All posts by Donna Fentanes

Intimations of Autumn

young pumpkin

I never liked August. Too hot, too long, and school couldn’t come fast enough. My daughter can’t wait for school to start, she’s like me. But my sister, on the other hand, loves..loves summer. Any time I may hint that autumn is around the corner, she growls at me. This blog is not for her.

I like August a little bit more now since my son was born smack dab in the middle of the month. His birth, my third, was going to be a casual affair. My sister and some friends came to witness his birth. We were all hanging out, laughing, waiting…well, they were. I was in labor. As much as I like people, labor is not the time to hang out. I didn’t even like the dad around.

So, August, with the exception of Eugene’s birthday, is one of my least favorite months. Until…the weather begins to change. Yesterday was a nice day. One coworker commented the weather was just weird. But, I’ve lived in the Bay Area long enough to know that in August there are days when the wind stills and the humidity rises. Some of the residual tropic weather from the south sweeps north just long enough to flirt with us, spook us (earthquake-weatherish) and, of course, make us sweat. As I try not to complain about the short discomfort the heat brings, I am reminded that this is the first intimation of autumn. It’s coming. Yay!

Another intimation, which like Christmas is coming sooner and sooner, is the fall display racks at JoAnn’s and the back-to-school items at every store. I think I saw fall items at JoAnn’s in June…a little too soon, uhm, no, not for autumn colors, decorations, all the physical reminders of cooler weather, holidays, fires and baking. Autumn is the coziest of seasons. The holidays beckon the family together, cooking becomes a high priority, and crafting is resurrected. All the things I LOVE to do. And when those activities subside, the shorter days give way to  longer, pleasurable nights of reading. What is not to love?

Finally, the most exciting intimation of autumn is the falling off of those early victims of the deciduous cycle. I see them huddled in corners, sparsely strewn on walkways, waiting for the rest of their kind to heap upon them. Not too many piles now, but I have found a few to stomp through. What is it about the crunching of dead leaves, the crackling, the swishing that is so comforting? As a young girl, I remember so clearly walking on a damp road in Santa Rosa, through the leaves, acorns and pebbles; it is one of my fondest memories…so simple, so beautiful, so soothing, I can still smell the damp earth, hear the crunching, feel the cold. I know a therapist who uses stones for her patients, just touching  and caressing the stone brings relief for their anxiety. That’s what walking through autumn leaves does for me.

Enjoy the rest of your summer. I’ll sit here and continue to spy out other intimations of autumn.

Dear Children

Lady-Writing-a-Letter-xx-Thomas-Faed

December 2007

Dear Children,

I am writing to you today to prepare you, and to help you understand what is probably happening to your mother. You know, I am 48 years old. Yes, it is old; but not as old as I thought it would be when I was your age. No, honey, I’m not going to die. Anyway, at this age, a woman’s body goes through changes. Unfortunately, these changes come with symptoms that might confuse, bewilder or even frighten you. I want to tell you not be afraid. These changes will go away eventually, even if you have grown and are married with kids of your own. What I am saying is that I’m not sure how long these particular symptoms may last.

These symptoms are related to menopause. Menopause is the time when women can’t have anymore babies. Honey, take your fingers out of your ears…and no, I wasn’t gonna have anymore anyway. OK. Focus. The trouble is not with menopause, but with perimenopause which is the time before. That’s when there’s trouble. No, I’m not in trouble. This is when mommy’s body goes through changes, and she may act funny.

I’m going to go over some of the ways your mom and some of your friends’ moms may act around this time of their lives. Now, every woman is different and one may be very mad all the time, and one may be very sad. I think I’m one of the sad ones. That’s why I cry a lot. But if you’re at a friend’s house and their mom or aunt is having a bad day, freaking out about something, try to be a little understanding and ignore it. Your friend will appreciate it. This is a good thing to remember during these years. Years?! Yes, darling, it could be years until things simmer down.

There are many symptoms that afflict a perimenopausal woman. However, it is her reaction to these symptoms that you need to be prepared for. Pray for an early menopause, then we can all go back to our normal, dysfunctional family life with a (good looking) stable, wise middle-aged mother. A goal all of us ladies aspire to. The two main symptoms you need to be aware of are: hot flashes and panic attacks.

