Monday, November 18, 2013

Dengue & Me

I might not ever know for sure if I had dengue fever, but what I do know is that after I returned from Baja Sur, I fell ill in a whole new way. I was wracked by fever that set my blood or my nerves (I could never be certain which) humming with agitation. The constant sensation of tremor that didn't subside even when the fever did was disconcerting and frightening. Thirst was constant and yet water often tasted metallic or sometimes like flowers or putrid like sewage. Cottonmouth was a constant. My entire digestive system was rumbling, not with hunger but with tiny waves of peristalses that made me feel constantly sea-sick nauseous. Meanwhile, the headache behind my eyes made me yearn for darkness. I couldn't look at a screen for more than a few minutes. On the worst day, I could barely text a three letter response to my daughter who was monitoring me from her home while Cindy was attending an event where I was supposed to be. A tiny bloody nose started a sore in my nose that caused me to sneeze again and again for days. My lips were chapped and my upper lip felt swollen with herpes that never actually appeared. I shuffled from the recliner to the couch in my office to the bed, trying to change my recumbent position to ease the constant ache in my back. Every step made my head pound and my eyes blur. Tinnitus rang in my ears.

On day 3, the fever subsided. On Day 5, I woke in the night with such severe nausea that I decided to go to the ER for monitoring. It was the right thing to do in terms of getting blood work and easing my mind about symptoms that might have indicated I'd moved into DHF—Dengue Hemorraghic Fever—the more severe version, the onset of which is 4 to 7 days into the illness, but the experience left me beyond sad about the absence of my long term family doctor, Warren Borgquist, not to mention wasted from being out in the cold in the middle of the night. By the middle of Day 6, I sensed a shift. The tremor was quieting, not so noisy in my body and maybe even absent for minutes at a time. That was the day that Cindy and I teamed up to make chicken soup. She was sick with a cold, and we knew we needed to nourish ourselves if we wanted to recover. We cooked an organic chicken and sat at the counter to cut vegetables and strip the chicken off the bones. Then I took a long nap and when I got up, I was able to eat a few bites, the first food I'd been able to eat other than mashed potatoes since getting ill. Over the next few days that soup was hugely nourishing. Soon, I was munching on raisins and eating applesauce in between larger and larger bowls of soup. On day 9, I had my first cup of tea, ate a boiled egg and tomato sandwich, and rode with Cindy to town to get a movie from Redbox and veggies for spinach salad. She took one of her scenic routes (read geographically challenged in Sonora) and I didn't even care. I just looked out the window and enjoyed the fall colors.

This morning, I'm sitting in front of a screen writing a blog with a cup of tea on my end table. I'm five pounds lighter, my lips are cracked and peeling, and the face that looked back at me from the mirror this morning is tinged with gray BUT I'm on the other side of my strange tropical illness. This morning I added a book to my wish list: “Almost an Island: Travels in Baja.” Not shying away from that exotic, intriguing place, though I will be sure to pack mosquito repellent for my next visit there or anywhere such insects fly.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Rim Fire Days

There was a puff of smoke in the sky to the south, clearly a fire, something our eyes are alert to in the foothills all summer. We watched a pyrocumulus cloud form on the horizon--beautiful but not benign. The cloud flattened and roiled. Helicopters, air tankers, and fire engines roared into the county. Thus commenced the Rim Fire Days.

At Masters swim practice, I peeked under my arm as I swam watching the helicopters and then a DC-10 flying low. It felt as if the helicopter was going to dip its bucket into Lane 5 for water to douse the fire.

My son texted at 10pm Wednesday saying a fire fighter friend warned they would soon be on advisory evacuation. He wanted to bring his family to my house. "Come on down!" I texted back.  It would be a day and half before his wife called and said, "We are packing up and heading to your place." I'd just spent a sweet hour in an interview with Marjorie and Karma Borgquist talking about family. As I drove away, Phillip Phillips came on the car radio singing "Just know your not alone/I'm gonna make this place your home." I drove quickly to make space for a family of six and their pets.

