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The Moanalua Golf Club course

Golf—or at least a golf course—turns out not to be a good walk spoiled, but the best walk so far of the ones I’ve done daily around the area of Kaiser Moanalua hospital in Honolulu. The hospital sits on a crest of the Moanalua valley, and from some windows, if you look makai (toward the sea), you can catch a glimpse of blue. Dick’s room looks mauka (toward the mountains) and out the large window, eucalyptus trees with their lovely peeling bark reveal green the color of a young gecko.

Beyond the trees I can see the pink edifice that is Tripler Army Medical Center majestically atop a Moanalua hill. You can easily see it when taking off or descending in a jet from Honolulu International Airport. I often forget its name and have to ask Dick. Now I’ve got it. I doubt that I’ll forget it.

Today, we celebrated the week-aversary of Dick’s new life after his cardiac arrest at the Honolulu Airport Jan. 15. We have learned that such resurrections are rare, and we are pleased he is one of them. We also got the news today from one of the two cardio-thoracic surgeons here that Dick will have his bypass/CABG surgery Thursday, two days from now. We are pleased about that. He’s had a week to rest (he’s sleeping a lot) and get stronger, and they’re pleased with his progress. It makes Dick, the surgeon said, an excellent candidate for the surgery.

•e-img_5611-golfersI look forward to my daily walks here. One of the nurses suggested that I walk to the golf course, part of which we can see from the hospital. So I did yesterday, finding my way down the sloping hill, passing free-growing flowers the likes of which one sees in botanical gardens in Hawaii… but there they are, planted once by someone and now going greengreengreen (with occasional flowerflower) on their own. Hawaii is a place where it’s easy being green.

I found my way to a path that rims the Moanalua Golf Club, whose sign claims it as the oldest golf course in Hawaii, built in 1898. It’s a long, slender course that points toward the back of Moanalua Valley, whose main road leads to the Moanalua Valley Trail. I wasn’t going to hike that far, but because it was late afternoon, and few golfers were about, I ambled along in a pleasant bit of sunshine with huge, cartoon-fluffy clouds over the mountains.


Mike and his golfing partner

I passed some men golfing, and, stopping to take some photos with my phone, one big guy in a very clean white T-shirt and baggy shorts below the knees called out, “Wanna take our picture?” He smiled at me, so I called back, “Sure!” And he approached me with a smaller, paler guy wearing a red cap. “We give you a pose,” he said, and they stood atop a rise with the Moanalua mountains rising into the clouds.

I took their photo on my phone, showed it to the big guy who walked over to me. “Mike,” he said, sticking out his hand.

“Jan,” I said and put mine in his.

Mike gave me his phone number, and I texted the photo to him. He said, “You on a walk?” On the golf course?”

Ah, I thought. “I know I’m not supposed to walk on the golf course if I’m not golfing,” I said, “but my husband’s [when he’s sick, he’s my husband] is in the hospital up there, and we’re waiting to find out when he’s going to have heart surgery.”

I didn’t say that we’ve been waiting for a week, that I’m sleeping in the hospital next to him, that he had a cardiac arrest at the airport almost a week ago, that he was brought back by a portable defibrillator, that he is one lucky duck. And so am I.

•e-img_5622-golfer gazeboMike put his hand over his own heart, a big brown paw against that white shirt, and he sighed.

“Ah, sistah,” he said sadly, shaking his head.

Tears popped into my eyes. Those Hawaiian terms of endearment–”sistah,” “auntie,” “uncle”—are not used casually with visitors, almost never with tourists. But from the beginning of this crisis we’ve been treated like ohana (family). Local women who work as aides in the hospital come into Dick’s room and, after getting to know him a bit, josh with him and call him “uncle.” Some of them, coming to collect urine, stick their heads in the door and say, “You shi-shi yet?” (the local term for peeing).

•e-img_5634-signAnd here was this big man who didn’t know me, his hand on his heart, looking at me with sad eyes, basically embracing me with one word as ohana. It was all I could do not to cry on that nice white shirt.

“Do you work here?” I asked Mike.

“Yeah,” he said. “Pau hana [after work] we play a round. Exercise!” he grinned.

He didn’t translate; somehow he figured I knew a bit of Hawaiian. “Yeah, you not ‘sposed to walk on the course, but you go ahead, sistah. Up that trail right there, you walk right back to the hospital.” He emphasized the middle syllable—hosPITal.

“Mahalo,” I said, and Mike and his golfing partner headed down the big hill to their next hole.

I followed the trail Mike suggested, coming into a broad plain that circles behind the hosPITal. I found a sign that said, “Walking path is steep and rocky—enter at your own risk,” which made me think, well, yeah, kinda like life. I saw a cattle egret, •e-img_5653-egretone of my favorite local birds (introduced here in 1959 to keep insects from pestering cows, it’s now considered invasive), perched on a fence. He let me take his picture before he flew off. I walked by the emergency room entrance where the ambulance had brought Dick seven days earlier. The doors swished open, and I walked in, finding myself on the same floor where Dick lay in his hospital bed, covers up to his chin, tucked in and warm. Waiting for me.

