Sunday, May 31, 2015

365 True Things: 64/Dessert

I am not a chocoholic. When it comes to dessert, my favorites are bread or rice pudding (with raisins and rum, yum); plain cheesecake; carrot cake (I love cream cheese frosting, so plenty of that); French vanilla ice cream with fresh raspberries and/or blueberries; Ben & Jerry's Vanilla Caramel Fudge and Triple Caramel Chunk; and cherry pie. My favorite of favorites, though, is rhubarb pretty-much-anything. Here's a recipe for rhubarb crisp by Mark Bittman:


  • 6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing pan
  • 2 ½ to 3 pounds rhubarb, trimmed, tough strings removed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 5 to 6 cups)
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup pecans


  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square nonmetal baking or gratin dish with a little butter. Toss rhubarb with white sugar, orange or lemon juice and zest, and spread in baking dish.
  2. Put the 6 tablespoons butter in a food processor along with brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt and pulse for about 20 or 30 seconds, until it looks like small peas and just begins to clump together. Add oats and pecans and pulse just a few times to combine.
  3. Crumble the topping over the rhubarb and bake until golden and beginning to brown, 45 to 50 minutes.
See: I can do short. Short but sweet!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

365 True Things: 63/Work (VWA)

In previous posts (#s 19 and 26) I have written about working as a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger (VWR) with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA), in a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (we wear USFS uniforms). To quote from their website, the VWA is "a grass-roots organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, and restore the wilderness qualities and biodiversity of the public lands within California's northern Santa Lucia Mountains and Big Sur coast."

Today was the annual VWA membership gathering, and for the first time since I joined I was able to attend. It was a friendly group of a hundred fifty or so, sharing a potluck lunch and catching up. Recent accomplishments were outlined during the speechifying: the many miles of disappeared trail (usually as a result of forest fires) restored, the two-year saga of replacing decripit or installing brand-new wilderness toilets in the most impacted camps, and—probably most important—the latest achievements of the Youth in Wilderness program, inspiring young people's passion for and commitment to the backcountry.

I discovered the VWA via their fantastic on-line trail conditions reports. I had gone on a Search & Rescue mission and we ended up on Miller Canyon Trail, which—well, to call it a trail was a stretch of the imagination. Finally we stopped to look at a map and realized we were in totally the wrong place! No wonder we weren't making the progress we expected! It was not a high point in our experience as SAR "professionals."

A couple of weeks before, my friend Steve (in both SAR and VWA) had told me he'd flagged Miller Canyon. Those flags were all that kept us moving forward that long, exhausting night.

Afterward, I checked the VWA trail reports and learned that, indeed, no less than Steve had deemed the trail "impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)." I added my own report on the website:
A team of six members of Monterey County Search and Rescue hiked this trail from the end of Jeffery Road approximately 3.75 miles toward Miller Canyon Camp, beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday, August 30, transporting a heavy wheeled Stokes litter for a potential rescue of a patient (at Hiding Canyon Camp--why we were using this trail is a story unto itself). We found the flagging to be relatively straightforward to follow, easily picked up with our headlamps. The trail varied from being clear, with obvious tread, to areas of steep, soft drop-off; in some spots the trail turned and we continued straight, but we knew to keep looking for the flagging, so we never ventured too far before turning back and rediscovering the trail. At a certain point the slope was so steep and the trail so loose and narrow that we broke apart our litter rig and carried it on our backs. I am guessing we did not get beyond Nason Cabin; in any case, we never got to an area with very thick brush or face-high poison oak [as was described by a previous trail conditions report]. We've searched before for people who've gotten lost on this trail (mainly by venturing down into the creek rather than staying high up the slope), and now we understand just how easy it is to get lost. Steve B's flagging was invaluable--though by the end of our trek we were cursing him for making us think there actually was a trail to follow. All in all, it took us 8 hours to hike approximately 7.5 miles.
I then wrote out a check for the VWA and stuck it in the mail, thanking them for the excellent information they provide.

