Monday, December 30, 2019

When boy meets his dad, their road trips together shape the rest of his life

Dan and his Dodge.
My friend Nathan lives to explore with his camera, taking gorgeous photos everywhere he goes. It's a passion he said was sparked when he met his father and they began taking summer road trips together.

That was cool.

When eight-year-old Nathan became withdrawn and depressed, his mother became worried and frustrated. So when her son asked to meet his father, she agreed to try and find him.

Nathan at 8.
Soon Dan was driving across two states to meet Nathan, who doesn't remember ever being angry at his father for not contacting him earlier. "I think I always understood he was in a lot of pain."

That summer when Nathan got out of school, his father came back to take him on a road trip, first driving him to Utah to meet his grandmother, uncles and some cousins. And for the next several summers he returned to pick up Nathan, driving him to all the remote spots where he sought solitude. "He loved to find the places where others didn't go, and he taught me to appreciate nature, and the outdoors."
To keep Nathan entertained during all those hours in the car, his father bought him a disposable camera, "probably just to give me something to do. I really liked drawing, but I couldn't easily do that on the road. So taking pictures was my way of drawing, of engaging with the scenery and capturing images. "

They stopped taking road trips together when Nathan became a teenager, and as men now they have few things in common and even fewer things to talk about. But taking pictures will always bring Nathan back to those days in the car with his dad, "finding those roads no one else was on. And thirty years later, I'm still doing the same thing I did during those summers -- exploring and taking pictures."

Nathan's dad said he doesn't remember buying him that first camera, but I would still like to thank him for the pictures his son takes now, both on our newspaper assignments and hiking adventures with my dog. Because I think photographs are one of the best gifts we can give others: they are the closest humans can ever come to freezing time, forever saving a moment we'd like to live again and again. 

And Nathan has taken some of my favorite photographs, including one that captures the joy I feel being with my dog. To me this photo is magical, and I can't thank Nathan enough for freezing this moment for me.

Dodging the waves on Black Sands Beach. Photo by Nathan DeHart

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Betty was my first tough boss. But also one of the best.

My best friend bought this dancer for the first tree I bought.
Betty was my first tough boss. But she also gave me my first Christmas bonus, which I used to buy my first tree.

That was cool. Especially since Betty didn't always like me. 

She was a short-but-formidable New Yorker who opened a pizza place in my California hometown using her husband's family recipes and her keen business sense. A no-nonsense woman who rarely smiled, Betty had strict rules for her employees and I respected all but one when I started working there my last year of high school. I understood why we had to weigh toppings, why we couldn't give pizzas to our friends and could only give ourselves one free slice per shift. But I never understood why she wouldn't let girls work the ovens.

Working the ovens meant you were in charge of cooking all the pizzas: putting them in, then pulling them out and slicing them when they were done. It was hot, dirty work that Betty thought girls weren't strong enough to do, and most didn't want to do. But I did.

I liked that it was a mental and physical puzzle, starting with deciding where to place each pie and remembering which one would be ready first. I loved that it was a job you did alone, and that freed you from helping customers, because you never knew when the last 17 seconds between done and burnt would come. And I loved watching the muscles on my arms growing from lifting pizzas, even smiling at all the burn scars that joined them.

But no matter how good everyone else knew I was at working the ovens, I could never do it when Betty was around. Fortunately, I did get her approval to do a job I ended up loving even more: stretching out dough.

“I hear Phil taught you how to stretch dough,” Betty said one day. "He says you could fill in for him on the weekends, so he doesn't have to get up early after playing with his band. Though God knows who pays to hear that music."

"Yes, I'd like to," I said.

“Right. But first you need to make me a dough.”
When I came back from the fridge with a dough canister, Betty stopped me from opening it.
“Wait, show me your hands,” she said. “Good. No nails. Keep them short."

To calm my nerves I pretended Betty wasn't there, focusing on everything I loved about working with a dough. Taking it out and getting that first whiff of the earthy, moist mix of yeast and olive oil. Then swirling a handful of flour on the board before dropping the dough, still perfectly round and full of possibility -- no tears or even thin spots yet.  And how each dough looked different, with its own moon surface of air bubbles, but felt the same: deliciously soft and squishy as I pushed out the air bubbles out and flattened the dough into a disc dusted with flour.

