Return to Tiburon

I’ve just spent the last 10 days in Tiburon, my hometown. Everyone else in my house was away, so I decided to get away myself and spend time with my parents. I had a wonderful time, getting to know my town again.

Our highlight each day was a walk next to the water. Tiburon is an old railroad town and after the railroad shut down in the ‘60s, the town tore up the tracks and put in walking paths. One path stretches from Blackie’s Pasture all along Tiburon Boulevard and Richardson Bay to downtown. Another path runs along the waterfront, with spectacular views of the city and the ferry boat docks off of Main Street. Most often, we chose this waterfront path.

There’s always a lot of action on the waterfront path. There are a mix of locals and tourists, with many languages being spoken. People bring dogs, picnics and fishing equipment. One day, we paused at Elephant Rock, a rock that literally looks like an elephant and is surrounded by a deck for fishing. A fisherman was struggling to reel in something big. With his pole bending to the water he reeled in a large shark, about 3 feet long. It was one of the leopard sharks that populate the local waters and for which the town is named. (Tiburon is Spanish for shark.)

Another time on the walking path we saw two young boys with fishing equipment. They were cutting up squid to use as bait. We asked what they expected to catch and they said sharks and sting rays, which they would release back to the water.

You see all ages on the path. My mom was especially impressed by the elderly people, some with walkers, tackling the path. She found it inspiring that people who are challenged in that way would attempt to walk. She herself is 82 but she’s quite agile still and loved that fact that I got her out and about.

One day we walked not only next to the waterfront, but down Main Street and up and down Corinthian Island. Corinthian Island feels a bit like the French Riviera, with houses hanging off the side of the steep streets. At the top of the hill that makes up the island there’s an enormous Italian-style villa, complete with columns, and a pair of benches to take in the view of San Francisco, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Walking around town brings back so many memories. A few times we saw the little dinghies from the San Francisco Yacht Club junior sailing club plying the waters. My brother and I participated in junior sailing several summers, as did most kids growing up in Tiburon. I’ll never forget the swim test we had to take to prove we could survive in the bay. We had to tread water for 10 minutes in the freezing bay. These days I bet the kids are allowed to wear wetsuits. I’ll also never forget the handful of times my brother and I sailed to Angel Island. It felt like an adventure out of a story book. We might as well have been going to Treasure Island.

I also have memories of my own kids visiting their grandparents in Tiburon. One summer day I arrived in town with the kids and their new bikes. My parents and I spent a couple of hours teaching them how to ride a bike on the flat paths under the steady gaze of Blackie. (Blackie is a life-size statue honoring the old retired war horse who occupied the pasture next to Tiburon Boulevard for many years.) In no time at all, it seemed, the kids had mastered the bikes and rode down the path with ease.

At the current time, there is a lot of construction happening in downtown Tiburon. The Caprice restaurant next to Elephant Rock is being redone. Two other restaurants are under construction on Main Street. One will be headed by Michael Mina, the celebrity chef. The town is trying to cast itself as a destination dining spot. There are only about 10,000 people in Tiburon, not enough to keep the restaurants afloat without lots of tourist dollars.

The main restaurant people flock to now is Sam’s, with its famous deck and view of the docks and bay. Sam’s underwent a renovation a few years ago, adding heated benches and Mexican wool blankets to take the chill out of the foggy days. There frequently is a line to get into Sam’s.

If you go to Tiburon on a summer weekend, you’ll find that Main Street is closed to cars. The restaurants set up tables in the street and a band plays. It’s a festive time.

My favorite spot in town is Ark Row, just beyond Main Street. Ark Row consists of a group of former turn-of-the-century houseboats that have been turned into shops. There’s a wine tasting spot, a salon and a guitar store along the quaint stretch.

Sadly, the town’s only cinema closed during Covid and the owner won’t reopen. For my parents that is the loss of one of their favorite past times, seeing first-run movies at the local theater. I wonder what will become of the space. Maybe they’ll turn it into condos. The town really can’t support more retail as the current retail is already struggling.

