Monday, December 10, 2012

The Nut Lady

A few years ago, most of my holiday shopping was canceled due to an accident involving my left foot and the backdoor step. The diagnosis: a fracture. It was s Saturday. Wrapped in a temporary splint, I was sent home from the hospital on crutches to wait six days for my doctor's appointment. There would be no Christmas shopping.

            My sister joked, "You have options. You can do a lot of damage online."

            That wasn't my option. I loved to hunt for the perfect gift. The crisp pine-spiced air, bejeweled shop windows, and the kindness of strangers lifted my spirits.

            The holidays are merry days at our house. We are a mixed faith household, Jewish and Catholic, spiritual rather than religious, with two apathetic sons. Our family believes in rituals like lighting a menorah and decorating a Christmas tree. We fry latkes and bake Christmas cookies. I believe the holidays are both a time to absorb joy (mostly through food) and to reflect joy, give goodies to others. And, I know this to be true, the kind renderings of the heart add to my happiness. 

            David, my husband, is a computer doctor. This allows him the opportunity to visit many homes. His clients are generous during the holidays. We've received bottles of wine, boxes of chocolates, and that season, two pounds of shelled walnuts came home along with a repair job. 

            Could I let them go to waste? In past years, when the walnut supply from neighboring trees was cheap and aplenty we found a great recipe for candied nuts. We gifted them to everyone for the holidays. Now it looked as though we were back in business with a new source. Couldn't I gift the nuts again? My foot was my first concern.

            David suggested, "Sit on a stool and stir. What's so hard about that?" 

            Now my David isn't mean-spirited. He just likes candy, and these nuts are small bits of bliss. They crunch in the mouth in the most satisfying way. One is tricked into thinking that nut candy is healthy. Whole handfuls can disappear in seconds.

            That year the first day of Hanukkah was three days before Christmas. In preparation, I stirred batch after batch of nuts. It was insanity with my injury, but I stopped often to prop up my foot. On the eve of Hanukkah we lit candles and said a blessing. For dinner we fried latkes and ate them with applesauce.

The night of Christmas Eve we drank eggnog with the neighbors, and later examined our supply of gift candy. Seven lucky recipients of nuts were on my list. Some of the batches, I split in two, because they were for a household of one. This solution might have confused my math, because while counting my inventory I found eight gift-wrapped packages.     


            I checked the list again. Was someone forgotten? Should we rip open the last package and eat them? No. Better to have too much than not enough, whispered my mother in my ear. I put the little package with its paper bow aside. 

            Eight o'clock, Christmas Eve, there was a knock at the door. Our friends, a couple from across town, came by to pick up a laptop. It was a present that my husband had ordered for their son. They surprised us with fudge and Christmas cookies, and not just a small amount, three varieties of fudge and four types of cookies.   

            For this magnitude of giving, I felt obligated to take action. The card I sent them didn't seem enough. I hugged them and thanked them, but that didn't seem enough. Then I saw the dandy little package set aside. No note attached. Perfect.

            A miracle! 

            Number eight, my last batch of walnut candy! A miracle on Christmas Eve! Like the miracle birth of the baby Jesus! Like the miracle of light lasting eight days for the menorah!

            Was I nuts? 

            Yes.  And now I am known as the nut lady. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Poetry as Art

Our Napa County Poet Laureate, Leonore Wilson, is working on a great project with Arts Council of Napa Valley to create broadsides (framed poetry). I am honored to have one of my poems (read below) included in the show! According to Leonore, the broadsides will be touring businesses around Napa. Hope you have a chance to see my poem displayed and can read it along with others in person now appearing at Alexis Bakery and Cafe, 1517 Third St., Napa, CA.

