Sunday, December 29, 2013

Glory Be

In this past week I have witnessed the  physical rebirth of my personal angel and adopted daughter, Catherine.
Accompanying her on one week of the journey was my Christmas celebration.  For the last six months chemotherapy has been the steady menu, as the oncology specialists employed the most powerful drug cocktails to wipe out her blood cells carrying mantle cell lymphoma. At this stage of the journey of course the danger is infections.
 On December 16 at Stanford she received back her stem cells for transplant.  And in the last week when I stood at her bedside (or more often sat at the sidelines, as she was usually surrounded by nurses and doctors) her white blood count rose from .02 to 1.6 and continues to shoot up. This means the harvest has worked and she is now reproducing her own cells. Cross your fingers she will be discharged to daily outpatient care today. She will be required to wear an impressive mask whenever she is out of doors or in the public. And she will no doubt be wearing one of many chemo caps friends have provided.
Having been hospitalized a few times in my life I have some ability to judge nursing care. What I want to add about the team in the transplant unit at Stanford is that they are all saints. Not only that, the team for daily rounds was led by a woman nurse practitioner! Yeah yeah yeah.

Friday, December 20, 2013


Especially this last week as I recover from pacemaker surgery I have been dwelling on my gratitudes, especially the loving kindness of friends new and old, who keep bringing me cookies and books and soup and holiday cheer.  My new neighbors across the street have a shimmering tree in their front window which I see clearly from my study.
At Cathy Lane Lee and I would often just cut boughs from the monterey pines in the driveway and arrange them on the mantel making the whole house smell delish. It comforts me that the new owners love the place as much as we did, and I know they are enjoying the December sunsets.
It looks like Northern California is moving into a drought, alas. Some of us went out two weeks ago to photograph the Laguna de Santa Rosa, where there is supposed to be a lot of water and avian habitat. As you can see, there is practically no water. Still, it was a lovely outing.

Residents tell me after a rain one can kayak in these waterways, and its only half an hour from my house. I can hardly wait. I look forward to many more discoveries as I settle into mostly peaceful and very beautiful Sonoma County and the Valley of the Moon.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Week To Remember

After giving the offeratory at Glide in San Francisco last Sunday Catherine (above), laden with fresh crab  and salad makings, drove up to celebrate the season with me. Here she is modeling her new purple boots. Doesn't she look smashing. As I write this she is struggling with the latest dose of cytoxine in her room at Stanford Hospital, where she has been since Tuesday, preparing for her new birthday on Monday. when she will receive a stem cell transplant (her own cells).

We stuffed ourselves with the sweetest crab ever and said our goodbyes until Dec. 22 when I will be staying in the Palo Alto area for several days to be near her.
Meanwhile, Thursday I became the lucky recipient of a pacemaker to treat my atrial fib. The surgery went very well and I'm getting feistier every day now. Nothing will really change for my heart until this surgery is followed in January by another, called an ablation. (It takes a while for the pacemaker to seat itself in place). At that time the pacemaker will regulate the beat instead of ME and my heart rhythm will be more normal.

Watch Catherine and I; we're going to remold the world, one purple kick at a time.

If you know me well you know I've never had much hair, mostly baby fine wisps, whereas Catherine has always had thick naturally curly locks. So for once, I can boast I have more on top than she has.
But it won't be long before she overtakes me again.  Oh well, enjoy the moment.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bounties in Different Colors

Hot topic at Current Events yesterday was the cold snap we are having (19 on my deck) and the plight of the homeless in Santa Rosa. I jumped into the discussion to remind folks how many of the homeless are there because of mental illness and emotionally unable to access the limited resources available. Like so many problems in society, lets look under the top layer. We wound up with donating funds to the Redwood Food Bank, etc. and sharing stories about the life and good deeds of Mandela.
If I thought I'd never see a persimmon again after leaving Cathy Lane I'm delighted to enjoy the bounty of Oakmont residents. Persimmons seem to thrive here as well.  (see below).
On a personal note, my fatigue has increased from my long standing atriall fibrillation so I've decided to have a pace-maker. Same day surgery is scheduled for next Thursday.  I hope to be back at this post Friday.
Cheers to my former East Bay painters group, Watercolor Connection, who are once more enhancing the lobby of the Hayward City hall lobby gallery with a spectrum of color.
Hope all of you find time for quiet reflection and counting your warm blessings---brilliant orange, or other.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Growing Old and Growing Young

