Monday, January 29, 2018


Ricardo, my physical therapist, presses his strong hands into my lower back, rubbing in cream with soothing circular and up-and-down motions.

“That’s where it still hurts,” I say. “Is it normal that I still feel pain after seven weeks?”
“Of course,” he answers. “You had major surgery. “They made an incision in your skin and then pulled you open. In my experience, your recovery should take about 3 months.”
“I’ve been feeling kind of low,” I tell him.
“Perfectly normal.”
My step is lighter as I leave.
In spite of my doctor’s reassurances, I need validation for what I am feeling. My family treat me like a queen – breakfast in bed, morning checks on levels of pain, hands to help me up –  for about the first month. I think they expect that I should be better now. Yes, they still ask daily how I feel, but I sense they are losing patience. At the dinner table one night, they claim to feel frustrated that I can’t describe in detail the intensity and location of the pain.
“How does it compare with before surgery?”
“You’re healed on the outside so should also be healed inside.”
“Then the surgery did no good.”
“That doctor keeps changing your medication.”
I tell them I have complete confidence in Doctor B. who reminds me of a big brown teddy bear that I want to hug. We actually do hug each time I leave his office. I can send him a WhatsApp which he answers immediately or calls me on my cell phone.
At home, I report on Ricardo’s comments. That should keep them at bay for a day or two. But doubts prevail in my own head. I pull out the long sheets of information on the two meds I’m still taking.
Adverse Effects: Drowsiness, weight gain, puffiness, weakness, depression, irritability, (and “fondness for doctors.)
That just about covers it. I spend half the day in a stupor, can only walk 4 or 5 blocks, my face is swollen, I feel ugly and find solace in reading and swear like a drunken sailor when I trip over the vacuum cord.

Two days until I see Ricardo again. He reminds me of a ...

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas eve in Bed

‘‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse….

Late, lazy afternoon day. It’s very warm as I lie on top of the bed. A dog barks. Robins tweet.  A strange way to spend this  Christmas Eve. I’ve been bed bound for the past  4 weeks as I recover from back surgery. It doesn’t seem that long, but certainly longer than we expected. So I watch the news, read , answer phone calls and check the multiple WhatsApp dinging into my phone.

Based on the volume of my WhatsApps, I picture the entire city whatsapping and texting this Christmas Eve afternoon : digital Christmas cards. Santa and reindeer jokes, photos, video of glittering Fifth Ave. NYC. And digital hugs. I haven’t checked Facebook yet.  It might seem like I’m quite busy yet all those activities  are interrupted by long, morphine-induced naps and mind explorations. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed thinking so much. If only I’d have the energy and clarity of thought to jot down those illuminations and pursue those rabbit trails.
Oops, I’m dropping off…
This is my first attempt. AT least it’s a start. Meanwhile, I’ll just sit back and enjoy the view🌈🌎

Monday, November 27, 2017


“I am so very thankful for having all our family reunited here today,” I say. We raise our glasses, even 3 ½ year-old Beltrán, glasses filled with wine or water or juice. I look at the faces around our table: Nico and his girlfriend Laura, both recently arrived from the States; Danny, Ale and their four children: twins Colomba and Manuela, Pascuala and Beltrán; and my husband, Santiago. Table conversation is a lively mix of Spanish and English and translations.
            What a joy to spend the day in the kitchen preparing the Thanksgiving fixings with Laura, sharing menu ideas, googling for recipes, a job I'd usually done alone. She makes a delicious apple pie.

