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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Dear Governor,

You didn’t know Jorge. He was just one of thousands of mentally ill patients living in one of your state mental health hospitals.

I wonder sometimes how his sister, his only surviving relative, is doing. I wonder if she knows the truth about how and why he died.

Jorge didn’t die from his heart disease, COPD, diabetes or long term dialysis treatments due to kidney failure. That’s how we all expected him to die. Fifty-five years old, in and out of hospitals much of his life, he was sure to die earlier than a healthy person his age.

Then he landed in one of your state mental hospitals. A few years after being admitted, his paranoia, his delusions and his lack of impulse control were somewhat improved. All we did to help him was of no help on his last day on earth. His last transport out of the hospital was in a body bag.

We told the patients, his peers on the ward, a couple of days later. Some already knew about it and some didn’t care. Some said “good riddance.” At the time of Jorge’s death, employees felt their own PTSD flare up again with increased respiratory rate, heart palpitations, and tears sneaking out during the unit de-briefing or later, in break room conversations.

Jorge’s dead because another patient killed him in the middle of the night when the unit was understaffed. He’s dead because your hospital refused to hire staff at appropriate patient levels based on the violent tendencies of many of our patients.

We know that the patient who killed Jorge will not be held responsible because of his own mental illness. Both men were mentally ill, both hospitalized for care and treatment. The hospital administration, and you—where the buck stops—is accountable for Jorge’s death. My colleagues know that. The doctors, the nurses, the janitorial staff all know it.

Yes, Jorge had a mean and nasty mouth on him, I’ll give him that. He could rile the calmest person in the room. That was his M.O. He was stingy. He was funny, flirty, kind at times, and very sad. He also played a wicked game of chess.

And now he’s dead.

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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)

…and the Cubs Win!

I was over at my daughter and son-in-law’s house this morning, keeping an ear out for my 4-year-old grandson playing in the next room. My fingers paused on the laptop keys as I waited for the creative juices to kick in. Please kick in. I wanted something fresh and funny for the upcoming open mic.

Problem was, I wasn’t feeling fresh and funny. I was feeling worn, torn, and battle fatigued with the overwhelming election coverage this year. The Cubs’ World Series win brought me much needed relief and excitement — even if it was drawn out over and over again. That high didn’t last near long enough. I was missing that consummate Cubs fan who killed himself ten years ago. The big win was just one more in a string of life events he’s missed out on.

An hour later, I was still looking at a white screen without one string of words to be seen.

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You know why?

Well. My friend had some studying to do, so I suggested she bring her 4-year-old daughter
over to play. The more, the merrier is my motto. She dropped off her daughter along with the best of offerings — doughnuts, coffee, and hot chocolate. Woo Hoo!

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Twenty minutes later, it was time to wash and dry those cute little hands and faces. Time
to chase the dog back out after she knocked one of them onto the floor. Time to put that laundry in the dryer. I checked my email. Ah hah! A personal note from the Clinton campaign. Please, would you donate just one dollar? Sure, here’s 5. Would you like to double that? Sure, make it ten. Get out the credit card and load up the webpage with all the necessary information. Thanks – want to give more? No. Not today.

Then I checked Facebook. I peeked at a bit of online campaign news. I clicked around youtube and listened to a couple of tunes. First there was Bob Dylan, then John Lennon. I felt better. Kids were playing nicely. They were chattering away and giggling in their own little world.

So, anyway, I got back to business. It was a sunny day outside and I glanced into the living room. My eyes landed on Mollie’s memorial corner. Three framed portraits hang over the aging upright piano.

Lowell: strong and courageous father of three sons, dressed in his lifelong beard and glasses. Mollie’s husband’s father, he died just last year, after a tough battle with aggressive metastatic melanoma. He was such a wonderful man, full of love and passion… a man who would do anything for his family.

Katie, my beautiful grand-daughter, gone from us much too soon. I look at her smiling, in her pensive way; I wonder what she was thinking when that picture was taken. Our hearts broke the day she died, leaving behind her baby boy Jack. Her laughter had filled our world. We miss her so much.