When We Go to Lunch

We shall all wear hats
And long floral skirts in the garden
We’ll sip lavender tea and sparkling wine
And agree to surrender our burdens 

When we go to lunch we shall trust that our hats
Hold most of our secrets within
We’ll eat all our words from silver spoons
And tighten silk bows at our chins

All of our hats shall have a wide brim
To protect the aging of skin
All of our hats shall shadow raised brows   
From the gossip we revel in

When we go to lunch we shall try other hats
Stylish or garish or sweet
When we go to lunch we shall dare all our hats
To flee when we sit down to eat

Barbara with her broadside.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Traffic Jamming

We call them the Wheeler family
Follow their trailer full of wheeled possessions
Toy trucks, bikes, coolers, and tubs
Back into town
Usually we whiz right by here
Now we can see everything
Including the wings on a lady bug
A joke, but it’s true
Hot pink poppies
In the golden brush
Signs: Step in
Taste our Zin
DINER, Biscuits and Gravy
A rusty garden
Of metal sculptures
A real garden
Trucks, tractors stand
In their oxidized frames
Of another generation
At the Vineyard Hotel
Swimming pool
Nobody swims
And the little magnolia tree
Blooms big and white
At it’s center
Up ahead
White Suburban
Leaves big gap in line
The nerve
Of some people
Cherry stands
Make us hunger for dinner
The Boon Fly Café
Has the best sign

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Party in Agat

Our Guam bunker still stands after
weathering many typhoons.
Supertyphoon Pamela
tequilla shots and San Miguel Beer
Our beachside home
is common
built to withstand storms
I am not
We slug drinks
in shuttered rooms
gawk through
our unguarded door
gray with a mad wind
Pamela is merciless
the ocean is coming for us
rain pummeling
I am afraid
reduced to a mop
wringing my hands
The bathroom toilet
a whirlpool
flushing itself
Pamela groans
electricity pops
gathering round the radio
rallies us in the dark
Oh lovely tropic ranch
mango papaya banana
plumeria and bougainvillea
my typhoon paradise
This is no party
Guam is a mess
This poem is a sample from a new chapbook project in the works.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Labyrinth

This poem is an affirmation of our love and support
for Anne and her excellent health


One foot in front of the other
Experiencing and sharing its beauty
Slowing down
Being in touch with Mother Earth
In great company and energy

The earth beneath my feet
Stirs my inner journey

Prayer is such a simple thing
A gift to send to Anne
She is here
Says the wind

As I train my mind to listen
A little bird cocks its head
At last I notice

Looking up from the path to spy
Rocky curves ahead of me
Throws me into fear of failing
Until I see the path knows

Memorial stones inspire
“Live in the now
It is home”

Moving through circles
My destination being center
This uneven trail like life
I go within
I am present

The Labyrinth clears
Answers are profound
Meaningful and beautiful
Notice the shadows intertwined
Among friends and the setting sun

By Barbara Toboni and the following contributing members of Napa Meditation Circle: Jacqueline Eigen, Donna DeWeerd, Marlene Gerosa, Jackie Fisher, Jean Cullinane, Sharyn Fuller, Vivienne Brandi, and Jessie McDermott  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

China Town: Finding Fu

China Town
Sherron had fond memories of a trip she took to San Francisco’s China Town several years ago with her father, Gordon (not present this trip.) Originally from Hawaii, Gordon is of Chinese descent, and more acquainted with the China Town of Vancouver, British Columbia. We missed Gordon this time, but as my husband pointed out someone had to keep working to fund this trip.

What? I remind Dave, in this day and age, it is perfectly acceptable for women to fund their own trips, and too, someone has to spend money otherwise what good is work?

This day we had important shopping work to do; Sherron wanted to find her favorite treat, ginger candy. What my niece wants she shall have! A good idea—have a plan when shopping. On our list, ginger candy, souvenirs for Nan, and I wanted a memento to mark the occasion.

Dragon on building
In order to distract Dave, we put him in charge of the camera. He’s not much for shopping, but had his eyes full examining the Chinese architecture, calligraphy, and snazzy red lanterns strung everywhere. “Don’t you think these lanterns would look good in our back yard?” 

“No, Dave, don’t see big red lights for our back yard on the list, here.”

Shops stuffed to capacity drew me in, as I immersed myself in trinket, t-shirt, and candy sorting affairs. That’s when I noticed the dragons, figurines made of jade, wood, and stone in all sizes, enchanting creatures. It seemed fitting I should want to own one; in Chinese astrology, 2012 is the year of the dragon.   

Dragons are supposed to bring fu. Would this dragon bring me luck? I couldn’t resist a small one —at the right price—cheap.  A dragon of my very own. I felt lucky already, but would its magical powers help us find Sherron’s candy?  “Ginger,” I whispered into dragon’s ear.

