jayellebee's Blog

March 18, 2014

Can’t Win ’em All

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 4:00 pm
Tags: , ,

I just received this e-rejection:

BombeckThank you for entering the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. We had a record number of entries this year with 853 from 13 different countries and all but two U.S. states. The essays ranged from funny and self-deprecating to poignant and heart-warming, and our panel of judges had their work cut out for them. Unfortunately, your essay was not chosen. To see a complete list of the winning entries, please visit Library’s website at www.wclibrary.info/erma. Good luck in 2016.

If you remember Erma, click on the link and enjoy the winning entries in this annual contest.  or, you can read my losing entry with no link required.

                                                                                                                                 The Security Blanket

            “Dont be such a worrier,” Mom told me. “Have you ever seen a young man carry his security blanket to the altar?”

            In time, my first two boys did retire their blankies. But not before a valuable lesson had been learned. By me.

           I prepared for the birth of my third son by purchasing a pair of identical baby blankets. There would be no inconsolable sobbing as this child held vigil beside the washer and dryer. No late night trips to Granny’s house to retrieve his over-looked and irreplaceable sleep aid. This time, one of the soft twins would always be clean and at the ready, materializing when needed as if by magic. I was in charge.
            Yeah, right.
            I have three sons because I didn’t want four. God keeps a supply of “special” babies for women like me who don’t know when enough is enough. The final addition to our family was born strong-willed. An individual. If he had come first, he would have been an only.
            From a very tender age, Number Three hauled both blankies around with him. But, having two allowed him to share one. Like the time his great grandmother needed to rest before sitting down to a noisy holiday dinner. My toddler led her to his room, settled her on his bed and smoothed one blanket over her. Only one.
            The first day of kindergarten, he stroked the jumbled mass on the car’s backseat before darting into the classroom without so much as a backwards glance. After three hours, my little scholar emerged from school, rushed past me and buried his face in the folded pile of laundered comfort. He recharged on the way home, ensconced in layers of pilled polyester and frayed satin binding.
            Several years later, my youngster donated one of his blankets to be entombed in the family pet cemetery with a deceased cat. I had nightmares about him exhuming the body to retrieve his precious property, but he toughed it out and the grave remained undisturbed.
            My boy was the one other parents referenced when discussing peer pressure. He was never malicious, but he never much cared what others thought of him, either. As a teen, he jammed on his drum set with his blanket draped over his shoulders. Later, the rag’s remnants matriculated to college.
            My son and his delightful fiancée will be wed in June. I wish Mom had lived long enough to enjoy what promises to be a unique celebration. If she had, she would frisk him before the ceremony, checking for his blankie. After all, there’s a first time for everything.

March 9, 2014

Christmas in March

     What do you give people who can buy anything they really want for themselves? Finding the perfect gift for either my parents or in-laws was always one of the highest hurdles to clear each year as Christmas approached. I remember the challenge well.    

Jack London State Park 005      So, I was duly impressed this past December when our kids presented Ken and me with a two night stay in Glen Ellen. This quaint little town is located in the heart of Sonoma’s wine country. You’d have to make an effort to avoid all the tasting rooms in the area, and even then you’d most likely trip over a few anyway.Jack London State Park 006

      But wine wasn’t the motivation for sending us to this destination. Nope.

     Glen Ellen happens to be the site of California’s Jack London State Park. Without doing any due diligence or fact checking, I’m willing to wager it is also one of our smallest state parks. This is one of those times when size doesn’t matter.

      The kiddos remembered I have a thing for Jack London. I’m old, and a mother. The nature of my interest in this legendary man might not have been crystal clear to them. But the mere fact they know something goes on in my head besides remembering to separate the whites from the colors and making sure we don’t run out of toilet paper makes me happy.

     This past week Ken and I took the three-hour road trip west to collect on our gift.

Jack London State Park 013      Perched atop a hill overlooking the Valley of the Moon, the park offers multiple short hikes through redwood groves, clusters of oak, magnificent madrone and enough eucalyptus to sate a clutch of koalas. Our first stop was the “House of Happy Walls,” built by Jack’s widow to serve as her residence and an eventual museum. Visitors are treated to rooms filled with memorabilia from Jack and Charmian’s world travels, as well as a glimpse into her personal closet where vintage dresses still hang.

      I’m always amused how Ken and I notice different things even as we stand side-by-side. He was enthralled with the massive redwood beams spanning the main room of the museum. The compass from the Londons’ sailing ketch, “Snark,” and other maritime treasures Jack London State Park 015 validated Ken’s time in the museum.

      Meanwhile, I read some of Jack’s 600+ rejection letters. One, written in 1901, told the author his work was “too tragic,” and asked if he might have anything more cheerful. Another was signed by M. H. deYoung, then editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Perhaps my paltry pile of 100 or so rejection letters isn’t such a big deal after all….