Two days later, who should I get a call from but . . . the VWA! Inviting me to become more involved. (I pictured the leaders, Mike and Rich, in the office: "Look at this! We've got a live one!") Shortly thereafter, Steve suggested I become a VWR. Ever since then, I have been happily venturing into the wilderness every so often to do trail work, campground cleanup, fire-ring repairs, dead tree removal, wilderness toilet replacement. We chat with visitors about Leave No Trace principles, and recently launched a new program speaking with backpackers at the trailhead of the heavily used Pine Ridge Trail. It's rewarding—and if you like hard work, fun.

Today at the gathering, we were recognized by the USFS for our efforts, in the form of lapel pins. We had a choice, and I went for this "woodsy owl." It's nice to be acknowledged. (Though I was a little disappointed that, instead of "Lend a Hand," it didn't say, "Give a Hoot.") Mostly, it's good to be part of such an active, passionate organization and to know that I'm making a difference.

With ever decreasing federal funding for stewardship and management of the vast public lands of this country, more and more of these alliances are popping up. Wherever you live, I bet you've got at least one or two, if not more, such grass-roots organizations that you can get involved in. It's worth it. And . . . we need all the help we can get.

Friday, May 29, 2015

365 True Things: 62/Technology

You know how they say there's an app for everything?

Two years ago when we remodeled, we had a Samsung "Smart TV" installed in our bedroom suite. (It's not really a suite; it's a room with a bed and a couch in front of the TV. But "suite" sounds better.) We do not have cable or satellite, so don't watch broadcast television. Mostly we watch DVDs from Netflix, plus we pretty quickly figured out how to access streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime. That's as smart as we ever got.

Until tonight.

Tonight, I really wanted to watch, on the big screen, a show that is currently streaming on PBS, The Sagebrush Sea. I fussed with a bluetooth keyboard for a while. No dice. David picked up that ball by summoning the keyboard manual on his laptop and beginning to study it. Meanwhile, I somehow figured out how to use the remote to, oh so very tediously, input a URL onto the TV screen—until I got stonewalled by the absence of a / mark. As in . . . It was nowhere to be found. So I went to my laptop and desperately googled "access internet samsung smart tv."

And what popped up but the Samsung TV Portal. And the very wise suggestion of finding an app for my phone.

Of course! There's an app for that!

And without further ado, I downloaded Remotie onto my iPhone (for free), then paid $4 to gain access to the touch screen and keyboard features. And lo and behold, they worked! Complete with the /. It was so easy.

Within minutes, we were learning about the life history of the greater sage-grouse, a remarkable bird. And burrowing owls, and pronghorn antelopes, and golden eagles, and badgers. And also: invasive species; wildfires; and humans claiming precious wetlands for their livestock and looking for liquid gold (petroleum). On the one hand, the bountiful beauty of life and creation; on the other, rapaciousness. Or maybe just, indifference—to all the flow of this planet that doesn't depend on capital.

Still: This small technological breakthrough of ours followed on a New York Times article about how the Obama administration is going to limit petroleum drilling on habitat of the greater sage-grouse. I say, bravo! I say, the greater sage-grouse deserves all the respect we can give it. I say, we should be working as hard as we can to protect the beautiful, miraculous life of this watery rock we live on. And we should be tempering our expectations, and using our ingenuity—and our technology—to live more gently on this earth.

