Monthly Archives: April 2022

Another beautiful day in paradise

Seven years ago, on a spring evening in Kansas City, someone asked me what I envisioned for myself in the future.  Where do you see yourself in five years, he asked.  What do you want?

My answer came with a swiftness which surprised us both. I want to be the best version of myself that i can possibly achieve, I said without hesitation. 

His face fell.  I didn’t articulate what he had wanted to hear.  In fact, I failed so spectacularly that he could only reply, Nobody talks like that!  What kind of pretentious liberal nonsense is that? 

Except he didn’t say ‘nonsense’.

The conversation still haunts me.   I spoke my truth.  I could not bring myself to answer his ensuing query — who talks like that?  But if I had, I would have acknowledged that I did.  I talk like that.

Today I stood at the edge of the lot which I rent for my tiny house here in the California Delta.  A neighbor paused in her work, clearing the recently vacated lot next to mine.  I handed her the bottle of water which I had brought outside to share.  We gazed at the rubble she strove to organize and haul away.  We gauged whether a small abandoned set of steps might match the side of my porch where I wanted to cut an opening.  She gestured to a pile of concrete blocks and a forlorn, abandoned hose caddy, speculating on their potential usefulness.  Trash or treasure?  The eternal dilemma.  The sun climbed in the sky, warming the spring air around us.

My neighbor thanked me for the water and resumed her work.  I stood for a few more minutes, watching the birds take turns in the funny little feeder hanging from my plant stand.  The wind danced through the branches of the towering oaks.  For that span of time, I forgot the searing pain in my back, the bright red of a test result marching in a row of black numbers on a virtual report, and the enduring problem of whether this path I have chosen will bring me to a place of peace.  As I watched my neighbor steadily conquering the piles of rubble, an unexpected calm overcame me.  

Now the sun slowly descends in the western sky.  The Delta wind has risen its voice, calling across our meadows to the silent river continuing its endless journey to the sea.  Soon night will gather around the small dwellings of this place.  Another beautiful day in paradise draws to a close.  I am no closer to my destiny, but I will rest easy tonight, for my road seems to be a little smoother as time passes and the breezes of this beautiful place part the murky mists of my uncertainty.

It’s the thirtieth day of the one-hundredth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Salve for the soul

A certain mood comes over me at times.   I can’t overcome the grip of feeling that I have failed at some indefinable test.  My resume landed on the desk of the Director of HR for the universe and failed to impress.  I scraped through the interview only to find my credentials fell short of requirements.  The reins fell from my grasp and the steer ran wild.

At such times, I take myself across the last sixty miles of land to the Bay and over the coastal range to Pacifica, or Pescadero, or Half Moon Bay.  I  splurge on a room or the wing of someone’s house listed on AirBnB with pandemic cleaning measures and a private entrance.  I throw my bag on the floor, my computer on the desk, and my small clutch of groceries into the refrigerator.  Taking my little Canon in hand, I wander, stopping at roadside parks or lay-bys to stare at the endless stretch of sea.

My problems do not get solved, but a certain light shines into the gloomiest corner of my spirit.  When the weekend finally draws to a close, I gather my belongings and head back to the Delta.  I will be all right for another month, until my soul longs to hear the soothing song of my Pacific once more.

It’s the twenty-sixth day of the one-hundredth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Please enjoy this gallery of photos taken in or near Pacifica, California on  23 – 25 April 2022.

Evening on the western edge of everywhere

The drive from my friend Tracy’s place to mine takes mere minutes, up the steep drive from her park and down the steep drive to mine.   Yesterday I circled the perimeter and waved to workers just finishing their day.  Earlier I had seen two of them peering into a long wooden box which holds a worm farm.  I rolled down the window and called across the edge of the meadow, asking what they were doing.  “Counting the crop,” came the quick reply.  

I left my house early today and reached the coast  before lunch.  In a restaurant on Main Street in Half Moon Bay, I dismissed thoughts of the alarming rise in the number on my digital scale to order sourdough French toast with blackberries.  The owner beamed at me from the counter, nodding his approval.  “You’re gonna get the real deal,” he mouthed.  He did not lie.

I left half the bread on my plate and took myself up the highway to Pacifica.  Through the open window, the song of the sea surrounded me.  I drew her fragrance into my lungs.  Tension seeped from me with each exhale.  I parked near the pier and climbed the path to a bench, running one finger on the inscription which heralded the Smith family, noble and true.  I leaned against that bold pronouncement and turned my gaze westward.  Gulls rose and fell on the salty wind.  A shaggy white dog lumbered down the beach.  His owner gathered her tent and called to him, her voice lost in the crash of the waves against the sand.

