Dan and Hannah Hike to Saddlerock Mountain in Montecito, California

CalifoMc Santa Barbara map

There is so much to love about Santa Barbara, California in January.  They wear shorts and bike to school!  They have the Pacific for bluff hiking and the Santa Ynez for mountain trails in their backyard.  It never snows!

Mc Meditation

For a second day before first light, Hannah and I meditate together for 15 minutes in our room at the Quality Inn Santa Barbara.  Ever since being inspired by our sister-in-law Becky Kraai last spring, I meditate each morning as soon as I get up.  Though I was a 1970s practitioner of Transcendental Meditation by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with its technique of repeating a mantra, I now focus on my breath.  Of course, my mind wanders, but I return to my center by focusing on my breath.  Hannah dabbles at meditating, but here on our “take a bite out of winter” trip to the coast of California, she is the one suggesting we meditate each morning.  Ommmmm!

The trail begins

The trail begins

After a cool light rain yesterday in Santa Barbara where we needed sweatshirts and zip-off pants, today it’s shorts and tee-shirts for hiking in the Santa Ynez Mountains.  With close to a million hikes in Santa Barbara County, today we opt for hiking in Montecito, perhaps the wealthiest little town in America.  It seems every house is an estate and the residents have Oprah and Ellen as neighbors when they are in town.

Canopied opening to the McMenemy Trail

Canopied opening to the McMenemy Trail

Selecting a six mile hike loop on the McMenemy Trail to Saddlerock and then back via the Girard Trail, we have California sunshine as our partner.  The internet provides us with simple and precise directions to the trailhead that ends at East Mountain Drive in the foothills.  The below link also provides reliable directions for the actual hike itself.   McMenemy Saddlerock Girard Loop.

mc 101 at san ysidro

Briefly, from our Quality Inn in town, we take the 101 south to the San Ysidro Road exit in Montecito.  Turning on East Valley Road, we soon turn left towards the mountains on to tree-lined Park Lane.  From there it is at most a half a mile to the left to the trailhead with ample road side parking.

Bomber on the trail above Montecito

Bomber on the trail above Montecito

Immediately we take to a narrow rocky, rutted trail under a canopy of towering cottonwood-type trees that parallel the private road past houses that must be north of $5 million.  Though lacking that kind of coin, we are rich beyond belief this January as morning hikers on the coast of southern California.

Stepping across the San Ysidro Creek

Stepping across the San Ysidro Creek

Within a half mile, we turn into the forest and rock step over the San Ysidro Creek.  Surprisingly we are not alone on this workday Monday morning for it appears many locals, mostly women, are hiking in pairs with their dogs.  Always agreeable to our questions, they confirm the excellent directions we copied from the above website.

Mc 2A H on trail

Passing just above the estates of the landed gentry, the trail is amazingly well-marked with “Trail” signs conveniently placed.  In conversation with Hannah, I bring up one thing I took away from yesterday’s talk at Unity of Santa Barbara.  That is, to feel a part of any organization, it’s important to get involved, be engaged with others so to build a real sense of community.

Mc 3 H on trail

It holds special relevance for Hannah and me, who after two years as regulars at Unity of the Seacoast in Dover, NH, now attend Unity of the River in Amesbury, MA.  We’ve only been going to services for two months, but I still feel the outsider.  We do fellowship after the service, which is invariably pleasant, but we don’t have a common experience to bond us with others.  Upon returning to New England, it’s time to make that happen.

The trail remains well-marked though still rocky and rutted; the hiking gets our hearts pumping with a steady rise in elevation into the coastal mountains.  Traveling up the mountain on McMenemy Trail, we see a plaque celebrating Logan McMenemy, an influential and generous member of the Montecito Trails Foundation who made sure these trails would remain open to the public.

Mc 4 H at Saddlerock

After the McMenemy Bench, we head downhill through the foothills and then climb again on our way to the summit at Saddlerock.  The trail steepens and we have the workout we crave.  At the top we see Catalina and Ollie, students from northern California, atop a large boulder 25’ above us.  Looking up at them, I comment how challenging it must have been to get up there.  Immediately helpful, Catalina shows us the back way up the stone monolith.