To make things even easier when it comes to entering text on your browser, be sure to download the Samsung TV Remote App for your handheld tab (such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab), your Android OS Smart Phone (such as the Samsung Galaxy Phone) or your Apple device (iPhone or iPad). With it, you can easily use a full QWERTY keyboard to navigate the web and your favorite sites. - See more at:
To make things even easier when it comes to entering text on your browser, be sure to download the Samsung TV Remote App for your handheld tab (such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab), your Android OS Smart Phone (such as the Samsung Galaxy Phone) or your Apple device (iPhone or iPad). With it, you can easily use a full QWERTY keyboard to navigate the web and your favorite sites - See more at:
To make things even easier when it comes to entering text on your browser, be sure to download the Samsung TV Remote App for your handheld tab (such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab), your Android OS Smart Phone (such as the Samsung Galaxy Phone) or your Apple device (iPhone or iPad). With it, you can easily use a full QWERTY keyboard to navigate the web and your favorite sites - See more at:
To make things even easier when it comes to entering text on your browser, be sure to download the Samsung TV Remote App for your handheld tab (such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab), your Android OS Smart Phone (such as the Samsung Galaxy Phone) or your Apple device (iPhone or iPad). With it, you can easily use a full QWERTY keyboard to navigate the web and your favorite sites - See more at:
To make things even easier when it comes to entering text on your browser, be sure to download the Samsung TV Remote App for your handheld tab (such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab), your Android OS Smart Phone (such as the Samsung Galaxy Phone) or your Apple device (iPhone or iPad). With it, you can easily use a full QWERTY keyboard to navigate the web and your favorite sites - See more at:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

365 True Things: 61/Helicopters

The first time I rode in a helicopter was in 1990, flying from (as it was then called) Leningrad to a lake in Karelia—part of a month-long stay in the USSR hunting mushrooms. Later on, we had another round-trip helicopter ride between Irkutsk and Tuva. Аэрофло́т does (or at least did) helicopters. These probably started life as troop transport helos. Comfy, they were not; but they got us to remote places without landing strips.

More recently, we've taken a couple of sightseeing helicopter rides in Zimbabwe, over Victoria Falls, and in Kauai ☜. There really is nothing like seeing the land from not too high up.

These days when I find myself in a helicopter, it's because I'm getting picked up or dropped off in the backcountry, for a Search & Rescue operation. We often have to hike many miles into the wilderness. And although strictly speaking helicopters aren't allowed in designated wilderness areas, at the end of the day I say rules shmules, especially when it comes to getting a ride back out.

In the case of this ride ☞ (a Blackhawk), we were dropped off deep in the John Muir Wilderness on the shore of Pearl Lake ➷ at 10,500 feet. Our assignment sheet said we'd be picked up—but if anything happened to make that impossible, we'd have to walk out. Our map was not sufficient to guiding our way out, plus we were talking a hike of thirty-plus miles. I was a teeny bit nervous when the helicopter left. But confidently hopeful that nothing would happen to make its return impossible. And as things turned out, it was back within a couple of hours! Our subject had been located, in fact very near to where we were dropped off. He was spotted from the air. Yes, helicopters come in very handy in Search & Rescue. (Sadly, we know that all too well from the recent plane crash in the French Alps.)

Growing up in Los Angeles, I used to associate helicopters with freeway traffic jams. Now whenever I hear the whump-whump of a chopper, my heart tenses and I wonder who's in trouble, who's getting rescued, and if they'll be okay.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

365 True Things: 60/Beliefs

My house cleaner came today, and we chatted about her boyfriend, who's out visiting from Texas. (High school sweethearts, recently reunited via FB and a meddling sister—a sweet story.) I asked whether his cabin has been affected by the floods, and she said no, not yet. Feeling social, she went on: he doesn't like the weather here (it's too cold, and he now has a cold as a result); he won't drive because he's afraid he'll get lost (I did not ask, "Doesn't he know about maps?"), so she has to do all the driving. He's been here a month. She wasn't exactly complaining; just stating the facts. 

One thing he does like, she said, more brightly, is hiking. And he's just found out about Big Sur. Now, she continued, he's excited because he's learned that there have been Bigfoot sightings in Big Sur. He really wants to go check it out. "But," she sighed, "I don't want to look for Bigfoot. I just want to . . . camp. In a campground. With picnic tables and bathrooms."

Okay, I added the amenities in my mind, but it's what her tone said. And while my mind was filling in those blanks, the rest of it was guffawing, "Bigfoot? Seriously?" Because of course no one really believes in Bigfoot!

Well, except poor Kathy's man. I guess he does. And she seemed less dismayed by the ridiculous idea of Bigfoot than by the idea of hiking deep into the wilderness to spot him. So maybe she believes in Bigfoot too. We didn't go there.

