Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mountain Life

After breakfast one morning, standing on the porch of my sister’s cabin, a large brown rabbit came out from behind the wood pile and hopped right up to the steps. With only an indifferent glance in my direction, he began nibbling at the vegetation there. He couldn’t have been two feet away. Sis later explained that he and his family lived under the cabin, which I suppose could account for his blasé attitude toward humans.

It was this day that Sarah discovered that the dead ferns in her asparagus patch were in dire need of chopping. She’s rather famous for her asparagus in these parts. Fancy seaside restaurants call her for it every day it’s in season. So the task was no small matter. It had to be done.
There was also the problem of a thick, thorny vine trying to take over the rosemary. That stuff was vicious. I had to take a bow saw to it.  Ripped holes all over my sweatshirt.

Then came the task of trundling off the refuse. Sarah has a heavy, good-sized wheelbarrow but it was quite a chore getting even that wide balloon tire over the rough terrain.  Fortunately it only took two trips to that distant spot (well, okay, probably not more than a quarter mile) deemed safe for burning. My post-surgical sis faded on the second row of asparagus, but by golly I managed to finish it all before lunch...with the help of a Five-Hour Energy Drink before, and a Hydrocodone after.
My sister has been doing heavy work like this for 27 years. No wonder she’s so tough! Her doctors are astonished at her rate of recovery. Three days out of the hospital, she made the ¾ mile round trip, uphill and down, to the mailbox without even breathing hard. Geeez. It would take me 27 years just to work up to it all.

But enough about the work. I won’t even mention what it took to clean the vintner’s big old bunkhouse on up the mountainside. Next time we’ll just take in the sights.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Aside from the travel disasters, it was a really great trip

Knowing Sis had had such a radical surgery, I was expecting to be met at the Santa Rosa shuttle stop by her neighbor while Sarah waited, pale and weak, in the car.

There she stood, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to great me with a big hug. Admittedly, it was a careful hug, given that long row of staples on her right side. Before heading for the hills, we shopped at Target (to replace essentials on the lam with my luggage) and two grocery stores. Sis shopped right along with us.
It was nearly dark when we started up the long, winding, rugged mountain road. Ellen, the kindly neighbor at the wheel, went barreling along, careening around the switchbacks with no hesitation whatever - even through patches of fog too thick to see the hood of her sure-footed Toyota truck. She makes this drive every week, you see. She owns that road.
The next morning I woke to a thrilling sunrise. Every day of my stay started with this vivid pink in varying patterns. As quietly as I could, I slipped out of the bed and pulled on a sweatshirt against the morning cold. By the time I made coffee and wondered out onto the porch, the day was underway. The panorama spread before me in every direction with surreal clouds of fog defining the ridges of mountains. Sister Sarah has lived here for 27 years now. It’s easy to see how such a place can lay claim to your soul.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fly if you must, but DON’T CHECK YOUR BAG

TSA Rife with Thievery

On the way to Petaluma, Jan. 10, 2012, Sis and I stopped at a rustic roadside shopping area at Duncan's Mills. There, in a tiny shop called Studio Nouveau, I saw the earrings I've always wanted: lacy silver 2" ovals fringed with dangles and set with sparkly stones. My sister watched me hold them up to a mirror and enthusiastically pronounced them perfect. Then, even though she is a subsistence mountain woman who could ill afford it, she immediately bought them for me. I put them on right away. The rest of the day she kept glancing over at me, beaming because her little sister looked so great in her gift.
And that’s what disappeared from my suitcase on January 11, 2012, in the San Francisco airport at approximately 6:00 AM.

I'd tucked them carefully into an athletic knee wrap (brought in case a yoga injury acted up) and placed between layers of clothes. For the TSA to have even found it, it must've been exactly the sort of thing they hoped to find.

Understanding the invasive security measures necessary in these terrorist times, I wasn’t that concerned when I found the Notification of Inspection card in my luggage. Then I discovered the heartbreaking loss.

Yes, I’ve made the calls, filled in the forms, made the reports, etc. Now I’m doing the research. It seems TSA theft is rampant nationwide.

In 2009, a half dozen TSA agents at Miami International Airport were caught boosting an iPod, perfume, cameras, a GPS system, a Coach purse, and a Hewlett Packard Mini Notebook from passengers’ luggage. Since then, travelers passing through the airport’s checkpoints have reported as many as 1,500 items stolen, the majority of which were never recovered.

 A TSA screener at Newark Liberty International Airport was found running the largest one-man theft ring in the short history of the agency, netting an estimated $400,000 via the resale of stolen high-priced electronics. And he is just one of some 500 TSA officers fired or suspended for stealing from passenger luggage since the agency’s creation in November of 2001.

Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate ( reports TSA sleight of hand even while inspecting carry-on pieces right in front of you. Just Google “TSA theft.” You’ll be as appalled as I am by the endless list of incidents.

The TSA’s response to these facts?  According to Howard Portnoy’s June 20, 2011 blog on the agency considers these stats acceptable. The ratio of crooks to non-crooks, they point out, is less than ½ of 1 percent. Out of more than 110,000 employees, only 200 (a number obviously out of sync with police records) have been accused of stealing. Well, let me tell ya something: that placating statistic doesn't mean a thing when it happens to YOU. In the meantime, you can look forward to invasive pat-downs, irradiation from scanners, and the knowledge that the agency has an iffy record detecting legitimate threats.

“If that doesn’t make you feel all warm and cuddly when you fly,” Portnoy concludes, “nothing will.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flying is for the birds

The Great Southwest Lost Luggage Fiasco

Bleary-eyed from being up since 3:45 AM, we jostled to the edge of the baggage carousel watching the bags go around and around. It was almost hypnotic; the same bags making the circuit over and over. None of them seemed to belong to anybody. At semi-regular intervals another swarm of passengers joined the press. More bags tumbled down the chute to take their turn around the track. Once in a while a piece was pulled off the conveyor, but not often.

Finally a Southwest employee began pulling off the luggage and stacking it against the wall. I don’t know why it took so long for us to accept the obvious, but we finally began shuffling into line in front the baggage office. It was just a short counter with two clerks. The line stretched out the door and along the wall for miles. Somewhere, at some other airport, the owners of all those bags piled around us were doing the same.

Three days later, FedEx reached my sister’s remote mountain cabin with my suitcase. I suppose I should be grateful that only two things were broken and that I no longer had to wear my skinny sister’s skinny neighbor’s husband’s shirts (he was actually a mite too skinny, too) but instead I am thoroughly disgruntled.

You see, when my sister called for help after her surgery, I desperately wanted to make it a road trip. She had someone to take care of her over the weekend. If I’d left Houston early Saturday morning I could’ve made Sarah’s place in CA comfortably by Monday afternoon. Heck. Miranda, my publicist, made it from Houston to LA in 24 hours once. Of course, she’s quite a bit younger…

Why would I want to take on such a long, arduous trip? Because I love road trips! But that wasn’t a factor for my concerned husband, friends, and family. Anyway – one thing and another – I was pressured into doing the sensible thing. Flying. Arriving in 8 hours instead of three days. Sans luggage.

A few blogs back I did an article on intuition. I guess the lesson here is to use it. If you have time (and you want to), drive! See the country. Exercise at rest areas, not running down some endless concourse to your connecting flight.

Most important, you’ll arrive with your luggage.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

NOTICE: The Inheritance book has been claimed

Thanks so much for the response to my book giveaway. Guess it's about time I announced that Chris Paolini's final book of the Inheritance series, offered early in December, has found a home. Forgive me for not notifying you sooner, but to tell the truth I had no idea until now that so many were reading this blog. Wow.

Love to all,