Later I sat in the garden of my accommodations, book forgotten beside me, the sun’s rays warming my upturned face.  My camera holds a few serendipitous snapshots taken at the pier, beyond my reach without the means to transfer them.  They will keep.  I studied the succulents in pots around me, the bounty of this gentle land revealing itself in the striking gleam of their colors.  Earlier today, a fellow tourist asked me what had brought me to California.  Unwilling to disclose the crass truth; unable to swiftly summon a satisfactory lie; instead I patted my Toyota and said, “This beauty right here, brought me the whole way without a hitch.”  His slow smile testified to his certain understanding.

Tomorrow I will go a few miles south to an orchid farm and study the fragile blooms.  Later,  I will treat myself to dinner and watch the sunset from the pier at El Granada.  Eventually, I will make my way to Stanford, and the dubious virtues of yet another specialist.  But for now, I will pour a glass of cold water and study the gathering darkness through the skylight over the room in which I will, eventually, take my sleep.  This place sits too far from the shore for me to hear the lullaby of my Pacific, but I know her cadence very well.  I need but close my eyes to find my comfort in the rise and fall of her perennial voice.

It’s the twenty-third day of the one-hundredth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Happy Easter, Happy Spring; Happy, happy everything

The sun has pushed through the grey bank of clouds hanging low on the Delta horizon.  I woke at 5 to be the first person to call my sister Joyce on her birthday, six a.m. Pacific, eight a.m. Central.  I channeled our mother and sang in a low voice, ending one verse of the perennial birthday song with a giggled “I hope this isn’t the wrong number”.  She laughed, the throaty chuckle which we all inherited from our Syrian-Austrian momma.  

Coffee, daybreak, breakfast, rain:  Now my tiny house fills with the radiance of the Delta spring.  We need the rain, I know; but I secretly will it away.  I left my door slightly cracked all night. The morning breezes gently drift through these 198 square feet, wafting away the lingering odors of last night’s stir-fry and the acrid stench of cleaning sprays.

I have no plans for Easter Sunday.  I could crash a service at any church in Rio Vista or Isleton, in one of my summer shifts and a wide-brimmed hat.  I could slip into a back bench and silently smile at the man holding out a songbook.  But my heart would not be content there.  Instead my spirit would yearn to walk behind a handful of little boys hunting eggs in our front yard; to gaze at kites flying over Tower Grove Park; and stand among the pleasant buzz of families in line for brunch at Union Station.

Every time I meet someone new, they ask why I moved to California.  I usually demure. I mumble something vague about a long story, a midlife crisis, a divorce, a specialist at Stanford.  But the truth defies articulation.  As another year unfolds, I remind myself that I came here to find richer soil for my fragile, starved roots.  Out on my funny little deck, the succulents wind their way across the wood, reaching for the sun’s warmth, while the $15 cyclamen that my sister and I bought at Safeway in Lodi last November unfurls a purple bloom and raises its dark green leaves to the spring sky.  I stand in the doorway and envy the sureness of their unbridled growth.

My mother used photographs to adorn home-made cards.  One year she belatedly sent out Easter cards bearing a picture of my little brothers Frank and Steve carving a pumpkin on the previous Halloween. I wrote the message on each one in my careful Catholic grade-school penmanship:  Happy Easter, Happy Spring. . . Happy, happy Everything!  We hand-addressed the envelopes, licked the stamps, and sent the boys to the mailbox.  My mother and I sat on the porch and watched them walking up the hill on Kinamore Avenue until they disappeared over the ridge.  Then we went inside to fill and hide their Easter baskets, start the raisin bread for the morning’s repast, and iron our dresses for church.

It’s the sixteenth day of the one-hundredth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Every spring, landowners hire flocks of sheep to nibble away at the overgrown weeds on the hillsides of our island.


I rounded the corner in the local grocery store and knocked over a plastic sandwich board.  The snap reverberated in the back aisle.  Two women glanced at me as I struggled to recover.  One walked over and eased the sign from the floor and leaned it against the endcap by which I stood.  From behind her mask she seemed to smile; her eyes held a light which spoke of kindness.  

Just a sign, she said.  Wet floor.  She gestured.  I babbled something like thanks, mumbled a lame explanation for my own inaction, and moved my cart out of her path.  

The other woman pushed a stroller and carried a hand-basket of produce.  Her baby made that raspberry noise which delights new parents and aunties everywhere.  I leaned a bit closer and admired his rosy cheeks, observing but not mentioning a certain telltale combination of roundness and slant which suggested Down’s Syndrome.  Beautiful boy, I remarked, without pretense.  

I don’t know a lot of people in Rio Vista; or perhaps I could more accurately observe that I know a lot of folks but not by name and not well enough for a dinner invitation.  In the Delta, ten miles can mean two draw bridges, a county line, and an eon’s gap in mindset and lifestyle.  On the Delta Loop, folks live in trailers, mobile homes, RVs and converted summer houses.  Some bunk on their boats; others escaped the landlocked Midwest in 24-foot tiny houses built on five-thousand dollars worth of rolling steel. 

