A Breath of Fresh Air

People are coming out of the woodwork to campaign for her. There’s a movement happening in my neighborhood, and it’s huge. Well, okay, it’s pretty big. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we all were cast in one of those feel-good Hallmark movies.

It’s real and the energy is palpable, and it’s wonderful.

Let’s back it up a bit. In this interminable campaign, we’ve slung garbage at ourselves and the world, and the rank air will linger. We’ve perfected “going negative” to a science. Candidates must attack in order to be taken seriously. Like it or not, it’s now part of our culture. Just watch TV; how many shows feature a group of people sitting around a table, all talking at the same time? Listening is out. We don’t debate; we point fingers in faces and yell louder. And we talk crude. Crude is in.

So now we’re exhausted. Families have turned against families, friends against friends. People are “unfriending” loved ones because they don’t see eye to eye and have lost respect for each other. There have been arguments, many arguments. It may have taken years to get everyone in the family on Facebook, but now, with one single click, we’ve cut our ties. Thanksgiving is at hand, but we’ve pared down our guest lists because we couldn’t possibly sit at the table with people who are enemies. How could we have been so blind? We were friends for ages!

And then we come back to a breath of fresh air: the local election in my neighborhood. There’s a woman running for City Council in my district. She’s amazing. Everybody here knows her. Everybody loves her. She’s the voice of optimism and know-how and tenacity and real caring. She has been working and volunteering for neighbors and kids for two and a half decades. She gets things done and really helps people. She shares her successes. And here’s something; she listens. She listens hard to what people are saying; instead of just getting the gist of the idea and forming a quick response as to why it’s never gonna work, she’s listening.

Helen could have gone negative. She had opportunities. Heck, there was a negative campaign against her. But in a way that is purely Helen Chapman, our neighborhood candidate put the facts out there. She quickly proved every word against her was false, posted the substantiating documents on her website immediately so the voters could see them for themselves, and then went on campaigning, fighting the good fight.

There is an impressive list of people and groups endorsing Helen Chapman and there’s a good reason for this. She’s the real deal. But more than that, this groundswell of neighbors coming out of the woodwork to support her, to phone bank and make assembly lines of literature and maps and to put flyers on doorknobs and to walk precincts introducing voters to the person we know to be so perfect for this job – this has been the greatest. There are family members helping and retired folks and moms and kids and old friends and new and former colleagues, and neighbors just wanting to help and people who have heard about her and who want to lend a hand. Volunteers who don’t even live in the district are participating in this positive campaign because it’s obvious that to this candidate, and pervasive throughout her campaign, people matter.

Helen is a role model. We are overjoyed that in our neck of the woods, so many of us who are coming out of the woodwork can focus on those old-fashioned Hallmark qualities of good character and honesty and a strong work ethic and positive energy and enthusiasm and a can-do spirit and successes for people, not on the backs of them. All of it. Helen has built strong relationships with the community; she’s a fabulous resource. She’s smart. Her word means something. She gets involved and stays with it for the long-run. She supports local businesses, and is adamant about using them to create her campaign materials. She’ll buy breakfast for her walkers – again supporting local businesses. Helen says that her number one special interest is her constituents, the residents of District 6 in San Jose, CA, and their concerns.

While making phone calls early in the campaign, I was asked to find out the areas of interest of voters of District 6. So when I made calls, first I introduced them to Helen, and then I asked the voters which issues specifically concerned them, their families and neighbors. Callers did not hang up on me. On the contrary, they were excited to talk to me and several people told me they were stunned; no one had ever asked them what was important to them and on their minds.

So as I leave my own woodwork today to spend the afternoon campaigning, I am enjoying that Hallmark experience of goodness. Yes, it’s a close election. Yes, we are working hard. Rancor among families and voters is pervasive nationally, but with this one race, where the candidate’s campaign slogan is “Working Together,” we embrace individuals. No unfriending here.  Oh yeah, and the air in this neighborhood, anyway, is clear and sweet.

Kathy Galgano

November 6, 2016





Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton

Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton (Photo by Kathy Galgano 11/6/2014)

Lick Observatory in the Diablo Range

Lick Observatory is high atop Mr. Hamilton in the Diablo Range (Photo by Kathy Galgano 11/6/2014)

This spring, I wrote about Lick Observatory, the world-class astronomical observatory research center and San Jose gem. Funded by the University of California, Lick’s days were numbered as U.C. was withdrawing its funding for this great institution of science and learning. For a refresher, you can check out my piece, “Keep It Open” at: https://kathygalgano.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/keep-it-open/ So here’s the news and yes, it calls for a drum roll!

The University of California will continue to fund Lick Observatory!

Phew. U.C. made the right call, and, you played a big part. Thank you, Readers, for your calls and letters to the U.C. President and the U.C. Board of Regents. Thank you, also, for contacting your local, state and federal officials, and a big thank you to these elected officials who worked hard to keep Lick Observatory the world-class facility it is. Thank you for letters to newspapers, and for your calls and letters to Lick Observatory, expressing your support. Most importantly, thank you all for keeping the conversation alive, and for your interest, care, concern and positive attitude that something could be done to keep this historic and important scientific observatory funded and operational.