Then I lifted the dough up, and with just two fingers of each hand began to pinch a lip onto the edges, forming what would become a nice, bubbly crust. Once it had an edge all around and I was sure it was warm enough, I began to spread the dough very carefully with my thumbs, letting it drop down the backs of my hands and gently stretch itself. I never threw the dough like Phil did, and while my method took longer and was less flashy, I thought mine were always more circular and had less thin spots. By the time I laid down the finished dough, I had forgotten Betty was there because I jumped when she said, “OK. You can stretch the dough. Just don’t start tossing them like Phil does."

That Thanksgiving, I knew Betty had thoroughly warmed up to me because the night before she asked if I wanted to go home early and help my mother with the cooking.  
"No, it's just me and my dad," I said, forgetting to lie.
"Oh. Why?"
I always hated this part. Not matter how straight the words sounded in my head, they always came out crooked. "My mother was killed in a car accident a couple of years ago."
Betty sucked in her breath as I turned to tidy the bins of toppings, hoping she wouldn't hug me. If that hard little woman turned soft and wrapped her arms around me, I would have melted into a puddle. But she didn't. Just made a few sympathetic noises that sounded like "you poor thing," and I didn't turn around until the bell on the front door told me she left.

Then a few days before Christmas Betty came in early one Saturday morning when I was alone. "This is for you," she said, holding out an envelope. "But you can't tell anyone else about this. Not everyone is getting one."

I nodded and put the envelope in my apron pocket. After she left I opened it: Inside was a $100 bill, about half my two-week paycheck. And before I went home that day I knew exactly what I wanted to buy first: a Christmas tree.

My father hadn't bought one since my mother died. He never cared for American holidays, and especially didn't like how we celebrated Christmas. So with his wife gone, he decided we didn't need a tree, and we definitely didn't need to ever play that "blasted Johnny Mathis again."
So I bought a tree with Betty's bonus. And waited until my father went to bed to decorate it so I could play the Johnny Mathis Christmas album while putting on the ornaments.

Betty made my holiday that year, but she also showed me something much more important: that I was a good employee and my skills were appreciated, even if smiling on-demand wasn't one of them. At my first job I made food, too, but there it didn't seem to matter how hard I tried to pour the perfect ice cream cone or shape the perfect stick of cotton candy if I couldn't smile while handing it over. It took me decades to find the strings on my smiles, and they're still hard to pull.

But Betty didn't care that I wasn't sweet and friendly like most girls. She cared that I showed up when I was supposed to, made good pizza that I charged the right price for, and didn't pull money out of the cash register on my way home. And she liked that I didn't dress like a girl, either, because I was happy to just wear a plain white T-shirt and jeans under my apron, didn't have jewelry getting in the way and didn't need all those extra bathroom breaks to check on my make-up.

"You'll always have a job here," Betty told me when I left, adding that she was sad to lose such a "sensible" worker like me. I'll never forget how good that made me feel, knowing that even if I never learned to pull out my smiles at will, I could still be a valuable employee to the right bosses.
And that meant more to me than any Christmas bonus could.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Three little things got us through the power outage: A radio, lamp & camping stove

Before our power went out last month, my husband and I watched six innings of Game Four of the 2019 World Series. Then when the house went silent, we moved outside to listen to the rest of the game on a transistor radio while looking at the stars, which were so much brighter with all the streetlights and houses around us gone dark.
"We should do this more often!" we said.

That was cool.

I didn't buy the little Sony radio for the long-anticipated Public Safety Power Shutoff by PG&E, but because it reminds me of my father. Since my mother wouldn't allow a television in our house, my father listened to local football and baseball games on a small radio hung near the kitchen door to get the best reception. So hearing sports announcers on the radio will always bring back fond memories of relaxing weekends with my family, making me smile even during a power outages.

More useful than the radio, though, was the lamp I did buy specifically for an outage because it runs on batteries and has a USB port for charging phones and tablets. And while we didn't need to charge anything quite yet that first night, we were left without a way to run the bedroom fan, which we depend on for white noise to help us sleep. But when I discovered I could plug the portable noise machine we bought for travel into the lamp, it became the next hero of the outage.

The next morning I went outside to start up the camping stove I also bought months earlier: A portable burner you attach to a small propane tank and light with a match, which is how my mother cooked everything for us on camping trips.

