After a smoke filled drive across the Northern Cascades we have arrived in Helena. It’s a jam packed visit with music, doctors, bridge, and fishing. I find myself deeply saddened by the state of the world. The west burns down around us. Fish are in trouble. People can’t find common ground. We are actually thinking nukes. WTF. It is a very sad and difficult time. I’ve been asked by others how I deal and I always advise, do what you love and look for goodness and beauty. It’s hard to do some days especially when my back hurts. It’s a heavy lift.
Following my own advice here are some lovely photos despite the smoke. I caught and released some fishes yesterday on my favorite river. I played some tunes with friends. I really sucked at Bridge. Again.
If you’re in Helena and want to see us. Do not weep. Next summer we’ll be here working. We’ve got a big job lined up. Perhaps the last big one before retirement. We can play music, fish, and eat good food then.
On the medical side Burt passed his physical with an A plus. I do not have hemochromatosis, yet. I may never develop it. This is good news. I go in for an upper GI test with a barium milkshake tomorrow. It’s probably all just gastritis. Or freaking stress about the state of the world. I’ll let you know what we find out. Tomorrow we depart for Kila and the kids.
Burt and I are up at nearly 8,500′ on the top of Mount Pinos just outside of LA. It’s chilly up here. The magic of internet in the woods allows me to blog today. We spent a couple of days in LA visiting friend and family. Burt and I joined Laura and Barry for a new play ‘Archduke’ set at the start of WWI. The play was fantastically political and humorous and sad. Afterwards the four of us walked the streets of downtown LA and I saw things I had only seen in TV land or on the movie screen. I’m always struck by how familiar LA is because we are so exposed to it through film. We even ran into a disaster movie of some sort that was filming on the street. Action packed and messy was all I saw. I am sad to report there were no zombies. Lots of toilet paper and fog and wrecked cars and people running. It kind of looked like an explosion.
We also visited Uncle George and Aunt Carol. George hasn’t been 100% so he is temporarily in a nursing facility. We visited him twice and despite his illness he seemed like himself. He’s got some short term memory loss but he knew all of us. Growing old ain’t for sissies. George and Carol both like our music so we decided to throw a concert on Memorial Day for George and his fellow residents. As usual, we were a hit with the over 80 crowd. Carol even got up and sang a few with us. Burt’s family is not shy. I felt lucky and nostalgic to be there. The first time I met George was 7 years ago when we had just taken off on this nomadic life. He and Carol welcomed us into their home despite a shortage of chairs and table space. George did a big twirling dance to the Bear Necessities while wearing a USC blanket on Christmas day. It was a sight.
Now we are headed up to Burt’s dad’s place where we will drop off the gNash and Mimi before we leave for Spain and Italy. The Olvis are headed to a kennel. Tonight’s camping spot, Mount Pinos, is the center of the universe to the Chumash people of coastal California. This mountain is isolated and sticks up all alone near the coast. It’s an easy spot to visit because you can camp up high and park near the summit. This is especially helpful when you can hardly breathe. A two mile walk up a gentle slope from the parking lot takes you to a ridge that feels as much like the center of the universe as anywhere I’ve been. It’s very remote and surrounded by wilderness areas yet only an hour and a half from the turmoil of LA. It takes some kind of big magic to feel so far away from the traffic and mania. Check it out. You might be luckier than us and spot a California Condor.
With a little trepidation and much curiosity Burt and I joined Bridge friends to attend the Todos Santos Catholic Easter Service. Our buddies told us it was a very moving community event full of dancing, singing, and fireworks so we decided to give it a go. I’d heard of sunrise services but here we have sunset. Jesus is resurrected early in Mexico. All the better for the fireworks. It’s been a very long time since I attended Easter mass. I remember it all very solemn and sad. Jesus died…he suffered…Mary wept…Cut to Mexico.
The community gathered in the plaza outside the church. The church is too small for everyone and, well, you know, fireworks. We waited under the palm trees as the sun sank into the Pacific and the sky darkened. First up was the mini-bon fire right behind our seats. A large candle was lit and the folks nearest to the candle lit their individual candles and shared the flame person to person through the crowd of over 1000 people. I teared up. Nothing beats good ritual. Next a group of young people were confirmed into their faith right next to us. The padre was a man I met in yoga. The yoga friendly priest was in charge of the whole event. He made the sign of the cross on the teenager’s foreheads. Then their parents and god parents traced over the cross with their own fingers. I don’t remember this from when I was confirmed. My confirmation name was Vanessa. The flame was carried to the front of the plaza. The procession followed. I recalled my star turn as an altar girl when I took a wrong turn carrying the crucifix and headed down a side aisle on Easter Sunday. Embarrassing. Our kid last night got it right. That wrong turn might have signaled my destiny as one who could not do what is expected.
