Passing on the Tradition

The minute I saw the invitation, I knew the jig was up. Our daughter Ally and her boyfriend were throwing a tree-trimming party, a tradition I began with a roommate in my 20s and continued with my husband for many years. This party meant that the occasional knee-high tree grabbed as an afterthought from Mollie Stones would be replaced by a six-footer. It was time.

I’d been waiting for this day with mixed feelings since our daughters were born. Each year, we’d head out the day after Thanksgiving to select ornaments, one for each girl. We’d hang them on the tree, then, after packing them away for the season, I’d write the year and a detailed description of the ornament on hand-scrawled lists: “Ally’s Ornaments,” “Emma’s Ornaments.” All the eras of childhood were there: teddy bears, snowmen, rocking horses, Santas, dogs, cats, the more sophisticated choices of adolescence. Someday, I knew, I’d wistfully wrap them all up and present them as a starter set for the first real tree of their adult lives.

Ally’s first ornaments from us were a teddy bear dressed up for Christmas and a baby on a rocking horse.

I wrapped each one in tissue, along with all the others, and placed everything in a shoe box, wrapping it in extra cloth leftover from the tree skirt I’d made for us years before.

Ally’s jaw dropped as she unwrapped the first ornaments. “I can’t possibly accept these!” she protested, but her reluctance gave way as I assured her this had been my intent all along.

She sent me a picture of their very sparsely decorated tree as soon as they’d set it up, decked with her childhood ornaments and the two they’d gotten for their first tree. There was plenty of room for years and years more.

The tree-trimming party was wonderful. Ally made these adorable edibles:

And here’s what we brought, a homemade facsimile of both girls’ long-time favorite that a friend had given me at my first tree-trimming party almost four decades ago:


What traditions have you passed along?

Political Junkie Abroad–and Back Again!

When you last heard from me, we were heading off to New Zealand right before the mid-term elections, missing out on the crucial Get Out the Vote endeavor. As I posted gorgeous photos on Facebook, one of my friends wrote, “So smart to leave the country before the election and avoid the rush.”

Our tour guide told us that wi-fi on the South Island is known as Why-Try? Right during the crucial period when I hoped to be sneaking peeks at the election results, we were scheduled to go from spotty coverage to being completely off the wi-fi grid, with barely any cell coverage. (Which we didn’t have anyway, not wanting to pay a fortune for even an accidental and momentary activation of cellular data.) Before we went totally dark, I lamented our imminent news blackout via text to my SwingLeft canvassing friend, who texted back, “Lucky you!”

But I didn’t feel lucky–I felt cut off from the thing I’ve obsessed about for the past two years. I guess I am not good at going cold turkey.

Luckily, someone on the tour with a New Zealand cell plan could get a little bit of coverage as the results dribbled in. We got lots of perpetually circling loading symbols, and a bit of CNN. This ushered in PTSD reminiscent of November 8, 2016, as Florida turned red. In a little while, it was apparent that the Democrats had secured the House, but just barely. Maybe it would have been better to be a normal person who likes to unplug on vacation.

The next day brought horizontal rain and a blizzard and several hours of driving incommunicado. But at a little town where we stretched our legs, the woman who ran a gift shop asked us about the election, then let us take over her laptop so we could find out where things stood (better). As we regained coverage over the next several days, the blue tide swelled, lifting our moods.

Throughout New Zealand, everyone we met was more interested in the mid-terms than most people in the United States. Kiwis were following the House and Senate races, and commiserated with us about Trump. Some British tourists congratulated us on the mid-terms and lamented Brexit, reassuring us that the U.S. did not have a monopoly on lunacy; ours was just more obvious.

Eventually we could truly relax. And guess what? We were in a beautiful country! Here are some highlights from our fabulous New Zealand Trails tour:

Milford Sound and the Routeburn Track–our first night we slept on this boat, and saw penguins, seals, many waterfalls, and where the sound spills into the Tasman Sea. Breathtaking, and apparently lucky we could see anything at all besides the atmospherics, aka “rain.”

We did some stuff besides hiking and election obsessing: Biking in Arrowtown and Dolphin–or perhaps Alien?–Encounter:

Hiking in Abel Tasman National Park, then donning backpacks (for Lorrie, the first time in more than 30 years) in Nelson Lakes National Park:

The West Coast:

Our last day was spent walking along gorgeous Lake Wanaka, with the famous Lake Wanaka Monster looming up from the lupine:

It’s good to be home. The rains and the new political landscape make it possible to breathe a little easier.

No Words But This For Now

Getting Through the Vote

The enthusiasm gap that has bedeviled Democrats has now morphed into a volcanic eruption of enthusiasm. Here in California, not only are volunteers swarming the state to turn out voters, so many candidates are running in our Top-Two primary that there’s a risk they’ll split the vote and ensure Republican victory in November. Unforced errors and circular firing squads–The Democratic Party’s specialty.

To make sense of this hot mess, a group of us gathered last week to go over the ballot. We are a group keenly interested in politics, and pride ourselves on being well-informed and civically engaged. Here is a sample of our thoughtful decision-making process:

“Our kids were on the same soccer team, and he seems like a nice guy.”

“She donated a kidney to her sister.”

“I don’t like his hair.” (This last one was from me, critiquing Gavin Newsom’s coiffure. At least I was fine with Hillary’s hair.)

What does it portend for our democracy when you can’t distinguish between our group, low-information voters, and a bunch of chimpanzees throwing darts at a sample ballot? And even if we knew who we wanted to vote for, it was nearly impossible to find the right name: 27 people are running for governor, and 32 for U.S. Senator!