I sat down on my little chair/bed and watched him breathing for a bit, grateful for every moment I get to do that now, to be with him, the linchpin of my ohana.

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Glad to be here

5 a.m., the sixth day after
He’s the third person who’s walked in our room in the last half hour, which they don’t do in the better hotels, and this is one expensive place to stay. The first two took his vitals, weighed him, pulling off all the blankets in this too-chilly room, removing the pillows, one of them holding the heavy heart monitor. They call out a number in kilos, which means nothing to us, then replace your pillows and blankets, which I will have to get up to adjust because I’ve learned how you like them.
And then the blood guy knocks on our closed door—as someone like him does every morning at this time—with his little vials wearing different colored plastic caps and his rubber band tourniquet and, of course, his stabber, and like everyone else who shows up in room 329 at Kaiser Moanalua hospital, he’s curious about our story.
Barely awake, Dick gives him the 30-second version:
At the Honolulu airport, about to board the plane, he feels dizzy and collapses, heart stops, breathing stops, two nurses in line jump out to give him CPR, the defibrillator arrives, one shock, and he’s back. To the hospital, major blockages in three arteries, now waiting here for a CABG.
Blood Guy, focusing on his job, is silent for a few moments, finishes his collection, unsnaps the tourniquet and in one smooth motion puts a new cotton ball already lined with tape on Dick’s arm.
“Sorry your vacation ended this way,” says Blood Guy, then adds, as most people do, “but it’s good, I guess, that you didn’t get on the plane or that you weren’t in flight. I’m sure you want to get home, though.”
“Glad to be here,” Dick says, and he means it.
And even at this early hour, my eyes and brain fuzzy, I detect the sincerity, the layers of meaning in those four words. 
I’ve been thinking this for six days now: It could have been different. You could’ve not come back. Me standing there at the Gate C1 watching strangers work on you, your two shirts and a photo vest cut off, your pale chest exposed to the world, sticky conduits pasted on in a seemingly random pattern like a deranged stripper. Me calling, “Dickie, no! Come back! Come back.”
And you did, though you’ve returned to all these young people awakening you every few hours (hospitals are the worst places to try to rest) and you’re facing major surgery here. But you, with your usual optimism, say, “Glad to be here.”
And so softly that Blood Guy, as he prepares to turn off the light and let us go back to sleep, can’t hear me, I say, “Me, too. Me, too.”
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Be still, my heart

This may be the story that Dick Schmidt and I tell for the rest of our lives about one of our many trips to Hawaii.

We were about to board the plane in Honolulu Tuesday, Jan. 15, after coming in from 12 days on Kauai, rushing a bit to get to a different terminal. But we made it with a little time to spare. As Dick was about to hand his boarding pass to the gate attendant, he felt dizzy and collapsed into a metal stand, bleeding from the nose and mouth.

I was on the floor with him in an instant, knowing he was gone. I could see a pulse fluttering in his neck. I could see he wasn’t breathing.

“Dickie, no!” I heard myself say. “Come back! Come back!”

Then a man who’d been in line to board the plane appeared at my side. “I’m a nurse,” said Claudio Alvarado. “Let me help.” And I stood up as his partner, Camron Calloway, came to hug me. Claudio checked for a pulse and then began chest compressions on Dick.

A woman came out of the line saying that she was a nurse, too, and she and Claudio worked on Dick together. Shortly thereafter, the EMTs arrived and so did a small, portable machine with pads and wires that were hooked up to Dick’s chest. Someone called “clear!” and the machine delivered a great shock to Dick’s fluttering heart. It brought him back to life within a couple of minutes of his collapse.

The machine is an AED (an automated external defibrillator) that uses electricity to stop a heart in arrhythmia and return it to its regular rhythm. It was developed in the mid-1960s by a cardiologist named Frank Pantridge in Belfast, Ireland.

Dick was transported to Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center in Honolulu where he was treated in the ER and gotten to a room in a few hours. I’ve been with him there ever since. He’s had a cardiac catheterization, which revealed major blockages in his arteries. He is waiting in the hospital now for a surgery date for a CABG (pronounced “cabbage”), a coronary artery bypass graft.

The next day Pam Foster and Jenna Tanigawa of the AED Institute came to visit us in the hospital. The Institute places AEDs all over Hawaii and offer free training to the general public on how to use the devices. They told us that AEDs have been used on 69 people at airports in Hawaii. Fifty of those people survived.

Dick is the 50th survivor. That’s a significant number for him. Last year was the 50th anniversary of Dick’s first trip to Hawaii, visiting all four islands in the month of February 1968, as he celebrated his 25th birthday. Hawaii, of course, is the 50th state.