Back in the Valley of the Moon after a busy visit to the East Bay to find the landscapers had almost finished replanting my front yard. The tiny blue flower above (?) is about the only thing of color right now, though by spring there is supposed to be a mass of flowers for me to learn, admire, and paint.  I can't wait. On my Thanksgiving trek I saw many, many old friends, some of fifty years standing. Now one has to be old to say that! Still, I was not quite the oldest at the Thanksgiving table. Stace's dad, 90, sat at the head of the table and led us all in conversation and calories. I toted along my new iPad and scored lessons from Andrea and Jan Hagan. I can tell its going to be a slow learning curve, but isn't that what keeps us all young? Below are photos of the yard as I was driving up. 

I think it shows great promise for color and growth. I hope the old lady living inside does as well.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Day America Lost Its Trust

I'm borrowing the title from an article by Lowell Cohn in today's Press Democrat. If you were living, where were you? I was living on Carisbrook Dr. in Oakland and teaching 39 fourth graders at Oakland's Bellla Vista school., except that that day I was home sick with a bad bug, the bane of elementary teachers. Our t-v was a small black and white model, in the bedroom. I remember feeling aghast and thinking how the children would need me, and how would the substitute handle it, and feeling badly for everyone. I was 33, and politically pretty innocent., but still in shock. Maybe I still am. But today I will go to Current Events and hear a lively discussion on what the senate did yesterday to stop filibusters and allow judicial appointments. What I don't understand Catherine will explain to me later. How lucky I am to have her.
Wednesday, watching Obama award the Kennedy Freedom medals, I learned Sally Ride was a lesbian and watched her partner of 27 years receive the honor in her name. A lot is wrong in this country and this planet, but progress in accepting minorities is heartening.
Next Thursday I will be in the bay area with dear friends Andrea and Stacey, so look for my blog a little late.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Autumn Transformations

     Though we have not yet had a deep frost here in Sonoma County most of the color in the vineyards is morphing to mahogany brown but here in Oakmont the persimmons, crepe myrtles, and  pistach are drawing raves. Finally my landscape designer is transforming my front yard as well.
     My fairly old Japanese Maple, shown above, got a hair cut yesterday. Now the light shines through and it is almost smiling. (see below). At the same time a low wall is being built of Cyar rock from Napa. The skilled Mexican rock sculpturers arrive at 7:15 and I hear a steady tap-tap-tap all day from their chisels. Its a pleasant sound. Strangely rhythmic and soothing. Next week the cement will be poured for the new and safer walkway, and maybe, just maybe, the new plantings will be in place.
Hmm....maybe its time to transform myself?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Blazing Color and More on Maacama

     Yesterday, sight unseen,  I downloaded a new book on my kindle called the Persimmon Tree. No doubt my mind was wondering what my persimmon tree on Cathy Lane looked like right now. Neighbors up here, Steve and Chuck, have two in their back yard, and invited me over for a photo fest. Their crop this year is small, only a few persimmons, but they are the size of grapefruit, I swear,  and the leaves are ablaze with color.
Most of Sonoma County is a  photographers dream right now, though rain is predicted by Monday .
Did you like my story last week? Here is the last chapter.  

