Friday, March 15, 2019

Little Joys

The words spoke to me. While scanning my email Inbox, the title of Maria Popova’s latest “Brainpickings” post caught my eye: “Hermann Hesse on Little Joys, Breaking the Trance of Busyness, and the Most Important Habit for Living with Presence.” I opened the post.
I read that in his 1905 essay “On Little Joys”, Hesse reflects on the busyness, the hurry-hurry and the aggressive haste of modern life. Terms coined over a century ago. I’ve learned the wisdom and truth contained in his words. Perhaps I developed this philosophy for living due to life’s circumstances and to the person I am.
Hesse advised everyday contact with nature. I grew up immersed in the natural world of a small northern California town. Trees occupied the views from every window in my childhood home. Camping vacations amidst redwoods started me on the path to becoming a tree hugger.
There were other signs. Searching for my first apartment, I’d check for the view from the windows. My chosen Berkeley apartment had a distant view of San Francisco Bay. In the slim space between my building and my neighbors’ grew a leafy redwood tree and a small garden tended by a few of the residents. I was forced to move out when the owner decided to demolish our three-story building in order to build a bigger, seven story construction. Last time I went by, the redwood tree was gone.
When I moved to Chile to marry my boyfriend, we settled in the capital, Santiago, now a city of six million inhabitants. I learned to develop personal strategies for noticing little joys in this urban setting.
It is just a matter of noticing.
 As a teacher in a school situated in the foothills of the Andes, in free moments, I’d gaze out the window at the glorious sight and feel nourished and replenished. During lunch hour, I’d walk a few laps around the hillside track and maybe spot a kestrel perched on a post or hear the twitter of quail.
These city streets offer dozens of small joys: flowering jacaranda and ceibo trees, a well-tended garden, a friendly dog, the chatter of playing children.
Now, although retired, I don’t get out of the city as often as I’d like. I miss the freshness of forests and the tang of sea breezes. To counteract this deficiency, each morning I step out into my backyard to inhale the exquisite fresh air still untouched by the scents of human activity. The dew releases a potpourri of fragrances from my redwood tree and the flowering buddleia. Nights I make another mini visit to my backyard to breathe in the nighttime air and gaze at the few stars visible in our city sky. Sky. Sometimes I realize that I haven’t looked at the sky all day.

Jacaranda tree

Hesse advises us to cherish the little joys, inconspicuous and scattered liberally over our daily lives. They are not outstanding, they are not advertised, they cost no money!
            Lessons for living.

Sunday, March 3, 2019


These headlines appeared on the back page of yesterday’s newspaper. They should have appeared in the center of the front page. Think about it. 60%

Image result for beach plastic pollution and birds to starve
I find this news disturbing, frightening and horrifying. I want to shout out to world leaders and especially the Trump Administration: WAKE UP!
Look at Brazil. The government announced plans to exploit a large sector of the Amazonian tropical forest.
We humans, along with insects, fish, birds and animals, make up just 5% of life on this earth. Yet we are destroying the ecosystems and the balance of life upon which we depend.
 It’s easy to feel that our efforts to support the environment are just a grain of sand in the big picture of things. Yet…. maybe if we all:
Support environmental organizations
Write letters to mayors and congress members
Keep a garden
Share plants with others
Write a blog or an article
Share environmental updates on Facebook
If there are enough of them, the grains of sand may add up. I wrote a letter yesterday to the newspaper and to city authorities asking what I can do with the plastic they don’t recycle. Throw it in the garbage so it can find its way to the sea and into a pelican’s stomach?
Enough of my rants. I’m off to find comfort watering my potted plants and observing the bees in the fragrant blooms of my ilán-ilán tree.

Friday, February 8, 2019


How much I’ve forgotten. Now, upon viewing the series “The Viet Nam War”, I realize the importance of remembering the main historical events of my time.
My husband and I sat in perfect silence watching the ten episodes, directed by Ken Burns. What heartbreak observing the graphic footage of soldiers, both American and Vietnamese suffering, killing, dying. The scenes of attacks on villagers were difficult to watch. Equally shocking, were the lies, cover-ups and deceit carried out by the American Administration of the time and the military advisors during those years.
The scenes of massive student protests caused me to wonder what I was doing, where was I during those years. In 1963, Madame Nhu, wife of the South Viet Nam premier and sister-in-law to the President, made a public relations tour in the U.S. One of her stops was the University of California in Berkeley where I was a Political Science student. I sat among the 7000 students in Harmon Gym. I went as an observer, not a supporter. She defended the much-questioned South Vietnamese regime, urging us not to believe the American news media’s treatment of her husband and brother-in-law. The audience received her with a mixture of applause and hisses. Outside hundreds of leftists protested her presence. During her trip, her husband and the country’s president were assassinated
In May 1965 thousands protested against the war for two days on the Berkeley campus. I was serving in the Peace Corps in Colombia at that time and returned to Berkeley in 1966 to work towards a teaching degree. Were there more anti-war protests there? I have no memory of participating in any. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been there. In 1970 I did become involved and handed out leaflets on the streets of Oakland and San Francisco protesting the bombings in Cambodia.

