Friday, December 5, 2014

My Book

My sincere apologies to anyone who may have logged onto my blog in response to my announcement on Facebook about the digital launch of Tree Barking: A Memoir, only to find nothing! But know I am posting this just a few short hours after the announcement on Facebook - so hopefully some people will have returned to the blog.
The book was first published by Heyday Books in Berkeley - a wonderful non profit publishing company. The book came out in April 2008 at the beginning of the great recession - not an auspicious time! Heyday does not have a publicist, and I am abysmal at any kind of promotion, especially when it comes to self promotion! Suffice to say, in 2013 the book went out of print, and the copyright reverted to me. At the same time as that happened, I was not officially laid off, but I was taken off salary - all very unnerving events. At the very time it went out of print a middle school planned to use my book as a set reading over the summer! They received my very last copies, and there weren't enough copies  so the school made copies of the book. The irony was that on Amazon the book was going for $800 or more (??????????????) supply and demand, or something. I knew that the parents of the kids in the middle school were not going to shell out 100's of dollars for a book of any kind. Of course I would not be receiving any of that money! Sort of like a painting sold for billions by a long dead artist who died penniless!
One of the 'advantages' of being taken off salary was that I had more time to devote to writing, and also to converting the book - hence the 'new' launching digitally more than a year later!
I hope some of you will read it, or at least download it because the issues I wrote about have only become worse. I am writing about the children now, but if you do read my blog you will see from the entry "Endgame" that I have reached burnout.

Monday, November 17, 2014


I took BART to San Francisco on Saturday - I was to meet a friend at the Civic Center at 5.30p.m.
I changed at MacArthur Station for the San Francisco train. It was crowded, but I did find a seat next to a window, and, as usual, began to read. The train got fuller as more people got on at the Oakland stations. Just after West Oakland I glanced up from my kindle and saw all the passengers looking at their different devices, cords of ear buds dangled around necks, the asian woman next to me was  engrossed in listening to something on her phone - no one made any eye contact with anyone else. Suddenly out of nowhere a woman stood up in the middle of the aisle - she had her back to us, but I saw she was wearing black pants, and a black hoodie and had a black backpack on. She was holding a sign which from our section could not be seen. I saw one woman who was holding her bike hand her some money. Then the woman turned our way - the cardboard sign read, "Broke and Hungry" "Please donate money for food tonight." She had on glasses and looked kind of squirrelly - all she did was hold up the sign, she was not hurting anyone. Suddenly a man came up behind her - he appeared to have   had a bit too much to drink, and looked rather unkempt. From behind her he said very loudly"hey, you are not allowed to do that, it is illegal." Everyone was now looking in their direction, devices forgotten. Then he said "get off the train" and she said "I can't, the doors are shut." He then grabbed her from behind and began to push her toward the back doors and he shouted, "Get off the fucking train." At this a number of young men got up and went after them. They all disappeared through the doors on to the next carriage. The woman next to me raised her eyebrows and shrugged, people turned in their direction, and the train continued until it reached Embarcadero. The doors opened and a crowd began to form near the doors of the carriage they had disappeared into. Our driver announced that we would be waiting for BART police to arrive and then he thanked the passengers who had held the suspect down and prevented him from getting away. After about 10 minutes a police man got on to our carriage and asked what had happened - we told him as best we could, and then he said 'but where is the victim - what does she look like?" Apparently during the fuss and commotion she had run away. Eventually we were on our way again, and everyone returned to their devices as if nothing had happened. The woman next to me raised her eyebrows and smiled, and I smiled back.