Everybody wins!

Here are a few links announcing the great news:

UC overturns decision to withdraw all funding to Lick Observatory http://www.dailycal.org/2014/11/03/university-overturned-decision-withdraw-funding-lick-observatory/?fb_action_ids=10204291122349777&fb_action_types=og.likes

UC confirms continued support of Lick Observatory http://news.ucsc.edu/2014/11/Lick-support.html

University of California Observatories http://www.ucolick.org/


Thanks, U.C. And Thanks, folks.


Kathy Galgano

November 6, 2014



Aboard BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to San Francisco from the East Bay city of Fremont, a 20 mile drive north of my home in San José, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride on the rails. While driving to the station, I have to admit that even the usual aggravating sloth-paced Friday afternoon commuter lane crawl was enjoyable, all because my upbeat, recent college-grad niece accompanied me. I hugged my niece goodbye at the station, and we headed for separate trains. I was excited to hop on anything that would move gloriously faster than what we had just endured. If that thought wasn’t enough to keep my mood elevated, I was thrilled knowing that my vehicle was parked in a well-lit and patrolled lot in front of the station and, as I had timed my trip purposefully for a post-3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon departure, parking overnight for 24 hours into Saturday would be free. So not only was I spared the painfully slow freeway commute to the City, I also would not have to fork over big bucks to park there. BART would bring me very close to the Moscone Convention Center, so things were working out perfectly. Well, I believed that until I walked through the Powell Street Station in San Francisco.

I had not ridden BART in a long time, although weekly I look forward to my niece visiting us for a day or two from her place in the East Bay. I meet her outside the Fremont station; she sits on a bench if I’m running a few minutes late. My niece has never told me she has felt unsafe, and I have not witnessed people who make me worry about my niece’s safety. I see folks of all ages rushing in and out of the station and waiting for rides. However, after my walk through the Powell Street Station last Friday, I vowed to myself that I will not ride BART again into San Francisco as long as I have other available options.

I don’t think of myself as a “head in the sand” person, so my shock at seeing homeless person after homeless person, body after body, sleeping on the floor throughout the large Powell Street Station surprised me. No, that’s not accurate. It stunned me. Some people, men mostly, slept on flat pieces of corrugated cardboard. Others slept on the floor with a rolled-up sweatshirt under their head, with no cardboard separating themselves from the floor. Throughout the long underground station, many people had chosen to sleep next to a wall, but others had positioned themselves with their heads against the wall and their feet jutting into the corridor. As it is a wide corridor, at least I didn’t have to step over anybody. Some people sat propped up, and a few were eating. One man was talking to no one in particular, but overall, it was eerily quiet. Walking through the station I noticed two separate empty squares of cardboard, one set in a corner with a blanket on it, and the other against a wall. I figured these “beds” were already claimed. I looked at my watch; it was just after 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon on a bright and relatively warm day without precipitation. What would this place look like in a few hours when it grew dark? I consider myself a compassionate person, but honestly, I did not want to walk through the station at that time to get my answer. I was in shock.

My city, San Jose, has a large homeless population and I’m not immune to it. No one is, really. I choose to live in an urban neighborhood, so I see more homeless people than I would were I to live in a suburban or rural area. My neighbors and I do not turn a blind eye to people near us who are in need. Sometimes meals, clothing, and sleeping bags are accepted, and other times, they are not. Some of the homeless in my neighborhood are very kind people, though neighbors have not been able to engage them in lengthy conversation. At the park where I walk my dog, there is a constant discussion among neighbors as to what can be done, especially since people have been known to sleep on the school grounds. One man has called the school his home now for months and months. I was told that the school administrators have asked him to vacate the grounds when classes are in session, and he obliges. This gentleman uses a small space. There is always evidence that someone inhabits this space, as he may leave food containers or wrappers, trash, there, or some clothing that neighbors have given him. And there is always a rounded depression left in the tan bark where he sleeps.

Can a person live at a school? Other than asking him to leave the grounds during class time, the school does not take responsibility. They say they can’t. But isn’t the school responsible for the health and safety of its students and staff? This homeless man is not a safety threat; he has a gentle disposition and acknowledges us. However, there are other homeless people who have lived in the yard, or who have spent time there, and not all of them have been kind. One is belligerent, and I feel threatened when he is near. There may also be a health threat, even from the pleasant man.

