Top Ten (aka: Handwritten Letters to C.J.B.)

Letters CJB (2)

Dear C.J.B.,

Remember me? Tiare/J.K./Princess? The girl you met at a forensics speech team competition in the Bay Area when we were sophomores at different colleges? The girl with the strange tendency to break out singing girl scout songs and commercial jingles, or quoting Shakespeare in a British accent?

I found your letters today.

There are so many. Dozens of letters, resting in their envelopes. All hand-written on paper in your familiar handwriting. All filled with little side notes and underlines and funny quips and movie quotes. Remember? We wrote about a little of everything, and a lot of nothing. Politics, school, Bruce Li. My obnoxious college roommates, and your family and Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Our faith, our friends, our life goals, and shallow TV shows.

Remember the letters I sent you? I wonder if you kept any. I know, I know..I went a little overboard by writing in every existing color of ballpoint pen, or using colorful stationary and confetti in every envelope. And I snet you stories, and poems, and shared every detail of my life as an independent 17/18/19-year old. But you went overboard, too. My favorite is the letter with the stick of chewing gum taped to the top (“Before you start reading, have a piece of gum.”). I also loved the doodles, and the corny jokes, and the way you wrote my name in a zillion silly different ways (“Dear Erait…”). When I was a counselor at camp one summer, you sent me a newspaper clipping every week of David Letterman’s Top Ten. Oh, they made me laugh so hard! This one was my favorite:

Top Ten Rejected Titles for the Movie ‘Speed’ – June 21, 1994

10. The Speedstones
9. Jurassic Park 2: The Exploding Busosaurus
8. Honey, I Drove the Kids Really Fast on a Bus
7. Faster, Bob Barker is Chasing Us!
6. Creepy Guy in the Window
5. Debbie Does Greyhound (Times Square Only)
4. El Autobus Muy, Muy Rapido
3. Dave Letterman’s Drive to Work
2. That Whacky Big-Ass Bus
1. Mrs. Busfire
Remember the few times we managed to get together in person? That time at Fisherman’s Wharf, when you gave me that adorable teddy bear, whom I named C.J. after you. And we visited all of the little cheesy touristy places, like the Earthquake Experience? And that time when I showed up, unannounced (how rude!) at your house in the city, along with several of my Girl Scout camp counselor friends, and met your family and (sweet) dog? And when you and my sister dragged me to that Star Trek exhibit. Oh my god! I totally forgot what a Trekkie you were, although you didn’t seem nerdy in the least. You even managed to talk me into trading shows with you — if I watched Star Trek the Next Generation, then you would drop your pride and watch Melrose Place. The hilarious thing is that I ended up (not hating) STTNG, and you became crazy about Melrose Place. (!)

I am sitting in my bed, filled with nostalgia, and smiling at the memories. You were one of my best friends. One of the few people who really got me — who looked beyond my unusual surface and saw a gem. And you were a gem to me, my old friend. You and your Jeet Kune Do and action movies and being an overachiever. I know…life changes. You are a successful lawyer now, just like you said you would become. And your wife is a brilliant doctor, and your daughters are absolute dolls. I could not feel more happy for you, and for how your life turned out. I will keep your letters, and the way you made me feel, forever. You were, without a doubt, one of my Top Ten.

Live Long and Prosper,

That Tiare Girl

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I Feel the Earth Move (aka: California Earthquakes)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love living in the state of California. There is so much to love about my state – from the breathtaking scenery to the world-class cities, our Hollywood legacy, Disneyland, amazing wines, and even our quirky politics (How many other states can claim that they’ve had both a U.S. president and the Terminator as governor at some point?). Now I know, there are some people out there who are perfectly happy living in cornfields in the middle of nowhere, who think of California and shudder. “But California is so expensive and snooty! And think of the earthquakes!” And okay, yes, you have to pretty much be rich to move here. But I swear that we Californians are not snooty! (Okay fine, maybe the SoCal people are on the pretentious side). But to avoid California for the earthquakes? Come on, where’s your sense of adventure?

