Brick House

Old Brick House 2Working in property business for years at a time means that I have flashbacks. Not the ones that you would expect. I re-visit houses which I’ve visited in the past. Just a flash of a room or a building and then it’s gone. Often forever. I often flashback to an old brick house built in the 1800 with lots of rooms and a squared off staircase that ends in a small room. Off that room is the start of some dark tunnels and rooms. Over time, I have described this space to others, but although I remember doing it at one time, I have never actually pulled out a flashlight or torch and crawled into that space. This morning in that fog between dreaming and waking when I once again was describing the house to a person who (in true dreaming fashion) had morphed from a slim Asian man into a middle-aged woman with light hair, I had an epiphany. Unlike my other flashback houses, no matter how real this house has always felt to me, it is, in fact, not real. I started telling Joe about this house and as I was waking and talking at the same time, finally realized that this house is me. And those dark tunnels are the parts of my life that I acknowledge, but deliberately decide not to visit.

Today, the radio is full of news about people who died in a shooting. It’s merely this month’s version of that same tragedy of one person deciding to mow down random people using guns. As always happens, the news crews visit the town one person lived in. Talk to the surviving family members so that we can all know what a tragedy this particular loss was among the many, many losses. And me, I turn the knob on the radio to off. I can only see this conversation from the other side of the veil that separates the observer from the impacted survivor.

On the other side of that veil is the banal practicality of officialdom. The first carefully worded notice of death from the police regardless of the crumpling of faces and bodies as the words hit home. As many times as they say these words over their career, they don’t want to say them any more than you want to hear them. There are follow-on visits from police to keep you informed. They are kind, and if you’re lucky become friends. The process takes that long.

Very soon, there is an appointment to view the body. The body which is now a crime scene in the eyes of the law – untouchable, needing formal definition and identification. There is the kindness of the people who show you the body. They will have worked overtime to make sure that you see what is closest to your memory of that person. They artfully drape and tie towels so that you are saved the worst. And, if they can’t then they will minimize what is officially needed. Trust me, you do not want those images floating around your brain for the rest of your life.

There’s the choosing of the photograph to share with the press. Either you do it or they’ll grab what they like online. And, if you’re smart, a press release. Wordsmithing at this time is painful and if you’re experienced in these kind of things a professional will help you. What do you say? What do you leave out? These final words will float around Google forever and yet, you struggle to eat, much less write and describe the person that you loved. You whipsaw between calm efficiency and agony. There is no space between those two poles. One minute, you’re considered and then you are reminded why you are having to be considered. Your brain knows that it should be calm and pained and ricochets between them relentlessly. You need sleep – and simply can’t. Pain is raw and relief non-existent.

Funerals are covered by the press. If they’re compassionate, they’ll use zoom lenses from across the street so that you’ll remain on your side of the veil and at a distance. Later, someone will approach you for a personal interview about your loved ones and you’ll have to decide if you want to have your tears shown in public once again.

Even later, the official inquest starts. Press once again, pictures in the paper, on TV. And sitting for hours in uncomfortable chairs to relive the pain once again as hammer blows of dispassionate officialdom officially describe your loved one’s official death and those of many others. You wander out of the building feeling dizzy and nauseous. By this time, you are left to your own devices.

And if you’re lucky, over time, you’ll build your own dark tunnels in your own version of yourself. And you’ll stand at the entrance and choose not to go in. Choose to run back up the stairs and find what light you can knowing that the foundations of your life are built on a base others have not tested and you would wish them never to know. And the unlucky ones – they light a candle, wander on down and may not ever come out.


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Three short years

An anniversary. Three years since I held so tightly to the bookcase so that I wouldn’t shake. Three years since I dared say “I think we’ve gone past friendship.” And then oh so quick look of delight in your eyes as you said.. “yes.”

We’re people that live in our heads, not our hearts. For the month before, we’d watch movies, take walks, and talk, always talking. All at a proper distance and always so careful to remain friends. After the moment at the bookcase, when we sit across from each other, we talk again about how we got to this point. Still in our heads when our hearts are what matters now. And finally I ask if I can hold your hand. Without knowing it, I’d been admiring your fingers and squared off nails and the hair along the back of your hands leading to your arms. So close and yet, not touched. and now this small act becomes possible. What becomes ‘us’ becomes possible.