Almost all women experience hot flashes. They kinda are hard to explain, let’s just say the chemicals in a woman’s body get a little out of whack and soon she’s walking around in her own personal oven. Seriously, it could be the dead of winter in Wisconsin, and she’ll be red-faced in a tank top opening up all the windows. It will look like she’s sick with a fever, but she’s not. She’s just hot…yeah, that is funny. Ignore that she looks like a tomato, never confront her on this and just be prepared with a parka or toasty blanket.

My hot flashes have been mild compared to your aunt’s. She gets a lot of them, and they are not pretty. Best thing to do is go in the spare bedroom and play Nintendo. Don’t pay attention to her profuse sweating, ignore her swearing (she might be one of the mad ones) and don’t repeat anything she may say during this time. Finally, a gentle reminder, when you’re at your friend’s house, and it’s freezing inside the house, you know what’s going on. Bring an extra sweater or something, and keep quiet.

Unfortunately for you guys, I do suffer from panic attacks. I want to apologize in advance for all the things you’ll be deprived of because of this. The panic attacks are one of the reasons I can’t drive freeways, please forgive me for not taking you to the City or the River anymore or ever to Disneyland. You know, you guys are partially to blame, all those years I did drive you places and you guys were fighting in the back…Ricky, you remember…that has permanently affected me. I think I might be suffering from a mild form of PTSD from those trips. Just saying…no, I won’t sue you.

A panic attack is a physical overreaction to a normal stressful event. We all experience stress in one form or another every single day of our lives. What is stressful to you is not stressful to me, and vice versa. That nearly invisible tiny red mark on your face may send you in a panic, but not me; but someone hacking into my Myspace with inappropriate material definitely freaks me out. Remember I was gonna shut all your Myspaces down? Luckily, I was talked down by some friends. No big deal, simple and easy solutions abound. However, when you have a panic attack, those simple and easy solutions SEEM impossible. The physical effects of a panic attack are equally unnerving: rapid heartbeat and sweating, you really think you’re having a heart attack or stroke. Lovely, huh?

How can you help your mom during these times? First of all, and this advice can be applied at any time, don’t fight. When you guys fight, there’s so much more added stress. If there’s a problem, come talk to me in a quiet, civilized fashion, preferably without swear words, and we can work it out. You know I love when there’s peace in the valley. Yes, I know it was his fault and you did nothing, but let’s compromise and work out the situation. I think 85% of your fighting is unnecessary. Let’s work on reducing that figure. Thank you in advance.

Second, if the house is messy, which it most likely is, and you have nothing to do – because you’re bored, right? – try cleaning something…anything. Don’t wait to be asked, get up and like, pick up the dirty towels in the bathroom. Simple. Two minute job. Or, if you’re ambitious, set the timer for 15 minutes (thank you, Flylady) and do something, anything in the kitchen. Not only is the stress of a messy house relieved, but it will encourage my heart seeing your consideration and incentive to do something for me and our home. A clean and orderly house really helps the atmosphere, and keeps the peace.

Next, a little understanding can go a long way. If you’re clever, and I know all of you are, you can suggest when I am reluctant to go somewhere, that I ought to go, I need to get out, you’ll even watch the younger kids, don’t even worry about it. I may take you up on it.

Finally, consideration and understanding for each other will alleviate much stress and add to the peaceful harmony of our home. If all of you can come to this in yourselves, I’ve accomplished a great deal as a mother. I hope this short essay will help you understand the reasons to your mother’s erratic behavior, and that it is not her fault; after all, she is just going through a phase.

 

 

 

Slouching Towards Sixty

Gleaners

Alas, another trip around the sun! It’ll be 58 trips thus far, 58 springs, summers, winters and, happily, autumns :). I’m slouching toward sixty now. Sixty! Wow, although I’ll never be this young again, I certainly have never been this old. What great gleanings have I picked up along the way? What significant insights have I sequestered? What daily declarations have I determined to live by?

When I turned 50, I was delighted because all of a sudden, I didn’t care anymore what people thought of me. I didn’t care if they thought I was a bad mom or not. I did my best, not my very best, but the best I could do at the time. As a life long people pleaser, this wasn’t easy, but, I was finally free from those haunting voices of “What would they think?” and “Who do you think you are?” The relief was palatable, and the energy saved was redistributed into the continued task of raising the rest of my kids and crafting new ideas for my future. My blog was born shortly after this discovery.