There is another favorite spot we didn’t get to this visit. It is the open space area at the top of Mt. Tiburon. There is a trail that traverses the crest of the hills and provides a 365-degree panorama of the bay. To the left is Richmond and Berkeley, the Richmond bridge looking like a toy erecter set crossing the bay. Straight ahead is San Francisco and the new, sleek Bay Bridge. Off to the right is the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito. Behind is Mt. Tamalpais. The property was in danger of being sold to developers until recently. Then a community group stepped in to save the property for open space. The large tract, 110 acres, will now be preserved. We’ve come here dozens of times for picnic and kite flying. I’m so glad it will be saved.

So long Tiburon. I’ll be back soon, I’m sure!

How a liberal flip-flopped on MyPillow

It all started three Christmases ago, long before the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and long before the right-wing conspiracies that the election was stolen.

My husband bought us a set of MyPillows. He had heard an ad on his trusted apolitical news station while driving to work, and he became convinced that these were the best pillows in the world. Continue reading

My brain on fire

Bold! Courageous! Creative! Articulate! Passionate! Artistic! Energetic!

Those are just a few of the things I felt in hypomania the first few months of this year. But even that list seems too tame. I felt all of that and even more. I could do anything! I heard God talking to me constantly and saw miracles by the hour! I was on fire with ideas and actions! The fire burned brightly day and night. Even at night I would wake up remembering vivid dreams. Everything, every word, seemed to have importance. Continue reading

In defense of Biden and why Trump was a poor leader, from hydroxychloroquine to Thomas Jefferson

Happy President’s Day! Here’s some interesting trivia. Which president since Truman had the lowest approval rating? Trump? No. Not surprisingly it was Nixon with 24%. Next was Harry Truman with just 32%. Why? Because he used the atomic bomb, which was controversial, and he sent troops to Korea. George W. Bush got 34%. Carter, the most moral president we’ve had, got 34%, not surprisingly due to the hostage crisis. Who had the highest? Obama? Clinton? No. It was Dwight D. Eisenhower, with 66%. Clinton tied him with 66%. To fill out the picture, Johnson got 49%, Ford 53%, Reagan 63%,, George H.W. Bush 56%, Obama 59%, and G.W. Bush 34%. To read more go to

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The year I became a Meetup junkie

I was standing on a bluff overlooking the placid blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, my body stiff with fear. Continue reading

What Grandma taught me about living a lockdown life

In mid-March, after California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered shelter in place, my mom and I commiserated over the phone. Continue reading

Descent to madness, ascent to joy

How does one describe an experience of mental illness? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately as I think about putting into words an odyssey I’d rather not dwell on too long. In the last four months I experienced a series of situations I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemy (not even Trump). It was intolerable, full of suffering, and of course, as these things are, full of grace. Continue reading

Mini-review of The Samurai Garden

Sometimes we experience a real resonance between our real life and the world of a book we’re reading. That has been the case as I’ve read The Samurai Garden, a 1994 book by a local (El Cerrito) author.

The main action of the book surrounds a young university student, Stephen, who has moved from Hong Kong to a small town in Japan to recover from tuberculosis. The book is written as a series of diary entries Stephen records for about a year, starting in 1937. World War II is beginning and the Japanese are invading China.

Stephen moves from busy, crowded Hong Kong to his grandfather’s beach house in Japan and is cared for by Matsu, an older man who has worked for the family for many years. Matsu’s touch is tender, as he cooks simple Japanese meals of fish and tofu and encourages Stephen to rest by painting, working in the garden, and swimming at the beach. As I read, I longed to be transported to that peaceful world too. I don’t have tuberculosis, thankfully, but I’m struggling with depression and anxiety and need much of the same medicine Stephen received.

