 

What did I forget? What ten things would be on your list?

 

 

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Micrófono Abierto Bilingüe con Chocolate

I moved from San Francisco to Napa CA in 2009 to take a new job. I wasn’t looking forward to living in what I thought of as a white-bread community. I soon realized how ignorant I was. I chose a working class neighborhood in which to make my home and eventually became active in the writing community.

Early in 2017, I sat in a roomful of well-meaning, mostly gringo artists at the Napa Valley State of the Arts event. I listened as the panelists discussed the fact that our local diverse communities were not in the room. One brave Latino photographer spoke up. “If you want to include them, you need to go to them. They are not going to come to you.” I wondered how to do that. I spoke to Izrael a few times during the next twelve months, and never really felt like I did much to help.

A year later, still wondering, I ran into him at the 2018 State of the Arts. I sat in on a small panel discussion, again, on diversity challenges, with mostly caucasians in the room. One out of three panelists was a young man I’d met earlier in the year. Intelligent, outspoken and passionate, Xulio had moved here as a kid many years ago with his family from Oaxaca, Mexico. He’s a social justice worker and a poet.

I’m the current president of Napa Valley Writers, and we were going to be hosting a first for our Valentine’s Day meeting just weeks later: Open Mic with Chocolate. I sat in front of the panel with an idea brewing, perhaps a way to bring our diverse communities together on one day of love – an Open Mic with Chocolate – Bilingual edition.

I spoke with Xulio at the panel’s conclusion and we met the next day. We were excited with our new plan. He reached out to his wide-spread ties in the local global south and native performing arts communities. We coordinated a bilingual public service announcement on local radio, distributed Spanish-English flyers, and promoted the event to our publicity contacts.

A few minutes before the Valentine’s Day event was to start, the room was practically empty and I worried. Fifteen minutes later, the place was packed with some of the usual crowd and many more people I hadn’t met, or seen, before.

Twenty-five people, forty percent of the attendees, young and old, read or performed their work in poetry, prose, and song from their hearts in many flavors of love – for the land, for the people, for a lover, for change. My collaborator was emcee, and at the opening, Xulio informed the gathering that we chose not to ask that every piece be translated. We wanted to hear with our hearts the understanding that was there for each of us.

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Not being a Spanish or native speaker myself, I could occasionally pick out a few words like madre and amore. I thought of how so many others feel every day in the English language world of this America. My heart caught in my throat. We provided something very special that night. Everyone there was filled with compassion, togetherness, and the desire to move this one event forward into something more.

 

Speakers and listeners both touched their hearts with open hands with a feeling of gratitude and many of us had tears. Of course I’m still aware of our divisions, but at least once, together, we’ve experienced a bit of a bridge. The room pulsed with energy. One of our writers group members commented that it was the highlight of the year.

The Vintage high school girls’ Spanish and English words in poem and performance brought down the house as they spoke of the prejudices and injustices their families live with on a daily basis – and what they are doing to change it. The elder Mexican poet read from his journal to a pin-drop quiet audience, receiving a thunderous applause at the close. Charlie, native woman and elder, spoke and chanted, reminding us of our memories and our spirit that has been lost and is now being found again. Xulio’s performance dazzled. My Latino friend, who advised me that I had to go to them, spoke to me with misty eyes that matched mine.

Change is coming, I felt it that night and I feel it now.

 

(Thanks to the Napa Valley Register for running a version of this piece as a commentary in the Sunday 3/4/2018 edition)

It’s a Ride, Not a Race.

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I celebrated Earth Day out on it.

It was to be my first 50-mile bike ride in support of Cycle for Sight/Enchanted Hills Camp/Lighthouse for the Blind. I’ve been training for it. I ended up cutting the ride short—not because I couldn’t physically do it. Oh…I could have. Definitely could have.

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No, I had a big Writers Club event at one o’clock. How the universe put together possibly my two biggest personal events of the year in one day, I have no idea.

