A different kind of Easter

Once again, theEaster holiday has come and gone. I’ve seen many Easter weekends come and go–first as a little girl enjoying the new dress and the hunt for dyed eggs, then as a mom dyeing and hiding the eggs among  the outdoor foliage and flowers,  and later as a grandma having the family over to search them out. Roger and I always took the family to church, but we wanted the rest of the day to be memorable as well, helping the family remember the reason for the season. That usually found me dyeing and hiding eggs, preparing traditional foods, and largely ignoring the Easter Bunny.

This year will definitely be memorable, requiring no effort from any of us. For these grandparents, there were no dyed eggs, no family gatherings (no gatherings at all!), and few special dishes. We tried to prepare Easter dinner with what we had, keeping down the numbers of trips to the grocery store. We had eggs, cream, and strawberries, so pavlova seemed a good dessert. Hard to go wrong with that!

Though this Easter holiday is memorable for all the things that didn’t happen, we know there will be good memories from some of the things we did. Texts, calls, social media posts, and videos replaced in-person visits. A simple meal with a great dessert replaced some of our traditional favorites. We even replaced church by watching a series of Bible videos depicting the events of Holy Week all those years ago.

We enjoyed it all in the midst of an absolutely perfect spring day: calm with light breeze, ideal temperatures, and beautiful evidence of annual renewal all around us in the form of blossoms and buds. Roger and I will have reason to smile when we remember many of the events of this Easter weekend. I wish the same for you.

Missing my Fur Family

During the present COVID lockdown, we are all missing the old normal in our lives: going out for a meal or a movie, popping into specialty shops for those hard-to-find items, the joy of being in public places. I suspect most of us are having an even harder time being away from friends and family.

Lately, I’ve especially been missing my fur-family, the four-legged friends who used to keep me company even when illness or injury kept me from being around other people. During the years the kids were home, we had a variety of dogs and cats, as well as a few other kinds of pets, some we liked better than others. The more recent fur family we picked ourselves. One of my favorites was my friend, Pirate.

She came to us as a throw-away. Some ne’er-do-well had dumped her at a four-way stop in the countryside. One of my husband’s coworkers saw her there, jumping up on cars that stopped at that intersection, apparently looking for her family. A compassionate soul who loved animals, the coworker slept in a sleeping bag in the field, using dog biscuits to lure in the frightened, but starving, dog. Having rescued the poor creature, said coworker had to find a home for her, since she already had all the pets her landlord would allow.

We had recently lost Tazzie, a white dog with black spots. Roger thought his friend’s rescue dog might fill that place in our lives. We named her Pirate because of the black patch over one eye, which eventually faded as she grayed. The vet who spayed her for us when we took her in estimated her to be about two years old. She lived with us for another twelve years.

I was the one who rescued her from the vet’s office (which she clearly hated), so I became her rescuer. In fact, Roger often said that Pirate was not my dog; rather, I was Pirate’s person. I referred to her as my white shadow. If I walked across the room, she walked with me. If I sat in a chair, she lay at my feet. Any time I was at home, she was almost always within arm’s reach. When she suffered a fatal stroke, I was devastated.

But we still had furry company. For almost the entire time Pirate lived with us, and for a few years beyond, we had a brother-and-sister kitty tag team: Kola and Koi.

One day during the height of summer, when cat litters were everywhere and the local humane shelter was overwhelmed, we stopped in to look at kittens, thinking we might go home with one. A family had just surrendered a mother cat and her litter of six, all about seven weeks old.

When we took the handsome, butterscotch-tabby male from the cage, the little calico female jumped up and hung from the top of the cage, meowing like crazy. When we put him down and picked her up, she did the hang-and-meow trick. Then the shelter administrators offered two for the price of one, and we came home with a furry pair.

From the beginning, Kola preferred Roger while Koi claimed me. Our yellow-tabby male grew to be a twenty-pound fat cat while his sister weighed less than twelve pounds, yet she was unmistakably the boss. She even knew how to get her way with the humans. We had let cats sleep on the foot of the bed in the past, but had never allowed one in. Koi found her way inside the covers and often slept in the curve of my body or lying on my chest. During the day, she frequently slept with Pirate, curled up in the curve of her body.  Kola didn’t understand that; he thought Pirate was a dog.