The book has a wonderful parallel subplot. Matsu, it turns out, has been caring for years for a woman, Sachi, who has leprosy. Sachi lives in a mountain village with other lepers. She moved there years ago so she wouldn’t cause disgrace to her family. Matsu has been her lifeline over the years, helping her build her house and delivering food and supplies. Stephen begins accompanying Matsu on his trips to visit Sachi and is deeply impressed by her. She is still very beautiful, despite her scars from leprosy. It’s a beautiful example of how bonds can grow between people in unexpected ways. Part of Stephen’s recovery is made possible by his friendship with this woman, an outcast of society.

This is a very atmospheric book, with beautiful descriptions of Matsu’s garden and Sachi’s garden. Life and health come through the natural world. Stephen faces many trials (such as the dissolution of his parents’ marriage) but friendship and nature pull him through. This was a healing book for me.

Poetry, persimmons and my inner battle

Live human conversation is happening in my dining room. In this time of Covid it’s as soothing to me as listening to a symphony.

My son’s friend Emilio is visiting. He has come to build a tower desktop computer with my son TJ. The two of them have spread out the parts on the dining room table and are carefully assembling parts and screwing pieces together. They talk about their online school experience, attempts at working out and living at home.

Emilio says he hasn’t been out of the house since March. His mom has mandated that he sees no one. She hasn’t even allowed him to order his favorite fast food, for fear it might pass on the virus. I guess she relented today, knowing his computer is an important hobby.

I have a few errands to run, but I’m reluctant to leave this hum of conversation. I’ve been battling anxiety and my whole world is calibrated toward the goal of being less anxious. Even doing errands has become difficult. Can they just wait? Do I really need to return the wrong-size slippers I bought at CVS? Do I need to buy those noodles at Costco? Last time I went to Costco a loud alarm went off at the register and I was barely able to cope.

Writing, on the other hand, and this listening to human words, is a refuge. The physical act of putting words on paper or a screen is calming. It’s as automatic as driving a car, but even more immersive. To get lost in writing, to become absorbed with words and meanings and sounds, offers solace. How strongly I want to get lost! I want to escape my own troublesome thoughts.

Poetry has been perhaps the best escape for me lately. On several sleepless nights I’ve sat in bed with my notebook circling over a few lines of poetry, playing with different combinations of words and syllables. Poetry demands that every word, every morpheme, count. It’s writing at its most pared down and concise.

Some people think poetry is serious and stuffy and complicated. This is not true. A lot of poetry can be playful. Just look at a Billy Collins poem or many haikus. Many times a haiku will carry an ironic meaning. For example, the other day I wrote:

on the back fence
morning glories
open all day

I was trying to play with the idea that although these flowers have the word “morning,” their wide purple blooms are actually open all day. I have a view of them outside my kitchen window and all day long hummingbirds and butterflies flit around the flowers gathering nectar.

I also wrote:

deep orange persimmons
“let them ripen, be patient”
says my neighbor

This captures a brief conversation with my neighbor the other day when I walked by her tree and she was picking persimmons. She gave me a few, still shiny and hard, and told me to let them ripen on the counter. They were like getting gold. According to my neighbor the squirrels often get to the persimmons before she can pick them.

Poetry is all about detail. It’s often about the senses. It’s about noticing and recording the noticings. For example, I might notice the feel of the jagged jigsaw puzzle pieces in my hand or the ooze of an egg I’m cooking as I crack it into the pan. All of those textures are fodder for poems.

I’ve learned that managing anxiety is also about details. One strategy is paying attention to breathing. I learned about breath prayer this summer when I participated in a virtual Camino pilgrimage. The guide I listened to instructed us to pick one phrase to say as we inhaled and another to say when we exhaled. I picked “Come Lord Jesus” on inhaling and “fill me with your love” on exhaling. I find it centering and relaxing.


