A couple of people have asked what a typical day is for us here in Tuscany. I have told you about the festivals, which make it a “not typical” day. But today is a rainy Sunday, so I will tell you what today is like.

We still get up when the sun comes up, about 7:00. I’m usually first out of bed, and head down to the kitchen to put my coffee on and start the fire in the big fireplace. Tim makes sure there is plenty of kindling and firewood the night before, so I call on my Camp Fire Girl background and start the fire. It’s actually colder in Tomales than here in the mornings. But it is a damp cold with no central heat, so a fire is required.

Tim comes down and makes his tea. Thankfully, the giant spiders that used to greet us in the mornings seem to be either hibernating (do spiders hibernate?) or the new roof has discouraged them. Otherwise, Tim would be wielding a weapon and slaying them for me while his tea steeped.

We sit at our kitchen table in front of the fire and, for the next hour or two, read/write and eat breakfast and listen to the church bells. Tim reads books about this area’s history – the current one is about World War II, when it was occupied by the Germans after the Italians renounced fascism. I’m currently reading The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman, a novel (that last is part of its title).

At some point one of us (yes, me) gets antsy and we dress and walk up to the village. We try to take different routes through the narrow streets, imagining what life was like for Santa Fiora villagers in the Middle Ages. One of the paths winds up the hill with a lighted walkway carved into the rock and passing a waterfall, several gardens, and a little rest area with benches.

There are three churches we pass, all very old except the one the Americans bombed by mistake to drive the Germans out in WWII, killing 17 villagers in the process. Their names are on a plaque in a little square near the site. We also pass through the Jewish ghetto – ancient, narrow streets where mostly Jews lived until the Germans came and either killed or arrested them. Shortly thereafter, Italy renounced fascism and joined the Allies in fighting the Germans. (This Tim has explained to me as I am not a history buff.)

Anyway, we get up to the piazza and head to the bar/gelateria for our cappuccino, te, and internet. (Right, still no internet at the house even though the technician promised me he would be here “domani,” which means tomorrow but was yesterday and he didn’t show.) We are now known in the village and the bar owner makes our drinks before we order. Others come in and several we know, so we “buongiorno” to each other. If it’s someone we know well and haven’t seen for a few days, we kiss – first left check to left cheek and then right to right. (Getting that right the first couple of times led to some embarrassing mis-planted kisses.)

An hour of caffeine, maybe a pastry, and internet and we head out the door to shop. If we want meat (we don’t eat much), we buy it from the macelleria, bread from Crostini, and fresh pasta from Tavolo Caldi. The other day we bought a pasta machine, and today we may make fresh pasta for the second time in our lives.

Then it’s the Coop, pronounced “cop.” Think of a cross between 7-11 and the old Traverso’s. When I was in Italy before, there were fresh produce markets a couple of times a week when you bought what vegetables you needed for the week. Here (or now) the farmers bring produce to the Coop, or it is shipped in from Sicily or other warmer areas. The good news is it is all organic (or if something is not, it is clearly labeled). Packaged goods – pasta, bread, cereal – are labeled “biologico,” which means organic too. Italy banned GMOs several years ago.

(Is this boring? Blame it on the weather – it’s still raining out and I’m not walking up to the village in the rain.)

We may also stop at the banca and see our buddy Fabrizio. We used to stop in daily to see if our American transfer money had been released from the Italian main office yet. (It took four weeks, but we finally paid off the mafia laborers last Monday.) It’s not exactly like Exchange Bank. Fabrizio is in his usual sweatshirt behind his desk. The other banker bought us coffee at the bar the other day, and the bank has given us our own post office box in the bank. If you want to try it out, send us something to

Box 20

Banca dei Paschi de Siena

Piazza Garibaldi

58037 Santa Fiora, GR, Italy

Geez, we’re only to noon. (And as I write this, the noon bell is ringing!)