Subsequently, as I slouch toward sixty, the fears that have anchored themselves into my being are finally being dislodged and although the consequence may be a little disorienting, definitely a little scary, Solomon’s grand declaration in Proverbs – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths – has provided the necessary structural support for me to continue to release those anchors and begin to sail into broader seas.

One of the GREATEST things about getting older, for me, is the reconciliation of my self to my self. I don’t know if that makes sense. In some respects, I spent many decades being someone I thought I should have been. The kind of Christian I should have been or the kind of wife and mother I should have been. I think this is a real issue with people pleasers, but it might be one for a lot of other people too. Now, I trust that I am walking with the Lord, I have seen Him do innumerable things in my life and in the lives of my family. I trust Him to continue to do so.

Finally, it’s funny how things simmer within ourselves. Ideas that have been floating around, finally come to the surface. I’ve wanted to write for decades. At first when I was fresh out of high school, the thought of writing was impossible, it really was, not only was the identity of being a writer repugnant to my insignificant self, “I was not worthy, not smart enough, didn’t have anything worthwhile to say….etc.”, but also the thought of staying on task was impossible to this hare-brained, emotionally undernourished, young adult. I had other things to figure out first.

Throughout my marriage, I dabbled in writing, penning some kids’ stories and keeping up with my journal.Two books came my way. The first, Maybe You Should Write a Book, was given to me by my ex-husband. That book sure whets one’s appetite with great stories of book successes from Peter Benchley and Mario Puzo. Ralph Daigh even told his own Hemingway story. A real jewel. The other book, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, my writer godfather gave me around 2006. Inscribed with his bold handwritten script – NEVER BE INTIMIDATED – was almost a familial mandate to pursue this desire. The first thing I ever published was blessed by this man. Now, every time I crack open Bird by Bird and see his handwritten message, I can almost hear his booming voice – NEVER BE INTIMIDATED. More anchors cast away.

November was National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. I was going to participate, but was overwhelmed with other things that were going on in my life. But, I did try to pray every morning instead of writing. Earlier in the year, I was chatting with a friend of my dad’s, Niel Davidson. He reads my blogs. What a nice guy! Anyway, I mentioned to him about writing a book….he suggested I compile my blogs and columns. I had thought of that before, but his suggestion seemed to give the idea traction. So during November, I began to pray in that direction, but I really wanted an illustrator. So I prayed for one.

In December, I was on Facebook and noticed one of my friends’ kids had changed her profile pic to one of her illustrations. “Wow, she’s good,” I thought. I messaged her, we got together, and I now have my illustrator, and we are collaborating on this project, my first soon-to-be self-published book, The Plight of the Hare and Other Stories From the Shoe. We are very excited.

So now as I slouch toward sixty, I am slouching in front of my computer learning InDesign, typesetting my book, reviewing Breena’s wonderful sketches and hoping, working, creating and still parenting toward a fruitful winter.

We Miss You, Erma!

remembering-the-wit-and-wisdom-of-erma-bombeck-embed

Ninety. Wow, you would’ve been 90 today. Boy, Erma, we miss you. Times are tough now. Humor has taken a nose dive. You know, when I was a kid, my best friend’s mom used to always ask me how things were at my house, “How’s the humor?” she said with a wry smile. I never really got it, since she grew up with my dad, I think there was some tongue in cheek antics going on.

Well, Erma, the humor’s not so good these days. It’s the hyena kind of humor: the creepy, screechy laughing while they rip their prey to smithereens humor. Not very funny.  We still need you, Erma, we need some of your humor.

We need you to remind us of the silver lining of humor in our daily lives before we drown in the ridiculous ridicule being passed as humor these days. It’s good for us to be reminded of the idiosyncrasies of our ordinary lives….like raising kids.

Things My Mother Taught Me

LOGIC: If you fall off your bicycle and break your neck, you can’t go to the store with me.

MEDICINE: If you don’t stop crossing your eyes, they are going to freeze that way. There is no cure, no telethon, and no research program being funded at the moment for frozen eyes.