We moved the Harrelson family in, parked their bikes on the patio and Humphrey, the guinea pig, on the washing machine and made plans for dinner. Cindy and Taylor went shopping, and Cody and Kyle went for a ride on nearby dirt roads in the Samurai. After a dinner, everyone took to screens-- iPads, smart phones, and computers-- to see what was happening. We were consumed with watching the fire via the Internet--mostly Facebook and My Mother Lode, but also InciWeb and a few other sites. The Groveland Facebook page became our favorite site. We called out different reports and showed each other incredible images. Our wifi got so overloaded that the Internet on my computer stalled.

The next morning when I took my tea to the patio, the smoke was as thick as a January fog. I soon headed inside where breathing was easier. The next few days were a whirl of games, guitar music, fire monitoring, food prep, and watching our animals make friends with the Harrelson animals. The days were hot and smokey and filled with family fun. When they decided to head home Sunday afternoon, the quiet in our house was enormous. We missed them.

The next day, the earache I'd been nursing all weekend flared; I tried to catch up on freelance work but kept getting drawn back to fire monitoring on Facebook. Then I got an email from my sister Ginger reporting an offer had been made on the San Francisco house where we grew up.  The world smelled like smoke; the sky turned an eerie crimson and gold at sunset. I was unsettled!

Cindy made cookies, and we took them to an elementary school where firemen were bivouacked. We walked out Plainview Road to the point and watched smoke curling in big plumes from Paper Cabin Ridge. Behind us, the sun was a giant orange globe.

For a seven days, the fire was all we could think about. It wasn't over, but there was a sense that things were pointed in the right direction, that we could resume whatever it was that had stopped or slowed or slipped.  Tomorrow would be different. But first we stood still on that hill until the sky was dark and all we could see was a deep red glow in the distance.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

6423-25 Legacy

When I was six years old, my family moved into a flat on California Street in San Francisco in a building that my dad and his brother had renovated.  We lived upstairs in the 3 bedroom flat with a big back porch and a great yard that had one tree with a tree house. In time, my dad built gates into the 3 neighboring backyards where our friends lived and our playing space expanded exponentially.

Downstairs from the flat at street level was my dad's upholstery shop. Behind the shop and up a short flight of stairs was a small apartment where my uncle lived for a time. After that it was a space for visiting relatives or temporary housing for my dad's workers. Also behind the shop and below the apartment was a basement.

When my parents divorced, my dad moved into the apartment, and he rented the flat to a woman who had one daughter. During the last year of my dad's life, my uncle moved into the shop creating a little living space at the back near the apartment. He piled as much of his belongings as he could on top of my father's already abundant collection at the front of the shop, all around the living space he had shaped, and in the basement. He took care of my dad during his last months, and once he had sufficiently grieved my dad's passing, he moved into the apartment where he lived 18 more years until his death this past January. He didn't remove any of my dad's things but settled his life on top of that of my father's. The upstairs tenant remained in the flat for 42 years.

Now my siblings and I are diving into the legacy in the building at 6423-25 California Street. The layers are deep and pitted with emotion. Last weekend, Cindy and I met my sister Ginger, my son Raleigh, his wife Jenny, and their son Kyle for our second dive into the bowels of the shop and apartment. Well actually, it is the 3rd dive as the fire marshall demanded some cleanup a year ago, and a family contingent spent two days sorting and hauling away much of the flammable material. But there are still mountains of stuff left.

Here's what I want to say: While this could be viewed as a terrible mess left for the heirs to deal with (it is), it is also an opportunity for an endearing thread of connection between the generations. Candice acquires some of her Great Uncle Buddy's record albums and Haydon gets some of his model airplanes. Jenny gets one of Grandpa Stasiu's whale knick-knacks and a photo of Kyle with a 20-year-old jar of Grandpa's kombucha brew; Culley takes the copper triangle that hung over his grandpa's head for years and Raleigh has a tool heyday. Cindy makes a pile of scrap metal for her folks while Ginger and I zero in on memorabilia like a black metal tin with pink flamingos filled with silver coins and a glass box both of which belonged to our father.