Friday, November 14, 2014


I have worked in Occupational Therapy, first in home health, from 1992, then in early intervention from 2002 to 2004 with Contra Costa County which was then disbanded and taken over by Contra Costa ARC. I have worked with them ever since.
I have met inspiring and wonderful families many of whom have battled against tremendous odds. I have fallen in love with the children, and their valiant families.
There are many drawbacks to working alone in the homes - for instance, isolation from one's peers. It really does take a village to raise a child and many times, the village is not available. I recommend physical therapists, feeding specialists, and speech therapists for the children with whom I work. It would be nice to talk with them and see how we can cooperate, but so often no-one seems to have the time, or there are privacy forms to fill in and sign before we can talk and it becomes daunting. Recently it feels that there is competition between the different service providers and collaboration becomes increasingly difficult, and is not in the best interest of the population we serve.
In the beginning we were often able to talk with the doctors and nurses, but now that almost never happens. It was helpful, because doctors only see a child for 10-20 minutes and we spend far more time with them and can observe what is happening. There was wonderful collaboration with public health nurses who made many referrals. Over the years there have been more and more budget cuts and restrictions. There was a time when I could see a child for up to three times a week, now we are restricted to one hour a week, or once every two weeks. Often the referrals are 34 - 35 months of age which means we maybe see them four times at the most - what on earth is accomplished?
I could go on and on about the deteriorating system, but I won't. To compound matters us home therapists have worked with a non existent supervisor who doesn't have any idea of the work we do.
I have valiantly battled on with all these stumbling blocks, setbacks, etc. Last year we were taken off salary and paid per child. Because of stringent eligibility requirements, referrals are far fewer and therefore the amount of children I see is dwindling.  Of course ever since last year's layoff I have been struggling with what next - to work privately, to work for a registry, then it hit me last week.
That is it, I am done. I am done working with frightfully incompetent colleagues, I am done with this work. I will not take on anymore referrals.  I now have four little ones whom I care for deeply and will continue to see until they age out or go to another program, and it is high time I move on to something different.
I have reached the end.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Return from SA

SA is South Africa.

I am still at that stage of my return when I can close my eyes and feel myself right there - I hear the sound of the hah-de-dahs as they fly overhead at dawn and at dusk. I can imagine myself in a restaurant, I can taste the lamb curry, and I can hear the people around me talking in a familiar accent.
I can feel the sand scrunching underfoot as I walk along Muizenberg beach, I hear the great silence of Namakwa. It feels like I can still lie outside on the stoep of the little cottage we rented and reach up and touch the night sky, heavy and glistening with stars and planets.l I can see the Southern Cross and the Milky Way. I open the curtains of my room in Bakubung and see Wildebeest grazing not too far away. The Warthog family greet the day. I can smell the dry veld, and still can deeply inane the wonderful aromas of the flowers in the Hantam Reserve and all around us in Namakwa.
I can still feel and imagine all these things, but the memories are beginning to slip away, overrun by the constant noise of the demolition crew in our street - down goes a school, changes, changes.
On my first day driving down 23rd Street in Richmond I see more shuttered shops and buildings.
A drive by shooting takes place right near the office at 2.00 p.m.  I am back.

Friday, October 3, 2014

To Fast or Not?

Kol Nidre night of the Yom Kipur of the War, was spent in the disco of Ein Dor. It was the first time since my bat mitzvah that I was not fasting. This was because I was living on the kibbutz where no one seemed even to know about Yom Kipur. My first Yom Kipur there was so strange, because it was a day like any other and I worked in the children's house just like on any other day of the year. Growing up in South Africa it was a really special day, and everyone went to the synagogue and everyone fasted.
When the war broke out the next day I silently vowed to myself that if we all survived, then I would fast every Yom Kipur from then on. We did not all survive, but nevertheless, I kept to my vow and have always fasted - except for last year, Yom Kipur 2013. It was 40 years since the war, and I was on Kibbutz Ein Dor. Over the years, many things had changed, including Yom Kipur. For Kol Nidre there was a lovely, meaningful service next to the moadon (clubhouse.) Many people fasted and observed Yom Kipur. I was staying with a good friend and would be there for only that night - as usual it was extremely hot. We went to the cemetery very early in the morning and spent time sitting under the trees, amongst the graves, talking, remembering, just being. The thing that was completely different for me was that I did not fast. The friend I was staying with had asked other friends over for dinner, and for me it was more important to be with them thnt to be alone and to fast.
The sky did not fall, the earth did not open - the day continued and ended with the blowing of the shofar, night came, dawn came, another day ......
This year I am in America, and have decided that I shall fast, and I realize way - it is this symbolic act which ties me to the unbroken chain of my 'tribe,' to my ancestors, and here in the diaspora I do not want to break that chain.