ESP: Put your sweater on. Don’t you think I know when YOU’RE cold?

FINANCE: I told you the tooth fairy is writing checks because computerized billing is easier for the IRS.

CHALLENGE: Where is your sister, and don’t talk to me with food in your mouth? Will you answer me?

HAPPINESS:  You are going to have a good time on this vacation if we have to break every bone in your body.

HUMOR: When the lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me!

Like fantasizing about Paul Newman…

“I don’t know if I can explain it or not,” I said slowly, “but Paul Newman to a tired housewife is like finding a plate of bourbon cookies at a PTA open house. It’s putting on a girdle and having it hang loose. It’s having a car that you don’t have to park on a hill for it to start. It’s matched luggage, dishes that aren’t plastic and evening when there’s something better to do than pick off your old nail polish.

“Paul Newman, lad, is not a mere mortal. He never carries out the garbage, has a fever blister, yawns, blows his nose, has dirty laundry, wears pajama tops, carries a thermos, or dozes in his chair or listens to the ball game.

“He’s your first pair of heels, your sophomore year, your engagement party, your first baby.”

We need more humor writers like you, Erma. We need someone to bring the cynical laughter out of the cultural boxing ring, purify it and bring it home. We really need to laugh because our societal discourse right now is very painful.

An interviewer once asked what the Bombeck family was “really” like. Did we seem as we are in print? A composite of the Bradys, Waltons, Osmonds and Partridges sitting around cracking one-liners? The last time my family laughed was when my oven caught fire and we had to eat out for a week.

I did not get these varicose veins of the neck from whispering. We shout at one another. We say hateful things. We cry, slam doors, goof off, make mistakes, experience disappointments, tragedies, sickness and traumas. When I last checked, we were members in good standing in your basic screw-up family.

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt. And how do you know laughter if there is no pain to compare it with.

In the midst of all the pain going on, we should be laughing ourselves silly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doormats Unite: Bark More

doormat

This is an excerpt from a speech given by Donna “Norma Rae” Fentanes at the first annual Doormats Anonymous convention sponsored by your local hardware store. Thanks guys.

Ladies and…Gentleman, thanks Joe for coming. Welcome to our first annual Doormats Anonymous Convention.

It is a privilege to host this event, and I thank my good friend, Pass T. Buck, for promoting me to this honored position. I am always amazed at how many of us doormats are out there. We have come together to share our experiences and to encourage each other to be less doormat-ish.

No doubt you have seen the bumper sticker “Bark less, Wag more.” That is good advice for a lot of people. I have relatives who could stand to take that advice, and the world would be a better place if they and others afflicted with Barking Dog Syndrome would try and wag more.

However, barking less isn’t our problem, is it? On the contrary, we wag too much. I think it’s high time we bark a little more. For instance:

“Mom, bring me the remote.” Don’t wag, bark, “No, honey, get it yourself.” (You got this!)

Or “Sweetie, make me one of those pastrami sandwiches you are so good at making.” (This after he had a huge lunch two hours earlier.) Bark, wag less.

“Hold on awhile, I’m gonna to finish my book.” Yay!

Or when a co-worker asks, “Can you run this report for me, I have to leave early.” Ya, I know what you’re thinking. You don’t have to say what you’re thinking. Just bark and wag, “No, sorry, can’t, I’ve got a lot of work still to do too.”

Doormats, it’s time to stop getting stepped on, time to dust yourself off and say what’s on your mind. But don’t forget to wag.

You don’t have to unleash like Katherine Heigl’s character unleashed on her sister in “27 Dresses.” (And what was Edward Burns’ character thinking anyway…really. Heigl’s character was so cool.)

We need to remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It’s time to bark a little more, and let folks know that you are here and not to be stepped on. So don’t forget, wag less, bark more.

It is my honor to present our guest speaker. She has overcome many thresholds of difficulties in her life. She will teach us how to be assertive without being asinine, to remain fair while being firm and to bark more while being benign.

She will teach you tips to tell that pesky telemarketer you are not interested and end the conversation within 60 seconds. She will give you guidelines to gain the upper hand with your dirty-shoed children, and she will map out methods to maintain your newfound sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Join me in a hearty doormat welcome for Ms. C. Sepuede Mata de la Puerta.

