Archive for March, 2013

The promise of rain hangs over the Ojai Valley

March 31, 2013
The promise of rain hangs over the valley. The purple lupine looks so happy on this cool, hazy, cloudy Easter morning. It would be sacrilegious not to honor the goddess Eostre by skipping out in nature. Honey is already so wild with excitement I can hardly leash her. So, to celebrate, Honey, Nubio, Chico, and I head for the gate. I remove the leash and Honey stampedes out into the wild like a racehorse, with the energy of a herd of wild buffalo unpenned, running neck and neck with Nubio, and with poor little Chico scrambling to keep up.
Chico comes back panting—he’s had enough. Quacking ducks  fly overhead,  and I realize that maybe I let the dogs get too close to the water. I call Honey back; she’s caked in mud. I leash her as we walk toward the reservoir, toward the lilting, haunting sound of birds calling, toward the symphony of living, holy water. My Pentecostal background rears its head and I consider baptizing myself, but the day  is too cold. Instead, I wade into the mossy cool water, close my eyes, and listen to the water’s song . . . The running stream tapping rocks reminds me of the Indonesian bamboo xylophone . . . I hear the music of the gamelan. The Balinese in me could take a bath here; it would be like an ancient spring rite. I hesitate, and the urge passes.
As we walk, my eyes drink in the soft greens of every hue, from light to dark. With Easter on my mind the river bottom feels like an enchanting Easter basket. The light keeps changing—now brighter, now darker—and streaks of clear blue sky appear and disappear. The sun peeks out and the promise of rain seems to evaporate, but then a few drops fall. I feel the bliss of creation.On the way back, I see bright orange sun-drenched California poppies. And then I remember how we came to Ojai in March of 1957, and how my middle sister and I picked poppies and other wildflowers and put them in little vases on the table to surprise my mom before Easter Sunday breakfast. I remember feeling alarmed when some tiny bugs ran from the flowers onto the table . . .
We walk past the scents of jasmine and orange blossoms. The jasmine grows on the fence around the orange orchard. The light has changed again . . . the sky grows dark . . . we caught the bright Easter morning just in time.

It’s raining!

Let spring set my soul free

March 29, 2013


The thing that stops us dead in our tracks is getting sick, whether it’s mild or serious. And it turns out that the twisting and turning I’ve been feeling in my gut is food poisoning. Turns out that my friend who ate the exact same thing when we went out for lunch has had the exact same symptoms and is just bumbling along, just like me.

After two days of collapsing in bed, slipping in and out of a healing coma, and reading two books—when I finally realized that it wasn’t just going away and that I’d better gather my energy and get out in nature with Honey and Chico—I found the strength to walk the creek bed and let nature have her way with me.

Whenever I’m sick, my thoughts turn to death. I realized that if this were my last spring all I would really want to do is escape into nature. I’ve done my part, I’ve given freely of my life energy, and now I want a spring break—is that too much to ask of life?

So I went walking and walking, to places I haven’t been to in a long time. I found a secret oasis where water gurgles so sweetly I just wanted to slip away into the life of a hobo or a wandering sadhu . . .

Honey and Chico had a long drink. We sat together on a rock, water flowing all around. It fascinates me how my hyper Honey can sit so still, completely in the moment. If I could tap into her consciousness I would smell every weed, every seed, every flower, every coyote and rabbit hidden in the brush. I would hear the song of the gurgling brook, the call of every bird, every frog. I would see every small movement . . . nothing would escape my keen senses. I would leave the heavy dull human consciousness in the dust. I would feel spring rising in every vein of every leaf, and flowing in my blood. I’d feel the force of spring stronger than the earthly pull of my little human identity. I would say, “Computer, get thee behind me and let spring set my soul free.”

The full moon is here again

March 26, 2013

470591_10150741641279703_266408929_oThe full moon is here again; she has not peaked yet, but rose white and silent in the still blue sky. First almost hidden in the misty evening clouds, rising higher, the sky lit up with strange streaks, the horizon all aglow in gold and red hues, stark black birds soaring overhead . . . a little dance where just for a moment the small human is aware that she is standing in between the rising moon and setting sun—a tiny, alive, aware speck in the cosmos. A little later the moon comes into her own, lit from within like a gold lantern shining brighter and brighter . . . and now the landscape is black and she’s all aglow, the reigning queen of the Valley of the Moon.

The wind is howling

March 22, 2013

The wind is howling in the river bottom, sweeping the sky crystal clear. You can see the moon shining brighter, getting fuller, the stars are all atwinkle, the air electric, the trees bending and swaying—hanging on for dear life. Tonight the wind seemed to come suddenly, out of nowhere. It started blowing like crazy while it was still light, as I was teaching. It flew through the room, energizing everything, and it just keeps getting wilder. Keep the windows wide open, let the curtains flutter . . . let the magic in!