We’d seldom celebrated Thanksgiving here at home over the years. Not being a holiday in Chile, Santiago was at work and the boys in classes or studying for year-end tests. When the boys were younger, we’d gather with other bi-national families for a Thanksgiving pot luck picnic at Marion and Bob’s farm. That tradition ended when families became too numerous. But now, with Nico and Laura here, I wanted to do a traditional Thanksgiving to make Laura feel at home and to impart some of the Thanksgiving tradition to our grandchildren.
I pull out all the stops: best blue linen tablecloth and my mother’s china and silver. Some of the silver is tarnished from little use, so I sit down to polish a few pieces which brings back memories of family Thanksgivings of my childhood. The job of polishing silver often fell to me. My mother rose early to prepare the turkey and stuffing, the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. I’d help set the table with a white linen tablecloth and napkins and the same china and silver we use today.

At the end of the evening, my heart is full. I am contented and grateful for a traditional American Thanksgiving with all of our binational family gathered around the table, complete with spilled juice and Frida, the dog, scouting for crumbs under the table.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Breaking News!

Finally, happy breaking news!

Our son, Nico, is back in Chile after over 6 years in the U.S. with a short stint in Costa Rica. Laura, his partner, arrives next Tuesday. Time to celebrate with a real family Thanksgiving. Another addition to the family is Frida, a Costa Rican rescue dog, who we think may be part terrier, part pincher. She wakes us in the morning jumping on our bed and giving a quick lick to our faces.
It's fun having a son living at home for a while. He is a Mr. Fix-it, offering to make home improvements. I love it!

My second happy news flash is that I have a contract for my second book, Notes from the Bottom of the World, A Life in Chile, to be published November 20, 2018 by She Writes Press. Whopee!!

Saturday, October 21, 2017


The Familiar
Back again in my hometown for my yearly visit, I soak up the rich scents of vegetation – elm, bay and sequoia trees – and the familiar birdsong as I stand on the deck overlooking the creek of my adoptive family’s house. They receive me warmly as in the past and inform me that a coyote family has taken up residence by the creek. I’ll hear them howling at night.
I take a walk along the main street, San Anselmo Avenue, past the Coffee Roastery, where I’ll meet with old classmates on Saturday, the firehouse, Hilda’s Coffee Shop and Booksmith, my favorite bookstore. Sadly, I notice many empty storefronts in this town that used to draw antique buffs on weekends. I drive to my old neighborhood, park and walk past the home where I grew up. On my route I notice new 2 million dollar houses – the gentrification of a once modest middle class neighborhood.

I call old friends and set up dates for coffee or lunch. With a college classmate we take a nostalgic stroll across the Berkeley campus. On a glorious sunny day I take the ferry to San Francisco to meet with the editor who’s been guiding me through my manuscript. My oldest friend, Paula, and I share many meals, reminiscing on pets, childhood in the barrio, and names of nuns at St. Anselm’s School. Sister Eulalie Rose, Sister Miriam Josepha, Sister Benigna (a favorite). Nothing can compare with sharing childho0d memories with a dear friend.
St. Anselm's School

 The Unexpected
Raging wildfires to the north mark my final week. Heavy smoke, like thick fog, creeps silently into our world. My adoptive family takes in a family of four Santa Rosa evacuees, their four boxers and a sack of twenty ball pythons. (They have beautiful markings. I actually ask to hold one in my hand.) Mom and Dad python are left behind, but survive. 
A canine evacuee

The kitchen becomes a busy place, people and dogs coming and going, cooking for nine and conveying the latest fire updates. The evacuees stay close to the television, watching the flames consume entire residential neighborhoods, not knowing for days if their house is safe.
The Tragic
Another guest in the house is an Iraqi war veteran who suffered brain damage and PTSD- post traumatic stress disorder. He describes to us how the vehicle he was driving hit an IED. His halting speech and awkward bearing are the outward signs of trauma. He attempts to fit into the household routine and participate in table conversation – to be normal – but in moments of weakness seeks relief in drugs. My heart goes out to that young man. Those in national positions of power would think twice before sending men and women off to war if they could spend time with these young victims.

