My husband is currently volunteering with other architects and engineers in Paradise, CA. They have to assess and catalog every structure in a city where 90% of the buildings are gone. Yet even the places burned to the ground have to be examined. We missed our Thanksgiving plans with his family because he feels that it is important to use his skills for the greater good when he can. I agree. This was not a quick, impulsive decision. He took the certification course a year ago, thinking that he’d probably have to use it after an earthquake around here. When the state contacted him about volunteering, he hesitated, but only for an instant. Then we had to prepare by outfitting him with steel-toed boots, a reflective vest, a whistle, and other emergency accoutrements. He had a hardhat, flashlight, and most of the required equipment, but we had only two days to find what he needed. Thank goodness for our local sporting goods store and Home Depot! He left after dinner Thanksgiving night, taking my daypack because it’s smaller than his.
The volunteers are sleeping on cots in an old CHP building. They’re working from 7am to 5pm in pouring rain, and they’re encountering incredible devastation–some they can help with and some they can’t. Handsome husband met a little calico cat waiting in front of her miraculously spared home. He contacted someone to bring her some warm, dry bedding and dry food. He also saw a burned and limping deer that he could do nothing for. Then he continued to catalog properties or piles of ashes that used to be something more.
My husband is lucky that he gets to come home in a few days to an intact house with functioning utilities, good food, and healthy pets. And, oh yeah, me. The people of Paradise are still wondering what to do next.
The Redding newspaper had these giving opportunities listed a week or so ago. It probably hasn’t changed much. Help if you can. In the meantime, enjoy and appreciate your families, homes, and comforts.
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Wow. I haven’t done this in some time.
One year ago today, my mother took her last breath as I stroked her hair. My brother Jg was also there, and we were both surprised at how natural and peaceful the whole transition was–so antithetical to the the heart-squashing grief that grabbed us. She had lung cancer and COPD, but she calmly and casually stopped breathing as if that were the only thing to do. I guess it was.
Chris Whitley also drew his last breath on November 20, dying of lung cancer twelve years before–and much younger than–my mom. I didn’t know him, but I hope that his transition was peaceful. So, what does my mother have in common with a skinny, long-haired musician? Well besides their Texan heritage and nicotine addictions, they were both weirdos. Beautiful, insecure weirdos.
My mother purposely dimmed her own light to let my father shine more brightly. Naturally social but never quite comfortable with attention, she turned it back on others as she preferred to give than to receive. She was drawn to other people’s misfortunes because they gave her the chance to be kind and useful and to apply her amateur psychological analysis that drove us all crazy. Weirdo.
Chris Whitley made music that can’t be categorized. An inventive and brilliant guitarist with a haunting voice, he made albums that were never the same style as the one before, and so he never built up the loyal fan-base that he deserves. Too weird to be rich and famous.
So this November 20, if you still smoke, QUIT NOW. If you don’t, call your mother if you can, and listen to this beautiful song.
He looked a little crazy with his long disheveled hair and the odd tattoos around his nose. He looked a bit dangerous with his bruised face and the collapsible but uncollapsed billy club that he was carrying. As he aggressively strode past us, he looked straight at me and said, “I think today’s the day.”
Living in the Bay Area, I’m sadly accustomed to encounters with the homeless, the addicted, the slightly mad, and others who exist in and around and amongst our neighborhoods. Most of the encounters are benign and, tragically, forgettable. This one is sticking with me because it was so quick and unexpected being right outside Trader Joe’s. And why tell me that today’s the day? Is it the day? Can I make it the day?
Today’s the day that I finished my first quarter grades and narratives. That’s a good day. What else can I do to make it the day? What “the day” do I want it to be? The day I tackle the refrigerator clean out? The day that I run my fastest two miles yet? The day that I book a trip to Montenegro? Today’s the day I do what is a good question to ask everyday. What today do I want this day to be?
Is today the day for you?
I’m practicing work avoidance today by doing other work. Instead of finishing the narratives for my quarter grades, I’ve walked to the farmers market, made two loaves of my grandmother’s apple bread (cake really), created a yummy sautéed veggie sandwich for lunch, and made some weapons grade salsa! I used a jalapeño that was not only large, it had been sitting in the crisper for over a week, and I think the heat must have intensified. Even the husband agrees that the salsa is hot. I’m crossing my fingers that it mellows over a few days in the fridge.
The apple bread is a family treasure. I have no idea where Grandma came by this recipe, but Grandpa loved it. He loved it so much that the day that my cousin Liz and I nibbled and nibbled on a loaf until it was nothing but crumbs, Grandpa firmly placed four apples, some knives, and a measuring cup in front of us and told us to get to peeling and chopping. We were not going to deprive him of his apple bread. Liz and I groaned and giggled our way through what was our first batch of apple bread. Here’s the recipe:
4 cups apples, 2 cups sugar, and 1 cup pecans or walnuts. Mix together and let stand for an hour.
Sift together 3 cups flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons soda.
To the dry ingredients, add 1 cup vegetable oil, 2 lightly beaten eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and the apple-sugar-nut mixture. Mix well, pour into greased and floured loaf pans (parchment paper on the bottom of the pans is so much nicer than greasing and flouring), and bake at 350º for 75 minutes. (Watch carefully–the time varies according to oven and pan size).
