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My Favorite Things


All of us remember Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music singing gleefully about her favorite things.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things.
We all have favorite things: favorite books, cups, clothes, places, even people. Over the course of my life, I have collected many favorite things: a favorite journal, favorite pens, favorite Bible verses and, of course, favorite songs and movies. Some of my kids accuse me that their sibling is one of my favorites. Alas, no. But, some of the things that have become my favorite things were, in fact, surprises. Various sounds and smells have made their way into my soul and have given me solace, peace and serenity.
My first real job was at the Manor McDonald’s in 1976. I worked in the evenings after school and my dad would pick me up. Those were the times if there was extra food you could take it home. It was a nice time. I worked there until I graduated the following spring, and was rehired in January 1979 when I worked the early morning shift. I loved working at McDonald’s. I loved the people like Lina who I worked with, I loved the customers like Hans who came and hung out with his friends all morning, tossing me a dime each time he asked for a coffee refill. I’d go home after work smelling of burgers and fries.
There is something in that smell of McDonald’s french fries that brings me comfort. I currently work across the street from a McDonald’s and when I am having an unusually stressful day, the wafts of the scent of the french fries that I smell when I walk over to the main office bring me comfort, remind me of my time working in McDonald’s which I really enjoyed and soothe my soul. Really, just the smell of the french fries? Yes, isn’t that crazy? I got another crazy one for you.
In 1971, my family moved from my beloved Santa Rosa to the dismal, foggy Daly City. I was so saddened by the move that I vowed never to like it. My bedroom window was on street side. Once a week I would be awakened by the noisy garbage truck. Over the years, that noisy garbage truck became a comfort sound to me. Living in the midst of a chaotic household, it gave me some strange sense of stability, of continuity, of regularity, if you will. Every Wednesday morning, the garbage truck would come, and that continuity, that regularity became a comfort and peace for me. Weird, huh?
Fast forward to 1996. My father’s boss gave my dad a trip for two to Rome. My father didn’t want to go, but there was no way my mother was not going to go. I offered to go to Rome with her, me and my three-month old daughter, Evangelina. So in March, 1996, off we go to Rome. Sounds good, but I did leave 5 of my kids back home with their dad. The littlest one not even two. I tried not to worry about them. During the day, it was OK because I knew they were asleep at home; at night, however, it was hard, and I couldn’t sleep well not knowing if they were being taken care of.
Toward the end of my trip, one night when I couldn’t sleep, I prayed that they’d be OK. Soon, I heard it. I heard the sound of the garbage truck, just like the one in Daly City 25 years before. And I knew God had heard my prayers and came through that sound of the garbage truck to comfort my worried mother heart. So even now when I hear the sound of the garbage trucks early in the morning, I remember.
It amazes me what devices the Lord uses to reach our hearts. For me the smell of McDonald’s french fries and the sound of the garbage truck  might not be “raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens”, but they are few of my favorite things.

I’m Ovulated to Say That!


Years ago, we were at our regular stomping grounds – the McDonald’s drive thru – when, after I gave my order from the dollar menu, the voice from the box enthusiastically said, “Happy Holidays!”. I mumbled under my breath about the dearth of the “Merry Christmas” salutations when one of my kids who shall remain nameless said quite matter-of-factly, “She’s ovulated to say that.” Well….that certainly changed the trajectory of the mood in the car.

Because of my unique position as the mother of many kids, I am often “ovulated” to say things. Take last night, for example, conversation went from contently answering one child’s question to a full scale assault from sibling who declared adamantly, “Oh, we all know she’s your favorite.” Again, the trajectory of the mood in the car changed.

Said child then, in her most jurisprudent manner, cited all my high crimes and misdemeanors against herself as well as my alleged significant favoritism to fellow sibling. Well, after a long day, not feeling like a domestic tete a tete, I nonetheless rose to the challenge. I mustered what evidentiary support I could gather from my 50+ memory that was subsequently low on calories and countered the charges with adequate support to negate her accusations. I’m ovulated to defend myself.

“I have no favorites.”