Peace above the Pacific

Peace above the Pacific

But there is a numbers things going on here.  They are in their early 20s and we late 60s.  As we start, we wonder what in the world we are doing.  Even though there are very slight indentations in the rocks for footholds, we don’t feel nimble enough to take the first step.  But the bigger issue is that we have no exit strategy coming down this stone facade.  Without comment, we back down the sandstone climb and head on to the summit further to the east.

Atop Saddlerock

Atop Saddlerock

Later we again meet up with Catalina and Ollie at the top of Saddlerock for a lunch break.  We talk of their post-college dreams, invite them to Maine, share email addresses, and take each other’s pictures by the peace sign of rocks.

From the top, it’s all downhill, in a good way, from here.  A fire road from the peace sign takes to the Girard Trail.  Again, the trail is obvious and has us heading for the trailhead after two hours of hiking and hiker talking.

Low cut Columbia hiking shoes

Low cut Columbia hiking shoes

Though rutted and rocky, the sandstone trail is easy on our feet.  In 15 minutes we are back at the McMenemy Stone Bench and then head for the trailhead in Montecito.  My new Columbia hiking shoes have held up well.  In the past, I hiked in high top Timberland boots, but these light Columbias with hiking treads feel good and, in fact, are easier to pack for cross country travel.

Ready to descend the Girard Trail

Ready to descend the Girard Trail

Returning to the trailhead two and a half hours later, we have covered the nearly six miles of trail under the blue Montecito sky.  We both give this Loop trail our highest endorsement.  It is well-marked, challenging but not insanely so, such that moderately in-shape folks can enjoy the trail; and we are back in time for an afternoon nap.

Oh yeah, another advantage of Santa Barbara in January.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Tunnel Trail above Santa Barbara, California

A Maine woman in Maine winter

A Maine woman in Maine winter

Maine!  I love you.  I really do.  On a regular basis I tell people we live in paradise.  And we do. But you are not perfect, damn good, but not perfect.  Let’s talk.

It has to do with your winter. Though Hannah and I have lived in New England for 33 years we have never warmed to your winter sports.  Sure we ran in your sub-zero temperatures and your snows for 20 some years, but we just never got into your skiing thing, be it cross country or downhill.  Skating? Please?  I can’t believe I am saying this, but maybe my future is as a snowbird.

8 month old Max and his big brother Owen

8 month old Max and his big brother Owen

So when the days are short and the dark rules New England, I want to take a big bite out of winter by traveling to where it’s warm. It used to be Florida. And Florida still is in our future as we plan to rent a VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) house in Englewood, FL next year so our kids and grandkids can visit.  But until then, we have found gold in the Golden State.

SB1 VA planeWaking early on a January day that will top out at 15F and then go down to -10F by the following morning, we drive in the predawn to Logan Airport to fly Virgin America for the first time.  Virgin America?  Is it a real airline or just puddle jumper?  We know of the celebrity of Richard Branson; the price is right and it’s a non-stop flight; so I am trusting the FAA on this one.  Settling in for six hours crossing the country, I have visual platinum in front of me – the mini-TV.  Arriving in LA by noon, we steal a day of vacation by flying east to west; this Tuesday is not just a travel but, but we have the entire afternoon and evening in California.

From the front seat of our rented Toyota Corolla as we approach the 101

The haze in the valley photographed from the front seat of our rented Toyota Corolla as we approach the 101

Before we flee Los Angeles for Santa Barbara 100 miles to the north, we rent a car from Fox. We like Fox Rent-a-Car; it’s inexpensive.  That said, the counter guy says “Do you want to have coverage for roadside assistance?” Really? Isn’t that part of the deal that when we pay you $468 for two weeks, you provide us with a car that works or you fix it?  It’s like the Post Office asking if you want to pay for coverage for lost or damaged parcels.   Isn’t that part of your job to make sure the package arrives safely?

SB2E parasailingCalifornia Dreaming!  An easy going life in tee shirts and shorts.  A place to be whomever you want, with as many tattoos and piercings as you want!  Horace Greeley’s  exhortation of “Go West young man, Go West” still applies to the tech savvy and the dreamers and Maine residents.  Why tomorrow we will see a young man para-sailing high above our heads at the mountain top.

Santa Barbara, our stopover for two days, is a community with lush, year round vegetation and Spanish architecture that has a Mediterranean vibe.  Palm and olive trees abound; athletic and tanned folks bike to work or just because they can.  And all of this is done in January!  In a heart beat I would move here as a snowbird (spending the winter in a warm climate) but for one rather significant reason: it’s just too far away.  With grandkids Owen and Max in the picture, no place can trump family in our lives.