Using a small cooking pot on top of the burner, I boiled water for coffee and then later for instant oatmeal. For lunch the stove heated up leftovers we needed to eat as soon as possible, then for dinner it heated up canned soups and boiled water again for tea. 

All four nights and mornings of the outage that propane tank kept powering my burner whenever I needed it. And on just one set of batteries that lamp kept going for three days, charging three small devices throughout the day, lighting the living room in the evening and running the noise machine all night.

But as happy as I was to have those three little things providing most of what we really needed (especially since our house still had heat and running water), the fourth day of the outage when I found some ladies cooking up egg sandwiches on a gas stove in downtown Ukiah, I immediately bought two of them for our lunch.

And that sandwich would have been delicious any day, but after four days of instant oatmeal and canned soup, that egg, bacon and cheese served on soft, warm bread tasted like the best thing I had ever eaten.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Three cool Halloween costumes I saw in Ukiah

Strolling through downtown Ukiah on Halloween this year, the first costume that caught my eye was made by teen Noah Edelman, who was carrying his own head.

That was cool.

"I figured I'm a bit too old to be trick-or-treating, so I'd better make a really good costume," said Edelman, who is now a freshman at Ukiah High School, explaining that he got the idea for the costume from a book he found on his parents' shelves called "The Encyclopedia of Immaturity."

The second costume that caught my eye was a wagon mousetrap carrying Carson Kennedy, nine-months-old, who was dressed in a grey mouse costume and trying to eat a plastic hunk of cheese.

"His great-grandfather made this for him," said mom Kenzie Kornegay, explaining that her grandfather Brian Kornegay makes boards for the game cornhole, so he just needed to make the round hole a bit bigger so Carson could fit through.

My favorite adult costume was definitely Grey Wolf-Smith as Divine, an actor who starred in the John Waters' movies Hairspray and Pink Flamingos.

"I made the eyebrows myself, and I almost ran out of make-up!" said Wolf-Smith of Divine's signature eye shadowing that covered much of his forehead.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Former prisoner calls getting a jury summons 'one of the best days of my life'

When I was picked recently to serve on a jury, I immediately felt trapped and panicky as  I realized I'd be spending the next several days in a stuffy courtroom full of strangers. Until I heard the voice of one of my fellow jurors describing how he felt getting his jury summons.

"It was one of the best days of my life," said the former prisoner, explaining that the letter was his official invitation back into society.

That was cool. 

I had groaned when I got my summons. And I'm guessing most everyone else called in with me that week did, too. 

But not the convict I will call John. To John, that letter meant he had successfully rehabilitated himself and reinstated his rights to vote and to serve on a jury.

He had waited years after his release from prison to apply for those rights. And once he did, "six months later I got that summons," John said, adding that he'd never been considered for a jury before because of a criminal past that began in his teens.

But while our fellow potential jurors did everything they could to show resentment toward law enforcement, often relaying second or third-hand accounts in the hopes of being excused from service, John said he had no hard feelings toward the people who administered his punishment.

"I know the bailiff there because he arrested me," John said of the handcuffs that had put him in prison for several years.

The first morning of the trial, I told John he had given me valuable perspective. Such as how sitting in comfortable chairs, being offered many breaks with the freedom to go outside and eat whatever we wanted during the day, then going home every night to our families and sleeping in our own beds was nowhere near like actually being in prison.

Except in one surprising way it was. 

When I asked John if there was anything he missed about being in prison, he described a culture of mutual respect he had appreciated. On the outside, he quickly noticed, people often give no thought to others they pass, not even acknowledging the presence of, let alone holding a door open for, someone they will likely never see again. 

But since prisoners are crammed together day after day as they eat, sleep, bathe and use toilets within inches of the same people over and over, they quickly learn that even the smallest act of respect will be remembered and reciprocated.

And I felt such careful respect in every action of our judge in the courtroom, starting with how he greeted us every morning, and excused us every afternoon, by sincerely thanking us for carving time out of our lives to serve on a jury. 

The judge was so considerate, in fact, he had water put on a table for us to access any time we wanted, even adding his own cough drops and chocolates for us to enjoy. And when my service was completed, I got a letter from the judge personally thanking me one last time for my time and commitment.

That, too, was cool.
Update: Of course, this was written before the Covid-19 pandemic and therefore does not address the new layers of anxiety and risk now associated with certain aspects of jury duty. However, my appreciation for the perspective my fellow juror offered me has not changed.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Poem: Canoe

I am in your canoe.