      In this age of self publishing, print on demand books and e-books, it is easy to believe catching the attention of a literary agent and/or traditional publishing house has never been more difficult. Keeping in mind that Jack London died at the age of 40 in 1916 makes this quote all the more poignant for frustrated, wanna-be writers like me:

              For one clever writer twenty years ago, there are, today, five hundred clever

             writers. Today excellent writing is swamped in a sea of excellent writing. Or

             so it seems to me.

Jack London State Park 028      Leaving the museum, we followed a path to the ruins of the Londons’ dream house. After three years of construction, and mere weeks before they would have moved in, the 14,000 square foot, four story masterpiece caught fire during the night and was destroyed. Jack London’s death the following year aborted a brief attempt to rebuild. Today, the imposing rock walls serve as nurseries for moss and delicate ferns. A pinch of imagination allows the laughter and conversations which might have been but never were to echo through the silence.

      Jack’s ashes were buried on the park’s grounds in a location he chose himself. Following his wishes, aJack London State Park 023 large boulder was placed above the ashes. Later, Charmian’s ashes were intermingled with his. The lichen-covered, white picket enclosure speaks to the time that has passed. Jack London has been dead more than twice as many years as he lived.

      And yet his writing lives on. I am in awe.

      You need not be a fan of White Fang or The Call of the Wild to enjoy a visit to Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen. You’ll be glad you went if you enjoy nature. Or architecture. Or even jack rabbits – the park is teeming with them. And, for the truly hard-to-please tourist, there’s also a manure shed.

      Hopefully Ken’s and my parents enjoyed one or two of their Christmas presents from us as much as we enjoyed this gift from our children. Christmas celebrated in March. What a treat.

Jack London State Park 022

January 8, 2014

Lucky Me

Lucky MeYou may not know this, but I’m special. I’m one of what the leader of the free world calls “a small group” of Americans who’s individual medical insurance was cancelled as of January 1st. Thank you, Affordable Care Act.

I recognize our system needed an overhaul. Honest. I get it. A family member has not been able to qualify for insurance due to a pre-existing condition. But, just perhaps, our government has christened and launched the ship before the hull was proven to be sea-worthy.

My situation would be amusing, if it wasn’t MY situation.

The Feds told my carrier to extend my coverage – as well as that of the handful of others bobbing along in my leaky boatLucky Me 2 – until March 31st. For the briefest of moments, I stopped bailing and enjoyed a flood of relief.

Medicare will welcome me to official senior citizen status come April 1st. The extension meant my private insurance would end one day and Medicare would fill the void the very next. My broker congratulated me on my perfect timing. We’ve never met face-to-face, otherwise she probably would have also congratulated me on my perfect teeth, posture and immaculate home. But I digress….

Sometimes you just know in your bones when something has been too easy.

Lucky Me 3California’s Insurance Commissioner, concerned the proposed extension would slow the flotilla of applicants hell bent on anchoring in the sheltered waters of Covered California, nixed the idea. “We need to encourage people to apply for coverage sooner and do nothing that would cause them to delay until later,” he decreed. Or, words to that effect.

So, just as I was stowing my oars and life vest, my dinghy bobbed into rough water. Family members in another state had posted social media stories of their failed attempts to navigate the electronic portal to Obamacare. Alarmed by their problems, I took time to investigate my options.

Make that option. As in one.

Anthem Blue Cross will insure me. The only decision became which “metal” tier to purchase: bronze, silver, gold or Luck Me 3platinum. Feeling as though I were trying out for the winter olympics (USA, USA), I charted the cost and coverage at each level. The conclusion became obvious. What Olympian worth their red, white and blue marching clothes doesn’t want to go for the gold?

My fingers flexed, my shoulders stretched, I cleaned my glasses and took deep, cleansing breaths. The application process was as smooth as kayaking downstream in a strong current. I printed out the email verifying my applicant status and immediately shot the struggling family members living in a state to my east a note about moving back to sunny California where insurance might not be plentiful, but the going was easy. My last glance at the Covered California website assured me I would be contacted by Anthem regarding payment of my premium.

That was December 12th.

Lucky Me 5No agent called. No invoice arrived. Newscasters warned coverage set to begin on January 1st would be cancelled unless payment was received by New Year’s Eve. Way to throw a wet blanket on the end-of-the-year blowout. I imagined the frantic throng gathered in Times Square working their iGadgets as the ball dropped.

Sheer willpower and perseverance led me to an Anthem online site for making my payment. I entered the required data, including the three digit security code on the back of my credit card and clicked on “submit.” A tiny pop-up, popped up. Submission Failure. For some reason, the site believed my name was wrong. Really? My name? I tried omitting the period after my middle initial.

Submission Failure.

I spelled out my middle name.

Submission Failure.

