Tuesday, October 31, 2006


You have never truly experienced Halloween if you don’t live in Montara.

I drove around the Bay Area today, from The Coast to Mountain View to San Francisco. And, sure, I saw a fair number of goblins, wizards and Harry Potters. But, the last day of October doesn’t really start until I get home and run inside to open the door to the first Trick-or- Treaters.

To prepare for the evening, we bought four fifty piece bags of fun size mini M&M packs, and four three and a half pound bags of Tootsie Favorites. I distributed all the loot evenly in 5 big bowls and then asked each kid to take one piece. Sure, some pick more than one – and one or two grab a handful. But, still. That’s around five hundred kids who all ring the doorbell between 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.

I saw skeletons, bloody knives, dragons, severed hands, medusas, unicorns, ladybugs and lions. Darth Vaders, soldiers, mummies and robots. A princess, a man without a head, firemen, a garbage can, a pink cheetah and a kangaroo. (The scariest part of the day was hands down reading the ingredients in a tootsie roll.)

And, just how much candy did I eat today, considering I have been exposed to buckets of a huge variety of treats? How many, having attended four meetings where chocolate was placed in heaps at the center of the table? What were the consequences of spending the past three hours doling out the goods myself? And, what was my behavior when parents of these hoards of kids made chocolate chip cookies and offered them in gratitude to those of us who stock up so their kids can have a good Halloween experience?

I didn’t have a single piece. None. And when I got hungry, I went into the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea.

Pretty scary, huh?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Two interesting things have happened to me in the past month or so. What makes them most interesting (to me, anyway) is how they did not require much effort.

The first: I don’t drink coffee anymore. I used to drink a cup a day, in the morning (short nonfat latte), and then it escalated into a second cup after lunch (espresso macchiato). I’m extremely sensitive to caffeine; so going from needing one to needing two and the subsequent feeling of going directly from lethargic to bouncing off the walls subtly signaled to me that I needed to stop. I tried, dealt with withdrawal headaches, crawled back. Then, about a month ago, I had to travel around and was really busy at work and stopping to get coffee and standing in line at Starbucks was just not convenient, and it sort of happened. I’ve switched to tea.

For the past four weeks, I’ve been drinking two cups in the morning (usually green tea, one at breakfast, the other midmorning) and two after lunch (with no caffeine). I’ve had a total of three cups of coffee in a month’s time and have not once felt that “aaaaaaah” release I reveled in when trying to quench the squeezing headache abstaining used to give me.

I’m free.

I don’t know if I’ll eventually slide back into the steamy, fragrant black depths of being a coffee drinker but I’m amazed at how it went from being a nearly impossible feat to an almost accidental one. (I’m sure there is a life lesson in here somewhere.)

The second: for the first time in my life, I have drastically reduced my considerable sugar intake in a sustained manner. I have an (formerly) irrepressible sweet tooth and am used to having some type of dessert every day after every meal (and am no stranger to snacking through the afternoon). Here again, in the middle of being distracted, I just never stopped to look for whatever would feed the craving. Then I suddenly realized I felt so much better: less hungry. I guess what they say about not letting your sugar levels spike is really true. One thing is to read it, the other to live it. (Yet another life lesson lurking here.)

This luxuriously smooth, glossy feeling of not being ravenous mid afternoon has made me strive to not go back to my churning, serrated, sugar-loving ways. For example: the last three times that Luca stocked up on the ultra dark chocolate he consumes while he watches soccer, he’s asked me if I wanted my usual ration of milk chocolate, and I declined. (And, he didn’t look at me in shock, which is in itself quite interesting. I mean, what if someone tries to impersonate me one day? He’d never notice!)

I know enough to realize these series of remarkable incidents might very well be fleeting. But for now, without caffeine and without sugar I am feeling pretty even keeled. Even keeled is good. I think I’ll hang on to it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Pedro is getting married

Wow. My brother Pedro is getting married.

This statement is incredible to me (literally) since somewhere in my subconscious I still think he’s eight years old. His true age is more like 29 – almost 30. (When in the world did that happen?)

In my defense, I’ve never met the incredibly fortunate woman he’s going to marry, so it’s not like I was eased into this news.

The exhilarating announcement of his impending nuptials filled me first with a benevolent sense of shock (“But, you’re a BABY!” is what passed through my head, but fortunately I didn’t say it out loud) and then with pure delight. He sounded so happy (and perhaps secretly pleased that he had made my jaw drop.)

When he was just a boy, he became the first (and possibly only) person I’ve ever seen win an argument against my father, who is a professional arguer. Not because Pedro was louder or more assertive but because he tends to make unequivocal sense. He has a sharp intellect, a goofy sense of humor and a big heart. (Which he’s given away! Oh. My. God.)

Pedro is a terrific writer. One Christmas, declaring he had no money, he wrote for each of us a priceless poem. He read every one out loud over dinner and reduced us all to tears, a trait he inherited from my father but then claimed as his own with that unique gentleness and appalling, exposing sense of insight.

For inexplicable and varied reasons every member of my family is convinced they are fluent in Italian. Pedro is the one who comes closest to this actually being true. He calls Luca fratello (brother) and Luca really sees him as one.