Until we capsize,

Or you throw me overboard,

I will be paddling next to you.

Justine Frederiksen

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Married for 66 years, man visits wife's grave every day

A man brings red roses to his wife's grave on their anniversary.
Most days I drive by the cemetery I see a man visiting his wife's grave. 
When it's hot he wears a hat and short sleeves; for the rain he brings a raincoat and umbrella. First he tidies up the flowers and grass near the headstone, then he stands with his arms folded for about 15 minutes.

For years I've wanted to talk to him, always hesitating for fear of disturbing him. But something made me stop recently and approach him with a small wave. When he waved back I asked, "Are you visiting your wife?"

"Yes," he said, nodding at the fresh red roses lying on the grass. "Today is our wedding day."

That was cool.

"We were married for more than 66 years," he said of his high school sweetheart. "And you're not going to believe this, but in all those years we never had an argument."

"We both grew up in homes where people were always yelling at each other, so we made up our minds that we weren't going to do that," he continued. "And we didn't. We had a lot of discussions, though, with time for me to talk and for her to talk. And by the time we went to bed, we had worked everything out."

To stay married, he said, you've got to be "willing to listen and you've got to be willing to admit when you're wrong.  And usually, my wife was the one who was right. As a husband, there are two things you should say every day: 'I love you' and 'Yes, dear.'"

When asked what he liked about his wife when they met, he said it was her beautiful smile.
"I don't think there was another woman with a more beautiful smile. And she was pretty inside and out."

When asked what he thinks about as he stands over the headstone carved with both of their names, he said he mostly thinks of the good times. But there is a headstone to the right belonging to one of their children.

"That was the saddest day of our lives," he said, explaining that the couple bought two headstones then, one for themselves and one for their child.

When asked why he visits his wife's grave every day he said, "I'm 92 and half now, so I don't have much else to do. And she gave me her life. It's the least I can do."

To respect the man's privacy, the photo was edited to remove the names from the headstone.  

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Cat Story: Twenty years of friendship came in a cardboard box

He came to me in a box my sister had poked air holes in and taped shut for the drive from Arizona to California.
She put down the box and it shook and meowed until I finally opened it, revealing a black and white kitten built like a Great Dane with long legs, ears as big as his head and a solid black nose.

That was cool.

What wasn't cool was his reputation, having destroyed blinds, drapes and even a tablecloth at his previous stops. Then that first night he terrorized me, running up the covers until he found my face and swatted at it. I lay there with the covers to my nose, waiting for his feet to come running up my body again. The next morning, I told my sister to take him back when she left. 

But later when I stepped out of the shower to find him waiting for me by the sink, anxious to see if I would emerge from the water OK, the look in his eyes told me he could be my friend.
And for the next twenty years, he was my best friend, moving with me to college, my first newspaper jobs and even to Seattle.

The second night with him I lifted the covers instead of hiding under them and he curled up next to me, his favorite sleeping place for the next 19 and a half years.

When he wasn’t sleeping, however, he remained a terror. I named him DiMaggio, thinking next I would get a girl cat and name her Monroe. But Maggio would not share me; he guarded my room from our family cat and never let her come near it again. 

Maggio and me in Seattle.
He also didn't like sharing me with other humans. The first boyfriend I moved in with did not want a cat sleeping in the bedroom, so I tried that first night to lock Maggio out. He scratched and pounded at the door all night and the next morning, I discovered that the cat who had impeccable litter habits had jumped onto the stove and pooped in my cast iron frying pan. 
I let him back in the bedroom and vowed that the next man wouldn't ask him to leave.

Maggio loved to go outside, harassing the ladies in the neighborhood until their owners threw rolled up newspapers at him. But he never stayed out all night except once, when we moved for the first of a dozen times. He went exploring outside the new house and didn’t return to sleep with me. The next morning, I found him across the street, stuck behind a long, tall fence until I climbed over to free him.

He even learned to tolerate a harness and leash when I moved to a studio apartment near my college campus where he was not allowed to roam free. At first he acted like the harness paralyzed him, but once he realized it was his ticket outside, he ran over every time I got it out, waiting patiently as I put it on and walking happily outside with me. But he would never walk home; when I wanted to go back, I had to carry him, growling, the whole way. 

