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! (And 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, never again picking 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 Pemberly”) 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:

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 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:

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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CA sycamore-Deborah Small

California sycamore/plantanus racemosa, San Diego, from Deborah Small’s Ethnobotany Blog

What the dead don’t know
piles up like crusty sycamore leaves
falling from the enormous tree in the backyard,
nearly a century old now, just a sapling
when Aunt Estelle told the men from the city
to plant the youngster in the backyard—
she didn’t want a big tree in front.
And wouldn’t she be surprised to see
its grand form now, shading her house
and half the yard next door?

Or would she have had her husband George
dig the hole for the new tree back in the ’20s?
Would she have steadied its young trunk
as he shoveled dirt around it? Would they
have taken turns watering it, long before
sprinklers dotted the yard?

Estelle wasn’t my aunt, though she earned
the title by baking cookies for the next-door
neighbor girls, one of whom, now in her 60s,
still lives there. Years after Estelle died and
my husband and I moved in, the girls’ mother,
Becky, cautioned me to care for Estelle’s roses
along the back fence. When the old bushes
gave up the ghost several years later, I worried
about a disappointed Estelle glaring at me from,
I presumed, her heavenly perch. But Becky
assured me that rose bushes, too, have lifetimes,
and Estelle’s had had good long ones.

It helped, somehow.

Now and then I think about all that Estelle
and George have missed since they’ve been gone.
Becky and my husband, too.

On the last warm days of fall, I roll out my yoga mat
under the big sycamore, and, lying in corpse
pose, close my eyes, commune with the spirits.
Like a good reporter, I silently telegraph them
the latest news—as if they don’t know,
as if they’re not standing by, guardians hovering
in the branches, guiding those brittle leaves
to a soft lawn landing, keeping watch over us all
by night.

(In memory of George and Estelle Young, Becky and Bill Christophel, and Clifford Polland, once upon a time all of Santa Ynez Way, Sacramento)

(Thanks to the great New Yorker writer Roger Angell for the first seven words of this poem, which I borrowed with great respect, as an admirer of his incredible skill and that of his mother and stepfather, Katharine Sargeant Angell White and E.B. White. I am indebted to you all.)

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So after I posted a new poem today, I got this from my ace supporter/partner/arbiter of taste:

Not Güd

I did a little quick online research, and apparently WordPress has attached ads to some website/blog posts since 2006. But Dick (aka, arbiter of taste) thinks they’ve only appeared recently on mine. I didn’t realize this when I went to teach my mass media class today and decided to throw my blog up on the big screen to encourage my students to start their own (since only a few had them), and…

Whammo! Ugly ads at the end of the post, like the ones above. Another with disturbing drawings of sagging bellies advertising some kind of weight loss product. (This was only happening if a reader opened the actual blog post, not when the post was viewed from an email.)

“Yipe!” I said, startling a couple of students in the front row. “Ads!”

“You don’t see ads online much?” one of them teased.

“Not on my blog, no,” I said. “That’s gotta stop.”

After class, I went back to my office, opened my email and found the image above from Dick. I sighed. Wrote back. Said I thought if I paid WordPress a fee, the ads would disappear, and I would check into that. I got this message in return:

I will pay their fee.
I will sponsor you.
Your Güd writing should not be cheapened with ads.
—Your Boyfriend

And this is just one reason this man—despite being in pain for more than a month, now healing nicely and driving himself around again—is my major champion. I write a tender poem about my late husband, post it, and this is how he responds—with great lovingkindness.

So, without hesitation, I checked it out on WordPress, learned that I could have ads that made money for me, still didn’t want them, and ponied up a fee, which was not unreasonable, for two whole ad-free years. Later, as I sat in his living room, I asked Dick to check out my blog/website on his computer in his home office.

“Clear!” he hollered back at me.

So my apologies if you’ve had to look at these dumb ads on my posts for a while now. We have Dick Schmidt to thank for pointing out the ugly ads, which are now gone, and for making me look, as he so often does, Güd.

Thank you, Dickie.

Dickie dean redo

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Kintsugi heart


kintsugi heart-Oliver O'Dwyer

Kintsugi heart by Oliver O’Dwyer

Kintsugi: “to join with gold,” the Japanese practice in which broken or damaged pottery
is reassembled and glued back together with gold-powdered lacquer

When they opened your chest,
when a masked surgeon held your stilled heart,
as the team peered into the cavity of you,
could they see the cracks in that huge organ?