We have a couple more trips planned into this crazy haven of history and accumulation. Each time, relatives of the family who first moved into 6423-25 will dive in to see what they can find. Not only is it an hilarious experience of "one person's junk is another person's treasure," these visits are a catch-all for satisfying memories.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Family Daze

Last Sunday, Clare and I went to Mass at St. Josephs in Mariposa. During the homily, the priest talked about Blue Monday, a late January phenomena of depression related to the middle of winter, cold, dark days, lots of sickness, and the distance from both Christmas and Easter with their sacred energy. He went on to offer three practical ways to manage the challenges this time of year brings: gratitude, an affirming attitude, and kindness.

The last week of January 2013 was full of such blueness in our family. The flu hit Cindy's parents and Jennie Lou and Clare. My son's father-in-law was extremely ill and ended up in the hospital as did Cindy's dad. Michael and Raleigh were out of town which left their wives limping along without their main support, and to make matters worse the elder sons, who pitch in with driving and child care, were also away. My daughter-in-law leaped to help her dad, and many friends and I stepped forward to help manage the children--including providing transportation to school, work, and sports--and overnight supervision. Jennie Lou's car broke down, leaving her not only sick but basically stranded. So I did some driving to get those kids to and from school and other events. Over in Mariposa, where Cindy was helping her folks, the pump to the well went out leaving them without water after dark on Friday night. It was dizzying week that could have dropped us to our knees or at least into sick beds but it didn't.

Without actually thinking about, we were doing what the priest recommended. We were grateful to be healthy and have the strength needed to help. We were willing, which was definitely an affirming attitude. And I'm pretty sure we were kind in everything we did.

We love our HUGE family even when dazed with blue moments--for we see the tenderness there and know the blessing.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


For several years I've been wanting to have a dog in my life again. It's been over 20 years since I last owned a dog, but for the first 40 years of my life I was never without one.  Not sure what sparked the recent urge; perhaps it was just a dormant ember that never went away.

My dog has almost arrived on three different occasions. First, I found a Beagle on a rescue site whose mistress had died. The surviving spouse was moving into a small apartment and didn't feel he could keep the dog. On the day I was supposed to go meet her, I got cold feet and called the gentleman. Relief flooded through me to hear him say he took my change of heart as a sign that he needed to keep the dog after all.

The next dog who nearly came to live with me was my grandson's dog, Baxter, who actually spent a week visiting. At the time, my daughter and her family were considering a move out of the area, and it was going to be difficult to take Baxter with them. She asked if I would consider keeping Baxter when they left. I said, "Yes" because I'd enjoyed this companionable dog and walking him several times a day. But then the move fell through, and Baxter stayed with the family he'd known most of his life.

Solo is the 3rd dog. Several weeks ago my brother emailed that Solo, a sweet Baja hound, had been abandoned by his gringo owners. Andy thought Solo would be the perfect dog for me. I fell in love immediately.
But still, I hesitated. I spent a week thinking about Solo, imagining him in my home and heart, and I was blessed with learning much about myself. Here are the highlights:
  • The email and picture of Solo came hours after I learned of my Uncle Buddy's death, which drew a firm line between my love of animals and my Uncle, who in many ways cultivated that love.
  • My brother and my son reminded me of the unique love a dog gives, which is undoubtedly a thing a long for.
  • When Cindy stopped letting the decision be all mine and joined whole-heartedly in imagining Solo as our dog, the picture of him in our home grew vivid and alive. I could really feel what it would mean to grow our family with the presence of this dog. The reality was wonderful and also sobering.
  • Several weeks ago, I wrote in my journal that I planned to radically change the priorities in my life in 2013. Solo was a test of what that meant to me, for adding him to my life would certainly be a radical change. But suddenly this morning I knew that what I meant by radical change was letting go of wanting and making more space in my life.
I wrote to my brother and his wife saying I declined the offer of Solo. As much as I appreciated being their choice and as much as I wanted him, I knew I needed to look a different way.