“Yes, she’s your favorite, remember when you went to Starbucks, and out you come with a strawberries & cream just for her, and for me….NOTHING!”

“Uh, I don’t really remember that.”

“Oh yes, you do, you do that all the time. You don’t do anything for me.”

“Uhm, well, I came all the way down here to pick you up tonight. You know I don’t like to drive at night. I always tell you how talented and pretty you are.”

“Well, you’re obligated to say that, that’s mother duty.”

“You mean, ‘I’m ovulated to say that?'” trying to inject humor into the ride home. Didn’t go over well. Turns out, said litigant was very hungry and retracted her accusations after some divine lumpia and a couple of danimals.

But, we parents, are often called to say things out of “ovulation”. I laugh because that particular obligation is a direct result of successful “ovulation” processes. We are obligated to say many things to our children. And some of those things are a mandated obligation to these souls entrusted to us.

“Mom, are these jeans old man jeans?”

“No, son, they look good on you.”

“Mom, can you see my collar bones?”

“Yes, I can see your bones, they look nice.”

“Mom, how does my makeup look?”

“Looks great.”

“Mom, why does everyone hate me?”

“Honey, they don’t hate you.”

“You like her better than me.”

“No, that’s not true. I love you just the same.”

I’ve had to wrestle emotionally with most of my kids. It is a tough task. Especially during the teenage years. But we are obligated to tough it out with them. As much as they drive me crazy, when at times, I want to give it all up or say things I wouldn’t be able to unsay or totally disconnect from them, by God’s grace, most of the time, I am able respond to their accusations, disappointments and pain with some semblance of objectivity and compassion. Yes, said child is right, it is mother duty, it is parent duty. I’m ovulated to do so, to say so and I want to do so because I love them. I really love them.







Ten Years After…


pics from Holly Donaldson

Ten years ago today, my sister buried you. On her birthday. You, the father of her children, one of her oldest friends, her former husband. Unfortunately, the pain of your passing continues to this day, and exacerbates in October. The loss, the void still aches even a decade later. And every October since 2007, the pain throbs from one end of the month on the anniversary of your birth to the other end on the anniversary of your death. There has been no respite for ten Octobers. Her birthday has now become a sacred day, the day she closed the casket and said her last goodbye.

Funny, though, the pain does diminish when we play with your granddaughter, Audrey, but then there’s that sharp, sudden pang when we realize you won’t meet her this side of heaven. You won’t chase after her, won’t bathe in her smiles or bask in her joy. I’m sure you’re chuckling up there, though, over her antics, laughing it up with Larry and your dad. Your dad would just melt over Audrey. Sweet Louie!

You and Linda were cut from the same cloth. Country music, classic cars, much so, your marriage didn’t last, but your friendship did. After you guys split, and both got your bearings, a mutual and committed effort was made to finish raising your girls.  And the girls grew up to be fine, beautiful women; women, Kelvin, you’d be so proud of, women who  overcame their own struggles, defeated Goliaths, and became strong. Even after your passing, they found some Sisson reservoir of strength to bear up under the unbearable. The same strength Larry’s boys found, and shared, no doubt.

Linda met you when she was 15. You guys were kids. You were there in all her early memories into adulthood, and her most cherished memories of childbirth and childrearing. The van, the property, the partying, the apartment, the girls. All the memories from her twenties, you were there. You were there when her smile was its brightest. You were there when Linda and Mike rebuilt the Corvette. You were there with Jennifer & Debbie pushing them in the cart at Safeway, piling up the yummies for your weekend with them, you were there at their graduations, you were there in the countless ordinary moments of uneventful days. And, now, you are not here.

Life has gone on as it does. And Linda and the girls have kept you alive these past ten years. The pictures, the stories, the bikes all sadly remind us you are not here now, all the memories, the good, the bad and the ugly nourish Linda and the girls to keep your life alive. I see your life in Jennifer’s eyes, Debbie’s smile, Audrey’s energy and Linda’s determination to keep you present in the present. You may not be here anymore, but you are here in their hearts EVERYDAY, and, sometimes, like the lone hawk quietly watching Debbie’s wedding, we know you are near. We see you and remember, and look forward to seeing you again.