 I wonder how aware I was of what was happening in Viet Nam when I moved to Chile in 1972. In Chile we received scant international news, although now I realize that the official news was not to be trusted.
What upsets me deeply as I follow the unfolding of events on the series is the realization of the total lack of transparency by several U.S. administrations. In those days most Americans trusted what the government told us.
Now, once again, our government is lying to us. How is it possible that we just let it happen? The lies and deceit are more blatant now that in the 60’s and 70’s, yet so many people refuse to see it and cling tenaciously to their trust in the president. Perhaps they fear opening their minds to the truth.
At what point is a person able to stop believing the official story?
Environmental and financial regulations are being rolled back. The President has withdrawn America from peace and climate treaties, ignoring the advice of his own advisors. I feel as if I’m being rolled over by a rumbling tank. I want to PROTEST! I want to join a crowd of hundreds of thousands and shout “NO MORE.”

To my readers: In the past I vowed not to touch politics in my blog, but I can stay silent no longer.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

In the Good Old Summertime....

Punta de Lobos, Chile. Though the beach is windy, it’s ideal for walking along the shore where incoming waves wash up little crabs, who then tumble back to the deep again. Our son leads our group of six on a trail he discovered along the cliff tops away from the beach crowds. The only sign of human activity are the ropes of seaweed laid out to dry by the local collectors. The landscape is barren, dry and windswept, a stark contrast to the Point Lobos State Park we visited in California just two months ago that teemed with a rich variety of plants adapted to ocean clifftops. Why the difference I wonder? It’s the same ocean, similar latitude. Climate? State protection? Geography? Precipitation? Below us, stretches a long, unpopulated beach. Someone comments that soon the land facing the beach will fill up with summer houses.

Days later we head north for an apartment we’ve rented in Marbella, an exclusive community of white houses and condominiums stretching along ocean hilltops. Most of our group is anxious to hit the beach, lather on sun screen and stretch out on their towels. I can’t expose my fair skin to long bouts of sun so keep clothes over my swim suit and seek cover under an umbrella, while the others work on their tans. I feel like a white whale surrounded by lean, bronzed figures.
Walking along the wet shore is one of my beach pleasures, breathing in that energizing air sweeping off the ocean. One morning I wander the streets of this community of beach homes, admiring their gleaming facades and neat gardens. But, then, a disturbing thought interrupts my admiration. All these houses and apartments are second homes and possess all the comforts and space of city homes.  I suddenly think of those who have no home: recent victims of a tsunami in Malaysia, war refugees living for years in temporary camps, all around the globe. The inequality and injustice rattle my vacation tranquility.
Back at the apartment, I voice my thoughts.
“Don’t spoil our vacation,” says my husband.
“That’s not my intention. Just sharing my ruminations.”
            A member of our group relates how she devotes her time to the needy and that her husband is very generous with his money.
“That’s fine” I say. “I do the same … but it’s- just- not- enough.” No one has an answer for that. I’m thinking of the need for drastic changes in life styles and strong government measures.
We drive north to visit one of my favorite and long-missed beaches and walk a trail carved into the rocky shore. From there we spot sea otters. I point out wild flowers growing in that sandy soil. This is more like California’s Point Lobos.
We are not alone on the trail. January is the height of the summer season and our favorite spots have been discovered by others. We’re shocked to see the tiny beach in a hidden cove cupping turquoise waters teeming with people from the nearby town. The time has arrived to share.
On our way home I notice rows of new condominiums built on once grassy hillsides overlooking the ocean. Again I’m dismayed, this carving up the land to accommodate the very few. I know these gloomy thoughts have something to do with the book I’m reading, “The Overstory”, which reveals the age-old wisdom of trees and sounds the alarm about the massive destruction of forests worldwide. A call to arms. Not the typical summer vacation reading.
I’m left ruminating.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Thoughts on Christmas Eve

I just checked the thermometer in our backyard. It reads 90 degrees (in the shade). I hope Santa has a summer outfit. Just put the turkey in the oven, though I’m tempted to try sun-baking it. The CNN weather report informs me that a thunder storm is due in the San Francisco area, and our future daughter-in-law and our son report that it’s sleeting in New Jersey.