The service proceeded in Spanish. The first reading was Genesis. Here again I was surprised. Is this faulty memory? I always remembered it as the last supper, Judas, Mary Magdalene. Heavy stuff. The origin story in Spanish was a delight to hear. God liked what he saw and he rested…From there on the readings were all about the natural world and how it sustains us. This was some seriously subversive stuff compared to my memory. The resurrection as metaphor for humanity and our survival on this planet. This yoga doing priest had my attention. For a little while. The I started burning myself with dripping wax. Right when I despaired for my clothes and skin the priest told us we could snuff our candles. There were so many readings. I grew alarmed. When was the homily, when was the communion? Oremos (let us pray) indicated it was time to stand. We sat and stood, sat and stood. This I remembered. After about seven different reading with songs and prayers interspersed the action picked up. Attendants started handing out balloons from large garbage bags and the crowd grew restive. Some people had noodles and others globos. We twittered and waved. The father admonished us to settle down. Hold your balloons still, it’s not time to party. Yet. Another song. We hummed along. The group playing music reminded me of my mother’s stint in a 7 guitar Jesus band in the seventies. Aleluya! That’s how you spell it in Spanish. Another reading. Balloons held quietly.
I have to confess (it’s that time) I missed the big reveal. I was looking at my balloon when the crowd cheered. I looked up and the sheet shrouded Jesus was in full view and lit up and the sign next to him burned bright with a fiery Aleluya! Wave your balloons and sing, sing, sing. Fireworks blasted. People cheered. We danced in our spots. This went on for fifteen minutes. The mass was not over but remembering the early exit from childhood Burt and I headed home.
Burt and I are leading a trip to the Galapagos Islands in early February 2018. We are thrilled to be hosting this fun extravaganza of nature and music for Naturalist Journeys. Are you interested in seeing this exciting, animal filled wonderland and enjoying fresh tunes in the evening? Come sing and dance with us! You can check out similar itineraries at this LINK. Our trip isn’t posted publicly because this particular offering is currently only open to our friends and fans. Let me know if you want the specific details and I will send them to you. Space is limited.
Dad leaves tomorrow. I think if he stayed any longer Burt and I would die of exhaustion. It has been a non-stop trip full of sports, food, beach, music, and ROMANCE. Burt and I feel like we have been chaperoning a middle schooler on dates. Next time Til visits he needs his own car and a Mexican telephone. I can’t keep up with him. All his resistance about visiting Mexico is gone. The trip has exceeded his wildest expectations.
Where to begin? Til came in Tuesday night with an open mind and a degree of flexibility I have never seen. Kudos to him. We took him to music class that afternoon and he fell in love with all our smiling and energetic pupils. The kids stared at him like the Jolly Green Giant had come to life. After class we dined at one of our favorite restaurants. Next day was pickleball and an evening tennis tournament mixer. A little pinochle to pass the time during the day. Thursday things started accelerating. More kids, more tennis, more food. A friend joined us for dinner at our favorite restaurant and the sparks were flying. Dad was smoooooooth. Who was this guy? Burt and I did our best to stay out of the way and keep the good times rolling. It’s a delicate balance. I’m not comfortable saying more beyond this: I am glad everyone is having a good time.
