Saturday, March 29, 2003

Here Comes Santa Ana!

Wind dashed rock-rose petals at El Rancho.

Grandpa loves to come to the breakfast table with the news of the hour, the latest report, the scoop, and preferably something with a hint of doom or tragedy. He keeps his transistor radio handy, so he can be up on L.A. traffic; the bottleneck at the 405/5 merge, or the car chase on the Santa Monica. As I am leaving to the market, he'll call out to me, a caution, "Don't head to Los Angeles, it's bad." Thanks Grandpa. I wasn't planning on going two hours out of my way for bananas, but thanks.

Wednesday, his report to us was delivered with the usual note of importance and revelation, but news that is delivered by a man that comes to breakfast at noon is seldom ever fresh news. "Santa Ana coming this weekend," he announces.
"If Santa Ana is coming, that would make us the Alamo," I wink.
He appreciates a good Texas reference.

The Santa Anas are the winds that come from the desert. From out east, through the mountain passes and howling up the valleys. When we lived on the coast it meant stronger, hotter breezes and a change from our usual off shore weather pattern. But here, just 20 or 30 miles inland, it is wild. The weather man reports "light Santa Anas" and we lose the roof to the chicken coop. Wind here moves heavy wooden chairs, snaps trees and loosens the raingutters, turns over tables. Last year the winds curled the corrugated steel roof on the horse shelter. Geoff had just finished adding about a hundred screws to better secure the metal sheets, but the Santa Ana rolled each piece back like curling ribbon.

My sleep last night was as restless as the wind. The walls shuddered, the roof groaned. We heard things flying around in the dark, and the windows, wrestling to hold back the invasion, whistled and moaned. Every cloud and bird has been blown to the sea, and the sky is so clear one can scarcely bare the glare of the bright morning sun. The chicas' coop was blown around enough to dislodge their roost, the pool toys need to be collected from every corner in the yard. We are literally holding down the fort. The trees are bowing, and flower petals have been torn and dashed. Leaves and twigs, dust and sand, everything swirling, whirling.

Grandmother thought she heard a cat last night, meowing in the wind. At one point we thought we were in an earthquake, from the motion and the noise. Our cats slept at our feet, safe from being blown away. This is no earthquake. It's just a light Santa Ana. I stood above the slope and held out my arms; I can lean into the force and when it gusts, blows with ferocity, it is not hard to imagine flying. Flying over the house and past the that would be something to report about...

Diego, the cat in the bag, taking cover from Santa Ana.

Friday, March 28, 2003

MNO :: Mom's Night Out

Every morning after an evening of Mom's Night Out, I think: "I gotta write about MNO, those women, our laughter and talk, the support and encouragement, the lasting friendships." Every month it's the same. We gather in a home, like Janice's last night, and we are treated to a home cooked meal, family recipes or something brand new, and always delicious, always served on our nicest dishes, our mother's china, our 'Christmas only' plates. "Delicious" doesn't reach the limit of describing the time and effort, the thoughtfulness the presentation of these beautiful meals; they are healthy and decadent, they are rich and diverse, they are the comfort foods we know and love, or something exotic that takes our hearts and minds to new places. As hostesses, we lavish on each other our nurturing and generosity, creativity and grace. It is an honor to serve, it is an honor to receive.

The company, the food, the wine, they are a pleasure to be sure, but more; they are like catalysts for our healing, learning, sharing, growing and caring. As we come together and share our worries and joys, express our views, celebrate our successes, laugh at our challenges, and find relief from our burdens, because of the thoughtful advice, the encouragement and support; we are strengthened in spirit, and comforted too. Once a month, for a few evening hours, we meet, and whether we are finishing quilts for charity at Jola's house, arranging our garden flowers on Yanina's porch, or sitting on cushions in Vera's entry and listening to flute music, it is always relaxing and energizing. And it is fulfilling too, because we allow ourselves the opportunity to treat ourselves to something new, and to extend ourselves to others as well.

MNO means an escape from our own familiar trials and chores, it means meeting friends and sharing stories and thoughts, with out interruptions, phones calls, needy children, or the buzzer on the washing machine. It gives us the opportunity to be reminded that in spite of all our concerns and set backs we are profoundly blessed. We go home to those children and appreciate them better, and see our work and tasks, and find new resolve. We are refreshed, inspired. Mom's Night Out gives us the opportunity to receive, and to return, many more blessings than we knew were possible.

