Monday, August 31, 2015

365 True Things: 155/Wealth

I went to Pebble Beach today to visit a friend who is housesitting for a few months. Friends of his recently bought the house, and from the numbers he was bandying about, I wouldn't be surprised if they paid upward of $20 million. I wouldn't be surprised, either, if another few million goes into it before they are happy.

It's a beautiful Spanish-style house, built in 1920 by the Holt brothers, who founded the Caterpillar company. An interesting mix of great hall living room and big kitchen (remodeled not all that long ago—within the past twenty years—but destined to be torn out and replaced with something more modern), and little hallways labyrinthing among little rooms (gun room, wine cellar,  water heater room, linen closet, potting room, pantry, maid's room, defunct elevator, etc. etc.). Many bedrooms, and eight bathrooms—soon to be nine, because eight isn't enough. The place is largely empty at the moment: the owners live in Indiana—though they have other houses in the Hamptons, Chicago, and elsewhere—and won't be able to attend to giving this house a lived-in look until they return at the beginning of the year.

It's a lovely house, but my stomach gets a little queasy when I'm confronted with such wealth. Because yeah, I think a second (or third, fourth, or fifth) house that you use only a couple of weeks out of the year is ridiculous. And that describes so many of the houses (I won't call them homes) in Pebble Beach. It's just another case of people having more money than they know what to do with.

What's the good of a full-on greenhouse if you're not around to tend your plants? 

Or what about the $200,000 Bentley in the garage that never gets driven?

Or in the other garage, the newly refurbished games room? Who's got time to play if you're so busy flitting?

I don't believe I'm suffering from sour grapes. Another thing that made me feel queasy was all those rooms needing to be furnished. The mere idea fills me with a feeling of dread, and I don't even have to do it. So much shopping! One or two rooms, sure: that could be fun. But this would be a project that could take years. Even if you happened to live in the house year round.

One thing, though, that I loved: when we were touring the basement area, I noticed a funny contraption in the furnace room. "What's that?" I asked. "It's the pump for the organ," my friend replied. "You didn't notice it? You will when you see it."

He was right. When we got back upstairs, and then moved on to the second floor, sure enough, at the top of the stairs was a beautiful Estey Pump Organ, built in Brattleboro, Vermont, and moved to this house in 1920. It reminded me of The Great Gatsby and the extravagant sorts of entertaining that went on back in those days. Or perhaps one of the Holt brothers just loved to play organ. It even comes with a mechanism for playing rolls (like a player piano, only it's a player organ).

Apparently, it still works. I'd love to hear it. Wouldn't you?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

365 True Things: 154/Vegetables

We went a little farther afield then usual to find a couple of geocaches today: up to Santa Cruz County, into the hinterlands. Ag lands.

To get there, we drove through Castroville, "Artichoke Center of the World." The main drag features a "giant artichoke" to celebrate this distinction. It's humorously ungiant. Marilyn Monroe, in 1948, reigned as the first artichoke queen, during the since-then-annual artichoke festival. I've never been (I tend to shun such festivals—artichoke ice cream, anyone?). But I do love to eat artichokes.

In the 1990s, I visited Mont St-Michel, Brittany, and was surprised to see fields of artichauts growing there, too. Indeed, the climate is very similar: cool, with the salty influence of the ocean. The sheep that graze on nearby fields are naturally tenderized by all that salt.

Around Castroville, though, no sheep; just cattle. But perhaps they're naturally tender as well.

Okay, I wasn't sure if I made that up about the tenderizing. But a little research gets me this, from the book 1,000 Foods to Eat before You Die, and an article about agneau de pré-salé:
Serious gourmet cooks consider buying preseasoned meat an unforgivable gaffe, anticipating commercial spice mixtures at best. But when the seasoner is Mother Nature herself, who can argue? Cavils end with a taste of the verdantly saline, lean lamb from France's coastal provinces of Normandy and, especially, Brittany. There, lambs and sheep graze on the reclaimed salt meadows known as prés-salés, nibbling random herbs and bits of sprightly green seaweed along the way (or, in the hills around Provence, on the wild lavender that lends sweet overtones to the meat). These agneaux (lamb) or moutons (mutton) de pré-salé are treasured marks of quality on menus and in butcher shops throughout France.
Maybe we should be raising lambs here along the seashore?

But back to vegetables:

Today, we also drove past fields of lettuce, kale, brussels sprouts, strawberries. Probably lots of other produce as well, but I'm not good at recognizing plants.