Monday, August 25, 2014

This and that

It appears that matters between Finn and myself have settled somewhat.  I am not sure what the final (let's hope) deterrent was/is. Of course I have not let up my guard, and when I see Finn outside in the front of my house I glare at him and he sneaks away! Suffice to say we are no longer on speaking terms.
Very soon I depart the USA for my homeland! I am off to South Africa to attend a high school reunion, see friends and family, and travel around a bit. The last time I was there was eight years ago. Who knows whether I shall blog from there or not, probably not as you may have noticed that I do not maintain a steady pace of entries.
Everyone I know felt the quake the other night. Now there are rivers of wine in Napa and I can't help thinking, with apologies to Marie Antoinette, "if there is no water let them drink wine."
Horrible 'event' and my heart is indeed with everyone as they clean up and count their losses and repair the structures until the next quake.

Monday, August 4, 2014


The cat came back, the very next day .............

What did I expect. I cannot maintain a 24 hour vigil, stick in hand. I do have to go out from time to time. So, this morning, I have fortified my command post - the enemy is not in sight at present. I KNOW he will be back despite my strengthening my stakeout. He is stealthy and is not deterred at all. He thinks this is his territory, I think it is mine.

Does all this sound frighteningly and depressingly familiar?


Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Own Private War

It is with great sadness that I wish to declare that sides have been established and boundaries declared in my own private war.

For those avid readers of my blog you will recall that earlier this year I rhapsodized about my lovely space in the back of the house. The joy I take in my curly willow tree, my succulents, and the tomatoes I am now eating. I also planted a lovely Japanese lace leaf maple.  Not two days later I noticed that some critter was using the fresh earth as their litter box. I did not want to think that this could be my neighbors' tabby striped cat, Fin. It is only recently that Fin has been allowed out of his apartment. When I drive home he bounds across the road to my car, exactly like a dog would do, to greet me. Soon his forays moved from across the road to parts unknown. He even tried to insinuate himself into my house, but unfortunately I am allergic to cats and Fin could not come in. A territorial war then began between Fin, Hot Toddy, and a feral cat named Bella.  All suspect for using my maple leaf tree as a litter box.
In the meantime, unsure of who the offender was, I went back to the nursery and spent $30 on something the man there assured me was infallible for deterring critters. "Critter Ridder." I followed the directions sprinkling it around - the instructions assured me it would be good for at least 30 days.  Maybe two hours later I noticed that the area was again being used as a toilet.
I then went online, and then sprinkled coffee grounds around, along with the critter ridder. I put down strips of aluminum foil, I placed gravel in the spot,  along with mulch. Nothing worked. After careful observations of the habits of the surrounding cats, I determined that Fin is the culprit. Impartial observers confirmed my suspicion. The other morning I stood in my kitchen and saw Fin sneaking around the house. I grabbed a spray bottle and confronted him. All he did was stare at the bottle, he did not budge. In fact the look he gave me was like, "bring it on, I love this."
And so, Fin uses the space and I clean it out. I built up what I thought to be an impermeable fortress. It wasn't. The other morning I was outside watering my plants and caught Fin, mid act. I picked up a branch of the fuchsia and brandished it in his direction, scaring both myself, and, at last, Fin, who scampered off. Then I saw him crouching beside the house, waiting. I brandished it again.. Off went Fin - for the time being.
Does anyone have any helpful ideas, I would welcome. This war is wearisome!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New things

There are a number of things I have been mulling over to write about, but this terrible war in Israel and Gaza has most of my attention and concern. However, I will try to write about something else.