Time for lunch, which is most likely back at our casa. We generally have prosciutto, pecorino cheese, olives, and maybe a glass of wine if we’re Tim. Then, after this grueling morning, we take a nap (if we’re Tim) or stoke up the living room woodstove and sit on the couch reading. This is perfectly acceptable as stores don’t reopen for the afternoon until 3 or 4:00 and stay open until 8:00.

The afternoon varies, depending if we need to go to a) the hardware store in Casteldipiano, which is almost every day b) the frame shop or laundromat in Arcidosso (where I bought these cute herb jars), or c) some other destination for furniture or fun. Some days we don’t go up in the morning (like today) and instead walk up in the afternoon when the Coop will reopen (it’s never open on Sunday mornings) so we can get the ingredients for the pasta-making.

Today is different too because our neighbors have invited us to dinner at their house in the village. (They also own the farm next door which is an agritourismo.) Tim did a painting for them to thank Sandro (the Mafioso contractor) and his daughter Corinna (the PhD translator) for all their help in our transition.

Other days we’ve been entertained at lunch in the tiniest kitchen that ever held a man in a wheelchair, the Mafioso’s brother, our UK friend Linda (to interpret), and Tim and me. The table was two sawhorses and a board, about the size of a small card table. And it filled the room. Another day we had lunch at a small restaurant in Arcidosso. Tim ordered what is the signature dish in this area, Acquacotta, literally water soup. It was so good I asked for the recipe, and “mama” wrote it out in Italian for me. No measurements or anything of course. I translated all the ingredients and made it the other night. It was delicious! (If you’ve gotten this far, I will send you the recipe.)

Dinner for most Italians is 8:00 – that’s when restaurants open too. I have no idea what they do between 12:00 (or lunch) and 3 or 4:00 (when work resumes). I’ve read they eat and gossip. Kids go home from school for the mid-day meal, and go back until 6:00 I think. They study English for four years too, so they can all ask us about “Trump the fascist or Trump the stronzo.”

So, that’s it. Not that we don’t travel to other towns or cities (we’re heading to the coast this week for a night and spending two nights in Rome in a fancy hotel WITH INTERNET before flying home the week after). But what we are enjoying now is the quiet and the beauty and the peacefulness. Our go-go-go life was enjoyable too and it will be again when we get back to Sonoma County, but this is just perfect just now. CAIO!

PERSONAL LEGEND – November 12-20

One of the greatest gifts of the past seven weeks has been to read. Before this adventure, I think I read one or two books a year (not counting of course Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep and blogs on farming).

It’s not that I didn’t try. I’d buy the latest bestseller at Costco (and another at “my local independent bookstore just to even the paying field), wait in an interminable line, pay with a credit card – the total was always over $200, even if you only bought one book – and put it on my nightstand. That night I’d jump into bed all excited and prop up my new book next to a very disappointed Tim. I would read the author’s intro and maybe the table of contents to see how long the chapters were, start Chapter One, and be sound asleep in the first two pages.

Here in Italy I have read 10 “books”* so far, one or two of which were dogs (no, not about dogs) and therefore I didn’t finish, and some which will stay with me for a long time.

One of the keepers is Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist.

*I haven’t found an English bookstore anywhere near us, nor was I allowed to load up my three giant suitcases, two carry-ons, rug, and king comforter worldly goods with books. So I load up on Kindle at the “bar”** when having our cappuccino and te in the mornings.

**In Italy a bar is a place that you go for café in the mornings, standing up and slugging down an espresso and maybe a pasta (pastry). For a glass of wine and pasta, you go to a café for lunch. Love this country!

I digress (which friends tell me I do in telling stories).

I am sure most of my friends have read it and maybe seen the movie. For those that haven’t, there’s no point in telling you what it’s about because that’s not the point.

Okay, it’s about a young man on a journey to reach his Personal Legend. In his case it was to see the Pyramids (or so he thought!). If you haven’t read it, skip the next sentence. He gets there, but that’s not the point, and it is.

Of course the point is the journey. But also it is having a Personal Legend to travel to, and reaching that. Some (like me) may call it goals.