    By exaggerated gestures and more yelling the highway patrol officer was able to communicate to us over the roaring waters that he wanted our car keys. We only had one set so Lee hunted through the cabin to find something to wrap them in. What she found was ingenious, I thought: a rusty old glass jar about a third full of decayed salmon eggs. Placing the keys inside and tightly screwing on the lid, she posed straddled-legged on the  upper bank of our side of the creek to make the precarious toss. My hands were frozen in a prayerful position. She calculated carefully and then wound up. The glass jar flew through the air some thirty-five or forty feet, making a gentle arc above the raging waters, landing neatly at the officer’s left big toe. He looked down, astonished. 
     Next, he removed the keys from the fish eggs, and waded to our car sinking car. By now the water was lapping on the carpets inside. Lifting the hood, he disconnected the brake cables, so water would not flood the engine. Then Eureka! The motor purred gently as he put the car in reverse, and ever so slowly backed it out along the now underwater track until he reached a high spot where he could ease it onto the highway. From there he radioed for a tow truck from Calistoga to haul it in and restore the brakes. He indicated to us that he would have it brought back the next day and parked along the highway above us, with the keys under the mat inside. That is indeed what happened. By the next day the torrent had receded significantly. It was now just under waist deep, though still fast and strong. The tow truck driver brought a big rope, securing his side to a tree and tossed the other end across, where Lee secured it to a tree on our side. Then we waited a few more hours until the waters reached thigh high. It took two or three trips across, hanging on to the rope for safety, to extract us and our gear, which we tried to balance with one hand over our heads to keep the gear dry.  On the last trip Lee, my hero, untied the rope on the cabin side of the bank, and hand over hand sloshed across. We were mighty cold and anxious, but all was well. 
     This was my first and most memorable trip to the cabin we called Maacama. But in the next twenty years we probably camped there fifty times. It has always remained a magical setting for me, and does to this day remind me of Lee’s pluck and pitching arm.  It was an auspicious welcome to California, a state I have now called home for 57 years. 
     One of my most precious memories of Lee is the picture in my mind of her taking aim and so accurately throwing the glass fish egg jar with keys inside across the raging waters. 
     A driving trip to see if the old cabin still stands is on my agenda for the coming months., and a new friend up here, Joyce, has volunteered to lead the expedition. But I think I’ll avoid April, especially in the rain. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Safari West and Associated Memories

     About a half hour's drive East from my new home is an African wildlife preserve of some 400 acres, founded twenty years ago, called Safari West. Finally last Monday I indulged myself and signed up for a tour and a night in a tent cabin.  My friend Barb from Alameda accompanied me. We dressed in many layers, knowing it would get mighty chilly at night. It was a delightful and educational experience and as close, I'm sure, as I will ever get to Africa.

     We left the heater on in the tent cabin, as directed, and blessed the electric blankets. Going to the bathroom in the night, though, was an adventure in chilblains. Awake most of the wee hours, listening to the bird and animal calls, I realized the familiarity of the terrain, and suddenly put two and two together: Safari West was situated on land, though separated by a mountain, which must have been less than ten miles as the crow flies from a site I had camped maybe fifty times during my first twenty years in California. No wonder I felt so at home there. It evoked many memories, one of which follows.