“I lived through the Great Loma Prieta Quake of 1989.”

“Oh yeah? Well, I lived through Loma Prieta and the Northridge Quake!”

We Californians wear our earthquakes like scout badges. We love to swap stories about where we were and what we did during each quake. And of course, there are extra points if you managed to ride it out with the same level of cool indifference as the characters in the movie L.A. Story. “Oh please, that quake was barely a 5.0 on the Richter Scale. I slept right through it!”

I have lived through around a half dozen noticeable earthquakes in my life. Most of them were the usual small tremors that strike the Bay Area from time to time, like thunderstorms. Such small quakes did nothing more than cause the walls to shudder and the chandelier to swing back and forth for a few minutes. Big whoop. But then came the Great Loma Prieta Quake. Now that was memorable. Every Northern Californian you meet will have some great story to tell about what they were doing the day of that big earthquake. Epicenter of 1989 Loma Prieta Quake

Let’s see…it was late in the afternoon, and I was in my high school theater, rehearsing for an upcoming musical. Suddenly, the stage floor began to shift, and the lights above our heads quivered dangerously. “Everyone out of the theater! Now!” came our director’s voice. He didn’t have to tell us twice. Everyone in the cast raced outside.

“Wow, it’s like surfing!” someone said. Sure enough, our paved high school corridors were rolling like ocean waves. Forget all that earthquake safety training. We did not drop to the ground and cover our heads. We held out our arms for balance and rode the waves, cheering with enthusiasm. Earthquakes were so awesome! It was almost disappointing when the tremors subsided.  Earthquake Safety Rulesimage

My friends and I headed home on the public bus, chattering with excitement about what had just happened, and singing at the top of our lungs:

I feel the earth move under my feet
I feel the sky tumbling down…

I arrived home, still smiling, and ready to watch the next game in the World Series. At the time, I was a huge Oakland A’s fan, and I was hoping to see them crush the San Francisco Giants and win the series. However, when I turned on the television, there was no baseball game. It seemed that, while my friends and I were busy surfing and singing, the rest of the Bay Area had erupted into chaos. Candlestick Park had been evacuated. Buildings had crumbled. A section of the Bay Bridge had snapped. And the worst part: a mile-long section of the Cypress Freeway had collapsed, trapping hundreds of drivers in the rubble. Collapse of Cypress/Nimitz Freeway

Just like that, the Big Quake stopped being awesome. There’s nothing fun about seeing people get injured or killed. This was far worse than some quivering walls or swinging light fixtures. It was like Mother Nature had attacked our home with a natural bomb. Luckily for our family, my father, by some miracle, had decided to commute home by way of the Golden Gate Bridge that evening, or he, too, may have gotten caught in
the rubble of the Cypress Freeway. But many other people were not so lucky.

Okay, maybe I am not helping to paint a positive image of California here. Oh boy – killer earthquakes and broken freeways! Okay yes, sometimes…but hey, we still have Disneyland. And great beaches, and redwood trees – mustn’t forget those. And amazing wines – although the Napa Valley, where those wines are produced, was just hit pretty hard by a 6.0 earthquake two days ago. Where was I when that big quake hit? Oh, well, I slept right through it. Extra points for me.

Bloom Where You’re Planted (Even When You’re Stuck Living in the Suburbs)

ugly suburbsThe ugliest place I’ve ever lived was in a suburb in Suisun, California. In the 1980’s, suburbs like mine sprang up from nowhere, filling the once-lovely rolling grasslands with boxy, cookie-cutter new homes. As a teenager, I lived in one of those homes, and hated every moment. I hated the buzzing of lawn mowers on Sunday mornings, hated the smells of fresh-cut grass and swimming pool chemicals, and hated the view from my bedroom window, of look-alike rooftops and trees no taller than me. I missed my childhood home in the Bay Area—the heavy blanket of morning fog, the fragrance of eucalyptus and bay laurel trees, and the view of the San Francisco Bay from our living room balcony. Bay Area Bay Laurels