My great pal David always likes to hear my “five-year plans.” My great pal Deb likes to think of journeys as simply being open to the synchronicity of the universe. Different strokes for the same idea, and the premise of The Alchemist. Read it.

Years ago (back when I read more books), I read a ridiculous self-help book with the ridiculous title of “DO IT!”, complete with exclamation point and the subtitle “Let’s Get Off Our Butts.” It involved a series of questions you were to ask yourself about who you were and what you wanted out of life. (Forgive me – I was 22 at the time.) You listed the words that resonated with you in answering those questions, and then melted those down to their essence. That became your Personal Mission Statement, or Personal Legend according to Paulo Coehlo.

Bet you want to know what mine is:


Cool, huh! The nice thing about a Personal Legend is that you can check back in with it to see if you are headed in the right direction and enjoying the journey. Mine will not be like anyone else’s, thank goodness. But I know if I am not growing something (animals, food, friends and relationships, my own business, other people’s businesses, creative things, a nice home, me), I’m not happy or fulfilled.

I like dogs too. But that’s not what this is about. It’s not what you like to do, it’s the core of who you are. And it’s not just knowing that and having a Personal Mission Statement – it is having something to reach for, a goal or goals, something to keep you moving along toward a fulfilled journey.

For years, right around this time of year, I’ve listed and updated my goals. Adam will remember this. I haven’t done it for several years (same reason as the book on the nightstand gathering dust), but here is some of what I wrote in 2010:

  • Honor relationships with family/friends/girlfriends
  • Stay grounded
  • Rest/have quiet time guilt-free
  • Continue creativity – crafts, herbal products, wool, cashmere
  • Develop plan for travel/living abroad in next five years
  • Develop marketing for farmers/artisan producers
  • Hire experienced farm manager
  • Start planning for farm transition
  • Revise website
  • Remain debt-free and repay home equity loan by 2015

I accomplished most of these. Some will stay on the list (and have since 2003 when I first started this), and some new ones need to be added. But the idea is there is a list. When I get all caught up in what I’m busy, busy, busy doing, I need to go to the list and make sure the busyness is helping me get to where I want to go.

And now that I’m not so busy, I get to honor my relationships by sharing all this with you! Here’s wishing you are enjoying the journey to your own Personal Legend. Have fun!



FALLING FLAT – November 2-12

I’ve often said I fall all the time. I’m not sure if that’s true because I don’t know how often friends of mine fall. Of course Tim fell off a 15-foot ladder last year and got a concussion and broken rib, and this summer Heidi fell through a 15-foot tree and landed on a Buddha statue with two broken wrists and a shattered spleen. Many years ago my brother, father, and first boyfriend fell in succession from the roof of our house, my boyfriend landing in a rose bush.

But those falls, as dramatic as they were, were one-offs. No more falling for any of them after that, or before. As far as I know.

Then there’s me. I’ve tripped coming out of Baskin Robbins and splatted me and my Jamoca Almond Fudge cone all over a parking lot (I was 42 and in a business suit). I’ve tripped over the yellow dots and splayed myself across the middle of Highway 1 that runs through downtown Tomales. I’m sure there are others, but you get the idea.

So, as I was walking along enjoying the sunshine of a beautiful day at the chestnut festival in Pianacastinaio (yes, I can say that without tripping over it), I tripped. I didn’t see it, but Tim says I was walking next to him and the next instant hit the cobblestone walk like a … lucky for him, he didn’t say “ton of bricks” or “sack of potatoes.” I landed on my face, wrist, and knee in that order and nearly simultaneously, judging by my injuries.

My glasses have four large, vertical scratches on one lens, my chin has a lovely scab which I can’t help but pick at, and my knee does too along with a delightful purplish color. But the MAJOR DAMAGE was my wrist. It hurt!