I suppose it fits—a bike ride—and the release of a new book. Both treks take you up and down, over and over again, alternately speeding and holding back before coasting successfully across the finish line.

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I arrived at the staging area at 7:30 in the morning, and commenced riding with the early birds at 8 o’clock, bike bag laden with water/gatorade and a granola bar. It turned out I didn’t need any of it. The Ride rest stations took good care of us. As I wheeled along with dozens of other riders, passing and being passed, I kept reminding myself – it’s a ride, not a race, it’s a ride, not a race.

The morning was glorious with stunning cloud formations and shoots of warm sunshine. I started out in leggings, silky red cashmere gloves, sleeveless gym shirt, and two jackets. By the time I hit the first rest stop, those jackets and gloves were packed inside my bag, my skin free to feel the cool air as I whizzed along.

We pedaled 7 or 8 easy miles through vineyards, alongside streams and past lush greenery north of the start line until we arrived at the Yountville Veteran’s Home. We sailed up the wide driveway, along Memorial Mile lined with staked posters calling out the names of Veterans and Ride supporters. Donations to the Ride are split between The Lighthouse for the Blind and Pathway Home, a Veterans Organization.

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It was a quick porta-potty stop and several minutes of walking and stretching. The Ride Support crews served up a huge spread of orange sections, power drinks, water, cookies, and hard boiled eggs. I grabbed a few bites before heading off.

On the way down the hill, I purposely wheeled close to a 90-year-old-ish Vet with a WWII ball cap on his hairy head. He was in his wheelchair watching the riders on parade. I thought of all our old dads who’ve served, and called out to him, “Thank you for your service!” I was more than happy with the slight smile and nod I received in reply.

I’ve ridden many miles in the valley—up, down, and across. My longest until yesterday was 27 miles, sometime in the past few weeks. At one point on the route, when the race guides suggested going left (north), I thought better and went south, to the right. I was thinking of the time and wanting to head back.

I was sailing along when I looked over to see a well-known and oft-visited landmark—Mumm’s tasting room. That shouldn’t be there, I thought, starting to laugh. After my initial surprise, I was cracking up. I hadn’t been riding south after all. I’d been getting in several extra miles to the north!

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There was no traffic so I quickly made a nice wide u-turn and headed south. For real. A few miles later, just after stopping at the top of an incline, I texted one of my friends to check in, and sailed down a rough patch of bike lane. FWHKISH! What was that noise? I slowly braked, and looked down to see a rear flat tire.

Was I ever surprised. There was a brand new tire/tube on that wheel.

I wasn’t only thinking about the flat, and what to do about it—I was thinking about the next big event I  needed to get to. I didn’t think I had time for a flat. In less than two minutes though, two biker-angels came to my rescue.

The first, a rider about my age, sailed across the road from his own ride north. “Could you use some help?”

Laughing, I answered, “Yes I could.”

He asked me a few more questions. To which I replied, “No, I don’t have an extra tube. No, I don’t know how to fix a flat, either.”

IMG_9437Standing at his bike, he answered, “I’ve got one right here that’ll work for you.” He pulled an empty tube like a magic trick right of his little carry pack attached to his bike seat.

His name is Blair. He lives here in town. We talked about the idea of me learning how to change a flat sometime, in a helpful manner of course. No judgments. He got his little tools out to pry the tire off and get the tube out. It wasn’t easy as they were new and stiff. Just as he was finishing up that task, as we chit-chatted, a ride support-van came along, also heading north. Anthony (I learned his name quickly) popped out of the van and crossed the road, air pump in hand. “Need some help?!”

Other riders would pass us, cheerily calling out “Need help?” or “You guys all right?” and once—”Get out of the bike lane!” That last one was from the only women who yelled out at us. “It’s a ride, not a race,” Anthony said as the three of us chuckled. Where were we supposed to be? In the weedy drainage ditch on the side of the road?

