Happy New Year.

I’m back to wish you happy holidays.

It’s December in California, and rain patters on my roof. Outside my office window, the Meyer lemon tree, planted seven years ago, is finally bearing fruit. As soon as the rain stops, I’ll harvest my crop.

I’m on break between semesters. Yes, I’m still in school and plan to stay in the Creative Writing Program for at least another year – maybe more. I always liked going to college, at least the idea of it. I get a surge of energy every time I step on campus. I feel like all the other students —somewhere between 18 and 35. Then I’m shocked by the face in the mirror. Sometimes, I think I’m the oldest person at SFSU.

On the publishing front — my work appeared in print twice in 2019. You’ll find my poem, “The Next Day,” in the Driftwood Press, Issue 7.1. You can order the magazine on Amazon or from www.driftwoodpress.net.

My story, “What Are the Odds?,” is included in the anthology, She’s Got This!: Standing Strong and Moving On. Our book received three awards:

 – Top 5 Finalist in Kindle Books 2019 non-fiction category

 – 2019 Best Book Awards Finalist in the American Book Fest’s Anthology category 

 – 2019 San Francisco Book Festival Award Winner in the Compilations/Anthologies category. Order it on Amazon or through your local independent bookseller.

I had a big birthday this year. The night before my big day, my parents appeared to me in a dream, waiting for the celebration. The next day, my brother and sister and their significant others jumped in front of me as I was entering the de Young Museum in San Francisco, and yelled, “Happy Birthday.” I was blown-away surprised. They had flown across the country to remind me, as much as I try to hide it, that I’m their older sister. My siblings are the perfect surrogates for my parents, only better. If you find a Freudian message here, let me know.

photo by Rachel Heydemann
Framing the Golden Gate Bridge
Jay and Lynn (from New Haven), Rosy and Jack (from El Paso), Harriet and Gary

A few days after my birthday, Gary and I flew to Spain. In ten whirlwind days, we toured five cities. One of my professors often asks us for a single word or phrase to express what’s going on with a piece. Here goes for the five cities, in no particular order: Granada -The Alhambra, Toledo – the old synagogue, Cordoba – Feria de Mayo, Madrid – late-night tapas bars,  Barcelona – Gaudi and the old Jewish section. Yes, that’s more than one, but Barcelona was our favorite. And like I said —whirlwind.

On the rooftop of the Guell Palace, Barcelona. This is the only decent picture of the two of us. All the others are selfies.

We returned from Spain, unpacked and repacked for our annual drive to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We saw three plays in as many days. This year’s highlight was the premiere of “Mother Road” by Octavio Solis, a contemporary sequel to The Grapes of Wrath. It’s a powerful story about the injustices faced by the disenfranchised, especially those on the border struggling for their physical and spiritual survival.

I’m working on a story drawn from family history. Thanks to Gary and my genealogist brother-in-law, Jay Brotman, I found the 100-year-old investigative report on my grandfather conducted by the agency that became the FBI.

Dwarfed by history.
In front of the old U.S. Custom House in New York,
now home to the U.S. Archives

I hope your holidays are filled with joy and light. Sending warmest wishes for a fruitful 2020.

I’d love to hear what happened in your world, so keep in touch.

5 Truths from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

 

1423x593_showpg_CURIOUSlogo.jpg Gary and I saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time in New York two years ago. Now, this Tony awarding winning play is here in San Francisco. Go see it. You may see me in the audience. It’s worth seeing again. It’s that good.

During the first act, I shifted nervously in my seat. The play had scenes that were painfully familiar. The end of the first act was very disturbing for us. I’ll say no more so not to spoil it for you. At intermission, I looked at Gary. “Should we leave now?”We decided to stay. A lot can happen in the second act.

There were a lot of truths in the portrayal of Christopher, a teenage boy with autistic behaviors who tries to solve a murder mystery. Although my daughter, Ariela, did not have autism, we had a lot in common with the family in the play. Without giving too much away, here are just a few of the play’s insights.

  1. Teachers.One teacher can change a life. Christopher had one gifted teacher who encouraged his talents. Ariela had many teachers who misunderstood her, dismissed her or neglected her. In all of her years of school,  I can count on one hand the teachers who supported her, believed in her, and nourished her. They were the ones who wouldn’t stop until they could find a way for her to learn.
  2. Animals.Sometimes it’s easier to connect with a pet than with another person. Christopher had a pet mouse. Ariela connected with horses. Two therapeutic riding programs in our area wouldn’t take her. “She’s too medically fragile,” they said. But Joell Dunlap (another great teacher/trainer) at Square Peg Foundation accepted Ariela without condition. The horses came to know Ariela’s unique body. They gave her comfort, and she loved them for it.
  3. Fighting. Parents of children with disabilities have a lot to fight about. When there are no roadmaps, there are no right answers. Like Christopher’s parents, some of our biggest fights were about who did what and how much for our daughter. Those were hurtful battles. It took us years to begin to acknowledge that we both did the best we could do.
  4. Motivation.With great difficulty, Christopher navigated trains and subways. He desperately wanted to find his mother. Ariela had just started to use a new communication device, a complicated system that required patience and practice. She wanted to speak for herself, to be her own advocate. When her doctor told her she needed surgery, she used her communication device. “I’m afraid,” she said, looking up at the doctor. She wanted him to know that.
  5. Controls.We all have our own ways to control the overwhelming stimuli in our environment. Some meditate, some medicate, some move to the country. Ariela closed her eyes and put her head down. Christopher turned to mathematics. I believe the last time I studied the Pythagorean Theorem was in the ninth grade. In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, I saw its beauty through Christopher’s eyes. If I had seen this play in the ninth grade, I might have become a mathematician.

There’s a lot more packed into this two-hour production, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Go see it for yourself, and don’t leave at intermission. It gets better. After you’ve seen it, tell me what you think.

The Surprise at the Top of Yellowstone’s Iconic Waterfall

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“This is not a hike for climbers without experience at high altitudes,” the ranger warns us. Then, he adds, “It is the best view of Lower Falls.” Gary and I walk down a few yards to see the Upper Falls pound down on the Yellowstone River. We stand at the lookout mesmerized by its 109 feet of power. A few hikers coming up from Lower Falls stop on the trail. They struggle to breathe. One bends over clasping her hands on her knees. “Was it worth?” we ask when she raises her head. Their eyes open wide. “Oh yes.” They both nod and grin.

Gary and I look at each other. Sure, we live pretty close to sea level, and we’ve got a few years on anyone we see coming up the path. (We carry our Senior Lifetime Park Passes in our wallets.) But here we are. We can do this. Right? Continue reading