When neighbors arrive to enjoy the park after school hours, conversations frequently progress from noticing if the homeless gentleman is in his usual spot, to asking if other homeless individuals have been seen at or near the school that day, and if anyone knows if they have eaten or accepted recent offers to help. We wonder what can be done when someone is living on the school grounds, as it just seems wrong. Neighbors discuss what obligation the school has to step in. We wonder how this man survived the bitter winter this year. We recognize that while there are more homeless in our neighborhood now, it is still a drop in the bucket compared to the large-scale homeless problem in San José. We discuss just how little the police can do, especially on a long-term basis, even when a person becomes belligerent and throws rocks at us (we do call the police for situations like that). We wish out loud that the long-term school resident would change from his tattered, filthy rags to the clothing that neighbors have given him, and we also wish that he would avail himself of neighborhood services for the homeless. If the man who lives at the school uses bathroom facilities in local businesses during the day, what about after hours? We wonder if local restaurant owners ask the homeless man to leave if he has been standing or sitting outside a business for a long period of time, though we don’t think they have done this. We ask ourselves if there is anything more that we can do. There must be city or county services available. However, just like refusing to wear new clothing, what happens if help is refused? Again, can people live at a school? We acknowledge that we shouldn’t always feel obligated to buy a coffee or a meal every time we walk by a homeless person. The problem is overwhelming and our frustration escalates. One of the neighbors described how one morning, when he was in line at a local coffee shop, a homeless man created a minor scene, talking loudly in the shop, and after he was asked to leave and was standing outside the premises, a patron handed him a hot cup of coffee. That worked; sometimes we see the humor in experiences. We talk about the future, the importance of a stellar education for our youth so they can live and work in society and make good decisions to help end the perpetuation of a cycle of living on the margins. We discuss it all as our dogs run back and forth in the side yard, chasing balls and having fun. And we make a decision as to how we exit the school grounds, which border two streets, depending on which homeless person is stationed where.

As a result of my experience at the Powell Street Station, I opted to take Caltrain to San Francisco and back each day to attend a convention. Not only is the San Jose Diridon train station only a mile from home, the San Francisco Caltrain station is even closer to the Moscone Center, and I did not have to file past dozens and dozens of homeless individuals in either of the stations. I breathed a sigh of relief. This was going to work for me.

While walking to the Diridon station very early one morning, I had to sidestep a man sleeping on the sidewalk of the underpass as I neared the station. I am fairly certain he was just sleeping, although I wasn’t sure; he looked very still. I’m assuming it was his hypodermic needle that I stepped over in the middle of the sidewalk. When I told this story to a colleague at the convention, she said that the night before, when she was walking through the Powell Street BART station and past the many, many homeless people, one homeless man was vomiting. She said it was bad. She didn’t know who was going to take care of it, and she was upset by it.

Sadly, that’s two of us now who are going to elect to start driving again to the City.

Kathy Galgano

June 7, 2014


I love Lick Observatory. It was built well over a hundred years ago on a peak that is 4,200 feet high in the Diablo Range to the east in San Jose. There are a number of domes at the observatory, and you can see them on the ridge from downtown San Jose and from around Silicon Valley.

Recently, the newly-hired President of the University of California, Ms. Janet Napolitano, announced that the facility will be closing for financial reasons. Since 1888, the University of California has operated Lick Observatory. Citizens, scientists, students, business leaders and political lawmakers have drafted letters and begun campaigns to save the observatory. Today, my U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren was one of 35 members of California’s Democratic Congressional delegation that urged the U.C. President to keep the observatory open. The text of the press release can be found at this address: http://lofgren.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=377280.

I, too, have written to Ms. Napolitano, and explained to her the positive impact this institution has had, and continues to have, on San Jose, greater Silicon Valley, the UC System, and the larger, global community. As a San Jose resident, I have felt a swelling of pride every time I have read an announcement, such as a discovery of a planet, hailing from the local observatory. I have driven up there many times over the years, for daytime tours of the facility and for evening summer programs. Years ago, in 1986 to be precise, I and many, many others drove the long and winding road built in the 1870s at a seven per-cent grade because that was the maximum for horses pulling large loads. Independently, people all over Santa Clara County chose the one viewing area they knew to be the best. The good people working at Lick Observatory did not sanction this event; it just happened. While most of us that night may have been unsophisticated in the night sky, two points were a given: First, Halley’s Comet was worth seeing, and second, Lick Observatory was the best place to view it unobscured, since it was soon to leave our field of view and not return for another 75 years. I am certain that no one drove down the mountain that night disappointed. Mars was gorgeous, too, if memory serves me correctly.

When touring the Lick facility, with its beautiful observatory buildings, the guide will probably tell you there are 365 curves in the road, one for every day of the year. True, it’s not the easiest road to drive, but can you imagine doing it on horseback or in a wagon? Once there, it’s an amazing sight. I remember looking east from atop this vantage point some years ago, clearly seeing the snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada range, about 130 miles away. Instantly, that image was indelibly captured in my mind’s eye. And while there is an old photograph that was taken from Mt. Hamilton of the Sierra Nevada range on display inside the visitors’ center, it’s the night-time work that goes on there that is, well, stellar. Just a very few of the discoveries at Lick are moons of Jupiter, asteroids, and planet systems, and now Lick scientists are using the first ever robotic telescope to find planets near stars close to earth. (http://news.ucsc.edu/2014/03/apf-telescope.html)

Lick Observatory is a jewel, physically, and metaphorically. It is the vista I seek every time I am a few blocks away from my home in my urban neighborhood in San Jose, and can look out to see the Diablo Range, and specifically, the highest point capped with white domes. The history of the observatory is fascinating. The science is top-notch. What I find inspirational is that as Silicon Valley is home to thinkers and scientists working on the most minute of scales, with computer designs smaller and operations faster, thinkers and scientists at Lick Observatory use the same precision to make discoveries in the largest of fields, our solar system and universe. It is fitting that San Jose, and Santa Clara Valley, be called “home” to the industry of science representing both scales of exploration.