They finished helping me, we said our goodbyes & good lucks and each of us headed off on our merry ways.

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Early on, I had decided I had time for the 25-miler. With those extra miles of mine, I ended up at the finish line with 34 miles! Woo hoo! I also had a new bike tube, two ride t-shirts, new friends, and a wine glass half filled with a nice cool white. I was able to chat a bit with my friends from The Lighthouse – Tony, Kathy, and James before I made my way a mile or so to Rob & Liz’s house where I’d stashed a car and dress-up clothes.

After a shower and a little make-over, I headed out to the Napa Valley Writers Book Launch. First Press, with stories and poems from over 45 authors of Napa Valley, was finally seeing the light of day – we were excited! Over 50 people attended this fabulous event. More than a dozen of our authors read excerpts from their work. We enjoyed each other’s company, along with a nice spread of wine, cheeses, baguettes, and chocolate covered strawberries put together by our Launch Team on a beautiful Earth Day afternoon.

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On a sad note, one of our First Press authors died recently – just prior to his work being published. I’d invited his wife beforehand to join us at the Launch. I watched Maryann in her dark teal sweater as she filmed one of our writers reading Michael (Mike) Layne’s piece to the crowd. I was touched, and I know she was. I think we were all touched as we thoroughly enjoyed the reading of Mike’s story, “Vittoria’s Secret”.

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All, or almost all, the books we had on hand sold out. Some of us laughingly passed our books around to get autographs—just like high school. First Press: Collected Works from Napa Valley Writers 2017 is available now at The Bookmine in Napa and First Press at amazon.com

It couldn’t have been a better day in the neighborhood.

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Sunday Morning

I’m sleeping. Sort of. I was tossing and turning all night. Stresses of the day added to a damn head cold.

DING. Cell phone message alert. I think about rolling over to check it. It takes me a minute.

Mom, could you come stay with Micah? He’s still sleeping and the rest of us are leaving to go get Rachel.

I think about saying something smart-ass about the fact that I was still sleeping. But it doesn’t really matter.

Yes. Be right there. I mess around a bit, making the bed, getting dressed until I hear their car rumbling awake.

I walk the 20 steps over to their place, say goodbye to the wide-awake-gang, grab some coffee and sit down for SNL – smiles and laughter, good. I read through the local paper: American Canyon (Inc. city in Napa County) researches becoming a sanctuary city. Great. I was actually wondering about Napa City/sanctuary sometime during my sleepless laying awake bothered and bewildered hours.

Micah’s up now. He’s 4, walking around looking for the family. He lays on the couch, plays with my phone a brief few minutes. He looks a little funky to me, more laid back than the real Micah. “When will they be home?” he asks. “When will Nana be here?”

“In a while, I’m not sure.”

“Wha what..’s…Daddy’s er, Daddy’s daddy’s name?” he asks, the words stumbling from his lips.

“You mean Lowell? Pop Pop? The guy in the picture there? With the beard?”

“Yeah… he …not coming today?”

“No honey. I’m sorry. He’s not, he died. He’s gone now.”

“No, he not!”

“I know it’s sad. He’s in our hearts now, where he’ll always be.”

“NO! HE! NOT!” He rolls away from me, looking up at the picture of his Pop Pop.

This is our first Thanksgiving without Lowell. We are so happy to have Rachel here with us this week. We all need all the love we can get. We miss him so very much.

Micah watches some TV, and asks for a bowl of cereal. “I want it mixed. Honey Nut Cheerios mixed with Honey Oat Crunch.”

Okay.

I go take a shower and go sit down with Micah again, checking my email and Facebook.

“When they be here?” he asks, his little fingers twirling my hair.

“In just a few minutes, they’re right around the corner.”

Mollie just texted me to say so.

Everyone arrives, excitement in the air. The two grandmas hug and check in with each other. She’s had a long day already, having left Arizona to arrive in Oakland at 8 a.m.

I love Sundays. Mollie brought me a donut.

 

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