I believe Pedro is, of my entire family, the one who has spent the most time in school. My little brother is an academic, with a Masters Degree from the London School of Economics. Listening to him talk about politics or the environment renews your hope for the future of this world.

I know that Lorena is an extraordinary woman, because my brother wants to marry her. I’ve never met her, but I already love her like a sorella.

Welcome to the family, Lorena Zapata.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I’m swimming laps, back and forth, back and forth. I stop sometimes to adjust my goggles, stretch, catch my breath and lean against the far side of the pool. I see a man and a boy about twelve enter the pool area. From the way they walk, their shoulders close together, heads turned in, I know they’re in this alone. They are foreigners.

The man walks his boy to the edge. The boy, keeping his eyes down, gets in using the ladder (I half expected a cannonball). We end up sharing the lane. He’s small and skinny and ultra careful not to graze me as we cross paths again and again. He’s a good, disciplined swimmer, has nice, even strokes. He doesn’t play with the stream of bubbles his body makes as it cuts through the water, nor does he do summersaults or back flips between laps. His body language seems too clipped – un-expansive - to belong to someone so small.

A (very) pregnant woman arrives, adjusts her swim cap, pulls at the bathing suit already tugging tight across her belly, studies the people who now populate every lane. Despite my superpower mental message (not here not here not here not here) she leans over and asks if she can share our lane. I make an effort to sound inviting because she’s going to come in anyway, so why make her feel uncomfortable?

“We can swim in circles,” she suggests. Her tone is easy. “It’s three of us, so back and forth is not going to work”. I nod and reach the boy. I touch him lightly on the shoulder. He stops, whips up, looks at me with wide eyes. “Let’s swim in circles -” I start. He stares. I realize he does not understand me.

His father swims up beside him. “Yes? Can I help you?” his accent is heavy, but his English is crisp. He speaks it well.

“We need to swim in circles so she - ” I point, “can join us”.

The man turns to the boy. “Swim in circles” he says to his son. But he does not switch to their language, does not even signal with his arms. He continues, still in English, arms at his sides. “Don’t swim back and forth on the same lane”. He swims away.

I look at the boy. The boy does not look at me. I want to help, but I don’t know how. I swim, making the circles as wide as I can, willing him to catch on.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thanks for all the fish

If you read my past blog entry titled “The List Maker”, you know I make lists. They are logistical, tactical, immediate – not aspirational. I’ve tried to develop a “list of things to do before I die” or a “places to go in the next five years” but I never make much progress. I think it’s because half the pleasure of making one lies in checking items off. Having a list that by nature takes years to get through goes against the grain of my list making compulsion.

Years ago, in an attempt to make the “things to do before I die” list, I did manage to get three things down:

1. See Oprah live (she is one of the most extraordinary people of our time.)
2. See the Aurora Borealis
3. Swim with a dolphin

As it turns out, this weekend I did just that. I had to go to Orlando on business and had a few hours off Saturday, so we went to Discovery Cove.

You probably already know a lot of what I know about dolphins. They are intelligent, social; they communicate in ways we don’t fully understand. But I didn’t know they were so soft. Their skin is not like rubber – it’s warm and alive. They have expressive eyes and are not bald - they have whiskers. They have belly buttons. Their ears are like pinholes. They have good eyesight, but use sonar sight too (like bats.) And they always, always thank you when you give them fish.

Don’t try swimming with dolphins or touching dolphins in the wild, but definitely go to Discovery Cove.

Swim with a dolphin: check.

Must do again.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Disturb me

There it is, that inflection again. It’s imperceptible to the inexperienced ear. It would take years of training to detect the hidden strain. But you can’t fool me. I know it’s there. I reach out for it, but it’s like a wisp, intangible. It’s gone.

“You’re not worried about me, are you?” he says, peppy.
“Well” I say, and opt to come out with it. “Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. Are you OK?”
I know the answer already. I’ve heard it all my life.

Of course I’m OK.

I come from a family of booming communicators. We talk. We write. We debate. We protest. When we were young and still all lived at home, we used to get together every Sunday, sit around an enormous table, and argue over a four hour meal of green salad, carne asada and chocolate cake.

Each one of us keeps secrets, though. If something breaks –and things often break - the shards of glass are quickly, efficiently swept away, lest they hurt someone. They are everywhere, the hints, the bits, like a shattered windshield that leaves blue glass strewn all over the highway. They leave me wondering, guessing exactly what the extent of the damage was.

Is there some perverse reason we speak in half-truths? There is not. You see, we do it to protect one another. The unspoken commandment: thou shalt not concern a beloved family member. Shhh. The children will hear.

This is why I am always suspicious. When it gets the best of me, I launch an investigation that pries, that takes days, where pieces are pasted together to form a distorted picture. Distorted because the various sources of information are caught in this perpetual dance.

Just disturb me. I have strong shoulders. Your silence is worse than the things you leave me to imagine.

What about me, then? If something happened that I could shield you from, would I burden you with it?

What if you heard something in my voice?

Everything is OK. I would say, peppy. Jeez. You’re such a worrier.