Friday, July 31, 2015

365 True Things: 124/Writing

For almost fifteen years, from 1995 to 2009, I was associated with the California Coastal Conservancy's quarterly magazine, Coast & Ocean: first as a proofreader and copy editor, eventually as a contributing editor (i.e., writer). I worked with a great editor, Rasa Gustaitis, who is politically committed, smart, well connected, creative—all the qualities needed to run a top-notch publication.

Although most of my pieces were at-my-desk research articles, I occasionally got to go "on assignment," including to Humboldt County to visit a rancher, Sonoma Mission for its Indian Memorial, Mendocino County to track spotted owls.

San Miguel (see the elephant seal?)
A couple of times I was fortunate enough to go to the Channel Islands: once to ride in a boat and watch a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) fly over the strait that separates the islands from the mainland; once to write a general piece on island biogeography, which included a meeting with Tim Coonan, the National Park biologist who led the very successful island fox restoration program. That story led to a follow-up piece for Notre Dame Magazine. On that occasion, I flew out to the outermost island, San Miguel, with Tim and got a grand guided tour of the by then shuttered restoration project. What a magical experience that was!

Durum wheat in the San Joaquin valley
My last assignment was to profile the San Francisco Watershed, which involved two trips, one up to the headwaters of the Sacramento River, in the town of Mt. Shasta, the other down into the farmlands fed by the San Joaquin River.

Although the magazine no longer exists, its twenty-five years are archived online, thank goodness. It's a remarkable distillation of California (mostly coastal) natural history, political shenanigans, change, and progress.

A few years ago, I compiled a list of all the stories I wrote for C&O, for posterity. Looking at it, I realize how lucky I was: I learned so much, about a huge breadth of things; I made a good friend in Rasa (though we haven't seen each other in a while); and I even got paid pretty well. Here's the list:
“How Close Is Too Close? Is It OK to Attract Great White Sharks?” Winter/Spring 1995.
The effects of “chumming” for great whites off the Santa Cruz County coast.

“Santa Cruz Children Learn from the San Lorenzo.” Summer 1996.
Using the lessons of a river to gain appreciation of the environment.

“Waterfall Trail in Big Sur.” Summer 1997.
A clifftop walk at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

“Power Walk Along a Powerful Coast.” Winter 1997–98.
A personal account of the Big Sur International Marathon's 21-mile “power walk.”

“So Cold, So Rich with Life.” Summer 1998.
A friendly scientific description of oceanic upwelling.

“Elkhorn Slough Sea Otters.” Spring 1999.
The slough as a special habitat for sea otters on the California coast.

“A Delicate Balance in the Northern Channel Islands.” Autumn 1999.
A brief history of the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, couched in a discussion of island biogeography.

“Endangered Species Chess.” Autumn 1999.
The plight of the endemic island fox of the Channel Islands.

“Wilderness Waters: California Will Create Havens for Fish Recovery.” Winter 1999–2000.
Analysis of Marine Protected Areas and their potential impact on the California coast.

“A Second Career Beneath the Tides.” Spring 2000.
An interview with octogenarian divers and underwater photographers.

Facts of kelp forest fishes. Spring 2000.
Brief profiles of a dozen or so common fish in the California kelp forest.

“The Chance to Do Science Rather Than Talk About It.” Autumn 2000.
Profile of teacher-in-the-sea Mike Guardino, sponsored by National Geographic and Sustainable Seas Expeditions.

“Howe Creek: An Experiment in Proactive Ranching.” Winter 2000–2001.
Profile of a forward-thinking rancher in Humboldt County.

“Sharing Space with Wild Animals.” Winter 2000–2001.
Finding balance between human activities and wildlife needs in public spaces.

“A California Palette.” Spring 2001.
Personal essay on spring wildflowers in the Anza-Borrego Desert.

“My First (Star)fish.” Autumn 2001.
Memoir of a childhood fishing experience.

“Mike Murray’s Highly Unusual Practice.” Winter 2001–2.
Profile of the staff veterinarian of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“Nature Comes to South Central L.A.” Spring 2002.
Paying a visit to a brand-new “natural park” in a downtrodden part of Los Angeles.

“Mission Indians Remembered.” Summer 2002.
A visit to the Sonoma Mission Indian Memorial, dedicated in March 1999.

"Rocks and Wrecks: Offshore Monument.” Summer 2002.
Profile of the California Coastal National Monument, established May 2002.

“Murres, Come Back to Your Rocks!” Winter 2002–3.
Elementary school children paint decoys to reestablish common murres on nesting grounds ruined by a 1986 oil spill.

“Cordell Bank.” Summer 2003.
A profile of the sixth national marine sanctuary, off San Francisco.

“The Meaning of a Foot . . . or Three?” Autumn 2003.
An examination of the potential impact of sea level rise on coastal California.

“Close Encounters of an Avian Kind.” Summer 2004.
The release of captive-bred California condors in Pinnacles National Monument.

“The Flight of the ROV.” Summer 2004.
Exploring the Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas with remotely operated vehicles.

“Bringing Kelp Forests Back to Life.” Spring/Summer 2005.
Efforts of the nonprofit organization BayKeeper to restore kelp forests in Santa Monica Bay.

“Ocean Floor Mapping.” Autumn 2005.
A history of seafloor mapping, into the present-day use of Geographic Information Systems.

“Watsonville Sloughs: Discover Nature Downtown.” Spring 2006.
A visit to a wetland area in the middle of a Central California coastal town.

“Shifting Baselines.” Vol. 22, no. 3 (2006).
A scientist’s idea of “normal” can be distorted by failure to look back in time.

“What’s Killing Sea Otters?” Vol. 22, no. 4 (2007).
Scientists examine the clues and identify the culprits.

“Treasure Hunting Along Monterey Bay.” Vol. 23, no. 2 (2007).
The fun and adventure of geocaching.

“Ants!” Vol. 23, no. 4 (2007­–8).
A natural history of the Argentine ant, a recent arrival in California who is stirring up trouble.

“San Francisco Garter Snake.” Vol. 24, no. 1 (2008).
The efforts of the Golden Gate National Parks District to protect and educate people about this “most beautiful of North American snakes.”

“Into the Woods with Spotted Owls.” Vol. 24, no. 2 (2008).
A nighttime walk and talk with spotted owl biologist Mike Stephens in the redwoods of Mendocino County.

“Night Lights and Birds.” Vol. 24, no. 3 (2008).
An exploration of a little-known, but lethal in the millions, hazard for migrating birds.

“Rancho Palo Corona.” Vol. 24, no. 3 (2008).
A springtime stroll through a new parkland in Monterey County—one that fills in the missing piece to create a 70-mile-long wildlife corridor.

“Search and Rescue: A Volunteer’s First Mission.” Vol. 24, no. 4 (2008–9).
My first call-out for Monterey County Search and Rescue.

“Tracking Shark Mysteries.” Vol. 25, no. 1 (2009).
The more we learn about sharks in the wild, the more we may learn to appreciate—and protect—these ancient animals.

“Wandering the Watershed: A Road Trip.” Vol. 25, no. 2 (2009).
Exploring the San Francisco Bay watershed: the Sacramento and San Joaquin River valleys.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

365 True Things: 123/Aquarium

Our first visit to the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium was in 1985 when, as a surprise for David's birthday, I booked a room at a b&b in Santa Cruz and we came down for the day to tour the then one-year-old facility. We were awestruck.