     The Highway Patrol Officer, making a megaphone with his hands, tried to yell across the creek over the roaring waters, a challenging task. “Are you alright?” he bellowed repeatedly. We nodded up and down. “Do you have food?” Again we nodded. On routine patrol along rural 128 he noticed our car thirty feet below him along the creek bank and thought we had careened off the highway rather than driven along the old rutted track, now invisible with the rising waters, that followed the east side of the creek. The flow had been so sleepy when we waded across two days previously.
      The rain started gently about 7 pm Friday night. We zipped our two old sleeping bags together, delighted that the zippers were compatible, to make one snug envelope. We spent the night warm and dry inside the old cabin,oblivious to the outside world. All seemed perfect. It was the last weekend of April, 1956. only three weeks following my big move to California from Washington State to live my lifetime with my sweetheart, Lee. It turned out to be the camping adventure of a lifetime. 
     We’d been pen pals for a little over a year and our friendship had grown into a lasting, tender, passionate love story that would endure until her death fifty one years later.
    We were young adults, poor, and starry eyed.  A free weekend alone at her friend Dr. Jane’s cabin north of Calistoga seemed like the perfect honeymoon.  We would haul in our own food, wading across in less than knee deep water through the sleepy Maacama Creek to get to the tiny old cabin.  I remember we had picked up a barbecued chicken from PayNSave, two blocks from our little Berkeley bungalo, and a big bag of Grandma’s Oatmeal Cookies, seconds because they were cheaper but just as delicious. Though without electricity Jane’s cabin boasted an outdoor fire pit and was complete with hand water pump and freshly refurbished outhouse. After all, I was a professional Girl Scout. Roughing it was right down my alley.  Though she was underweight, Lee projected all those qualities I so admired (and personally lacked). At that time she worked for Harvey Williams Wholesale Hardware and was mighty gifted with any tool ever invented. She had the physique of a gymnast and the muscles of a softball athlete, which she was. This will be important later in the story. Her pride, a new ’56 red Ford sedan would take us safely anywhere. The two hour drive North from Berkeley led us through the Napa Valley to Calistoga and beyond, a landscape I had never seen.  Grapes were not the big cash crop then as now, so most of the land was uncultivated Oak hillsides interspersed with the occasional run down farm.  
     Between dark and dawn the waters rose steadily.  We noted it, but were not alarmed. By dusk the rain had increased and the creek bed was showing signs of overflowing. Small logs and debris were piling up, forming eddies and dislodging stones, some ther size of boulders. The water level was getting close to our car on the opposite bank, but still three or four feet away. We lit the kerosene lamps and snuggled down for a second night. 
     By Sunday morning the rain, if possible, increased in volume. Maacama Creek, rising sleepily from the North slope of Mount St. Helena, was now impassible, probably chin deep in places. How come the soil did not absorb the downpour, like it did in Western Washington? By noon we could see the waters creeping  to the running boards of the car. Now larger boulders and whole limbs were crashing down the stream. The tumult would enter into the Russian River near Healdsburg. Would Lee’s new car be carried downstream with it? Would we?
     The nearest bridge was a quarter of a mile away, but the mountainous terrain made it impossible to reach, even in summer.  Wading across was the only viable option for reaching the other side, and now that was impossible. What kind of a new and scary world had I entered? To be continued next week.  


Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Swinging Along the Open Road, in the Fall of the Year...."

About thirty minutes north and west from here one reaches the old vineyards, some 75 years old, interlaced with the new, some just ready for planting. My friend Elaine and I took a drive Wednesday to soak in the beauty. We met few cars but many bicyclists on the rural roads. I couldn't help remembering the old camp song "Swinging Along." I croaked and "ah"ed while she drove.

It was a delightful adventure. Not quite like October in Maine or Colorado, and not as orange as Hope Valley on the Eastern Sierra, but boasting a palette all its own.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Celebrating the Old

Pull off to the right on Highway 12 about half a mile east of here and you see old gnarled
grape roots, some looking 100 years old, in stark contrast to the acre upon acre of new Sonoma grape vineyards, the money crop replacing apples and pears. Last Tuesday four of us ventured out to take photos.  I love the weathered texture of the old roots and the stories they tell, so why not extend the same generosity to myself? I came home and wrote the following:

Who Is That Old Woman?

Who is that old woman?
Sleeps in my bed
Eats at my table
She is not me.

Sure, she lives in this house
Naps in this recliner
Drops unread newspapers on my floor
But she is not me.

Downs pills for heart and belly
Drinks decaf coffee, one cup
Checks batteries in her hearing aids
Tut, it is not me.

No dog or cat snuggles her feet
Incessantly freezing
Looking ancient, toenails yellow.
Alas, she is not me. 

Drooping eyes squint at the tv
Breath jagged, footsteps wary
She rises to pee in the night.
For certain she is not me.

And when she crawls back in bed
No other curving back warms her breast
No tender hand strokes her thigh
Still she is not me.

For I am twenty years younger.
I climb ladders to pluck pears.
I play Little Sir Echo with the Great Horned Owl.
I relish workouts at the gym.

I prune sixty roses in spring
I divide 300 iris in August.
And when fall comes, as it is now,
I embrace the persimmon and paint up a storm.