Viola! Moments later, Sherron emerged from a shop carrying a small sack. “Is that what I think it is?”

She smiled and waved her crinkly wrapped treats. Soon after, Nancy found a souvenir for Gordon. “This is perfect,” she cried out from the back of a jam-packed lucky cat and dragon, teacup, purse and post card store—a “Got Rice” t-shirt. According to Nan, “Gordon says this all the time.”

Dragon accompanied us through the rest of our day in San Francisco yielding a delicious dinner at North Beach Restaurant followed by a show at Club Fagazi, Beach Blanket Babylon.

This post is the last in my series of Nan’s surprise visit. I’m a lucky gal. Full of fu you may say, and back home I put Fu to work assisting me with his magical powers blessing the submission files on my desk.

Do you have a memento that brings you luck?   

Friday, June 1, 2012

Part II: City of Saxophones

Barb, Dave, Sherron, Nan
With clam chowder cravings satisfied we strolled Pier 39, poked into shops, and let our senses lead us through the crowd of afternoon visitors. Street performers entertained, some talented and some not, including Tree Man (my name for him) a gristly fellow wearing a faded camouflage shirt crouched behind a trash receptacle clutching a dead tree branch for cover. His gimmick, to jump out at folks and demand money for scaring the crap out of them, failed.

Another charmer, bearded and unkempt, Jingle Man, sang “Jingle Bell Rock,” changing the lyrics to suit his thirsty need. “Jingle Bell, jingle bell, jingle bell drunk, give me some money for a jingle bell drink, etc…” 

“At least he’s singing, doing something in exchange for money,” Dave said. Christmas carols in April? No pull on my heartstrings! Most paused to laugh and kept their change.

The real talent drew bigger crowds. Knife Juggler, was sharp to watch, as was Rubberband Man, who rubbernecked dozens of tourists at a time. Saxophone Player, I couldn’t locate, but the tunes were lovely. Could be the music was canned. It seems whenever I visit San Francisco there is a saxophone playing nearby. They ought to call this place the City of Saxophones.

The Bay Bridge
Great views awaited at the end of the pier, but we didn't linger too long, Sherron and Nan wanted to visit China Town. More San Francisco adventures and pictures to come. Share a comment about your latest adventure.

Ben & Jerry or Dave & Barb?

(Click on my link to the right, Napa Writers Network, to see other writerly projects.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

San Francisco Sights: Part I

Golden Gate Bridge
In my last post I introduced my sister's surprise visit. Sherron, my niece, was excited to see our city by the bay and suggested a double-decker bus tour, but after I checked prices, and Dave's willingness to drive, we decided to take the mini-van. Dave's knowledge of the city (he was born there) would suffice for tour guide. On the agenda: Fisherman's Wharf, China Town, and Lombard Street. The Golden Gate Bridge drenched in sunlight, also a must-see, was an inspiring start to our afternoon. I shot a quick picture through the windshield to catch a wisp of cloud.

Lombard Street
First up, or should I say down, Lombard, once we located the tippy-top cross street. Dave finally asked a local for directions after several failed attempts of extracting the information from memory. What a view from atop this Russian Hill neighborhood before our van tip-toed through the switch-backs lurching along like a stalled roller coaster. Perfectly groomed houses with trim yards, marching tourists, and too many cameras, had us wondering what life might be like for those that lived indoors. Did they ever tire of lookie loos?

Onward to Fisherman's Wharf in search of our lunch and more with our much loved tour guide. He steered the van precariously through the city pointing out buildings he had worked on as a cement mason in his former life. Quite interesting, Dave! We found parking, a miracle, and Sherron found what she had been wishing for among the food vendors, and barking attendants, a sourdough bread bowl filled with clam chowder. "What my niece wants, she shall have," I proclaimed.

With steaming bowls we headed in the direction of Pier 39. There didn't seem to be any tables nearby, so when I spotted an empty bench we all sat down to feast, and immediately Nan reached around to strip off her sweater. In the process, she knocked Sherron's hunk of bread off her cardboard tray. It flipped to the ground. "GEEEEZ Mom!" Sherron said. I think this quote is a cleaned up version of what she really said, but I couldn't hear well.
Alcatraz Island

And so we began to feast not knowing that very soon there would be a line forming in front of us full of excited tourists speaking in foreign tongues, German or Scandinavian (I’m no expert). They waited to board a boat to Alcatraz Island. We ate, they watched. One woman with wire-rimmed glasses stared so intently at me, while I spooned my soup, that I almost offered her my leftovers. I ate quickly.

