Blustery Day


Contrary to popular thought that California has perfect winters, we have wind. Not gentle ocean breezes. Rip your table umbrellas out and deposit them in your neighbor’s yard wind. Destructive and bone chilling, these winds blow into town and linger for days. In the summer, they can be furnace blasts, but the worst come whipping through the winter.

California elementary schools assume we will always have mild weather. There is no shelter between buildings and portables. Students have to brave mighty gusts to have lunch and use the restrooms. “Inclement weather” is declared, and all recesses cancelled for the day. Teachers and their classes remain huddled inside their rooms.

Attention spans diminish, and voices grow louder. Pollen kicks up to spark headaches and runny noses. Already sick children gather at the school nurse’s office while she calls their parents.

Meanwhile, palm fronds land like missiles on cars passing on the streets. Ancient branches raise their arms in surrender and fall on parked cars. Dust and leaves swirl in doorways, waiting to blow in.

Wind makes people angry. A local proverb advises not to make any major decisions on a windy day.

Perhaps we shared a haughty chuckle when it was sunny and 80 degrees last weekend and other regions of the country lie buried in snow. We thought ourselves worthy of that song, “California Dreaming.”

Maybe the wind is our punishment for being proud.

Winter captivity


An icy blast steals my breath as I zip up my hoodie. Tight jeans, unbearable in summer, hug warmth into my legs. Lollie, my Pomeranian, trots at the end of his leash, ears pricked and tail curled over his back. Rain threatens, and I need to take him for a walk before it’s too late.

Bare black branches reach out to the grey skies above us. Lollie and I tread silently on sodden leaves scattered on the street. I walk as fast as I can in my boots, hoping my pace will keep me from shivering. The day is bleak. Where are my California blue skies? Even though 45-degree temperatures would be mild this time of year in Iowa, my wardrobe is not prepared for this unusual weather.

What will I do the rest of the day? On a typical Sunday, my husband, Frank, and I would be out exploring the back roads on our Harley or camping at the beach. My quick trip around the block today will be the only outside time I can steal. Other tasks await. I could work on revisions to my book or do laundry. But I feel the weight of the black clouds pressing down, draining my energy.

I pull off a glove with my teeth to tap the weather app on my phone. The week’s forecast features a raining cloud next to each day. Great. Not only am I stuck inside this weekend, but the students I teach will be stuck inside my tiny portable classroom all week, too. Children who need playtime to be productive. Quickly I slip my phone back into my pocket and put on my glove. Lollie yanks me to a stop as he sniffs a worm floating in a puddle. A cold raindrop spatters on my cheek.

“Come on, Lolls, let’s go home.” I pull him along with me, almost running the last block back. Wet polka dots appear on the street, as I dash up our driveway and into our warm home.

As my tea steeps, I stare out the slider at circular ripples forming on my swimming pool. I’m held captive inside my own house by a relentless curtain of rain. I take a sip of Earl Grey and close my laptop. Time to read a book.

Am I whining about much-needed rain? Not at all! Californians have restless souls that can only be soothed by excursions into its endless variety of dramatic scenery. The mountains restore our sense of awe. Watching the surf calms our anxieties. The desert expanse reminds us that we are part of a larger design. Our California dreams can’t be contained in houses, condos, or apartments. We need to feel the road under our wheels and soar to the top of the highest peak. Our sense of journey propels us through the chaos of modern life.

And rain, although essential, slows us down, tethers us to man-made things until the sun comes out, and we are free to wander again.

So I read a science fiction book, wrapped in a blanket next to Lollie, waiting for the pounding on my roof to cease. Waiting for release from my winter captivity.




The Problem with Rain


I know that someone who lives in a state that continually suffers drought should not complain about rain. But there’s something you should know about the effect of precipitation on southern California.

First of all, our cities have not been planned for actual water to flow through our streets. Any drainage system that exists is mainly ornamental, and when the gutter rivers begin to rise, the sewers are quickly clogged. This results in instant lakes blocking the intersections of major roads.

Added to that, and perhaps because of that, drivers in southern California don’t know how to operate their vehicles in the rain. Possibly it hasn’t rained since they passed their drivers test. But I believe that these drivers are so accustomed to bright sunny days and clear nights that they tend to throw tantrums if the weather doesn’t cooperate. So they speed through flooded streets, creating tall rooster tails of water on both sides of their cars. Or they panic and stop in the middle of the street, unable to proceed due to the drops of water on their windshields. And their windshield wipers have rotted away in the sun long ago, and the screeching sound of the wiper arms adds to their menace.

