The Absence of Light

I remember looking down from the plane the first time I visited the East Coast, after moving to California.

It was December. I rubbed my eyes to clear my vision. Maybe I was tired, but it looked exactly like a black and white photograph.

Dead trees, dry grass, grey rocks.

Nothing alive.

I knew it would stay like that for many more months.

Which is why I was just passing through.

No wonder I was so depressed for most of my time living on the East Coast.

Except for my trips to New York City, that is. It felt like a different planet than New England, not just a different state.

But other than the City That Never Sleeps, everything else was dead or dying for almost half of every year.

I went to the supermarket during my visit, wearing my hot pink jacket with matching scarf, and noticed that most of the other shoppers were wearing dark colors with matching grim expressions.

Most of the houses in Connecticut are white and wooden with black shutters.

Haven’t these people ever heard of any new paint colors?

Apparently, they are all still using the original Puritan Palette.

In art school, my teacher explained to us that black paint, was the absence of light.

The absence of light.

So that was what I was experiencing my entire time growing up on the East Coast.

The Absence of Light. The Absence of Life.

When I was in high school, the talk of the town was a local photographer who painted his Victorian style house, in three different colors.

Actual color!

Actually three different colors! And none of them were black or white.

It was a scandal.

It even made the front page of the local newspaper. I kid you not.

I thought it was the most beautiful house I’d ever seen.

It was only years later, after driving through San Francisco, that I saw his inspiration.

Houses with actual color!

A lavender house, sitting beside a house that looked like the ocean, with its pale blue green shutters and turquoise front door.

At last I was home!

These were my bright and colorful people.

If you’re lucky, you find where you feel at home. Some people are born there and some of us need to travel until we find it.

That place where your soul feels alive. Where you greet each day with a light heart, not dread at the heaviness that lies ahead.

I’m so grateful to be living in my colorful, new, adopted world.

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Cross-Country Caregiver

While I managed to escape the too long winters when I moved clear across the country to the other coast, sadly my parents did not follow.

They loved visiting beautiful California, but as they got older and air travel became too hard for them, our visits became more about me going to see them as often as time and money allowed.

Like many of my friends with aging parents, our visits gradually became more about care giving than catching up.

People start falling when they are in their 80’s and 90’s.

Talk of hip fractures, hospice, strokes and assisted living apartments started to overtake our previous fun, silly and otherwise random conversations.

Words like “aging in place” and “palliative care” became my new Words of the Day.

If you’re lucky, you have siblings who you get along with. Brothers and sisters who will share in the care of your aging parents.

But, judging from the experiences of most of the people I know, none of this is going to even remotely resemble one of those happy families in the Hallmark commercials.

Much as we might try to will it into being so.

There is usually one sibling who already lives close to the family home, or who will soon be moving back into it.

No matter your good intentions, you will be seen as “The Interloper”. The one who breezes in for visits like a weekend divorced Dad, bringing gifts and good cheer.

You’re well aware that you’re not there for the daily grind, but will still try to make the best of it, optimist that you are.

None of it will matter.

You will be accused of not knowing what’s going on, while they who are there “all the time” will act the role of The Martyr like they’re trying to win an Oscar.

There is no winning this battle, so best not to choose it.

I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for people who are only children. Who have to manage and figure all of this out on their own.

Talk about feeling overwhelmed.

You may find yourself seriously wondering if people are meant to live this long.

Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. When you are an adult who now needs to wear diapers, “Quality of Life” becomes a personal and philosophical concept to wrap your mind and heart around.

You will do the best that you can, while attempting to keep your work, social life, family life with your own spouse and children and your own home, somehow afloat.

You wonder if you’re a horrible daughter who will surely go straight to hell, for praying that your parents die peacefully in their sleep.

Possibly even while holding hands, or in a final, loving embrace.

None of these things had occurred to me all those years ago, as I was driving across country with my then boyfriend, on our grand adventure and great escape, as we gleefully threw our plastic windshield ice scrapers out the window, happy to see the frigid East Coast in our rearview mirror.

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Green Christmas

It’s not that I don’t have any fun East Coast memories they are just few and far between. One I clearly remember though is clamming with Jimmy in Connecticut.

Me sitting in an inner tube, connected to him w/ a rope tied around his waist. I held onto a second rope that attached to another inner tube that held a deep, plastic bucket.

It was early, low tide. We pitch-forked into the wet sand and brought up heavy clumps, loaded with juicy clams.

So that was a good East Coast memory.

After having a “White Christmas” for most of my life, December in California took some getting used to. I’d go for walks and pass orange and lemon trees heavy with ripe and shiny fruit. I felt like I was strolling thru a scene on one of those old fruit box labels with names like “California Beauty” or “Gold Coast Brand”.