SB 2AA H at Tunnel Trail signAwaking in the still dark of Wednesday after sleeping poorly having not yet acclimated to the three hour time difference from the East Coast, we breakfast at our Quality Inn and prepare for the the Tunnel Trail under blue skies with full 60F degree sun.

Taking Foothill Road to Mission Canyon Road, we veer left onto Tunnel Road.  Along the winding road near the trailhead we squeeze into a roadside parking spot in an exclusive, upscale residential neighborhood.  Soccer moms are running and soon students from University of California at Santa Barbara will be hiking in packs of fun.

On the shady north side of the mountain

On the shady north side of the mountain

Thought of as one of Santa Barbara’s most popular trails, the Tunnel Trail is a macho hike to be sure at 11 miles roundtrip with a gain in elevation of 3000 feet!  But it’s just what the doctor ordered on this first day of our hiking vacation.

As we climb steadily for a mile into the foothills, the trail begins on a cracked paved access road that the local power company uses . With very little shade, the trail speaks to sun lovers like Hannah or really anyone who is sentenced to winter in New England. The green landscape of grasses and bushes hide the fact that California remains in a serious drought. Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn that low flow toilets are everywhere and residents harvest rain water from roofs.

SB 2H very rocky trail

The rocky trail of dusty sandstone makes hiking boots a must. Though climbing on the cliff edge, we never feel in peril. Wearing three pairs of wool socks to buffer my feet from the rocky under footing, I wear my floppy hiker’s hat for protection from the sun.  In the past on this mountain we have shared the trail with mountain bikers, who, to a person, have been respectful of us hiking sort.

SB 2G  rocky trailSoon we ascend on eroded rocky sandstone trails into the mountains.  The desert landscape is no match for the heavy rains of last month having run rough shod on the switchbacks that take us up the steep mountainside.  Hiking in the foothills of the Inez Mountains at each turn we have views of the Channel Islands just off shore.  It’s mid-60s, feeling like 70s in the full sun, and a million miles from Maine in distance and disposition.

Within a mile of the summit

Within a mile of the summit

Four and a half miles into our climb, the trail becomes a paved road to the top that makes for an easy rhythm of walking and conversation.  The views of the Pacific Ocean above Santa Barbara are stunning.  Climbing relentlessly, we burst with pent up hiking energy and are on top of the world this first hiking day of our two weeks in California.

Lunch with the Pacific in the distance

Lunch with the Pacific in the distance

At the top we find a cell phone tower which allows me to Instagram pictures to family and friends.  After we deboot and desock with the Pacific Ocean in front of us, we feast on our homemade pb and j at a picnic table at the summit.

Atop La Cumbre Peak

Atop La Cumbre Peak

Hannah calls this a “good workout.” You know her standards are high when we hike two hours up over 3000 feet to La Cumbre Peak at 3995′. Great Day Hikes in Santa Barbara rates the Tunnel Trail as 4 of 5 for difficulty. It’s a workout but not a killer one or a hike that has you begging for mercy.  Over the next sweet two hours of downhill, we feel our knees creak, but that is small price to pay to hike in California in January.

At trail's end after four hours of glorious hiking above Santa Barbara

At trail’s end after four hours of glorious hiking above Santa Barbara

Twenty minutes by car back to our Quality Inn, we celebrate as Dan and Hannah are wont to do – poolside with Dos Equis on ice.  Let our California bite of  Maine winter begin.

Tunnel Trail rating: Four stars.  It’s for macho women and men.  That said, we did it and so can you if you think four hours under the sun in January is your idea of a good time.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Tunnel Trail in the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara, California

The Santa Ynez Mountains from our downtown motel

The Santa Ynez Mountains from our downtown motel

A mere ten minutes from our downtown Santa Barbara motel we turn left on to the winding Tunnel Road heading to the mountains and roadside trailhead parking.  It’s a mid-morning in January and the temperature is a Mediterranean 75F without a cloud in the sky.

TT fire warning sign at start of the trail

Climbing the weathered paved trail into the mountains for a good ¾ of a mile, we are looking for the seven-mile round-trip Jesusita Trail.

Spanish – the language of passion and melody.  I missed a golden opportunity to learn Spanish when I taught many Chicano kids in the Phoenix, AZ area for eight years in the 1970s.  Just say Jesusita (Hey-sue-see-ta).  It’s lyrical and flows off the tongue.