I tried this and that. Failure. Failure. After so many wild guesses I lost count, my name was suddenly accepted! But then there was an issue with my credit card information. I tried a different card, same result. Direct debit? That payment choice, clearly listed on the screen, was identified as a non-functioning option.

For no apparent reason, after 20-ish minutes I received an email confirming my payment submission had been Lucky Me 4received. However, there was no hint as to which card or EFT had gone through. Whee! There’s going to be a thousand dollar surprise at the end of the current billing cycle. Oh, did I mention my former non-Affordable Care (cancelled) insurance would’ve cost $200 a month less? Grrrr.

After a week of checking transaction histories on both cards and my checking account, the payment has still not been processed. But that’s okay because the deadline has been extended. Again. Now I have until January 15th to pay for my new coverage and it will still be effective as of the first.

Covered California emailed me today with contact information for Anthem applicants.

I called the number listed for those two or three of us who have not yet received an invoice. Five minutes of picking my way through the menu’s mine field brought me to a robo-message. “Due to the unexpectedly high call volume resulting from The Affordable Care Act, your call cannot be taken at this time. Please try again later.”

None of this would be that annoying except for a couple of little problems. First, I have an appointment with a new doctor coming up next week. I scheduled this consultation waaaay back in October. When I thought I had insurance. Second, my prescription drug coverage has drifted out-to-sea, but my need for those meds is cruising full speed ahead. Judging by the uninsured prices, I’m sailing first class these days.

Hey, is that a creek up ahead? Damn. Where did I leave my paddle?


December 25, 2013

Candlestick Park

Candlestick Park     The first time I took my sons to Candlestick Park was in the 1980s. The boys, ages five, nine and twelve, were avid Little Leaguers and excited to see the San Francisco Giants in action. Everything I knew about baseball I had learned from watching children play on one school field or another. At those games, the label “home” and “visiting” team only indicated which gaggle of easily-distracted kids batted first.

So, once our quartet had settled into The Stick’s nosebleed seats on a windy summer afternoon, I asked, “Who’s the home team?”Giants Logo

I’ve never been shy about embarrassing my children in public. But I prefer to do so intentionally, not out of ignorance. It’s been a few years, but as I recall their reactions to my question included eye rolling, groaning, and furtive glances at the people seated nearby to see if my stupidity had been overheard.

My sons schooled me on the fine points of America’s Game, and over the years we returned to Candlestick once or twice each season. In the era of Will Clark and Robby Thompson, I grew to know favored players’ names, positions and jersey numbers.

In 2000, the Giants bequeathed Candlestick to the San Francisco Forty Niners, and moved uptown to the brand-spanking-new, built-for-baseball Pac Bell Park. My sons have been there often, and tell me the curly fries are primo. But for a variety of reasons, I’ve only seen the new stadium from a distance.

niners' game 027     2013 has been the Niners’ farewell season at The Stick. Their new home nears completion in Santa Clara. One last family outing to our old stomping grounds seemed in order. But now that we live in four towns and cities scattered across two states, pulling the crew together was a bit more complicated than it used to be. Major logistical planning included a road trip and overnight hotel stay for two of us.

On December 8th, wearing my winter-weight thermals and every other piece of cold weather clothing I possess, I walked through Candlestick’s parking lot with my three towering sons.  The children I used to herd into the stadium took control and shepherded their little mother. The crowd became a packed mass of humanity at the entry gate. When we moved, we moved as one, incapable of individual locomotion in any direction. Thoughts of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which rattled that very ground during the opening activities of the World Series, shook me to my quivering soul. The plot of “Two Minute Warning,” too scary to contemplate, was banned from conscious thought.

Eventually our tickets were inspected and we received our souvenir rally towels. niners' game 039The reality that we weren’t heading up the tall escalators hit home. We would be close enough to the field to see the players’ faces! Our seats were even better than expected as the entire first quarter played out right in front of us. The game, my first NFL experience, was exciting. The final score, with the Niners beating the Seahawks 19 – 17 in the final 90 seconds, provided a perfect ending.

But my highlight reel features brothers cheering to the point of becoming hoarse; brothers hugging in excitement; sons explaining the nuances of the game to their mom; neighboring fans high-fiving the informed heckling of my youngest. My personal sound track has a high volume setting and is heavy with laughter.

A crescent moon rose above the rim of Candlestick as we made our last-ever exit that afternoon. We paused for a final photo op with our old friend in the niners' game 047background. Fellow Niner fans who had been strangers a few hours before leapt into the frame. Brotherly Love was the prevailing emotion of the moment – for family members and members of the family of man in general.

How does a “game” generate such goodwill? I don’t know. But perhaps the world would be a more peaceful place if international heads of state could meet at a stadium and root for the same team.  I mean, think about it. I hear Candlestick has some open dates before demolition is scheduled.