When, five years later, a miracle happened and David was offered a teaching position in Monterey, I knew that one of the first things I'd do would be to visit the aquarium again—and this time, find out how to become a volunteer guide. It certainly helped that the house we rented our first year was about four blocks away. If nothing else, I'd be able to get to work easily enough.

That fall, I started taking the one-night-a-week semester-length crash course in marine biology and local history that, come January, saw me graduating into my "trusty rusty"—the burnt-orange jacket that all us guides wore—with the accompanying official name badge ☞ . (Current badges feature only a first name. I guess that's friendlier.)

While learning the ropes with my mentor Lowell Battcher, at one point he asked me which shift I was thinking of. I said, oh, maybe a midweek morning. He asked me how I liked children—because morning was when school groups came. He then suggested Wednesday third shift: nice and quiet; you can really talk to people on Wednesday third. That was some of the best advice I've ever gotten.

So for fifteen years, most every Wednesday I found myself in the briefing room at 2:30, then out on the floor at 3:30, until 6. We always got assigned stations, though in my early years they tended to be loose: lots of "roves." I especially liked hanging around the Kelp Forest and Deep Reef exhibits, which were large, with big windows. I'd eavesdrop, and when someone would say, "I wonder why . . . ," I'd be right there with an answer—and a friendly, informative chat would ensue. It was nice.

I also started doing the Kelp Forest narration—standing in front of the exhibit with a microphone and having a conversation with a diver in the tank who was feeding the fish, then taking questions from the audience; and the Otter narration—which, otters! Being fed and performing cute otter antics! What could be better?

As time went on, more "carts" were installed: specialized stations for showing visitors marine mammal artifacts (otter fur and skulls, baleen, orca teeth) or for talking about the aquarium's Seafood Watch program. Our tasks, including the narrations, became more scripted. There was less ability to mingle.

Finally, after fifteen years (I still have my 15-year sea star pin, somewhere), it was time to move on. I missed the freedom of the early years. But I did enjoy that decade and a half. I learned so much, and I made a few good friends on my W3 shift.

A fresh Velella velella
I thought of this today when, walking on a beach at Asilomar, I saw hundreds of dried-out by-the-wind sailors (Velella velella), a sort of jellyfish. If I hadn't been an aquarium guide, I might not even have noticed these creatures, and I certainly wouldn't have known what they were. I really did learn so much over those fifteen years. I am grateful for that.

It also reminded me that I haven't been to the aquarium in eons! It's time to pay another visit. Though I think I'll wait until the summer crowds have eased. Maybe another surprise trip for David's birthday. He will be surprised, but it won't be as elaborate of a trip.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

365 True Things: 122/Action

Yesterday the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by a Minnesota dentist trophy hunter blew up on the Internet—with reason. The tactics used were cheap (baiting and luring), arrogant (although I like lists, I do not like lists like the trophy hunters' "Super Slam"), and expensive (the equivalent of four years' tuition at a pretty good college), and the result was the death of a beautiful, beloved, innocent animal.

But what good does moral outrage really do? Of course it's sickening what happened, but we can't get Cecil—or all the rhinoceroses, tigers, elephants, and other animals killed each year (each month) for their monetarily valuable "parts"—back.

Because of course, an even bigger problem than trophy hunting is poaching: killing for "aphrodisiacs," for illegal ivory, for whatever ridiculous "needs" we humans have.

As the Washington Post reported today, "As the world mourned Cecil the lion, five of Kenya's endangered elephants were slain."

It's abhorrent. But maybe Cecil's death will bring some awareness to this awful issue.

And yes, we can do something, beyond being morally outraged. At the passive end of the spectrum, we can sign online petitions, like one urging Delta Airlines to stop transporting exotic trophy animals.

If we love elephants, we can support (so named because "96 elephants are killed in Africa every day"), which offers various avenues of action.

We can donate to conservation groups that are working to make a difference for all these animals. Even if we can't go out and stop the murders ourselves, we can contribute to a larger good that is trying to do so.

This is a huge topic. And this is a blog, so limited by design and intent. I did, however, want to point to a website, One Green Planet, and a useful list it posted a year ago: not all just your usual conservation suspects, but groups focused (at least as part of their mission) specifically on poaching.
There are, I'm sure, many many many more groups that are doing good work and can use support. I would urge you to find one—and it needn't be conservation oriented: give to a local shelter, food bank, or health clinic, if people are your bag.

If nothing else, I hope that Cecil has inspired at least some of the people who shouted moral outrage to act on their feelings.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

363 True Things: 121/Harley

A couple of years ago, I took a motorcycle safety class sponsored by the California Highway Patrol (my second time through—I was brushing up). Shortly thereafter, I bought myself a bike: a Harley Davidson Sportster 883. Which I rode for a while, but then left in storage in my new garage. Distracted by other things.

Including (I confess) fear.

My bike is a pretty big bike. And riding a motorcycle is not like riding a bicycle.

In the safety class, we rode a dainty little Buell, 500cc maybe (though I think it might have been smaller—350? 175?). And we were in a parking lot. There was no traffic. Occasionally we had to dodge a traffic cone, but those don't hurt you. The scariest thing about the safety class was our teacher. And the prospect you might FAIL. Which I did not, either time. Though I'm pretty sure I came close.

There are things I can't do well on a motorcycle. Like do a perfect U-turn. Or stop on a dime when someone (a fierce teacher, for example) is watching.

But I'd like to learn. And that will take practice.

So: back to my motorcycle in storage. Today I decided, OKAY, it's time. Let's get this beast back on the road. Some time ago, I borrowed a trickle charger from a friend, which should get the battery going again. But . . . where is the battery? I leafed through my generic Harley Davidson Motorcycles 1992 Owner's Manual. Finally figured out which specific model I have (an XLH 883 "Hugger"). Found the basic location of the battery. Unscrewed a few screws (one was a little stripped), only to find: the ignition module! Okay. I misread the diagram. Rescrewed, then started feeling around the big silver box that, it would seem, houses the battery. But no luck. Just some dirty engine oil on my fingers (oh yikes, an oil leak—and yes, there's a little oil on the garage floor).

I decided to wait until David got home: a Y chromosome could have some useful input re the battery's location.

And this is where we stand. David has not looked. I in the meantime did, sort of, look to see if there are any motorcycle maintenance classes in the area. (Of course not.) But maybe we'll manage to uncover the battery, hook up the trickle charger, get it running. Tomorrow. Maybe.

Or if not: I'll call the local motorcycle shop, ask them to pick up my bike and give it a service. I'll get it (and intimidated me) on the road yet.

I'm determined to master this beast.

Or sell it.

That's also an option.

Time will tell.

Monday, July 27, 2015

365 True Things: 120/Perseverance

Today on our afternoon walk, we decided to look for some caches we found several years ago before David had his own geo-name. One of them, Eagle Rock Memories, we had been FTF (first to find), in April 2012. Today, we searched and searched and searched, and couldn't find it! However, because I'd been first to find, I was damned if I was going to cop to a DNF (did not find) today.