The only days he didn't demand to go outside were after a standoff with the neighbor's dog at my first place in Seattle. One afternoon when he was already a senior citizen, he had been gone longer than usual and I went outside to find him. Hearing a dog barking, I followed the sound down a hill to the creek bed and found that the Jack Russell terrier next-door had cornered Maggio against a tree, barking and barking while the cat stood statue still, his legs sinking in the mud as he stared down the dog. Exhausted and terrified, he clung to my shoulders as I picked him up and scrambled back up the muddy hill with one arm free and a 20-pound cat in the other. He spent two days in the closet and didn’t go outside again for a week.

The only thing he loved more than going outside was food. When I turned my back on a new bag of cat food and saw him biting a hole in the bottom corner so he could gorge on the waterfall, I never left one on the kitchen table again. When I came home to the floor covered in food after he pushed the bag off a shelf I thought he couldn't reach, I put his food in a locking plastic container. Over the next 18 years, Maggio covered it in claw marks and knocked it over countless times, but he never got it open.

He was even more excited about cans of wet food, not only sliding out cans with his paw whenever I opened the refrigerator door, but even opening the door himself when I had an old fridge with a low handle and a weak seal on the door.

When one vet scolded me for letting him get "obese," I bought reduced-calorie food and dutifully fed him only as much as the bag said. Until he jumped on the kitchen table when his bowl was empty and lunged at me in anger. After that, I decided to just let him be fat.

His appetite was so strong, even when he got all but two teeth pulled out at 16, the first thing he wanted to do when he got home was eat. The vet said he probably wouldn’t eat until the next day, but as soon as I put the carrier down and opened the door, Maggio staggered out and headed straight to his food bowl.

Every morning he woke me up to be fed, scratching on the front of the stereo speaker until I put it out of his reach, or batting at the door springs until I tore them off. Then, once I removed everything else he could make noise with, he began lightly biting my chin or touching my face, his paw trembling as he tried to touch my face as lightly as possible and remove it as quickly as possible so I might not know it was him that woke me up. 

Then my husband received this wake-up call once Maggio realized that human would never throw him off the bed or even yell, only obediently get up to feed him. Yet, despite that kindness, Maggio still stepped over my husband every night to sleep with me instead.

Though it got harder and harder for him to get on the bed. When he could no longer jump, he would pull himself up. When he began just pulling on the sheet until one of us carried him up, I asked a friend to build stairs for him.

And there were countless other indignities about getting older, especially constipation, enemas and years of never quite getting his poops inside the litter box again. The worst for both of us, however, was having to soak him in the bathtub and scrub off the chocolate frosting that more and more frequently covered his rear and lodged in his paws.  

The last few months, every day he seemed to get thinner and have more difficulty lying down and getting back up. One night, I dreamt there was a cat meowing inside the wall and woke at 3 a.m. to find Maggio trapped at the foot of the bed. He had slid between the mattress and the bed frame and was unable to move, his legs dangling between the wooden slats. 

Finally, on the first day of his 20th year, Maggio couldn't get off the bed. He still purred and licked my check, but we knew it was time as I brought him food and water on the bed and carried him to the litter box so he could pee. The next morning, we had him put to sleep.

After he was cremated, I brought him home the same way he came to me, in a cardboard box. Only this box had 20 years in it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

My grandmother's Tercel: I still think it's ugly, but I love driving it.

My grandmother posing in front of her orange beast.
The last car my grandmother bought herself was a new 1984 Toyota Tercel. I thought it was too small and an ugly color, but she loved it. Every time we walked up to it she would gush, "Whose pretty little car is that?"

That was cool

I had never heard my grandmother use that voice before. I only knew the one she used to complain about my father. Or to order me and my sister not to walk so far away from her. Or to ask why I wasn't wearing the sweater she bought me.

I spent most of my life afraid of my grandmother and dreading our time together. But once I learned how much she lived through before I was even born, it helped me forgive her for being so difficult to be around.

She was put in an orphanage with her brother after their father died of the Spanish Flu, then came of age during the Great Depression, which taught her to track every penny she spent for the rest of her life. She became a bookkeeper, then a single mother in the 1940s. She kept my mother, kept working, and kept lists of every dollar she spent on my mother's diapers. Plus every dollar my grandfather didn't give her for those diapers.