Me? I won’t be able to join the presidents, premiers and high-level mucky-mucks. I’ll be at my first Giants game in their new home. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen the Boys of Summer play ball. And I have no intention of waiting very long before getting together with the Brown Brothers again. Color me one happy mother.

Go Niners!

November 10, 2013

Confection Confessions

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 4:35 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

My name is Joanne and I’m a chocolaholic. There is no such thing as a DWC (Driving While Chocolated). Nor are there twelve step programs for us addicts of all things derived from the cocoa bean. But trust me, the physical craving, the need for chocolate is not to be ignored. My family and friends know about my weakness, and not only accept me, but actually enable me.

My daughter-in-law invited me to join her at a fund raiser supporting the Tahoe Safe Alliance, a non-profit “dedicated to ending the incidence and trauma of … domestic violence, sexual violence [and] child abuse in the North Lake Tahoe and Truckee communities,” and Project MANA, a hunger relief agency. The lure of the 25th annual “Chocolate, Wine and Roses Festival” hooked my attention and reeled me in.

The silver anniversary of this delicious event brought out North Shore’s glitterati. Men sported silver slacks, jackets tailored from recycled disco balls and reflective foil hats appropriate for New Year’s Eve. Women’s sparkling garments ranged from micro-mini skirts to floor-length evening gowns. The “people watching” was almost as delicious as the main attraction.

Hyatt_Lake_Tahoe_Aerial_South_ViewEntering the Hyatt Regency’s ballroom, my resolve to limit consumption melted like Belgian milk chocolate left in the car on a hot summer’s day. Chocolate called to me from every direction. The price of admission provided access to the A Game sweets of ten chocolatiers competing for “Most Decadent,” “Most Original Taste,” “Creative Use of Ingredients,” “Best Tabletop Presentation,” and the revered “People’s Choice” awards.

The winners were determined by a democratic process with a Nevada slant. Remember, this gala took place in a Silverpoker chips State hotel which has its own in-house casino. So, each attendee was given three special poker chips in a dainty silver bag. Every table top display included a receptacle into which the chips could be deposited – not unlike a ballot box at your neighborhood polling place.

I should mention fifteen wineries were also on site offering tastes of their finest libations, but that part of the evening held little interest for me. I wasn’t about to waste my appetite or my votes on wine.

My grandfather would have called me “a one-eyed dog in a butcher shop” that evening. I didn’t know where to look first. But I’ve always taken voting very seriously and felt duty-bound to taste every nominated confection possible before casting my poker chips.

blog pix 000 jpgTruffles with a cherry center. Caramels robed in milk or dark chocolate. Pecan turtles. English toffee. Chocolate-covered marshmallows. Chocolate mousse. Cashew chews. Petits fours with chocolate ornamentation. Raspberry topped whipped chocolate. Even chocolate sushi. And those are just the offerings I remember.

The unexpected happened after a mere two hours of grazing, comparing and evaluating. I realized I didn’t want any more chocolate! I’d had my fill. I was sated. What a unique sensation. Even more surprising, the table set with raw vegetables, creamy dips, cheese and crackers beckoned me. Who would’ve thunk?

A heavy weight bearing down on my belly awakened me about three in the morning. My mouth was dry. My head ached. I was wide awake. A sugar and caffeine overdose squeezed my gut like a vice grip. No doubt about it. I had a full-blown chocolate hangover.

”Oh,” I moaned, and then promised the unsympathetic ceiling, “I’ll never eat chocolate again.”

The discomfort accompanied me on the drive home. Such a fun evening – such a high price to pay!

“Never again,” I vowed. “I shall never fall victim to the demon chocolate again.”

Walking into the house, I spied the bowl of leftover Halloween candy on the kitchen counter. Hershey’s Kisses in fall-colored foil wrappers. They didn’t even look good.

I ate them. But I didn’t enjoy them.

September 14, 2013

Swift? Not Me!

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 6:56 pm
Tags: , ,


     blog pix

 My high school years ended a long time ago.   And yet, I still harbor a handful of academic-related memories well spaced between those of mean girls, food fights and everyday teen drama.  One such recollection is courtesy of my senior year English teacher.

     The class was assigned to read  Jonathan Swift’s blog pic1729 essay, “A Modest Proposal.”   At the tender age of sixteen, I was the poster child for naivete.    I’m not sure I even knew the term “satire” back then.  I certainly didn’t recognize it when I saw it.

     What I remember with clarity is being horrified at Swift’s proposal.  I anguished reading his suggestion that the poor of Ireland should eat their children, thereby solving the epidemic hunger crisis and saving parents from the burden of raising children they could ill afford. 

     How could he be so callous?  So lacking in empathy?  Had he never been a child?  Barbarian!

     The subsequent classroom discussion taught me I hadn’t been meant to take the author’s comments at face value.  Swift’s tongue had been lodged firmly in his cheek.  Who knew?  Apparently, everyone but me.  I may not be swift on the uptake, but that day my eyes were opened to the world of saying one thing while meaning another.  Enlightenment comes in many forms. 