When we stopped at the market on the way home to pick up something for dinner, I went straight for the brussels sprouts: seeing them growing au naturel ☛ made me crave them! And on the way out of the store, I plucked up a package of strawberries for dessert. Driscoll strawberries, out of Watsonville. The very area we were today. It's nice to be able to eat locally.

Though that said, I am now reminded to visit the local farmers markets more often: fresh local fare. It's not a habit of mine. But it would be a good one to cultivate, don't you think?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

365 True Things: 153/SAR

I have not been responding to Search & Rescue call-outs, mainly because when the calls have come, I've been doing something away from home: hiking, say (today), or (yesterday) returning from a day out doing trail work.

But another reason is that my so-called 24-hour pack is . . . empty. I need to pack it again, so I can be prepared next time a call comes in.

At the very least, I need to know where my headlamp is.

I've just sought out a couple of lists of the items we are supposed to have on hand to be efficient SAR team members.

The most basic of basics: Helmet and gloves, headlamp and knife. Charged radio. First aid kit. Sunscreen. Hat. Food. Water. Warmth, if needed. (Boots and uniform go without saying.)

And then there's Personal Rope Rescue Equipment considerations: a sit-harness and a chest harness, which you link together with a small piece of webbing; various carabiners, locking and not; a set of Purcell prusiks (slideable loops for self-rescue); a personal belay device (e.g., ATC); and a short prusik loop for rappelling (conditional belay).

For the 24-hour pack—so called because when you head out on a backcountry search, who knows when you'll get back—you'll need a few extra items. (Strictly speaking, for a missing-person search you don't need the rope rescue equipment, but you never know when you'll need to descend a gully to do a check. Of course, in that case, you'll need a rope, so . . . if a rope comes along, bring rope rescue gear; if not, leave it behind.)

Here's my distilled list for the 24-hour pack that I am going to pack tomorrow:
  • shelter (tent or bivy sack)
  • sleeping bag
  • sleeping pad (not mandatory, but if you want to sleep in the backcountry . . .)
  • more food, both meals and snacks
  • fire starters
  • (stove/fuel, cook kit, utensils)
  • notebook and pencil
  • flagging tape
  • headlamp and extra batteries
  • GPS unit (and extra batteries)
  • map and compass
  • signal mirror and whistle (I do not carry these, but they're a good idea)
  • rain gear
  • gaiters
  • bandanna (me, I need to remember to bring a bandanna with me everywhere)
Tomorrow, I will be ready when (if) a page comes. And I will respond. I've been slacking, and it doesn't feel good.

Friday, August 28, 2015

365 True Things: 152/Tipping

We went out for a nice dinner this evening at one of our favorite local restaurants, Passionfish (their motto: food from the heart). Sea bass sashimi, melted gorgonzola curried green salad, grilled sea scallops, grilled sturgeon. Every dish a winner.

As they prepared to settle their check, the party-of-four next to us was discussing tips. I heard one half of the older couple (I think it was parents and daughter and daughter's fiancé) mention how you shouldn't tip on wine. Well, I don't know if that's true anymore, but when I was young I definitely saw that advice in a Dear Abby column. And sometimes—like, when we've gotten an especially expensive (for us) bottle of wine—I act on it. I mean, how much more work is a costly bottle than a cheap one?

The next-door party also mentioned feeling obligated to tip well when the meal is inexpensive but not so much when you're paying through the nose. (The wine was brought up in that breath, since a cheap meal probably won't involve any kind of bottle of wine whatsoever.)

Me, I know that waiters rely on good tips for their income, because we live in a silly country where minimum wage couldn't even support a dog. (Our dog, at any rate.)

But I hate that we have this ridiculous tipping system—where it's up to the consumer to pay just a little bit more, rather than expect the employer to pay a decent wage.

That's one of the beauties, for me, of traveling overseas, where the price on the menu is the price you pay. No tax added on top; no tip expected (though a small one is always appreciated). The tax is included, and the workers are paid a decent wage. So when Americans complain about the price of a meal in Paris, for example, I'm pretty sure they're forgetting that here they'd be paying 25–30 percent more than the list price. And that adds up quick.

I remember leaving a pub in Madison, Wisconsin, and as we walked down the street, we heard running footsteps behind us and a young guy yelling, "Sir! Sir! You forgot your quarter!" Not us, but a professorly-looking type up ahead of us. Yeah, he could've left a better tip.  