I know that other sources of funding are being explored and ascertained by business and government leaders, and as a citizen, I urge you to keep this monument to history, science, and our future, fully operational. There are ways we can all help. Below I’ve added a few links so you can see for yourself this historic, remarkable facility that continues to do fabulous work.

If you’re a history buff, or if you just like a good tale, you’ll enjoy reading about the man, James Lick. There’s intrigue in this bio; he survived a storm at sea in South America only to be taken prisoner, and then made his escape. There’s a lot of talk of gold, and some of heartbreak, and idiosyncrasies (Lick had trees planted upside-down!), and chocolate, Domingo Ghiradelli’s chocolate, to be exact. James Lick figures prominently in the gorgeous Conservatory of Flowers open today in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. He almost had a giant pyramid built, but thankfully, science won that argument and the observatory came into being. Go to:

Click on the following link for fabulous photos: http://collections.ucolick.org/archives_on_line/bldg_the_obs.html

If you live in the area or are planning a trip, you can hear some great music this summer at 4,200 feet. The “Music of the Spheres” Concert series, held annually each summer, gives you two great reasons to visit Lick Observatory. Not only do you get to enjoy a concert, you will also observe through the Great Lick Refractor and the Nickel Reflector. Go to : http://www.ucolick.org/public/music.html

Lick Observatory offers another wonderful program each summer. You can observe through both the 36-inch Great Lick Refractor and the Nickel 40-inch Reflecting Telescope. Also, you will hear two speakers who will present programs even if the clouds or fog prohibit viewing. Check the web site for further information and to buy tickets, which are very reasonably priced. The Summer Visitors Program information is found at: http://www.ucolick.org/public/sumvispro.html

Whether you can get to Lick Observatory or not, you can help save it. Click on the link below to join “Friends of Lick Observatory.” http://www.ucolick.org/public/friends/index.html

Or, you can go to this page to: Make a donation; Get the address of UC President Janet Napolitano so you, too, can write to her; and Get the address of the UC Regents to send them some mail. But here’s what I really love — Lick Observatory wants to hear from you. Do you have any ideas to save this treasure? Click on: http://www.ucolick.org/SaveLick/help_save_lick.html

Thanks, folks.

Kathy Galgano
April 24, 2014






For all the years I have been visiting Andy’s Pet Shop in the building with the colorfully painted jungle animal murals covering the façade, and now at the large location in downtown San José, I have enjoyed the company and friendship of one Ruby. Always quick to greet me and everyone who walked through the glass doors, this gorgeous scarlet macaw welcomed all with an upbeat, “Hello Ruby!”

Kids loved her. Customers loved her. Visitors loved her. I loved her, and so did my dog Snowy, except perhaps when she bit him through the cage after she had kissed him with a lick. The staff loved her, although they wouldn’t be very happy with her when she went for the proverbial jugular, and immediately followed up the attempt of a bite with a cackle that had to make you smile.

It took months before I won Ruby’s confidence, but eventually I was able to stroke her soft feathers on the side of her head, and Ruby would close her eyes in relaxation and trust. And I would extend my index finger into the cage and Ruby would hold onto it with her talon and even stand on my finger perch. I couldn’t get too complacent, though; inevitably Ruby would make a move for my finger with her beak, and usually I pulled my hand away just in time, and my clever buddy would cackle. How she loved that game.

The first time I held her, she got me but good. I can’t remember if she drew blood, but I learned through conversation with the young and very talented staff that when a macaw bites, instead of tearing your finger away, you push it in, toward the beak. It’s a counter-intuitive movement, but it works. And then Ruby would cackle and I would laugh and she would laugh some more.

“What’s your name?” “What’s your name, Ruby?” I asked her.

“Ruby!” “Hello Ruby!” “Ruby!” “I love you!” “Step up!”

Upon hearing Ruby say “Step up!” a few times, I’d open the door to her cage with the permission of the staff (after insuring the store’s front door was closed and the coast was clear) and insert my arm and hand into the cage. Sometimes Ruby would “step up” on my hand immediately and I’d secure her talons by covering them with my thumb, and withdraw her from the cage. Other times, she would lunge for my finger or hand, testing me, cleverly knowing I showed some fear of her bites. And then she would cackle. This might go on for minutes; Ruby was clearly in charge. Eventually, however, she would perch on my finger and out she’d come. She lunged significantly less when I held her.