As for me, sometimes I think I see you haunting the streets of Pacifica or flying down Hwy. 1 on a chopper….and, always, I think of you and Larry when Willie and Waylon sing “Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas, with Waylon and Willie and the boys..”

Rest in peace, brother, with your brother and father. Fare thee well….



The Town I Loved So Well

Santa Rosa 2

Pic courtesy of

There’s an old Irish dirge, The Town I Loved So Well, sung by a number of Irish singers, but the version I like the most is sung by The Irish Tenors. I first heard this song while listening to an old Mary McGonigle LP. A recording I cannot find now. This song and Only Our Rivers Run Free from her albums took abode in my semi-Irish soul. And in March, I revel in these plaintive tunes. Phil Coulter wrote this song about his hometown of Derry in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland when it was rife with battle, bloodshed and bigotry.

As a life-long Russian River rat, it is understandable why Only Our Rivers Run Free would capture my heart, but I love The Town I Loved So Well because it reminds me of the few years of my childhood spent in Santa Rosa, California. I may have indeed left my heart in San Francisco where I was born, but Santa Rosa is the town I have loved so well because there, my soul was born. All the things I have come to love, I found when living in Santa Rosa. All what I imagine a good childhood to be, Santa Rosa is the backdrop, the canvass, if you will. I don’t remember the bad times, I am sure there were some. I only remember the happy times, the beauty, the simplicity of a time when being was joyful, innocent and safe.

About two weeks ago, the town I loved so well experienced a disaster on a grand scale. A fire – no, a firestorm – ravaged her neighborhoods, terrorized her citizens , destroyed her homes and sadly, took many of her lives. Those lives, of course, are her greatest losses. Today the fires still burn. My heart goes out to the families of the dozens who died. My heart goes out to the hundreds who have lost everything, but their lives. My heart goes out to the folks who have been working NON-STOP since October 9th, even in the midst of their own losses. My heart goes out to the town I loved so well.

On October 1, 1969, at around 10:00 pm, most were tucked into bed, I remember I was. I was just about to fall asleep when what seemed like someone picking up our house on Alvarado Avenue, shaking it like an Etch-It-Sketch and setting it back down caused me to fly out of my bed, terrorized. “It’s an earthquake,” my father shouted as he ran down the hall.  Afterwards, the whole neighborhood gathered into the middle of our little block that was my whole world. We suffered a significant disaster, but we were not alone.

I hope Santa Rosa knows she is not alone during this catastrophe. I hope she knows that anyone who lived there for any amount of time mourns with her, prays for her, worries for her. Pascal Mercier in Night Train to Lisbon wrote: We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” I know I speak for myself, but I hope Santa Rosa knows part of me has always stayed there, and I empathize with her suffering.

Just like after the earthquake, Santa Rosa will rebuild. It will be a long time before any normalcy returns, actually, life will never be like it was on October 8, 2017 in Santa Rosa. It will be different. I pray for Santa Rosa, as well as Napa, Lake County, and the other areas affected by these fires. I pray for my friend’s niece and her family who were airlifted off Atlas Peak leaving behind all her physical possessions. I pray for the families of the dead, their loss is irreplaceable, their grief unimaginable and, all I can say, you are not alone. Unfortunately, no amount of rebuilding will restore what you have lost.

I pray for those who lost everything but their lives. I pray for your children who have lost their precious things, their keepsakes, their comforts, their beds, all the things that made them feel safe. They have lost their worlds. I hope you know, you are not alone.

I pray for those who have been working non-stop trying to stop these monsters. Please know, as hundreds have said, written and shared, that your work is appreciated, your help invaluable, your fortitude comforting and your energy inexhaustible. I pray that you get rest, peace and comfort as well. All of us who do not live there now, but love Santa Rosa and her people, want you to know you are not alone.

Now the music’s gone but they carry on
For their spirit’s been bruised, never broken
They will not forget but their hearts are set
on tomorrow and peace once again
For what’s done is done and what’s won is won
and what’s lost is lost and gone forever
I can only pray for a bright, brand new day
in the town I loved so well.

