Archive for May, 2010

In hot water

May 9, 2010

Up to my chin in 105 degree water,  suphur pricked my nostrils as I bobbed in velvety fluid.  I felt as if I had returned to childhood when play and exploration were the focus of my days. My flip flops slapped the wooden deck as I padded from the mineral baths to an Adirondack chair to bask in the sun. Heaven!

Billed as “a sanctuary for the self,” Wilbur Hot Springs is that – and much more. Nestled in a secluded valley of the California Coastal Range on the banks of a sulphur creek, this healing spa has been welcoming visitors since the 1860s. After two days of soaking in the hot mineral pools, hiking in the lush valleys and meadows, and cooking in Wilbur’s amazing communal kitchen I returned to Oakland more relaxed than I could have imagined.

View from the hill above Wilbur Hot Springs

I unplugged completely. No TV, no computer, no cell phone, and no obligations.  Like most humans in the developed world, I spend way too much time in front of screens. I believe this literally narrows my view of the world. Watching the constellations wheel across the night sky, coming face to face with a deer and her fawn, gazing at a hillside studded with brilliant blue lupine, wandering along the creek bed as it wound through the meadow – all this, and hot pools too!

But the kitchen – oh my heavens – a communal mish mash of gourmands and inveterate snackers eddying around admiring each other’s eats. Picture an old farm kitchen with a massive stove and a huge hanging pot rack and every kitchen tool immaginable, except a microwave or a toaster. Now picture it filled with people in bathrobes, sarongs, sweatpants – and even one guy in a kilt – all cooking up a storm. The smells could knock you to your knees. One guy produced a gorgeous plate of tapas and then proceeded to cook pork loin in apple and onions. People were in there roasting chickens and whipping up risotto – it was as far from summer camp as you could get – even though the coreographed chaos was remarkably similar. Miraculously, we danced around each other, but there were no collisions.

I owe this experience to my dear friend Karen Hester who suggested we go and kindly made the reservation. Karen is my “go to” pal for all varieties of fun from ping-pong matches to long hikes to spur of the moment concert tickets. A community organizer and event planner, Karen not only knows how to have a good time, she knows how to relax. I was more than happy to follow in Karen’s wake, although I confess when she went out birdwatching at 8 o’clock on Saturday morning, I opted for tea and toast instead.

This morning was overcast so Karen and I sat in front of the oil heater and played scrabble, filling the board with neat stacks of letters – plenty of the double and tripple score variety. Karen whupped my behind, as usual, while giving me kudos for my best word play – “quieted” being one, since using a Q is a major achievement on a lazy Sunday morning.

Karen and Eleanor at Wilbur Hot Springs

We played and chatted and watched people breakfast on waffles and scrambled eggs. One guy from Calgary – I swear this is true – spent 45 minutes cutting up fruit. He sliced strawberries with slow precision, and then pitted and sliced cherries, topping this ballet of fruit with creamy yogurt and granola. When I commented on his creation he explained that he was from Canada where there was still snow on the ground so fresh fruit was a novelty to be savored.

Mellow and soggy, we bundled into the car at 2:30 this afternoon and began our journey home, singing along to Kate Wolf and Laura Nyro so that the green hillsides whizzed by. Suddenly, we were crossing the Carquinez bridge and the refineries in Richmond came into view. But in my mind’s eye, I could picture the Japanese style gate leading into the hot pools, and my skin still smelled of sulphur. Even at 70 miles per hour, my body clock was set to s-l-o-w.

Gate leading to hot pools


Take a walk, save a life

May 3, 2010

Everyone seems to tap friends for money to cure AIDS, leukemia, or breast cancer – or in my case, cystic fibrosis.  Lately, I’ve been raising funds to support a walk-a-thon sponsored by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Why CF? Because my 22-month-old neighbor Lily has it.

When I come  home from work, if Lily is playing outside with her mom, Lara, she blows me kisses with her chubby little fingers. She runs at me as if on the verge of falling she’s so eager to see and do everything. Like a magpie, she loves any shiny object I happen to be wearing. She has blonde flyaway hair and a plastic tea set she points to excitedly any time I come to visit.

I love Lily!

When Lara told me that Lily had CF, I bit back tears. “I’m so sorry,” I said. Words would never be enough. I was determined to do something.

CF is a cruel killer. Typically, its victims are young. Over time, mucus builds up in the lungs causing infections that are ultimately fatal. The defective gene that is responsible for CF can also affect digestion and cause the pancreas to malfunction.

I knew one family that lost two daughters to this disease, one in her teens, the other in her early twenties. They are buried side by side not far from my daughter Maya at Oakmont Cemetary. Maya died of an accidental fall from a horse, not CF, but once you have lost a child you realize – deep in your bones – it doesn’t matter how your child dies. What matters is finding a way to survive  and be there for your other kids if you’re lucky enough to have any. Eventually, I rebuilt my life. But I hate the idea of  other parents having to join the fraternity – or of children dying before they have a chance at a full life.

That’s how I found myself with a white T-shirt displaying an iron-on decal saying “Team Lily” emblazoned on the middle of my chest walking along the San Francisco Bay with a ragtag group of friends and neighbors last Saturday morning. Our team wasn’t the biggest – we couldn’t match Team Genentech – but we weren’t the smallest either. In the group photo, about 40 of us crowd together behind a row of strollers and dogs at East Beach in Crissy Field. We set off on our three-mile walk in high spirits, quickly separated by the hundreds of other walkers, and dozens of strollers, wagons, and canines that promenaded up to Fort Point in a colorful and unruly mass.

Lots of teams were named after kids that parents are desperately hoping will be saved. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, funded by the generousity of walkers and their supporters, has already helped to find treatments that can extend life into young adulthood – age 37, on average. I’m sorry. That’s just not good enough. I want Lily to live to be an old lady – one that dusts off her plastic tea set and brings it out to play with her grandchildren. I want her laugh to last longer than three decades. I want to see her run into her future as confidently as she runs up the sidewalk toward me with mischief written all over her face.

Last I checked, “Team Lily” had raised more than $7,000. Multiply that by the dozens of other teams at the “Great Strides” event and you’ve got a serious investment in hope, in healthy kids, and in parents who can breathe a little easier knowing that they are not alone in this fight.

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