Often I melt at the tender smile of my lover
Who forgives and forgets my inadequacies.
In whose eyes I am perfect and still sensuous
As she struggles to steer her walker to bed.

The old lady who lives here knows none of this.
She grumbles and growls at her frailties.
She grasps railings stepping cautiously
She decries her loneliness at night.

Perhaps when winter comes I will
Get up my dander and ask who is this interloper?
Like a guest who smells like a fish in three days
She is surely not me. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Make New Friends, But Ke--ep the Old...

As the refrain goes.

When I moved up here eleven and a half months ago I was cautioned by other Oakmont residents to expect my bay area friends to drop off.  "The commute gets old" they said. To my delight, experience has proved them wrong. Many friends make it here often to touch base, to visit, to paint, to check up on their old friend. Even the realtor, Jackie, who sold my Oakland house.  This delights me beyond measure. 
Beth, smiling from above,  one of my painting buddies, came up last week to take me to the eye doctor, taking a day off work to do it. Now if that isn't caring I don't know what is. Here we are at Cafe Citti right down the road a bit stuffing ourselves with Italian food. 
Other loyal friends call all the time. Whee. 
My Steinbeck course is winding down and I have learned so much.  He would say my phalanxes are working, for without them one can not exist. My friends are what keep me smiling, including my new Oakmont painting friends with whom I'm sharing an art exhibit here this weekend.
Red and yellow color is beginning to glow on the grape vines. My friend in Maine sent me this photo of pumpkins there, but they are in good company here. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Each day in the Senate chambers Barry Black, the senate chaplain, delivers words to remember. His prayers grow more political and memorable as the government shut down continues.  “Save Us From Our Madness” he implores.  So far the Tea Partiers scoff him, but like so many others I cherish his words of wisdom, delivered with passion.
Last Sunday’s outstanding presentation at Oakmont’s Sunday Symposium (Herb Silverman, Candidate Without a Prayer) brought to the foreground once more my own closet behavior about being an atheist.  Not that I don’t fess up to it when asked, but neither do I proclaim it, whereas Herb proudly appeared in his favorite attire, a t-shirt with a happy face proclaiming “Smile, there is no hell”.  Herb, a Jewish atheist from New York, retired as a mathematics professor from a university in South Carolina. He applies mathematical logic to the question of God and the bible.  He is a hundred times more comfortable with his position than am I., but then I am no mathematician.
As a child, I clung to the concept of God and Jesus, like the paste I made with flour and water for my paper dolls. I think I learned all this dogma from the crumbling brown Sunday school a few blocks away.  I think Magnolia Presbyterian was on its last legs and mostly run by volunteers who tended to be evangelical. It closed down when I was about ten, leaving a big hole in my life.  My parents were not athiests, but neither were they church-goers. Sometimes we sang “Jesus Loves Me” on car trips, but I think it was because it was a simple ditty. Likewise my big sister kindly put up with my eccentric belief system, but then she was always kind to accept my eccentricities. No one stopped me from saying grace before meals, or kneeling to say prayers before bed, but I was very much alone in this. I surely needed the crutch. My belief seemed like the most stable element in my strange and highly dysfunctional household.  Also, memorizing things came easy for me, so I always got the most stars for quoting bible verses.
I remember about age nine making a private  appointment with my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Hansen.  She was a kind, rich, stout lady and it took a lot of courage on my part to ask to see her alone.  “I wake up a lot in the night with dreams” I told her. “They seem important and I can’t figure them out”, I confessed, “and then in the morning try as I might I can’t remember them.”  I felt guilt ridden, struggling to hold back the tears.
Her response was serious and comforting. “Don’t worry, Bonnie, if God wants you to remember them he will tell you when you grow up.”  What a relief I felt. Small wonder that forty years later as a psychotherapist one of my favorite activities was helping clients interpret dreams.
When at 15, my father died of a sudden heart attack I turned even more deeply toward God. I prayed and prayed to God to help me understand. Lo, he never did.
Though out college and my early career years I was drawn to the episcopal church, mostly because I loved the ritual and the music.  I thought of it as a sanctuary and a place of safety and beauty.  I loved singing in the choir. It helped that I had the good fortune to have ministers who inspired me and accepted my homosexuality. I would turn to them in times of illness or life crisis.  One is still important in my life today.
Sometime in my late thirties or early forties I began to question my belief in God. Though I occasionally said prayers, I thought of myself as a phony, or fraud, because I only half-believed in what I was doing. I couldn’t stand the feeling of deceit. I liked to think of myself as still spiritual, but I slipped comfortably into non-believing.
Ironically, when Lee and I joined the ranks of AA, I became obsessed with honesty and the remnants of pretending to be a Christian melted away.  But it wasn’t until my sister died that the final something in me “clicked”. One might even say it was a spiritual experience. All at once I knew in the deepest part of me that there is no God.
           I’m indebted to you, Herb Silverman, for through your humor and mathematical applications you force me to hold up the magnifying glass to my own belief systems.  I’m indebted to you, too, Barry Black, for the eloquence of your words in challenging the Senate to look at their own behavior. 
          Even in my most religious days I never embraced the concept of heaven or eternal life, but living without God is a big loss.  I miss the comfort.  I miss the beauty.  I grieve for you, God.  Whoops! How can I grieve for you if you don’t exist?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Smiling For The Camera But Coming From the Heart