I sit in the hospital now, watching Dick sleep a lot, as he grows stronger daily, bit by bit. The doctors want him to feel stronger and better before surgery. My colleagues at Sacramento City College have been wonderful about helping me find substitutes to start the spring semester next week. We have friends who have brought and sent us supplies in the hospital, including the man whose Hawaiian guidebooks I’ve proofread for more than 20 years and a former student of mine who works for him on Oahu. Other friends and family have offered to come help, too. I will be here in Honolulu for a while yet, as will Dick.

He’s here. He’s here. We are beyond grateful to all the people who made that miracle possible.

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Dick Schmidt the day after his cardiac arrest in Honolulu with Pam Foster (right) and Jenny Tanigawa (left) of the AED Institute of Hawaii. The Institute provides defibrillators at all airports in Hawaii, including the that saved Dick’s life.

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Manifesto for writers

MSW typewriter

Typewriter / Michael Williamson

We will think of ourselves as writers, even when we’re not writing.
Or haven’t written for a while.
Or haven’t had our work published.
Or even sent our work out for consideration to be published.
Lately. Or maybe ever.
Because a writer is someone who writes*, even once in a while.
A writer is someone who goes to the page to work out thorny problems of the mind
and heart.
Even once in a while.

A writer is someone for whom words, images, lines show up at odd times.
Writers try to capture those words, images and lines when they show up at odd times.
Even if it means pulling to the side of the road and being late for the meeting.
Even if it means taking a notebook into the bathroom and scribbling there.
Even if it means speaking into our electronic devices or scrawling on the random
sticky note or 3×5 card.
Even if we don’t do anything further with those scribbles or spoken thoughts.
We lasso them out of the air, out of our heads and hearts.
We get them down.
They are there for us if we want them later.
Or not. It is up to us.

And when we do commit words to paper or other places, we will hold them gently.
We will not scold them or ourselves if they are not the words we wish we’d written.
Or the ones that were rattling around in our heads on their little hamster wheels.
We will be grateful that they showed up.
We will not feel envious or intimidated by someone else’s words that, when we hear
or read them, seem better/more polished/more thoughtful than ours.
We will admire those words that others give us.
We will admire those voices that are not ours.
We will allow ourselves to be inspired by them.
But we will also remember that our voices are perfect just as they are.
Even if they don’t sound perfect to us.
Even if we don’t believe that they are.

We will remember that when we read our words aloud, when we offer what we
have just written, that our words are a gift to our listeners.
We will remember that our words fall on others’ ears like song because we are
Good Writers.
Always. Even when we don’t feel that we are.
Even on the most difficult days.

We will remember that our words, as messy and imperfect as they showed up, may
give someone hope or feel understood or feel less alone.
We will remember that our words, as messy and imperfect as they showed up, may
be just what someone else needed to hear.
We may not always like what we have written because we didn’t like the place we had
to go to get it.*
But we will honor what showed up as what needed to be written in the here and now.

And when we are working on longer writing projects, we will hold ourselves kindly.
We will not chastise ourselves for not meeting our artificial deadlines or word count.
We will not feel bad when we cannot get to those writing projects as often or when we would like.
We will remember that we can walk away from that writing, if we choose.
We will remember that we can also pick it up again much later, if we choose.

But, more than anything, we will remember that our voices are worthy of the page.
We will remember that we write on the air every time we speak.
We will remember that the stories and poems, characters and memories, lie curled
inside us like happy dogs before a fire or cats on a warm blanket in winter.
We will remember the warmth inside us that fuels the writer.
Because we are writers if we never write another line.
We are alive if we never step out of this room again.**

Our words matter.
Our words have meaning to more people than we realize.
Our words touch people, move people, reassure people, make people laugh.
We will remember that sometimes what we wrote was not for us.
Sometimes what we have written saves another’s life.
Sometimes it saves our own.

We are writers who try to make sense of the world through writing.
May we never stop seeing ourselves as the poets and troubadours of the planet.
May we have faith that the words will never stop arriving, that they will always
be there for us.
May we always see ourselves as writers.
May we always be gentle with ourselves, writing alone or with others*, as long as we draw breath.




*from Pat Schneider, “Writing Alone and With Others,” Oxford University Press, 2003.
**paraphrased from Tess Slesinger’s short story, “A Life in the Day of a Writer,” included in “On Being Told That Her Second Husband Has Just Taken His First Lover and Other Stories,” Quadrangle Books, 1971.

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And so the angel comes

But she looks like she just woke up from a nap,
her bright red hair all frizzy, almost electric,
and her wings are short, stubby things
that don’t look capable of flight
or whatever it is angels do with wings.

And she’s frankly a little grumpy, as you might be
if you were making surprise appearances at midnight
before mere mortals who, frankly, do not believe
that you are who you clearly are, a heavenly being
who flits around like sparkling dust motes, dealing

with the woes of world. Angeling is clearly hard work,
and if she didn’t get that nap, or had it cut short,
that might be why she also looks perplexed,
like a dog with one ear cocked, eyes half open,
as if she needs more rest, not unlike you.