And Matt, my former husband, father of three, baseball fan extraordinaire, former Stratamatic player and political junkie, a voracious reader who died before Mollie even knew she’d be marrying Matt, her new boyfriend.

Each of them gone now from this world for widely different reasons, each one of them leaving a big hole in my heart. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t imagine Katie or Matt or Lowell standing with us in the sunshine, laughing at a birthday party, playing with the kids, or repairing something or other.

Cheering the Cubs.

Damn. Pass me that doughnut.

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Him Puts You on the Naughty List

This morning, all before 8:30 am.

“Mimi, I can’t find my shoe,” Peyton, 6 years old, tells me, moaning, while standing in the dining room twirling the one shoe she does have round and round by the shoe laces. A perfect example of gravity if I ever saw one.

“Keep looking, Peyton. It has to be somewhere,” I answered, right before I walked into her bedroom to see the elusive shoe sitting all by itself, minding its own business on the top of her bed.

Brooklyn, 9 years old, just had to have my cell phone,”I swear I won’t play games, Grandma. I’m ready for school, like you said. I need to use the calculator.”

“What do you need to calculate?” I asked.

“What’s half of fifteen?” she said.

Oh, man, I thought, turning my head so she wouldn’t see my laughing face. “Oh, let’s see — seven and a half.”

She sighed loudly and gave up on the phone idea.

Driving to school a bit later, we saw three deer grazing leisurely on the lawn at the intersection of Coombsville Road and 4th Avenue.

The car burst with exclamations.

“Deer!! Deer!! Deer!! Mimi, Grandma!! See the deer??!!”

Yep.

After I dropped his sisters off at school, 3 1/2 year old Micah and I drove past the deer in the grass again.

“Deer! Mimi, see the deer?”

“I do, that’s so cool, Micah.”

“That’s Santa’s house,” he told me, very seriously, “Really, it’s Santa’s house, with  reindeer.”

Laughing inside, I asked him if he was sure.

“Yes, if you’re bad, him puts you on the naughty list.”

“He does?” I responded, eyeing him in the rearview mirror.

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“Yes. And if you’re good, him gets you on the good list.”

“Yes, you’re right. He sure does.”

A few minutes later, still in the car, he announces, “Mimi, last time I called you Mom.”

Evidently letting me know he called me by the wrong name, and he really does know the difference.

Still in the car…

“Jyles’ mom says I look like my dad,” he said, giggling, “I look like my dad?!”

I can just imagine him thinking about how his dad really looks – to him – and how in the world can he look like that?

OMG.

The rewards I bank for being able to hang out with grandkids every day of the week.

 

Berries, Brownies and Sunshine Daydreams

I met Karen in Yosemite last fall, both of us traveling solo, both about the same age. We hit it off right away. She totally cracked me up with this tale of a younger Karen and her best friend Jana.

In 1978, Karen and Jana lived in Santa Cruz. Karen was divorced, raising two little boys; Jana was single. They lived near each other, close to the Safeway store they were both employed and where they first met. Jana ran the office, Karen ran the produce department. Occasionally they worked the checkout lines. They shared a birthday and Karen remembered those years as some of the best.

They grew their own pot back then. Karen’s plants thrived, hidden in the berry bushes in her vegetable/fruit garden. The harvest dried in the tool shed. She laughed as she told me her ex-husband would have blown a gasket if he knew about it; he lived just across town.

Along with a couple of other friends, they’d bought tickets to the upcoming Grateful Dead concert that fall, up in San Francisco.

Karen says she made a tasty batch of pot brownies and they started cruising up the Coast Highway in her Blue Ford Econoline van. She’d had one too many brownies, so she wasn’t even driving her own vehicle that day. Jason was. She thinks that’s who it was.

Instead, she was lounging in the back with Jana, relaxing, excited, and keeping time to the music in the cassette deck.