A few minutes later, I read this poem by a writer I studied with in graduate school. Some how it seemed to resonate prophetically for better or worse with my decision. 

by Paul Lisicky

That silly retriever. He doesn't go to the two guys looking right at him, beaming him awake with concentrated joy. Not at all: he goes straight to the man with his head turned to the left, who could care less about doggy behavior and isn't the least bit stirred by the snout parked in the knee and the wagging hind parts. And that's it: the physics of the known world. Which is why the trees look better when they're left unwatered, and the birds actually prefer it when you don't sing back to them. And the holy man crossing the street with the black brim hat? He knows better than to pick up what he's dropped and lift his face to the mountains. Take it from him, friend. You probably wouldn't even want it if the light hit you in your head.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Uncle Buddy

Uncle Buddy was nothing like my dad, his brother. He was bald, smoked a pipe, and listened to classical music. For a good part of my childhood, he lived in an apartment behind my dad's shop. We lived in the flat upstairs--we being my mom and dad and four siblings. I was the eldest, and I always felt like I was Uncle Buddy's favorite.

That may or may not have been so, but what I do know is that I loved going down to his apartment to pet Uncle Buddy's Siamese cat, Spookie, until my eyes reddened and tears spilled from allergies. We had a dog upstairs, but I liked cats despite being allergic to them. Mostly, however, I enjoyed sitting in the sunny peaceful apartment in a pall of pipe smoke and drifting cat hair, listening to a Tchaikovsky piano concerto and mesmerized by the spinning turntable of my uncle's record player. It was a quiet interlude from the busy household upstairs.

When my best friend, moved from San Francisco to San Bruno when I was 7, it was Uncle Buddy who took me to see her on Saturday afternoons. It seemed like I had to beg him to take me. "Please, Uncle Buddy, can you take me to see Nancy?" And it seemed like he always did. I can't imagine what he did while I played with my friend for several hours. All I remember is the foggy drive back to the city on Skyline Boulevard.

When our family dog was hit by car, I was devastated. A few months later, Uncle Buddy took me to pick out a puppy to replace her. It was Uncle Buddy who taught me how to potty train the puppy and teach it to walk on a lead. I know I eventually tired of this responsibility and my mom took over Lucky's care, but I think I learned a lot because Uncle Buddy believed I could do it.  He also showed me how to feed the wounded pigeons I brought home and he brought the beautiful green parrot that lived in a cage in our dining room for many years. I know my love and appreciation of animals was stirred by this man.

Uncle Buddy taught me how to drive in his 1956 Jaguar--a stick shift. He had me practice in the quiet streets in the Sea Cliff district until I mastered the clutch. And then he took me on busier streets and taught me how to stop and go on the hills of San Francisco and how to parallel park on Clement Street. I passed my driver's test on my 16th birthday on the very first try. The following summer, he let me have the Jaguar for the month of August in Twain Harte where we had a summer cabin. But first he made sure I knew how to check the oil, fill it with gas, and change a flat tire.

My adult relationship with Uncle Buddy was distant and somewhat strained. I don't think he wanted me to grow up. But a few weeks ago, I visited him at the VA hospital. He was 90 years old, blind, hard of hearing, and frequently delirious, but in a moment of lucidity he said, "Ah, Patsy. Your hair is grey now. I saw a picture of you in your boat. Beautiful! You will live a long time." He was remembering a card I'd sent him 9 years earlier when he could still see a little. I held his big hand and let the tears drop on the bedsheets.

The blessings of elders are special. Uncle Buddy blessed me with loving attention as a child, but this blessing a few days before his death on January 6, 2013 was a treasure.