Friday, November 27, 2015


Thanks to Bill for this holiday photo!

Did you sit at the Children's Table?  

When I was small our family wasn't big enough to need a children's table at holiday dinners. We all fit around the country-style maple table in the living room. The grown-ups all had a creative, child-like attitude towards life. Sometimes it was hard to tell the grown-ups from the children.

When I was eight, my sister LaVerne married her sweetheart. Two years later, I was an aunt and the pink wooden tea table that my other sister, Linda, and I used for play, became the first of a series of extra holiday tables. LaVerne's family grew to four children, and we soon outgrew the two tables. Grampy made a card table out of piece of compressed wood that he found at the dump. Sometimes Grampy would sit at the table with the youngest kids, sometimes Linda or I would. Eventually as Linda married and had two children, we all moved to several card tables snuggled together in the living room.

After dessert, we cleared the tables of the embroidered tablecloths that Mimi made and played cards: Gin Rummy, Pit, or Blackjack. We played for fun not for competition, and laughed our way through the day.

Other times, we just packed up the card tables, the kids ran outside to play, the men played darts against one of the towering maple trees in the backyard, and the women spent the afternoon in the kitchen cleaning and talking. When the women were done, they came outside to join the rest of the family. Dad brought out the horseshoes, and we all tried for that satisfactory clang when the horseshoe landed around the metal target. We played ping pong at the table set up on the lawn, or we played a raucous game of Hide and Seek.

When I married Bill, he joined right in with the play. He could make the kids laugh till they couldn't stop. He cheated at board games so that we never finished a game because of the pretend fights we had, and he easily fit at the tables in the living room. He had the right kind of quirkiness, so he stayed.

By the time our son Theo came along, my nieces and nephews were having children of their own, my dad and grandparents had passed away, all three sisters lived in different parts of California. Our gatherings in the living room were more and more infrequent.  We realized at Mom's funeral that all twenty-two of us who were left had not been together for a decade. We missed those days of sitting around card tables on holidays.

After her graveside service, we went to my niece Kim's community clubhouse and ate pizza, played card games around tables, and laughed about the days of holiday dinners in my parents' living room sitting at the tables that we never called Children's Tables.


Friday, November 20, 2015


I walk the Iron Horse Trail that follows an old railway line from Pleasanton to Martinez. I am always surprised by the cleanliness of the trail. I don't see the detritus that we humans usual throw randomly about (think of the trails up Mt. Everest). What I notice are items that have been left accidentally:  children's toys, shoes and a few dog toys. They have been placed so that the original owner might collect them. When I look at a lost piece, I wonder if that shoe or toy was special to someone and is now sorely missed. The lost object represents a child's first break from innocence, the first realization that nothing is permanent in our lives.

I think of all the things that people must leave behind when they risk the migration from war torn countries in the Middle East and Africa or from places in Central and South America. How hard it must be to trust someone else with your family's lives and to step on a boat or a truck that may or may not arrive safely. What did they have to leave behind along the way?

My family's various branches came to the United States very early, fled the French Revolution, or came because of economic opportunity in the last century. I have never experienced the devastation of a war, which offers a question about myself:  how would I react if forced to flee?

With the horrific events that have taken place in Paris, Lebanon, Egypt, and parts of Africa in the last few weeks, I begin to feel overwhelmed. What keeps me going is to think small. I do my daily chores, I sweep the back deck of leaves, I walk our neighborhood, I talk to friends and family, I paint, I go to the gym, I cook meals. I do what I can to contribute. Right now I am tutoring middle school kids in Berkeley with the Writer Coach Connection. I'm collecting extra sweaters, blankets, and jackets to give to the One Warm Coat Project. I'm trying to find some normalcy in the midst of chaotic news.

What are you doing to maintain peace in your life?

Friday, November 13, 2015


When I meet other people in the last few days, we all express the same joy, "Rain!"

Two inches of rain in one 24-hour period doesn't break our drought. Today, a week later, the rain drips down again. This rain won't end the drought either. There is hope: the storms are coming from Alaska, which is the first time in a couple of years that they have pushed through the high pressure zone off the Pacific Coast. It is chilly outside, which means that the rain has turned to snow in the Sierra. Because of the cold, today is a good day to get things done at home, to read in front of a fire, and to dream of abundance.

The drought has knocked us on our heels. When I am with friends, we talk about the drought and our worries about water. We take Navy showers, we collect buckets of water, we do myriad things to conserve each drop, and we worry about the trees as they wilt in the heat.  Long ago we bought into the idea of green lawns and gardens. Now we look at pictures of homes with green landscaping that back up to a more natural California and wonder why we thought we could overcome Nature. We all did. When water was abundant, we squandered it.

During the drought we have checked for leaks, done less laundry, installed water-saving appliances and devices, caught extra water from the tap -- actions that conserve. It has been easy to turn off the sprinklers that water the lawn.  It is harder to watch 30-year old plants and trees begin to die. So we did what we could to pinpoint a need, changed to drip irrigation or soaker hoses, and kept our fingers crossed for healing rain.