The site was a bench, surrounded by scruffy shrubs and ice plant, on a low bluff next to a beach. The hint for the listing suggested the cache was hanging—which we took to mean in the shrubbery, based on other logs that said . . .

Oh, the details aren't important, except one: a couple of months ago, a cacher whom I admire and consider very accomplished, posted a DNF. He had searched fifteen minutes, including, I surmise from his log, the bench. Which is why we focused so thoroughly on all that nasty shrubbery: if Alastair had searched the bench, there was no way it could be there!

In the meantime, the CO (cache owner) checked, and he said the cache was right where it should be. So we knew it was somewhere! I mean, what were the chances it had been "muggled" (cache-speak for destroyed by non-geocachers)?

The point is: I was stubborn and refused to give up.

And at last, after we'd spent a good fifteen or twenty minutes looking in all the scruffy shrubs around, I decided to take another look at the bench. And sure enough, there it was, hanging on the side of a leg! Camouflaged by shadow and foliage, but still: right where any self-respecting CO would put it. Not in the stinking shrubbery!

So yay for perseverance. And boo for a mindset that had us looking everywhere but in the right place.

Isn't that so often the case? We get our brains wrapped around a particular idea and are unable to see what is, for all intents and purposes, right in front of us.

Today's lesson in that was of minor consequence, really. But it was good to be reminded how important it is to keep an open mind, think outside the box, and not get sidetracked by what we tell ourselves, which could very well be wrong.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

365 True Things: 119/SAR

Me in a Blackhawk
Nine years ago today, I was sworn in as a volunteer on the Monterey County Sheriff's Search & Rescue team. We're a relatively small group, around forty, half sworn deputies, half volunteers. We have a monthly training—on anything from patient packaging to ropes systems to navigation to running a search—and otherwise we mainly see each other on missions. And at the annual Christmas party.

Our general territory is huge, around 3,200 square miles, though most of our activity is in the Ventana Wilderness/Los Padres National Forest or on the rugged Big Sur coast. Our missions include searches for lost hikers, assistance to injured hikers, body recoveries of suicides off Bixby Bridge or of the occupants of cars that drive over the coastal cliffs, the occasional evidence search. We assist other teams throughout California (mutual aid) thanks to our affiliation with the Mountain Rescue Association.

A search area
One of my favorite stories involves a 15-year-old boy from Tajikistan, an exchange student who had been in the US for only a few days. He and his host guardian were camping at a beautiful campsite, Pico Blanco Public Camp, with a little waterfall nearby. Maybe fighting jet lag, he wandered up toward a peak before his guardian awoke. On the way down, he went the wrong direction. We found him after he'd spent one day and one night out alone. He slept in a hollow tree. When he heard my colleague Steve coming down the Little Sur River shouting his name, he dashed out, threw his arms around Steve, and started bawling. I can only imagine his fear, loneliness—and ultimately, relief.

Then there's the mutual aid search for a 72-year-old lost hunter who was missing for eighteen days all told, which you can read about in this story. Although SAR didn't find him, he was found, alive and well, and it felt a bit like a miracle. It reminds me never to underestimate the staying power of someone who's lost, no matter his age.

Then again, one of our most recent calls was a search for a 76-year-old day hiker, who has still not been found. We don't have any idea where he was headed, which is a problem. We searched the likely areas. Unfortunately, some mysteries are never resolved.

Today there was a call to a trail—a very bad trail—I was just yesterday talking about with someone familiar with the area: Soberanes Canyon. An injury (probably a broken ankle: that's what happens at Soberanes). I was not able to respond, as I was on a hike elsewhere. If I had been home, I would have responded eagerly: it's been too long since I've been on a SAR mission.

365 True Things: 118/Art (7/25/15)

Today we went to San Francisco to spend the day with more old friends (cf. post #110)—these two even older: I've known Tom since, I don't know, 1973? He was a French horn player then, spent his working career as a piano tuner, and now builds vintage keyboard instruments, as well as (we learned today) beautiful folk harps and hurdy-gurdies. His Australia-born, Hawaii-raised wife, Michele, is a beloved high school music teacher, violist, and one of the most positive-spirited people I know. They both also do Scottish dancing—and so much more. It was wonderful to reconnect with them, after a gap of over two years.

Wood Line
But today I want to write about what we spent the day doing, which was: visit four environmental art installations by Andy Goldsworthy in the San Francisco Presidio.

I first learned about the Yorkshire native, now Scotland resident, Goldsworthy (b. 1956) from books: A Collaboration with Nature (1990) and Wood (1996). I would sit for hours and devour the photos, documents of some of the work he's done with natural, often ephemeral, materials such as leaves, rock, snow, and ice. Then there was a documentary about him, Rivers and Tides—one of the very few DVDs I actually own. The beginning words: "Art for me is a form of nourishment. I need the land. I need it." Art and the land get mixed up both in these words and in his work, in such a beautiful way.

Over the years, I've seen his work in person in Glasgow, Washington DC, and at San Francisco's De Young Museum, a fabulous piece called "Drawn Stone" that accompanies you as you enter the museum.

I'd heard that he had four site-specific works in the Presidio, which is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and suggested that we try to find them—an outing! And Tom and Michele hadn't known about them, so even better!

The only problem was, Michele has a broken foot and is on crutches. But we figured we'd see what we could, and she was game to wait in the car when necessary. (Positive spirit, remember.)

We found them easily. Three ("Wood Line," "Tree Fall," and "Earth Wall") involved eucalyptus trees, one ("Spire") Monterey cypress, all historic trees that were being culled for various reasons.

Tree Fall
The installations are variously impermanent: in the case of "Spire" (2008)—15 feet wide at its base and stretching 100 feet high, made of 37 tree trunks—seedling cypresses have been planted all around and will eventually grow up to engulf the piece; the gum trees that form "Wood Line" (2011), a 1,200-foot winding line of eucalypt trunks, will deteriorate over time, as deadwood does. "Tree Fall," a sculpture that combines a single tree and the ceiling of a historic gun powder magazine, both covered in straw and mud, may or may not last: it's a sort of experiment. Over the two years it's been in place, the mud has cracked and changed color, and continues to evolve.

Earth Wall

"Earth Wall," the most recent, completed in 2014, is perhaps the most permanent of the four sculptures—and to my mind, perhaps the most interesting (a tie with "Tree Fall," really). It comprises bent eucalyptus branches that were assembled into a sculpture attached to a wall of the Presidio Officers' Club; encased in a new, rammed-earth wall; then carefully excavated.

A bunch of years ago, I took an art class on color at the local college. Color theory, color harmony, color meaning, color play. For one of the assignments, I borrowed from a Goldsworthy piece—a boulder wrapped in red poppy petals ☞ —and created an oversized ice cube covered in California poppy petals. I then took the orange ice to the beach, placed it at the intersection of sand and sea, and photographed it as it melted, returned to petals, and dissolved into/floated out into the Pacific.

I think Andy Goldsworthy is an amazing obsessive. I think I might be afraid of obsession. Of losing myself in something I love so much. But he gets results. Maybe obsession isn't such a bad thing—if directed well.