And when they cut it open,
how evident were the broken parts?

The aortic valve with its malformed flap,
the final doorway to the body’s main artery,
and the wimpy mitral valve failing to admit
enough oxygen-rich blood into the left ventricle?

In my dreams, when you come,
I ask you, and you peel back the curtain
of your chest to reveal the cage of ribs
sheltering your great heart,

and there it is, loud as tympani,
throbbing strong and sure, trembling with
each downbeat. And as I peer closely,
I see the trail of lacquered gold scars

descending, circling, criss-crossing,
a portrait of your heartbreak, your pain,
the golden joinery making your
broken heart beautiful,

the abiding music of lub-dub, lub dub
(the lub of your mitral valve closing,
the dub of your aortic valve closing),
your expanding and contracting heart doing its job,

echoing your immortal smile.

(for Clifford Polland on the 34th anniversary
of the installation of his artificial aortic valve)

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Happily ever after

Marci and her dad

Marci Selva and her father before the wedding. (Photo/Jan Haag)

There has been so much difficulty in the greater world this past week, not to mention what’s happening to our own little boats bobbing around on turbulent seas. So many of us have had a tough time between fresh losses or reliving old traumas or coping with current difficulties. So it was a bit of a relief to drive north on I-5 two afternoons in a row, out to the wilds of Yolo County where two friends of mine were getting married.

I was invited to read a poem at the wedding of Marci Selva and Matt Quinton. When Marci asked me to do this many months ago, I asked, “Is there a particular poem you’d like me to read?”

“No,” she said. “You can choose one you like. Or,” she paused, “you could write one.” She grinned at me.

Marci, who writes with me when she can in the writing group I host on weekends, knows that dangling a prompt in front of me like that is one I can’t resist. And, I have to admit, I enjoy an assignment for an “occasional” poem—that is, one written for a specific occasion.

Marci by Michelle

Marci Selva (by her sister Michelle Selva Bondietti)

But I’d never been asked to write a wedding poem before—an epithalamium, if you want the poetic term. And, it turns out, it was my second epithalamium of the summer, since I wrote another wedding poem for my niece Lauren Just’s wedding to Gerald Giel. Both had fruit in them, which was a surprise to me—cherries for Lauren and Gerald’s June wedding, and wine grapes for Marci and Matt’s end-of-September wedding. (Much appreciation to my wine consultants/buddies, a fine married couple themselves, Deborah Meltvedt and Rick Kushman, who know from grapes.)

Driving out to Zamora in Yolo County—specifically to the Matchbook Wine Compay, the site of the wedding—for both the rehearsal and the wedding turned out to be just what my tired soul needed. As the signs of civilization receded, once off the highway, and the sight of vast, rolling golden hills came into view, I felt my shoulders relax. The muscles in my face seemed less tense, too. The greater troubles and sorrows of the world I’d been carrying evaporated around two people who’d found each other a bit later in life and were coming together to make a family—Marci, Matt and his two children.

This sweet respite—such a blesséd moment of kindness and love and care—seeped into me and, it seemed, everyone I spoke with at the wedding. It was my great honor and privilege to write and deliver this poem to the bride and groom and their loved ones:


(an epithalamium—wedding poem—for Marci and Matt)

The fruit on the vines is ripening fast;
we find it hard to resist.
We meander into the cornucopia of rows
strung with fragrant pearls of wine to come,
as something in the sweet section
of our brains lights up,
and with no conscious thought,
hand meets grape, grape meets mouth,
bringing all that anticipated pleasure
into our lives.

On these Indian summer days we have
been known to follow open-topped trucks
down the highway, smiling at clusters,
still worshipping the sun, piled high
in the hoppers. We case wineries
to revel in the smell of the crush,
swoon at deepest reds marbling in vats.
We sip and dream of what’s to come.

This is fall ripening, harvest time.
Sugars concentrate; cabernet
and merlot linger longer on the vines,
take their time, become sweeter
every day.

And when the harvest comes,
we are awash in richness.
Look at that, all this plenitude reminds us.
Life really does go on, the reliable cycle
of living things poking through dirt,
winding their way into vines that sprout
fruit that we now savor and drink.

This is us making a life together,
the occasion of love harvested,
solidified in ceremony, another
sweet reminder of blessings
we’d almost forgotten.