Stay tuned for more.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Two weeks before my birthday Nan, my older sister, called to tell me the news. "Are you sitting down?"

Instead of the the bad news that I expected she shared that in just 2 weeks she was flying out to visit me for my birthday from Washington. And that's not all, my niece, Sherron, would join us too from Arizona. Shock of shocks! I haven't seen Sherron in about 8 years.

"What a great present!" I squealed into the phone. "I'll tell Dave and the boys right away."

"No need. They've known since January," she told me.

"Those bums kept this a secret since January?"

Geez. I had to clean the house. No time for spring cleaning. Dirty windows stayed dirty, spotty carpets  stayed spottty, and our plans to paint the bathroom? We settled for touch-ups. The yard's pruning, weeding, mowing, and clipping took place between rain showers.

I washed everything in the house, walls, floors, corners, counters, the fridge, and the coffee pot. I almost washed the cat, and I gave my sister updates on my exploits for the next 10 days while we made plans.

It seemed Mother Nature was doing some washing too, rain right up to the day they arrived, and then April skies cleared to a brilliant hue the moment Nan and Sherron stepped off their planes at the Oakland airport. Sherron brought sunshine from Arizona, and Nan left the rain in Washington.

What a wonderful birthday surprise! More trip notes and pictures to come.
Sherron & Nan


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ed Returns

(Previous post, Free, continues)

Two days after The Zelda Incident, Roxie Petersen peered out her front room window, the one that faced the Sullivans’ ranch-style house across the street. Ed and Zelda Sullivan had moved to the quiet town of Langhorne, a suburb of Los Angeles, three years ago. Ed told the Petersens that The Gateway Retirement Community seemed the perfect fit with their two sons grown and leading their own lives.  

Roxie spied Ed’s jeep pulling into the driveway and quickly sent her husband, Buzz, out the door and over to talk to him. Did he know what had happened while he was gone? The two men stood in the driveway, Ed a head taller than Buzz. Both men had the thinning gray hair of middle age, and each wore faded jeans and open-necked shirts, their bodies tan from mowing lawns and tending summer gardens. Just one thing made them different. Roxie swooned whenever Ed was around. Buzz well...Roxie didn’t remember swooning.

Roxie hid her feelings from Zelda, because the two women were friends, but she knew the couple had problems. One problem, Ed’s Junk Addiction. A junk addiction could be overlooked if you had Ed’s charm. She wondered what the men were saying.


Ed was weary after his three-day-long camping trip, one of several he took each year with his four-wheel-drive club. He planned to flop onto the livingroom couch with a beer, but instead he listened to Buzz describe the details of that day. Ed thought about his 30 year marriage to Zelda, and their move to Langhorne. The Gateway Community seemed the peaceful lifestyle his wife craved. Why couldn’t she be happy? He was. So he was a clutter-bug as she liked to call him. So what?  Was that any reason to go nuts?

“Buzz, are you happily married?” Ed asked.

“Well sure, Ed. Roxie and I have been married 35 years. Oh, we fight now and then, but no one goes over the edge.” Buzz immediately regretted that last remark. He apologized. “I better be going Ed, but if there’s anything you need let me know.”

“Thanks Buzz. I’ve got some calls to make. See you later.” He turned to go inside the house, nearly tripping over the four cardboard boxes on the porch full of his belongings. It angered him to think of Zelda dumping his stuff in the yard.

For old time’s sake, Ed tossed his dirty cap onto the kitchen table. Zelda hated dirt. The last time he did that she hollered at him. Ed grabbed a beer, and flopped onto the couch. He propped his boots up on the coffee table and smiled.

Monday, March 19, 2012


After Zelda cleared her desk and dusted the shelves she felt liberated. Old photographs and miscellaneous clutter had been piling up for years. The worst of it, pictures of dead relatives. She had felt obligated to surround herself with family while she wrote stories about them, but now the stories were stored in her computer. Zelda didn’t need the jumble of faces anymore, eyes peering down at her, watching her fingers as she typed. She’d had enough of their stuffy influence over everything she wrote, their collected stares. Now she was free to think on her own and write stories without them.