(Thank you, Kevin, at Pacific Manor Hardware for letting me take the picture.)

First published Jan. 28, 2012 – San Bruno Patch

THE BALCLUTHA REPORT

deckhand-crewCaptain Olson, Sir,
 
The following is my report on the crews commissioned by the Balclutha on Sunday, 23 October until sunrise 24 October. As always, Sir, I am disappointed with these crews upon first inspection. These scalawags were gleaned from the quaint Ocean Shore School in Pacifica, no doubt soft on discipline, and arrived at San Francisco’s Hyde Street Pier 1300 23 October. These rascally rapscallions were not prepared for the tasks that the honorable crews of the Balclutha have traditionally performed.
 
These lazy loafers made their way up the gangplank as slow as molasses. If it were not for my booming voice and hardhanded approach, this lot of miscreants would not have achieved the success they did. I confess I was flabbergasted with the remarkable fortitude these crews exhibited. Even when the nimble knave second mate, Swift, tried to lead them astray, they stayed faithful to you, Sir, yes sir, Sir, and resisted the temptation to gamble or murmur. That reprobate, Swifty, was right readily removed, and if he remains unrepentant, he will end up in  Davy Jones’ locker.
 
Nonetheless, our jolly mates cheered when Onion Peel, formerly known as Onion, took over second mate duties. Onion Peel and her faithful companion, Stumpy, proved to be the right man for the job in leading these crews to certification. I commend the crews from the 7th Grade Ocean Shore Class for their ability to adapt to changing circumstances, to work hard, to follow instructions and to band together for the good of the Balclutha and her beloved captain, Sir, yes sir, Sir.
 
The following crews shall be commended for their tasks:
 
The Deckhand crew, ably lead by Mate Ashley, not only successfully raised the ensign, but assisted in scrubbing the decks and cleaning after supper. Kudos to Natalie Martinez, Maximo Marcelino and Eloisa Fentanes.
 
The Bosun Crew was most handily lead by Mate Ella with most impressive assistance from Max Aylward, Allen Forte and Caleb Sun. Their swift learning of the ropes was just what we needed from a Bosun crew, Sir, yes sir, Sir.
 
The Rigger Crew, under your kind tutelage, Sir, superbly learned the rigs and was successful in raising the Bosun’s Chair. Mate J.C., as you know, Sir, commandeered the Rigger crew to competency and your instruction was not in vain. Simone Gramling, Sophia Woehl, Mason Deal and Devon Siu-Spaziani are hands down the best rigger crew we’ve seen in years, Sir.
 
Although Swifty proved to be unworthy of the Balclutha, his efforts with the Boat Crew shall not go unnoticed. Ably led by Mate Emily, Swifty ran through all the tasks to fit them for a fine Boat Crew. Eamonn Likens, Thanea Bobis, Nina Mayne and Emil Olsen certainly won their certification for their whole-hearted attitude to their tasks.
 
Finally, under the lovely hand of our Miss Onion Peel, the Stevedore Crew, headed by Mate Eleanor, not only thoroughly cleaned our decks, but prepared sumptuous meals which were enjoyed by all. Commendations to Zoe Kapp, Owen McIntosh and Ethan Titley.
 
No successful crew certification would be reported without the quiet help of our Tall Sailors. Although at times they were a little mischievous, their steadfast patience, call of duty and stoic servitude should be commended. Tall Sailors Joby Deal, Kim Yoshii, Joel McIntosh, Dana Jonas and Gus Gramling are fine mates and are welcome back to the Balclutha anytime.
 
Sir, we owe Teacher Jeanne a great deal of gratitude for providing a competent crew for the Balclutha. As always, Sir, it is an honor to be your first mate.
 
By Historian Fentanes, on behalf of First Mate, Mr. Long

The Bear

bearDonna Moore

November 26, 1984/Tweaked October 9, 2016

Creative Writing

Mr. Rose

Barely Based on a True Story

Living in California for all your life and not ever going to Yosemite National Park was like living in Hawaii and not going to Waikiki. That’s how Mary and I felt. Both of us were native San Franciscans, raised entirely in California, and have never been (in 1980) to this Mecca of the post-sixties hippies. We were a disgrace to the hippie world we had belonged to.So in the summer of 1980, we determined to right the great wrong and discover Yosemite.