It’s now a few days later and election night has come and gone. Biden has won and makes a wonderful speech, talking about unity and healing. For a short time I feel hopeful and elated. But still my anxiety, coupled with depression now–the sister of anxiety–continues. Writing has become difficult. I struggle to put words together. I fear that this one thing that helps me has been taken away. Still, I return to poetry, remembering a conversation with my son.

Miguel mentioned the other day that he had discovered William Carlos Williams, a poet from the last century. I am curious about this poet and do some Googling. It turns out he and Ezra Pound were part of the Imagism movement of the early 20th century, which featured “precision of images and clear, sharp language.” His poem about a wheelbarrow (below) has been frequently quoted. It is a brief, haiku-like poem, superficially about a wheelbarrow. Is there a deeper meaning?

from Spring and All (1923)

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Technically, this poem features a lot of enjambment, which is incomplete syntax at the end of a line. You have to jump to the next line to finish the thought. The effect of enjambment is to slow the reader down, almost to a meditative level.

Some critics thought Williams wrote this poem when he was treating a dying patient (he was a doctor) and he looked out the window and saw this scene. The toy wheelbarrow belonged to the little girl he was treating. Williams scribbled these lines on his prescription pad. Later this theory was debunked, but I like the idea. I want to believe that a poet’s radar is always on, ready to compose poems, even when engaged in another activity. Maybe that’s why Mary Oliver recommended that poets always carry a notebook, to quickly write down their inspirations. I can picture Mary, walking at the Cape Cod seashore, with notebook in hand.

Here’s a haiku I quickly wrote this afternoon after a walk. It follows traditional haiku rules of five syllables in the first line, seven in the second and five in the third.

turtles on the log
brown shells absorb midday sun
walk around the lake

The 5-7-5 rule is often broken in published haiku. I like the rule, as it sets some parameters in writing. Next time I’ll try some enjambment. What are some of your favorite poems?

I received more persimmons the other day. They seem almost a fall poem in themselves, with their smooth orange skin. There are two types of persimmons, ones that have a round bottom and ones that have a pointy bottom. My neighbor gave me the pointy-end kind that need to ripen before you eat them. Then you scoop out the flesh and eat the soft, gooey insides. My friend gave me the round kind. You can slice these like an apple and eat them alone or in a salad. The texture is almost like a pear. I will savor these persimmons. In my state of struggle I need all the beauty I can find.

Covid chronicles: life with my 20-something son

I knew something was up when I saw the meat mallet out on the counter.

“Did you use the meat mallet for something?” I ask my son.

“Oh yeah,” he says, with a smile, running into the other room to get something.

He returns with a smashed brown pulpy mass, about the size of a small lime but looking more like a putrified fig.

“What is this?” he says.

I examine the rough surface in my hand.

“It’s a Buckeye pod. You know, those huge things that hang from the tree in back? What were you doing with that?”

“Oh. I found some on the lawn. I wanted to see what was inside it.”

I’m glad. He’s still curious about the natural world. For all his time on the computer in Zoom classes and playing games, I wonder if he’s become immune to that.

And, I am reassured. TJ may be turning 20 today, but he hasn’t changed. He’s always loved taking things apart, whether it’s dissecting worms or old cellphones. Five years ago when my Ipad crashed, he delighted in hammering it apart and inspecting the innards. We gazed at the shiny chips in silence as if we were considering a sacred icon.

I’ve lost count of the times he’s disassembled his tower computer with the excuse he needs to add an additional fan or better graphics card. The first time he did this I panicked at the sight of all the parts and screws spread out across the dining room table. Now I know he is capable of putting it all back together about as fast as it takes me to do the weekly shopping.

I do a little Googling and I can’t wait to tell TJ that Buckeye seeds are poisonous. Buckeye trees like ours are native to California and, according to Wikipedia, native Americans used the poison to sedate fish to make them easier to catch. TJ and I don’t have a ton of topics to discuss, so I’ll jump at any juicy fact to get his attention.