Challenging my mind is what the Osher Lifelong Learning class on Steinbeck is doing right now. I wonder what the great author would think knowing I downloaded Grapes of Wrath on my kindle rather than purchasing it in printed book form? I am once more obsessed thinking about phalanxes, schools of now extinct sardines in Monterey Bay, and how phalanxes work in N. Korea.
One thing I know for sure, the phalanxes were NOT working at SeaTac airport when I flew in and out of Seattle two weeks ago. Because of my atrial fib I needed a wheelchair on both laps of the journey to transport me and my suitcase to and from the Marysville shuttle.
What should have been a snap was a giant snafu, causing me to miss the shuttle on arrival and almost miss my plane home. "Can you help me?" I pleaded over and over, my voice getting more desperate on both ends of the transportation nightmare.  It seems that each airline has a contract with one of many wheelchair services, and that only the designated wheelchair pushers are allowed to service the disabled, and then only from certain locations. There was no shortage of wheelchairs, just pushers. How can that be when folks are begging for jobs? My friends Sue and Jeanne who live here inform me that SeTac is so impossible for wheelchair availability that when they want to go to Seattle they instead fly to Bellingham, rent a car, and drive back.
In the end I was rescued by the kindness of strangers, but only after extreme duress; once by a clerk in a clothing store, who pushed me for 25 minutes to make the second shuttle after I'd missed the first one, and on return, when in tears I pleaded with a baggage clerk.
"What am I doing wrong?" I wailed. Seeing as my tears were getting attention, I exaggerated them somewhat. There must have been ten of us waiting in wheelchairs, but no drivers, and my plane was due to leave in 17 minutes. Then a tiny Asian baggage handler for Alaska air lines stepped up and said, "Your'e doing nothing wrong and I'm taking you!"  She proceeded to call the plane and have the pilot hold it on the tarmac, which indeed is what happened. Sincere thanks to the generosity of strangers and big ugly boos to whomever in Seattle is the culprit making this mess.
The purpose of my whole trip was to visit my dear relatives in Vancouver who are no longer able to travel due to the Canadian Health financial penalties for the very old to be out of the country, hence making trips to the states prohibitive. Though I love Seattle and it is the city of my birth, I'm on a rampage now to boycott it. The visit with cousins, however, was precious, and I'll try to forget about the ugly SeaTac experience. We stayed in a lovely B&B in White Rock, just above the border, and experienced true Canadian hospitality. Below, Bonnie and cousin Vi, almost 90, lastly my niece Cheari, and cousin Dollie, 98.  Their memories and smiles far exceed mine.