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.




Slouching Towards Sixty


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!


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


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