     Our next assignment was to write a satirical essay.

     Experience from the previous summer provided my inspiration.   I had organized the neighborhood kids to pick up litter.  The gang accepted my challenge with the promise of finding four — count them — four quarters I’d hidden along the one mile route.   Keep in mind, in that era of “gas wars” 25 cents was enough to buy a gallon of gas.  And get change,  

     blog pixOver an hour’s time, a dozen or so children amassed enough garbage to garner a front page group photo in the local newspaper (right below a feature story about big mouth bass fishing).  Of course, the smelly mountain of empty cans, greasy sandwich wrappers and discarded worm containers created another problem:  how to get rid of it all.  By brother pressed Dad’s station wagon into service and we drove the soggy paper bags of bilious waste to the dump.  

    My resulting essay espoused ways to rid the modern, litter-strewn world of trash.  Cigarette filters, I wrote, could be created from quick-dissolving material.  As each one decayed, a dormant wildflower seed hidden within would be released and fertilized.   Should unintended side-affects decrease the number of smokers in the world, so much the better.  Another gem addressed those new-fangled pop-top aluminum cans.  The  razor-edged tabs were being discarded willy-nilly  and left to gash bare feet.  Why not allow them to be redeemed like the ubiquitous Blue Chip Stamps of the time?  I described special booklets with slots to hold the gathered metal loops. 

     The English teacher praised my writing, but the world ignored my ideas.

    blog pix I recently read Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave by Adam Alter.  One section cites scientific experiments designed to guage a person’s inclination to drop litter.  Psychologists determined we are less likely to foul the environment when our surroundings are pristine than when other people’s droppings are already present.  Taking this information to heart, I have adopted a nearby section of country road.blog pix 001  The adoption is unofficial, no sign will be forthcoming unless some idiot drops one off….

     A turnout on the narrow mountain lane encourages people to stop and eat lunch or even spend the night in their campers.   Without conscious thought for what will become of the mess, these interlopers leave an amazing assortment of junk.  Bamboo window shades, ratty shoes, orphaned socks….  Given enough time, I expect to find a gutted washing machine, bald tires and at least one soiled mattress.

     When my dog hasn’t produced anything to fill the plastic bag I carry in my back pocket, I pick up roadside waste instead.   Have my efforts resulted in less littering?  I think so.  But the county-owned, solar-powered, digital-readout “Your Speed” radar gizmo currently parked in the turnout has had a definite positive affect.  Now if the rig discourages the dirty, rotten litterbugs from speeding along our narrow mountain lane, I’ll be a happy camper twice over.blog pix 174

November 10, 2013 Post Script
Today my dog’s nose led both of us to a 32 gallon black plastic garbage bag hidden behind a bush. The shape predicted the bag was not empty. A quick heft told me whatever was inside wasn’t light. I held my breath, unrolled the top and took a quick peek. A face looked back at me. When my heart resumed beating, I looked again. What I assume were the inedible parts of a butchered doe, including the head, had been dumped beside the road. Incredible!

August 4, 2013

Breakfast on the Fly

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 9:03 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Ken and I were pretty strict parents. Just ask any one of our boys – all now in their 30s – about the family policy on PG13 movies. More than two decades later, the oldest son still harbors a grudge about not being allowed to see the blockbuster, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” JessicaMy concerns had to do with the seductively portrayed and attired femme fatale, Jessica, but he’ll tell you I feared there was just too darn much animation.

Anyhow, now that the only “child” under our roof has four legs and a tail, Ken and I have relaxed. A lot. Not only do we enjoy spoiling Shadow, we actually go out of our way to find new and interesting places to take her for walks That’s how we ended up in an area only a few miles from home that we hadn’t explored before.

The short walk from where we parked to the trailhead led past two properties with no shortage of garden art. I’m guessing at least one of the residents also has no shortage of time on his or her hands. Take a peek at these fun metal sculptures:
blog pix 160
blog pix 168

There was a dragonfly, too. The body (or should I say fuselage?) was a good ten feet long. The wingspan must have been closer to twelve feet. A terrific blend of art and imagination.

So, that was yesterday. This morning, as the sun warmed the granite boulders in our front yard, the surrounding soil gave birth to a cloud of flying insects. Termites, perhaps? We didn’t get a chance to investigate.

A squadron of bright orange dragonflies converged on the swarm. The dragonflies here are larger than those I was accustomed to seeing in the Bay Area, with wings comparable in length to those of a hummingbird. Of course, their bodies are much more aerodynamic.