Having a straight-faced conversation about Bigfoot made me think about all the things I don't believe in. Bigfoot is right up there. Fairies (pace Arthur Conan Doyle). Leprechauns. Unicorns—despite the magnificent medieval evidence to the contrary. Ghosts.

Although I've never encountered a ghost myself, I'm willing to allow that people do experience weirdness in the world, which may be attributable to ghostly doings. But still: mostly, I include ghosts in the pure-fantasy list.

I'm a rational person. I believe in evidence. And evidence, for me, means observable, it means science. Even if the observation is of something the human eye doesn't stand a chance of seeing. Even if the observation is a huge compilation of farflung data requiring computer programs to put together to make meaning. Think climate change (yes, I believe in climate change: I believe it is actively happening; I believe we humans are the major cause).

Or there's this quote I ran across today, by Freeman Dyson in a New York Times Review of Books piece about pictures taken with the Hubble telescope. It gets at the magic and mystery of science, of the known world—or rather, the world known by the communal brain of our scientific explorers:
Star-forming nebula in the constellation Carina, 7,200 ly from earth, 2006–2008

Carl Sagan told us long ago that we are stardust. Our planet earth and everything that lives on it was formed by the accumulation of dust grains in a collapsing dust cloud. Every atom in our bodies once resided in an interstellar dust grain. And before that, the dust cloud was formed by the condensation of heavy atoms in the debris expelled from exploding stars. Dust plays an essential part, not only in the history of life, but in the history of the universe as a whole. Although dust is a very small part of the mass of the universe, it controls the birth and death of stars and the heating and cooling of interstellar gas. Dust is prominent in the Hubble pictures, not only because dust clouds are beautiful, but because dust clouds are big players in the cosmic drama. The Hubble pictures show the universe evolving all the way from the Big Bang to our pale blue planet. At every step of the journey, dust has guided our destiny. 
What makes stardust—which I definitely believe in—so different from Bigfoot? After all, there is the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, founded in 1995, "the only scientific research organization exploring the bigfoot/sasquatch mystery" (emphasis added).

And how is Bigfoot so very different from a unicorn—which was described not in Greek mythology, but in Greek natural history?

And how is either of these different from an ivory-billed woodpecker, which no longer flies through our forests—though people keep thinking they see it. They want to see it.

I started out thinking I'd quash Sasquatch here, then amble on into what I do believe in. But I'm beginning to think this will have to be part of a more thorough musing. Evidently, what we believe in (any of us) is not so simple.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

365 True Things: 59/Babar

Où est Babar?

A few years ago I did a photo project that featured a small Babar I picked up at CDG (Paris). I'd take him somewhere and snap a picture, then tell a little story about our adventure, complete with a caption in bad French. Here's a sampling. I'm thinking I should pick up the project again. It was fun.

Dans la gueule du lion
Babar very bravely decided to enter the lion's mouth. See him puffing out his chest? He's quite the proud elephant.  

Des nouveaux amis
Babar enjoyed meeting Ruby and Precious today (he already knew Milo, of course)—and felt relatively secure watching them from a safe distance. Even though he has tusks, he doesn't entirely trust all those flashing white teeth.

Parmis les clefs
Babar snuck into my luggage! I just discovered him! He begged me to put him back into action, and so here we go: the out-the-door shelf in our Oslo apartment. Tomorrow we'll go visit the Viking ships. Maybe he'll get to realize his dream of being a Viking warrior at last.

En cherchant puissance
Babar said, "Enough sitting around—let's go lift some trees!" I suggested the gym as an alternative. He liked the gym, though if you ask me, he spent rather more time admiring himself in the mirrors than actually lifting anything....

Entre le moutard et le catsup

We took a side trip to Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, and stopped for lunch at the village. Babar was a little disappointed that I didn't take him on the trail to see the giant sequoias: as he pointed out, he would have looked REALLY tiny next to one of those. So I took him to the restaurant, which pleased him, and promised him he'll get a picture with a giant sequoia the next time we visit a grove.