In reference to our backpacking history, Mary was a seasoned pro having backpacked with her family. Two weeks during the year they would go on vacation where they hiked, and in the winter, they would cross-country ski. Hiking was a hobby to Mary and her family.

I, on the other hand, had never donned a backpack on my tender back. If walking and hiking were the same, then I had done my fair share of “hiking”. But, Mary set me straight, hiking was a lot harder than walking. Wonderful! I already had a tough time walking. Some people say it’s laziness, I think maybe a bad heart.

Well, the big day finally came. I packed up my new Kelty backpack with all the necessary supplies for a long jaunt in the woods. Tossed the backpack and my new vibram-soled hiking boots into the back of my snazzy Ford Capri named Simon and set out around 4:30 a.m. to pick up Mary. Whenever we’d go on our adventures, whether it be Yellowstone or Washington State, we’d leave very early in the morning. When I got to her house, she was up and ready to go. It was still dark and the San Francisco chill hung on the air.

“Mary, Mike said there were a lot of bears. What are we gonna do?”

“Your brother’s right, but they stay in the high country. We’d be lucky to even see one. Don’t worry about it…..I told you, you don’t need boots, your tennies are fine.”

“All the wilderness school kids have vibram-soled boots.”

“Donna, you’re not a wilderness school kid. Did you break them in?”

“Huh?”

We packed up the rest of the camping equipment and Mary’s backpack and headed out. Around five we were ready to head to the Bay Bridge. As was our custom, we stopped on Geary for some coffee and donuts.

“Can you believe we are finally going to Yosemite? I’m so excited.”

“Me too…except maybe those bears. We have to stop and see the Ahwahnee and pay homage to my grandfather’s work.”

“Was he the actual contractor?”

“No, he was a foreman, we still have his supply lists….like how many mules they used!”

“That is so cool.” Mary sipped her coffee as we hit the Bay Bridge and made our way east.

“Did I tell you this was my first real backpacking adventure?” I smiled.

“What?” she spit out some coffee. “What do you mean your first real backpacking adventure? You’ve never been hiking before?”

I nodded sheepishly.

“I thought you went backpacking all the time with your brother’s friends from Skyline.” Mary said.

“Uh, not really. I just hung out with them.”

“Shoot, Donna, I hope this trip won’t be like our fishing trip last year. I really thought you knew what you were doing. You always talked about fishing, I thought you were a pro, and then you couldn’t bait the hook, and when you caught that fish…”

“I couldn’t kill it, I could feel his heart beating in my hand.”

“Yeah, in your industrial gloved hand, I don’t know how you could even feel anything in those gloves. Admit it, Donna, you’re a wimp.”

“I know.”

The sun rose in a beautiful display of reds and oranges while we drove through the flatlands of Central California. We arrived in Yosemite around ten. As we parked the car, we could see Half Dome. We walked around the village for a while, stopped at the Ahwahnee and took pics of the great rocked hotel my grandfather was a part in building.

Mary bought a trail guide, and we decided to take the Twin Falls trail. We wanted to get out of the Valley before it became overrun with tourists. We grabbed our backpacks and set out for Twin Falls before noon. I laced up my new, unbroken-in boots, and flung my backpack onto my tender shoulders, strapped the hip belt and I was ready for my first authentic backpacking adventure. Mary didn’t seem amused, she was all business.

“Let’s go.” And off we went.

That day we climbed six miles up the trail only to find out there were no sleeping areas and no water supply. We took a break before we trudged back down the hill.

“I think I have blisters.”

“Did you bring your tennies?”

“No, I left them in the car.”

Spying a pile of dung, I asked the expert, “What’s that deer poop?”

“No, that’s too big for deer….I wonder if it’s bear poop.”

“Really….that looks pretty fresh. Maybe we should hit the trails.”

“Yeah, good idea.”

Quickly, I adjusted my socks to minimize the blister pain, tied up the unbroken-in boot and grabbed my backpack.

In hindsight, I realized hiking didn’t turn out to be such a leisure sport after all. I always thought hiking was an extra strenuous walk, but I was sadly misinformed. Not only does your backpack shift around and give you a painful backache, but the armies of mosquitoes were the last straw.