When it didn’t stop hurting after a week, Tim said it was time to get an x-ray. I’ve fallen a lot but never had any broken bones. He’s had several (including a broken finger whedn part of my house fell on it, but that’s another story), so for once I listened to him. We consulted several friends and they said we needed to go to Casteldepiano (there are few simple town names in Italy – well, except Rome and Siena and Milan) to the Pronto Soccorso – literally
“Fast Help” – beside the hospital.

We arrived at 10:00. We left at 3:00. Not so pronto, but the total cost was 74 euro, including 10 euro for a CD of the x-ray! The nurses asked me, “Trump or Cleenton?” The doctore asked, “Trump or Cleenton?” The radiologist asked too, and then said, “Trump is fascist.” But I got my x-ray and – no broken bones. Just a bad sprain. And severe depression over the election, wondering what the Italians would think if the unthinkable happened.

And then it happened.

Everyone here is very, very worried. The Italian newspaper headline this morning was Trump, a danger to Italy. It’s hard for us because we STILL don’t have any Internet except in the café, and no English newspapers or TV. Maybe it’s a good thing though.

Anyway, our Italian lives go on. Yesterday Tim got a private tour of one of the 40 geothermal plants that dot the hillsides in Tuscany with the man in charge of it, who is the partner of our UK friend. The steam that is trapped inside the mountain (Mount Amiata is an extinct volcano) is 400 degrees C. It is piped up under pressure and powers all the electricity in the region. At least I think that’s what he said.

The day before, Tim and over 600 schoolkids got a tour of the Santa Fiora wafter system. Again, amazing. The water trapped in the mountain is tapped and gravity pushes it out at 700 liters per second, flowing to all the faucets and toilets in our village and several others within 15 kilometers. He has a cool video of
it if you’re interested.

Technology in Italy is truly 21st century, even in tiny Tuscan hillside villages.

Last night we had a great dinner at our favorite pizza restaurant with UK friend, Linda, boyfriend Bruno (of the geothermal plant), and our neighbors, Sandro and
Simone. Today we went to Arccidosso and Casteldipiano eboth and had lunch at a cool restaurant that was literally carved out of the rock of the hill the town sat on. Beautifully appointed and lit, with a collection of antique copper cookware on the walls. Vino bianco for Tim, vino rosso for me, salads, and pasta.

That’s life in Tuscany!




I have to admit I didn’t pay a lot of attention to this election. I had a few things going on. Actually, a lot of things. But I woke up this morning and I get it. At least I think I do.

It was a modern American revolution.

I don’t know if the pundits or editors or talkies have hit on this, as I don’t have any television here in Italy and didn’t watch any before either. But I woke up with a start, thinking about their slogan: Make America great again.

This election was not about fancy rhetoric (Trump made sure of that), or insightful analyses of current economics, or well-thought-out plans for our future. (Okay, he even made a mockery of all that.)

And that’s why he won.

For the half hour or hour that people listened to him, he had answers for them. No deep thought or analysis needed. You don’t have a job? I’ll make sure the people you think stole it from you are sent back. You’re losing your house? It’s the banks’ fault and I’ll punish them. You feel like you’re being bullied by the system? Punch it in the face.

He was Dr. Phil. Or Oprah. Or Dr. Oz. Or God.

He was (and now is) a 30-minute answer to whatever problems they have. They now have the power to make their American great again, the America that promised them all they had to do was work hard and it would all be theirs. They are no longer powerless; they’ve got Donald J. Trump to do it for them. He will make America great again!

(My snide remark here is, of course he will – look what he did for Atlantic City. But maybe only a handful of New Yorkers know or care about that.)

The people who listened to him and supported him and bought into his slogan are people who feel they are themselves powerless. They are missing the inner strength to pick up the pieces of a broken life or a broken system and fix it. They need someone to do it for them, or to punish those who broke it. Like Judge Judy does.

I guess I didn’t realize there were quite so many of them.

So now what? I have no idea. But I am in Italy, and the Italians have seen this before. They call Trump a fascist. Maybe he is. Tim thinks he was pitted against a candidate that just couldn’t be completely trusted. Maybe she was. My friend from the UK says this is the downfall of America as a world leader. (She did not vote for Brexit, but sees similarities.) Maybe it is.

