Sunday, June 29, 2008

Air Quality

The smoke from a large number of wildland fires is playing havoc with my ridiculously fragile lungs. Over 300 fires started a week ago when we had lightening storms all over northern California. Soon there was a cloud of ghastly yellow smoke hanging over the upper part of the state. One of the fires threatened the housing division where Cindy's sister Sandie lives. In fact, one week later that fire is only 35% contained, and any sudden wind change could put the homes in jeopardy. While Sandie attends meetings about the safety of her home and watches flames lick the sky at night, I must stay indoors if I want to breathe evenly.

The smoke settles across the valley meadow where we live and hovers over the nearby reservoir. Even a short stint outside to water potted plants and empty the compost leaves me wheezing. I can't leave the bedroom window open at night because there is no fresh air to blow in. These lungs that I stretched and exercised as a kid by swimming seem to have lost their elasticity with age. I've become a person who must pay head when newscasters warn those with respiratory ailments to stay indoors because of poor air quality, though I admit this is the first time that I recognized myself in those alerts.

The upside is that I'm getting a lot of writing done waiting for the air to clear and the baby to arrive. Maybe the child knows better than to show his or her head in the muck that currently floats around here. I certainly have discovered the ill effects of peeking my head out the door, and my forced incarceration has effectively thwarted the procrastinator who always finds tasks to do in the yard when a writing deadline looms.

So by Saturday afternoon, I had finished the play review of South Pacific that is due Monday morning. Then I finished the novel I was reading (The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult which was OK but not something I'd recommend. If you want to read her stuff, read My Sister's Keeper). And we watched a sweet movie last night, one that Netflix recommended on the page that says "Since you liked [this movie] you might like [this movie.]" The title grabbed me: Evelyn. That's my mother's name. The blurb sounded good too: based on a true story, Evelyn follows a father's fight with the Irish Supreme Court to regain custody of his kids after his wife has left the family. The movie (along with pizza) was just the right reward for getting the review done early and staying inside all day. It was funny, well acted, and a happy commentary on beating the system and getting to right action.

There are sun beams on my desk this morning and the sky is pale white if not blue. I think I'll go take a sip of air and see how it feels.


Thursday, June 26, 2008


Every pregnant woman should receive the skillful, compassionate care that my daughter is getting during her sixth pregnancy and home birth. Last night, I was present at a prenatal visit. These vists take place weekly during the last month or so before delivery. I wish I had a picture to post of the idyllic scene, but my camera was in the car, and I didn't want to miss one minute of the visit so I'll do my best to describe what I saw.

When the midwives arrived for the visit, 3-year-old Mary Autumn had just awakened from a nap and was cuddled in Jennie Lou's lap. Children accompanied the midwives—Andrea's eldest son, 5-year-old Huck and Dodie's granddaughter, 4-year-old Gwendolyn. Within minutes, the two kids had joined the other Tippett children playing outside. The front door stood open, and kids wandered in periodically to quietly watch or ask a question. Andrea wrote notes in a fat file containing the records of all of Jennie Lou's previous pregnancies and deliveries. The birth tub stood nearby, clean and ready to be filled for the latter part of labor.

The conversation was easy with Andrea asking how Jennie Lou felt and if there had been any changes she wanted to report. Jennie Lou talked about the mild cold she and a couple of her kids were getting over. There was a brief discussion of Mary Autumn's birth and the ways it was similar to another birth that one of Andrea's friends had recently attended. The calculation for the due date was rechecked and the conclusion was that baby was indeed about a week overdue.

When Mary Autumn was more awake and ready to get off her mother's lap, the midwives performed routine tests such as blood pressure. One of the kids offered to help Andrea squeeze the bulb to tighten the cuff. Jennie Lou's blood pressure was 90/65, following the typically low pattern in our family but also indicative of her relaxation in the moment. She left to pee in a yogurt cup that Gianna had retrieved from the dishwasher. Next, she laid down so they could measure her belly and feel for the position of the baby. Mary Autumn climbed up beside Mama and cuddled against her shoulder.