Recently I began working with two babies with Down Syndrome. Both are from hispanic families.  I have now been seeing them for a few months and the mothers have gained my trust.
The thing that happens is that with each session the mothers talk to me a little more, about their concerns, their hopes, their faith, and they begin slowly to ask me more questions about myself, whether I believe in God, whether I have children, etc.
Two weeks ago, just as I was getting ready to leave, the one mother told me that she doesn't drive, and said how very difficult it is for her. The family live in a garage in Richmond. When the weather is cold there is no insulation and it is freezing despite the carpets and blankets they put down. When it is hot, it is very hot, and the mom cooks and fries food - she makes breakfast when I arrive, usually fried eggs and beans for her and her husband, and cereal or eggs for their three year old daughter. It is so warm and humid inside that my glasses fog over.  She told me she doesn't drive and then said how tied down she is. She is with the two girls all day long. The daughter with Down syndrome likes to be held a lot, and it takes a long time to nurse her, because she does not have a powerful suck. She says when her husband returns from work she passes him the daughter and gives him a bottle for her and he insists that it is not his job, he works hard outside the home. She told him that if she had wanted a child alone, that is what she would have done, but they are together in this, they are a family and need to support each other. Of course this has created a lot of tension in the home and the older daughter picks up on this and reacts in her way, which is to be defiant and cry.
I asked the mom whether she would like some counseling. Teary eyed she replied that she would, and I told her I would see what I can arrange. To add to this situation are the constant money worries and the high cost of living. Mom is tired and depressed.
The other mother looks very young, but she is not as young as she appears. She has a nine year old daughter in El Salvador whom she has not seen for seven years. The daughter lives with her mother. The daughter would like to come here, but that is just not possible. The mom told me she fled from a situation of domestic violence in El Salvador and came here alone. Here in Richmond she and her husband and daughter live in an unsafe area. The other day as I sat with mom and her daughter a neighbor began to scream - "I have my rights, get out of here" in such a loud voice that it  permeated the area and filled the street and surrounding apartments. Either the mother did not understand, or she is by now impervious to the goings on. I looked outside and saw three police cars and two ambulances parked in front of the neighbor's apartment. It was hard to talk to mom, but thankfully the little girl slept through everything. Thankfully, or it is yet another cause for concern, I suspect that she does not hear well. She does have an appointment for a hearing test soon.
Every time I get there mom gives me a letter she has received, some of them ask for money for their daughter's blood work etc. It seems to me Medical should be covering this. It looks like companies are taking chances of billing for covered services in the hopes that people who don't understand these letters will pay the amount they see out of fear. I help mom fill in forms and letters almost every week.
What is interesting is how universal the problems facing mothers are, whether the mothers are well educated and working, or on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. I suppose these gender related tensions and difficulties for stay at home mothers are not new, and it is not easy to work them out. I can at least be of emotional support to these women, and to listen to them, and to hug them when they cry.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Israel and Gaza

I beg all of you who are not consumed by hatred and fear to please join our voices in clamoring for peace. This cannot continue


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Saturday, May 31, 2014


It is a perfect summer day here in Albany. The early morning fog has given way to blue skies. I am sitting in my tiny patch of garden, next to my greek-isle-reminiscent yellow table, reading. My head and back of my neck are being gently caressed by the leaves of my curly willow tree. I have my hand in the soil surrounding the tree, and am enjoying the perfect bit of shade it provides, and am reminded of how I love trees.
A friend gave me two small branches of a curly willow that her neighbor was cutting down. I put them in a bucket and when both branches sprouted hairy roots offered one to my neighbor ,and I placed one in a pot. That was four years ago. Each summer the leaves have returned to the bare branches and this summer it is just perfect. Large enough for me to sit under its branches, and to provide me with shade.
Last weekend I removed a fuchsia plant that has been here for longer than I have, and which has been diseased for that same amount of time.  I removed the old woody roots and stems and the leaves with the disease which causes them to curl and wrinkle, and turn from green to spotty yellow with definite strange  deformities at their base. I have now put in a lace-leaf Japanese maple, and am hoping that it will grow and flourish like my curly willow, and that I can continue to enjoy this wonderful outdoor spot.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