Being close is both hard and easy. The closeness is what we wanted and never dared to expect. And now, here it is and it’s easy and intense and feels so right. For days I cannot think straight. I am locked between a home where I am despised and a space with you where I am free and loved and cared for. With you I find the closeness I had hoped for all these years and never found. Trust had left my marriage so long before that I can not believe my luck in finding you.


Christmas Party 2015. I love this picture of us together

We struggle through getting close to each other step by step. Time gives us meals, events, vacation, meeting family, holidays to negotiate. And the kids. Three teenagers on one side and on yours a much easier son spreading his wings. And always the ex, the ghost who lives under my roof. The one that only the law will see gone. It takes 18 months until he’s gone. Finally we can officially share a home. It’s such a pleasure to live with you, I’m always surprised how short its actually been. It feels like this has been us from the start.

Through it all, each and every day, you are my joy. Holding your hand is still a thrill. Your grey eyes and soft voice bring me home again every time. When I disappoint you, it hurts. I don’t want to hurt you – ever. And yet, we are who we are and for most of our lives we’ve been leading another life. We are independent and very much together. These small tears in the fabric of our days are also part of life. The healing is swift. Forgiveness fast. And then I’m swept near you for a hug, a kiss. And my world is right again. I am good in your arms. And then its up to me to tell you once again how wonderful you are. I remind you of all the parts of you that make up the whole of you that I want to share each and every moment with for much much longer than just – three years.

Thank you.

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Scarred Hearts

CandlesThe cards twirl on the stand. One wings its way to a grieving family. It is a feather weight against the weight of grief of a child gone much too soon.

A mother holds her child   He looks like he’s sleeping. His body slumps with the bonelessness of sleeping children. She cradles him in her arms looking down at his face. But his eyes will open no more. His body is warm. It is cooling slowly, imperceptibly.  For now, a mother can fool herself that he will somehow breathe. Jerk awake, re-open those huge big beautiful eyes.

For this time only, she can pretend. Grieve what she knows will never be while pretending that this really isn’t happening at all. She delays the moment when the fork in the road is too hard to ignore.  When someone will carry her child as a body, not as a son.

The days, the weeks, the months and the years are still to come. The anniversaries of his age group will pass with only this weight, this scant warmth to keep her memories alive. To hold up against what could have been. She is young. There are other children. Now in another place playing quietly, still innocent of this pain. Children to come, too.

But this quiet form will stand guard over her heart for the rest of her days. In the quiet times, this small ghost will stand next to her until they are both in that shaded land together. She will hold his hand in every quiet moment.

No matter the years, the count of ones children will always be wrong. Always a small silent addition to the figures that stand by her side. She will carry her scarred heart in silent pain.

For now, she holds this cooling body tightly in her arms. He’s heavy, but letting go is a one way journey and she’s not ready to step across into that everlasting void. Better to hold out hope for that wakening. Cry now and then forever hold that peace that never truly comes.

A card wings its way into the depths of grief. Floating weightlessly past that heavy heart that has no end. It will never patch this heart.
In memoriam: Margotje, Sasha and … Fletcher

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2016 in Review

In the last few years my life has felt like one long soap opera script. Until June of this year, I was part of a church discussion group. Every two weeks, we’d start by discussing what happened in our lives since the last meeting. Other people talked about quiet activities and family milestones. Since I joined, my bit always had a lot of drama and action, punctuated by others saying: “Oh my! Did that really happen?? Oh no!”

The major change happened in January 2016 when Colin moved out of the house. Adair and I cleaned the house from top to bottom in a couple of weeks and then Joe started moving his things in. One day I looked at the living room and started to cry. Joe’s black leather sofa was in the ‘sofa spot’ in the living room. I realized that in the dark days, I had imagined a future when I would live in the same house as Joe. When that day arrived, I knew the sofa would be right where it now was. I was so relieved to have a coherent and calm life back after so long.

