Once Upon a Time: My First Thanksgiving Day in America

fall colorsIt was 1966. After a three-day train ride through the cities and countryside of America, our family arrived in Northern California. As newly arrived immigrants from Ontario, Canada, we didn’t know a soul.

Why we arrived on Thanksgiving day is a long story. My parents were smart, hardworking people, but neither of them had a formal education. They wanted their girls to get a college degree. California seemed like the land of opportunity, especially for my dad the horticulturist. The plan was to finish the school year, sell our house and come to California. The house sold, we said our goodbyes and we gave away most of our worldly possessions. Then we hit a snag. The US government delayed my father’s visa while they continued to research his background. Dad was a British immigrant first, moving from England to Canada where he met and married our mom. Long story short, we were not allowed to immigrate for another five months. We stayed in a hotel at first, then later with a relative. From there we stayed in the home of our former babysitter and finally rented rooms in the home of an abusive man. These were traumatic months for all of us. We were homeless in a way, straddling uncertainty between two countries. Dad took odd jobs while we waited and our savings kept us going during the wait.

Memories are a fascinating thing. Our brains record everything, but our hearts seem to decide what we recall. The highs and the lows often play out, with the minutiae of daily life lost to the ether.  I remember the brief layover in Chicago. Mom bought us a kit of paper chains to keep our hands busy during the wait. We traveled by coach, so no berth for sleeping. We took turns draped across our mother’s lap. Three days on a train is a long journey when you’re seven.

We arrived in Loomis, California on that wet Thanksgiving day in 1966, welcomed into a stranger’s home. The man who would be my father’s co-worker invited us to dinner! Most of the details remain a blur, but I remember sitting on the floor of a small, warmly lit room watching an episode of Star Trek with a large, lumbering dog nearby.

There were many dark days ahead, but in that moment I felt safe and warm and welcomed, one immigrant family to another, in a vast, complex country called America.

The names and faces of our hosts that day are lost to history. But in my heart I’m thankful for that gracious family that opened their doors and hearts to ours.

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Soft Rains and Healthy Brains

While enjoying the sound of a soft rain outside my window, I looked for articles that explain my sense of euphoria with each passing storm.

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Anna’s Hummingbird having a drink at one of the feeders

Apparently I’m a pluviophile!

According to an article in LifeHack

People who love rain bask in their experiences. They can describe the rain in vivid detail, from the mesmerizing pitter-patter sound, to the hypnotic way each drop magnifies and changes the scenery on the other side of the window pane. Pluviophiles appreciate the scent of a fresh storm and the delicious feel of water dripping down their skin. They even know the taste of fresh drops as they look upwards with arms outstretched and welcome a cool drink from the clouds.

It’s nice to be understood. There are dozens of articles on the mood-altering effects of rain, most of them describing how people feel sad or out of sorts when it rains.

curb-garden-variegated-plant-in-rainIt took some digging to find an article supporting my rain-loving ways. I quickly forwarded a copy to my older son. He’s home from college for the Thanksgiving break, and heads out the door every time it rains. He loves it as much as I do.

My garden certainly appreciates the rain. The plants stand a little taller, grateful for the cleansing rinse. Leaves brighten to a shiny green as the plant’s roots welcome the long, steady drink.

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Sweet Peas, blooming for the second time this year

This Anna’s hummingbird took a shower from the branches of the Chinese Pistache. Apparently he’s a pluviophile too.

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Male Anna’s Hummingbird enjoying the rain

Post-Election Processing

I read a blog post this weekend that resonated with me, so I’m sharing it here. Martha Brettschneider writes of the benefits of mindfulness to help us process and move forward in a positive way.

She described the election outcome as triggering a sense of “social mistrust.”

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that social mistrust is a stress response to not feeling safe, respected, or valued in our community. It’s a deeper, more toxic level of stress than your normal everyday stress, with even stronger physiological impacts on our health and well-being.

You can read the full article here.

Martha discusses ways to transform your stress from “paralyzing to empowering.” If you’ve been struggling with this as I have, than this article is for you..

I’ve done a number of things in the past ten days along these lines. I’ll share more in a future post.

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A Happy Autumn Treasure From Across The Pond

The lovely Cathy at Words and Herbs just celebrated a special birthday. I’ve been following her blog for several years. She posts stunning pictures of her rock garden in Bavaria, and she also shares vegan recipes. She is currently publishing a series of recipes for World Vegan Month. Cathy also creates wonderful flower arrangements every Monday year round, in a feature called In a Vase on Monday. I’m always so impressed.

When I learned it was Cathy’s 50th birthday, I asked for her address. She in turn asked for mine and before I could pop my little something in the mail, a charming box arrived at my door.

I’m in love!