If you're interested in seeing more about Goldsworthy's Presidio installations, including videos, go to

Friday, July 24, 2015

365 True Things: 117/TV

We don't have cable or satellite. We used to have cable, but we rarely watched broadcast TV. So when we built the new house, got the new flat-screen TV, we decided just to make do with Netflix DVDs and streaming, Amazon streaming, and whatever access we could figure out via the Web. (As I wrote about at the end of May [#62], that last took me a couple of years, and I haven't had occasion to try it again since, but I'm hopeful it's still there.)

A few years ago, we started watching Breaking Bad on DVD and were immediately hooked. I know a lot of people who didn't like that show because of its violence, its amorality. But I thought the screenplay, the acting, the art direction, the twists and turns of the plot, and pretty much everything about it was excellent. As for the violence—yeah, but it's Hollywood. Sure, sure, there were some over-the-top events, some of which never quite made sense, but—yeah, Hollywood.

We had watched all the episodes up to the last half of season 5 when . . . no more DVDs! It took  quite a while after the entire series wrapped up (seemed to me) before that last tenth of the show was released. So it faded from our radar.

(And because I'm not bothered by spoilers, I did find out how it ended pretty much immediately. "Knowing how" is not the same as watching the final enactment, after all. Plus, I'm the impatient sort.)

Pilot: a one-episode masterpiece
Now the whole series is on Netflix streaming. I decided to watch it again from the start, and was delighted—again—with the excellence. Walter's at-first-slow then ever-accelerating slide into criminality. The sometimes sparkling dialogue. The way the lead-in to each show went at its own pace, some very quick, others lasting minutes—doing whatever needed to be done to set up that episode. There was the season (2) that began with a shot of a pink stuffed bear missing an eye and people in hazmat suits, which continue to haunt the story until, in the last episode, their significance becomes clear (both plotwise and metaphorically, one might argue). There were excellent characters (as well as some pretty annoying ones). There was humor, pathos, outrage, helplessness. There were consequences for actions. (And not.)

Last night we finished watching the first half of season 5. Tonight, we'll start in on the last eight episodes—the new territory.

I love streaming (or DVDs), the fact that you can binge-watch, and the ready access we have to all sorts of excellent entertainment nowadays.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

365 True Things: 116/Olympics

In February 2006, I went to Italy to meet up with my cousin Kris and her partner, Diane, and attend the Olympics in Torino. We went to several of the men's speed skating events (Kris knew two of the competitors) and, for a laugh, a curling session. Now, there's a wacky sport!

I have been in love with speed skating ever since Bonnie Blair took the Olympics by storm in 1994. For years I had a photo of her hanging on the wall by my desk for inspiration. And in 2006, it was exciting being in the stands watching the men—including Apolo Ohno, who won gold in the 500-meter short track.

In 1984, David and I went to two events at the Los Angeles Olympics: men's soccer in the Rose Bowl and an afternoon of track and field at the Coliseum. The highlight there was watching Carl Lewis win a medal, though the entire experience was interesting simply because so much is going on at once in the Olympic stadium. Lewis, for example, was waaaaaay over there across the field, so seeing him and his opponents run their heat was a little anticlimactic. You don't really have a sense of scale—of speed or might—sitting way up high. Even with binoculars, the athletes just look like . . . people, running and jumping around and throwing things.

I'll probably never go to the Olympics again, but it's nice to be able to say I've been to two of them!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

365 True Things: 115/Glads

I love gladioli—they make me glad! I especially love red-orange glads, though that particular color also makes me feel bittersweet. They were the favorite flower, and favorite color, of a friend of mine, Leslie, who was killed in a car crash in 2001: her husband swerved to avoid a deer and hit a concrete telephone pole instead. She was only forty-two, and had a six-year-old son, Jesse. Who must now be twenty. So very sad.

Leslie's birthday was in June, and her friends knew to shower her with red-orange glads.

I met Leslie working at a publishing business in San Francisco: we put together the printed programs for the symphony and opera. She then moved over to PC World magazine, and finally to MacWorld. I freelanced for all these publications each month during the production period—that was back in the day of doing paste-up and spec'ing photos to fit in rubylith boxes. Old school.

Leslie and I were in a book group together—she loved to read and had excellent taste in books. She also had big beautifully clear blue eyes and dimples. And a wonderful sense of humor.

While I was going through photos recently, I found a Christmas card from Leslie, from 2000. In it she mentioned troubles in her marriage but said that they were finally starting to work things through. She sounded optimistic, hopeful. I also found a picture of Jesse at age three, in the cockpit of a United airliner. And I found the "program" from her memorial service, which features a photo—as if she's peering out through the double-lined box—and the poem "The Wild Iris" by Louise Gluck:
At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again; whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.
Today when I saw they had glads at Safeway, and the right color, and for only $2.99 a bunch, I had to buy some.  Every year when they arrive, I think of Leslie and am glad I knew her. For too short a time, and not as well as I would have liked. But she enriched my life even so.

Reading "The Wild Iris" out loud to David this evening while he cooked pork chops, I cried. "It is terrible to survive / as consciousness / buried in the dark earth. // Then it was over: that which you fear, being / a soul and unable / to speak, ending abruptly." Love you and miss you, Leslie.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

365 True Things: 114/Theater

When I was a teenager, my mom often took me to the theater in downtown Los Angeles. The Ahmanson Theater or the more intimate Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center, usually. High-class stuff.

I remember one season of the Royal Shakespeare Company when we saw Much Ado about Nothing with Alan Howard (Leslie of Gone with the Wind's nephew) and Janet Suzman—dubbed by the Telegraph one of the top ten Benedick-and-Beatrice pairs in the history of theater. 

We also saw a RSC performance of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, with someone now well known—Judi Dench? Diana Rigg?--as Helen of Troy. I knew for a long time, but now I've forgotten. In any case, that production was revelatory for me: I was enthralled, both by the story and by the production, the acting, the stagecraft. The next year when I was in school in Germany, we read Goethe's Faust, and I was 100 percent motivated to understand. More so, I daresay, than when I read Shakespeare.

I wish I remembered all of the plays my mother and I went to see. I'm pretty sure we saw The Music Man (whose author attended our Congregational church) on stage. Cabaret, definitely, with Joel Grey. Equus. I can still envision the opening scene of Amadeus, where the entire cast, it seemed, was randomly moving about the stage whispering, "Salieri!" in overlapping syncopated rhythms. It was mesmerizing.

What's making me think about this today is the death of Theodore Bikel. Whom I never saw on stage, but when I read the news I immediately thought of "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof. Which I did see, with Zero Mostel in the role of Tevye. (I am pretty sure this is true. Though now I'm doubting myself and wondering if it was Bikel I saw. Which would be why I associate him with the role of Tevye so strongly. Oy, memory, thou fickle friend.)

Not long after, I saw a German production of Fiddler, where I was so disappointed to hear the joke of "with one long staircase just going up, and one even longer coming down" translated into something that made no sense (because it actually made sense, when it shouldn't have). I've always loved that line. The words of someone who will never have what he dreams of, so he might as well dream.

Theodore Bikel was part of my youth for reasons that I also can't remember. I don't recognize any of the album titles in his discography. But I know I heard him sing, and I admired him. Beautiful voice, beautiful man.

RIP, Mr. Bikel.