In fact, my life is so nice right now, this year’s post seems too much like a traditional Christmas letter. Apologies. I’m enjoying every minute. Let’s see what 2016 brought me. First off, a lovely partner to share experiences with in a loving manner. For those of you that have a great relationship, bear with me. Even after 2 1/2 years, this is pretty new to me. I’m savoring it like an amazingly well made vanilla ice cream. Yes, it looks ordinary and simple, but each bite is its own bit of paradise. Thank you so much, Joe.

Thinking back over the year, the months are punctuated by work trips. London, Connecticut (5 times!), Milwaukee, Jerusalem, Paris, and Zurich. I managed to catch up with a lot of people in my travels. In London I met with Zaheda and Brian. Brian was then into cocktails and after sampling 6 of the most amazing sounding concoctions, followed by a couple of pain killers, I boarded the plane the next morning glad that breathalyzing isn’t part of the security protocol. Ouch!

One memorable trip to Connecticut, I rented a bike and got ambitious on the third day of


Connecticut/ Massachusetts border

biking. I completed the last 6 miles of the picturesque loop in the dark. Trust me, a dark river takes a terrible picture and even the straightest of paths may have a bollard in the middle. Luckily the one I hit fell down easily and my bruises healed quickly. Then I met up with Joe in New York for a short break visiting the city that never sleeps. So we didn’t either.

In the summer Joe ran a half marathon in a


Joe at the start of the run

valley in the Sierras. He trained months for it and then during the last stretch had an injury, so it was a run/walk affair that he completed more quickly than I thought. My boss roped me into writing a book this year (stay tuned for the 2017 announcement due shortly), so I was completing a chapter in the car when Joe appeared at the window. I missed his big arrival! Still it was a lovely break in the middle of the peaceful valley.


Snow White??

My only other ‘sport’ is being part of a women’s softball team where they hide me in the spot I can do least damage. Some bright spark booked us for two games on Halloween.So, here’s my attempt at Snow White playing softball.


Mom turns 80!

Right after celebrating my mother’s 80th birthday, September through November became a blur of work and travel. A highlight of September was a visit to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea fitted around my work schedule. I walked the old city on Saturday to get over jet lag transiting from religious sector to sector drinking in the sounds and sights I’ve only ever seen in pictures. At the end of the week, I met up with Vadim, an old colleague at

img_1924-2Adaptec, and met his wife at their lovely place north of Tel Aviv. Thanks, Shani, for the great meal! It was a real treat to travel someplace I’d never been before and just explore. My last day started with floating in the Dead Sea (400+ meters below sea level), visiting the place where the Dead Sea scrolls were found and then flying to Paris. It was all an amazing contrast. Travel note: if you ever bathe in the Dead Sea, plan three showers to start smelling normal again.

img_2009Paris was a chance to connect back with a friend from Lycee. Paola and I spent hours talking and I got to help one of her daughters with her English homework among many highlights of the week. I also now know where I get my habit of compulsively cooking from scratch. One afternoon, I watched Paola carefully clean every leaf of basil as she made her own pesto.


Pam & Aaron for the 280 Group

Zurich was busy with a conference and speaking on behalf of the 280 Group. Each evening had its own particular Swiss themed event. One night, my work colleague, Aaron, and I found a classic old school fondue restaurant, so we ticked off the most important tourist activity followed up by buying vast quantities of chocolate at the airport on the way home.

img_2130And Joe and I finally had a week of vacation together skiing at Whistler. There was a huge selection of slopes and lots of snow, so we had a great time bundled up against the cold. After that we had a too brief stop in Victoria where we caught up with my cousin, Paul, and his lovely family.

img_2210-2The kids are older now and I have to reach out on a weekly basis to catch up with their lives. We manage to fit in coffees, lunches and dinners. When I traveled a lot, I’d send them hour by hour schedules of when I was available and they’d drop by for at least a hug. I was also buying small things for them on my travels, so a lot of the Swiss chocolate went out the door with them!


The happy couple

Adair is living with Mary. He is back at West Valley College doing well in his science classes. And Mary became a Slug (the banana slug is the official mascot of UC Santa Cruz). They are both settled in well with each other which is very nice. They stayed with me for a while over the summer which was a great opportunity to share a space and have more time to talk. Now they have their own small place in the mountains and visit for showers and laundry.