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Crocheted pumpkin with wooden stem

She crocheted a pumpkin with soft orange and green yarn, then added a wooden stem. She even included “warts” made with straight pins for an authentic pumpkin detail.

If you’re not already following along, you can check in with Cathy here at Words and Herbs. Today she published her recipe for Vegan Chocolate Amarena Brownies. You might have to head straight to the market for all the ingredients. Yum!

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Crocheted pumpkin with “warts” cleverly made with straight pins

Thank you, Cathy!

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Moving Forward

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#safetypin

My heart is full. I can’t begin to convey how supported I feel by all of you following the aftermath of Tuesday’s US elections. Thank you for joining the conversation, and for helping me feel less alone.

While I continue to avoid the radio, TV, and print news, I have received a few emails of note. Tomorrow evening I’m attending an “organizing and solidarity” meeting at Sacred Heart Community Services.

From the executive director “We must organize a plan to protect our community now. If you want to consider the implications of the election and find out how to be an ally to those families under threat, join us on Tues, Nov. 15th at 6pm at Sacred Heart’s Learning Center. Learn how to get involved. Bilingual in English and Spanish.”

I’ve invited a couple of friends to join me as well.

Louise Benson founded Sacred Heart Community Service in 1964 to feed hungry families in her neighborhood.

Today, they provide essential services to individuals and families in. The organization has evolved into a respected and innovative provider of programs that assist families with achieving lifelong economic self-sufficiency and a grassroots organizing network that addresses the root causes and consequences of poverty. Sacred Heart strives to meet basic human rights such as food, clothing, and housing assistance, while at the same time offering the tools for self-sufficiency, including employment assistance, family mentoring, and adult and youth education programs. In 2008, Sacred Heart was selected by the California to be the Community Action Agency for Santa Clara County. This designation formalized Sacred Heart’s role as a regional leader and conveys a responsibility for developing countywide solutions to poverty.

I will let you know where it leads.

I also wanted to share the following excerpt from San Jose’s Mayor, Sam Liccardo entitled “We’ve Got Your Back”.

Dear Friends,

Recent events have left many thousands of our San José residents — about forty percent of whom were born in a foreign country — in fear. Some of our neighbors, friends, and family fear changes in immigration rules or enforcement that could separate their families. Others voice concerns about proposed federal “registries” of community members of the Muslim faith. Still others point to the nationwide spike in “hate crimes” in recent days.

I have sought — through Spanish-language television, social media, and in public demonstrations — to convey a simple message to our wonderfully diverse community: “We’ve got your back.”

What do I mean by that, “We’ve got your back?” We cannot control the events in Washington, D.C., but we can do much to care for each other here at home:

  • We will Not Tolerate “Hate Crimes” in San José
  • We Will Not Allow Our Police To Be Used for Federal Immigration Enforcement
  • We Will Protect the Constitutional Rights of San José Residents
  • We Will Support Our Community Through Our Office of Immigrant Affairs

As French resistance leader Andre Malraux urged, “Instead of lamenting the absurdity of the world, let us try to transform the corner of it into which we were born.” We’ve got much work to do to take care of each other, and to transform San José’s corner of the world. We’ve got your back.

You can read the full text here.

How are you doing this week?

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Dashed Hopes

mercury-news-front-pageI don’t know how we got it so wrong.

On Tuesday things seemed full of hope and promise. I was enthusiastic and upbeat.  We were about to elect our first female president in America. Finally, we could erase that smug and self-satisfied look off of Trump’s face. Instead I went to bed with just a glimmer of hope that the numbers could be wrong.

I woke up in a fog, feeling like someone had died. I woke up to the news that Donald Trump had enough electoral votes to put him in office. What so many of us viewed as a terrible joke was our new reality.

Karen, of The Unassuming Hiker said this:

Today we woke up to the realization that the following things are true:

  • Bullies win
  • Racism is alive and well in America
  • Women don’t matter
  • Black lives don’t matter
  • There is no global warming (or science for that matter)
  • The more outrageous you are, the better chance you have that the 24 hour news media will give you full coverage and help you get elected.
  • And, the Donald was correct when he said “I could shoot someone on 5th Ave and still get elected.”

He won by promising to make “your” life better!  The only life he is concerned with is his own.

You can read the rest of her post here.

All the “positive” spin says don’t give up hope. We have to work even harder. Stand up and protect those who have so much to lose. The list is long: Latinos, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, the disabled, the disenfranchised and women who make up over half of the population.

Maybe I’m not doing enough. I vote. I volunteer. I show up, stand up, give money, support causes, sign petitions but when I rolled out of bed this morning, our president-elect is the same guy we all saw on the Access Hollywood hot mic clip.

My 16-year-old son volunteered election night at the Registrar of Voters. He came home at midnight, sad and disappointed and vowed to wear black to school the following day. He left for school Wednesday morning dressed in black from head to toe. My older son, away at college, assured me he would be okay, but that he is “just not reading the news anymore.”

