Hotel California

My son came home with an interesting homework project from his 8th grade Physical Science class. Simply, take the human digestive tract and write a song that describes it’s various functions. Needless to say he was having a challenge coming up with a lyric, so for once he asked me for assistance (usually I hinder more than help).

I started out by humming a few toons, and then Hotel California by The Eagles popped into my head.

I may have taken his project a little too seriously.

On a dark digestive highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of burritos, rising up through the air
Up ahead on the dishes, I saw a succulent light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
My teeth had to take a bite
There it stood in the doorway;
My tongue started to swell
And I was thinking to myself,
“This could be Spicy or this could be Mild”
Then I opened my esophagus and it showed me the way
There was saliva down the corridor,
I thought I heard it say…

Welcome to the Digestive Cornucopia
Such a lovely taste (Such a lovely taste)
In the end it’s waste
Plenty of room at the Digestive Cornucopia
Any toilets near? (Any toilets near?)
You can find me there

The line is gettin’ kinda twisted, I got the Menudo Benz
I got a lot of sloshy, sloshy acid in my stomach, friends
How it churns inside, solid food becoming wet.
Some eat to remember, some eat to forget

So it fell into the stomach,
It churned in the acid for a while
It said, “We haven’t had that mixture here since nineteen sixty nine”
And still those gases are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say…

Welcome to the Digestive Cornucopia
Such a lovely taste (Such a lovely taste)
In the end it’s waste
Breakin’ down food in the Digestive Cornucopia
Eating fiber is wise (Eating fiber is wise)
I’ll have a side of fries!


We are so blessed (#andyouarenot)

Last night my wife and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary, a big milestone that seemed to just sneak up on us in a blink. We asked my mother to come spend the evening with her grandson, and realized that for the first time in a few months, we were going on a date.The realization that we hadn’t taken the time to connect alone in this way was something that also struck a nerve. Nights like this are necessary, and although we have our walks (more on that later), we also need some romantic moments as well.

Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk

Last year we were still in Malta for our anniversary. We celebrated with an evening in the beautiful fishing village of Marsaxlokk and a dinner at Tartarun restaurant. For both of us, one of our most magical evenings, as each anniversary should be. We talked as we ate about how lucky we are, what we thought the future would hold, and toasted to the promise of many, many more years together. I remember taking some pictures of the amazing presentation of dishes that came to the table. Tartarun is truly a unique experience, and we wanted to share it with all of our friends as we posted images to Facebook & Twitter.

Last night our longitude had changed a bit since we were now back in California. We were enjoying a view of Soquel Creek from the beautiful Shadowbrook Restaurant. It’s hard to imagine that our conversations were any different than the ones we had had 12 times before on other anniversaries. But one thing we did notice this time was people.

One couple came in and sat across from us. She wore a simple blouse, ankle length skirt and flats, he was in a polo shirt with pinstripes and old sneakers. The entire time they didn’t say a word to one another, and it almost seemed as if they were regulars. The waiter brought their meal before ours and when he cleared their table, wished them a happy anniversary. They walked out as quietly as they dined.

Across the creek were a some younger people enjoying one of the summer creekside rentals. They walked in and out of the wood framed glass doors and stood to look around and take selfies, one had her phone held to her ear for over thirty minutes, and then we looked up from talking to find them gone, obviously headed to the Capitola Esplanade for dinner or drinks.

And behind us, out of view, were two couples that talked about money. Well, one couple talked. The other said hardly a word as they carried on about their 10 million dollar estate, how it was being willed to the kids and grands, how they bought their deadbeat son a new car because ‘I’m not about to have him drive my grandchildren around in that piece of junk’ and how their daughter was very upset about how their inheritance was being split, but that she ‘makes three times as much money as our son’.

This conversation was one that captivated us, and we just couldn’t stop snickering. The patriarch was an obese man with oxygen tubes feeding into his nostrils and I kept thinking that the kids would be seeing an inheritance fairly soon. Perhaps he sensed the end as much as I did, thus the conversations leaned all night towards what he would be leaving behind. It was sad to me that they talked about their children and grandchildren, but never once did the conversation lead down the path of whether they were happy, fulfilled or loved.