“So I take it you don’t like backpacking?” Mary asked as we hiked down.

“Mary, honestly….I’d rather be by a pool, reading a book, drinking a soda….I don’t know why I think I’d like these things.”

“Donna, I think you like the idea of backpacking and fishing. It’s OK. Next trip, we’ll go to Reno and sit by a pool.”

“I love that idea.”

When we got back to the campground it was well into dusk. We got out the gear from the car and found a campsite.

“Be sure to keep the food separate…there’s a food box over there.” Mary pointed to a metal box.

“Why…the raccoons?”

“No, the bears.”

“Mary, you said the bears stay in the high country.”

“Yeah, but at night they come down here for food, that’s what I heard.”

“What? I missed that part of the conversation. Do you think we’re gonna see any?”

“I hope so…”

“Speak for yourself.” I mumbled.

We packed the food in the metal box, and then set up the tent facing the creek. We crawled in our sleeping bags and soon we were being lulled to sleep by the gurgling creek. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw something move across the creek. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but, much to my horror, I realized the big, round, burly animal coming across the creek was a bear. I turned my head ever so slowly and mouthed the words in Mary’s direction.

“Mary,” I whispered inaudibly, “Mary, there’s a bear coming.”

She didn’t move.

“Mary…..” I said again, hardly perceptible, “a bear…” I was beginning to become paralyzed with fear, the thought of being some bear’s dinner was a real threat at the moment.

“Mary….” I urged….

Suddenly, Mary sat up and said quite loud…

“Donna, look, there’s a bear!”

THE END

me-and-mary

The Emptying Nest

empty-nest

I’m not at the official empty nest season yet; I still have a couple perched to fly as well as a couple still needing nesting. But many of my birds have, indeed, flown. The season has started.

In 2005, when we left our home in San Pablo to live in El Sobrante, all ten were under the same roof. One birdie flew away for a bit, but came back, bringing a new bird to our family. He nested with the brothers. So for a time, the nest held 11 chicks. The nest was hustling and bustling with all the chicks and their friends.There was constant band playing from the garage, little kids running after chickens in the yard, fighting, bickering, eating, laughing…our last time as a family together. For me those three years were a refuge from the dark times we left. Getting ready for the three holiday seasons we spent there was the funniest part of the year.

“I miss you most of all, my darling(s) when autumn leaves start to fall.”

In 2008, circumstances  caused this nest to be vacated, to be vacated immediately. That was the last time all my birds were together. Two birds moved away from me. I took eight with me to the Peninsula. But eventually, two more would fly away, and for awhile I had six. But the carousel goes round and round, two more would graduate. Then a third. One flew off last year and another moved elsewhere this spring. We are down to four. Two of them are adults, perched. I’m not going to nudge them like a good mother eagle would do.

I don’t know how I did all that. I don’t think I did it (mothering) very well. But I know I loved it, I loved the little kids, the crazy, the boundless energy, the joy in the midst of pain, I loved them. I still do. But I miss them most of all when autumn leaves begin to fall.

 

As poignant and nostalgic I sometimes get, I have learned these past few years not to fear the future. I have been raising kids for almost thirty years. For thirty years that has been my primary purpose. I can start to see beyond this purpose, and I’m not sure what lies in that territory. But I trust the Lord to guide and provide. Maybe I’ll go back to Europe for a spell before the carousel slows to a stop. Maybe. I don’t seem to fear my fears so much anymore.

“Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19, NASB

Song of the Green Light

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In John Steinbeck’s little classic, “The Pearl”, we meet Kino, a diver of pearls, Juana, his wife,  and Coyotito, their son. The story is about what happens to this little family when Kino finds the Pearl of the World. One aspect I found interesting about this story is how music wove its way into Kino’s daily activities.

Kino heard the little splash of morning waves on the beach. It was very
good- Kino closed his eyes again to listen to his music. Perhaps he
alone did this and perhaps all of his people did it. His people had
once been great makers of songs so that everything they saw or thought
or did or heard became a song. That was very long ago. The songs
remained; Kino knew them, but no new songs were added. That does not
mean that there were no personal songs. In Kino’s head there was a song
now, clear and soft, and if he had been able to speak of it, he would
have called it the Song of the Family. 