I was considering entitling this entry 'triad' 'trinity' 'triangle' - then I looked at the date of my last entry - just over 3 months ago - hence the title.
Let me try to explain - after I was in America for about 5 years I began to pay attention to three rather distinct identities residing within me. My South African self, my Israeli self, and my emerging American self.
For the most part they all manage to exist without too much conflict. Over these last few months , however, these identities have emerged strongly again. For one thing, I will be visiting South Africa later this year - I have an important high school reunion to attend, and of course will see relatives, friends, and as much of the country as time and funds permit. So my South aArican identity has  resurfaced strongly. A month ago I went to a Johnny Clegg concert which was a walk down memory lane. The very same night I returned to messages on my answering machine and in Facebook from friends in Israel to say they were thinking of me. That night of the concert was the eve of Memorial Day in Israel. That night my dreams were of South Africa and Israel - populated with a mix of friends and scenery from both countries It was only when I opened my eyes the next morning that I realized that I am in Albany, California.Then 2 weeks ago I received a call from an Israeli friend who lives in New York to tell me that an American friends of ours who now lives in Israel had arrived in America and apparently had a major stroke. The next week was filled with e-mails and calls from many people I knew in Israel who are now all over the States. I found it extremely difficult to divorce myself from all of this and go to work and all my activities here as if everything is just fine. In fact, here in America I am just fine - on the surface, while my psyche roils between countries, memories and places.
At the same time as all these events are occurring I am attending classes in life coaching. Of course these classes require much self reflection - who am I? where am I? what do I do? what have I done? This time, instead of seeing all of this as inner turmoil or conflict, I am choosing to view this as enriching. I do not necessarily need to have 'one' unifying aspect - rather, let the different parts exist side by side occasionally blending together, but mostly not, and to view this as okay.
And this view may change ........

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Culinary delights

I would be severely remiss if I did not describe my wonderful culinary experiences during the course of working in homes.
Almost invariably it is the immigrants who provide me with the best experiences. The reasons for this, I believe, are multi-faceted:
They come from cultures of hospitality.
The women  are in the home, caring for the family, they are not out working. Of course this means feeding their families, like their parents (read mothers), and grandmothers and great grandmothers did before them.
Feeding, cooking, is a source of pride, of creativity, of resourcefulness of nurturing and caring. The kitchen and the hearth are the vital centers of the homes.
Many of the families are poor, and I think for them, providing me with food and nourishment is their way of saying thanks for the work I do with their children.
Because they often live in multi-generational families it is difficult for them to comprehend that I live alone and I think they feel terribly sorry for me. I explain that this is my choice, and I do not feel bad, but as long as they ply me with food, their concern is fine with me!
My most recent treat was in the home of a family from El Salvador. Grandmom cares for the baby while mom works. I see the baby girl at one, and the other day grand mom left me with the baby while she disappeared into the kitchen from which emanated chopping sounds, grinding sounds, oil sizzling in a pan
I saw her lay plates and cutlery onto the kitchen table
She called to me to come and eat pupusas, as she set a plate of two healthy size pupusas on a plate. In the center of the table was a finely chopped salad of cabbage, carrots, onion, and a plate of what looked like a fresh home made tomato salza.
Delicious pupusas stuffed with mozzarella, she also makes them with ground meat and frijoles, or frijoles and mushrooms she told me.
A meal fit for a king, that saw me all the way through to breakfast.
A family from Ethiopia treated me to their wonderful coffee - a ritual similar to the tea ceremony. The mom showed me the green coffee beans which she then roasted in a pan. As the home filled with the enticing aroma of coffee she brought the pan of coffee beans to me and, placing a hand over the pan she waved the smoke in my direction. She told me this is part of the coffee ritual and I, in my turn, am supposed to inhale the smoke and exhale a satisfied 'hah.'
She then did something with the coffee and put it in a beautiful vessel, tall - sort of like a samovar, but not the same. This vessel, brought from Ethiopia, she placed on the table and brought out tiny coffee cups which she filled with the delicious coffee.
The Palestinian family would ply me with tiny cup after tiny cup of thick black coffee cooked in a finjan.
The mom of twins from Pakistan insisted on making me fresh chai on every visit.
A mexican grandmother sent me home very friday with containers full of chile rellenos, or quesadillas, or delicious moles, and a flask full of horchata!
I just mentioned "malawach" to the family of yemenites, and from then on was treated to endless piles of the delicious fried dough. I don't quite know how t describe this, but I first learned of it in Israel, where it can be served with soups, or just by itself.
I saw the woman kneading and preparing the dough which they formed into one large ball, and then took out and formed smaller balls of dough and proceed to roll them out until they were almost gossamer thin. They placed these circles of gossamer dough over a special elevated plate kind of thing brought from Quattar. The edges drooped over the circles and they cut these edges and made more circles until the plate is piled high. They put this into a corner on the counter and covered them all. The whole process was fascinating - three women kneading, rolling, slicing, and then the circles are fried in olive oil - it is quite delicious.
How I have not gained weight is a mystery to me, maybe kept in check by my endless kneeling and crawling and lifting -
I wish to give them all a deep bow of gratitude.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Li'l Tootsie

For obvious reasons names have been changed.