But what is clear to me, and what woke me up with a start this morning, is this indeed is a revolution. The “have-nots” against the “haves.” And we’d better get our moral munitions in order and our principled troops on line to ensure there will still be an America to make great again.

Because Trump is right – we aren’t anymore now in the eyes of the world.

IMG_1078.JPGThe weather had been extraordinary for the past 6 days. Warm, sunny, clear, and beautiful. This is a view as we walk back from the village. This is life with.


LIFE WITHOUT AND WITH – Santa Fiora October 31-November 1

We are entering our third week without Internet. Or at least not much of it. In order to receive and send emails, etc., we have to walk or drive some distance to our village piazza and hope that we can sign on to the free Internet. Being free, it is neither secure nor robust. And it doesn’t work on Sundays or holidays.

That is life without.

Speaking of which, Happy Halloween. In Italy and Catholic religious institutions everywhere, this is All Souls Day – a day to remember those who have gone before. With or without souls, I assume. Tomorrow is All Saints Day, honoring those that left in good humor and in good standing, presumably with souls intact.

That is life with. Always something to celebrate, honor, remember, or forget. Tomorrow is also a bank holiday, which means all the banks and therefore all the stores will be closed.

And the Internet.

I’m sure my brother and nephews can’t believe there is a world where you can’t Google or NY Times or Reddit your life away looking up more or less meaningless shit just because you’re curious. I can’t either. Like how close to us was yesterday’s devastating earthquake (how many miles are 85 kilometers?). Or what is the population of the towns that were obliterated after sitting quietly there on top of mountains for 300-plus years.

Life without Internet is less full. I have no idea what is happening with the Presidential candidates, if you can call them that – or candidates for President, maybe I should say. I have not seen Facebook for three weeks. (Insert “sorry” emoji.) I didn’t know there was an earthquake until four people messaged me to ask if our house was still standing. So I decided to go out and look.

And that is life without.

House still standing, good. No mail, good. (No mail because the hinges have rusted off the mailbox, Tim just informed me.) Church bells ringing, it must be 8:00 (both AM and PM, except there’s no 8:00 PM which is still disorienting to me). All good.

As a farmer, my life was planned with the 10-day forecast on weather.com. Now we wake up with the sun, look out our window, and see what the weather is. Plan from there. All good.

But…I am still trying to get Internet. Most of the homes here have DSL from the phone company. (Stop laughing, Quinn.) Being a modern girl, I signed up online for satellite Internet before leaving CA. Or at least I thought I did. Sent a credit card and everything. Then I sent a text. And another. And an email. It’s been a month. So we decided to go to their “company headquarters” in Grosseto (a larger town about an hour and a half away from us) when we dropped Heidi and Lana off at the train station.

Finding it outside town in an industrial park was not easy. It was a huge building surrounded with chainlink fence and padlocks on the gates. Just as we were wondering if anyone was inside, a small truck pulled up with Linkwave (the company name) on the side. He didn’t understand English and I don’t speak Italian of course, but he got the idea when I waved my signup form at him and he let us through the fence.

Inside was one desk, one chair, and one man with a computer. (I took note that it was a computer made after the millennium, so again, all good.) I waved my signup form at him and before he really looked at it, he said, “Deborah Walton!” “Si, si!” I said. Now we were getting somewhere. He spent some time fiddling with his computer and said that we were due to get hooked up that very day. Glory be, I said! So we left, racing home to meet the truck.

That was a week ago. So last Wednesday we stopped into another Internet store we discovered in a town fairly close to us. The older man behind the counter didn’t speak English of course, but I saw a brochure for Linkwave on the counter and said, with hope and pleading in my eyes and voice, “Internet?!!” And he took one look at me and said, “Deborah Walton?” I kid you not! (Apparently, the kid at headquarters is his son.) He said to come back this week.

And that is life without. And with.