There were other songs in Kino’s story: the Song of Evil when little Coyotito was stung by a scorpion and the Song of the Enemy when the racist doctor only served them when he found out about the Pearl. Then there was the Song of the Pearl That Might Be which became the Song of the Pearl That Was, which, unfortunately, did not end well. Everyone should read this little classic and realize that racism is not confined to our time, nor our borders, nor our people.

On a lighter note…there’s a street in San Francisco called Geary Boulevard. My grandmother lived off Geary and I lived, for a couple years, on 39th & Anza which is a short jaunt from Geary. Gordo’s is on Geary and that’s the main reason I still go there often.  I remember taking the 38X downtown in those days, and was amazed how fast I could get to work from the outskirts of the City. Especially when you hit every green light.For awhile earlier this year, my daughter worked downtown at the crack of dawn, and on Sundays, I’d drive her to work. I’d take Geary home. The street was deserted and all you could see was a long line of green lights like soldiers standing at attention. I tried hard to get them all, but, alas, I wasn’t able to.

Like Kino, there are days when all of the tasks I have to do seem to skip to their own beat. Those days when things go as planned, the kids find their shoes, we get out of the door on time, my favorite songs come on the radio and, finally, we hit all the green lights are the days I enjoy the Song of the Green Light. We all have those days. And when you experience its melodies, for the present, all seems right in your world. I am very grateful. It’s easy to be grateful singing the Song of the Green Light.

Learning to be grateful when the Song of the Yellow Light or the Song of the Red Light is playing is more daunting, but doable nonetheless. But my point, today, is to enjoy those serendipitous moments when the melody of your day is sweet and peaceful. Tasks and relationships flow like a well choreographed dance. We know it doesn’t last, but we can drink it up while it’s playing.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Our old friend, Kawika, penned it nicely in a recent Facebook post:

If your end-of-day story goes something like, grabbed a burger for dinner, caught a couple jigglypuffs and caught all the green lights going home, you living the dream kid.

Mahalo.

America the Beautiful

“O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain…” I would sing this years ago, on the way to the Russian River, in the back of our ’65 Ford station wagon, much to the chagrin of my parents. I love this song. This song by Ray Charles and Whitney’s Star Spangled Banner reduces me to tears in a well of nationalistic emotion. Growing up in Santa Rosa, CA, we’d have block parties every 4th of July on our little street. The two ends of the street would be blocked off and out came the ping pong tables, volley ball nets, the bikes decorated for the bike contest, the watermelon eating contest, the egg toss and kids were everywhere. Those were the good old days.

For a time, the events of the world were blocked from our young lives. But our parents knew that the Vietnam war was raging, the new generation was questioning the decisions of the old one, and the birth pangs of the civil rights movement entered transition. All this turmoil swirled in another dimension. In another world. To me, America was beautiful.

But, America has not always done beautiful things, and we must remember when we talk about making America great again, let me know what time you’re talking about. When was America great? After World War II? Do we want to go back to the ’40’s when women and minorities had no rights? When marriage, for some, was a new form of indentured servitude because the economic choices for women were so limited. No, we may have done great things in World War II, but we, as a people, were still immature. We had a lot of growing up to do. When was America great? There will always be some horrible hidden blemish whether you go back to slavery, to imprisoning a Queen, to slaughtering indigenous people groups; America has a dark past.

We don’t need to go back, we are great right now. We must go forward. America has a sturdy foundation, we’ve been through tough times before. But we must grow, we don’t want to go back to the good old days because the good old days were not very good for a lot of people.

And, America is still beautiful, beautiful in her diversity, beautiful in her ability to appreciate people from all walks of life, beautiful in her ability to continue to grow. She’s still young though, still stumbling to get it right. Just like the constituency she represents. Still at odds with herself. The Bible says the Church is the Body of Christ, and Paul chastised the Corinthians when they compared themselves with each other, “The eye cannot say to the hand ‘I don’t need you.'” So are we also. We are one country, many members. We disrespect ourselves when we hate, blame, criticize and judge our fellow countrymen. Our country faces an election this November and she’s as divisive as ever. But we survived the ’60’s, we’ll survive this election, and to whomever wins, they will be our President. I hope we always remember “God shed His grace on thee, and crown[ed] thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!”

Hang in there, girl.