Monday, July 20, 2015

365 True Things: 113/Movies

I just saw a notice in our local weekly newspaper that the only "art house" theater in Monterey, the Osio, is closing its doors, effective immediately. The management cites several reasons: debt from too little business, competition from online streaming services, and an expensive conversion to digital projectors three years ago.

I did not go to the Osio often, but I went there far more often than to the mainstream cinema. I've seen so many excellent indie and foreign films there.

Unfortunately, I did not care for the individual theaters (too small, had to arrive way early to ensure decent seating), and that kept me from going, except to see movies I was especially eager to see on a big screen. Also, the parking situation was lousy at best.

I do now tend to see most movies by streaming, but that's not really different from before, when I would wait until movies came out on DVD and then get them from Video-to-Go—which also closed a few years ago because of competition, followed shortly thereafter by the big Blockbuster chain itself, which had a store right across the street from Video-to-Go. I tried to support the little guy right up to the end.

Everything is done via the megamonsters now: Netflix and, for books (or to purchase DVDs, something I don't do), Amazon.

The last film to show at the Osio will be (with fitting irony) The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, at 7:20 this evening. If I wanted to see it, I might go, as a show of too-late support.

Now I guess I'll have to watch the movie listings at Santa Cruz's indie theater, the Nickelodeon, or Palo Alto has several indie theaters—though that would have to be more than just a movie outing. Or . . . I can simply wait until movies are released on DVD or streaming. And if I really need a big-screen fix, there's usually some more or less decent Hollywood film showing at Monterey's Cinemark 13.

Still: I'll miss the Osio. What a cryin' shame.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

365 True Things: 112/Petrichor

It is just 6 a.m., nine minutes after. Half an hour or so ago I was awakened by the sound of pouring rain—thrumming into the creek that flows outside our thick-stone-walled room, onto the skylight, onto the dirt paths and golden hillsides surrounding Tassajara. Mary was leaning out the back door taking it in; I went to the front, stepped onto the flagstone stoop: and there was that magic smell of a first rain, which I love has its own name—petrichor. It’s one of my favorite words: from the Greek petra, meaning stone + ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. And certainly one of my favorite experiences, to breathe that beautiful smell in deeply. 

Just now there was lightning, and the thunder a second or two behind. This was the third clap since the rain started. At the first flash of lightning, the thunder followed by many seconds. So: the center of the storm is getting closer.

Okay: and another flash, followed immediately by loud thunder. It’s arrived!

And another, with the thunder now off to the left, moving away.

In the midst of all this downpour, I heard the slow beating of the drum as the zen practitioners were called to sit in the zendo.

Eleven years ago, I went to India to work for a week as a dental assistant with a relief organization. One of the dentists volunteering his services, Dr. Tom Grams, spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. I remember him describing the wild joy that people experienced there at the first rain. I innocently remarked that I understood: it’s just as wonderful for us Californians. I still recall the look of . . . it wasn’t quite scorn, but close, when he explained about Afghans and abject poverty and rain being close to a miracle in that bone-dry place for people relying on dirt-scrape farming.

He was right that I don’t need the rain, not the same way poor Afghans do. But then again, part of my soul does feel revived by it. And the first rain seems close enough to a miracle to me too, if for different reasons. (And, yeah, actually, even Californians need rain.)

Dr. Tom Grams was murdered five years ago with nine others, in Afghanistan while on a relief mission, by the Taliban. I heard the news on NPR while driving to Carmel to a yoga class. I did not know him well, but I had various strong impressions of him from our week working together: Gentle humor as he assessed fearless young children who had never been to a dentist before. Generosity: I bought an Afghan rug in India, and he offered to pick more up for me on his next trip to Afghanistan. Selflessness. He went into semiretirement in his forties specifically so he could travel to some of the poorest countries in the world and help people. He had a big, beautiful heart.

A videographer who was on that trip to India, a close friend of Tom's, made a short film about him from our time there. It's worth a look.

At every first rain here in California, I think of Tom and feel a loss, co-mingling with the joy of petrichor. Bittersweet.

And now, it's 6:45 and the rain's all over, though there is the renewed sound of the drum beating. The day has begun.

365 True Things: 111/Food (7/18/15)

I am at Tassajara Zen Center, deep in the Santa Lucia Mountains. It is the place where Edward Espe Brown’s Tassajara Bread Book originated, and nowadays during the “guest season” (May to September) it has a busy kitchen that prepares scrumptious vegetarian fare. Many years ago I did a workshop here centered on food: our job at the end of the day was to prepare dinner for all the guests. Me, I was in charge of separating dozens of eggs (46, to be exact—individual eggs, that is; not dozens of), which it was suggested I do with my bare hands. That made it very easy! The eggs went into sinfully delicious chocolate tortes. 

Today we arrived in time for lunch, which consisted of a cannelini bean soup—rich with chunks of kale—a dense rye bread, and a perfectly dressed green salad with thinly sliced peppers, cherry tomatoes, and roasted pumpkin seeds. Tonight, dinner will be tofu stew and biscuits, beet and arugula salad, broccoli with mustard sauce, and lemon sponge custard with strawberries. I never am disappointed by Tassajara’s meals.

Although I enjoy vegetarian food, I rarely cook vegetarian dishes‐at least from recipes. I have several veg/vegan cookbooks, and yes, I’ve found some recipes I like. But if I’m going to the trouble of cooking, I prefer to make something more . . . not exactly complicated, since veggie recipes can be quite complex. But more . . . varied in terms of textures and tastes, maybe.

But that’s just a mindset that I suppose I could overcome. Perhaps when I get home, I’ll pull down one of my vegetarian cookbooks and find a recipe to prepare. Because it is good for one to, as Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Friday, July 17, 2015

365 True Things: 110/Friends

Today we met up with some old, old friends, Jan and Catharina de Kat.

Well, they are actually younger than us. But we've known them a long time. Since graduate school at Berkeley, which was in the early 1980s.

Then we moved to Illinois, and they moved to Holland. Since then, we've seen them . . . twice? three times?

I do remember the last visit they made here in—they reckon—2003. And I went and visited them in Holland, apparently in April 2004. I'm still racking my brain to remember just why I was passing through their neck of neatly manicured Dutch suburbia. I know that on that visit I went to world-famous Keukenhof (of the amazing tulip gardens ☝) as well. But where was I coming from? Where was I going to? I'm pretty sure I was traveling on my own. My memory fails me entirely . . .

I could write a post about that phenomenon, but I'd as soon not.

What I wanted to write about today is just how lovely it is to meet up with friends after a long gap, not really having had much contact in the meantime, and to feel like we'd just seen each other a few months or even weeks ago. That wonderful feeling of connection and mutual interests. Today we also got to remeet their three children, Annelien, Julian, and Helena, now 27, 25, and 23—mature young people pursuing education and/or careers in medicine (gynecology), naval architecture (following in his father's footsteps), and international law, respectively.

Several years ago, the family moved to Copenhagen. Jan, though Dutch, was born in Indonesia and spent some of his youth in Australia. Catharina was born in Canada and holds U.S. (as well as Canadian and Dutch) citizenship. The three children, who are U.S. and Dutch citizens, all live in Holland now, while their parents will remain in Denmark until Jan retires—from a job that takes him at regular intervals to Houston.