Aidan is full speed ahead with his studies after transitioning to Foothill college from De Anza. He has a great set of friends who I hear about and lend camping equipment to. He has a great side career as a lighting designer. Who knew that Adair’s casual request a few years ago for Aidan to pitch in a the last minute and work the spot light at Cupertino High School would turn into a job! Next fall, he’ll be off to a 4-year college, so he’s knee deep in sending out applications. He joined Joe, Nate, Joe’s son, and I for a skiing weekend right before Christmas. Our first real blended family event!


Nate, Joe, Pam and Aidan

Amara is deeply involved ahead with the same theater group as the boys. Last year she was doing makeup. This her senior year she’s been promoted to stage manager. At her last production, I marveled to see her keep the show on track with careful and clear directions to one and all. She has gained a tremendous amount of poise and confidence as she has taken on more responsibility. And as she faces challenges at work and school, she is more willing to ask my advice from time to time. I am honored that she trusts me enough to ask and then listen carefully to my suggestions. One highlight was cooking up my second annual winter borscht meal for her Russian friends. It’s sad to realize that a year from now, they’ll all be off studying elsewhere.

That’s 2016 in a nut shell. Take care of yourself and your families. Note: I’ll be splitting this blog into personal material which will stay here and a work-related blog in the next short while.


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Driving in the Rain

Note: This story was written from my mother’s perspective. And it’s her 80th birthday!

My fingers run over the bumps on the oven as I count slowly: 1, 2, 3. I turn the dial so the arrows line up under my finger tips and then I turn my head as I hear a noise. Only three minutes ago, Alec had run out of the house in a rush to meet up with friends. His sneakers didn’t make much noise on the wood floor and then I heard the door open and close. I decided that it was time to start the chicken for tonight’s dinner. The sounds of rain pounding heavily on the roof mean that a warm meal will be welcome for whomever will be around.

Pamela was somewhere in a back bedroom reading quietly. She could disappear for hours in her books and then I’d lose track of where she was. When she reappeared, she’d move slowly and quietly in her sock covered feet. Then a sound would come from behind me – so close that I’d be startled and scared.

Now the noise outside starts up again. Slamming car doors, angry murmurs growing louder until the door swings open again and the smell of damp earth and a cold wind snake their way into the house.

“The car won’t start” he shouts from the doorway. From another room, I hear Pam jump up and come into the living area to see what’s happening. Alec yells again, “I tried to start the car, but it won’t start. I can’t get the engine to turn over. Maybe I’ve flooded it.”

Pam is walking towards the front door. She’s going to help him. From the kitchen, I yell back, “Sorry, honey.”

They both disappear behind the closing front door and silence descends. I feel the kitchen counter top, the alternate pattern of tile and grout, smooth and rough pass under my fingertips as I round the corner. Then, in a moment of faith born of practice, I leave the kitchen landmarks and head towards the next landmark: the dining room table and chairs. I find the top edge of a chair back and the front door is opened again.

Pam shouts in, “We can’t get the car started.”

68 VW Bug

68 VW Bug

I know how to start the car. It’s a simple matter of getting the car up to speed and then popping it into 2nd gear. Outside is my 7th VW bug. The one I bought from the factory in Germany and brought over in a ship when we moved to California. I can get the car started – but – and now frustration floods through me – I haven’t been able to see well enough to drive for the last 12 years. I’ll have to explain the trick to the kids. By now their frustration level is so high, it’s going to take a while until they’re calm enough to learn.

They’re both inside now. I can hear the hard breathing, smell the wet clothing. If I listen hard enough, I’m sure I’ll hear drops falling onto the floor.

I start to explain the process when Pam stops me. “We have one shot at it and you’re the only one who knows how to do it. You get it going while we push.”

I protest, almost whining, “I can’t see where I’m going.” When it rains this hard, the world becomes a sea of grey and black. The contrast which I rely on for some visual feedback is lost in the sheets of rain, grey asphalt and dark trees.