Marci rdg vows

Marci reads her vows to Matt at their wedding. (Photo/Rose Carriaga)

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Drug runner


I have now lived six decades on this planet, through the tail end of the years when the evil weed was illegal and being so freaked out by the notion of smoking anything that I went the other direction if I so much as smelled something that seemed to me like marijuana (dirty socks?).

Growing up with parents who smoked for years turned out to be the best advertisement to stay away from cigarettes my sister and I could have had. We celebrated when, one after the other, they quit.

As a grownup, I am still a major square when it comes to alcohol for several reasons, not least that I never acquired the taste for it (nor coffee, for that matter), which makes me a real drag at parties… which is one reason I generally don’t go to them. I feel like an idiot standing around watching tipsy people get tipsier, and I’m not joining in the uproarious fun. Same thing about being around people using marijuana.

But a few days ago, on the advice of a friend, I went to a legal pot dispensary a few miles from my house and bought my first pot product: a 2-ounce jar of CBD pain cream. For $70. Because this, as the kids used to say, is the good shit.

Not for me, though I’m now a big fan of CBD cream, but for my sweetie, who has been hobbled with sciatica for a couple of weeks to the point his only comfortable position has been horizontal. Dick is a 75-year-old who typically has a great deal of get-up-and-go, as my father used to say, though Dick appreciates a good afternoon nap (who doesn’t?). And seeing him literally flattened by this new ailment has been scary and enlightening for us both. We have learned a lot. Quickly.

The good news, though: The CBD cream, smeared on his right leg, has been as effective for Dick as the big bad narcotic the doctor prescribed, which I have also retrieved a few times now from the pharmacy of a major HMO, making me, I suppose, a double drug runner.

This is not generally how I see myself.

Dick was a bit wary at first of what he keeps calling the CDB. He, too, is a teetotaler out of habit more than anything else. “It’s not gonna get me high, is it?” he wanted to know.

This was funny to me because the big bad pain drug was making him more than a little loopy, though he couldn’t see that.

“By smearing it on your skin?” I said, unable to imagine how that might be possible, remembering people taking long tokes of joints so tiny I couldn’t fathom how they didn’t burn their fingers… even with a roach clip. “No, it’s not supposed to.” And it hasn’t.

A couple friends who regularly smoke pot were surprised to hear that Dick wouldn’t consider just lighting up, “the old-fashioned way,” one of them said. “It’s really effective for pain.”

And while I knew that to be true, I assured her that wasn’t gonna happen. People who like to indulge can and should smoke pot or ingest it any way that they want. But Dick and I have no idea how to get high or smoke anything, and we don’t want to learn now if we don’t have to.

Turns out, we don’t have to. To my experienced friend (who, my old-fashioned self says I shouldn’t identify, even though it’s now legal to smoke and inhale) who suggested the CBD cream, I am most grateful, not least because she sent me to a dispensary that, she assured me, was clean and friendly and whose name is Hugs.

I loved that even before I walked in—a place to buy weed with such a welcoming name. Sure, there’s an armed guard when you walk in, and you have to turn over your ID and sign a release before they let you in the store part, but once inside, it was bright and clean, as described, and the young woman behind the counter was most friendly.

I purchased the medium-strength cream, also recommended, and walked out with receipt (cash only!) attached to a clean white bag with no identifying marks. I got in the car smiling and took it to Dick. He had me slather on the first swipes, and its menthol-y smell tingled our nostrils as well as his skin.

“How’s it feel?” I asked as he laid on his good side, me rubbing in the cream.

He smiled. “It tingles.” Bigger smile. “In a good way.”

And in a few minutes Dick’s discomfort was significantly minimized. We both sighed with relief. The CBD cream plus acupuncture plus bodywork from a personal trainer in El Dorado Hills plus regular distant healing treatments by my mom, the holistic nurse—all of it is helping. And we are hugely grateful.

I’ve been through this before, watching significant others in pain, in health crises, and it’s no fun for anyone. I usually feel useless. But in this case, with suggestions for treatments and practitioners from others, we have spent two weeks trying a smorgasbord of options: the western medical drugs and the kind general practitioner at the HMO as well as the alternative pain treatments, including marijuana products. I’m ready to have Dick try the CBD tincture next, the kind without the high-inducing THC, and he’s willing, good sport that he is.

That will mean another trip to Hugs, where I may have to restrain myself from praising their products to the heavens and actually reaching out to an employee for a hug. I don’t think they have those on the menu, though they probably should for grateful people like me.

And when he’s really up and moving around well again, I’m taking Dick there to look around. You never know what might catch his eye.

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