Spring Equinox Giveaway: Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir (Kindle edition)

March 20, 2013

Suza_Book_Cover_Front_Only(1) “You own everything that happened to you.
Tell your stories.
If people wanted you to write warmly about them
they should have behaved better.”
—Anne Lamott

Spring Equinox Giveaway! For those who missed it the last time, the Kindle edition of Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir is free for five days: Wednesday, March 20, through Sunday, March 24, 2013.

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
–Mark Twain


I want to direct people to Suza Francina’s engaging, honest story about a dating saga many women can relate to. With class and seriousness, but humor too, Suza exposes the experiences of dating at mid life and older, and the mistakes a woman makes when presented with charm that appears and disappears.
—Nancy Gross, editor, publisher, The Bubble

I think it’s great that you are going public with this, to warn other women but also so he can see what he looks like. No sense of bitterness or vengeance seeps into the story, so it does have this objective view to it. —Richard Laubly, educational consultant, Paris, France

New Reviews: 5.0 out of 5 stars A Service To All
By EmilyB – This review is from: Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir (Paperback)
Thank you for writing this book. I really enjoyed reading it and I think your honest and spiritual (and very human) approach is relatable and offers the reality of healing and growth after painful & traumatic experiences of the heart. This book is a service to all.

By Jenny (USA) —I really enjoyed this book! It was a good one that I couldn’t put down long. I’d keep thinking about it, wondering what was up and end up getting right back into it. It grabbed my attention from the very beginning.

(Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir is available at local bookstores, including Made in Ojai, The Rainbow Warehouse, Soul Centered, the Ojai Library, The Best of VC Marketplace, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores nationwide. All proceeds help the author feed her rescue animals.)

Stories about the book:

Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir, How It All Looks a Year Later

Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir, small town version of what goes on nationally

Suza_book_cover_on_trail_with_Honey       470591_10150741641279703_266408929_o467405_10150743640074703_301792493_o

“Angel Baby” now playing at the Ojai Frostie

March 17, 2013

suz10Try as I might to live in the present, whenever I ride past the Nordhoff campus and see those classrooms where I once sat trapped behind a desk, I still have flashbacks to the adolescent days of this dream of life. This really hit home yesterday when I got off my bike to walk through the parking lot just east of my old school and suddenly heard that haunting hit song from the ’60s, “Angel Baby” by Rosie and the Originals:

It’s just like heaven
Being here with you
You’re like an angel
Too good to be true

It stopped me dead in my tracks. That song is so mesmerizing. It puts you right into a hormonal coma where you just want to slow-dance into a wonderful, romantic dream.

For a moment I felt disoriented, as I realized I had inadvertently walked into some sort of Friday night oldies but goodies gathering at the new location of the Ojai (O-Hi) Frostie. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed there were all sorts of familiar faces standing around cars and sitting at the little outdoor tables eating burgers and fries.

I wanted to turn around and bolt, but it was too late—I was too close to the crowd. Heck, even Janis Joplin was not herself at her high school reunion . . . why should I berate myself for suddenly feeling painfully shy and out of place?

I found my legs, smiled, and tried to view the scene like an anthropologist. Just glancing quickly, I noticed that some of the women looked like they had the old high school hairdos, the kind you get from big rollers and hair spray. Several had managed to keep their svelte figures and were looking good in jeans, and I overheard one saying, “That song takes you right back.”

Yes, indeed it does!

For a brief moment I wanted to test the confidence I’ve gained through the years, park my bike, order a veggie burger, and sit down and socialize like a normal person. But I had to get cat and dog food at Vons and pedal home before dark. So I kept on walking, with “Angel baby, my angel baby, ooh ooh I love you” playing in my head.

I crossed over into the Vons parking lot, and the first thing I noticed was one of the checkers sitting on a bench, smoking and sipping a soft drink. I can just imagine how tired her legs must get, standing still for hours on end, smiling at every customer, and compelled to ask “How are you?” even as your feet are killing you.

Beneath the Disneyland veneer of Vons I saw how hard life is, even in this mecca of plenty . . . the constant struggle to make ends meet, and how quickly it all passes. And suddenly there you are in a nursing home, with someone changing your diapers and the TV still blaring even as you expire.

All the stages of life converge at Vons: the moms with their kids piling boxes of Trix and gallons of cheap, watery milk in their carts, one small kid clutching a huge frozen pizza, older folks deciding which cans of soup . . . everybody stocking up on beer, chicken, and chips for the weekend. While I piled a stash of Fancy Feast and Newman’s Own organic cat food into my cart I noticed a Hispanic man studying all the choices of toilet paper. Five minutes later, when I walked past that same aisle, he was still there, trying to decide which rolls are the best buy.