At least a dozen of the voracious predators put on an air show to rival the Blue Angels. Over the next fifteen minutes they swooped and dived, soared and dipped, devouring their breakfast on the fly. As I concentrated on watching a specific insect rising from the ground, a dragonfly would appear within seconds and swallow it whole. Without even pausing to down shift.

blog pix 169 I tried to capture the frenzy in this photo, but my little point-and-shoot isn’t equipped to do the attack justice. Click on this picture to enlarge it, Then play “Where’s Waldo?” The two blurred smudges above the boulders are the raiders caught in the act.

Not once did I see a dragonfly make a pit stop during the attack, and the whizzing wings made no sound. The original silent but deadly? They flew full-out until the abundance of bugs declined. Then the dragonflies peeled off, one-by-one, to parts unknown. Within a minute of the final insect assent, every last double pair of gossamer wings had departed. They arrived at the final link in that particular food chain and moved on.

I Googled Dragonflies. They are not picky eaters, consuming 15% of their own body weight daily. dragonflyThe menu includes most any flying bug you can think of, including other dragonflies, moths, nymphs, bees…. Their wings are phenomenal, allowing them to hover and even fly backwards! Boeing engineers, take note.

Pixar and Disney should consider creating a film script about dragonflies. But, I might have to discourage my sons from seeing the movie if there’s too much violence.

July 14, 2013

When Worlds Collide

      Some years back, Ken and I attended the wedding of a dear friend’s son.  We met her in 1973 when we bought adjacent homes in a new subdivision.  Circumstances and time led her to a number of residences in a number of states, but despite the long distances between us, our friendship deepened.  At her son’s reception, we were seated with people from across the nation who had one thing in common – we all valued having the groom’s mother in our lives.  When she spotted our table, with representatives of divergent times in her life all enjoying one another’s company, she reacted with a visible, physical jolt. 

      Yesterday, my worlds collided.  Did you hear the rumble, or was it just me? 

      blog pixEarlier in the week, a writer friend asked if I would be interested in heading up the hill with her.  The Squaw Valley Community of Writers, concluding its 43rd annual workshop, had announced free public sessions.  Amy Tan was to be one of the speakers.

      The portion of my skull directly above my eyes throbbed as I visualized variables from my life blazing toward one another.

      This newish friend and I met at a writers conference.  The two of us have become walking partners.  We turn laps around the Nevada County fairgrounds and our conversations run from current manuscript issues to family issues to politics to ….

      My first visit to the Lake Tahoe area was in the fall of 1959.  Dad had sold some mechanical equipment being installed deep within Squaw Valley in preparation for the 1960 winter Olympics.blog pix 158  He needed to make a site visit to confirm all was as it should be and took the family with him.  I had never seen snow falling prior to that memorable weekend trip.  And the lake….  The angry waves beating against the beaches sounded like we were at the ocean, not 6200 feet above sea level.

      My middle son and daughter-in-law were married at Squaw Valley a year ago.  Ken and I enjoyed the better part of a week there, what with pre-wedding festivities and post-wedding decompression.  Those days produced a deep appreciation of the area.  By the time we headed home, the mountainous faces towering above and the cold streams flowing by called my name.

      blog pix 159The couple who live two properties away from me in Nevada City, Brett Hall and Louie B. Jones, head up the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.  Brett’s father developed the program and she has now taken the reins.  I am in awe of them.  They are down-to-earth, approachable neighbors who happen to be friends with famous authors!

      My youngest son is engaged to the daughter of someone who works with Amy Tan. Ms. Tan attended a Community of Writers program before she was published, is now on the group’s Board, and has been a house guest of my neighbors.  She’s one of Brett and Louie’s famous friends. 

      So, yesterday we zipped up to Squaw.  What a privilege to live so close to such a beautiful destination.  The caress of a gentle breeze and cornflower blue skies welcomed us to the valley.  Pausing for a picnic lunch, we then wandered into Olympic House early enough to score near-front row seats for the afternoon’s activities. 

      Amy Tan arrived shortly before her talk was scheduled to begin and sat close enough to me to touch.  I summoned my courage – my life rarely involves celebrities – introduced myself and explained how we are practically related.  She took my hand and congratulated me on the engagement.


      blog pixThere….  Did you hear the thunderous, bone crushing sound of worlds colliding?  The echo in my head is deafening and the after effect of ongoing, uncontrollable broad grinning is dragging yet another aspect of my life into the picture.  My aching jaw is something I’ve mentioned to Ken, my all-time favorite (retired) dentist.  By the way, did I mention his office was on Olympic Boulevard in Walnut Creek?

      My friend and I passed a bakery on our way out of Olympic House.  The shop’s name is Wildflour, and the slogan stenciled on the window reads “Life’s a Batch, eat cupcakes.”  I purchased a Gold Medal worthy “Olympic” chocolate cupcake.  Heaven.  The treat was gone long before we arrived at theblog pix car. 