Next to Zelda’s desk the closet door had been left open. On one shelf a sizable storage box held hundreds more photographs. A lot of the pictures were Ed’s. She wouldn’t touch his, just hers. He’d have to deal with his pictures later. But she didn’t know when that would be because Ed was the clutter-bug in their marriage.

If Ed weren’t around she’d get rid of everything. Zelda hated clutter. She remembered a time when her office was free of this sentimental nonsense. A time when everything was clean and simple, her mind clear, so she could think.

In the morning Zelda’s house was swarming with police. Neighbors had observed the woman, clad only in a slip, carrying pile after pile of belongings into her front yard.

One bystander reported, “She must have been working all night.” 

Another asked, “Where’s Ed?”

In the institution Zelda’s room was stark white. A bed stood against one wall, a desk and chair against another. On the desk, one lamp, one pad of lined paper, and one pen, her only possessions. Free of clutter. She smiled.

(This story is an experiment in the flash fiction genre. I hope to be adding more stories, related to this one, in the future.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Inspiration: It's All Around Us

Inspiration is all around us. It comes to me through my senses, seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling, it is what moves me to pick up a pen. Inspiration sends goose-bumps up my arms or chills down my spine. It is a fleeting thing and I have to take notice before it is gone.

For example: After my mother had been dead many years, I came across her perfume in a department store. The familiar scent brought back vivid memories. “My mother was in that bottle…” I later wrote in a poem.

Another poem was inspired by an image. Three beach girls spin by on bikes… legs straight as stems…blond ponytails, a fan of sunflowers…descend the gravel road…” This poem led me to recall my own youth, and many joyful days spent with friends at the beach.  

Inspiration can also be an aha moment. My autistic son, Chase, ran track in high school. One day while watching him run a race I was inspired to write the story, “Track Star.” Chase was a proud member of the varsity track team. He told anyone that would listen that he was a track star. My aha moment comes at the end of the story. “…Chase walks to the bleachers and sits down. I hear him tell one of the kids, ‘I run varsity. I’m a track star.’ The kid smiles at Chase. I smile because he kept running right to the end. This time he finished almost last, but there would be more races. The kids who come in last learn the hardest lessons—how to run against the odds.”

Inspiration can come in conversation. A friend and I had attended a poetry event at our local library. Speakers stood at a podium set in front of a floor-to-ceiling window. The audience had a view of the vineyard beyond the glass. A little bunny hopped about while we listened to each poet read. Later I told my friend that I had enjoyed the program both the poets and the bunny. “The Poet and the bunny, what a wonderful title for a children’s story,” my friend said. I agreed and used the title later for a picture book project.    

Nature is a great source of inspiration. I often take walks down a nearby vineyard lane. To feel the warming sun, to hear birds call, or see a field turned bright with yellow mustard. That is all I need for inspiration. It’s waiting just outside my door.

What inspires you?

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Below is a poem written a few years ago to my valentine, Dave. "He's a great hugger," my Aunt Annie told me when she first met Dave. We went to visit her in PA after we were married and she hosted a wedding reception for us. Aunt Annie, in her 80's now, knew from just one hug that I had made a good choice. She's right. Hope you all have hugs this Valentine's Day that remind you of what a gift it is to be loved.

Hugging You

is like diving
into an envelope

folded neatly in thirds
words tucked in

wrapped in ribbon
for safe-keeping

Share how you feel about hugs.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


My old ones have split at the seams              
before holiday dinners
my waistline was thinner
sadly I know what this means

Today I shop for new jeans
I sort through the rows
of sizable clothes
extending now into the teens
sadly I know what this means

Today I shop for new jeans
plate after plate
of the goodies I ate
blew my diet to smithereens
sadly I know what this means

Today I shop for new jeans
I’ve been to the gym
and still can’t get slim
it’s harder to do than it seems
sadly I know what this means

Today I shop for new jeans
I stand on the scale
as my face starts to pale
how could this happen I scream
sadly I know what this means

Today I shop for new jeans
I bump into Sue
She must need jeans too
I’m so glad it isn’t just me
sadly I know what this means

Do you need to shop for new jeans?