And when you try to hail her, she clutches her harp
of gold and looks through you, as if you’re not there,
but you want to show her that you are not the
average clueless human, so you say, Are you
my angel? and she blinks sleepily, her little wings

bobbing like maybe they’re agreeing,
so you add, angel we have heard on high?
She blinks a bit more; you try another tack:
Do you have a message for me, hark,
the herald angel? And again, nothing, nada,

which makes you wonder if you’ve got
the right language, but what language would an
angel speak? Wouldn’t she know all of them,
heavenly being that she is? You ask, Does the world
in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angel sing?

And that unlocks a smile that becalms the world
this clear night, and her little mouth O’s into melody,
and her wings hum, peace on the earth, good will to men,
as notes alchemize into angelic light, leaving behind
something that swells inside you, glorious song,

something you later identify as pure joy.

—Jan Haag, Christmas 2018


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Annie goes to two plays


Aaron Kitchin as Arthur de Bourgh and Elyse Sharp as Mary Bennet in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” at Capital Stage in Sacramento (photo by Charr Crail)

Maybe you have to be an English literature geek. It probably also helps if you’re female, and you fell in love with Jane Austen at a tender age. 

I hate to say this (as both the English lit geek and a former girl), but I did not love Jane Austen the first time I set eyes on “Pride & Prejudice.” I think I took my first dive into P&P when I was somewhere between the sixth and eighth grade. And though I was an advanced reader for my age, (I shudder to admit this) I was not impressed by Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist. I know why, too: the language. It was ponderous and so, so… antiquated, which makes sense for being written in the early 1800s. But to me it made this much-praised book nearly impossible to understand. I completely missed the irony and playfulness of that wonderful first line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

I was most definitely not impressed with (it seemed to me) the pompous Mr. Darcy, who refused to dance with Elizabeth Bennet because she wasn’t pretty enough, though Elizabeth herself jokes with her friends about this. Poo on Mr. Darcy! I thought.

Then Elizabeth meets George Wickham, who tells her that Mr. Darcy has deprived Mr. Wickham of the chance to be a clergyman and earn a living. Again, poo on Mr. Darcy! (Ah, don’t be so quick to judge, young reader. It turns out that Mr. Wickham is not what he seems at first to Miss Bennet, who revises her opinion of both men.)

I’m pretty sure after that I got lost in the language and the characters, and I gave up, resting comfortably in my anti-Darcy position. Where, I’m embarrassed to admit, I stayed well into my 20s, vowing to never again pick up what I thought of as “that miserable book.” Had I kept reading and perhaps asked an older person to help me with some of the challenging concepts in the book, I might have learned much sooner that through future interactions, Darcy and Elizabeth eventually recognize their faults and work to correct them (spoiler alert!), even falling in love and marrying.

In my 30s, I met my BFF Georgann (Taylor) Turner who proudly declared that she reread all of Jane Austen’s novels every summer and as much of Charles Dickens as possible in winter. I never told her this, but her influence meant the beginning of my real affection for Miss Austen (though, I’m sorry to say, I never developed a similar taste for Mr. Dickens’ novels). I’m not a full-fledged Jane-ite, as her biggest fans call themselves, but I’m a devoted reader who happily read Deborah Yaffe’s wonderful book of nonfiction, “Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom,” which I highly recommend if you’re any kind of Austen fan.


Neiry Rojo as Cassie and August Browning as Brian in the Marin Theatre Company production of “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley”

All that is to say that when my buddy Nikki Cardoza and I heard about two delightful Jane Austen-based plays by the wonderful young San Francisco playwright Lauren Gunderson, we had to see them. Nikki and I discovered Gunderson when we each trekked up to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, this year. They were putting on Gunderson’s stunning play, “The Book of Will,” a fictional imagining of Shakespeare’s friends publishing the First Folio of his plays after his death. Since I, too, have been diving into a small publishing enterprise over the past year or so, I was an instant fan of “The Book of Will,” which had me in tears at the ending.

Nikki and I talked after her visit to Ashland, and we agreed: We had to see more Lauren Gunderson plays. It turns out that she is the playwright in residence at the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. And best of luck! MTC was playing Gunderson’s newest Christmas play written with Margot Melcon, “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley,” a story of what happens after “Pride and Prejudice.” (Pemberley, by the way, is the name of Mr. Darcy’s estate.)


Annie and Nikki go to see “The Wickhams”

Well. You may recall that Nikki is the mother of Annie, who has cerebral palsy. You may also recall that I accompanied Nikki when she went to China in the summer of 2016 to adopt Annie and bring her home. (There’s a whole series of blog posts and photos from that trip in reverse chronological order here.) Annie, who is now 9, had never been to live theater before, but since she comes with her own chair and doesn’t speak, we figured she’d be an ideal theatre-goer. Plus she loves movies and music, and though this play wasn’t a musical, we knew there might be music. (There was, it turned out.)