Monday, May 25, 2015

365 True Things: 58/Bonsai

This afternoon we went out to find a nearby new geocache, and decided to take a stroll through the surrounding neighborhood. On the way, we passed by the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple. And that reminded me of a visit we made there back in the 1990s for the annual Obon Festival, a day of remembrance of family members who have died—though in practice it's pretty much a carnival, featuring Japanese foods, ikebana and bonsai displays, martial arts demonstrations, and Japanese dance and taiko drumming.

When we went that one and only time, it was because a fellow volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Tony, was showing his bonsai, an art form that he practiced with great seriousness and joy. That afternoon, touring among all the miniature trees in their special trays and pots, reminded me of my father and his serious love of that same art form. When he died in 1978, he still had a few bonsai, and my mother tried to take care of them, but she, like me, lacked that special calm diligence one needs to maintain shibui bonsai.

Ogata Gekkō, shishikiban
I don't remember my father as being the most patient man, but when it came to his raising of tiny trees, as well as supersized chrysanthemums, he seemed to find an inner peace and focus. It was his way of practicing meditation, I guess.

As for my friend Tony, his life has changed hugely since that Obon festival: he lost his wife of sixty years, Marge; he moved into a residential care facility, where he seems to be doing okay though arguably is a little lost (Marge was his north star); and he's had to give up cultivating bonsai.

I haven't gone to a bonsai show in a very long time, although now that I think about it, it is one of my favorite natural art forms. The Obon Festival is coming up again in late July. Maybe it's time for another visit. I'll take Tony and my dad with me in my thoughts. Or . . . maybe Tony would like to go in the flesh. I'll have to get in touch with him and find out.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

365 True Things: 57/Lazy

Today, I don't want to excavate any nuggets from the dirt (okay, soil) that is my life.

So instead I'll write very briefly about our pizza dinner at our new go-to restaurant in Seaside, Gusto. I had the diavolo pie: caramelized onions; spicy peperoni sausage, thinly sliced; fresh mozzarella; flavorful tomatoes; peperoncini—all on a very thin crust and baked in a wood-fired oven. David had the tirolese, which featured "wild" mushrooms, cured German ham (Speck), and gorgonzola cheese.

These were accompanied by a beety mixed-green salad and negronis. Mmm, I do love Campari—and it's even better with gin and bitters, and a classy little twist of orange peel!

And that's all I'm good for today. Off now to watch another episode of Breaking Bad. It is a holiday weekend, after all.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

365 True Things: 56/Mom

Today, May 23, would have been my mom's 101st birthday. Loraine Skinner Geissman. She's been gone eight years now. I've been thinking about her a lot today.

Her start in life was rocky. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, "out of wedlock" and given up by her fourteen-year-old mother, she was first adopted by a Swedish couple hoping to fix their marriage. Needless to say, that didn't go well. So back to the Children's Home Society she went. Along came John and Annie Skinner of Owatonna to the rescue. This time it was a good match. She was three years old. John Skinner was a teacher and finished his career as superintendent of schools in the town of Fairmont, MN. He and Annie (who hailed from Missouri) valued learning and gave their daughters a good education and a strong sense of self. My mother went on to the University of Minnesota, where she studied journalism.

I always thought it a shame that she never practiced her craft. She would have been much happier in life, I believe. But such were the times: a middle-class woman didn't work. (Not that she was unhappy. Un-self-actualized, though, you might say.)

While I was attending graduate school in Wisconsin, my mom came out for a visit, and we took a driving tour to Minnesota: saw the house in Owatonna she grew up in, found her parents' grave. And, as it turned out, the tiny graves of two infant boys—which is why the Skinners decided to adopt. My mom's younger sister came along a couple of years later.

Today, I know, she would have enjoyed the drive David and I took this afternoon, winding along back roads near Elkhorn Slough. She loved to get out and see the world. Toward the end of her life when she wasn't driving anymore, and I'd visit her at her home in Santa Monica, she'd often ask for the simple gift of a drive to Malibu; she liked to see the ocean, and it was a special treat when the San Vicente Boulevard coral trees were in bloom, blazing orange—her color.