Sometimes I would sit in a chair and hold her close to me. One time Ruby was sitting on my lap and Snowy was stretched out on the floor next to my chair. Without warning, Ruby hopped off my lap, spread her wings and sailed to the floor. The staff kept her wings clipped, but she was able to glide. Ruby landed in the aisle a few feet in front of me, and my dog ran to her side and quietly stood next to her, protecting her. I walked to them both, knelt down, extended my hand on the floor and Ruby stepped up. Snowy never barked, and Ruby didn’t lunge. I was nervous, but the animals handled the adventure expertly.

Other times I would hold Ruby for visiting preschool classes and the store’s owner described the behaviors of macaws to the students. My buddy, swinging upside down on my finger, really knew how to work a crowd. I always sang to Ruby. One time while holding her outside, Ruby joined in and sang “La-La-La-La” in different tones.  A staff member and I would sing little lines of melody, like a cheer you would hear at a ballgame when the organist plays and at the end of each musical line the crowd chants “Hey!,” except Ruby exclaimed “Woo!” What fun.  When she wanted a treat, Ruby would say, “I love you.” The customers always drew near to her when they heard her speak.

People in cars and buses waved to us as they passed by while Ruby was perched on my finger in front of the store. When the light turned red at the corner, people in stopped cars frequently lowered their windows to talk to Ruby, or pointed to her so that their kids would see the colorful macaw. When airplanes flew over the store on approach to the nearby airport, she would exclaim, “Hello Ruby!” I’m certain she considered planes kin. Ruby exercised regularly by flapping her wings while I or others held her throughout the day. “Big Eagle! Big Eagle!” we would all chant, and I walked quickly up and down the aisles with my arm held high over my head, and beautiful Ruby, perched on my finger, my thumb covering her talons, would flap her powerful wings over and over, generating a strong breeze.

We played games together, like “cage tag.” With Ruby perched in her cage, I would touch her beak with my finger and then count to three. At “three,” I ran to the other side of the cage and Ruby quickly made her way across the cage to me, latching on to her toys and the cage bars. I cheered, and then counted to three again, touched her beak and sprang around to where we started. Back and forth we went. Kids in the store played with me, and we always cheered for Ruby each time she met us. When the game was over, Ruby would either stay in place at “three,” or say “Goodbye.” She might say “Goodbye” to people leaving the store, and she always said it every evening when the staff covered her cage with a cloth for the night. She would poke under the sheet and say, “Goodbye!” “Goodbye!”

Ruby passed away last week. She had been ill for some time and under the care of the staff and her veterinarian. She fell from her perch, and possibly broke a toe, and the staff will learn if she suffered a heart attack. The store manager explained that she had performed mouth to beak resuscitation and massaged Ruby’s heart, but sadly, it was not to be. Earlier that afternoon, the manager told me that Ruby had asked to “Step Up,” and thoroughly enjoyed being showered with the mister bottle outside in the warm afternoon sun. Ruby sure loved her baths, and would squeal in delight and shake her colorful feathers in the sunshine. She had also called to the aircraft flying overhead. “Hello Ruby!” “Hello Ruby!”

I learned all this when the store’s manager called me to tell me the sad news. I was overcome with emotion, that Ruby had passed, and that the manager wanted me to know the news firsthand. She didn’t want me to read about Ruby’s passing or find out in conversation. I was so grateful and touched. I drove to the store, and was asked if I would like to see my dear friend. As I sat in the back room, holding my dear Ruby, tears fell onto the blanket which enshrouded her. I had to smile, though; Ruby looked beautiful and peaceful, but she had hated blankets. I sang my usual song, “Let me call you sweetheart, I’m in love with you…” to her softly, and stroked her soft feathers, and said a final goodbye to her, as she would have said to me.

Kathy Galgano

April 8, 2014

A few words about Andy’s Pet Shop:

Ruby lived a wonderful life as the “house” bird at Andy’s; customers also love visiting another house bird, a beautiful toucan named “Mango.”

Andy’s Pet Shop is unique; it is the world’s first pet shop offering 100% rescued pets. Hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, rats, doves, pigeons, turtles, snakes, lizards and fish are regularly available. You can adopt cats and dogs and parrots, too, and there may be some in the shop, but as these are happier living in foster homes, they are brought in for adoption fairs. Andy’s mission is as follows: Every pet deserves a good life. We make that happen by adopting out homeless pets, selling quality products, and educating human caretakers. We want to be successful with pet adoptions, so that other pet shops will follow our lead and convert to 100% rescued pets. It’s a special place.

Andy’s is located in downtown San Jose, near the De Anza Hotel, and the entrance to Highway 87. Their address is: 51 Notre Dame Avenue, San Jose, CA 95113. (408-297-0840) Andy’s is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. They have a large parking lot. You can pop by, or go to http://www.andyspetshop.com/.




Today, as we celebrate the life of a Roman named Patrick who brought the Christian faith to the Emerald Isles, I’m really looking forward to Wednesday, March 19, and the Feast of St. Joseph. If you are from the Southwest or California, you probably know him as San José.