The international lives of ex-pats boggles my mind. (I've got another friend who's German/Belgian/Italian, and who it is similarly fluidly easy to meet up with every so often.) I envy them in many ways, the richness of so many cultures. I just get to dabble, when I travel.

But despite their different lives, I am also reminded that we're not so very different: we thrive on the same pleasures, we have similar values, we have so many connections. That's a beautiful thing.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

365 True Things: 109/Walking

Today the acquaintance who started me on this bloggy road to ruin posted about her Fitbit. And I thought, Oh, what a good idea!

I do not have a Fitbit, but I do have a Jawbone UP band (first generation; they are now up to gen 4). Same thing, though I expect the interfaces are different. My friend's, for example, tells her how many miles she's walked (5.93 today, in Provincetown MA) and gives her a cumulative total for the year (782.39). Mine does not; maybe because it's gen 1, but I don't know.

I got my UP Band a couple of years ago so I could be sure to walk at least 10,000 steps, or somewhat under 5 miles, a day (on a weekly average: I am not a slave-driver, especially not of myself . . . quite the opposite).

In January, I took it off for whatever reason—a shower is likely (I try not to get it wet)—and it stayed off. Until our recent trip to Norway, when I thought it would be interesting to see how far I walked each day. Since that's hands down my most favorite thing to do when I travel, is walk.

Heidi fording meltwater on a perfectly perfect day
So, the results  were pretty good. Although there were a number of days with less than 10,000 steps (travel days, rainy days, lazy days—it was vacation, after all), there were a number of 20,000-plus days as well, especially in Bergen. There was even one 32,447-step day, which came on the heels of a 26,574-step day—a two-day total of over twenty-five miles! That was on our fabulous if sloshy hike to a hut at Tuva on the Hardangervidda.

I love to walk, so I'm not especially concerned about the number of steps I take. Though it is excellent encouragement, at the end of the day, to look and see you're at 8,000 and then take yourself out for just another wee walk to get up to 10,000.

Since I've been home, I've been hit or miss about wearing the band, and when I have worn it, I see I've been lazy: not too many 10,000-step days. The last such was July 10, 22,868 steps (10.18 miles—apparently I do have a mileage indicator), when I was working moving dirt on the Pine Ridge Trail in Big Sur. Some of those "steps" may have been swings of my tools: I don't know how this gizmo really works. (And in fact, I think the gizmo is confused now as to what date it is, since it suggests that I spent that day—which was actually the day before—working between 3 p.m. and 11:46 p.m.) But I do know I worked very hard that day, whatever day it was, so I'll take the credit.

I am not wearing my UP band now. I should probably get back in the habit, though. It keeps me honest—and more to the point, fit. Or at least moving.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

365 True Things: 108/Consciousness

The other day in my Questing group, we were talking about, among other things, that tiniest of moments that occurs after we experience a stimulus and before we respond to it. The specific context was the Internet, and how very easy it is to get sucked into the ether and waste time, simply because we stop paying attention. That split second when, if we are paying attention, we can exercise free will and resist we dubbed MIND THE GAP. We all agreed it might serve as a useful mantra.

I've got all sorts of good intentions about being more conscious—including sitting and meditating, of course, but even just mindfully washing the dishes or working in the garden (or writing this blog). The key is mindfulness: and actively exercising that capability, as if it were a muscle. Which in a way it is. It's certainly a source of power, but only if it's in good shape.

So I hereby remind myself once again to MIND THE GAP. It's important!

Mary Oliver again:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

365 True Things: 107/Cars

Today while I was out and about, I saw two vintage (like, 1960s) VW bugs, both powder blue. They reminded me of the first car that I remember: a 1958 dark green VW bug. Like the one shown above, but not blue (and perhaps without whitewalls), and ours had a wood-and- metal roof rack. I remember the hood— which was actually the trunk—with its vertical handle and the colorful enamel Wolfsburg crest. And the plain painted metal dashboard, with the crest again on the horn.

My, how cars have changed.

My father bought that car in 1958 while we were traveling in Europe for a few months. I do not remember an iota of that journey: I was three. The VW bug was my only souvenir. And it was traded in (for a Toyota     . . . Tercel? black-and-yellow license plate TBS 008) well before I came of driving age.

We also—this would have been my mother's car, I guess—had a blue Chevy station wagon. That was the car we took to travel on summer vacations to Lassen National Park and the Mendocino coast, and it's what my mom used to deliver me to whatever activities I had. Though there was a lot less of that when I was growing up than there is now.

The car I learned to drive in was a 1970-ish white Chevelle. I still to this day cringe when I think of the cement parking garage pillar I scraped on one of my first outings. My poor mother . . . the things she put up with.

My own first car was a 1975 lime green Honda CVCC (Civic) hatchback, bought for $3,000—half my money, half my dad's. I called it Elsie, for "Little Car." I did love that car, and it took me near and far over the years. We finally sold it in 1987, moving up to a red Toyota Corolla FX16, zoom. And now, since 2000, I have a Toyota 4Runner, which I will soon be shopping around to replace.

I am a woman of allegiance: just three cars in forty years. I like that about myself.

And during those years, I've only been in two accidents, both without casualties: one, on my birthday in, oh, 1975—the first rain of the season in L.A. (Yes, I was that driver; and now that I think of it, it was that Chevelle, poor old car.) The second while driving on an icy interstate a few years later, in my Honda: the dang road threw me into a guard rail! (And a dozen years later, Pennsylvania sent me a bill for the guard rail! I laughed!)

Today, I consider myself a good driver. A bit fast maybe, but confident and safe. I have only gotten one speeding ticket that I needed to attend traffic school for. And that's pretty good, considering . . .

Monday, July 13, 2015

365 True Things: 106/Questing

A little over ten years ago, as my friend Annie's sixtieth birthday party was winding down, I found myself sitting next to a mutual friend, Wendy, who also happens to be an Episcopalian priest. She asked if I go to church. I told her no. She said, "That's too bad. I was thinking of inviting you to join a prayer group I'm starting up." I said, "Oh, but that sounds interesting. Sure, count me in."

Soon thereafter, when Wendy told Annie that I'd agreed to join the group, Annie guffawed! She thought that was hysterical.

I call myself the group's token pagan. Necessary counterbalance to those Episcopalians.

Wendy on the left, Annie on the right

But we've been at it now for a decade, meeting—with great gratitude and joy—more or less monthly. We started out a foursome, but Wendy's old old friend Jane left the group several years ago because of family responsibilities and geographical challenges (she lives halftime in California's Central Valley, halftime in Pacific Grove). So now it's Wendy, Annie, and me.

We begin by "checking in": talking about recent personal highs and lows. Then we do what we call "African Bible Study," which as I understand it is based on how missionaries in Africa would teach the Bible to illiterate converts. Yes, we often do read a Bible passage, but me, pagan that I am, I have a very hard time finding anything in the Bible that speaks to me. Of course, I don't really know the Bible, so my search for something inspiring tends to be pretty hit-or-miss.

Usually, instead, I offer a poem: Denise Levertov, Hafiz, Rumi, or—very often—Mary Oliver, who combines a spiritual depth (especially lately) with passion for the world. I identify with both those traits.