For a second day the trails are poorly marked.  We see one sign for the Jesusita Trail and then we are on our own.   With a hike of 1200 foot gain (i.e., from the lowest point on the trail to the highest there is a difference of 1200 feet), we are looking for a good three hour workout on our last day in Santa Barbara.

What we guess is the trail is a steep climb up a wide fire road.  That doesn’t sound right, but we see no alternative.  Straight up the hill we trudge. One half mile later the trail dead-ends at the base of one of the most beautiful transmission towers you have ever seen.  I’m kidding.  It is the typical erector set tower that is kin to the tacky, garish highway billboard.  We have no sense that the trail exits from this plateau.  With no intention of bushwhacking through the brush, we say no mas.

TT han inching up trail

TT han inching down from trail

The climb down from the transmission tower is worse.  The dry, loose stone trail has us slip, sliding away.  We brace our legs and inch side-saddle down the quote trail.  Hannah hugs the side of the trail knowing this can’t be good for her once broken left leg.  We escape and, as we did yesterday, look for a Plan B.

TT tunnel trail sign

We double back down the trail to the Tunnel Trail sign.  What the heck?  Let’s give it a go.  It’s billed as a 9 to 11 mile hike so today we will not reach the summit of the nearly 4000’ La Cumbre Peak, the highest peak in Santa Barbara.  But 40 minutes up and then 40 back will give us a solid morning of hiking.  Goats have worked this trailhead to clear vegetation to minimize the fire danger.

Hannah takes to the switchbacks of the Tunnel Trail

Hannah takes to the switchbacks of the Tunnel Trail

In Great Day Hikes in Santa Barbara by Diane Soini we learn that the Tunnel Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the area.   A YELP review is encouraging – Great hike.  Took me about 5:30h roundtrip, but that’s b/c I did take lunch and take time to eat at the top.  A tough, sweaty 3h up, and a relatively easy 2h down.

Pacific Ocean from the TunnelTrail

Pacific Ocean from the Tunnel Trail

Immediately we fall in love with the trail.  Generally just wide enough for one, the trail has switchbacks that make the mountain ascent a challenge but very doable.  Hiking through the chaparral and brush country under a cloudless sky, I feel like we are in a desert landscape something similar to what you would find at South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona.  In the midst of this terrible drought in California, every so often we see a yellow flower the size of a small button.

Dan hiking the Front Country of the Tunnel Trail

Dan hiking the Front Country of the Tunnel Trail

From the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper – Long-term water planners are now suggesting the state is in the worst water predicament since the 1880s.  Grabbing national headlines is the fact that 17 communities throughout California are now officially without water. Hydro geologists are tossing about the term “mega-drought”… 

It’s a serious, steady, challenging climb under a full sun.  With what we imagine is the summit always in view, we know that we will return next winter to hike the entire Tunnel Trail.

University of California at Santa Barbara

University of California, Santa Barbara

After some time by the pool for Hannah at our motel and a siesta for me, we take The 101 highway north in the late afternoon to see the campus of UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara).  A good three or four miles from town right on the Pacific Ocean, this campus of 21,000 students reflects the melting pot that is California.  Caucasian students (39%),  Hispanics (29%), Asian students (23%), and American-Africans (4%) make up most of the student body.

Bike racks in the late afternoon

Bike racks in the late afternoon

We notice the campus is made for biking.  Bike paths cross the campus like an intricate morning spider web.  With signs promising a $181 fine for bike riders taking short cuts off the bike paths, I don’t see a single bike rider pedaling off any bike path during our hour on campus.

Recycling at UCSB

Recycling at UCSB

And aren’t these bins so California!  As a New Jersey kid I always thought that all the social and cultural trends began in California, jumped to the East Coast then oozed from the West and East into the rest of the country.  You do remember that California was the first to have “right on red” turns for drivers before anywhere else in the country.

TT york and sb temps

We are sold on the California coast.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Inspiration Point in the Front Country of Santa Barbara, California

IP map of SB

Located ninety miles north of Los Angeles on the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is often referred to as the “American Riviera” because of its geography and climate similar to that of the French Riviera.  The Santa Ynez Mountains are a backdrop to this city of 88,000 whose average high temperature ranges from 65F in January to 76F in August.  Is that about perfect or what!