“It’s OK. We’ll roll the windows down and tell you which way to steer. We’ll be safe in this quiet street. It’ll be fine.”

“OK.” I shrug and put my hands out to find the wall between the front door and the dining room.

“I’ll get it.” Pam says and in moment she’s back with a jacket. As she hands it to me she’s careful to tell me which part is in my hands so I can put it on more quickly. Then I follow a wall to the front door, carefully negotiate the three steps down to the walkway. It’s light gray and this gives me enough contrast from the dirt edging that I can get myself to the car.

Without a word, my children have spaced themselves like body guards. One is behind me, the other one at the car door. They are silent unless it’s to warn me of an obstacle.

Alec says, “The car door is over here.” I follow the sound with my arms outstretched, palms up, until I touch cold metal. The car is red. I see dark grey. I slide into the drivers side seat. It’s a rush of emotion in one movement. Excitement, fear and hope all flood through me as my hands slide into the familiar place on the steering wheel. Then my feet find the pedals: Clutch, brake and accelerator.  I look up. The garage door is a vague dark shape with a slight light edge. If I really had to drive, I’d crash in a moment.

The kids’ voices ground me in reality. In this time and place, I can rescue them like I did so many times when they were younger. Only now I can’t rescue them without their help.

Alec yells over the rain to release the brake. I feel the click and then the car moves as I release the foot brake and disengage the clutch. As we back out of the driveway, my hands instinctively push the stick shift into each of the gears. I need to be sure of finding 2nd gear when the time comes.

It’s cold, I notice as the windows are both down. I start to hear them call – Pam from the passenger side window, Alec from the driver’s side. “Left, turn left. Straighten out.”

They push the car into position in the street and I hold it in place with the brake. The car is facing downhill towards the dead end. Pam was right. We have one shot at this.

Through the windshield I now see light grey with a dark grey frame. This part of the road has oak trees on the right. The houses to the left are irregularly spaced dark shapes. And in front: Grey rain and grey asphalt. It’s a sheet of uninterrupted grey.

“Ready?” It’s Alec calling to me.

“OK,” I yell back. And then the movement starts as I release the brake. I’ll have to feel the right speed and then pop it into gear.

Through the open windows come more directions. When I hear left, I turn slightly left. When I hear right, I turn slightly right. The kids are laughing as they push their blind mother down the street in the heavy rain. They tell me later that I managed to steer through every puddle in the street. I can feel the speed. It’s time. Car in 2nd gear, clutch out slowly, and the car judders and then sputters to life. I rev the engine like I’m at the Indy 500 and then, when I’m sure it won’t stall, I open the door and, for the last time, leave the driver’s seat.

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Exhausted by living in California

You know that getting through all the healthy California living hoops has become vaguely ridiculous when in the same morning – before work – you manage to do all of the following:

  • Empty out buckets of shower water onto the garden vegetables. There’s a drought, so each drop is precious.
  • Treat the vegetables with organic neem oil (mixed with shower water) for powdery mildew.
  • Pour the rest of the shower water over my feet standing in a garden bed to wash off the oil and water mixture.
  • Pick young swiss chard leaves from the garden for you ultra-healthy morning smoothie (Soy milk, OJ, berries, greens, bee pollen, flax seed, grated coconut, chia seeds, goji berries and protein powder).IMG_1840
  • Carefully put aside the chard stems into the scrap container to feed to the special worms in the wormery later on.
  • Drink your smoothie with green tea, not black. You don’t use any honey (yes, honey, not sugar) with green tea unlike the 1/2 teaspoon you use with black.
  • Measure out this week’s vitamins in a day-by-day container.
  • Take today’s set of vitamins.
  • Add zucchini pasta to your lunch container so you’ll eat more vegetables.
  • Realize that you actually own a kitchen gadget that makes zucchini pasta.
  • Yes, the zucchini is from your garden. Yes. It’s organic.
  • Choose the best two home grown (did I mention they’re organic?) tomatoes for your lunch salad.IMG_1839
  • Look at a twist tie that you use for tying up bags of bin goods at the health food store. Effortlessly translate “6022” into “raw almonds.”
  • Wash all the dishes with as little water as possible. On then off, on then off, on then off goes the tap until they’re all done.
  • Throw out the plastic tea cup you got from drinking low sugar Boba tea the night before. Carefully check that the lid of your plastic container is recyclable. Whew! It is. Regret that the straw isn’t.
  • Feel guilty that after all this, you’re out of time and you’ll have to drive instead of bike 9 miles to work. All that carbon footprint! After all, you managed it yesterday!