Today, I had decided on a poem by Fernando Pessoa I saw yesterday on Facebook and liked pretty well (and it mentioned God—"Thank God there's imperfection in the World"—always a plus). But at the last minute I switched, to a Mary Oliver poem we've done before, possibly more than once: "Wild Geese." It turned out to be an inspired last-minute change, because what did two of us talk about in our check-ins but, essentially, not wanting to be good anymore, in the sense of maintaining personal obligations that have now become burdens, plain and simple.

And as always, we all found something resonant. Our lives keep changing and we keep growing, and a new reading brings different insight. Without fail.

Here's how the process goes:

African Bible Study
  1. Read the passage aloud. Silence. Name a word or phrase that struck you. 
  2. Read the passage aloud a second time. Silence. Reflect on what themes or concerns are raised for you, using “I” language. 
  3. Read the passage aloud a final time. Silence. What insights or challenges have come to you? How is God calling you to change, serve, or celebrate? 
"Wild Geese"
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

365 True Things: 105/Bread

When I was in my twenties, I loved baking bread. I enjoyed the slow process, the physical work of kneading, and the aroma that filled the house as the dough transformed in the oven. I'd bake bread while studying: it provided enforced breaks from whatever textbook or research project I was working on.

Fast-forward twenty-odd years. Somehow, I came into possession of an automatic bread maker. I believe it was my mother's, and she had stopped using it. I used it a couple of times, but it was an early model and made big round loaves. Which to my mind just ain't right. A loaf of bread should be square, not cylindrical. I soon got rid of that bread maker, recycled it to a thrift store.

More recently, I decided to give a bread maker another try. A friend of mine has a Breville, and she said she used it a lot. It makes a rectangular loaf of high quality. I bought one and made a few very good loaves of bread. But for the past year or more, the machine has been languishing on the pantry floor.

Coming home from vacation—when all things are possible!—I decided to dust off the bread maker. My original intention was to try making some serious whole-grain bread full of seeds and yumminess, but I haven't found the right recipe yet. (And that may be something I have to bake in the old-fashioned way.) I did, however, find a recipe for sourdough starter.

And at the moment, my bread machine is well into the first rise of a Crusty Sourdough loaf. I took a picture, but really, there's nothing visually inspiring about a blob of dough. So I'm illustrating this post with a photo from Molokai—much more evocative.

Here's the recipe for the starter, which takes eight days to make:
  1. Combine 1 tsp flour and 1 tsp water in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature overnight.
  2. Stir in 1 tsp flour and 1 tsp water. Cover and let sit overnight.
  3. Stir in 2 tsp flour and 2 tsp water. Cover, let sit.
  4. Stir in 4 Tb flour and 4 Tb water. Cover, let sit.
  5. Stir in 8 Tb flour and 8 Tb water. Cover, let sit.
  6. Stir in 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cut water. Cover, let sit.
  7. Take 1 cup of the starter (discarding the rest) and mix it with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water. Allow to rise at room temperature for 24 hours.
  8. You are ready to make sourdough bread.
Or—my former favorite—sourdough buckwheat waffles! Keeping the starter alive will be my next trick, allowing more scrumptious yumminess, I hope.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

365 True Things: 104/Frivolity

This evening we went to a pizza get-together of some forty geocachers. I always enjoy these events because they allow me to attach faces to the fanciful names that geocachers create for themselves. Tonight, for example, I got to meet Kemborg, Paper Owl, and pinkey19487. And I got to chat with DragonsWest and mimring (whose name, he rather sheepishly explained, is based on Thor's sword). My own name, annevoi, is a mash-up of my name and a shortened form of the verb "can" in Finnish (the full form is voidä), in turn for a shortened form of my last name. I use annevoi in other contexts as well, and so far I've never found anyone else who uses it.

Tonight we got a "souvenir" for having attended a geocaching event. We're trying to collect all five souvenirs over the course of a few months. The first one was for finding a cache with more than 10 favorite points; that was easy. The next souvenir, I believe, will be for finding a cache with a difficulty rating of 5 (the hardest). We have a puzzle cache all solved and ready for when the clock starts ticking on that challenge.

And mimring, who himself is a wicked good puzzle cache creator, pointed out a few caches we didn't know about that we should give a try: one is a puzzle cache (or more accurately, a decoding cache) called Lot 49 based on the San Jose Semaphore, an art installation atop the Adobe HQ. It looks tedious at first glance, but could, perhaps, prove hypnotic? Maybe we'll find out. The second cache is a night cache created for Halloween, and apparently full of spooky scary thrills. We'll have to find our headlamps and go give that one a try.

Friday, July 10, 2015

365 True Things: 103/Breakfast

I start my breakfast first thing with a cup of coffee. Then another. Maybe another—until eventually my stomach reminds me that some food would be nice.

Usually, I have one of two things for breakfast: Dave's Killer Bread toasted in the toaster oven with white cheddar cheese melted on top; or Dorset Cereals Cherries & Berries Muesli with nonfat plain yogurt. I keep meaning to have a nutritious spinach-fruit smoothie for breakfast, but—I guess I'm a woman of habit. And habits are hard to break. Or in this case, start.

The only time my habits are happily ruptured is in summer when peaches come on the scene. Because my most favorite breakfast of all is original-size shredded wheat with fresh ripe peaches. And for a special treat, blueberries as well. With nonfat milk.

That is my idea of heaven. I might even go for the food after only one cup of coffee, when I've got peaches and shredded wheat stocked.

This comes to mind because today at the market, I bought my first peaches of the season. Which of course necessitated a trip to the cereal aisle. I am so ready for tomorrow morning.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

365 True Things: 102/Pants

Today I did trail work and wore my "USFS green" Prana pants. They're comfortable—a little stretchy, a little sporty. And they're lasting well, which is good, because I hate shopping, especially for pants.

In the past, oh, twenty years, I've had two ultimate favorite styles of pants, both of which went MIA (discontinued) at some point. Though this evening, I've found that both (potentially) still exist. Or rather, exist again.

First, the classic button-fly Levi's 501s—for women. I'm too hippy to wear men's 501s.

And I just discovered that the women's 501s have been revived! Though the sizing is in waist inches, which I'm not confident about. Oh, but when I check my "529 Curvy Bootcut" and "505 Straight Leg" Levis, both of which I reluctantly settled for when 501s vanished, I see that both pair are 27 waist—so that should work. I'll order some and see.

This makes me very happy! I love 501s! (Or used to, anyway. Fingers crossed that this new incarnation is just as pleasing.)

The other style I miss is Gramicci climbing pants: a very simple design with no zippers or buttons, just a comfortable soft cotton material, high waist (oh yeah, I miss pants that actually extend to the waist), and webbing "drawstring." As the poor advertising copy explains, "The freedom of movement gusset is what makes Gramicci's Vintage G Dourada pants so special; like its name implies, the sky's the limit as you leap, bound and climb."

When I used to buy Gramicci pants, I found their quality control wildly inconsistent: a "small" pair of pants could fit me fine (typically the case with black) or make me feel like I was swimming in them (blue), or the material could shift from pleasingly substantial gabardine to very lightweight and see-through (not my favorite). Needless to say, I did not shop for Gramiccis from a catalog.