With peaks over 4000’, the Santa Ynez Mountains provide us with trailheads within ten minutes of town.  The Great Day Hikes in Santa Barbara by Diane Soini whets our appetite with the seductive sounding – Three Pools Beyond Seven Falls!  It’s the first hike featured in our guidebook.  It’s got to be a winner, winner, chicken dinner.

IP parking

We are warned about parking.  Be careful to park with your tires completely within the line or you will be towed.  They are not kidding about that.  That puts enough fear into us so we obediently do as we are told.  At the end of the serpentine Tunnel Road from town there are maybe 15 to 20 parking spots.  Plenty more lie further down the road among the Mediterranean-style haciendas of the foothills.

IP D at first gate

The trail begins on a fractured eight to ten foot wide paved road.  It’s a fire road at best with no regular vehicular traffic.  With access to many of the Tunnel Trails, the weathered tar path climbs steadily into the nearby mountains of the Los Padres National Forest.  On this near 80 degree January Wednesday afternoon under an Arizona sky (not a cloud), we see many other hikers in conversation and loving life.

IP H on first part of trail

After three quarters of a mile we bear left, guessing that this is the trail.  On a trail that is not well-marked, we cross what appears to be a river bottom of Mission Creek.  The California drought of 2014 has taken its toll on this parched stream-bed.  It looks like a better home for Gila Monsters than polliwogs and minnows.  There is no water, no pools; soon we are bushwhacking and climbing boulders.

In the direct sun, we have chaparral and scrub brush scraping our legs.   With no other hikers in sight, we abandon ship and retrace our steps.  There will be no pools or falls for us today.

IP on 7 pools rocks

Then we hit the jackpot.  Inspiration Point seems to be the hike of choice for what I am guessing are gaggles of UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara) students on the trail during the first week of the spring semester.  Though the guidebook calls it a moderate hike, every hike in the Front Country of Santa Barbara is a steady climb.  Warned of kamikaze bike riders by our author, we find that a bit of hyperbole; the two mountain bikers that we see pause and slowly pedal by us.  On our first full day in California, we are falling for the warm weather and the active lifestyle in a big way.

IP dry river bed

Trail to Inspiration Point

Trail to Inspiration Point

The trail to Inspiration Point is obvious though not really well-marked either.  With other hikers coming down from the summit, we know we are on the right track of this 3.5 mile round-trip hike that takes us to the top in about an hour.

The drought is severe and widespread.  We are in the quote rainy season and the land is burnt and withered.  We could be in Maricopa County (the desert county where we lived in Tempe, AZ).   Trees and brush are gasping for water.  Is the Sonoran Desert of Arizona spreading to the coast?  Will water replace oil as the most precious and fought over natural resource?

IP map of drought

In a dry year, rainfall can be less than six inches here.  By comparison, Phoenix, AZ averages 7 to 10 inches per year.   By the way, snow has not fallen within the city, though there were a few flakes in 1939.  Santa Barbara must draw snowbirds from New England and the Midwest by the yard-full.

IP H with sunlight to IP

The switchbacks make for an easy climb on a day of full sun; by the way, it’s 20 degrees in York, Maine today.  The shade of the chaparrals is a welcome relief.

The Pacific Ocean in the distance

The Pacific Ocean in the distance

Catching glimpses of the Pacific Ocean at various points on the trail, Hannah and I know we are the fortunate ones who can travel mid-winter.  Just yesterday morning we left snowy New England where its residents are hunkering down under the threat of snow and for another cold winter’s day and night.

Inspiration Point

Inspiration Point

Atop the mountain at 1750’, we just smile at our good fortune as we look over the foothills and shoreline of Santa Barbara.

California has its hooks in me.  Our friend Tree’s statement (I want to be somewhere in the winter where I can be active outside.) resonates with me today as it did when she said it a month ago in Maine.

Some 43 years ago I began my teaching career at Patrick Henry Elementary School some 120 miles to the south in Anaheim, California.  As a 22 year old, the allure of freedom and possibilities of California drew me West.  Today the soothing, swaying rhythm of the Mamas and Papas California Dreamin’ plays over and over in my head and runs deep in my soul.