Instead of snow on the ground, the winter rains turned the dry grassy hills into lush green mounds. I mowed the lawn a week before Christmas, thinking “This sure beats shoveling the driveway.”

I laughed thinking of the shrink I’d met at a party once who said she was booked solid around the holidays, with clients who’d gotten as far away from their East Coast parents as they could, before falling into the ocean.

It was the cold climate I was fleeing, more than the family commitments.

I learned that the winter months were actually some of the best for going to the beach. The fog was usually gone as were as most of the crowds.

Every beach had it’s own personality.

Living in Petaluma, I’d drive down D Street imagining which of the Victorian mansions I’d most like to live in. Anything with a round tower room, surrounded by rose gardens, usually got my vote.

The suburbs slowly faded as the houses grew farther apart, and the view changed to dairy farms, grazing cows and the occasional llama. In the spring, the fields were dotted with tiny white lambs that looked more like adorable stuffed animals, than actual baby sheep.

Other seasons brought different sights and sounds.

A walk along the public pier in Pacifica one cold, windy Sunday in May was brisk but exciting as I passed people hauling up fat, delicious-looking Dungeness crab in nets.

The men there had come for the day. They grilled chicken and sausages on small hibachi’s, while their kids, some not as excited to be there, bundled up in fleece blankets against the cold.

It wasn’t an accident that I’ve only lived on coasts, as I need to be able to get to the ocean sooner rather than later.

There was no turning back once I realized people who lived in California could garden year round!!!! Before long, Christmas lights hung on cactuses and reindeer displays on green front lawns seemed like a fine way to celebrate the season.

My only regret was that I hadn’t moved here years earlier.

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Day Job

Like most creative people, I’ve had my share of “Day Jobs”.

Sometimes referred to as “Odd Jobs.”

Jobs whose sole purpose is to pay the rent. Jobs you will suffer zero remorse in quitting, the second it seems like you might actually be able to make a living from your true passion.

That’s how I found myself working every Saturday and Sunday as a “food demo girl.” Most times the company sent me to high-end stores like Whole Foods or local equivalents, where the customers didn’t even glance at the price of the $21.00. a lb. cheese I was sampling, but couldn’t actually afford to buy. They just tasted it, took a wedge from my table, threw it into their cart and kept moving – all in one smooth motion.

On this particular weekend I was in Palo Alto, set up on the sidewalk on California Ave. in front of a health food store I shall forever think of as “Funky Sun”, due to it’s grimy interior and super laid back employees.

Someone, I’m guessing an off-site owner, was smart enough to arrange to have a few demo tables out front, to take advantage of the overflow from the Sunday Farmer’s Market.

A guy playing the banjo is set up on the street in front of my table. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of that particular instrument. He plinks and plunks for the entire four hours of my shift. My ears ring with the twangy-ness of it all.

Of course, the great-sounding trio of handsome black jazz musicians is at the far end of the street. I only hear them playing as I’m walking in. And watch them packing up their instruments as I pass by later in the afternoon. Crap!

People who shop at health food stores are very discerning about what they put into their bodies. They stood in front of my little table debating for quite a long time about whether they should taste the tea I was sampling. You’d think I was proposing a lifetime commitment.

“Just taste the damn tea or don’t!!!” I have to refrain from shouting. “You’re blocking my table, you precious bastards. Drink it or move on!!!

In a scene right out of Dr. Seuss, a set of tiny twin boys, dressed in identical, long sleeved grey-and-white-striped pjs, zips past on their matching scooters, looking exactly like “Thing One and Thing Two”.

A loud-guy-who-thinks-he’s-funny is making his presence known. I think he works at one of the food booths. I use the term “work” loosely, as he seems to mostly wander around chatting people up and repeatedly running into the health food store, probably to take a leak, as he’s carrying a small glass milk jar that looks like it’s filled with beer. He gets louder as the day goes on, so I’m pretty sure I’m on the money regarding his beverage of choice.

He tries to chat up the very young and very pretty demo girl set up next to me. She’s sampling some kind of fruit juice. “Not sure if I should try this. My doctor says I’m sweet enough already!!!!” he shouts at her, even though she is standing mere inches away from him. I think she shows amazing restraint and politeness, and just smiles at him. “It’s up to you.”

She’s obviously knows how to deal with random guys hitting on her by now.

Who brings a pit bull to a crowded farmer’s market?

Apparently the dude in the leather vest with no shirt underneath does. The pit lunges at Labradoodles and other bite-sized morsels including a few tiny children who want to pet the “doggie.” Luckily the other dogs are on leashes, so no bloody or scary attacks occur. Or at least not on my watch.

There are a few close calls of course, with children wandering far afield from their “free range” parents.

My experience with pit bull owners is that when they do eventually attack someone, the owners almost always say, “He’s never done that before!”