WHEN IN ROME (Santa Fiora Oct 11- Oct 27)

For the second time this year we landed at the Rome aeroporto (okay, third time for Tim). But, being the seasoned transatlantic travelers we are, we (I) scheduled the flight to overnight us when it was “overnight” and booked hotels near the airport on both ends. So much more civilized.

IMG_1372[1] (480x640).jpgExcept for the rug. I fell in love with (and therefore bought) an 8X10 rug at West Elm. So in addition to the three 29” suitcases filled with bedding, towels, and kitchen stuff, our two carry-ons filled with a few clothes, and a rolled up king wool comforter (who can live without one of those, I ask!), we had a huge column of a rug to wrestle. (ASIDE: You might wonder if they sell rugs in Italy. They do. But this one was ON SALE!)

Delta didn’t bat an eye at SFO. We paid the extra baggage fees ($100 for the extra suitcase and another $100 for the “oversize” comforter and the rug – which made it a tad over its original price) and off on the conveyor belt they went.

And, miracle of miracles, they all came out the other end!

Returning to Casa di Tela (House of Canvas) was even more exciting. In May, thinking we were returning to Canvas Ranch to close its sale and have some money to play with, we had arranged to have a new roof put on, new gutters, and the downstairs painted and one wall of the living room sandblasted to reveal the stones that hold the upstairs up.

The results were beautiful! And the rug was the perfect finishing touch.

What wasn’t beautiful was we now owed our friend and neighbor (and, we believe, the local mafia rep) a pile of money we didn’t have, and there was a pile of roof rubble sitting in our little driveway. Assessing the situation and not wanting to end up under the pile of rubble, we went to the bank to get the money we made from selling our 4Runner sent over immediately to us and the mafia rep.

HA! I don’t think the word “immediately” even exists in the Italian language. It has been over two weeks and we keep hearing that our money will be here November 11.
NOVEMBER 11!! We’ve made friends with our banker, Fabrizio, who understands a bit of English (like “November 11th?!!? You can’t be serious! There’s an ominous pile of rubble in our driveway!”). He calls headquarters in Grosseto. There’s lots of talk with lots of vowels. Nodding. Si, si. He hangs up, and tells us November 11 is indeed the date “because of US banking laws.” But what we can do is pull out 250 euros a day from the ATM.

So that’s what we’ve been doing to buy our way out of the rubble pile.

Meanwhile, our good pals Heidi and Lana came to visit. We met them in Florence and spent three days there. So much to see. And eat. And drink. (Tim made quite a spectacle of himself in one of the museums,) Then we picked up our itty bitty Fiat, loaded us all in, and set out for Santa Fiora.

We got as far as Siena. So much to see. And eat. And drink. So we spent the night.

The beautiful Tuscany countryside is changing colors, farmers are picking olives, chestnuts are ripening and falling everywhere, and there is a festival, or “festa”, in every small town every weekend. Our first weekend back in Santa Fiora was the Castagena Festa, or chestnut festival. Santa Fiora is the chestnut capital of Tuscany. (If you don’t like chestnuts, or are not at all interested in them, skip the next paragraph.)

I love roasted chestnuts. It comes from my youth on the streets of New York City, where in the chilly fall months every streetcorner had a chestnut roasting cart. In Italy they are referred to as “bread trees.” During the war, the Nazis pillaged all the Tuscan farms for food – animals, vegetables – while the men-folk hid in the woods. The only thinIMG_1293 (480x640).jpggs they had to eat were the wild chestnuts and mushrooms (hence a “funghi” festival is also celebrated). The women would use the chestnuts for making bread, which you know I’m going to try to make, which was the staple of their diets. Chestnuts have a nutritional content similar to wheat. The week before I had spent a pleasant afternoon collecting chestnuts in the woods, so I have my stash.