The midwives explained that they were going to chart the baby's heartbeat and movement for a period of 5 minutes, a procedure that checks on the health of an over-term baby. At the sound of the heart beat pulsating through the Doppler, the children trickled in from outdoors. All were reverently quiet as Dodie counted heartbeats announcing the count every 5 seconds for Andrea to record. Gwendolyn stroked her grandma's back as she tapped thumb and forefinger together counting each beat. Every once in a while Jennie Lou said, "Movement," and Andrea marked the chart accordingly. Mary Autumn reached above her mother's head to gently part the curtain when she heard Papa's truck in the driveway.

"A healthy baby with a healthy heart," said Andrea at the conclusion of 5 minutes.

Jennie Lou sat up and the children drifted back outside. The special moment had passed: We all had the opportunity to enjoy a little in-utero time with this child who will soon "come out of Mama's belly."

In the case of a homebirth, pregnancy and birth are truly a family affair. I am fortunate to be a part of this family and this event.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Last week, Mary Autumn and Nell came for a play date at Dearma's. These girl cousins are mighty good friends. They share beautifully, help each other out, and consult eagerly on all ideas for play. It's a joy to spend time with them.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Due Date

Today is the day that the new Tippett baby is due to arrive. However, if past experience holds true, it will probably be a little while before we meet this little person. First of all, it seems that tradition dictates that a series of mishaps and inconveniences must occur in the Tippett household to make way for a new child—things like a round of flu, a root canal, or plumbing problems. The difficulties preceding this child began when the household went two days without water and Papa had to work furiously at the pump house. Then Anna Mae fell at a swim party and broke two bones in her wrist. Next, Gianna fell ill to a strange malady that had her throwing up all night and running a fever of 102. Today, Andrea the midwife, leaves for four days to go to a wedding in Wisconsin. (Dodie, who delivered the other 5 kids, has retired but she agreed to be on call as the backup while Andrea is gone.)

So not today, little one. The space for you is almost ready but not quite yet. How about next week, say the 24th or 25th. Dearma would like the 25th because there are already 2 children born on the 25th of the month (April and July) and that would make your birth date a little easier for her to remember. We trust you will know the perfect time to arrive.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Father’s Day

It's a busy week and a lot has happened since the Father's Day weekend, but I don't want this week to pass without saying a few words about this day when we traditionally acknowledge dads.

Father's Day weekend is the anniversary of Leon's and Aliou's arrival in the United States. I think their actual arrival was June 16th but it was the Saturday before Father's Day in 2007, so their arrival date will always be connected with this occasion in my mind. At the time, I thought it rather perfect that their new father, Michael, was collecting them from Liberia and bringing them to the US on Father's Day. One year later, I had a little encounter with them that elicited a reckoning regarding the celebration of my father.

On Friday, I was hanging out with some of the Tippett kids while Mama went to Modesto, and during lunch I mentioned that Sunday was Father's Day, which caused some confusion for Leon. He thought I was talking about Father Fitzgerald at church whom he calls Father. I tried to explain that Papa is his father too, but not in the same way that Father is a father. Of course, this got us into a conundrum that got even more tangled when I told him that everyone has a father. "My father is your great- grandfather," I said. When he asked, "Where you father," I told him that he had died. This sent him into a paroxysm of worry. Leon worries a lot especially about death and bad guys. It did not help to explain that my father had died 13 years ago, long before he was born. For the rest of the day, he kept returning to the subject of my father's death:

"You father died," he would say, as we sat on the couch reading or walked in the woods.

"Yes, Leon. My father died a long time ago," I'd remind him.

"He in heaven," said Leon.

"Yes, he's in heaven," I'd confirm.

Leon's ongoing concern about my father made me think about Daddy all day. I'm happy that Leon's language confusion and heartfelt inquiries got me thinking about my father. I'm not sure I would have spent as much time remembering my dad if not for Leon's consideration.

Thanks Leon, for helping me remember my dad for Father's Day.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


My trip north went a bit over budget and we've had some other unexpected expenses for June, so Cindy and I were having a budget meeting yesterday. I commented that it would be great if I could pick up a few extra writing assignments and she reported that she had bid on some extra assignments in her work, asking for above average pay given the gas prices.