I need to grieve, regroup, and figure out my own “what now?” I hardly know where to start.

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Election Day in America

At long last, election day is here.

It’s been a long, contentious, embarrassing campaign. The stakes are incredibly high. But today, with my head held high, I will cast my vote for Hillary Clinton.

Our garage is a polling place once again. A line formed shortly before 7:00 and we’ve had a steady stream of voters ever since. It’s 8:20 am as I write this. Our polls close at 8:00 pm, and since we live in California, we are one of the last states to vote other than Hawaii.

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Our garage, ready for voters

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According to Google Maps, I have to travel 1 foot to my polling place.🙂

I’ve been a bundle of nerves for days, but today I feel a sense of calm. We all get one vote and all votes count. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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These signs represent the diversity in our community

I wish my mom were alive to see it. She was a staunch defender of women’s rights and supported early candidates such as Shirley Chisholm. Mom died in 2008, a few weeks after we elected Barack Obama, but she’d slipped into dementia at that stage of her life so she never knew.

Shirley Chisholm said:

The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, “It’s a girl.

and…

Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.

and..

You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.

She was a remarkable woman, ahead of her time.

Here are a few posts from fellow bloggers that I think you’ll enjoy.

America Votes! by Stacy P. Fischer of Visual Venturing

Loving Hands and Nasty Women by KerryCan of Love Those Hands at Home

And to tickle your funny bone, assuming you share my sense of humor, here are several clips from Randy Rainbow:10 Times Randy Rainbow Slayed the Election.  His beautiful voice and dead-on parodies have helped keep me sane.

Finally, why women are wearing white on election day.
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Voting with my Votes for Women pin (thank you Laurie) while wearing a white dress

Let’s shatter this glass ceiling once and for all. Tomorrow can’t get here soon enough.

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He’s wearing his white pant suit, but he’s not quite ready to face the day.

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The End of the Lawn: Our Garden One Year Later

I’m excited to share photos of our garden one year later. We replaced our lawn last November with drought tolerant and California native plants.

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November 2015 * Newly planted native garden in front of the house

Not only do these plants survive and thrive on limited water, but they also attract hummingbirds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Those visitors are a boon to any garden.

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November 2016 * Native garden one year later

Salvia and native grasses

Salvia and native grasses

Nepeta and newly sprouted sweet peas

Nepeta and newly sprouted sweet peas

Once established, the plants only need water about once a week. It’s been an exciting step away from the outdated monoculture of suburban lawns to a more bio-diverse garden. As the drought dragged on, I let go of the fantasy of a cottage garden and fully embraced a garden that fits my environment. San Jose averages only 15 inches of rain a year, and virtually no rain throughout the hot summer months.

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November 2015 * Newly planted native garden in back of the house

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

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2016 Native garden near swing

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2016 * Native garden near patio

Adding a rain catchment system earlier this year meant I could fill a box with tomato plants and water them guilt-free. I’m also enjoying letting things be, which means making sure a weed is a weed before yanking it from the earth. We’ve had a number of self seeded flowers this year including Sweet Peas, Nigella and Mirabilis Jalapa.

Halloween “Postmortem”

We’re exhausted (because we’re not twenty anymore) but boy did we have fun. We attended two Halloween costume parties, back to back.

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First Halloween costume party of the season

We were too darn tired for the final party, but missed out on seeing those friends.  On Halloween night we opened the door to over 400 candy-seeking trick-or-treaters.

Halloween Night 2016

Halloween Night 2016 * These two homemade costumes were my favorite of the night. Upper and lower left, our front garden under blue lights. Mike’s pumpkins after dark, lower center

Mike expertly carved four of the seven pumpkins, leaving the two round ones for my first attempt at pumpkin soup. The smallest of the seven is part of my Thanksgiving display.

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Spiderman, a Minion, Arching cat on a slate roof, Socks the cat

Our costumes needed explaining at the Friday party (what…you’re a meat pie?) but Saturday’s party was a different story. Pretty much everyone dressed up as either a character from the movie Sweeney Todd, or as someone from the Victorian era.

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Our hosts, who are also from the UK, served a variety of traditional meat pies, but included a vegetarian option for yours truly.  They really got everyone in the spirit. We played a few games, danced and Martin gave all the guys a pretend shave, fully embracing his role as host and the deranged barber, Sweeney Todd. Diane dressed as Mrs. Lovett. You’ll see photos of the two of us and other party-goers in the short video clip below.

My lovely host awarded me the prize for best female costume at the second party. I’m pretty sure it was my crazy wig that pushed things over the top.sweeney-todd-party-alys-and-diane

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I bumped into this skeleton in the lady’s room. The cheek!

All in all, it’s been a fabulous Halloween season.

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