So the three of us made for Mill Valley a couple of days after Thanksgiving to see “The Wickhams,” and we had a terrific time. Nikki had to remind me of a few important plot and character points (gonna have to brush up on my Austen). But there we were: front row seats, looking up into the stage lights, mere feet away from the actors. Annie sat in her chair, rapt, smiling her big smile. We all loved it.


Annie and Aunt Jan

In fact, we loved it so much that when we learned that Gunderson and Melcon’s other Pemberley play (“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley”) was in Sacramento at Capital Stage, we had to see that, too. If “The Wickhams” portrays life at Pemberley downstairs, “Miss Bennet” gives us a glimpse of upstairs Pemberley life. Mr. Darcy and his beloved Lizzie are married and deeply in love. It’s the people and family members around them in turmoil. So Annie got to see two plays using P&P characters a couple of weeks apart, and if that doesn’t constitute a fine introduction to both live theater and Jane Austen, I am not Aunt Jan. (And I am.)

And bonus: Nikki and I are thrilled to make the (theatrical) acquaintance of the amazing Lauren Gunderson. She’s only 36 years old, and in 2017 hers were the most produced plays in the United States. We can’t wait to see more of her work… along with Annie, now a bonafide fan of live theater and Jane Austen’s characters… even (or maybe especially) Mr. Darcy.

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Annie, who loves live theater!



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The music man

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Kevin Just conducts the Granite Oaks Middle School orchestra.

I have the great good fortune to be the proud aunt to the most amazing niece and nephew. And I’m not at all biased. I would’ve loved them had they chosen to pursue careers in, say, architecture or business, but both Lauren and Kevin Just decided to become teachers, like their father, who has taught high school art for almost 30 years.

Lauren teaches eighth grade at a Rocklin charter school, and, after a few years teaching elementary school music, Kevin has just begun to teach band, orchestra, choir and guitar at Granite Oaks Middle School in Rocklin. My family all loves this because (a) we’re a pretty musical family (Kevin and Lauren’s parents met in the Sierra College symphonic band), and (b) Kevin and Lauren attended Granite Oaks (or GO, as it’s stenciled on the backs of their folding chairs). Lauren went the first year it opened, in 1999 (way back in the previous century). Kevin followed a couple of years later.

There, they both participated in music—Lauren in choir, Kevin in band—with Mrs. Dick, whose husband, Mr. Dick, ran the Rocklin High band program. David and Mary Dick, it turned out, had a lot to do with making Kev into a genuine music man, the leader of the band. They began mentoring him, it seems, from the moment they met him. And when Mary retired from her job at Granite Oaks this past June, it didn’t take long for Kev to succeed her.

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Mary and David Dick surrounding their mentee, Kevin Just

It seems like just yesterday that Kevin was playing a trombone nearly as big as he was in Mrs. Dick’s band before graduating to Mr. Dick’s band at the high school. And then he went to college at Sac State, majoring in music where he was mentored by band director Clay Redfield (who also played in the Sierra College band) and where Kev fell in love with Clay’s oldest daughter Ashley. They’re getting married next summer.

So it was that my very musical mother (Kevin’s grandmother, a 54-year Sweet Adeline barbershop singer) and Lauren and I settled into those GO folding chairs in the multi-purpose room Thursday evening to watch our music man lead the seventh grade choir and the orchestra in his first winter concert at the front of the stage. Mr. and Mrs. Dick were there, too.

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Lauren and Kevin Just with their grandmother, Darlene Haag

We (amid a sizable audience) watched Kev conduct his choir through a diverse program of songs from Mozart to “Jingle Bell Rock” to “The Sound of Silence,” and then lead the orchestra through “Simple Gifts” and “Carol of the Bells,” among others. I leaned over to my mom and whispered, “And we changed his diapers,” as she grinned.

The best part, though, was after the concert was over and Mom, Lauren and I joined Kevin behind the curtain onstage. There he was talking to Mary and David Dick, who looked to be as proud of him as we were.

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The 7th grade Granite Oaks Middle School Choir directed by Kevin Just.

Just before we said goodbye onstage, one of Kev’s violinists and her younger sister came up to Kev to introduce them. “My sister wants to be in the band,” the older sister said. “She wants to play clarinet.”

“How old are you?” Kev asked the little girl, who was staring up at him with big eyes.

“I’m in fourth grade,” she said.

“That’s a good time to start,” Kevin told her smiling. “Then in three years you can be in this band.”

The girls’ mother and father stood nearby, and walked up to the little trio. “I want to thank you,” the mother said. “She is growing so much from the music and from what you’re doing.”

As Kevin thanked her, Lauren, my mom and I stood nearby, listening, not saying anything. I thought of my sister and brother-in-law, who were called suddenly out of town but who usually never miss a concert. Our pride must’ve shown all over our faces. I resisted the urge to say, “That’s my nephew. I changed his diapers.” As if I had much to do with this young man’s success or fabulousness, for that matter, or that of his sister.