When  13-year-old Koi began to fail, we all suffered. Pirate was gone by then, but Roger and I struggled with the sure knowledge that our pretty calico was not going to recover. When we knew the outcome was inevitable and it became clear she was suffering terribly, we had to let her go. That’s when Kola had his hard time, clearly mourning the lifelong friend who had been both his persecutor and best buddy.

Kola’s mourning didn’t last forever. Before long, he began to enjoy being the last pet standing. We had him for nearly three more years. When he too began to fail, we were at first hopeful. We and his vet had nursed him through a couple of rough times. Yet it soon became clear that he wasn’t going to get well, either, and we had to let him go, too.

Many of our pet-loving friends have asked why we haven’t adopted more furry friends. We are enjoying being true empty-nesters, able to pick up and go if we wish, not having to worry about who will feed and care for the stay-at-home pets.

Still, the empty nest is only part of the reason.  Both of us suffered enough from the loss of these three special friends that we haven’t yet had the heart to “replace” them. We may well do so one day, but we aren’t there yet. Pirate, Kola, and Koi are only memories now, but they are memories we still live with–and miss–every day.

Time to Read!

It’s hard to avoid the down side of being homebound, but today, let’s look at the silver lining. We can easily find up sides, too.

For me, house arrest means extra time to write. (Just wait ’til you meet the Daughters of Destiny!)  It also means more time than ever to read, and, like most inveterate readers, I have a tall TBR pile awaiting my attention. I’ve recently read some very good books which I’d like to share with you.

Americans were horrified by the kidnapping of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in June of 2002 and astonished at her return nine months later. Where There’s Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up does not detail that nine-month ordeal of brutal horror, although some parts of her experience are woven in. She covered the details in My Story. For this book, she has interviewed a number of other people who have also suffered trauma, some in a harrowing few minutes, others over much of a lifetime, to discover the common threads that help people not only survive, but thrive and put the horror behind them. Her book offers clues for healing and hope at any time, but seems especially insightful now. I recommend it highly.

Also highly powerful is Stay, a new book from Catherine Ryan Hyde. Most readers first came to know her when her book, Pay It Forward, was made into a movie. I’ve now read a number of her books and they almost all carry those same themes of reaching out and connecting with others. Stay deals with the ultimate existential question, the same one voiced by Hamlet: “To be or not to be.” I found it highly insightful, uplifting, and life-affirming.

As these stories suggest, I too am interested in survivors. I have them all around me. My hometown is only a few miles from Paradise, California, which burned to the ground in a dramatic conflagration in November, 2018. What was it like to be in Paradise six months later? That’s what Sunny Ray wants to know when she drives into the Sierra Nevada foothills. Her intention is to document survivor stories for her graduate studies. Almost everyone is cooperative except Deputy Sheriff Evan Ray.

As their work forces them together, they make a few powerful discoveries of their own. When can tragedy give way to healing, and maybe even, to love? Join Sunny and Evan to find out.

Sunny’s Summer, Book 2 in the Seasons of Destiny series, is on sale for only 99c this week. Pop over and have a look! Then read, find joy in the moment, and stay happy, sheltered, and safe.

Escaping House Arrest

It’s redbud time here in NorCal, and jasmine time, and wisteria time, and a few fortunate people even have lilacs. (When did lilacs fall out of fashion?) Here, as in the rest of the state, we are grounded, told by our governor to stay inside and away from others. Yet a quiet drive does not violate the standard and does allow us to break up the monotony of house arrest.

Observing the beauty in our natural surroundings still nurtures me, helping me to feel at peace with the world even in uncertain times. On this particular drive, I looked for signs of spring. They are everywhere. We live in one of five places on earth that enjoy a Mediterranean climate: the Med basin, California, central Chile, southern and southeastern Australia, and the cape of South Africa. That brings us early and lovely spring seasons, and a welcome escape from house arrest.

Another way to get out without danger is a nice walk in our park. Our city boasts one of the largest municipal parks in the nation. It’s huge. Part looks like forest, but sits in the middle of town. Part is wildland where bears, bobcats, and mountain lions reign. It’s also amazingly beautiful, built around a lovely creek with swimming holes eroded into the black basalt of the canyon the water has forged.