I am not belittling Patrick. I have admiration for him, and Patrick has an amazing story. I am also wearing green in his honor, although I don’t have a drop of Irish blood.

There is simply something about St. Joseph that catches my imagination. My Italian heritage probably also plays a part in my admiration.

The folks from Mediterranean lands have been celebrating St. Joseph for centuries. Sicilians prayed to Joseph to relieve them from famine centuries ago, and his day is celebrated with feasting. Italians wear red to honor Joseph. More importantly, March 19 is close enough to the Spring Equinox to be considered the beginning of Spring. My dad would plant his tomato seeds in little pots and grow them under the lights, always on St. Joseph Day. In California, it’s the day that the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano.

But there’s more to the story of Joseph that inspires me. Much of it is based on tradition, as the Gospel stories are inconsistent and don’t give us much information. Joseph is the husband of the Virgin Mary, and thus, based on Christian tradition, is the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph is believed to have been a carpenter, or a worker in wood or metal. He probably taught his skills to Jesus.

But that’s still not the point. Based on tradition, Joseph married a pregnant Mary, and it wasn’t Joseph’s child. Why would he do that? He had a legal right to send her quietly away, but, after a dream or vision, he stepped forward and undertook the responsibility for her and the child. He moved beyond his comfort, what he knew and respected, and past his fear, to something surpassing comprehension.

Then we see him traveling with her to Bethlehem for a census. I have traveled in the luxury of a modern automobile on well-paved roads while pregnant. Most of the time, I was queasy and uncomfortable. Now imagine a trip, probably on foot (some art depicts Mary on a donkey) over dirt roads for miles. Joseph was responsible for getting them there safely.  

Mary gave birth to the baby in Bethlehem (we all know the story). They probably stayed there a couple of years. It was enough time to get settled, get some work, support the family, and give the baby time to grow before enduring another long, dirty, exhausting trip back home.

And then Joseph is warned in a dream (by God or an angel) that a jealous King Herod, alerted by three learned visitors from the East, is searching for the baby Jesus to kill him. So Joseph takes Mary and Jesus and they go to Egypt. That’s a very long trip to a foreign country where they don’t know the language, don’t know anybody, and don’t know what to expect. No doubt, no hesitation. Strictly on faith, Joseph goes.

At this point you are thinking, “Joseph’s a carpenter; he’s in construction. He can always get a job.” Probably so. We don’t know. The point is — he was faithful. Faithful to his God, faithful to his family. He didn’t give in to his doubts. He did what he was asked.

A few years later Joseph is told in another dream that Herod is dead and it is time to return. So back they go, but they don’t settle in Bethlehem — it’s too close to Jerusalem and another nasty king. Joseph takes them north to Galilee and they settle in Nazareth. Another new town, this time a very small town, but close to a large city that was rebuilding — good work for a carpenter.

And the next time we hear from Joseph, it’s when Jesus is 12. Mary and Joseph and Jesus went to Jerusalem, and they thought Jesus was in the group returning home. He wasn’t. If you have ever “lost” your child at the mall or the supermarket for a few seconds, you know what fear is. (One of my kids liked to play hide and seek in the middle of the round clothes carousels at the mall. Talk about panic! ) So Jesus is who knows where, lost in the Big City. Mary and Joseph must have been a mess. Anyway, Joseph takes charge, goes back to Jerusalem with Mary, and they find Jesus in the Temple teaching. At that point I would probably have hit the roof, but tradition tells us that Joseph remained patient, even when the pre-teen Jesus makes comments about being about “his father’s business.” Staying calm when your kids are being kids: something else to admire.

The Gospels don’t mention Joseph at the death and burial of Jesus. Legend tells us that Mary and Jesus surrounded Joseph at Joseph’s death. A quiet, peaceful death after a long, faithful life.

And here I would like to propose that Joseph was “obedient.” He listened to that “clear, small voice” that we often do not let ourselves hear, and knew that he was being called to do great, but difficult things. Without the faith to be obedient, Joseph’s life, and by extension Mary and Jesus’ lives, would have been disastrous. Obedience in our modern age is a negative concept. Civil disobedience is played out daily on the international news. Parents worry about obedient children falling prey to predators. And yet without obedience, we would all run red lights and refuse to pay our taxes. We would have anarchy.

Back to Joseph. Joseph is considered the patron of workers including craftsmen, engineers, and working people in general. He is the patron of families, fathers, and mothers, including expectant mothers. He is the patron of a happy death. He is the patron of San José, California, and any other town or church named in his honor.

A real estate superstition considers him the patron of house buyers and sellers. I’ve never heard my mother laugh so loud and long as when we were told by a relative to bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the yard so she would sell the old family house quickly. She didn’t bury the statue, and the house sold.

I am an American Girl doll collector. If your daughter has read the American Girl books about Josefina, you should know that Josefina was born on March 19 and is named for her saint’s day — San José.  (Josefina is a Spanish-speaking American Girl, and comes from the Santa Fe area when New Mexico was still part of Old Mexico.) It’s also my friend Josie’s birthday; her real name is Josefina. She was born on March 19, and named for her saint’s day.