Lyrics by Phil Coulter

Santa Rosa





A little girl sat perched on a dining room chair peering out the window into a billowing storm. Wiping her breath’s condensation off the window, she began to conceive of harrowing adventures that could occur on a stormy day like this one. It had rained all day; this fact kept all the five Moore children indoors. But it wasn’t going to be long before the enticing storm would capture two little girls for an afternoon of excitement.

She sat there a little longer before she got up and went to the bedroom she shared with her six-year old sister.

“What are you doing, Donna?” her little sister, Linda, asked while Donna changed into overalls. Eight-year old Donna looked at her sister thoughtfully. Linda was a beautiful little girl with long, brown curly hair which her mother kept in braids.

“I’m going somewhere,” Donna answered curtly.

“To where?”

Donna eyed her sister, thinking what benefit could be had dragging Linda along. Then it occurred to her that Linda kept a substantial amount of change in her piggy bank.

“Well,” Donna said in perfect recitation of lines she had prepared, “do you want to come with me?”

“Oh, yes, where are we going?” Linda gleamed.

“I want to take a walk in the storm and get some hot chocolate at Quik-Stop. Still wanna come?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ll go ask Mommy if we can go.”

“No,” Donna grabbed her arm, “don’t bother Mom, she won’t mind. I already asked her.” She lied so easily.

Linda threw on some clothes, Donna took a whiff of some socks on the floor and decided they were clean enough for another day’s use.

“Oh, by the way,” Donna said cautiously as they put their keds on, “I don’t have any money, do you?” A seasoned snoop, she knew perfectly well the exact contents of Linda’s piggy bank.

“I have money in my piggy bank, we can use that.”

“Sounds good, let’s go.” Linda emptied her bank, and Donna pocketed the change.

They grabbed their identical green rain jackets, wrapped their scarves around their necks and made their way to the front door. Their mother was in the family room watching “General Hospital”, and their brothers were in their room playing “Battleship” and listening to Beatles records. Their baby brother was fast asleep in his room. The coast was clear.

“I want to say goodbye to Mommy,” Linda said sweetly.

“No, don’t, don’t bother her, she watching her show. Come on, let’s go now before the storm passes.” Donna opened the front door and they went out.

The wind whistled and whipped around them while they stood on their small porch, the rain splashed at them, they covered their heads and made their way toward Vallejo Street.

Alvarado Avenue was the small and quaint block they lived on. It was a wonderful community. All the children knew and played with each other. Most attended the elementary school around the corner. It was a block of about ten houses on each side of the street. Every 4th of July, the families would throw a block party. Picnic and ping-pong tables were set up in the middle of the street, there were best-decorated bike contests, egg throwing contests, and watermelon eating contests. Everyone would be outside where all the families would pile lots of food on the picnic tables.

But, summer had passed, and during the winter, everyone stayed inside when it rained. And, on this day, the young Moore girls embarked on a great journey, a journey of about a mile and a half to the Quik-Stop.

“Are we going to walk past Sabin’s house?” Linda asked with a shy hope, blinking through the rain. “He lives by the bridge, and if we go that way and around the corner, maybe I could see him?

“I don’t know, I guess we could.” Donna replied nonchalantly. She had her mind set on hot chocolate and french fries.

As they continued to walk in the pouring rain, Linda began to act nervous. She had a crush on Sabin for over two months since they started school. After walking three blocks on Vallejo, they turned left onto a small muddy trail that led to the bridge that crossed the creek. Sabin’s house was two houses away from the bridge.

“Do you want me to see if he’s home?”

“No, no, I couldn’t see him, I like him too much.”

“But, you said you wanted to come this way. Golly, don’t worry, stupid, if you like that boy, don’t you think you would want to see him?”

“I guess so.”

“OK, I’ll go to the door and ask for him. Maybe Matt’s home.” Donna was harboring a little crush on Sabin’s brother herself.

Linda began fidgeting as they approached the door, “Shut up,” Donna said, ringing the doorbell. Sabin answered.