On a recent afternoon, Roger and I took a long walk in the park, waving at walkers on the other side of the roadway, some ten or twelve feet from us. Even when we greeted people we knew well, we maintained social distancing as we chatted.

Of course, fiction is always a great escape. This week, March 23-30, the first book in the Seasons of Destiny series is on sale for just 99 cents. You can take a vacation in Destiny, California inexpensively. Tell your friends!

Compared with much of America, we have it easy. Many folks we know are suddenly tasked with home schooling while trying to work from home. They’re struggling, but making it work. Unusual situations call forth our common humanity and necessary creativity.  Considering the circumstances, we’re doing very well. Stay safe this spring!

World closed for business

How has your life changed since the world closed its doors? For Roger and me, the differences are small. He is fully retired and can afford to wait it out. I’m still working, but as a novelist, I’m accustomed to a solitary, work-from-home existence. I play with my imaginary friends and observe the world through my office window. Yet I can fully appreciate how crazy life must be for many of you.

In decades past, it would have been full-on chaos for us. With two full-time careers (his as a newspaper reporter; mine teaching at the state university nearby), we’d have been crazy enough. Add in children in three schools, two soccer leagues, various clubs and church groups, not to mention school sports, band, plays, and choir, and …well, you get the picture. Some of you are probably living it. If so, you have my full sympathy.

We have people there, too. I recently spoke with our daughter whose children are ages 2 to 12. A normal day is spent largely in the car driving kids to school, lessons, practice, clubs, church, and play dates. Now she is struggling to keep them all occupied without any of their usual activities. Our sons’ families are in similar situations, and all of our employed folks are trying to  maintain their jobs and income without going to work. It’s not easy.

We’re seeing other changes as well. A grandson planned to enlist in the National Guard at the end of this school term. Now, with all his classes online, he has no reason to postpone. A college student granddaughter will be traveling across several states to wait out the crisis with her family while finishing classes via computer. We all our trying to “be there” for one another (virtually; no contamination involved) while keeping our lives as normal and healthy as possible.

We humans are resilient. Our ancestors survived the Spanish flu and two world wars. Afterward, they built the world we inherited. No doubt we can do as well. My hope is that we’ll get through this quickly, with as little damage as possible, and, when we reach the other side, we’ll reach out to serve those hardest hit and to lift one another. In the meantime, we’ll lift our collective chin and wash our hands. Frequently.

Along the way, should you feel the need to while away some time, I know where you can find some good books. 😉

Stay well, my friends!

Strong gals; #womenstrong

Strong gals; #womenstrong

March 8, International Women’s Day, began a week celebrating women. A local church group, anticipating the day, decided that the full 2020 year would be a good time to demonstrate women’s strength. How better to do that than to show the community the power of committed women?

Let’s make 2020 Women’s Year.

They organized under the banner #400womenstrong. Since there were nowhere near 400 in their group, the first task was to recruit others. To join, one did not have to be a member of their faith or of any faith. All one needed was two X chromosomes and a desire to serve.

They reasoned it’s a good time for this effort. We’ve had so much divisiveness lately. Families and friends have split over political differences or social positions. Now, with the threat of coronavirus, some folks are even fearful to be around others.

Yet we’ve also had beautiful examples of our common humanity. During the Camp Fire that destroyed the neighboring town of Paradise, one woman drove her pickup alongside the road, shouting “Get in!” to anyone on foot. She didn’t ask how they’d voted in the last election. She simply saved desperate people from the flames.

Why can’t we reach out to serve one another when we aren’t facing a calamity? This group believes we can. One small sub-group is making tiny beanies for infants born prematurely at our local hospital. Another group is creating knit or crochet scarves to hand out at homeless shelters next winter.

One woman is photographing headstones in local cemeteries and uploading them to the BillionGraves website. Her efforts will help people who are seeking  their ancestors. Another bakes holiday treats for the men in a shelter for homeless veterans. All are logging their time with a goal to reach 20,000 hours of community service this year. They logged 1800 hours in the first two months, a good start.

My challenge today is to encourage any who read this blog to organize in your own communities. Odds are you are already doing helpful things for others around you. As you gather with like-minded people and organize, you too can show the world what women (and men) can do and, in the process, help to rebuild the links that connect us to one another. It’s a great way to celebrate women…and all humankind.