But I have to say that as much as I enjoyed them when they were little (oh, the fun we had!), it’s been even more fun to watch these kids turn into amazing grownups now in their late 20s and early 30s, coaching and cajoling, teaching and mentoring others as they were taught and mentored. They both run tight ships—nobody puts anything over on Mr. Just or Ms. Just. But they clearly love their students and have landed in careers that suit them down to the ground.

And we old folks who knew them when they were pups, we watched our young music man lead his crew though songs, classic and pop, that will stay with them for years to come. Who knows? Kevin’s one-day successor may be among those students, some unassuming kid learning his or her instrument or singing alto, learning to love music because of a very good teacher.

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Lauren, Jan, Kevin and Darlene (aka Grandma)

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There is, too, good news in the world


Image credit: VectorStock.com

We’re all looking for good news stories these days, the kind with happy endings. As a journalism teacher and former journalist, I love these stories that show the kindness of strangers, often in our own neighborhoods, but we don’t always get to hear about them.

This one started a couple of days ago with a post on the East Sacramento Nextdoor neighborhood website and unfolded just as you see it here.  (I have lightly edited the following posts only for privacy reasons, but left them as they originally appeared):

Dec. 4:
My friends daughter has been hearing a cat crying for 3-4 days. She finally figured out it was up in a tree. It’s about 10 feet higher than the roof of her two story apartment building. She called the fire dept and can’t find anyone to help. It’s at xxxx Riverside blvd sac xxxxx apt xxx. Go to the door and someone will show you where the cat is. The kid’s name is B. that lives there. His number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. Does anyone own a truck with a boom or know a tree trimmer that can help? Please let me know if you can help. xxx-xxx-xxxx. Thank you.

Linda, Woodlake:
Oh I just get a pit in my stomach about the troubles cats often find themselves in….are there folks who really care for cats that can network together in the attempts needed to go forward???

Patti, River Park:
That’s what you r hoping for. This poor baby is probably scared to death. It’s been crying for days.

Inna, River Park:
Have you tried contacting councilman xx’s office? He /his staff should at least know whom to call or if it is the fire department they may have more luck getting them to come out.

Karen, East Sac:
Maybe call SMUD, PG&E, Comcast. Maybe they could help if they have someone in the neighborhood.

Patti, River Park:
I’m sure (the councilman’s) office won’t answer. I’ll try PG&E and SMUD.

Gabriel, East Sac:
The local FD didn’t help? In addition to the above recommendations (SMUD, Comcast, etc.), try calling an arborist.

Local FD said no.

Nadia, Campus Commons:
If you could get a carpet or fabric covered board or ladder from the roof to one of the branches (like described at the website someone shared above) the kitty will likely get down on its own. Food and water will be a good lure. Poor baby.

Patricia, East Sac:
I would also have people you know with a Face Book Page Post this on their page to increase the chances of finding a construction guy with a lift to help!! I have a friend who lives in McKinley Park who owns a window washing company and maybe he has something to get up there! I’ll let you know in the morning! Poor little kitty! 😻😻😘😘

Maggie, Sierra Oaks West:
It’s gonna start raining also tomorrow I believe.

Patricia, East Sac:
Like the ladies above suggested, I would also call several Arborists ASAP! We’ve got to get that baby out of the tree before the rain starts!!

Joseph, East Sac:
Throw a rock or shoot a gun in the air…it’ll come down and it’ll be fine. Not even joking, I’m reading all of the other suggestions and they don’t seem to be working too well.

Patricia, East Sac:
Joseph, after a cat has been stuck in a tree for more than 2 days they become dehydrated and weak so even if you throw a rock or shot a gun off they usually won’t come down if they don’t have the strength to do so

Dec. 5:

Marsha, Elmhurst:
In 2003, Dan Kraus started this website www2.catinatreerescue.com. If you need help rescuing your cat, there is a directory of climbers with locations around the world, committed to rescuing cats stuck in trees (See the Directory). Kraus has built this directory to extend the emergency arboreal feline rescue service he offers to cat owners around the world.

Tammy, Campus Commons:
In the link provided by Marsha, it looks like there is someone in Granite Bay who might be able to help.

Beth, East Sac:
there are lots of stories online about cats in Sacramento stuck in trees being rescued by tree trimming companies or arborists. Along with Ken Speck on the website mentioned above, if someone can google some local companies and call them first thing in the morning that’d be good. One company, xxx xxxx xxxxx, has helped before so they’re worth a call at xxx-xxx-xxxx. They open at 8am if someone can call.

Kathy, East Sac:
One of the news stations has a “Call for Action” service. Maybe make them one of your calls. Our taxes just don’t go as far as they used to as when you COULD call the firehouse or the city (they have tree trimming equipment) for help.

Val, East Sac:
I’ll see if my husband can come over. He is a rock climber with a tall ladder.

Emily, River Park:
PG&E only serves gas in Sacramento. They won’t have any locally available boom trucks and they wouldn’t be able to assist anyway.