My grandmother and my mother in the 1950s.
My father said my grandmother only kept my mother to prove to her mother she could. But it doesn't matter to me why she kept her, just that she did. And then helped her daughter pay for college. And helped my parents buy a house. Then helped me pay for college.

It took me a long time to accept that spending her money was how she showed love. Because I always wanted a grandmother who hugged us and laughed when we played, not one who loved to remind us of every naughty thing we ever said or did.

The only time I remember sitting in her lap was when she let me drive a car for the first time at about eight-years-old. I don't remember why she put me behind the steering wheel that day, but I remember us all laughing as I struggled to guide the car through the empty parking lot. 

The next time she gave me the wheel was two decades later when she took me to England so I could drive on the left side for her. The day after we picked up the rental car I woke up with a cold that my grandmother blamed on my walking around with wet hair. "You better not be too sick to drive," she announced as I stared out the window above my bed, wishing I could just sleep.

Later that same trip she gave me a rare compliment when I miraculously drove us back to our hotel through thick fog with no GPS, maps or even road signs to guide me, and later we shared an even rarer belly laugh. 
We got lost while driving to see a friend of hers and stopped at a pay phone to ask for directions:
"Where are you?" the friend asked.
"We're at Weak Bridge," I said, calling out the only sign I saw.
"You're where?" her bewildered friend said.
"We're at Weak Bridge!" I said, then finally it hit me. "That's not the name of the bridge, grandma. That's just telling us it's a weak bridge!"
We collapsed into the only laughter I remember sharing with her as an adult.

Another 20 years passed before I drove for her again, but this time she didn't ask me to. She also didn't ask me to write out all her checks so she didn't pay her rent twice, or to have meals delivered to her room every day when she stopped going to the dining room to eat.

Instead, she fought my help every day until I finally cracked at the diner where she demanded to know why we weren't at the French bistro she loved (knocking over all the tiny tables with her walker) and I snapped at her before running into the bathroom to finish yelling in a stall.
Afterward as I buckled her seatbelt she said, "Are you sure you don't want to just push me out of the car?"
I sighed. "No, grandma. I don't."
And I didn't. But I did ask my husband to start driving her around after that.

A few years ago she died just shy of her 98th birthday, but she is still with me because I drive her car every day.
I still hate its color. It has no air conditioning. The radio doesn't work. I can't move the driver's seat anymore and the rear-view mirror disintegrated long ago.

But I love driving it. Because now in that car I can spend time with the grandmother I choose: all the best parts with none of the bad. Inside her car, I don’t think about the woman who spanked me for spilling cereal milk on her bedspread. I don’t think about the woman I drove to doctor’s appointments after cleaning poop off her shoes. 

The first visa she got to live in France at age 56.
Instead I think about the woman who drove me to countless museums, operas, ballets and Broadway shows. I think about the 56-year-old who moved to Paris for a year so she could learn French. And the 80-year-old who walked miles and miles of that city with me during a transportation strike. The 83-year-old who took me to New York. The 90-year-old who filled her tiny car with everything that would fit and drove herself to her new senior apartment complex in Petaluma. 

And I hope that the more time I spend with that determined, independent woman now, the more likely it is that I'll still be driving myself around when I'm 90. 

Update: I recently found a 3 x 5 card that she had typed details about Tercel on: 
Purchased from Toyota Santa Cruz on 8/31/84. Cost: $6538.30

Saturday, July 13, 2019

How they met: "I delivered his mail"

Debbie worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years. And on one of her first few routes delivering mail in Southern California, she met her husband David.

That was cool.
David watches Debbie dance to a video game.

"He lived in one of the apartment complexes I delivered to, and had a perfect view of me putting mail in the box next-door," she said.

But when David finally worked up the nerve to talk to Debbie, she wasn't impressed.

"He walked by and asked, 'How's it going?' and I just waved him off,'" Debbie said.

So David asked a guy who worked with Debbie to talk to her. But she brushed him off, too.

"My friend would like to meet you," her co-worker said.

"Yeah, right," Debbie said. "You don't have any friends!"

But eventually the stoic guy who rarely smiles got a date with the sarcastic gal who rarely stops laughing. At the end of the night David said, "I had a great time."

"I said, 'Yeah, I could tell,'" Debbie recalls with a laugh. "And I guess that did it for him!"

Next year,  they will celebrate their 25th anniversary.