What I miss about Christmas here in Chile is the smell of live fir or pine trees, a nip in the air and a fire in the fireplace. Fires were banned years ago in Santiago due to the smog. Besides, who wants a fire in this heat?

What is Christmas without the smell of cookies in the oven? My two youngest grandkids came last week to help decorate the tree (artificial) and we baked cookies. The thirteen-year-old twins preferred going to the mall. Yesterday I made more cookies as well as the family recipe for Scottish shortbread. Christmas music on ITunes created a festive atmosphere in the kitchen.

I was up early this morning to get to a French bakery to buy their unbelievable croissants. Then to the supermarket which I expected to be empty at that time. Everyone one else had the same idea.

We’ll celebrate at a nephew’s house tonight with his three young kids, plus sisters- and brother-in-law, and a couple of nieces and their children. It will be bedlam as the children rip open their gifts. Years ago I tried to instill some calm into this process, suggesting that “Santa” pass out only one gift at a time. It starts out well but the pace and noise and excitement build into a crescendo. Tomorrow our eldest son and wife and our four grandchildren will come for “brunch”. No doubt, our four-year-old grandson will bring his best new toy. I suspect that parked under many a Christmas tree (though not ours) will be an electric scooter – the latest rage here, propelling indignant pedestrians into a rage.

At the end of another year, I’m filled with mixed feelings and nostalgia. I ponder upon the loved ones who are no longer here. I feel proud of my accomplishments and satisfactions. Normally, I like watching the year’s summary on television, though this year has been a tough one world-wide. I shake my head in despair at U.S. politics and sincerely pray that the American people will come to their senses. To banish this black cloud of pessimism I work to list the good things in life: family, dear friends, old and new, the beauty of the Nutcracker Suite, birdsong, the fragrance of a redwood forest, the panorama of the Andes from my window ….

A list without end.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Giving Thanks

Last Thursday my husband and I spent a lovely Thanksgiving evening with friends, my first Thanksgiving in 46 years, as it is not a holiday here in Chile. But we planned our trip to California to include Thanksgiving, and it was special. The hostess prepared the traditional meal: turkey, stuffing (my favorite), homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie. We went around the table giving thanks. The hostess gave thanks for her successful kidney transplant (as did her husband), my husband thanked our host and hostess and I gave thanks for all the friends who had welcomed us into their homes over the past weeks.

I truly feel blessed with my California friends: the high school classmates who attended my book launch, former university classmates, relatively new friends who welcomed us once more into their home in my hometown, and my oldest, dearest lifelong friend.

Blessings abounded: strolls along beaches of Monterey Bay, visited by arcing dolphins and cruising whales; views of downtown San Francisco’s sparkling Christmas decorations in the rainy dusk, my unexpected first Black Friday shopping excursion, a nostalgic stroll across the UC Berkeley campus, meeting the Ethiopian woman who bought my book for her 15 year-old son who “loves to read”, savoring the clam chowder at Nick’s Cove.

Life brings both blessings and tragedies. For the second consecutive year my hometown was enveloped with heavy smoke from wildfires to the north while I was there. Lives were lost; homes destroyed. When will we learn that nature is way older and wiser than humanity and live accordingly?
Thanksgiving lessons learned.

Monday, October 29, 2018


I’m excited and nervous! In 10 days my second book, “Notes from the Bottom of the World: A Life in Chile,” will be launched out into the world. The book is a collection of personal essays, exploring topics that inspired me – from Patagonian travels, to aging, to the writing craft.  I’ll be traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area with my husband to present my book at several venues: Book Passage, the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, the Belmont and Oakland libraries.

Sometimes in the middle of the night I ask myself: why do I want to do this – stand in front of a group or a crowd or a handful of people and bare my essays, my soul to them? What was I thinking? I calm myself by reminding myself that my deepest hope is that some can relate to what I say or have written. The hours of writing, editing, rewriting will be worth it if my words ring true for just one person.

If I were to go back 15 years, I never imagined I’d be doing this. Yes, after I retired, I joined an English-speaking writing group and began work on my first memoir, published ten years later. Now I wonder what I’d be doing with my retirement days if I didn’t have writing. Of course, there’s reading, gardening, exercising and traveling, but writing is my creative outlet and greatest satisfaction.