The photo above is of some of the sweaters that survived the purge. The sweater shelf in my closet was jumbled, chaotic, and looked especially horrible next to my husband’s precisely folded knitwear. He’s annoying that way. Looking for anything on that shelf was frustrating and time consuming, so I attacked it ruthlessly and found the exercise very satisfying. The sweater shelf is, for now, under control. Everything currently on the shelf will be in regular rotation this fall and winter. Only one sentimental item remains: a French sailor’s sweater that I bought at the Coopérative Maritime de Royan over 30 years ago. The sweater is stained and moth-eaten, but you can see the lovely pattern in the knit, and the wool is of great quality. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away because I bought it for my Dad who passed away four years ago.
Now my mother is dying of lung cancer. Her health, her decline, her weakness, her pain are all out of my control. So I’m managing my feelings of insufficiency by working and by organizing some things that must submit to my will. I think the pantry is next.
My summers off allow me to run in the morning when everything seems nicer and fresher. I usually jog the same route through the same streets, and I encounter some of the same people along the way. I wave and smile at the older gentleman who hollers “nice pace, maam!” as I pass by. I sometimes stop and pet two of my favorite neighborhood cats, the portly, demanding tuxedo named Lady H and the blue-eyed, equally demanding cat that I call Alice. Dog walkers nod or say hi as our paths cross, but I’m sad to say that a lot of people don’t acknowledge my presence. That’s okay, because I like to think that I’m invisible when I run. Except to cars-that’s why I wear a neon-orange shirt! This morning I greeted one of my favorite fellow morning exercisers, the petite lady who wears long pants, a turtleneck, a wool jacket, a hat, and hot-pink gloves. Everyday. Today is August 2, and the temperature was probably 61-62 degrees when we were out. Granted, I’m wearing long sleeves for protection against the sun but not the cold. However, I understand her attire. I was chilled for the first five years that I lived here. Moving from Houston, I thought any temperature under 75º was cold. While other people were wearing shorts and sandals, I wore sweatshirts and Uggs. Gradually, I warmed up. Maybe she will too, but I would miss her hot-pink gloves.
Months have passed since I’ve written or even felt like writing. I’ve been in a minor funk–not a bad one, just the kind where I would rather take a nap or read the New York Times than do something productive. Then today I decided to catch up on my friend Mitch’s blog, and I read that he’s not really much of a fan of musicals! What? We’ve been friends for almost seventeen years, yet I did not know this? How could I not know this! I love musicals. Many of my childhood memories involve singing along with show tunes. My cousin Dan and I listened to the soundtrack to The Sound of Music until we wore it out! Our duet of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” was outstanding to our pre-teen ears. I know all the words to every song from Calamity Jane because I watched the movie probably forty times before I was seven years old. (It was on TV quite often in the mid-sixties.) Mitchito says that “[p]eople suddenly bursting out into song while walking in the street never looked right to me on film, just goofy.” I sadly but respectfully disagree! I used to think that spontaneous song and dance numbers happened all the time; I was just never in the right place. I mean, look at the organic song-bursts that happened in The Music Man because they had trouble in River City! (After being so smitten with this film, I not only sang the songs, I emulated the speech patterns of the characters. My mother was forced to inform me that “Ye Gods!” wasn’t a nice thing for six-year old girls to be screeching.) And My Fair Lady! Really, Mitch! Few things are more satisfying than singing “Just You Wait, Henry Higgins” at high volume. Try it! And wouldn’t it be fun to have Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye narrate your life in song! (I know, I know. Cat Ballou isn’t technically a musical, and yet….)
To give Mitch credit, he does say that he likes musicals that tell a more plausible story. To me, the story was only a vehicle for the music that allowed the beautiful people to sing or dance. If you will excuse me now, I have to go listen and sing along with “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight”.
My book group most recently gathered on March 22, and all of us remarked on the absence of our friend Carol. “She’s never sick,” “She never misses,” and similar comments greeted the news that she wouldn’t be joining us that night. The following Saturday we learned that she had pancreatic cancer, and the following Tuesday she died. The swiftness and shock of it all were evident on the faces of her friends and family who gathered for the memorial two days Continue reading “A life well lived…”
Getting students comfortable enough to speak another language is hard work. Students’ fear of making mistakes, general shyness and/or uncertainty all do battle with my efforts to get them to communicate en français. The constant work on vocab and verbs and pronunciation takes up every second of the class, but sometimes we just have to carve out time for something else. Yesterday was one such day. The French fête of Chandeleur (a combination of Pagan and Christian celebrations that anticipate Spring) was actually Thursday, but our school schedule made it easier to make crèpes for the kids on Friday. Round, golden crepes remind us of the sun, or so the story goes, but they also remind the kids that French class is cool and Madame est super cool.
Making crepes and getting ready to make crepes is really quite the production for me. I arrive at school with the crepe-maker, the blender, a cooler full of ingredients, and a bag of tools and dishes. I have to get up a little earlier to make a batch of batter before I leave for school because it has to sit for an hour. Then I have to set out all the fillings, the plates, the recipes, and so forth. The effort pays off as the need to communicate becomes something tangible for the kids. I can get a yummy crepe and smear it with Nutella and strawberries! Or bananas and chocolate chips if I just ask for it politely in French! And whipped cream! Merci Madame they all think. And they forget to worry about the mistakes. They all think about Chandeleur, the coming spring, and how easy and delicious crepes are. As for me, I’m worn out (but pleased). Meanwhile, the kids in my English classes are resentful.
The discomfort hit me as we were walking toward the checkout line. The nerves and muscles around my sacral and lumbar vertebrae decided to twinge and then ache with low-to mid-level pain. I was bummed because today is Sunday, and on Sundays, I cook. I cook all day because I love to cook and because we then have dinners for the rest of the week, making those work days easier.
Today is a stormy Sunday, and the weather forecast says rain all week, so that calls for soup. Continue reading “Oh my aching back and wooden spoon…”