In the limo after their wedding in Las Vegas.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Poem: If My Life Were a Campsite

If my life were a campsite,
the dog might be the light.

But my husband is the tent
the campfire
and the hotdogs.

And me?
He says I'm the marshmallows.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I carry my own toilet paper everywhere. Don't you?

I carry paper napkins in my purse. Not because I'm always spilling stuff, but because I never know when I'll need toilet paper.
Empty roll? No problem.
The habit began long ago in a bar in South America when a woman I was drinking with stopped me on my way to the bathroom.
"Here, take this," she said, handing me a cocktail napkin. "There's never any toilet paper in the bathrooms here."

That was cool

Cassandra, if you're reading this, I love you for that. You not only saved me from a miserable situation that night, but created a habit that has saved me from countless more miserable situations since then at toilets with no paper hanging next to them.

And this compulsion to have my own toilet paper handy at all times helps not just in countries like Chile (where the plumbing at the time of my visit was so bad that bars preferred to not offer toilet paper rather than trust their customers to drop it in the bin instead of the bowl) but just about everywhere I go these days. Especially now that I'm hiking as much as possible. 
Because there's two things you quickly learn about the bathrooms near trails: 1) you can't trust that the door actually locks, and 2) you can't expect to find toilet paper.

This is especially true for a park bathroom I use nearly every day. Ideally, the maintenance guy comes once a week to clean it and refill all the paper products. But the toilet paper disappears fast, even with the new rod that locks on one end. Before the lock, all the toilet paper would be gone the next morning. Then the paper towels. Then the seat covers. By the weekend, there wasn't an inch of paper in any form to be had.

This was left by the elusive toilet paper fairy.
Which is how its been again for two weeks now since the last time he came, so only those of us with paper towels folded in our packs having been using that toilet lately.
Until today, when I saw that someone even nicer than Cassandra had arrived: a toilet paper fairy who left a skinny roll propped on the empty rolls for everyone to use.

That was cool, too.

But you can't wait on the toilet paper fairy, folks. Trust me. She comes like every three years. Carry your own toilet paper.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Who wants to see a 54-year-old woman posing in a bikini? I do.

I was flipping through the latest Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated when I stopped on the smiling face of someone I knew immediately was not another 20-something posing mostly naked on the beach. It was 54-year-old Paulina Porizkova, who said she is now the "oldest core girl" to be featured in that issue.

That was cool.

Full disclosure: I didn't buy this magazine; it was gifted to us for Christmas, and while I have enjoyed a lot of the articles, I was tossing this particular issue in the recycling bin when I saw 45-year-old Tyra Banks on the cover. So I opened it up. And I'm glad I did, because it made me very happy to see both Tyra and Paulina frolicking on the beach with women half their age.

You could certainly argue that by including two models over 45 in their swimsuit issue Sports Illustrated is just pandering to older women, hoping to distract us from the reality that it mostly serves as soft-core porn that gives everyone unrealistic expectations of what women's bodies should look like at any age. But I don't care why they included them. I still like that they did.

You might argue that women should neither want, nor be asked, to show their bodies for money. But as Paulina explains in her essay printed in the issue, modeling is just one part of her life right now, and she was more than pleased to be asked to pose in a swimsuit again, despite some blows to her ego in the process.

You might also argue that such a magazine shouldn't exist at all. But it does, and it comes to my home. And if it's on my kitchen table, I'd rather it feature a 54-year-old woman proudly posing in front of the camera instead of tucked safely out of view.

And I want to see that happy, beautiful 54-year-old not just to show middle-aged me what is still possible, but for teen-aged me, who studied magazines like they were maps to happiness. I want her, and all the other 14-year-olds who might still read magazines today, to know that 40 years from now, you can do more with your body than hide it under the beach umbrella while you wait to apply more sunscreen to your grandchildren.

You can put that sunscreen on yourself and join them at the waves in whatever swimsuit you like. Even a bikini.

Monday, May 6, 2019

My niece can't kill caterpillars. So I couldn't wait for her to start voting.

Enjoying the Pacific Ocean.
When my niece visited us as a young girl, I asked her to help me in the garden by plucking caterpillars off my tomato plants. When I came back to check on her she had found at least a dozen, but she hadn't put them in the soapy water I gave her.

"I can't kill them," she said sadly, pointing to the pile she had carefully made of all the caterpillars.