Shortly thereafter, we were reminded to be careful about what we ask for. Within the short span of an hour, I was asked by email, phone, and a face-to-face meeting if I was interested in 3 separate writing jobs. During the same time, Cindy was given an affirmative response about 2 of the 3 jobs she had bid on.

For both of us that means considerably more work this month which translates to more money but also to "UH OH!!! Now I have to get hopping!"

I'll keep the blog updated on this windfall of business.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Here are some pictures from my trip to the Pacific Northwest.
  • Our picnic in Newport with Larry and painter Loie;
  • The sculpture that sent a rainbow into the sky;
  • The fish & chips place on Puget Sound with Cy;
  • The Seattle skyline from the backseat of Noah's Cadillac.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


There is a little town in northwest Oregon called Philomath. The word means lover of learning and is an apt description of the attitude I embraced on a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest with my friend Kathy. I already considered myself a philomath though I did not have the word in my vocabulary, but what was different about this trip was that I was not the one to steer the learning. Instead, new information came opportunistically and unexpectedly.

Unlike other trips I've made, Kathy made all the travel plans for this one which set the stage for many unexpected occurrences and encounters. From the moment we left her small housing development and she turned left when I expected her to turn right, I was confronted with the opportunity to let go and see what happens. Cindy would be the first to confirm that this is not the easiest thing for me to do, especially when it comes to being a passenger in a car. However, our mini-vacation to Yosemite had prepared me to "follow the leader" rather than be the leader. In Yosemite, Cindy led us on quest that was wonderfully rewarding, and so when I headed off with Kathy, I was better prepared to put my "control freak" in the back seat and hope for the best.

Though it is not possible to list all the unique experiences of this trip, here are the highlights of one of the most diverse trips I've ever taken:

  • The shift in perspective began with lunch at a funky Mexican restaurant called Mayas in downtown Portland where I enjoyed a superb burrito ordered without beans—something that never occurred to me before I heard our friend Larry ordered his this way. The seasoning on the burrito was the delightfully liberally conversation at the meal, initiated when Larry described Barak Obama's visit to Portland and which continued down many avenues until we were discussing the merits of socialized medicine.
  • At Courthouse Square Park, the city of Portland was preparing for the Rose Festival and had created an incredible Urban Meadow all across the square. We inadvertently ran into one of the designers of the Meadow who was putting on the finishing touches, and we got to hear his enthusiastic and passionate words on the process of this inspired creation. There were thousands of pots of wildflowers and veggies and trees all over the square, and he was simply glowing when he spoke about the butterflies and humming birds that had already visited this greenery in downtown Portland.

[Food, gardening, and liberal conversation were now established as themes for the trip]