All of these experiences really made us think about the ego and how we are always seemingly trying to ‘one-up’ each other. The kids across the way with their selfies, the old couples behind us with their fixations on money, even ourselves with a lot of the pictures that we had taken of our experiences in Malta. We might as well have tagged them all with #andyouarenot at the end of them.

Look at this 2lb super burrito I am eating #andyouarenot

I’m in Rome #andyouarenot

I’m rich #andyouarenot

I’m buying these new shoes #andyouarenot

Why do we do this? It’s so sad, because most of the time I don’t think we realize we are even doing it. I know that this seems strange to write about, but we both decided last night that social media is really a bizarre thing. That smart phones are so popular in wealthy countries because of the ability to instantly boost an individual’s ego. It’s not often people post things that paint them in a lesser light, probably because those people can’t even afford a smart phone, or have evolved to the point of not having to post every moment of their lives to instagram.

I’m hungry #andyouarenot

I’m dying of cancer #andyouarenot

I am drinking filthy water #andyouarenot

I am homeless #andyouarenot

One thing my wife and I are going to be doing this year is practice more social responsibility in our daily lives & communities, volunteering even more than we have in the past. We are so grateful for the love and health that are so abundant in our lives. So this time next year we will have a brand new hashtag – what do you think it should be?


Never Gone

I am 26 years old. My mother has brought my grandmother out from Colorado to live with her in an effort to cure her stomach cancer. My mother beat her diagnosis of breast cancer into remission using home remedies, belief in them, and sheer will. It was obvious that she felt that she could best serve her Mother by keeping her in our home, close to her and her grandchildren. The doctors had given her only a few months to live after they removed an enormous tumor. My Mother’s faith in herself and God was my Grandma Mary’s last hope.

Peter, Mom, Mary, Dad

Grandpa Pete, Rose Marie (Mom), Grandma Mary, Michael (Dad)

At first my Grandmother was happy to be with us, but as her pain increased, and my Mother’s remedies and our love proved to be no match for the cancer attacking her, she just wanted to go back home to Colorado. It broke our hearts to hear her beg to let her go. She just wanted to go back to the home that she had made with her beloved Peter in the small coal mining town of Trinidad. It made sense to me then why she wanted to go. She was suffering and didn’t want us to watch her slowly erode. More importantly, the comfort of being in her home with it’s familiar surroundings, and the ghosts of those others that she was soon to join in death, was her last wish. This wish proved to be the thing that haunted my Mother most after my Grandmother passed away. She always wondered if she had done the wrong thing by keeping her in California.

I remember the night she died. She was laying in bed and had been unresponsive for 2 days, not eating or drinking. Just short, quick breaths marked the fact that she was still with us. I tried to give her a sip of water because her lips looked so dry, and she began choking and coughing. I felt like I had nearly drowned her and just kept saying I was sorry, over and over again. I laid there next to her frail body for an hour before going to bed. Several hours later my Mother woke me to tell me she had passed away. I walked into the room to see her, crawled in next to her again and just lay there, crying and saying goodbye.

I’m 38 years old. I get a call from Dad that Mom is in the hospital. She was experiencing acute pain in her abdomen, but they didn’t know what the cause was. They wanted to keep her overnight for observation. I raced to the hospital to see her.

mom_dad_gram

Mom and Dad as Newlyweds with Mary

Mother was there, smiling at me through eyes that looked a bit frightened. She told me not to worry, they think she just pulled a muscle. Still, the circumstances and symptoms had the doctors baffled and they wanted to keep her as a precaution. I stayed a while until she got me to promise to go home to help Pop make some dinner.

My father was always a craftsman in the kitchen, able to pull random objects and create a culinary experience that was always a joy. Delicious, as my wife would always say, but not necessarily healthy. Too much cream and butter. I remember enjoying the meal, helping clean up with my wife, calling my mother at the hospital to check in, and then we started heading home with our young son.

About a mile from our house I started to feel sick. So sick that I made my Wife stop the car. I leapt out onto the shoulder and projectile vomited several times. Linda was alarmed and we all wondered when the rest of us would fall ill from some kind of food poisoning. At home I declined rapidly, and a high fever set in. Still, Linda and Aidan felt fine. I lay there in bed, shivering. We discussed what I had eaten over the last 24 hours, but it was clear that I hadn’t had anything other than what my entire family had eaten. The illness was a mystery. For about an hour I went through a routine of jumping out of bed, staggering to the bathroom and ejecting fluids in some fashion from my body, all the while wracked with shakes and fever.