With the rain, we have hope. We watch for reports of snow in the Sierra and hope that the snow will cling to the ground. We hope that the rain will come in December and continue through winter. We hope we will not have a repeat of last year when we had good rains in December than nothing except a little in February and April. In the meantime, we dried up. Now we have hope.

With the rain, I find I have to catch myself so that I am not running the faucet, not reverting to old bad habits that slipped back into my life even after experiencing two serious droughts in previous years when we put bricks in toilets and were limited to 75 gallons per person a day. Right now we all know that water is a luxury, and that we don't have the right to use as much as we want. I hope we, meaning me, will continue to remember that when the inevitable rains return.

Friday, November 6, 2015


      All Photos by Theo Slavin

I ride BART to my eye doctor's office in San Francisco. I have glaucoma, which has stabilized after numerous treatments. Because I ride the train and walk to the doctor's office, I have time to be an observer of people along the way.

I love being in San Francisco, or any city, but just for a visit. The quirkiness, the bustle, the surges of people all become a cacophony of jumbled noises and sights. It is then that I begin to notice the waste paper, the general dirtiness of the streets, and the homeless, some of them with wild eyes, long grizzled beards, shivering bodies, and incoherent speech.

          Theo Slavin

On my way home one day, I heard a young woman behind me talking with great urgency on her cell phone.

"Can you pick me up at the BART station? I don't want to go inside that house. I want to go see Granma."

The young woman stopped talking on her phone. I wondered what the other person said back to her because she sighed. I continued to read my magazine half-expecting the young woman to jump off at the next stop, but the passenger behind me was silent. At Walnut Creek, I rose out of my seat and walked towards the exit. I looked back. The young woman was sound asleep.

       Theo Slavin

Her pleas made me think of other women who find themselves in situations where they are afraid. At least, the young woman was speaking up and asking for help. My tendency would be to remain silent and find my own way through a problem.

       Theo Slavin

Another young woman caught my eye as I was walking down Market Street. She was a Latina with long, dark, curly hair and a beautiful face that was turned towards me as she and her partner brushed by me. He was small, but tough looking. He reminded me of the gang members I had seen as a juror on a murder trial several years ago. The couple were as close together as physics would allow two objects to be. They were not aware of anyone else around them, but there was something wrong in the way they walked. As the three of us neared the BART station at Montgomery, the woman suddenly veered to the left and ran down the steps to the station below. The man, in a fury, dashed after her, wheeling from one side of the stairs to the other until he stopped in front of her, face touching face.

He growled, "You know I don't like to act this way."

My heart cringed at the statement and I wondered what he was prepared to do.

"Stop and come back with me, " he demanded.

They stood still, pushing with their hands close to their chests, one against the other, as I walked cautiously by them. I thought: I could do something. I could yell at him to leave her alone. But he was intense and scary and I walked on by -- another human afraid to interfere where help could be needed. I walked through the station to the turnstile and looked back at the couple. They were still in the same position.

       Theo Slavin

I was back in the City for another doctor's appointment. I arrived at the New Montgomery station just as the escalator closed down and the trains stopped. Smoke had surfaced on another escalator so all of them had been turned off. Everyone in the station had to climb the two flights to the ground level, which reminded me of living in Tokyo and the older stations there that had no escalators. We had to climb two or three flights of stairs to exit. Today I felt smug as I passed younger people on the stairs. I was still fit to climb.

As I came up the Montgomery Station steps, my mind went back to the couple. I thought again: I could have talked with the station agent. I could have asked the couple a question, "Could you help me? I'm lost." Maybe that interruption could have defused the anger that was building on the steps, but I will never know.

As I came up to the street, a few drops of rain hit me. I saw a young woman with wild, red curly hair, partly secure in a snood at the top of her head. The rest cascaded down her shoulders like steel wool, contrasting with the bright green of her wool coat and dark orange socks that were pulled up to her knees. She rushed by as I continued to my doctor's office.

        Theo Slavin

Later as I left his office, I clung to the sides of the buildings, hoping to miss the raindrops that began to fall. It was cold and wet and I was not prepared for rain. It had been warm and mild the day before. I left my umbrella in the car and wore my coat without a hood. I liked walking in the City, so I didn't really care if I got wet, but the cold was swiftly going through me.

When I turned the corner, I saw a middle-aged man sitting on a tarp on the sidewalk. His face was weathered, but he looked at me with sympathy on his face. I guessed he expected me to have rain gear. He was more prepared than I was. Besides the tarp, he had a wide-brimmed hat and a voluminous coat. We nodded and I crossed to Walgreen's to buy an umbrella. I thought of the 500 Yen (about a $5 at the time) umbrellas in Japan that popped up outside every store as soon as it started to rain in Tokyo. The umbrellas were one of the few cheap items in Tokyo and I collected several each summer.

     Theo Slavin

As I stepped outside the door and opened my umbrella, I looked around the corner for the man. I thought of buying him some soup, but he was already gone from his spot. I hurried across the street to Postino, a little cafe I found on my last trip, which served delicious, warming soup and thin-crusted pizza -- just perfect for a cold, rainy day in the City.

        Theo Slavin

Theo Slavin created the photos that illustrate my essay. If you would like to see more of Theo's work, check out

Thank you for reading this longer than usual essay today.  Stay warm and dry.