One of her favorite places in the world was Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California. My brother or I would take her there every few years in her last years. Here's a happy picture of her there from sometime in the late 1990s. (It's not an especially good photo. I'm hoping to find and catalog more as I work through all my stuff. . . .)

Friday, May 22, 2015

365 True Things: 55/Travel (New Mexico)

One August in the late 1980s, I traveled with a group of mycophiles (mushroom lovers) to New Mexico to see the sights and, yes, look for mushrooms. I had anticipated heat, but we ended up being at high elevations much of the time, so, surprisingly, even in the Southwest in August, we were quite comfortable, and evenings, even a bit cool. We visited such places as Santa Fe, Chimayó, Los Alamos, and Taos, of course, but we also ventured to the southern parts of the state.

A highlight was an overnight in White Sands National Monument, down near Alamogordo, Las Cruces, and Hatch of pepper fame. We arrived shortly after a monsoon rainshower, which flooded the brilliant-white parking area briefly. We stopped for lunch and a quick game of pétanque (the French version of bocce, played with metal balls). That's a sun shade and barbecue in the distance. As a friend commented about this picture, "a game of pétanque played by yves tanguy, man ray, and de chirico : )" Pretty much!

That night was a lunar eclipse. After dinner, we played another game of pétanque sauvage, chasing the balls up, down, and over the dunes. The combination of full moon and white white sand was spectacular: we almost forgot it was night. Eventually we settled onto a dunetop to sit and watch as the earth's shadow rendered the moon a deep crimson. Then, as the moon's brightness returned, we too returned to our game, and kept at it into the wee hours.

I love this photo as a memento of that exhilarating day.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

365 True Things: 54/Numbers

A number of years ago (ha ha), I launched a photo project of numbers. Interesting-looking numbers in the landscape, from 1 to 100. I started with 1 on February 12, 2010, going in order initially, but pretty quickly (like, at 7) gave myself permission to grab numbers as they popped up.

I'm not much of a rule follower in general life, but I do often find it helpful to work within limitations in my "artistic" projects. As long as they're reasonable rules! Sequential numbers, as it turned out, was a ridiculous rule.

And yes, I totally duplicate. It's quite wonderful how many interesting numbers are out in the world.

Today we went for one of our regular walks and I saw some new signposts had been put up: where trails 6 and 7 merge (or split, depending on how you view the situation), I was treated to a 67! And as it turned out, I needed a 67!

I still need quite a few numbers to finish my project: 27, 31, 45, 55, 70–72, 78, 81, 83, 88–91, and 96–98. Maybe by the end of the year? That would be a worthy goal.

Here are some of my favorite numbers so far:

Owens Valley Research Station, California
Orkney Islands, Scotland
Fethaland, farthest north point of Shetland Mainland, Scotland
Pinnacles National Park, California
Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey, California
Harley Farms Goat Dairy, Pescadero, California

Wharf No. 2, Monterey, California
Calle de los Ositos, Carmel Valley, California
Monterey Beach, California
Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland
Norwood, Virginia
Los Padres Dam, Carmel Valley, California

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

365 True Things: 53/Ancestry

Some time ago, my brother asked if I'd sign up with to get my DNA analyzed. He'd done so and learned that he was more Irish and French than anything else. Which flew in the face of the family myth of us being through and through German: Prussian on our father's side, Bavarian on our mother's. He also learned that he was 2.8 percent Neanderthal (a little over the average for people with European background). Now, that figure I found interesting. The rest, not so much. I told him so.

He waited. Then he tried again. Pointed out that my niece, his daughter, was participating.

This time I thought, oh, what the heck. So I sent off 99 bucks, and soon a box arrived with a tiny plastic vial—for saliva—and instructions. Within the hour I had my sample sealed up and sent. Easy.