  • Larry lives in Corvallis, so we hopped into his economical Mazda (33 miles to the gallon) and headed south down Highway 99 instead of I5 to view miles of land used for agricultural purpose: lots of grapes and the world's center for hazelnut production. Once in Corvallis, we walked the streets as Larry is want to do and oooh'd and aahhh'd the Rhodies, azaleas, chain fern, lilacs, irises, ad nauseum—unbelievable lushness for two California wannabe gardeners. The most surprising sight, however, were incredible vegetable gardens grown in the 4-5 foot parkways between the sidewalk and the street. No fences (translation: no deer or rabbits) and no irrigation (translation: rain, rain, rain). We learned about "lasagna" beds which are how these plots are created: starting with a layer of cardboard and building upward with compost, dirt, manure, etc., right on top of existing grass and weeds. What a concept.
  • The cultural part of the trip came next: including a big dose of literary delight. Larry took me to the Calyx offices where I had an eye-opening tour and visit with the editors and saw boxes of rejected submissions, knowing that my poems were in there somewhere. After that we went to Newport to visit my writing mentor, Lois Bunse, once a poet now transformed into the painter called Loie. The afternoon there was filled with an yummy backyard picnic, art galleries, a walk to the beach, a visit to the Sylvia Hotel (must see to appreciate), and a strange moment when refracted light from the glass middle of a metal sculpture flew upward into the clouds over the ocean to shine a triangular rainbow. WOW!! We had dinner near the beach in a strange little enclave that defies succinct description. The culminating cultural experience was a visit to the Oregon State University library near Larry's home where we visited the Linus Pauling special collection and saw many artifacts from his work including a chalkboard with his formulas still scrawled across the green space.
  • Amtrack took us to Olympia where we arrived just in time to participate in friend Cy's weekly discussion group on the topic of "Menu for the Future." In two short hours, my head was filled with the possibilities of how to eat better and more simply out of our garden and from our immediate locality. If I could just put 2 of these ideas into action, I would be making progress toward reducing our carbon imprint (admittedly a concept that took on greater meaning for me during this trip). We shopped at the Farmer's Market the next day and bought greens and asparagus and local mushrooms and pork chops (locally raised and slaughtered and all those other good words about meat that I can't remember) and came home to communally prepare a marvelous dinner.
  • Sightseeing on this trip was up Highway 101 with Puget Sound on one side and the Olympic Forest on the other—lots of rain and dark clouds and many stops at quaint little places, including a feed store where I talked to a self-published author who was promoting his novel about the Pacific Northwest. Great tips from this guy about book promotion. The final stop was at a roadside restaurant—one of those non-descript places with great food--for a lunch of fish and chips
  • On the last day of our trip, we rode to Seattle in friend Noah's 1964 (or was it '68) Cadillac to go to a beauty show. There were 5 of us in the car and the two in the front were stylists whose commentary about hair products and hair color and tools like flat irons totally changed my understanding and appreciation of the cosmetology profession AND the cost of my haircuts. Kathy and I did a short stint at the hair show, compliments of Noah and Gina, which further expanded my perception of the industry and its complexity.
  • Of course, one can't go to Seattle without going to Pike Street Market, but Kathy and I were tired and the Sunday crowd was too much, so we didn't last long but headed back to our fabulous digs at the Fairmont (compliments of Cy) for a nap before the dinner finale at the Red Fin—one of the best sushi dinners of my life.

We traveled all day Monday to get home, leaving the 58 degree temp in Seattle to arrive at 95 degrees in Sacramento. I was happy to shed the sweaters and coat I'd been wearing for 7 days, glad to be home from my philomathic vacation.

Monday, June 2, 2008


It was Cindy's idea to go to Yosemite for our mini-vacation. We had never visited the park together though we both had unforgettable memories of previous trips. Awesome experiences are easy to come by in Yosemite where water, rocks, trees, and wildlife take one's breath away again and again, but unbeknown to me, Cindy was on quest.

Shortly before Ashley died, she visited Yosemite with an old family friend. They snapped dozens of photos all over the park throughout their visit. In one picture, Ashley--laughing and full of life-- is standing in a tree in the angle formed by several large boughs. Cindy loves this picture and she wanted to find the tree. I was admittedly skeptical. How could we find one tree among thousands when the picture gave no hints--no identifying leaves, no distinguishing landmarks? Not only that, I knew that Ashley and her friend would have entered the park by a different road than we had. But none of that deterred Cindy. She knew the shape of those branches and she hoped to find this tree.

Years ago in her wilder days, the park gave Cindy a gift she'd never forgotten-- a transcendent moment. Freshly clean from a long-term addiction, she visited the park with friends and hiked to lower Yosemite Falls. In a brash move and against the advice of her friends, she went way beyond the safe perimeter, climbing over boulders and across slippery rocks until she was able to make her way behind the waterfall. Behind the thundering water, anointed by cold spray, she met God.

Not very far from lower Yosemite Falls, Cindy found Ashley's tree. I was astounded that she even noticed this particular tree, but she had the photo with her and there was no mistaking--it was the right tree. "Ashley told me to look this way," said Cindy, climbing into the tree. I snapped a photo. Later, when we arrived at the Falls, she once again climbed past the perimeter marked by park authorities. However, with age comes a little more caution. She stopped in a safe place before the rocks got slippery and sat on a big flat rock beneath the cold spray in quiet contemplation. . . .

Her quest was satisfied.