Friday the tennis tourney started. More food, more beach, more kids. Saturday was this epic amalgamation of over doing it: Tennis (all over the area), provide music for a party, eat too much, nap, kid’s performance at the Festival del Chile y la Fresa, dinner. We got up early and drove all over. Played tennis, sang songs, rested and then starting at 5:30 shepherded 13 kids on an evening long odyssey to their first musical performance. Kids, teachers, fans waited 2 hours on a chilly night to be the closing act in an overly long show of local talent. Our kids were stoic. Not a single complaint was heard from the little ones. The adults were cold and hangry but the kids showed us how to be patient. They politely watched all the other acts (folk dancing) and mustered their enthusiasm when our time to shine finally arrived. Dad and his date smilingly kept us company and provided warm clothes and drinks. At 8:00 we trotted on to the stage in our matching, misspelled t-shirts and gave the huge crowd a show. Break a Leg does not have an equivalent saying in Spanish but we did indeed break our collective legs. The Wheels on the Bus, Five Little Monkeys, Cancion Mixteca, and Love Potion Number 9 were delivered with energy and dynamic balloon accents. The balloons were a last minute addition. Burt and I were puzzled by the props but we figured all ideas were welcome. Video footage on Facebook confirms that it was a brilliant idea. Seven and a half minutes later it was all done. The kids were each handed twenty pesos by my dad as they exited the stage. Dad wanted to bribe them in advance to sing well and I said it needed to be a post-gig surprise. It worked out well but a few kids were mystified by the money. They ran off to spend it on the rides and junk food before we could take it back. Team Mittelstadt/Zazzali grabbed a late dinner and retired at 10:00.
That night we lost an hour to daylight savings time and had 8:00 AM matches too. Ugh. I did not play well. It was a disaster. Too much driving, too much tennis, too little rest, too many people, too many days in a row. We took dad to the last tennis party and left him with his new friend. Burt and I collapsed in the trailer. That was two days ago. Yesterday was Bridge and more double dating. Right now I am finally alone with Burt. We played pickleball this AM and a round of pinochle after lunch. I might have lost all my tennis matches but I am undefeated in pinochle. Dad’s with his friend. Burt and I have the kids at 4:00. Then it’s one last evening for the new couple and at 4:00 AM we take dad to the airport.
I am so pleased my dad has had an enjoyable trip. Like I told him and his friend: Just have fun. You, too, dear readers.
Burt has left for a trip to the mountains. I am happy sad. Happy because he’s out doing something he loves. Sad because I can no longer keep up. Next time we’ll rent a horse and I’ll ride in. It’s just 7 miles but straight up. I could do a flat seven miles with mule support but the intense up hill makes me miserable. So he’s off in the wood for a few days and I am here alone with Mimi and the Olvis. Burt was wondering if I could manage to feed myself and the pets without incident. I’m not sure. This morning I made myself a cheese quesadilla. Lunch remains a mystery.
Tomorrow is action packed. Yoga, tennis, band practice(!), and a gig. Yup I am solo in more sense than just living alone. I will be performing in a band on Thursday night without Burt at my side. Freaky. I wonder if I know how to play music without him. Eating is easier. Burt and I were both asked to sit in and I was kind of surprised they still wanted me without Burt. I will report back later with how it goes.
We went for a late afternoon walk in the hills with our Montana buddies Aldo and Bequia yesterday. Huge discovery of two burrowing owls on the road as we drove home. The owls were very patient and allowed us all a good look through the binoculars while Burt shined a flashlight. Burrowing owls live underground and prefer to stay close to the ground. They have long legs for walking. Here in baja this species is easy to identify because the other owls are either much bigger or much smaller or have long ears. The squatty head is also a clue to who it is. I played the iBird call but didn’t receive a response. I guess they weren’t fooled.
Burt heads into the mountains on a guided hike Wednesday AM. I’ll be holding down the fort around here alone. I just landed a paying gig as a backup singer so I’ll also be doing that while he’s gone. Side work is a good thing.
Ale, the kid’s real English teacher, asked me last week to teach the kids the alphabet song. It might not be obvious that learning how to spell in a foreign language is important but I can tell you from my own personal experience it is critical. A few years ago I tried to tell an guy I was hiring off of Craig’s List how to find our job site. This guy spoke only Spanish. I could speak Spanish to him but getting a street address and a town name across two languages can be hard. I tried to say the name slowly. Then I had the bright idea that I would spell the name. Oh, snap! I couldn’t spell easily. I kept saying e instead of a and i instead of e and after a few laughter filled minutes I realized I couldn’t even figure out how to say k….I texted the guy and he found us just fine.
I have since learned to spell pretty well but I still get hung up on k, g, and x. Most recently I’ve learned to ask the kids how to spell their names since I can’t understand what they try to tell me. They are world champion mumblers and most of the names are quite unusual to my ears. Try: Marely, Mireya, Onahomi, Yeraska, Frixia, Janexi, Zania, Evely…in Spanish. I enter their spelled names into my phone and practice after class. I still confuse the names Marely and Mireya but at least I see them in different places.
