Category Archives: Fire

The World Works in Mysterious Ways: Birthday Edition

Today, November 14th, is my birthday. I’m moved, overwhelmed, and touched by all the birthday love I’ve received from friends and family.

And here are two things that happened to mark this day in 2017:

  • The dream I had night before last, where my sister appeared as a surprise visitor–here to spend my birthday with me, she told me, even though she’s been gone for two and a half years.
  • And today, going through a random box of cards and letters from my 50th year, I found this typed letter, dated November 14, 1991– my 40th birthday, which took place the year of the fire. It’s signed “Mom and Dad,” but typically, Dad was the family communicator.

The letter reads:

“Our Dear Risa and Bruce:

We know how difficult life has been since October 21 and we know how hard you have been working to put your lives back in order. We thought that you might appreciate some of Al Martinez’s thoughts. [Al Martinez was a magnificent writer who started his career with Richmond and Oakland newspapers, and then wrote for The Los Angeles Times for many years. He was also a generous and gracious man.]

He lives in Topanga [Canyon] and has experienced some horrendous firestorms in his beloved San Fernando Valley. Recently…we ran across a copy of his collected essays, Ashes in the Rain.

In explaining the title of his book, Martinez writes, ‘We are an entertaining if not always rational species and our follies cry out for comment. We celebrate fools and suffer genius to mockery. We build statues of glory to battles that kill us. We drink poison to create profit and blacken the air we breathe with chemicals to enhance lifestyles.

But, still, there is redemption in chaos, and even as we smother ourselves with toxins that blind our vision, voices rise that cause temperance, that urge atonement, that sing of life’s sweetness in growing crescendo around the arc of the Earth.

We don’t have to die in our fires, they tell us. Nature provided for its own regeneration. The story of resurrection is rooted in the springtime of rebirth.’

Looking over the destruction in the valley, he thought nothing would ever grow there again.

‘I had not reckoned with nature…what had once been fire’s devastation was now a celebration of nature: wildflowers of every hue and color pushing up through the damp ashes to glow in the storm light in affirmation of life…there is a wonder here even beyond beauty, a perfect natural mechanism to assure an abundance of life where the earth once seemed lifeless….’

Very uplifting prose by a guy who has been through a number of major personal disasters.

Before too long, you too will be singing of ‘life’s sweetness.’

All of our love,

Mom & Dad”


Thanks for the wise, and beautiful words, Mom and Dad. And Sooz: so glad you made sure to visit me on my birthday.


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Fighting off worry in the midst of beauty

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The Case of the Reclaimed Redhead

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A Book Review

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The Fire Next Time?

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Button, button . . .

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Aunt Augusta’s Chair

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A Fly on the Wall

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The Pink Dress: Loved and Lost

Inspired by just one of the amazing women I met at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 2014–Ilene Beckerman, author of Love, Loss, and What I Wore–this is an excerpt from the fire memoir I’m working on.   If a travel agent hadn’t messed up our reservation and nearly left us without a hotel room in NewContinue ReadingContinue Reading

Visions of LaDonna

In my elementary school, there was a girl a few years ahead of me named LaDonna. A fearless, redheaded tomboy–always a first-round pick for playground games of softball–she had Lauren Bacall’s bedroom eyes and husky voice.She talked out of the side of her mouth, looking as much like a guy as she could, back whenContinue Reading