“Hey Donna, what’s going on?”

“Uh, nothing,” Donna replied, “uhm, me and my sister are going to Quik-Stop for some hot chocolate and maybe french fries. Hey, do you know my sister, Linda?” Donna turned around and Linda was gone.

“No….is he with you?” Sabin asked. Linda was hiding behind one of the entry pillars.

“Linda, comeer…this is Sabin.”

“Uh..uh, hi.” Linda stuttered.

“Hey,” Sabin smiled, “can I come with you guys?”

“Sure, is Matt home?”

“No, he’s at Gene’s house…hold on let me tell my sister.”

“Ewww, he’s coming with us…” Donna teased her sister. Linda waited angelically for her prince. Sabin returned and grabbed his coat and baseball cap.

Together they headed back to the bridge to get to Hoen Avenue. Linda was so enamored with the very presence of Sabin, she couldn’t walk straight.

“Hey, Linda,” Sabin asked, “do you know Joe Miller, I think he’s in your grade.”

“Oh, yes, I do.” she said breathlessly, “he sits right behind me. He gets in trouble when he pulls my braids.”

“Oh, so you’re that girl, I think he likes you.” Sabin smiled.

Repulsed, Linda said, “He’s an ugly boy, I don’t like him at all. I like someone else.” She added with a twinkle in her eye.

As they approached the bridge, the trail became muddier. Linda was trying to step over a big rock when her foot slipped, and she fell down the side of the trail along the bank of the creek. She screamed, and grabbed some plants halfway down the bank.

“Donna, Donna….” she yelled.

“What are you doing, you are going to get dirty.” Her sister was annoyed.

“I fell,” she began to cry, “I’m slipping, help me.”

It was too slippery for Donna and Sabin to make their way down the bank, then Donna remembered when her brother was stuck in a sewer drain, her mom called the fire department.

“Sabin, run back to your house and call the fire department, I’ll wait here with Linda.”

“Do you want me to call your mom too?” Sabin offered.

“Nooooo, just the fire department.”

Sabin ran off, and Donna tried to comfort her sister. The fire engine arrived in less than 15 minutes with Sabin running behind. Two tall fireman jumped out of the truck and made their way to Linda. Donna immediately fell in love with both of them. In less than a minute, they pulled Linda up and she forgot all about her romantic pursuits, these guys were her heroes.

“Thank you,” she said to the fireman with blue eyes. She wiped the mud from her face and jacket.

“You’re welcome, little lady; but, what on earth brought you and your friends out on a day like this?

“Well, ” Linda began all flustered because he spoke directly to her.

Donna butted in, “We came out today to get some hot chocolate and french fries and maybe have a little adventure. She’s my sister, and this is our friend, Sabin.”

“You’re not going to tell our parents, are you?” she added with feigned innocence.

The firemen had daughters of their own and could spot foul play from the beginning.

“I think we should call your parents,” said the other fireman.

“My mom’s not home,” Sabin said without any worry.

“Uhm, uh, couldn’t we go get some hot chocolate and talk about if you need to call our parents,” Donna nervously negotiated. “It’s raining and I’m cold, and I sure could use some hot chocolate, and poor little Linda must be really cold after falling in the mud.”

The firemen laughed out loud, but it was Linda’s tender look that stole their hearts, so they agreed to the older girl’s plans.

“OK, we’ll take you for a ride in the fire truck, get some hot chocolate and then drop you guys off at your homes, how does that sound?

All three jumped up and yelled, “Oh yeah…that would be a blast.”

As they drove to Quik-Stop, Donna was thinking how to avoid getting in trouble when she got home.

After they had hot chocolate, the firemen dropped off Sabin.

“Thanks for a great adventure, Donna. Thank you, Firemen.” Sabin waved as he went into his house.

“You can drop us off here at the corner, OK” Donna suggested.

“What for? We’ll take you girls home.”

“Please,” Donna begged.

“Only if you promise to tell your mom the truth when you get home. Is that a deal?”

Yea, that’s a deal,” she agreed and they shook on it.