So today we sang the ABCs. Remember how it goes? It’s set to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. We did that too. There is a Spanish language version of the same song. The kids’ faces lit up when they realized their ABCs and their Brillante Estrella were the same tune, too. Nobody had pointed it out to them before. Add that to my list of things to learn.
Even though he kept me up half the night snoring last night I still have warm feelings for this guy. He was a rock last night during our first show in 2 months. I was unaccountably unsettled. Where Burt was forceful and had a presence I felt timid and the notes recalcitrant. Our venue was Las Fuentes in Todos Santos, BCS, MX. The owners made a romantic ambiance for Valentine’s Day with flowers, candles, and balloons. They arranged the tables so everyone could see us and they installed a STAGE. All of this extra effort on their part has heretofore been unseen by any venue host in the history of our career. There were dinner specials and a house sangria. Usually we show up to a cafe and we have to move the tables and chairs to make a space to stand. We have to find room for our cases. In our experience nobody thinks ahead. These people asked if they could help us unload our stuff! If they want us I am sure we will be happy to go back.
Great hosts and then a passel of new fans made for a nice night. Previous events in Todos Santos have only yielded a few diehard followers. Sara Gay and her friends. The Elias Calles crowd makes the trek (kudos to them) but they’re not Todo Santeños. And that was about it in our 6 years of trying to get a thing going in TS. A lot of shows would be 6 or 10 people. Bridge is what changed the game. Duplicate Bridge friends came out in force and brought their friends. Add them to Sara Gay and the Elias Calleños peeps and a few random strangers and we nearly filled the large restaurant. And then everyone stayed and listened.
The highlight for me was when we bantered a bit and the venue owner, a local, forcefully yelled out, “Jackson!” Without missing a beat we launched into the Johnny and June standard. He was beaming. I presumed he was a plant because I knew Sara Gay had heard us do it but we found out later he was genuinely asking for a song his mother loved. Johnny and June were timeless and knew now boundaries. They speak across cultures and generations.
Burt’s been studying Spanish with an on-line program called Duolingo. Duolingo keeps track of how many days you log in and practice. If a student makes it to ten days in a row they get extra points added to their score. You can use points to upgrade the all free features. Burt says he’s setting a record of one day streaks. I guess I just hit reset around here, too, and it was simply forgetfulness. I had a window in my very busy day and when that window arrived I did diddly. It didn’t even pass through my mind. What does that tell me? Time for a mini-break.
Yesterday was tennis at 8:30. Sunday morning is a round robin event that gets on our nerves. We rarely partake. Too much yakking not enough playing. We did it any way. Some people like to socialize. I like to do stuff. I was even asked to explain how I can be involved in all the activities we are involved in and my disdain for hanging with people. I was like, “Seriously?” To me this is unexplainable. If a person can’t understand loathing chatting and loving singing a song or chasing a tennis ball or playing cards there’s a wide gulf in socio-perception between us. Doing something with people is fun. Talking about things with more than one other person: agony. Okay, maybe two other people and Burt is okay. Call me an introvert that likes to play and work. No small talk, please.
After tennis, which ended at 11:00, was the break. Of course, we ate lunch. Then we lounged. Brain discarded all thoughts. At 2:00 we played music at a memorial service for a guy we barely knew but was a fixture in my daily life. Brian used to come to our shows when they were at the local pizza joint. He lived in teh RV park where I take yoga. I saw him several times a week. We’d say, hello and exchange pleasantries. Cue social agony. With nothing more to say I’d usually head for home. Brian was very nice and very helpful. His last major ‘help thy neighbor’ feat was helping Rosemary and Ed strap their camper onto their truck. He was dead four days later. He even joked with Rosemary (she and Ed are much better at chatting with people. That’s why they can be campground hosts and we can’t.) that he might not live to next year. He knew (and I did) that he was very ill. Rosemary had not heard the news.
So we played his memorial feast and got a great gift in return. Brian did not like music but he came to hear us because Althea and Paty liked music. Althea was his wife and Paty was their neighbor. He once told Paty, “I don’t like music, but I like the Gypsy Carpenters. They are real. They are working man’s music.” There you have it. A gift of appreciation from the dead. We are working class and proud to have included a former commercial fisherman in our fold of fans. We played his favorite song Sixteen Tons.