While most high school girls were busy dreaming of college party towns full of pizza restaurants and hot guys, I spent my last years of adolescence dreaming of escaping the suburbs and fleeing to the mountains. And, at the age of sixteen, that is exactly what I did. My first college was a tiny community college in the mountains, with rustic wooden buildings that looked more like summer camp cabins. Most of the students lived in apartments just off campus, and we literally had to hike through the woods just to go to class. It was totally cool, except when I had night classes, and had to hike through the forest with a flashlight, keeping an eye out for bears and skunks, which roamed the same woods in abundance. Still, that year of living completely surrounded by trees, and snow-capped peaks, and fields full of wildflowers had a kind of healing effect on my spirit.

I miss that home in the mountains for its nature, just as I miss my home in the hills of the Bay Area for its nature. And where do I live now? Well, for the past two decades, I have been back in the suburbs. Different town, different suburbs, but same feeling of longing and homesickness whenever I look out of the windows at views of look-alike houses and square green lawns. No, I never pictured ending up here – I always imagined living near the seashore, or a redwood forest, or beneath the glittering stars in some vast rural plain. But instead, college and marriage and jobs led me here, where I have often felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. rose growing in concrete desert

And you know what? It is not impossible to bloom here. There are ways – so many small ways to grow, even in less-than-ideal circumstances. It just takes some work, chipping away at the concrete barriers to expose the earth the sun and rain. And while in my heart, I will never feel at home here, the way I did amongst the bay laurels and eucalyptus of my first home, I can keep trying to build a sort of oasis here in the concrete desert, and feeding my spirit small bits of nature that it may grow.

Ways to Embrace Nature (Even When You Live in the Suburbs)

  • Grow flowers 
  • Plant a vegetable garden
  • Create an outdoor living room, then eat meals and read books there
  • Find local nature trails to hike
  • Go walking, running, and bicycle riding
  • Learn the names of your local birds, then go birdwatching
  • Participate in local park and creek cleanup days
  • Fly kites
  • Hang bird feeders or squirrel feeders in your yard (or create some other wildlife habitat)
  • Cook outdoors
  • Drive away from the suburbs and go camping or hiking or stargazing
  • Bring nature indoors (plants, flowers, stones)

enjoy an outdoor room

Feel free to contribute. I am always searching for new ideas!

Who Killed Woodsy the Owl? (aka Happy Earth Day!)

Celebrate Earth Day

“Happy Earth Day, guys!” I greeted my kids as I picked them up after school today.

Blank looks. Confusion. “It’s Earth Day?”

Woodsy the Owl I was appalled. Not one of my children’s teachers happened to mention Earth Day, one of the few holidays I actually kind of like to celebrate? I planted a garden today! I baked fresh fruit tarts for an after-school treat! I went jogging in the fresh air, feeling grateful for the blue, smog-free skies and trees full of shiny green leaves. But my kids? Stuck indoors, as usual, taking exams and solving math equations. Ugh. Suddenly I felt a wave of nostalgia for my childhood in the Bay Area, which happens to be full of earth-loving, crunchy-granola, rich ex-hippies who make sure that every child learns the importance of keeping the Bay clean and bluish (which is better than brownish, trust me). I especially miss Woodsy the Owl. Does anyone else remember Woodsy the Owl? Good old Woodsy used to teach us kids how we should “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.” I’m sure that by now, someone has run him over with their gas-guzzling SUV. Poor Woodsy. He only wanted to save the Earth, just like me.

“That’s okay,” I told my kids. “Anyway, every day is Earth Day.”

Hoot Hoot!

Ways to Celebrate the Earth Every Day

1. Park the Car – Walk! Ride Bikes! Unless you have a disability or serious illness that prevents you from exercising, there is nothing stopping you from driving less and walking or biking more. My kids and I often ride bicycles to the store, to the library, and to the park. We carry our cargo in backpacks, or strapped to bicycle baskets. When my younger two kids were small, I happily carted them around town in a bicycle trailer attached to the back of my bike. Not only is bicycling better for the earth, it is also better for our bodies.

