Saturday, December 31, 2005

Pleading Temporary Insanity

A powerful storm has barreled through town yesterday and all night long, causing record flooding and mudslides.

The rain has stopped momentarily.

The Napa River is at 30 ft-- five feet over flood stage.
The Russian River is at 48 ft-- sixteen feet over flood stage.

I email my friend, Dan. "Ya wanna drive out to the coast and watch the waves crashing high over the rocks?!? We can take your 4-wheel drive truck through Guerneville and watch the flooding Russian River!" I try and sound convincing.

He is hesitant, fearing we'll get stuck.

"Ohh that's the best part!" I thought, instantly recognizing I'm obviously suffering from temporary insanity.

The idea of getting stuck in the high waters and being rescued by helicopters throwing ropes down to us, standing on the roof of his truck, actually sounded thrilling to me.

That's when you know I've been indoors too long. Suffering a bit with cabin fever.

I email him back. "yeah, you're probably right. I guess I'll take my Christmas tree down instead." A much safer and smart choice.

I walk into my living room to start this chore I've been putting off, when he emails me back.

"I'm up for "testing the waters"! Ya wanna go for a drive?! I'll come pick you up now!"

I look back over at my Christmas tree. I decide it will be here when I return. "Yes! Come on over!" I tell him. "I'll go grab my raincoat!"

I'll see you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Life on the Farm

I grew up on a farm.

Complete with geese, chickens, ducks, horses, sheep, a pig, goat, rabbits, dogs and cats, a guinea pig and a parakeet.

Such a huge delight for a girl who dressed up as a cowboy the first ten years of her life. But then. That all changed when we got our first horse.

My sister was the cowgirl of the farm.

She was involved in 4-H and raised rabbits and a pig. She barrel-raced in rodeos. She was involved in the Rincon Riders. She was the true cowgirl and no matter how often I dressed as one, it didn't make me one.

I learned that early on.

Especially when one afternoon, she and I rode the horses down to the Sonoma County fairgrounds and we galloped through the fields ... and I eventually got bucked off, flying through the air, head first burying neck deep into the ground. I thought I was going to die; suffocating myself in the mud.

"Show her you're the boss, Shawn!" Kelly would tell me. "Get back on! Show her you're not afraid!!!"

I rode the horse home with a swollen muddy check and bloodied lip, biting back the tears.

I really preferred buzzing around on our mini-bike around our farm and through nearby vineyards. A Honda-50. I pretended to be Evil Knievel and rode wheelies and jumped over angled boards. I felt more at ease. I wore a helmet that made me feel so powerful.

And then one day I convinced my friend Tony to sign up with me for 4-H, too. My sister made it sound so fun! I let him choose what we would get involved in.

He wanted to learn about wildlife.


I hated camping.

The only time we camped was while sailing off the coast of Canada in August right after 6th grade .... through the San Juan Islands... and my dad decided to cook us breakfast in our tent since it was raining there on Jones Island. Some sort of spark lit my sleeping bag on fire as I slept. My sleeping bag combusted in flames! I awoke to my dad stomping on my legs and feet putting the fire out. Thank God I'm alive to write about these experiences.

My mom drove us to our first 4-H meeting at Mrs. Simmon's house up in the Bennett Valley hills.

I waited for the others to show up. My neck craning left and right.. watching for the others to arrive. It was just me and Tony.

I remember feeling that panic feeling. I sat on the couch with Tony beside me and I looked over my shoulder out the window behind me, often hoping they would just show up late.

Instead, I saw my mother's Ford Galaxy 500 still parked there in the same spot she dropped us off. This time, the hood was lifted. A neighbor had walked across the street to help her out.

We always had car trouble. I grew up with the belief.. "never drive farther than you can walk back".

I remember that first 4-H meeting. She talked of deer prints. I could barely listen to her constant droning chatter about making a plaster cast of deer prints. I was so nervous and concerned for my dear mother.

Eventually, the tow truck came. Hauled the green Galaxy 500 Ford Sedan away just in time for Tony's mother to arrive in the same spot out in front to pick us up in their blue chevy station wagon, to take us home. Such a narrow escape.

But despite all that, I loved those plaid plants, and as long as I was wearing them... whether riding the horse, the minibike or doing the farm chores ... well, life was pretty good back then!

(pictured left to right: My sister, our beloved dog, Patches, my brother, our beloved collie, Lacey, and me in my favorite plaid pants).

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Driving through the neighborhood, I can't help but notice every home seems to have an inflatable Santa or Snowman or Reindeer just laying down on the grass flat as a pancake. It's kinda sad in a way, but I slow down and imagine, anyway, what they would look like if they were filled with air. "Oooooooh, pretty!" I whisper outloud.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Steaming Hot Popcorn

I was feeling hungry.

On the front seat next to me, was a steaming hot microwave popcorn bag just waiting to be opened. I pulled into the gas station, and stepped out of my car, when a man approached me.

"Maam? Can you spare some money for my kids? We have car trouble and we're driving down to L.A. for the holidays and my kids are hungry."

I didn't have any cash, but I happily offered him my untouched bag of popcorn.

He leaned over and punched the bag out of my hand. The popcorn exploded in every direction.

"I asked for money!" he shouted as he rushed away disappearing behind cars.

I stood there for a moment. Shivering.

With him disappeared something else -- my trust.

I got back into my car and as I drove off, I felt sad and confused.

This man has made it difficult for me to want to help a stranger again in the future. It's hard to trust fire once it's burned you. I wonder if I will always remain skeptical. Will it always just linger there under the surface with me? Will I always second-guess someone with needs?