Here in New Mexico, the traditional painted santos (or carved figure of a saint) of San Jose Patriarco (Saint Joseph the Patriarch) depicts him dressed in green and gold, holding the baby Jesus, and carrying a flowering staff. Local tradition has it that when Joseph was asked what the name of Mary’s child should be, he said “His name shall be Jesus” and his walking stick burst into flower. It’s a beautiful story.

Regardless of your faith or beliefs, or whether you hold the stories about Joseph as history or legend, I believe that there is much you can admire about Joseph. He was a man of principal and faith. He didn’t let his doubts keep him from acting and moving forward. He was a devoted family man. He was an industrious worker. He understood what was called of him, and was obedient. And he left this world without regret and in peace.

So on Wednesday, March 19, remember Joseph. Think of spring and the swallows returning to Capistrano. Think about wearing red in his honor, and celebrating.

Nancy Wurden

March 17, 2014


When my dog’s stomach starts to growl, his little internal clock flashes: “Feed me now!” “Feed me now!” “Feed me now!” He jumps on me, slobbers kisses, shakes, “paws” me and then circles around. I’m the treadmill. It’s time to get up. I arouse rather quickly because unlike most alarm clocks, I cannot press the “snooze” button for another few minutes slumber. This dog does not know snooze. He only knows eat. I’m awake.

“No breakfast before going outside,” I tell him. After opening the back door, some days I just let the dog explore the yard and I don’t venture too far down the back steps. But I always check the weather. What’s the temperature and are there any clouds, I wonder? In the winter, the cold blast hits me quickly and I shut the door, watching for the dog to come up the steps. A warm insulating blanket of clouds keeps temperatures more mild. On those early January mornings when I open the back door and stroll outside, I have to be careful not to slip on the dew-turned-ice deck, and the dog steps gingerly because he doesn’t like speed-skating either. He has done it. It really is cold. Usually there is ice in the bird bath and I secretly wish that a birdie hockey game would erupt. I check the oranges on the tree and really hope the frost didn’t damage the fruit, as they are a winter crop. I enjoy checking the dark sky for stars and planets, or the moon. Living in the city, I rarely see more than a dozen stars at that pre-dawn hour, but I always enjoy the search, especially if I remembered to grab a toasty sweatshirt.

During the non-rainy and warm months of spring and summer, the early morning hour is a great time to begin watering the garden, so sometimes I’ll turn on a hose or a sprinkler before getting the dog his breakfast. If I wait too long and the sun gets higher, the temperature warmer, the water evaporates before it can percolate down to the roots. If I’ve elected to walk outside in the early morning, I explore my garden patches, looking for a new rose bud or a dahlia blossom, or check to make sure the kiwi vine hasn’t entangled my patch of daisies. Kiwi vines are a lot like pumpkin vines; they really take over.

Once I’m inside, I can check out the wildlife. Stretching across our backyard and all our neighbors’ yards is a power line. The eight thousand squirrels that live near us love this little cat-free way, especially as the neighborhood offers a rich supply of tasty, sweet fruit throughout the growing season. After exiting the cat-free way high up in the air, the squirrels make their way down a pole, and head to the fence between our house and our neighbors’ house. Not only do the grazing squirrels love this fence, cats love it too. It is the perfect height and offers a just wide-enough perch for feral cats to nap, hide, search for birds, or stare at me through my kitchen window. And when it’s warm out, squirrels stand or sit atop the fence, extend their little paws and tug a sweet and perfect plum, apricot, or peach off one of the trees my neighbors planted along the property line years ago. The squirrels hold the fruit with both their little paws and take a few bites. It’s cute. What happens next, though, infuriates me. This is when I start knocking on the window and yelling, or pick up my little “Cujo,” an eighteen pound white curly cuddly fluff attack dog who falls asleep in my arms. I try to get him to press his little nose to the glass and look menacingly at these squirrels. They just look at my pooch for a moment, maybe two, and then go on with their grazing. It would really help if I could teach the dog to keep his eyes open. These well-fed critters have a routine; they reach up and pull a piece of fruit off the tree and nibble on that. After a few bites, they drop that piece and grab another fresh piece of fruit. Squirrels are very delicate nibblers. They just keep picking, maintaining their balance on the fence, and graze, then drop. I dutifully scoop up all the partially eaten fruit every day. This starts early in the morning and continues on throughout the day, with so many of the eight thousand squirrels visiting the fence throughout the summer. Sometimes, a squirrel will actually take a siesta on the fence, just the way the feral cats do. If it’s light outside, it’s squirrel-time!

If that’s not enough to distract me, the growing population of fat squirrels is visiting my garden and raised beds after their successful raiding sessions in my neighbors’ yard. How do I know this? The critters pick the walnuts off the same next-door neighbors’ prolific trees and scurry up and over the fence, and then bury them in my garden. They are digging up shallow bulbs I’ve planted. I find so many walnuts throughout the season that I wonder if my neighbors ever see a single one. But I digress.