The next day I was still sick with a high fever. My Mother was feeling better and was going to be released from the hospital. Linda had made plans to visit friends in Sacramento weeks in advance of this day and was ready to cancel the trip. I insisted that I could take care of myself and not to worry about me. Somehow, I got her to leave with Aidan, leaving me alone in the house.

I woke again several hours later, still shivering. I am not sure why, but I felt compelled to leave, to go to my childhood home. I rolled out of bed, dressed, found my keys and drove away.

I got to my parents house in the mountains, which was always a beautiful place to be. Redwoods and pines, the gardens, the clean air. All of it familiar and inviting. I found where they kept the key hidden and let myself in. I remember drinking a glass of water and heading to the back bedroom where my Grandmother passed away. I looked down at the bed where she died, “Gram. I’m really sick. If you’re here, I need your help.”

I slid under the covers and fell asleep.

sunsetHours later I woke. The house was dark and still. I was soaked in sweat. The fever had broken and, although weak, I was already feeling better. I was able to find my way to the kitchen and make myself some dry toast, let myself out the way I came and started for home.

A few weeks later Linda and I are sitting with good friends, talking about all of the things you talk about with friends that you haven’t seen in a year. Somehow our conversation triggers Linda’s memory of what happened to me that night; My mothers hospitalization, the vomiting, the fever.

Natalie listened to the story, and said, “You had a lowlife attach to you.”

“What’s a lowlife?”, I asked.

Natalie is a Reiki healer. She got quiet for a moment. She began to tell me that sometimes spirits that are lost or malicious, hang around in places like hospitals. They sometimes attach themselves to the ‘bright light’ some people create around them. That one had attached to me. A very bad one.

I scoffed and told her that it was just food poisoning.

She slowly closed her eyes, and they started to flutter. As a tear trickled down her cheek, she described what she saw that night. She described my grandmother being there, helping me fight the lowlife. She mentioned an American Indian Chief, watching over me. The funny thing was, I hadn’t told her about how I drove to my Parents home, or that I had asked my Grandmother for help. I told her then about how I had felt compelled to go there, and she looked at me like she understood. Still, I asked about the Indian. Who was he?

We finally decided that it must have been an ancestor. Generations ago on my Fathers side of the family, I knew that we had some Cherokee blood.

About a week later, I was back at my Parents house for one of our Sunday dinners. I got up and walked to that back bedroom. I wasn’t sure If I really believed the things that Natalie had said. Mostly I like to believe that they are true, that some part of those that pass from our lives into death are still with us. That the purpose of life, love and our everlasting souls a greater mystery than we can imagine.

I stood there in the room alone. I told my Grandmother out loud, “Thank you”

As I turned to leave the room, on the wall over the bed, was a woodcut my Uncle Norman had given my father many years before he passed away. Woodcuts were a hobby that they both enjoyed.

I stared at my Uncle Normans woodcut. It was a profile of an American Indian Chief in full headdress.


Final Days in California

Another pair of unseasonably warm days in February pushed us out of the house and away from the daily work preparing for our move in just 3 more weeks. So many things need tending, but the weather beckoned and we heard the call. Sometimes you need to stop, even when you argue that you need to keep working, to just enjoy the splendor that is around you. And what splendor it was today!

Santa Cruz is such a beautiful place, and I will miss it greatly. Don’t get me wrong. I am not having second thoughts, just feeling nostalgic for the place that I have always called home, regardless of where I have lived in my 43 years. Oaks and redwoods that reach the Pacific, surfing, our amazing agriculture and abundance of food, the sometimes strange, often amazing people that our area attracts, and the days like this that force you to halt whatever, and enjoy it all. No wonder so many keep flocking here, much to the chagrin of ‘the locals’ like me who are starting to see it transform from a small-town feel into something more and more influenced by the nearby silicon vallley. So it will be interesting to leave for a long stretch like we are, making the changes that much more noticeable when we return someday.

Going to miss you Santa Cruz, Aptos, Soquel, Capitola and Watsonville!