And on the flipside, I had just arrived in Stockholm and was hungry after a long day of travel. I found a rather unlikely restaurant—I remember TexMex Buffalo, or something—and had a nice meal (it wasn't fast food). The check came and I thought, "Oh, that's quite reasonable." The service had been good. I left a 20 percent tip. Only when I got back to the hotel did it occur to me that you don't leave tips in Sweden. 

I don't like tipping my hairdresser—and she charges a decent enough price that I don't, but perhaps she's disappointed? I don't like tipping hotel bellboys, so I carry my own bags. I don't like tipping taxi drivers, because $20 from my house to the airport a mile away is already highway robbery (but there, I have no idea who actually gets those twenty bucks).

I don't like tipping, period.

It's not that I'm not generous. I can be. It's that the practice seems a relic of premodern times. In this day and age, we should all know what we're paying for, there should be set prices, and everyone should be able to survive. I know that my attitude (not to mention what's reasonable) doesn't help all the people who rely on tips, and so I do try . . . Honest I do.

And now: don't get me started on airfares . . .

Thursday, August 27, 2015

365 True Things: 151/Morning

My role model in this blog-a-day craziness posted this today:
Not only am I not pleasant in the morning but I'm also not pleasant when I'm tired. Or when I'm busy. Or sometimes for no reason at all. Sometimes, just leave me alone.
Oh my, did that strike a chord!

It reminded me of a couple of other posts I've made, one also on mornings (#81), another on solitude (#88). Because for me, solitude and mornings go together. Even if I have to get up and feed the dog—and now cats, and clean their box—and even if eventually David gets up and greets me with a cheery "Good morning!"

I cultivate the myth that I'm alone. With a vengeance.

Until I can stand being with people, that is. (Dogs and cats I don't mind: they fixate immediately on food and leave me be.)

Able to deal with society? That would be after at least one cup of coffee. And some time reacquainting myself with . . . myself. In silence. It's something I seem to need each day, anymore.

It used to be I'd sit with the newspaper, together with David: the rustling of newsprint, slurping of brew, is companionable, and we could share mild outrage or amusement without actually having to engage.

But those days are gone. Now, the newspaper arrives via a laptop screen—and most days, I can barely stand to look at it. Outrage is no longer mild, and there's very little that's amusing. (In the "news," at any rate.)

In my post #81, I wondered if I could maybe strike up a new morning routine. I haven't managed that yet. But the other morning, while David slurped and keyboard-tapped in the living room, I sat on the bedroom couch and read: and it was just the right distance. Very similar in feeling to the old newspaper rustling. Not as separate as me retreating upstairs, but less needful of responsiveness as me remaining in the living room—and, an extra benefit, it got me away from my laptop.

I'm still looking for routines, comfortable smooth grooves to slide my feet along as I launch myself into a day.

But for the most part, you'd probably better just leave me alone in the morning. If you know what's good for you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

365 True Things: 150/Radio

Many years ago, I listened to the radio every weekday morning: classical programming on the Santa Cruz public radio station KUSP. Each day specialized in a different sort of music, progressing from early through baroque to contemporary, or at least modern; it was pleasingly eclectic: not your Pachelbel Canon and 2nd movement of Beethoven's Seventh, but unusual, interesting pieces, and whole multi-movement works. Nine a.m. to noon. It was the perfect accompaniment to work.

But then they switched their classical programming to the evening, and the mornings became talk. Not so conducive to work. I stopped listening to radio as much, and to music almost entirely.

Now when I listen to the radio, it's almost always in the car while I'm driving. Still NPR, but a more local station: 90.3 KAZU. I also very occasionally listen to KPIG, 107-oink-5, out of Freedom, California, when I'm in the mood for some upbeat, down-home music.

KAZU is mainly about talk. My favorite shows are Fresh Air from WYYY—Terry Gross is such an intelligent interviewer, and she has interesting guests; Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! on the weekend always makes me laugh; The Splendid Table—Lynne Rossetto Kasper's enthusiasm for all things culinary is positively infectious; This American Life. I always enjoy hearing Ari Shapiro on All Things Considered (as well as in Pink Martini, but that's another story) and Robin Young on Here and Now. The Diane Rehm Show and On Point's Tom Ashbrook I can listen to in small doses, but I quickly grow weary of news analysis, and her querulous and his blustery tone can wear me down. But yes, in small doses, it's good to hear what's going on in the world (one slant of it, anyway). I even very much enjoy Marketplace, although I'm not especially into money or the economy—but Kai Ryssdal finds really interesting things to talk about, and I enjoy his breezy manner.