Patti, River Park:
Ken Speck is supposed to be there around noonish to help. Thanx to Patricia! ❤❤❤

Patricia, East Sac:
Val-has your husband headed over yet? Call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx. Patti is working today so I’m intervening for her! I called Ken Speck at Granite Bay cat rescue and he’s on a job right now but is coming out this afternoon or tonight. I told him the kitty has been there for 3-4 days now, is most likely dehydrated, malnourished and very weak, plus we have the rain coming so please ♥️hurry, and he said he’ll be out as FAST as he can! He was a very sincere and kind hearted man!! 😻😻😻😻😻😻😻😻💕💕💕😻😻😻😻😻

Patricia, East Sac:
Next thing I need to do is arrange for immediate medical care once we get the kitty down bcz he will most likely need to have IV’s put on him ASAP to rehydrate him and the proper food. I read a lot of research last night and it said when kitties are stuck in trees for this long, even if you rescue them, they can most likely die because of the starvation and dehydration they experienced over the period of time while they were stuck. We need PRAYERS 😇people, lots of prayer ❤️for this little 😻guy!! I’ll keep you posted

Danielle, Arden West:
Omg, that cat must be thirsty, starving, and freezing! Call 311, they might be able to point you in the right direction.

Cindy, East Sac:
Was the kitty rescued?

Patti, River Park:
Kitty has not been rescued yet. Patricia is taking the lead on this because I have some appts with a couple elderly folks that I look after. Danielle, Pateicia already said that she’ll be taking kitty to the vet. I’m so thankful for Patricia. Yes Linda, let’s hope this dilemma will turn into a blessing. Prayers up!

Anne, East Sac:
Please keep us posted, I’m following the story.

Patricia, East Sac:
💥💥UPDATE💥💥12:34 pm Tue 12/4/18 Hello neighbors😍 I will be meeting Ken Speck at the rescue site and have made appt to immediately take kitty to the vet once it’s in my arms, to get proper hydration, nourishment, and ♥️care! Apparently they don’t know who the cat belongs to or if he even has an owner. I would like to ask for any donation$ towards the vet costs. If we all pitch in we can cover the cost together and it would be greatly appreciated!! 💥💥Please PM/PRIVATE MESSAGE me and let me know the donation amount you can give and together this kitty will have good care and more love ❤️ than he ever did before he climbed that stinking tree!

Patti, River Park:
Patricia, you are amazing!!! Thank you so much!! I will connect with you for my part of the donation. I really appreciate all your efforts. ❤❤❤

Val, East Sacramento
Husband said he stopped by and couldn’t hear a cat, maybe it got rescued?
Edit: never mind he found her.

UPDATE!!! CAT IS DOWN. THANX TO VAL’S HUSBAND!!!———-Cat stuck in tree for 3-4 days.

Patti, River Park:
Val, tell your husband that he is my hero! If you ever need anything, please dont hesitate to ask. I love you, your husband, and our whole Nextdoor community! ❤❤❤❤❤

Cathy, Woodlake:
Yayyy. Great end of story.

Michelle, East Sac:
But did he get her down?

Patti, River Park:
Yes, cat is down. Patricia is taking it to the vet. Hope we can all chip in to help with expenses. Again, thank you to Val’s husband for getting the kitty down and to Patricia for everything she has done including taking kitty to the vet. Nextdoor rocks!!!

Val, East Sac:
I will pass the messages along to Phil the Cat Rescuer. 🐱🐱🐱

Patricia, East Sac:
💥💥💥Phil is a kitty HERO!!💥💥💥😻♥

Keith, East Sac:
That’s awesome. Glad it had a happy ending!

Patricia, East Sac:
I’m taking the kitty to my vet tomorrow for a check up/exam and to check for a micro chip. My hopes is she has one and we can mend someone’s broken heart bcz their kitty got lost-it would be the BEST ending to this story! Please PM/Private message me to let me know if you would like to donate funds and what the best way for you is to do it bcz we all have such busy schedules. For example one lady is meeting me to drop off her donation. I’m collecting bedding and kitchen/home goods for St. John’s Homeless Shelter this week so I’m out & about all day doing pick Ups, I can also swing by your place on my route we just need to coordinate a day & time!










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What became ash

Allen Young-The Daily Beast-camp-fire

Photo/Allen Young, The Daily Beast

For Alma, who escaped the Camp Fire with her life but not her home

Porches, steps and all, except some concrete ones
left blackened, broken off like old teeth,
not to mention flower pots and the last gasp
of roses settling in for winter, garden hoses
crinkled like charred snakes on what used to be lawn,
doorframes and windowframes,
front doors painted in a particular shade,
windows blasted into shards,
easy chairs, TVs, refrigerators and the art
magneted on them made by childrengrandchildren
their toy firetrucks and dolls incinerated, their
bike frames and swingsets rendered skeletal.

How many photographs, cherished memories,
diplomas, licenses, bills, tax documents,
check stubs, notebooks, journals, novels, poems,
screenplays, love letters lie in the cinders?