Actually, I did do a little research. The more I learned, the more indecisive I became. “I not only lack the courage of my convictions,” I lamented to our host. “I lack convictions!”

As usual, Auto-Correct had the last word: When I emailed the above photo to myself from my iPhone, my subject line–“Gotv”--appeared as “Gotcha.”

Let’s hope tomorrow’s election doesn’t turn into the worst kind of “Gotcha.” And although possibly my persuasive skills leave something to be desired, be sure to get out and vote.




Year-End Report from the Resistance

The arc of a year is often depicted as a joyous, energetic baby who ends up as a hunched-over old man, bruised and battered by the passage of time. 2017 didn’t exactly start out on such an optimistic note–how could it with Donald Trump set to move into the oval office? But along with millions more, I marched the day after the Inauguration, with high spirits and firm resolve to resist. (That’s my husband and me at the Oakland Women’s March in the picture above.)

I’ve spent the year plummeting between impotent rage and despair, punctuated by a few marches, calls to representatives, some phone banking, a little local affordable housing advocacy, some op-eds and letters to the editor, and check-writing to organizations fighting the fight more effectively than my demoralized self could muster. Mostly, though, I’m ending the year with a different kind of resistance: resisting the urge to crawl under a rock until it’s safe to emerge:

(Here we are again–has the “All clear” sounded?)

We knew this administration would be awful, but except for Trump’s own incompetence and self-destructive tendencies, it’s been far worse than imagined. The assaults are constant and brutal, effective and exhausting. The saving grace has been the strong opposition that’s been aroused. People took to the airports to protest Trump’s travel ban; they took to their representatives’ offices to thwart the repeal of Obamacare; they took to the streets to protest.white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

Most important, people have taken to the ballot box. Democratic victories in Virginia and Alabama, as well as less splashy ones throughout the country, speak to the importance of electoral politics. After I crawl out from under my rock, that’s where I’ll be putting my energies in the new year, traveling with Swing Left to my nearest swing district to try to turn a red House seat blue.

So like the decrepit figure of Father Time who ushers out the old year, I’m ending 2017 battered and bruised, but with  determination for the new year. Onto 2018! Onto the mid-terms!


How have you survived this first year of Trump’s presidency?



Finch familyLast weekend we loaded up the U-Haul and moved our daughter into her first San Francisco apartment.  Ally had just started a new job—the kind with benefits, including dental. That same day, our other daughter, Emma, moved from home into an artist’s residency a thousand miles away.

Developments were also under way in another family—this one nesting under the eaves on a drainpipe above our back deck. A pair of house finches who raised a brood there last year had returned.

The first time round, I was a nervous wreck about the birds. Would the neighbor’s cat get them? Would the babies fall out of their nest? Crash while learning to fly? Every morning I peeked out the window like a new parent who ventures into the nursery dreading crib death. It was like a time-lapsed sequence of all my anxieties about raising our own children.

But everything turned out fine, as it usually does. So this time round I’ve been calmer, not only with the finches’ launch, but with our daughters’. There’s a pang still, but it’s not nearly as acute as before, when each new step Emma and Ally made away from us left me worried about their well-being and wondering who I would be in their absence. Now I have come back to myself, come back to the marriage pushed to the back burner while my husband and I grew our girls into young women. Just as our daughters are taking flight into their new lives, we are, too.

So it is with our bird family. The parent finches go from patient egg-sitting to cramming food down gaping mouths. Scruffy teens with tufts of down atop their heads soon take over the living space, crowding each other on the edge of the nest.  Dislodged twigs and dried bits of guano litter the deck below. In a few days, they are gone, leaving behind their mess.

Just like Ally and Emma. I sweep the deck, then tackle the debris left behind in their rooms–stray socks, scraps of paper, dirty sheets and towels. As much as we miss our daughters, my husband and I love the return to order, love having our house (and deck) back.

Besides, we look forward to return visits, messiness and all.




V is for Vaccination Village

herd immunityI live in Marin County, California—ground zero of the vaccination wars that erupted after this winter’s measles outbreak in Disneyland. Marin County is one of the most affluent, best-educated, and progressive enclaves in America. It also has some of the highest rates of personal belief exemptions for standard childhood vaccinations. Left-wing parents here who do not want to vaccinate their children cry “Freedom!” just as loudly as their right-wing counterparts. Some have quipped that Marin County is the place where the Tea Party and the Green Tea Party come together.

I support SB277, a bill currently making its way through California’s Senate that would eliminate all but medical exemptions for vaccinations for school-aged children whose parents wish to enroll them in public schools.

Yet I hesitate to wade into the battleground, knowing how firmly held beliefs become even more entrenched when disputed, even in the face of scientific evidence. Although a false claim linking autism to vaccines has been thoroughly debunked, fear persists. I do not know how to approach parents who fervently defend their right to choose what is best for their children when I know it is not best—for their kids, or for anyone else’s. Maybe if my friend Mark Paul’s essay, “My Polio, My Mother’s Choice,” were required reading, it would be more persuasive than my impatient incredulity.

These days, though, I fear that perhaps we’re suffering from something even worse than the easily preventable outbreak of disease. The vaccination wars speak to deeper problems in our country: distrust in the government, both earned and unearned; too many who turn away from science; and, most gravely, the abandonment of the village. The near-universal practice of vaccination confers herd immunity, protecting those who are too young, too old, or too immuno-compromised to be vaccinated. But if enough people seek “freedom”—freedom from their responsibility to the herd–where does that leave us? We are too much in it for ourselves now, no longer interested in contributing to the common good. This worrisome trend affects many issues beyond vaccination

It does, indeed, takes a village. But what if people want only the rights, and not the responsibilities, of being a villager?