But in Rio Vista, people pride themselves on two-story frame houses handed down through generations or the newer sprawling brick of quiet subdivisions.  When they ask where I live, their heads tilt, they repeat, Out on the Loop, often with mild incomprehension.  Their curiosity rises if I describe my house, but they still move with caution.  Like on TV?, they ask, in the voice one might reserve for questioning someone with a rare disease that you’re not quite sure if you can catch by standing too close.

So usually I keep myself to myself while I wheel around the store.  I smile at the children and thank the odd tall person who rescues me from boxes and bottles beyond my reach that threaten to bonk my noggin.  Yesterday, though, the mask lady and the mother seemed to be following my course from aisle to aisle.  Invariably they smiled; the baby cooed and blew bubbles; and I made a few comments about his incredible cuteness and being a boy mother while his father hovered with a watchful eye.

At the checkout stand, I studied my groceries with more emotion than seems prudent for a weekend food purchase.  Yet there I stood, behind the items piled in the place where I might have once buckled my own son, thinking about dinner for one, breakfast for one, lunch for one.  I looked at the little boy in his stroller, now clutching his feet and tooting a song through pursed lips, laughing between choruses.  His father stood more easy now.  I remarked again on how adorable I found his son.  The child thanked me with the loudest toot yet; and everyone around him beamed.

My mind flashed to an image of my son in our Brookside grocery store.  Two and a half, sitting in my cart, waving to everyone around us.  Later, in the car, he said, Mom, you tell me not to talk to strangers, and you do it all the time.  I assured him that parents have different rules; we’re safer, we can take care of ourselves, while little boys might get hurt if the stranger isn’t a good person.  He thought about that in silence for the short drive to our house.  As I unbuckled his booster seat, he patted my cheek.  Don’t worry, Mama, he assured me.  I won’t let anyone get me.  I’ll only talk to nice strangers.

Somewhere in Chicago, his city of choice with its own Loop, my son moves among people that might be strangers, that might be nice, that might wish him harm or might have his best interests firmly in mind.  Here in California, a little boy and his cheerful mama and proud papa wake to the radiant sunshine of a sunny spring day.  In a park beside a levee road, one county over, I heat yesterday’s coffee and stare at the empty lot to which my tiny house will be moved in a week.  My scrambled eggs grow cold on the plate as I wonder what to make of it all.

It’s the eighth day of the one-hundredth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Life or something like it

I stand on my little porch and watch the birds discover the sunflower seeds in the picnic-table-shaped feeder hanging next to my angel mobile.  I try to recall why my mother couldn’t buy bird seed with thistle all those decades ago.  Something about a trade block with Ethiopia.  She stockpiled to feed the wild birds in our yard before the stores ran out.  My mother would have rolled her eyes if she could see my feeder but I couldn’t find anything more refined at Lowe’s.

They had dye-free hummingbird food though.  I tried making my own from sugar water last year.  I bought normal C&H sugar just for that purpose, a small bag of it.  But the jar sat in my refrigerator and grew a weird sort of mold so I had to throw it away.  I fill the plastic diskette and the taller one, made of glass, with this store-bought fancy stuff.  A tiny wing flutters near my ear as I lean forward to re-hang the feeders.  

The sky rises over me in an achingly clear blue so pale that I get a little breathless staring at it.  I lower myself into the rocking chair and study the new growth on my Japanese maple.  The one in our yard in Kansas City never quite recovered from being the subject of a Renaissance Festival wooden sword fight twenty years ago in the surreal days of black-out and free-play following an ice storm.  My son and his friends crunched across the brittle snow, hats falling and coats flapping open.  The sweep of my little tree’s frozen branches splintered as one of the boys lunged, demanding its surrender.  

We don’t have such cold weather here in Northern California, and I have no little boys with too much energy scampering around the yard.  In fact the only sound which disturbs my Saturday peace is the cascading run of the metal windchime hanging from a shepherd’s hook behind where I sit.  I close my eyes and listen for robins, for finches, for loons.  Instead I hear the slow steady hum of a leaf blower on the far side of the meadow.

I did little more than buy groceries today.  I did make a run to my post office box, and I dropped off my old wooden desk chair to have its seat replaced.  The upholsterer lives in Isleton, in an old FEMA hut at the back of a gravel lot on a turn-out road behind the Catholic church and across from the pallet place.  We stood talking, about nothing much, about fabric, and uses for good pallets, and writing.  Then I made a U-turn back onto the state highway towards home, stopping only for bread and eggs, before turning east, towards the Delta Loop.

I got distracted by the long expanse of new foliage alongside the levee road and had to swerve to avoid crashing.  My heart raced.  I sat for a good ten minutes before I trusted myself to drive.  But by the time I turned into the park, calm had slowed my pulse.  I found myself grinning.  After all, can one really say that one has lived, until one has had to brake for a low-flying heron coming inland from its perch on the banks of the San Joaquin?

It’s the second day of the one-hundredth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

I took this a few weeks ago but near where the one crossed my path today. The careless way that nature lives in disregard of humanity enthralls me.