IP Mamas and Papas 2

Dan and Hannah Say Good-bye to Dan’s Mom

Santa Barbara palms

Santa Barbara palms

It’s a sunny January day in the 80s in Santa Barbara, California.  Though it is the rainy season in the Golden State, there has been little rain for months, really years.  The hills and fields are parched and baked a dusty brown.  The drought is epic and serious; the very modest silver lining is that conditions are ideal for hikers like Hannah and me.

After hiking the beach at high tide in Summerland ten miles to the south, Hannah and I are resting at our Quality Inn motel prior to an afternoon hike to Inspiration Point in the Front Range of the Santa Inez Mountains near Santa Barbara.

Hannah at Summerland beach near Santa Barbara

Hannah at Summerland beach near Santa Barbara on another cloudless day in California

Then my sister Patty calls with news that Mom’s doctor has given her permission to stop eating and drinking; in addition to lung cancer, Mom’s body is no longer absorbing nutrients anyway.  I learn that without food or water people can last one or two weeks, maybe more; especially someone as fit as Mom who was still going to the gym six days a week at the age of 92.

Now Mom is in northern New Jersey and I am some 3000 miles away on the coast of California.  What is a good son to do?

Mom at 92

Mom at 92

My impulse is to return immediately to New Jersey on the next flight out of LAX, the Los Angeles airport some 70 miles to the south.  The dramatic gesture!

USA map

Is it selfish for me to stay in California on a hiking vacation while her life is rapidly closing?  I am unsure and unsteady.  My core beliefs about meaningful relationships and friendships bang up against these first instincts.

Our local York coffee shoppe

Our local York coffee shoppe

For me, I believe that love is shown by a lifetime of moments together, breakfasts and dinners, road trips, and making soup and biscuits for another, not the showy once-a-year appearances, beautiful flowers, or expensive gifts.  It’s listening when another’s heart is heavy.  It’s going out for coffee to just talk.   It’s playing Words With Friends on the computer on a daily basis to stay connected.  It’s checking in regularly.  It’s celebrating a small victory or large, be it making the team or having the girl of your dreams say “yes” to a first date.  It’s the long line of moments that cement relationships and make them real.

For me, grand gestures of love are overrated.  It’s the day-to-day, consistent interest and care for another that builds strong relationships.  Mom and I have a 66 year backlog of such love, such regular times together.

Still, what does a good son do when his mother has chosen to take such a definitive final step on her life journey?

And then as the universe and God so often do, my sister’s husband Glenn provides the simple advice that parts the clouds and lets the sun stream through.

He says, Ask her what she wants you to do.   Brilliant.  Rather than tie myself in knots of duty, guilt, and misplaced obligation, I can ask her.

Still of very clear of mind, Mom responds to my question whether she would like Hannah and me to come back East to be with her now by emphatically saying, Absolutely not.  That would be nonsense.

The bluffs of Montana De Oro State Park, California

The view from the bluffs of Montana De Oro State Park, California

And that’s that.  Hannah and I will continue as planned up the Pacific coast to hike the ocean bluffs near Pismo Beach, Santa Cruz, and Gualala, California for the coming week.  I know there are no guarantees that Mom will be alive when we return.  Yet I know I have had 66 bountiful years as her son.

I am at peace, for our relationship is strong.  I respect her decision.  I trust her.  I don’t want to be so arrogant to think that I know better than she does whether I should return or not.

Each morning at 630A Pacific time I check in with her by phone, for she is up and about at 930A on the East coast.  We talk and she still wonders what we are doing and where we are.  I fill her on hikes at Montana De Oro State Park near of San Luis Obispo and the bluff trail at the Wilder Ranch State Park near Santa Cruz just south of San Francisco.

Bluff trail near Santa Cruz, California

Bluff trail near Santa Cruz, California

Each night I read to her over the phone from Garrison Keillor’s Homegrown Democrat, a book she loves as a lifelong Democrat herself.  Mom lives what Democrats believe: promoting the common good, serving others, being generous of heart, being optimistic, and living with hope.    We stay connected and she knows she is loved 3000 miles away.

Homegrown Democrat

As fate or the universe or God would have it, Mom is alive nine days later when I arrive in New Jersey at her senior living apartment.  That first night her three children (my brother Richard, sister Patty, and I) sit with Mom as she lies in bed.  We toast her life, tell her how beautiful she is and how much we love her, sing to her, and say good-bye to our mother.  She believed in us throughout our lives and took control of her last days.

She passed peacefully three days later.

Mom (eight days before she died)

Mom (eight days before she died)