My results arrived within a month. They look like this:

Oddly, I'm a few percentage points more Eastern and Southern European than my brother, and less Scandinavian and otherwise Northern European. Um, how does that work? (He speculated it's because there's a larger database now. Okay, that makes sense.)

When I started thinking about the family myth—all that Teutonic blood and brawn—it occurred to me that in fact I know very little about my ancestry. We don't have old stories about relatives, either illustrious or infamous. The only such stories that come to mind are of (a) one man who worked as a janitor in Prague when it was ruled by the Hapsburgs and (b) another who was an ambulance driver in the Civil War. I never met my father's parents or his sister. As for my mother's parents, she was adopted, so although I knew my grandmother (but not my grandfather), her parents don't show up in my DNA. My mother did search for information about her birth mother when she was in her sixties, and learned a name: Klara Klöpfer. Pretty darn German. But there was nothing about a father—who certainly could have hailed straight from County Cork, for all I know.

So okay, maybe I have Irish or British blood. In the end, I don't much care. What I've identified with all my life is German, and I'm sticking with that.

Curiously, I ended up more Neanderthal than my brother as well (2.9 percent). Which I take some pride in. And all that Eastern European heritage? Maybe that explains my Gypsy nature. Plus, 23andMe tells me that I am "distantly related on my maternal side" to Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, and St. Luke. So there's that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

365 True Things: 52/Adventure

I wouldn't call myself especially adventurous, though I suppose most people would say that's preposterous. After all, I've gone dog-sledding in Alaska, hiked around Mont Blanc, trekked through the Himalaya, traveled on my own power from the Pacific to the Caribbean in Costa Rica (foot, bike, raft, and kayak), and walked Scotland's West Highland Way. I've traveled solo abroad. I've climbed Yosemite's Half Dome via the easy rock route, Snake Dike (5.7); attempted to summit both Mt. Rainier and Denali; and considered an El Cap big wall route, Lurking Fear. I volunteer in Search & Rescue. I survived a remodel. And yes, those have been (even if just in the dreaming stages) quite some adventures. Even if many of them were guided.

But lately, I've been feeling the opposite of adventurous. Even the idea of a road trip—and I love road trips‐doesn't entice me. Where would I go?

So the other day I issued a call on Facebook, asking if anyone wanted to go on an adventure with me. I got a few responses: whale watching; stand-up paddleboarding; hiking.

Capt. Kate Spencer, Fast Raft
Today I followed up on the whale-watching suggestion, a trip with Mexican researchers hoping to record humpback whale sounds in Monterey Bay. It was a calm morning on the water, and we had an enjoyable time chasing after several pods of humpbacks, each group ranging in number from two to six. A large swarm of long-beaked common dolphins kept swirling by, to delight us. It is always so refreshing to get the view of land from the water: reminds you that a shift in perspective can energize.

It was great. But . . . it didn't feel like an adventure.

I'm now rethinking what it was I was feeling the other day when I asked if anyone was up for an adventure.

I think I need an adventure. But maybe first I need to figure out just what I mean by that.

I suspect it has something to do with limits. My limits.

Tell me: what is your idea of an adventure? Would you like to go on an adventure with me?

Monday, May 18, 2015

365 True Things: 51/Snow

The first time I ever saw fresh snow was when we lived on Sky Valley Road at the end of Mandeville Canyon in Los Angeles: it snowed in the night, and I woke up to a wonderland of white. It was all of two inches deep, if that, and my brother had already gone out and wrecked it with his footprints. But a seven-year-old gets over feeling irritated pretty quickly, and I just added my own footprints to his, slipping and sliding together with the dog before having to bundle up for the bus and school. By the time I got home, the snow was but a damp memory.

UW Science Hall
The first time I ever lived where snowy winters were the norm was in southern Germany when I was fifteen. I don't remember a lot of snow; but I'm sure it snowed.

The only other times I've lived with snow for any duration were my two years in graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin, and one year in Evanston, Illinois, while David was a postdoc.