This evening on my way home from a meeting, I tuned in to what turned out to be This American Life. It was a story about a guy who headed up a maintenance department in the Schenectady school district and became a petty tyrant and a bully. Apparently the man is now in prison. It was not an uplifting story.

One nice thing about the radio is, you can turn it off. I turned off the bully. Sometimes peace and quiet is the best way to go.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

365 True Things: 149/Journal

Yesterday I was in a panic because I couldn't find my journal. It's not a diary-journal, but a writer's journal, as well as a student's notebook: full of all sorts of this and that.

But today I found it, buried under a couple of ink cartridges in the backseat of my car. It's got all sorts of treasures. Ones I could live without, but I'd rather not.

The very first page contains a to-do list for 6/17/13. With items that I still put on my to-do lists (some of them probably never accomplished once since that day in June . . . hope springs eternal): 5 mi walk, pack SAR pack, organize one shelf in gear room, 15. And so forth.

Then there's a list of German words from In Zeiten des Abnehmenden Lichts that I wasn't familiar with: glotzen (goggle, gawp), tupfen (swab, dot), krepieren (die, perish; kick the bucket); Gier (greed), Schniefen (sniffling), außer Rand und Band (beside oneself or, in the case of children, completely out of hand). That probably took care of page one of the book. My German isn't especially practiced anymore.

Then—and the loss of these is what I was panicked about—notes from a workshop on Molokai focusing on iPhoneography. The culprit in my descent into photographic "appiness." The notes contain lots of really excellent information that I rarely look at—except this, sometimes, on those rare occasions when I get around to processing photos:

5-STEP TANGO for Lightroom (RAW exposure):
  1. WB (white balance) and crop
  2. autoexpose (and undo if needed—which it usually is)
  3. exposure (midtones); clarity (+); shadow (+); highlight (–) (typically)
  4. whites/blacks
  5. vibrancy/vignette
That's the simple dance card. Making good photos is more difficult. But I try. I should probably read through the ten pages of notes I took during that excellent workshop again.

A few pages of SAR tasks, stories I've read, notes for Amber Moon (my ongoing fiction project). To-do lists. Always those.

Poetry scribblings.

Kurosawa: "To be an artist means never to avert your eyes."
Miles Davis: "Man, you don't play what you know, you play what you hear."
Butler Olen: going back to the way the chaos is first encountered—moment to moment through your senses

Einstein on the Beach (a failed effort to watch the entire opera: I got maybe half an hour in)

AWP Seattle: 10 pages of notes

Wilderness First Responder notes: 32 pages

hypnagogic patterns: transitional state between wakefulness and sleep; can include a mesmerizing array of visions

"The poor things cannot put Wednesday on top of Tuesday to save their lives." Robert Stone, "Helping"

"Mine deeper." Herman Melville

workshop with Andre Dubus III—much more than I can summarize or even pull from here. One thing I took from those few days: Wicked smaaat.

KEEP OPENING DOORS. Don't forget the question mark.

An evrgrn sticker.

notes on poetry (many pages: a MOOC through Iowa State University); interspersed with to-do lists;  geocaching calculations

Norway jottings: back to me

and back to lists

I am especially glad to have recovered this notebook because of the 5-step tango. That's what I tell myself. But really, my whole life of the past couple of years is here. No, not my whole life. But some really interesting bits of it.


Monday, August 24, 2015

365 True Things: 148/Email

Yesterday a friend messaged me on Facebook, asking me—very nicely—why I never respond to her emails.

I immediately wrote back and apologized. I also explained that my inbox was ridiculously out of control, standing at 2,600-plus messages. Once something scrolls out of view—and that happens very quickly when you don't delete anything—there's pretty much no hope.

I did recently adopt the habit of flagging messages I wanted to keep in my consciousness. But that's like putting a band-aid on a shark bite.

Clearly, something needed to happen. So yesterday, I bit the bullet and got down to cleaning. I arranged the "From" list alphabetically and, snik snak, deleted almost everything: whittled the whole thing down to about 65 messages.

And this morning, I stuck most of those in individual boxes—and then I went through some of those boxes and got rid of old stuff.