Here’s my point. Early every morning, I let my breakfast-motivated pup outside. If it’s really freezing and I don’t feel like checking for birdie hockey games, I quickly close the door and watch through the window to make sure he doesn’t slide completely off the icy deck into the rose bushes. On other days, I keep the door open longer, and I can hear the planes taking off from the airport, or a train whistle, or trucks going by on the major cross street. And for a couple of special weeks in late July and early August, it matters not that I may open the back door for just a single moment, or longer, because it hits me instantly. This aroma, this heavenly scent, is wafting in my direction. I only need to breathe in the outside air for one second and I’m hooked. I’m always surprised when it happens; this magic essence is so prevalent. Instantly, the cravings start. Forget the coffee. I want pasta and meatballs and garlic bread. Now! I envision a plate of spaghetti with a wonderful flavorful garlic red sauce. Fusili would be nice, or lasagna. Mmmm. I had planned on a croissant and some yogurt, but now I want pizza. It’s 6-ish in the morning. What’s going on?!

Let me offer a little geography here. The city of San Jose, California is a 33 mile jaunt to the city of Gilroy. By car, it’s either a short hop of 35 or 40 minutes, or a long hour or hour-plus commute if the traffic on US Route 101 is bumper to bumper. This happens during drive-time hours, as many people who work in Silicon Valley live on the southern side of San Jose or in the outlying communities of San Martin (San Mar-‘teen), Morgan Hill, and Gilroy. Also, traffic snarls on late afternoons on Fridays when everybody is going somewhere for the weekend. It’s roughest on the eve of holidays, like Thanksgiving, when the one-hour plus drive will turn into a miserable two or three-hour trip. But commute time aside, San Jose to Gilroy is roughly the same distance as my hometown in Connecticut is to Hartford. It’s close, but it’s not next door.

So when I wake up and open the door and immediately crave pasta and red sauce, and don’t even want to think about smelling the roses or lavender in my garden, or even enjoy my fabulous coffee brew I love so much, I know it’s because of Gilroy. Gilroy is known as “The Garlic Capital of the World.” Besides the farms, you’ll find the processing plants there, staffed for three full shifts. Huge hoppers of garlic grown in Gilroy, surrounding communities and from the Great Central Valley are driven to the processing plants. There the garlic is being diced and crushed. During the winter, while driving through Gilroy, I have noticed the aroma and found myself craving meatballs. But now it’s happening at home, at 30-plus miles away.

Gilroy is amazing. Shops and wineries (these are really good wineries) and vegetable stands along the roadside all sell garlic products. You can find freshly-peeled, freshly-roasted and organic garlic, garlic braids, garlic ice cream (Yes, you read that right), garlic wine (Again, you read that right), the diced- or crushed-in-oils garlic, spicy marinated garlic, jars of basil-garlic pesto, garlic croutons, whole garlic sold in bulk, and elephant garlic, these giant cloves that are remarkably mild in flavor. There’s the yearly famous Gilroy Garlic Festival with the annual garlic cook-off. There are garlic recipe books and garlic-only stores that sell garlic snacks and garlic-infused oils, and aprons, key rings, postcards, and calendars, all with pictures of garlic or recipes or both. The Garlic Festival was just last week. My early-morning aromatic experience usually coincides with the festival, but I think that’s purely coincidental. I consider myself one of the lucky people in life who can actually wake up and smell the garlic. For two weeks every year, I don’t know why the winds carry the scent to San Jose, but I love it. My neighbors remark about it, too. These early risers are also mesmerized, and so I’m not the only person in San Jose craving scampi for breakfast. I realize that there are many other cuisines that showcase the bulbous plant, but it’s the cuisine I know best and so my cravings take me there.

After the dog comes back into the kitchen and starts jumping and howling for breakfast, and I’ve closed the back door, and fed him and tidied-up and pet him a little before he runs to another room to return to sleep, I tell myself to make a little coffee before cooking anything. My mind starts to think about other things. The scent is fading. I soon forget about pasta, and open the fridge for my yogurt. I get on with my day, and if the dog returns in a short while and wants to explore the yard again, I open the back door and don’t even think about Italian food. The goodness is gone.

I do smell garlic cooking at 10:30 or 11:00 most mornings, when the local Italian and Chinese restaurants start prepping for lunch, and that’s enjoyable. I think of the people who work at these restaurants and smile, knowing how tasty their food is. This is part of the joy of living in an urban area. When I take the dog for walks past the restaurants, the cooks and staff sometimes wave through the window.  On occasion, I order takeout, or we dine there, and if we sit outside we can bring the dog. But the garlic wafting up from Gilroy is a summer’s gift that reminds me how close we are to the wonderful and bountiful growing centers of California, and to the farmers and makers of products that offer such profound connections with a cultural past, with family, with a love of the food and memories. It’s a treat. Even if I don’t make spaghetti for breakfast.