Otherwise, most of my experience with snow has been while camping. Snow camping. First time was when I skied around Crater Lake in the early 2000s: I was nervous that I'd be miserable—I really don't like getting cold—but it was surprisingly cozy and comfortable. And last year, as part of a weeklong Winter Search Management class, I built my first snow cave. We were afraid we'd be building mud caves, because it hadn't snowed. But at the last minute we got one foot of the white stuff. And yes, I am here to tell you: it is possible to build a snow cave with only one foot of snow.

Ruth Gorge, Alaska
Living on or in the vicinity of Denali for six weeks all told (two trips) was my most extreme—and exhilarating—snowy experience. Most fun were a couple of ski trips in Norway where each day we got to come home to a nice warm cabin and scrumptious food.

Folldal, Norway

(Science Hall photo courtesy of Daniel J. Simanek)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

365 True Things: 50/Sunday

I woke up this morning wishing I could have not just this one Sunday this week, but a few of them in a row. On Sunday, the world has a different energy—a little slower, a little more about pleasure. Saturday too, but Saturday seems to involve more need-to-do (errand running, catching up with household chores). Back in the old days when businesses weren't open on Sunday, the difference was even clearer.

Since I freelance, I arguably don't appreciate the weekend the way most people do. When I work, I work hard, typically on the weekend as well as the weekdays; when I'm not working, it's potentially the weekend all the time.

Which is not a good thing. I could definitely use more structure. I need to remind myself that the things I do are work, even if I don't always get paid for them. And schedule them accordingly. Sometimes I forget . . .

But today, I'm glad it's Sunday. And tomorrow, I will try to take Monday seriously.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

365 True Things: 49/Cars

My poor old car must know something's afoot. No sooner did we get the bad news last week that it will be needing—and not getting—several thousand dollars' worth of repairs within the year (cracked cylinder maybe), than the alternator decided to throw in the towel too.

So today involved a tow to the dealer. On Monday, we'll be getting a new alternator. I was tempted to just let it be rather than spend $1,000 on a car that I won't be using that much longer. But I don't want to feel rushed into a new vehicle. And if I want to trade this one in, it should probably be running. So: the last repair. (Hear that, car?)

And I guess we'll be starting to visit auto dealers. The fourth circle of hell. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

365 True Things: 48/House

We moved into our house in 1990. It was a crappy little 1950s tract house with stupid little rooms—1,500 square feet; four "bedrooms" (one of which was half of the garage, shoddily converted). The kitchen: forget it. The only room I actually liked was the living room ☟.

Over the years we occasionally pondered the idea of remodeling. At one point I went so far as to ask my friend Bob, a contractor, if he could recommend an architect, and without hesitation he suggested a retired one, Boris "Bob" Jacoubowsky. There, however, it rested.

Until one rainy day in 2010, when the roof started to leak.

And so we called Bob J. And the ball started to roll—and didn't stop until December 2012, when we found ourselves moving into a light-filled house full of classy materials (the woods alone fill me with joy: hickory and bamboo flooring, cherry shelves, walnut mantel, fir doors and window frames). With no small thanks to my friend Bob, whose skills as a contractor I now have proof of.

When we started the process, people responded in one of two ways: "Oh, lucky you! I love interior design!" or "Oh, you poor things. I hope your marriage survives." In fact, it ended up being somewhere in between. It was never exactly fun—the choices could be overwhelm-ing—but fortunately we saw eye to eye on virtually every decision, so the marriage did just fine. (Me, I'm convinced our taking up separate residences for the year of construction helped immensely as well.)

In the end, the big choices, such as kitchen counter and cabinets, were suprisingly easy. It was little things like drawer pulls that tripped us up. As for tile, we haunted the local tile store, looking, looking; each time, our vision got infinitesimally more focused, until finally, many visits later, we were able to see just what we wanted. And somehow, when it came to the carpet for the upstairs loft, I managed to select the most expensive New Zealand wool in the carpet store: it was a no-brainer!

And now, we live in a gorgeous house. As not just a few random strangers have commented, it's probably the most beautiful house in our little community of 2,000. I call it my grown-up house.