When I see families walking up and down the aisles of endless, ever-increasing, out-of-control, obscene choices of mostly junk food, I wonder if they feel as bewildered as my immigrant family felt when we first shopped in an American market. In our first years here, my dad worked odd jobs, mostly as a gardener, and I was aware how poor we were, watching every penny; every item purchased was carefully chosen. One hot day my dad went to great trouble finding the best buy on the biggest glass jug of apple juice that would last our family of five for a week. I still remember how my two younger sisters and I watched my dad pouring the juice with thirsty anticipation—and how he spat it out across the room. That cheap jug of apple juice turned out to be apple cider vinegar!

On the way out I noticed the displays of giant chocolate Easter bunnies: rows of huge dark-brown rabbits. Even the Easter bunny has gotten way bigger over the years! Glancing at all the Easter stuff, I remembered a Buddhist teacher saying how life is like a broken record and we play the same song over and over again. I unlocked my bike, loaded up the baskets, walked past the acres of cars, and took in the still-light sky above and glorious panoramic views in all directions. Suddenly everything felt spacious. Angel Baby had disappeared into the basement of my head. I was back in the present, pedaling past meadows blooming with wildflowers . . . A car pulled up, and the couple inside asked me if I knew where the Ranch House restaurant was. I pointed them in the right direction. They thanked me and said “Have a beautiful ride.”

And I did!

Note: After I posted this on Facebook a friend wrote, “There WAS a tailgate party, old convertibles, big hair, grey and white hair, trays and burgers—had the same experience going to the bank next door–big portable speakers out front of Ojai Frostie.”

Rosie and The Originals

It’s just like heaven
Being here with you
You’re like an angel
Too good to be true

But after all
I love you i do

Angel baby
My angel baby

When you are near me
My heart skips a beat
I can hardly stand on
My own two feet

Because i love you
I love you i do

Angel baby my angel baby
Ooh ooh i love you
Ooh ooh i do
No one can love you
Like i do
Ooh ooh ooh ooh
Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh

Please never leave me
Blue and alone
If you ever go
I’m sure you’ll come back home

Because i love you
I love you i do


Rosie & the Originals – Angel Baby
classic hit

Saturday night with Ojai Ranch House date nut bread (If you think you’ve changed, go visit your parents)

March 10, 2013
Last night I felt the edge of solitude turn into Saturday night loneliness. The room that looks so bright and inviting when the sunlight pours in looked dim and dismal. The motivation to write seemed sucked out of me. I decided I needed human company and a change of scenery, so I went to visit my parents.
My good intentions ended up in my revisiting an old fight with my father.
When I arrived, the living room curtains were closed but the lights were on, so I knew they were up. I went around back and stood on a chair so I could look through the kitchen window into the rest of the house and spy on them. I could see my mom dozing in her easy chair. A wave of nostalgia rose up in me. Someday, maybe soon, I’ll look at that chair that she practically lives in and she won’t be there. And by then my dad, too, will likely be gone.
So I go back around to the front of the house and knock loudly on the window, right by where she’s sitting. “Who is it?” my mother exclaims, pulling back the curtain. “Oh, it’s Suzan! Do you need a place to spend the night?” she asks, laughing. She leans into her walker, hoists herself upright, and opens the door.
The scene is always the same. My dark-brown Indonesian dad, wearing his faded checkered robe, is lying back in his easy chair at the far end of the room, reading a Louis L’Amour Western novel or a book about Armageddon or heaven. My pale-white Dutch mom sits in her chair near the front door reading one of her Spanish books or the same pages of a National Geographic magazine over and over again. They are both so thin—each probably under a hundred pounds. And the more skeletal they turn, the more they delight in joking that I’m gaining weight again.
All goes well for the first half hour. I sit on the floor in front of my mom’s chair in various yoga poses and entertain her with excerpts from National Geographic and jokes about life. My dad loves it when I amuse her so he can read uninterrupted.Then he puts down his book and asks if I know what’s happening with the Golden State Water buyout. His water bill on his Pauline Street property is over $200. This innocent conversation about the water bill slowly trickles into dangerous political ground. My old Republican dad starts going on and on about how Ojai doesn’t need any more low-income housing, how people on HUD are taking advantage of the system, how the Hispanic population is taking over because they don’t use birth control, how his property taxes just keep going up and up because of government aid to all these lazy people, and “Why should I pay more taxes when I no longer have children going to school?”
And suddenly the adolescent in me that ran away from home at age sixteen can’t take it any more. I point out that my dad’s youngest daughter, the apple of his eye, the one who can do no wrong, has five children. She didn’t use birth control, so why is he pointing the finger at others who have more children than they can afford? I also point out that his grandchildren and great grandchildren go to public school, and that the government is helping to support the baby born to my youngest sister’s teenage daughter.Raising my voice, I say, “But Dad, what if you hadn’t helped Paula build a house? What if you didn’t subsidize her rent? What if you hadn’t supported her for all these years? Not everyone has parents to help them . . . “It’s like talking to a rock. All my arguments that it benefits  society as a whole to make sure everyone has adequate housing and food fall on deaf ears.
He says, “Suzan, I want you to promise that when you go to those city meetings you won’t be sentimental. You need to keep an open mind and think rationally. When I came to this country I never asked the government for any help. I worked hard and took care of my own.”We’ve had this same fight a thousand times. I know it’s a hopeless altercation, but it’s all so unfair and infuriating the way my dad supports my youngest sister, all the while raging against government handouts and blatantly insisting, “I love all my daughters equally.”