I laid in bed that night, thinking of him, still shivering from the cold.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


You know how it is when you're a kid sitting in the backseat traveling for hours without air conditioning and you think you're actually sweating to death and dying of thirst so you beg your parents to stop so you can have a coke, and they say, "when we get to our destination, you can have a glass of water."

It was one of those vacations.

"I have to go to the bathroom."
"You should have gone when we stopped for gas three hours ago! You will just have to hold it."

It was in the middle of July. We were driving across country from California to North Carolina. We had no air conditioning and it was HOT.

"Can we get a motel with a pool?" we'd beg.
"We'll get the motel that we get".

I'll never forget how wide my smile felt on my face, when we pulled into a motel with a pool!

"I love you Pool! I love you Pool!" I sang over and over again. I couldn't have been happier! I snapped open my suitcase, threw on my bathing suit, and within moments, I was on the diving board hopping UP and down and UP and down preparing for my plunge into that glorious refreshing swimming pool... when I noticed ... something ... terribly strange.

It took a long time for me to shake the shock from my eyes and realize that I was actually staring down into a giant waterless hole in the ground. That stupid pool I was singing love songs to, was shut down for repair!

I cried enough tears that afternoon to nearly fill that pool back up. My mom said all my tears still wasn't quite deep enough to wade in, so we cooled down by drinking a coke with ice from the motel ice bucket.

And that night before I fell asleep, I followed the road map with my finger to see how far we had traveled. We were getting closer, but we still needed to check in one more night in a motel before we reached Swansboro.

I got giddy with excitement. I couldn't help but believe we would finally get our motel with a pool. And it would be worth it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Remembering Dad

Fifteen years ago from today, my father died.

He was sick in the hospital for nearly three weeks, hooked up to a life support respirator dying from bacterial pneumonia.

He was 59.

My mother, sister, brother and I would spend hours and hours with him. Even though visiting hours were very limited and were only allowed two visitors at a time, the nurses let that rule slide for us.

They became our friends, knew us by our first name and later attended my father's funeral.

I always felt that my dad loved my sister more because she was his first born and he adored my brother more because he was his only son.

I was the inbetweener. The middle child. I felt at times invisible and insignificant. Yet, during those final days, whenever I would walk into his room, the numbers on his monitors changed positively.

The nurses affectionately called me "the healer".

When my father's health started to fail, they called me at home on two separate occasions and asked me to come in to the hospital. As soon as I entered the room, the stats on his monitor would level out and return to a safe condition.

It was healing for me, too. For the first time, I felt significant to my dad. That I mattered and was important to him.

One night, the nurses called my family together and told us they they were surprised my father was still holding on. And that, perhaps, we needed to give him permission to die.

I will never forget that night in early December.

My mom spoke first. She held my father's hand and thanked him for his life. And for all the wonderful things he did as a husband and as a father to his children. She told him family stories. I listened as best as I could over the shaking in my skin and over my racing beating heart. I fought back tears. The lump in my throat felt like I was trying to swallow a ball made of velcro.

My mom kissed my dad and then it was my sister's turn taking my dad's hand. She sounded as articulate and passionate as my mother did. So clear-headed. I was so nervous, I felt I was about to vomit. I don't remember a word of what I spoke. I do remember staring so intently into his face and recognizing my nose as his nose.

After my brother had his moment with Dad... we just sat back in our chairs and looked at him. I knew that any moment, he would leave this world and enter into the next. What a perfect ending. We gave him permission, expressed our love and kissed him on his way.

I just stared. I held my breath. I waited.

Ten days later, my father died on December 10, 1990.

I went to work that morning. I was in the cafeteria ordering cinnamon toast and coffee when my co-worker and dear friend, Nikki, came running in to tell me that the hospital called and my dad was dying. I was to go immediately to the hospital.

Driving to the hospital on that sunny morning felt as though I was driving through sludge. It was the hardest drive in my life. When I got there and ran down the hall that was so familiar to me by then, I saw my sister and her three young babies under the age of four. She was crying.

"I tried to get here in time! I hurried as fast as I could! I wanted to be there for him! I wanted to hold his haaand!" she sobbed.

My mom and I arrived around the same time. And then my brother quickly on our heels.

He had already died.

I just stared at him for the longest time. And I will never forget.

Walking back down the long hallway alone toward my car, I was horrified to see everyone still going on with their business as though nothing so remarkable had just happened.

I was taken back by the girls in the parking lot laughing themselves silly! "How dare you laugh!" is what I wanted to shout. How could my grief, so unbearably thick weigh less than even the quietest whisper to the rest of the world?

Feeling lost and absent, we all headed for breakfast at a nearby restaurant called Lyons. Everything seemed dull and numb and in slow-motion.

Eleven-month-old Courtney was unwrapping the fake gifts under the Christmas tree near our table and we didn't even notice.

Several days later, I'm visiting my sister at her home and preparing for Dad's memorial service when we notice there is a new gift bag sitting on her dining room table. We walk over to it and she lifts it up and shakes it. Hands it to me and I shake it, too.

It is heavy. We both smile. She can't imagine who it came from. Who left this Christmas gift? I'm happy for her as well. We both are giddy with excitement.

Forgetting her husband went to pick up our father's remains in the crematorium, we both reach over to read the gift tag that simply says: Santa Rosa Memorial Park.

"It's Daaad!" we both replied.

The ironic thing was that he really was a gift to us.
I will never forget you Dad. I love and miss you.
See you on the other side.

Monday, December 5, 2005

Winter Blues

I thought I suffered from the Winter Blues.

But actually, the Blues in winter make me quite happy and rejuvinated.

It's infact, the Grays in the winter that bring me down. (gray sky, fog, mist, rain...)

So cheers to the Winter BLUEs...