The girls climbed out of the fire truck at the corner of Vallejo and Alvarado, the firemen gave their mother a call from Quik-Stop so she was standing at the porch waiting for her daughters.

She waved at the firemen, saying “Thank you.”

Donna told her mother everything, and to this day, the punishment she got was worth the adventure she had on the day they went for hot chocolate.












Season of Anniversary


September 2011

Our communities, both local and national, have been commemorating four events that have changed the course of our nation as well as our local community. I remember where I was and what I was doing three out of the four anniversaries; and my mother and father remember where they were on the fourth.

Last year on Sept. 9, I was going to do one of two things: go to Back-to-School night at Woodside High School or attend a soccer game at 6 p.m. at Crestmoor Park in San Bruno. I decided to stay in Redwood City and go to Back-to-School night even though the kids wanted to hang out with their friend at the soccer game. As I drove to Woodside with my daughter, I could see the black column of smoke far up El Camino. I thought, “Wow, that must be by Daly City or somewhere up there.” I told my daughter to call our soccer friend and see if he could give us some better information since he was at the field in San Bruno. What he told us sent shivers down our spines….” An explosion, a massive fireball, I can feel the burning heat, the game’s been cancelled, everybody is leaving, I will call you back.” We went to Back-to-School night but kept our eyes and thoughts northward.

Even to this day, as I drive southbound on Highway 35, and if I am stopped at the light at San Bruno Avenue, I look over my shoulder and remember, and pray for those who still struggle with this sorrow.

Ten years ago, I had a home. A husband. A different dream. My life has changed drastically since then, but not like those who suffered this country’s greatest act of war. I woke up, started the coffee before I put Good Morning America on like I did every morning then. It took me awhile to comprehend the gravity of what I was watching, and then the second jet flew into the other World Trade Center building. I woke my husband up, and we both watched in helpless horror; my heart pained for those police officers and firefighters who I knew were frantically trying to save as many as they could. I felt their helplessness and prayed for them. Then they fell. The buildings, the heroes, the many who just went to work that morning. I was stunned, my country was stunned.

It has been a long ten years. The suffering continues. If the grief still stings me, how much more those whose family members are gone, are sick, are unable to go on. My prayers continue.

Twenty years ago, that day in October, I had had a fight with my husband. I took my three kids down to Santa Cruz in my Buick diesel just to get out of the house. I drove all the way down and turned around. It was one of those icky fights when you wonder…

On my way home up Devil’s Slide, I noticed a large plume of smoke over the coastal range. I was so out of it that I chided myself to ditch the smoky diesel because of all the pollutants it emitted. I had no idea what was going on until I noticed the thin layer of ash on my Daly City front yard. My husband was home. He didn’t go to work in Berkeley. He had the TV on, and I saw in horror, just like two years earlier, an event that stopped people in their tracks. There was a fire. A fire my Berkeley friends could watch from their Telegraph Avenue vicinity. A fire that may push them out of their house. A fire that raged for days.

Finally, 70 years ago this year, my parents still remember exactly what they were doing on that “day that will live in infamy.” My mother was on her way to 8 o’clock Mass.

She could see from 6th Avenue and Kaimuki the flames and smoke from Pearl Harbor. She saw the planes. She heard the bombs exploding. She stopped and watched. My uncle Frank had a better view from their Honolulu bungalow roof.

My father had gone to Children’s Mass at St. Cecilia’s in San Francisco, and then went to his friend’s house around the corner on Santiago. While fooling around with a short-wave radio, they stumbled on actual coverage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They huddled around the radio and listened to the bombs that my mother saw dropping from her view at 6th and Kaimuki.

Before live TV, before internet accessibility, an event unfolded before them that would change the direction of a nation just like Sept. 11, 2001; the direction of a region just like the Oakland Firestorm of October 1991, and the direction of a neighborhood community just like the San Bruno gas line explosion of Sept. 9, 2010.