Okay, back to Casa di Tela with Heidi and Lana. Last Sunday we went to the chestnut festival in Arrcidosso a few kilometers away. Hundreds of people, thousands of chestnuts, and a winemaker. There might have been more than one winemaker, but Heidi decided she wanted his wine which you could pour right from the vat into your own bottle. She bought a liter and a half for 3 euros (I haven’t found the euro symbol on the computer yet). And drank it all that night. And paid the price the next day. But it was fun while it lasted!

So, off they’ve gone to Cinque Terra and off we go to the Banco once again to find out if we are safe from the rubble pile.

Hope all is well with you all and stay tuned! Love, Deb and Tim

PS:  The earthquakes were 95 kilometers away from us, near Perugia. Very sad, but luckily we haven’t been affected.

Being bi-coastal is not as much fun as it sounds. Born in California (Hollywood, to be exact) and raised in Marin County (have you read The Serial?), I had a certain perspective about life. People were generally good, you could ride your bike downtown on Saturday to have See’s candy with your fourth-grade teacher, and sneakers were the preferred footwear all year long.

In sixth grade I was one of the “popular” girls because, of all things, I excelled in math. I was captain of the softball team. My best friend and I had boyfriends who were twin brothers. We got into trouble together and our mothers threatened to send us to boarding schools with 6-and then 10-foot-high walls. Until they realized they should be separate schools, as we were dreaming up the things we could do there together.

One day my father came home from work and announced we were moving from Mill Valley to NEW YORK CITY! We would pack up everything we owned, board a TWA plane, and head to new adventures 3,000 miles away. WOW, what fun! We learned about hurricanes and how to say “LonGisland” like New Yorkers. We “warshed” the “ca” and waved goodbye to our California lives. And I became bi-coastal.

I’ll admit that the first few months were interesting, living in a hotel in Manhattan and my sister and I pretending we were Madeline. We even experienced a hurricane, replete with candles and board games and chocolate bars in our hotel room, deciding then and there we should have a hurricane every week.

But the first blush was not to last. We moved to the suburbs, started at a new school, and I was a fish out of water. My homeroom teacher was black, the first black person I had ever seen. There were cliques, a word I didn’t even know. The popular girls didn’t excel at math — they excelled at heather skirts, Peter Pan collars, and penny loafers. No one wore sneakers.

Then my father had a massive heart attack. New York sucked.

I couldn’t wait to get back to California. My friends were there, my aunt and my grandmother (both of whom I adored) were there, my self was there. My father survived his heart attack and I made a deal with him that, if I saved up $150 for the plane fare to go back to California, he would match it. Of course he said yes — I was 12 years old and unemployed.

The summer I turned 14 was my renewal trip to “home.” I came alive again. I had saved my allowance, babysat, sold wrapping paper door-to-door, and was a full-time mother’s helper for two summers, and I surprised my dad with my $150 in crumpled bills.

My die was cast. I had learned that if I wanted something bad enough (and I have always wanted a lot of things), I had to work for it. Summers, school vacations, weekends — all through high school I worked as a deli clerk, a corsage maker at a florist shop, a babysitter, a soda jerk at a hospital coffee shop. I worked and saved for college, which I dreamed would be back in California.

I was accepted at two UC schools and my “safety” school in upstate New York. Then I found out my father had forgotten to save enough money for me to go to college for four years. The only college I could afford was the safety school because they gave me two scholarships and a special waiver to — you guessed it — work on campus starting my freshman year.

I got my wish to go back to California my senior year. My parents and younger sister and brother moved back there the previous year. While I was having a nervous breakdown trying to save money by graduating a semester early, my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I flew home and took on the jobs of being her full time caretaker and my family’s full time stand-in wife. The nervous breakdown was only a slight inconvenience.

Of course I also started my first “real” job. Remember, I said this was Marin County in the early 70s, so real is in quotes. I worked for a major pothead during the day, and listened to Alice Cooper wafting up from the nightclub bar down the hill from our house in the evening.

I tried to keep my father sober, my mother alive, my sister from running off with a tow-truck driver, my brother in naive bliss, and myself somewhat sane. I failed at it all. And then I got married and had to move back to New York.

Did I tell you I hate New York?