It’s a few days later and TJ isn’t impressed by my knowledge about Buckeye seeds. He barely changes expression as I mention the word poisonous.

Instead we talk about air quality. He tells me his good friend can’t play tennis right now due to his lung condition and sensitivity to the bad air. Actually, no one should be playing tennis right now. It’s a shame, because tennis is TJ’s main exercise. I would have never imagined that in 2020, TJ’s sophomore year of college, he would be living at home and we would be in semi-lockdown due to a pandemic and further isolation due to bad air quality.

“Did you know Mom, that the hair in your nose is thicker than the hair on your head?” TJ says suddenly. “Your nose hair is very good at filtering particles.”

Later, I’m unable to confirm this information on the web, though it sounds perfectly plausible.

That evening I ask TJ, “Where did you get that nose fact? From Reddit?” I’m feeling proud I can drop the name Reddit into the conversation.

He laughs. “No, I heard that on a podcast.”


The kitchen is our common space. We meet there several times a day. Some days TJ rummages around the cupboards and fridge and creates his own meal, a fried egg and cheese sandwich or a veggie dog on a toasted bun. Other times, he asks if I can make his meal. I’m happy to oblige. He won’t be around forever. Someday the pandemic will end and he’ll move into an apartment of his own.

Today the smell of fresh bread fills the kitchen. I’m making bread in the bread machine. This bread will go well with the shakshouka (stewed tomato dish) we will have for lunch.

I’ve become obsessed with finding vegetarian dishes my son likes. My pandemic brain runs daily loops of possible menus: mushroom risotto on Monday, pesto tortellini on Tuesday, manchego mac ‘n cheese on Wednesday. I’m overjoyed when I talk to TJ’s brother on the phone and he tells me about a new recipe he’s found for spicy tofu tacos (“TJ will love it Mom!”). Meanwhile, trips to the grocery store always involve a stop at the veggie-based frozen food section. We’ve tried everything from Beyond burgers to “fishless” fillets.

TJ became a vegetarian his senior year of high school thanks to an attractive, smart girl in his class. That relationship stayed platonic, but TJ stuck with his new diet. He’s choosing this path not primarily for health or animal welfare reasons, but to reduce his carbon footprint. I respect that and now I eat very little meat too.

While I cook we talk about our cockatiel. For 12 years Fluffy was a constant presence while we were cooking or eating.

“I thought I heard him flying around the other day,” TJ says.

“I thought I heard him whistling,” I say.

There are still breath marks on the one kitchen window I can’t reach, little smudges Fluffy left behind while perching on the sill and observing the backyard.

I replay Fluffy’s last day with us back in June, finding him struggling to breathe at the bottom of his cage. His little body seemed crumpled like a tissue, his normally erect tail and wings flattened. Then I remember how TJ cupped him in his hands on the way to the vet. Fluffy had one final convulsion that caused him to flutter and crash onto the car floor. His tiny eyes, two black dots always so bright and alert, closed into tiny slits. Later we buried him in the garden outside TJ’s bedroom window.

We don’t talk about that sad day. But I know we are both thinking about it.


How did my son become an adult, no longer a teen? It’s the small stuff that hits me. It’s finding him ordering fancy Moleskine journals to take notes for his classes. I remember all the years when I had to buy his school supplies. It’s noticing the way he’s lined up his shoes neatly under his bed. I used to tidy his room. It’s seeing him pull on his vest to go skateboarding, timing his ride so he can watch the sunset. I used to nag him to go outside. As the saying goes, in parenting the days are long but the years are fast.

The other day I was driving to the store and when I reached the slight crest at our corner I saw a young man whizzing by on an electric skateboard. Wow, I thought, he’s going fast. Then I looked again and realized it was TJ. Since we both hardly leave the house these days, it felt strange seeing him out of context. I decided right then that for his birthday, I’d buy him a better helmet…and a Costco-sized wheel of manchego cheese.