     Life’s high points pulled together to create one spectacular day.  After revisiting family memories and nature’s grandeur, enjoying friends, neighbors and six degrees of separation with a famous author, AND devouring a fabulous chocolate treat, I now understand my darling friend’s reaction at her son’s wedding reception.  Two happy women.   

      Now if my jaw would just stop aching.

June 27, 2013

Holed Up and Hunkered Down

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 11:10 am
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blog pix

My fear of heights is Mom’s fault.  The phobia took root while watching her wash windows.  I have a vivid mental image of my mother perched with one hip on the third story window sill and leaning out, as if she were Annie Oakley riding side-saddle and preparing to rope a steer.    As a wee small girl, I imagined my mommy splatting on the ground below.  The memory is enough to make my hands sweat all these sixty years later.

So, this morning I inhaled a courageous breath and, with great trepidation, convinced myself to wash the upstairs windows at Clearlake.  Ours is only a two story building, but I’m pretty sure that’s high enough for me to be pierced through-and-through by the wicked thorns of the gnarled pomegranate tree at ground level.  Resigned to my fate, I hauled the window washing gear up a flight of stairs.

A helicopter hovered over the neighboring hills, darting out-of-sight and back again as I removed the screens.  The letters CHP adorned the fuselage.  I carried the filthy metal and mesh rectangles down to the driveway and distracted myself from scrubbing off bird poop and bug guts by concocting stories about the nature of the nearby emergency.

Lost and/or injured hikers?  Not likely.  My friends and I slid down those same grassy hills as children. blog pix The preamble of a grass fire?   No smoke.  Bank robbers?  More like fast food thieves in this part of the world.  I pictured the headlines, “Ketchup trail leads posse to hamburger hi-jackers.”

I had no sooner climbed back upstairs when the landline downstairs interjected itself into my thoughts.  I ran for the phone, hustling as much as my creaky back and sock-clad feet would allow on oak steps.  Picking up after the fourth ring, I was greeted by that nebulous nothing associated with telemarketers’ cold calls.  The hand piece approached the cradle when I heard, “This is a public safety announcement from the Clearlake police department.”

Great.  Police Athletic League donation?  Widows and Orphans fund?

“Residents of the Clearlake Park area are advised to stay inside and keep their doors locked.”

Say what?  The algae wasn’t that bad.  I checked the clock.  Eleven-thirty.

“Three armed and presumed dangerous fugitives are believed to be in your area.  The adult males, armed with handguns, are wearing dark clothing and hoodies….”

I yelled for Ken to come inside, my voice tinged with urgency.  He listened to my retelling of the alert, glanced at the droning copter and locked the lakeside sliding glass door.  Bad guys with guns would be stopped by dual pane windows, right?

Ken called his brother to share the excitement.  “We’re hunkered down at the lake!”

Lunch filled a bit of the what-should-we-do void and I chewed my tuna sandwich with one eye on the hills, expecting suspicious characters to crest the ridge at any moment.  My fingers were primed to hit 9-1-1.  Ken pushed away from the table, moved to the recliner and his eyelids drooped.  Siesta time.  Our ferocious guard dog’s twitching feet betrayed her REM dream state.  The lack of tension was palpable.

By two o’clock Ken was awake, rested and bored silly.  blog pix 156The helicopter had flown the coop and my always-cautious husband announced, as far as he was concerned, the lock-down had been lifted.  He returned to his interrupted chores on the pier.

“But we haven’t received the ‘all clear’ message the police department promised,” I said.

Still no news from the local version of Mayberry by 3:00.  A call to the sheriff’s non-emergency number at 4:30 confirmed the outlaws were still out there.  We spent an hour lounging on the deck, within earshot of the phone.  The passage of time made the situation feel less threatening.

I scanned the hills for fleeing suspicious adult males, but soaring turkey vultures were as close as I came to spying evil doers.  Still, each barking dog confirmed the possibility of danger.  The ice maker’s whirring and clunking machinations in an otherwise quiet house stole my breath away.  Heaven help me if a confused driver dressed in black were to find his way to the end of the cul-de-sac where our driveway begins.  I peeked out the street-side bedroom window lowered the shade.

It’s 5:30 and Shadow is ready for her walk.  Somehow, venturing out to Lakeshore Drive feels like a bad idea.  The girl will have to wait.  blog pix 155Besides, the longer I can feign fear, the longer I can put off washing those scary upstairs windows.

***UPDATE:  A day has passed.  Neighbors with internet access tell us that, as of 7:30 last night, four “alleged” criminals had been apprehended and a fifth was holed up in a house less than a mile from us.  A SWAT team was in place ready to storm the hide out as soon as a search warrant arrived.  The “all clear” call never came, but even I am ready to assume all’s well.  If you need me, I’ll be  upstairs washing the windows.