Yesterday late afternoon I walked into Richmond Kaiser for an appointment. Just ahead of me, walking through the sliding glass doors I saw the backs of three adult women and a little girl. Even from behind the little girl looked adorable, in black jeans, black and shocking pink Nikes, and a down black jacket with a fur-lined hood. Her hair was neatly braided and the pink barrettes exactly matched the pink of her sneakers. I judged her to be not more than three years old. When I saw her profile, I gasped.
"Is that li'l Tootsie?" I asked.
She turned and smiled and all the women turned toward me.
"Li'l Tootsie, hi, do you remember me?"
"Yes," she smiled. Her mother whom I then instantly recognized smiled also.
"We have thought about you so much, we all miss you" I said to Li'l Tootsie.
"My grandmother has just had surgery" she said to me. "
Li'l Tootsie is all of three years old. I worked with her from the time she was five months old. I will never forget when I first saw her. I had read the referrals and according to postnatal records I fully expected to see a very ill little baby, barely alive. Her young mother opened the door to let me into their home on Ohio Avenue in Richmond. We completed the paperwork while Tootsie slept. I asked her mom whether I could take a look at her before I left. In the crib was a tiny pretty ball of fire. A shock of hair surrounded her lively little face and she looked at me - a completely unfamiliar, out-of-place face - out of big, very alive black eyes and smiled.  My initial  thought was that the mother had shown me the wrong child, although there were no other children present.
And so I had the pleasure of playing with Li'l Tootsie from her earliest months of life. In an amazingly short amount of time she began to crawl - up the stairs she went, and down again all by herself. She did not like to be held. She wriggled out of the arms of whomever tried to carry her, quite the little Houdini. And, as her grand mom would say, she was "busy, all the time busy". By the time she turned one she was running. Her mom, grand mom and myself thought it would be good for her to attend the program at the George Miller Center. Because of the circumstances of her birth she did display some delays, although she herself had no idea! Absolutely no learned helplessness in our Li'l Tootsie.
She attended the program for about a year, winning over everyone's hearts. Everyday she came to school in a different outfit. She very soon saw the children with severe delays and began to help them. I will never forget a little boy who had Down Syndrome, and was fed via a g-tube. He had a dysmorphic face and cried and cried. Li'l Tootsie sat next to him at snack time patting him gently, "okay, okay - will be okay."
She continued to be very very busy, unable to sit down for longer than a minute, and seemed not to pay attention in the group activities, but soon she was talking, and obviously taking in everything and everyone around her. She practically ran the Center.
To our deep sorrow, we could no longer justify having her attend our Center and told her mom she needed to find a 'regular' program for her. The day she left was a very sad day for all of us.
That was a year ago, and ever since we have wondered how she is doing. Whenever I drive past their house I look to see whether anyone is home. In fact, it turns out, the home was sold and they have moved.
And now, after a year, here she is - looking as beautiful and as lively as ever. What is more, she allowed me to hug her - Toots was never a big one for hugs - ''down," she would say.
Besides explaining that her grand mom was having surgery she pointed to her outfit, black and pink sneakers, black jeans, and a pink shirt, and told me the colors in spanish as well as english. She then pointed out shapes to me, the circle of the reception desk, the rectangular doors, even  to the crescent moon bright in the outside sky! When I said goodbye and walked to the department I heard her saying to her great grandmother and aunt "Nesta is my friend."
How very happy that encounter made me. Maybe you, dear readers, have noticed that I haven't blogged much about work, although that was my original intent when I began the blog, but over the last couple of years, and in the last year especially, there have been so many disheartening changes that I have had little desire to write about them. These changes are what led me to write about the 'snow globe.' That disturbing sense of me having been tossed around and thrown up in a flurried landscape. I shall write about them in new entries, because these changes affect me, as well as our society. But here is "Li'l Tootsie" - a beacon of light and hope and joy!