But: I have now found that Sierra Trading Post carries Gramicci pants. So I'm going to take a $40 chance and order a pair of "slate" trousers. 

Maybe these online purchases will buy me a little more time before I have to go shopping for clothes for real . . .

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

365 True Things: 101/Knee

Yesterday, my right knee was bothering me—tender to the touch on the inside next to the kneecap, and stiff. I figured it was because I'd been sitting in a bar-chair (so feet weren't touching the ground), plus I'd folded my right leg under me while I worked on my laptop on the counter. Probably put some stress on the knee. Eventually I went for a walk, and the discomfort mostly went away.

Last night, though, the knee was really bothering me while I was in bed. And when I got up this morning, I could barely bend it. I stiff-legged around for a while, then took some aspirin. Slowly, it got better—until right now, it seems to be fine.

Very weird. Both that my knee was bothering me at all—I hadn't done anything to injure it—and that it cured itself so quickly.

I am scheduled to do trail work tomorrow with a friend, so the painful stiffness this morning was alarming. What if it didn't get better? Should I go to an orthopedist? To go to an orthopedist, would I have to go to my family doctor first and get referred?

I don't get sick, so I'm unschooled in the ways of "specialists" and getting to see one.

Fortunately, my knee seems to be cooperating now. It did give me a bit of a scare, though. I know more than a few people who used to be avid walkers and then all of a sudden their knee(s) started giving them trouble and they couldn't walk far at all anymore. Knee replacements eventually ensued in some cases.

I do not want to be one of those people. Not yet, anyway. I'm too young for that! And walking is my lifeblood!

Maybe I'll add some knee exercises into my exercise routine. When I get around to starting my exercise routine. Should be any day now.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

365 True Things: 100/Reading

When I am working, whether proofreading or editing a book, I have a hard time sitting down and reading anything but a shlocky mystery. But I do love shlocky mysteries.

I also love lists. So here, for a fast-and-sassy blog post, is a selected compilation of several "best crime and thrillers of 2014" lists—for my own future reference, since I've got work in for the next couple of months and will certainly need to take a mystery break during that time.

From the Guardian:
  • Sarah Hilary's Someone Else's Skin and Eva Dolan's Long Way Home, police procedurals set in the UK
  • Paul Mendelson's The First Rule of Survival, set in Cape Town
  • Caroline Kepnes's You, "an unsettling masterpiece of stalker fiction"
  • Antonia Hodgson's The Devil in the Marshalsea, "the spellbinding story of a desperate man who must solve a murder to get himself out of jail"
  • Ray Celestin's The Axeman's Jazz, about a jazz-loving serial killer (based on a true story)

From NPR:
  • Matthew Palmer's The American Mission, a thriller set mostly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Helen Giltrow's The Distance, a thriller about a society woman with a secret life
  • Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You, about a mixed-race family in a small Ohio town in 1977
  • Tom Rob Smith's The Farm, "a novel of doubt and secrets set in a bleak yet beautiful Swedish landscape"
  • Ruth Rendell's The Girl Next Door, "a [psychological] mystery about the present-day discovery of a long-buried tin box"
  • Adam Brookes's Night Heron, an espionage thriller set in China
  • James Ellroy's Perfidia, set in Los Angeles during the few weeks after Pearl Harbor
  • Kim Zupan's The Ploughmen, about a Montana sheriff's deputy and the remorseless killer he is assigned to keep an eye on
  • Robert Galbraith's The Silkworm, about the murder of an author who is universally disliked

From Kirkus Reviews:
  • Louise Penny's The Long Way Home, set in Quebec
  • Chelsea Cain's One Kick, about a young woman, herself kidnapped and held captive as a girl, who sets out to rescue other kidnapped children

And there are many more, but I'll leave it at that. It's interesting how little overlap there is on most of these lists. So much good writing out there!

Monday, July 6, 2015

365 True Things: 99/Bills

We put the mail on hold for the three weeks we were gone, so today what did I find in the mailbox but a huge stack of envelopes, circulars, and a few magazines/catalogs.

Most of it was junk. There's way too much paper wastage in this world. I don't even bother looking at the junk mail. I wish I could tell the mail carrier not to deliver it, but things don't work that way.

Among the envelopes were seven bills, five of which (mortgage and utilities) I paid this afternoon. The other two are credit card bills. One is still a credit from an old overpayment. I don't usually use that card, though we did use it bigtime in Norway, since it's the card that doesn't incur foreign transaction fees—so next month, I'll be seeing a nice hefty sum. The second credit card is set up for automatic payment.

I actually prefer to write checks: I like to see how much of my money is going where, and I like to have a firm idea of the balance in my checking account. If all my bills were paid automatically, I'd lose track. At least, that's my worry. I probably wouldn't. After all, knowing how much money you have is important.

I set up the one credit card for automatic payment because it's due on the 25th of the month, and my habit is to pay all my bills at the beginning of the month. So I ended up paying that one late more than once, which meant late fees. Late fees are not acceptable. So: automatic payment seemed the best option. (Since then, a friend pointed out that I could have called Chase and asked them to adjust the payment date. That never occurred to me.)

I always pay off my credit cards. No late fees, no interest payments either. It just makes sense.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

365 True Things: 98/Souvenirs

I'm not a big souvenir buyer, but when I travel and I stumble on something pleasing, I will often bring it home as a memento of my trip.

This time, I bought two cobalt blue egg cups at Blaafarveverke, a former cobalt mine—a reminder not only of that stop on the road but, even more, of all the soft-boiled eggs we ate at all the marvelous Norwegian breakfast buffets (at which they provide special little cheap-plastic egg holders, that's how seriously they take their soft-boiled eggs). I also got a glass heart with cobalt patterning to add to my slowly growing collection of heart paperweights. Most of which I don't recall where they're from—they were just picked up here and there. Hopefully I'll remember where this one came from.

I also got a few books, to help me with my ongoing struggle with Norwegian (including two on grammar: there's something to be said for understanding the underlying structure of a language). Though the more I think about it, the more I realize I need an actual living-and-breathing person, a tutor who will bust me out of my reluctance to speak and my difficulty hearing what people are saying. Passively reading books isn't going to get me very far. Sadly.

And, although this is not strictly a souvenir (even less so than books are), whenever I go to Europe I bring home Mars bars—made with sugar and not corn syrup; they live in my freezer and provide me with sweet treats on days when I need a little something extra. As long as they hold out, they remind me of my most recent travels—and they make me happy. This trip, with our leftover kroner, I snagged five two-packs. They make the freezer seem, for a few months at least, like a treasure chest.

From the top: Sicily, Ladakh,
England, Jamaica, Turkey,
(a non-souvenir, but it fit the wall),
Japan, Tuscany, Soviet Union,
In our old house, we had a wall by the front door that was devoted to small souvenir knickknacks. We haven't yet dedicated a wall for that purpose in the new house, and we may not. Though looking at a picture of it now, I find the idea pleasing. So many good adventures we've had, and such interesting little objects. Maybe we can scatter them in those odd small-wall spaces. That could work.

But first, I need to get back to unpacking the boxes in the garage. I will probably be amazed at all the forgotten souvenirs and mementos I find there. That should be encouragement right there to get down to work. No?