Another effect of long-awaited rain is mudslides and falling trees. We never do anything half way in California, so when it rains, it rains solid for three days straight. Those ash-strewn hills trying to recover from wildfires become chocolate pudding that rushes to join the rest of the water blocking the drains at the bottom of the hills. Huge trees come tumbling down on houses and cars. Even houses groan and shift down the hill. The effects of rain can be more devastating than the drought.

Children stay home from school as parents don’t want to battle the rain to drive them, or don’t want their kids to stand soaked at the bus stop. One rural school district even called a “Rain Day” and closed their schools, as buses got stuck in the mud on back roads. Teachers wish they would have stayed home when they are stuck with kids in the classroom all day, California kids that are used to playing outside.

But I hope you understand. I’m not complaining. There’s snow on the ski slopes and water in our lakes. The hills surrounding me are bright green, bringing back memories of Ireland. But our gift of water always comes with a cost. So I guess we just have to be ready to pay it.


A Desert Lament


If I only knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t be so out of shape.

Sighing, I lay down my Kindle, and push myself out of my sunken couch. My hips protest as I shift from one swollen ankle to the other. I wipe the sweat off my face before my makeup runs into my eyes. My tank top feels like I just came out of the pool. The kitchen beckons me with a pantry full of sweets and a refrigerator slammed with sodas. My mind scolds my stomach, but my stomach always wins. Chocolate cake with Diet Coke- they cancel each other out, right?

Lollie sits intently before me as I slice the cake and return the rest to the fridge. I’ve never given that dog any people food, but he still hopes. His eyes bore into me until I finally go to the laundry room and return with a Milkbone. At least he gets a healthy snack. Always the gentleman, the fluffy Pomeranian gently takes the treat from my hand and goes off to find a place to hide it.

After plopping myself back on the couch, I grab my phone and check the weather app again. 106 degrees. It hasn’t changed in the 12 times I’ve checked it during the past hour. The air conditioner wheezes a faint coolness into the room. If I stand on the couch and put my hand up by the ceiling vent, I can barely feel it. I resist the impulse to do that now as it would take too much energy.

Gazing out the window, I can see the ripples of heat rising from the driveway and the street. The front lawn pants and shrivels up. With the water restrictions, it barely gets enough nourishment to survive. No bird or animal is seen. A woman walks by with her baby stroller. Nature has more common sense than humans, and waits huddled in the shade until nightfall. The heat is an anvil pressing down on our city, the legacy of living in California’s desert region. Coming here from Iowa, it seemed so cheerful and sunny.

What did I know back then? I’d never seen mountains before. The stark sculptured horizons of the desert seemed bold and expressive to my eyes. Most of the year provided temperate weather, at least to a native of snow and ice. I could wear shorts in October instead of jeans and boots. In a giddy rush, I tossed out my heavy coats and sweaters. I welcomed the sun on my face every day in place of cloudy skies. Then summer arrived.

I admit that July and August were hotter than I expected. But when November finally came, I forgot about the heat when I watched the winter weather reports on TV. It wouldn’t be as hot next summer, I convinced myself.

But it always was.

Twenty-five years later, older and more sensitive to heat, I am trapped in my living room for those horrible summer months. Walk the dog? You’re kidding, right? Even at 7:00 a.m. the temperature hovers at 80 degrees with plenty of humidity. Humidity in the desert? I feel betrayed by every movie I’ve seen featuring California. It’s not all beaches and surfing here.

Frantically, my mind makes a list of all the things in our house that would have to be fixed before we could call a realtor. The hole in the garage, the broken tile in the pool, the horrible front porch carpet. With renewed purpose, I jump up and grab a notepad and pen. My husband and I could probably whip through these repairs in about 8 weekends. I pick up my phone again. What temperature will it be at 7:00 p.m.? 101 degrees? It looks like we won’t be able to start any fixing up until after Halloween, and that will have to fit between El Nino rainstorms.

If I had only known what I know now, I would have settled for the smaller house with no yard. I would have ignored my rational mind that argued that the desert was more affordable. Since I could exercise every day, I wouldn’t be a fat blob that I am now. I would have been happy in my tiny condo at the beach.

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