Arriving in the City, they pulled into a gas station to check the wall map for their location and best route to the concert. She and Jana scanned the map, smiling.

“Karen, we’re clear across town from where we ought to be.”

Karen answered with her thumb and forefinger.

“We’re only this far away…”

Laughing, suddenly, Karen lost her bearings, and fell onto the cold hard pavement, passed out. Her friends couldn’t rouse her. They called an ambulance. They all them ended up in the ER. Karen smiled at me, telling me this part of the story had to be filled in for her.

The ER staff grilled her friends repeatedly.

“What’s she on? What’s she taken? Coke? LSD? What?”

Again and again, Jana and the guys answered, “It’s just pot brownies, it’s just pot, that’s all.”

Four hours later, she woke with a screaming headache of a concussion. The hospital released them. After missing the concert, it was a quiet trip back home. They were totally despondent. Karen pined that no amount of brownies would have helped them feel better.

She brooded for a few days before deciding to write a letter to the concert promoter. She related the entire story of why they had missed the concert. She placed the four unused tickets into the envelope, mailed it off, hoping for a refund.

A week or so later, she heard the mail as it dropped through the door slot. Return address, Bill Graham. She ripped it open.

No refund.

Instead, she found a small flyer poster and a one page handwritten note ‘Enjoy the show’, signed by Bill Graham (which she still has), with four tickets to the upcoming Grateful Dead All Night New Year’s Eve concert.

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The upcoming New Year’s Eve show was set to be the closing night at Winterland. Supposedly, there’d been 500,000 ticket requests. By this time, Winterland was pretty much a dump of a concert hall. Everyone in the bay area knew the last show absolutely had to be the Grateful Dead.

The opening act was a groovy set by the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Up next, Blues Brothers live – the place was rocking. At the time, to the rest of the world, Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi were bigger stars than the Dead. The vocals, the dancing, the mouth-harp, and the horns blew the place out.

Just about midnight, the lights went down. The room tingled with energy. A burning light lit up in the back of the hall, high in the balcony. Jumping and turning, everyone looked to see what seemed to be a giant marijuana cigarette, flaring from one end, like a rocket.

The crowd screamed with delight as Bill Graham coasted along a wire to the stage up front. Just as he landed, fireworks lit up the room, the place erupted and Sugar Magnolia roared from the Dead – the rest of the night was a magical spectacle, indeed, a Happy New Year! All night long. And then, the famous Grateful Dead Concert Breakfast was served.

All I could say to Karen, sitting in the Yosemite trees at the end of her story was, “Wow.”

It was a sweet remembrance of hers that I could totally relate to. We made a plan to meet up again this summer. Her son answered the phone recently when I called to make arrangements. He told me Karen died a month earlier. Cancer.

That’s when I knew I had to share her story with you. It was too good not to.

Rehearsing this reading, I mentioned to my own son and his friends that I was going to use a little prop for the story. Thinking I might pass around a joint, he said, “Mom, they’re going to love your reading!”

I was actually thinking of the poster. He also said, “Oh, now I get it – that’s why we were always having berry crepes!”

Addendum: A half hour before I was set to read this live at a Writer’s Open Mic, I was walking and relaxing along the Napa River. I got the munchies (yeah). I walked around the corner to the local Ben & Jerry’s to have myself a nice Cherry Garcia ice cream cone. Perfect, huh?

I walked in to the Napa Bookmine, where the reading was to be held. Looking through the shelves, I picked up Bill Kreutzmann’s book, Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead in which he talks a bit about this last concert at Winterland. http://www.wsj.com/articles/grateful-deads-drummer-pens-a-memoir-1430236048

That’s the kind of day it’s been. Sunshine daydream; walking through the tall trees…

The Warmest Year

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The experts say our planet had the warmest year ever.

The warmest year since they’ve have been counting.

My eye catches the clouds soaring over our dying tomato vines,

Green and orange fruit still struggling to ripen.

Raindrops drizzling their softness on the baby blue pool cover.

And I wonder.

What will the experts say about my saddest year ever?