That was cool.

I loved her for that. I loved that she pulled the caterpillars off my plants like I wanted, but kept them alive like she wanted.

And what I love even more now about that sweet, sensitive girl is that she can't wait to start voting. She would have last November if she had turned 18 in time. But her birthday was the day after the election.
"I'm really mad about it, actually," she told me at the time, explaining that while she didn't do as much research as she would have had if she knew she were voting, she did pay enough attention to the tight Senate races in her home state of Arizona to want to "put my vote in. I also wanted to be a voter, too!"

I felt her frustration. I have voted every chance I got since I turned 18, and I would have been livid if my birthday was a day after that first election. But I was also happy she was upset, because it means she wants to be a voter.

And call me crazy, but I think people who can't kill caterpillars make good humans. And those are the humans I want voting.

Update: She is now ready to vote in the Nov. 3, 2020 election, and just might help turn a red state blue.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

My favorite waterfall is hard to reach, so I've only had to share it with my dog

Spring is a great time to visit waterfalls, so I recently made the long trek to my favorite one. And for the third time in a row, the only other soul I had to share the experience with was my dog.

That was cool.

Being able to soak in all that cascading water for as long as I want without mobs of selfie-takers waiting (or often not waiting) their turn is the main reason why that waterfall has become my favorite.

I also love that you have to WORK to reach it. You need to hike about 4.5 miles from the parking lot at the Valley View Trailhead to see the waterfall. And about half of that distance is uphill, including a mile of full-on, legs-and-lungs-burning uphill that always has me asking, "When is this going to stop?!"

But once you emerge from the trees and reach the top of the ridge, you're rewarded with sweeping views on either side, the Ukiah Valley on your right and the Mayacamas Mountains on your left. If the pond on the right is full and you've also brought your dog, they can take a dip while you enjoy the wildflowers, bees and butterflies until you see a bench and should begin looking for a trail heading left.

There's no sign marking this trail, just the sound of rushing water leading you into a canyon that turns cooler and greener with every step, always making me feel as if I've stumbled upon a secret world. Only once you reach the creek do you find a sign announcing that you're now on the Mayacamas Trail, and walked 3.7 miles from your car at Mill Creek County Park. Turn left again to head to the waterfall.

This board was the only evidence that others walked to the waterfall recently.
I know sharing the waterfall's existence here might lead more people to check it out, but I've written about it multiple times in the Ukiah newspaper I write for and still the crowds leave it alone.

It might be because the waterfall doesn't have a name, so it can't easily be listed on a Top Ten list or even a map, and there aren't any signs on the trail telling you that the waterfall exists or how to find it. So unless you already know where it is or get horribly lost, you're not going to reach it.

It might be because I've always hiked to it on a weekday, but that doesn't seem to make a difference for other waterfalls, especially those near the Mendocino Coast. When I hiked to another waterfall in a forest after driving several miles on a very sketchy dirt road off Highway 20 in the middle of a non-holiday Monday, I found two men perched in front of the water with tripods who had driven all the way from Tennessee to take pictures of it. Why? Because that waterfall has a name, it's much closer to the coast, and it's included in many lists of the best waterfalls in Northern California.

This waterfall also might not draw the crowds because Ukiah doesn't have quite enough to attract people from The Bay Area to drive up here for the weekend or even a day (other than another green plant that doesn't grow near waterfalls, of course.) But this waterfall doesn't even seem to attract people who live closer.

That might be because locals know Cow Mountain is full of ticks. I always find at least one crawling on me if not attached to my stomach, and my dog never leaves that trail without DOZENS of them on her. After one visit I took off more than 40.

Or they might know that much of the year the trail is very hot, and you have to carry a lot of water for you and your dog if the seasonal streams have dried up.

Or they might know that there's a gun range at the top of Cow Mountain, and often you can not only hear the gunshots echoing off the mountain, you'll swear sometimes you can feel bullets whizzing by. Because of that, I don't recommend using the trail on the weekends or holidays with clear weather until the summer heat has settled in and the gun range has been closed due to fire danger.

Have I dissuaded you yet? Good. If not, here is how to get there:

The Valley View Trail is reached by a short drive from Ukiah beginning east on Talmage Road, taking a right on Old River Road and then a left on Mill Creek Road. After passing the ponds, you will come to a trail sign on the left and parking on the right near a port-a-potty.