June 6, 2013

Small Wonder

blog pix           Ken and I watched an episode of “North America,” the local version of “Blue Earth,” narrated by Tom Selleck.  Two segments stayed with me.  One showed the annual bloom of May flies somewhere in the Great Lakes region.  When the water temperature reaches 63 degrees, these aquatic nymphs morph en masse into flying bugs with only 24 hours to hook up and mate before they die.  The insect equivalent of speed dating?

            Next, the program featured a mother peregrine falcon and her two hatchlings ensconced on Southern California cliffs high above the Pacific.  Ms. Falcon gathered and delivered dinner for her ever-hungry brood, again and again.  Then, without pausing, she dive bombed a snake slithering up the rocky face toward her babies.  The free-falling reptile plummeted to the beach hundreds of feet below.  Wouldn’t surprise me if Mom was humming  I Am Woman.

            Imagine my delight upon arriving at Clear Lake a few days later to discover the recent heat wave had given rise an infestation of Rice flies, also known as midges, cousins of that sex-crazed May family.  I grew up calling these pests “Dumb Bugs” because they land on you and wait to be squashed.  Droves race inside whenever a door opens.  Hoards cling to windows and walls.  As we ate dinner, I applauded a red-winged blackbird eating its way down a row of Rice flies queued up on the window sill. 

            Shadow and I walked once the evening cooled.  A friend joined us and we ladies chatted as Shadow smelled every rock, weed and bush we passed, discovering which of her guys had passed that way since our last visit.  When she stopped for the umteenth time, a mile from home, I tugged on the leash without looking back.

            Shadow’s weight became an anchor.  I turned to see her nudging a lump in the dirt with her nose.  I tugged again.  She resisted.  I approached the lump.

            A baby bird, naked but for a hint of downy feathers, stretched its yellow beak open as I bent down.  blog pix 133Its sibling lay inches away, a victim of the fall from their nest hidden in the branches above.  A car sped by, a few feet from the unforgiving avian landing pad.

            Shadow is mostly Labrador retriever and a bird-dog through-and-through.  But this baby bird, which could have easily fit in my rescue dog’s soft mouth, didn’t ring her instinctive bells.  My girl was curious, nothing more.   Paying her rescue status forward, perhaps.

            A quick check of our surroundings revealed a discarded Styrofoam burger box, just the thing for transporting the young survivor home.  Thank goodness for litter.

            “Look what Shadow found,” I said, opening the lid to give Ken a peek.

            “What are you going to do with it?”

            “Keep it alive overnight and then find a wildlife rescue center in the morning.”

            Simple enough.  Or so I thought.

            I headed to a neighbor’s landscaped yard and dug around looking for worms.  No luck.  Then inspiration struck.  Rice flies!  I grabbed a small plastic tub and headed back outside.  In minutes, scores of crumpled Dumb Bug corpses rested in the container.  The back of a fork mashed the bodies and I added a few drops of water.  Mmm, mmm, good.  My new buddy devoured the snack and screamed for more.

blog pix 138            The hunt for the next of what would become many courses began.  Archie (short for Archi-BALD) grew stronger and more insistent with each mouthful.  By 10:00 he had consumed more than 100 Rice flies.  His birth mother wouldn’t approve of him staying up so late, so I covered him with a tissue, turned off the lights and wished him sweet dreams. 

            In my dreams, his feathers all grew in while we slept.  In the morning, the bare truth proved his tissue-blanket wasn’t a good substitute for Mama’s warmth.  I could see he was breathing, but he wouldn’t open his beak and only managed a single breathy “peep.”  I cursed myself for not rising with the early birds.

            Ken suggested Archie might be cold, so I carried the refugee out into the sunshine in my cupped hands.  He began to move, and then to peep.  His talons gripped my finger.  Not exactly like an infant holding its parent’s finger, but I’d be lying if I claimed there wasn’t a connection.  Time for more Rice flies.

            Shadow was the second family member to be fed.  Then Ken and I downed some eggs.  (The irony was not wasted on me.)  After Archie’s fourth serving of flies, the last of which was seasoned with one small spider and a mosquito, I called the SPCA.  The woman there referred me to the Clearlake Veterinary Clinic. 

            Archie serenaded Ken and me with a steady stream of peeps during his first car ride.  The motto on the sign outside the clinic read, “Compassion and Integrity in Practice.”  Reassured, we presented our featherless friend to a vet tech.  She cracked the box, ooo’d and ahh’d, and transported her new charge to the office’s inner sanctum.

            The receptionist handed me a government form to complete.  Much to my amazement, the Feds keep track of how many and what kind of animals are taken in by wildlife rescue groups.  Much to my delight, the Clearlake Veterinary Clinic wanted as much detail as possible about where Archie was found.  They will release him close to home when he’s ready to fledge.  Our paths may cross another day!

            I called the next morning, anxious to hear if Archie was thriving.  He was.  The vet determined the chick is a robin.blog pix  Nice.  I’ve always been partial to robins.  Life is good.

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