How many toothbrushes and dentures, housecoats
and sport coats, bridal gowns and work boots,
bathing suits and raincoats, baseball caps and
wool scarves?

An open-mouthed deer with fire-puckered skin
pressed into the ash, along with uncountable
burrowing creatures, rabbits that could not hop
fast enough, birds, singed, then downed,
not to mention those with eyelashes and lips,
crying their last, consumed by what they could
see coming at them.

Paradise, Magalia, Nimshew, North Pines,
Morgan Ridge, Concow, Yankee Hill, Coutelenc,
South Pines, Mesilla Valley, Fir Haven, Berry Creek.

Under it all:
bones and bones and bones and bones.

And finally, after the flames did their job
consuming everything in their path—
the 83 counted and the still-uncountable souls
of the formerly two-legged and four-legged,
the winged and those that crawled and slithered—
the much-prayed for rain arrived, the day before the day
of gratitude, quenching the last of the hot spots,
muddying the ravaged earth, further entombing
the dead, clearing the air for hundreds of miles.

Those of us left downwind took deep gulps,
raised our faces to the blesséd drops, grateful
to no longer inhale the particulate of people,
their towns, their possessions, their lives,
those we may not have known but whose
molecules circulate in our bloodstreams,
who lie embedded in us.

They are ours now, we who breathe under
fresh, blue skies.


Alma Varesio Herrera, the mother of my friend Rose Varesio, lost her house in Paradise to the Camp Fire. While they regroup at Rose’s house in Sacramento, a fund has been set up to help Alma to start again. Thanks to the many who have already donated. If you’re interested, you can contribute to Alma’s fund—and see a nice photo of her—here:

black-bear-diner-paradise-Justin Sullivan-Getty Images

Photo/Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

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On the air


Now and again this old print journalist steps into radioland and puts her voice out on the airwaves. I did that very thing this morning when the smoke from a still-uncontrolled fire that has taken most of the town of Paradise clouded our Sacramento skies. Two universities canceled classes because of the foul air (my college did not, and big props to the students who came to my classes anyway; quite a few opted not to).

But I had the lovely experience of being interviewed by Randol White on the “Insight” program this morning about Marie Reynolds’ book of poetry, “Seaworthy.” Randol, who read the book the night before the interview (how many times have I done that very thing?) had good questions and was an engaging presence in the studio. And I got to talk about my friend, the poet, who felt very present with me as I read the title poem into the big mic.

Here’s the link to that interview: http://www.capradio.org/news/insight/2018/11/13/the-journey-behind-publishing-marie-reynolds-book-of-poetry-seaworthy/

Or you can click here and land on it, too.

Me, I’ll listen to myself in a couple of days. While I’m fine talking on the air, listening to my recorded voice is always jarring to us humans. As I told my students in class today, we can’t hear how we sound to others; it’s quite different with our voices rattling around in the echo chamber of our heads. And when we do hear how we sound, it’s always a bit of a shock.

I well remember the student who ran the Sac State radio station when I was the editor of the State Hornet newspaper advising me (who appeared occasionally to talk about campus news) that I “didn’t have a voice for radio.” I took that to heart, but really, I didn’t mind: I was always headed in the direction of print journalism. You got to write more for newspapers and magazines, and, as you can tell, I’m all about the writing.

Still, I think I did Marie proud in advance of the debut of “Seaworthy” this weekend, Saturday, Nov. 17. River Rock Books co-publisher Katie McCleary and I will host the reading/tribute along with Marie’s partner Rose Varesio. It will begin at 1 p.m. at the 916 Ink Imaginarium, 3301 37th Ave, Sacramento, CA 95824 (off Franklin Boulevard between 36th and 37th avenues; parking on both 36th and 37th avenues). Free admission and good snacks. If you’re in the area and available, join us.

Here’s the book’s title poem, the one I read on the air:

for Meredith

           “Some nights,
           dreaming, I step again into the small boat
            that carried us out and watch the bank receding—“
                        —Natasha Trethewey, “Elegy”

My daughter calls to offer me some
sweet words of support. I tell her the days are okay but nights
I wake in fear, practice deep breathing until dreaming
rises like sea water and I sleep. In our first house I
notched proof of her life—a tiny gouge, a pencil line, dates in stair-step
fashion. And in the basement, which I visit again
in dreams, her father builds the boat we climbed into
together. The polished mahogany gunwale, the
lapstrake planks painted white—a small
endeavor, just eight feet from stern to bow—the boat
he finished on a brisk spring day, that
we lifted, carried
across the grassy dunes. Three of us,
bearing all that weight, leaving traces in our wake. We sailed out
further than I ever imagined and
turned to look back, gauge the distance, watch
the changing sky. I tell her I do not think we are alone in this world though the
shore is all we know, the line of cottonwood trees, the sloping bank
quickly receding.

(from “Seaworthy,” by Marie Reynolds © 2018, River Rock Books)

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