I mustn’t end on a sad note. Once more I’ve been able to enjoy the richness of this landscape where I grew up and I’ve experienced a diverse sampling of American life: the generous sacrifice of firefighters, the growing presence of Latinos in the work force, a friend’s struggle to make ends meet, another friend recovering from cancer surgery, televised baseball playoffs, the pleasure of old friends and the limitless generosity of my hosts, whom I now refer to as “my adoptive family.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


 “Have you ever smoked marihuana?” she asks me.
“Oh, a few times when I lived in Berkeley and once in Colombia. That one really packed a punch.”
Three of us – me, a recently-widowed friend whose country house we’re in, and her sister-in-law – are in the kitchen cleaning up after lunch outside under a welcome early spring sun.
“We’ve always wanted to try it. “
“Maybe it’ll help with arthritis pain.”
“I can’t even cut an apple with my right wrist.”
“It’s my left wrist that hurts.”
“I’ve often thought that I’d like to try pot again,” I say. “It’s on my bucket list.”
“What’s it like?”
“It can enhance your senses, makes colors and shapes jump out at you, like a 3-D movie. It also makes you laugh.”
“Just what we want! Let’s do it, out here in the country, just the three of us when no one else is around.”
“But where would we get it?” I ask. “Can you imagine asking one of our kids to locate some for us?” We burst out laughing.
“Time goes so fast – after 60. What makes a person “old?” asks one.
“I think it’s when nothing surprises you anymore.”
“I think it’s when you stop being curious,” I say.
“Exercise is so important now to keep us active. My husband was exhausted yesterday after watering our seventeen potted plants.”
“Yeah, they have no idea of all that we do.”
We gorge on brownies I’ve brought. “I could make us brownies with pot for a start,” I offer.
“At this age, I doubt it could cause any brain damage.”
“Besides, we could die at any time,” says my widowed friend.
“I’ve done a few things recently that were on my list of things to do before I die” I say. “I went river rafting and kayaking and even rode tandem on a motorcycle.”
“We can’t wait until it’s too late.”
“Yeah, there are the things I’ve never done and now never will, like wearing a strapless dress.”
“We really don’t need pot to start us laughing.”
The moon is shining brightly when we hug goodnight in the doorway. “Now don’t forget. You’ve included me in your marihuana group!” I say.

A voice calls from the dark, “Does anyone know how to roll cigarettes?”

Sunday, August 27, 2017


Just overnight, it seems, several white blossoms have opened on our old apricot tree, harbingers of sweet summer fruit and announcing the advent of spring. 

Other signs of this season of hope are surfacing in our garden: the first fragrant freesia blooms, fragile California poppy seedlings (I’ve marked off their area with small sticks to protect them from the gardener’s shovel), pink snapdragons and blue forget-me-nots. Birds know it’s almost nesting time. Our resident turtle doves have taken to chasing each other, warming up for mating. Regular as clockwork, the juices of renewal and birth appear. Small miracles. The air is still cold, yet trees, flowers and birds know it’s that time.

All these signs of spring inject me with energy and hope, a time of looking forward: to the warmth of the spring sun on my back, more time in the out-of-doors and the upcoming visit of our youngest son and his girlfriend. Like the birds, my nesting instinct is activated. I’ve contacted a painter to do some small jobs around the house. We just bought a new barbeque and can’t wait for warmer days to invite family and friends to enjoy our backyard and share a meal. I’ve contracted spring cleaning fever, anxious to clear out accumulations of junk and papers. I’m giving the paper shredder a workout.

The gardener and his son (Daniel and Daniel) pruned our avocado tree a month ago. The tree, now over thirty years old, grew from a pit planted by our son, Nico, as a child. The pruning allowed us to harvest over 400 avocados. What pleasure to give the fruits of our harvest to family and friends. Suddenly, they’re all ripening at once, which has me racing to find takers. Another small miracle in our garden is an heirloom tomato plant that wintered over and now has its first tomato.

Rain is predicted for tomorrow. A spring christening that azaleas, the camellia, the hydrangeas, the sequoia and all their garden neighbors will welcome .