1956. A Diets-Vermeer family photo taken in Den Haag, Holland, a few months before destiny brought us to Ojai, California,  the land of sunshine and orange orchards

1956. A Diets-Vermeer family photo taken in Den Haag, Holland, a few months before destiny brought us to Ojai, California, the land of sunshine and orange orchards

We yell back and forth for a few more minutes, just like old times. As Ram Dass or some other hip spiritual teacher has said, “If you think you’ve changed, go visit your parents.”Finally I regain my wits and lean over to kiss my father on his forehead. “Dad,” I say, “I love you. Let’s just agree to disagree.”
Then I go to the kitchen, open the fridge, and cut myself three thick slices of Ranch House date nut bread. I swipe three slices of Havarti cheese for my dogs, who are waiting in my borrowed car because my dictator dad doesn’t allow them in the house. I rummage in the cupboard and swipe a can of Trader Joe’s unsalted tuna for my cats. I wrap it all up and stuff everything in my coat pocket. I hug my mom goodbye and bolt into the night. When I open the car door, the dogs are overjoyed about the cheese. Before driving off, I unwrap one of the slices of date nut bread, and laugh as I see how pathetic I am and how little it takes to console me.


Sometimes making life more difficult for yourself saves the life of another

March 1, 2013

February 27, 2013

HONEY HUGMy standards for clean have never been high, but this winter things reached an all-time low. The only thing that keeps hope alive as I survey the futility of it all is the awareness that spring is coming and soon it will be warm enough to banish all the four-leggeds to the outdoors. I’m already cooking up a plan for sleeping under the stars, to trick them into thinking that living close to nature is the new normal.
Last night, just when I thought I could finally detach from it all and escape into the alternate universe of some yoga magazines (with their nude yoginis wearing only toe “soxs” and glossy ads for Karmalicious shoes, Earth-friendly Subarus, and yoga festivals that look suspiciously like scenes out of the Pentecostal revival tents I attended in my early teens), I saw that Priscilla had thrown up into the crevices of the bottom frame of the sliding glass door. In order to slide the door closed, I had to get out of bed and start the day all over again. I also removed three ticks from Honey’s head that I only noticed when I petted her good night.

Back under the covers, I opened the current Yoga Journal to a promising article entitled “Yogic Wisdom for Decluttering Your Life.” It was all about cleaning and clearing your abode, getting rid of crap you don’t need, getting your finances under control, and, above all, managing your time.
The opening paragraph said, “For true clarity of mind and heart, shine the light of awareness on your habits and clean up your life.” Well, I readily admit that I need help in that department. So I read on, and came to the part that said, “In the face of any challenge, yoga teaches you to pause and look at the source of your problems.”Well, that was easy. The sources of all my problems were sprawled on my bed, sleeping on my pillows and snoring under the covers, totally oblivious of the endless expense, wasted time, and trouble that they cause! They were to blame for the dirty floors andpaw prints on window sills, the kibble residue and stinky kitty litter, the messy clutter of leashes, dog toys, old bones, pet carriers, and piles of dirty towels (Chico pees indoors when he finds the exit blocked) . . . and the financial drain of vet bills, pet shampoo, cleaning supplies, and all those mouths to feed. 

At the end of the yogic wisdom article came this recommendation: “Ask yourself, with each decision you take, ‘Is this making my life easier or more difficult?’ ” 

I get the point. I’m all for simplifying one’s life. But it’s a good thing that those who rescued Honey from death row didn’t ask those kinds of questions. Sometimes making life more difficult for yourself saves the life of another. And, luckily, cleanliness is not next to godliness. And, sometimes clean enough is good enough!

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