Imagine the joy of having nearly a dozen sisters, and lots of nephews and nieces, brothers too! We share sitters, and painters, referals, books, and recipes; call Anne for any recipe with vegetables. We coach each others' children, like Maria does for Lydia and Maddie. In the heat of Summer Linda, Josie and Janice share their pools, cold drinks and sumptuous desserts. Those times when our children are splashing and laughing together, and our husbands are by our sides, sharing our company, are some of the best. Also in the heat of Summer, Karen shares her garden's bounty and we all go home with bunches and bunches of fragrant basil. By Fall we have come full circle, to the home of the woman who brought us together in the first place, and Belinda, as always, opens her home to us with beauty and warmth.

When I woke up this morning I tormented my husband, describing the fresh shrimp and pasta we ate for dinner, and not one salad, but two, the loveliness of the candles and flowers, the chocolate pudding cake. He asked about Josie, "Is she doing better?" "She looks great. I think she is doing much better," I say, and we sigh together. Thank God. He reaches for my hand; he tells me about our boys and their evening together. I tell him about Anne's almost finished kitchen, the termites at Jola's, the fountain at Maria's. And I think to myself that I should write about Mom's Night Out, my friends and their families, the friends who have become for me like my own family. I should mention the good things they do, the way Karen's laugh makes the room light up, how Anne has become the inspiring Anne Uber-Athlete. I would include how when I was too sick to know what to do, Jola came and cared for me like a mother cares for her child; with tenderness and resolve. I have found kindness, intelligence and love in each of these women, and I have been humbled and renewed, because of all they have shared with me. It would be impossible to represent them in words; to reflect all that we have, give and receive in each other's company.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Chicken Disease

For several months we have been aware of the bird sickness that is devastating Southern California chicken flocks.
Read all about it. I've even cut back on our visits to petting zoos, feed stores and other places with bird flocks. Contamination is a great risk. Tuesday the USDA came to El Rancho. They asked whether we have birds, and inquired about their condition. They took a survey, and gave me an information packet. We are quarantined, or at least our chicas are. We can't transport them, their eggs, their feathers, their equipment or bedding. Furthermore we should consider disinfecting our own shoes and clothes if we visit other birds, before coming in contact with our own.

"You're pretty much surrounded," the woman said, "When your birds die call us. You'll be compensated at fair market value for their bodies." Fair Market Value? For a chicken? Who can put a price on a member of the family? I'm not saying I never expected they would die someday, but I'd hoped we'd at least have the privilage of giving them a proper send off. And now? Well, I haven't given it too much thought, because it's all too sad to consider. Those two from the USDA sounded pretty fatalistic, and I guess they'd know. So far, the chicas show no symptoms. They each left a warm, lovely egg in the nest box. They are enjoying their dust baths right now. That's all.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Simply The Best

Friends and starlight. We had another one of those evenings that make life sweet. James and Deanne came, with two bottles of wine and an appetite for fun. Max led the tour, holding Deanne's hand. He took her to the garden and the playset, to meet the chicas and to the "Lego room." James tried to keep up, but as usual Max proved to be the more ardent suitor.

Geoff started the coals, and I had dinner marinating in the 'fridge. We munched on celery, chips and guacamole. We took James' wine tasting challenge. I stand by my opinion: The 2 Buck Chuck is smooth, with an essence of berries and a sensual color of red with an infusion of violet. The Coppola had too much wood and bite for my taste. Or was it the other way around? After the first glass, I certainly can't tell!

We ate our dinner under the stars. Alex and Max rolled themselves in the sleeping bag on the lawn. Deanne and I toasted our corn over the bright, hot coals. We talked about jobs and vacations, about land and agriculture, travel and cooking. Like all our visits with them, it was relaxed and interesting; their company is a pleasure. Deanne is a new friend, yet her open kindness, her willingness to participate, her sincerity, make her as comfortable to us as an old friend. James is an old friend, a dear friend for many years.

It wasn't just the fun of our evening together that makes life sweet, it was the pleasure and comfort of being with people who listen to our children and overlook the interruptions, the clutter and chaos of our family life. I must single them out for being exceptional, because there are so many cliches and jokes about friends without children and their low tolerance for friends with children. I certainly don't impose my kids on every acquaintance, but neither do I look for places to stash and store the children, when we want to socialize.

So, when James calls and says "Hey guys, what's up? Lets get together," I am grateful to have his friendship. He wants to hang out at the park, play Marco Polo in the pool, fly kites, race cars, play arcade games and even let Max hold his girlfriend's hand on a lovely mountain hike. What a guy! Deanne is so patient and full of praise. James is an uncle, attentive and loving. I have a photograph I love of William as a toddler with James; they are together brushing their teeth. Only the good friends stick around for the good times and the good, but messy, family times too.