An elderly and very chatty man stops by for a tasting and tells me about his adventure tasting tea in Taipei, years ago. He said it was like wine tasting today, only with tea. You could walk the countryside where people grew tea behind their houses. They’d invite you onto their front porches set up as tearooms, to sample their wares. I think “Drinking Tea in Taipei” sounds like a great title for a future novel.

My fellow demo gal is stunningly beautiful with long eyelashes that she bats efficiently with excellent end results. It’s kind of hilarious to see men make a beeline for her table, and not listen to one thing she’s saying as she earnestly pitches her product. Girlfriends and wives stand by looking territorial, suddenly putting a hand on their man’s forearm.

I’m happy just getting the overflow from her crowd, as no one is buying this tea that, according to comments from the people who’ve tasted it so far, tastes “kind of like dirt”.

I talk to pretty demo girl during a break in foot traffic. She’s quite sweet and also works a full-time job at Macy’s.

The crowds pick up again, so I never get to ask if there’s a true passion that her Day Job is supporting.

In any case, no one can say both of us aren’t out here hustling to make a buck!!!

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Coming Home

NorCalGal

I still remember my first time driving across the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’d never seen fog moving that fast!

It felt like we were in the middle of some kind of dreamy, time-lapse photography scenario.

Even though I’d never been to California before, I felt like I was coming home.

I’d never felt at home on the East Coast, where the overriding sentiment seemed to be “this is the way we’ve always done it, so there’s no need to try anything new.”

After one of the worst winters on record, my boyfriend and I decided we just couldn’t spend one more endless stretch of months shoveling the driveway, navigating our vehicles and ourselves through ice and snow and feeling some degree of cold most of the time.

And just like that it was decided. ~ “We’re moving to California!” ~

Reactions of family & friends divided neatly into two camps:

Excitement. Possibly tinged with just a little envy? for our “California Adventure”.

And Negativity. Complete with dire predictions of failure or worse, on our “California Folly”.

In the negative camp, were those who said, “But you don’t have jobs. Neither of you knows anyone out there.”

“Well,” we patiently explained to the glass-is-half-empty contingent, “We’ll get jobs and we’ll meet new people when we get out there.”

At the time, the U-Haul trucks had their “An Adventure in Moving” slogan painted on the sides of the trucks.

That was enough of a sign for us!

So without much more thought or planning than that, we loaded all of our belongings and his two cats into the U-Haul truck and headed West.

With no jobs waiting for us, we took our time driving across the country, heading West by first going South.

We drove through the lush and humid deep South, the amazingly delicious and music-infused New Orleans, even venturing into the over 1,000 foot deep Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

For someone as claustrophobic as I am, this was a personal victory. It was amazingly beautiful, as long as you didn’t focus on how far underground you were.

On the open road, I discovered that I liked riding up high and pretending I was driving a big rig, just like the other truckers pulled in at the rest stops along the way.

I learned that, even in the dark, in a heavy downpour of cold rain, I could put our dome tent up by myself if I had to. A fight with my boyfriend had him driving off in a huff, leaving me alone at our remote KOA campground, angry, tired and crying, but determined to create shelter.

By the time he finally returned, hours later, we had both calmed down and apologized. I had a new feeling inside me; a quiet reserve of resourcefulness and strength I knew I could draw on if I ever needed to.

Growing up on the East Coast, where the trees grew in crowded woods, I marveled at the golden rolling hills of California.

I’d never seen grass-covered hills like that; bare and soft looking, dotted with the occasional patch of scrubby-looking oak trees.

Both of us had the usual sunny-all-the-time California fantasies about San Francisco. We were shocked and unprepared for how cold and foggy it was in the middle of the summer!

Our plan to find jobs and a place to live in The City by the Bay quickly shivered away.

The next morning we headed north, and kept driving until we were out of reach of the fogs chilly embrace.

We ended up at a campground in Petaluma. There with a giant blackberry hedge out front, where we soaked up the sunshine and gorged ourselves on the purple abundance.

Our first Thanksgiving in California, was actually in August.

We’d found a little cottage to rent in the town of Sonoma, and our new neighbors knocked on the door while we were still unpacking boxes.

They generously invited us to join them for “Thanksgiving in August”, explaining that they loved all the flavors of Thanksgiving so much that they made the traditional meal, with all the trimmings, whenever the craving struck.

“We know what it’s like when you’re moving,” our new favorite people in the world, continued. “You probably don’t even know where the boxes are with your pots and pans anyway, much less having had time to buy any groceries.”

Thinking about our first home cooked meal in weeks, we gratefully accepted, feeling like we’d truly arrived in the Land of Plenty.

So, that’s how this story begins, and how I came to be a “NorCal Gal”.

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