2. Reduce Your Use of Chemicals – Many cleaning detergents can be made using inexpensive, all-natural ingredients. Or, if you don’t want the bother, look around the cleaning aisle. There are many terrific brands of pre-fabricated natural or non-chemical cleaners.

3. Wash and Dry Less – In our house, I have a rule about laundry – unless they are actually dirty, jeans, pajamas, and towels get used twice before going into the laundry. (Do not enforce this rule for shirts and socks – phew!) I also have a retractable clothesline outside for occasional line-drying, which saves on energy. Well, electric energy, not physical energy.

4. Grow a Garden – Two years ago, our family built a raised bed in the backyard. Now, each spring, the kids and I prepare the garden bed and choose the seeds. Then each summer, we enjoy a lovely crop of fresh, organic vegetables. It’s the best! Before building the raised bed, we usually grew tomatoes and herbs in pots, which works well if you are low on space, or, like us, low on sunny areas for planting. Keep it organic – better for the earth, and better for your body (are you starting to see a theme?).

5. Spend Time in Nature – Go hiking. Stroll through your local parks. Try birdwatching, or hunting for local flowers or wildlife to photograph. Eat dinner outdoors. Go camping in your state and national parks. I highly recommend becoming familiar with the principle of Leave No Trace, so that future generations will be able to enjoy the same beautiful, unspoiled views and wildlife available to us today.

Game On! (A Family Legacy of Sport)

“Are you ready for the kickoff tomorrow night?” My mom asked me on the telephone. “Cowboys against the Giants.”

“Um, Mom, aren’t you supposed to wish me a happy birthday first?” I asked, amused.

“Oh yes. That too,” said Mom. “Now don’t forget tomorrow night.”

As if I could. I come from a family that worships at the at the altar of football . It is probably fair to say that growing up in my family, Kickoff Day in September was more revered than the first day of school, and the Superbowl was like the true New Year’s Day. Game Nights were family nights, with everyone gathered around the television, beers and sodas in hand, screaming noisily at the screen.

Okay, everyone except for me. Why? Because I preferred to sit in a corner of the living room with a book to my nose, scowling whenever the room erupted with cries of “TOUCHDOWN!” and “INTERCEPTION!” Football was a sport that grew on me over the years, like smooth jazz music and fine wines.

That said, it was impossible to avoid the influence of my sports-crazy family. From a very young age, I was taught that to speak against the Amazing San Francisco 49ers is like blasphemy. I remember standing outside on our balcony with my brother and sisters, looking toward the glittering lights of the Bay Area, blowing plastic vuvuzelas and screaming with pride that the Forty Niners had just won Superbowl XVI. We memorized the words to the We’re the Forty Niners song, which we played obsessively on the record player and sang at the top of our lungs.

Joe Montana, unarguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time

We’ve got the power!
We’ve got the heart!
We’ve got the soul!

We’re the FORTY NINERS!
We will rock you ’til we win the fight!

We’re the FORTY NINERS!
We’re dynamite!

School event on Monday nights? Nope, sorry, our family was busy. Phone ringing in the middle of a game? Ignore it. We were taught to look down our noses at Raiders fans, and to hate the Dallas Cowboys with a fiery passion reserved for the worst possible scumbags.  Ours was a San Francisco family, till death do us part.

Things are a little different today. My mother, who has long since relocated across the country, now roots for the New Orleans Saints. My oldest sisters have grown somewhat indifferent to football. And I am just a crazy about international football (aka soccer) as the American version. But a few things remain the same. In a family that has been separated by time, distance, and dramatically different lifestyles, there is still one thing that keeps us knit together, one reason to pick up the cell phone and call each other…as long there isn’t a game on.

Who’s got it better than us? NO ONE!

In honor of my Uncle Harrison (1946 – 2012), former college football star and receiver for the Minnesota Vikings.