The Day The Music Died


Sleepy Pacifica woke up this foggy Thursday morning still reeling from the devastating news of the passing of Mr. Jerry Downs. As the community grapples with this irreplaceable loss; teachers, parents and administrators struggle to find words and comfort not only for themselves, but, most of all, for Mr. Downs’ hundreds of students. As the cornerstone of the music program at IBL and Ocean Shore for the past 15 years and pushing 30 years with the District overall, Mr. Downs was a monumental influence and daily presence in the lives of Pacifica’s middle school students. My own daughters were in band, and my youngest, who is suffering his loss, is more concerned for her friends who have been in band for more than two years and are overwhelmed with grief.

 We all know how important music is in our lives. Its ministry extends far and wide, it gladdens, it soothes, it heals. When Karl Paulnack was at The Boston Conservatory, he shared in his Contemplation of Music address about what his community did on September 12, 2001, “At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome.” Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.”

 I think Mr. Downs understood the magnitude music has in our lives, and gave his life for its cultivation in the best of our gardens: the hearts of our children. He not only cultivated a love for music, but also an appreciation for its execution, its execution with precision, excellence and mastery. He worked hard with the students, his class was not an easy A. He asked for hard work, and appreciated it when the students stepped up and mastered the lessons. His Spring Concert was the highlight of the middle school year. The dozens of trophies testify to the dedication, the drive and boundless energy Mr. Downs brought to his work. In The Voiceless, Oliver Wendell Homes wrote, “Alas for those that never sing, But die with all their music in them!” That was not going to happen if you were in Mr. Downs’ class. He awoke the love of music in our children’s hearts and souls.

 As we recover from the jolting shock of his death and continue to mourn his passing, it is a comfort to know that the seeds of music appreciation that he sowed in our kids’ lives will someday blossom, blossom when they remember … whenever they hear a familiar piece or understand a composition; his memory will guide and comfort them for the rest of their lives. For some, these seeds will yield musical fruit for a new generation.

 Although for the Pacifica community, yesterday was the day the music died, yet, thankfully, the music will live on in the hearts of our kids and the thousands of students who continue to love music because of Mr. Downs. Our condolences to his family, their loss is unimaginable.

Mr Downs


OSS Beginning Band

OSS Beginning Band performing at China Night, 2016 –  Taken by Julie Weatherston

Music has always been an important component to the Pacifica School District curriculum. Mr. Jerry Downs, the band teacher at Ocean Shore and Ingrid B. Lacy, has taught music in the PSD for 28 years, 14 years at Ocean Shore and IBL. On April 23, 2016, the OSS Beginning Band and the Advanced Band made the annual trek down to Mountain View for the Music in the Parks-Great America Music Festival Competition. This year was a little different, for the first time in the history of the band, the OSS Beginning Band took high honors.

Mr. Downs explained, “This group of beginning students have added another first to the history of the band at Ocean Shore.  Now along with 3 Espirit de Corps (top award based on musicianship as well as group spirit) awards, the band also has a top overall (best group at their grade level) achieved at the Music in the Parks Festivals.  This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the example of excellence set by the advanced (7th & 8th grade) band.”

When I asked him what set this group of kids apart, he said, “[They] seem to have an extra something, maybe intensity.  They learn quickly and want to be challenged.  As all 6th grade students are required to take band, this is not always the case.  This year, the ‘positive attitude’ seemed to spread to those who at the start of the year were just going through the motions.  Upon hearing that another more advanced group was playing and performing one of the same pieces they were learning, the focus of the group increased, posture immediately corrected itself, and the rehearsal was so serious it was almost scary (in a good way).  This band relishes a challenge.”

He added, “They’re already working on music and lessons that are normally associated with the advanced band. I have several of these beginning band students involved with more advanced efforts, performing with the marching band, drumline, and the wind ensemble that competes at festival.  At the City of Vallejo Band Festival, those students, along with their seventh and eighth grade classmates, helped the marching band achieve their highest music score ever while taking home the first place award in their division.”

Congratulations to our sixth, seventh and eighth grade band members!! Your hard work has paid off. Also, a hearty THANK YOU to Mr. Downs for his tireless work in providing a rich musical education to our kids.

Photo below by Donna Fentanes

Mr Downs

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


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.