Forget about Jewish or Italian guilt. What about the guilt at not living up to the California pure living dream??

Finally, I grab the keys – and drive my (dusty) car to work.


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Which father?

My father died almost 17 years ago to the day. I speak very little of him. I’d like to say “surprisingly little.” But maybe it’s more like Thumper so wisely spoke in Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.” The few times that I speak of him now, it’s in a few words which make clear that there is not much positive to say about him. This despite the fact that he supported me financially far beyond the outlines of the divorce decree and when he was dying said that I’d done well with my life. When I said that he’d been part of that success, he pushed back and insisted that I’d done it myself. It was oddly through his dying that he gave me a measure of my own strength.

There is someone I’d really like to acknowledge today. My Dutch family had 10 adult children. And the 5th one of them became known over the years as my second father. When my parents divorced, my brother and I would spend most of our summers with my father in Europe. But he couldn’t spend the entire summer on vacation. Instead of hanging around at his house, he’d ship us off to friends and, mainly, to his brothers and, sometimes, his sisters. Number 5 in line (with 10 uncles and aunts to remember, counting off in order is a great way to keep track of everyone) had children closest in age to my brother and me. He lived in a small village with farms all around and a huge river at his doorstep. And he’d spent a lot of time working in English speaking countries, so everyone in the family spoke English. It just worked. So, we’d find our way on a train across a couple of countries to the Netherlands to stay with Pith (said Pit) and his wife, Mieke for weeks on end.


La Licorne

For us it was a revelation. They spoke politely to each other. Consulted each other quietly and respectfully on various issues. Their house ran as smoothly as one can with young children. The Dutch, and them in particular, live in an orderly daily rhythm that we were simply unfamiliar with. And we fell into line. It wasn’t perfect for them to have us. Alec and I squabbled – a lot. But if Alec and I had long lasting marriages and relationships, it was in no small part to this experience of domesticity there in the farm cottage by the Maas in the small village of 250 people.

Later on, when I would visit throughout my turbulent years of teenage-hood, early 20’s and then into marriage, announcing my first pregnancy first to Mieke at one of the many family reunions, they were my reference point for life as it should be.

He had trained as an engineer, as I would. Only he stuck with it. He was a builder of things and houses. They eventually bought a 13th century armory, romantically called La Licorne (the unicorn), around the corner from the farm house and rebuilt it. As we visited both my brother and I were pressed into service along side his long-suffering children to build and paint until it was all done and dusted. Then he didn’t stop. His garden was a marvel with grapes and espaliered apple trees. He built beautiful 4 poster beds and refinished stand alone kitchen cabinets that he brought back from his work in Pakistan. When he retired he wrote a three series book of fiction about the family that used to own the house when it was part of the castle next door. When he showed me the book, he then took me downstairs to show me how he bound each copy by hand.

But that isn’t all he built. He and Mieke put me back together and let me know that I was a valuable person over and over and over again – after each setback in life. It was such a refuge that my ex-husband used to say that it was the only place in the world where I could sleep well.

When my father was dying, Pith sat at the end of the hall and waited. When it was over, he quietly stepped into his newly promoted role as father. He kept me company at the funeral directors and helped me flesh out the service, invite people and then, on the day, spoke about his black sheep brother with humor at their different religious points of view.

He’s older now. The armory is sold since the circular turret staircase became a burden to their knees. They live in a spacious apartment with all their belongings arranged in a different, but no less elegant and strangely familiar order. When I visit, there is a 4 poster bed to sleep in. And yes I still sleep well. And if when I come back to California, the man I now sleep next to is a builder who speaks respectfully and thoughtfully to me, maybe he is a reflection of this second father that took the place of the first.


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