Here's my inbox now:

Everything that remains is an "action item" of some sort:
  • arrange get-together with a few SAR folks
  • get the damn printer working
  • find the photo a friend requested
  • finish my alphabet diptych project (I've been stuck on V for months—though I know exactly what I want to take a picture of
    . . . maybe I should do that this afternoon? combine it with a hike? hmmm?)
  • send a CD to an author
  • apply to a writer's residency
  • get back to Norwegian study with Duolingo
  • and, just for fun, look into taking archery lessons
As messages have come in this morning, I've responded immediately as needed (which runs counter to yesterday's resolution to check email only once a day, but first things first). And I've deleted with a vengeance.

And now? My Sent box stands at 5,495 messages. It was last cleaned out in February 2011. I'm contemplating wholesale destruction. What do you think?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

365 True Things: 147/Presence

I am not disciplined. I want to be disciplined, and I very frequently try to be disciplined. But it doesn't come naturally to me.

By the same token, I suffer from a lack of presence. I mean, sure, sometimes I get into a sort of "flow" with something I'm doing and lose myself joyfully in an ongoing present moment. But too often I let myself get engulfed by a sort of busy-ness.

Even if I'm not strictly wasting time (though I'm good at that and have to curb that inclination), I can get wrapped up in the notion of somehow lining up all my ducks in a row and blasting them out of the water, leaving me—ultimately—with a calm flat sea on which to sail in whatever direction I please. The myth includes the idea that I will know exactly what direction that is, if only I can clear the water.

As a friend of mine reminded me, however, ducks don't swim in a line.

I'm pondering this because this attitude of busy-ness feels confining, constricting, imprisoning.

The feeling makes me think of this poem by the 14th-century Persian mystic and poet Hafez:
The small man builds cages for everyone he knows.
While the sage, who has to duck his head when the moon is low,
keeps dropping keys all night long
for the beautiful, rowdy prisoners.
I'd like to open the cage door a crack wider. (Because I know it's not locked; thank goodness for that.)

Of course, there are things I do "have" to do, like clean the kitty litter, wash the dishes, eat, do my work-work, walk the dog. All of these things can be great pleasures if I let them be. (Well, kitty litter maybe not so much, except in having done it. And work-work can be iffy.)

But there are many things I "want" to do, and there I let the attitude of busy-ness keep me from them. Busy-ness seems to fuel a perverse sort of resistance and makes me feel overwhelmed and stuck.

Of course, basically I'm fine. I'm not pathologically overwhelmed and stuck. I get things done. Even some of the things I "want" to do.

But I'd like to recognize a certain mindset, and practice freeing myself from it.

One step, which I'm going to attempt this next week, is to unplug. Since much of my work is on the computer, this will be difficult. But I would like to make an effort—do my best—and pay attention. So, for starters: no Facebook, and check email only once a day.

And I will add twenty minutes of meditation to my day. 

And I will try to pay attention to transitions. Sit and breathe for a moment, feel myself in my body, at each point in the day when I finish one activity and consider what could be next. A universe of possibilities! I am so rich with options.

If I really want to be more present, discipline has got to figure in there. And I do, so it must.

Small steps.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

365 True Things: 146/Garden

The garden being built
We worked in the garden this morning: clearing out spent plants, weeding. It had been quite a while since we'd done that. It looks much better now.

Not much is growing at the moment: some tomatoes, and one zucchini plant; some onions and carrots (which are probably due to be harvested); a few struggling strawberries. We have been watering sparingly because of the drought—which is silly. We're not big water users even if we do give plants enough to survive. And watering too little amounts to a waste of water, if the plants don't thrive.

This afternoon, a neighbor from down the street, Jenny, came by to talk to us about helping us maintain our garden. She doesn't have enough yard at her own house, and our garden is laid out nicely to grow vegetables. She is offering to do this for free: she just loves to garden and misses it. I don't know how it will work out, but I'm game to give it a try. I don't want to lose "control" over the garden, but she seems very flexible. And yeah: we do neglect it. It may be a welcome assist, to have someone who knows what she's doing tending the garden.

It's an experiment. It'd be great for all of us if it works out. We'll share the bounty.

Here are some photos I took in the garden the first year, when there was not a drought and the rain kept things healthy and happy. I'm hoping for both abundant rain this next rainy season and, with Jenny's help, beautiful vegetables.

Friday, August 21, 2015

365 True Things: 145/Hungary

Yesterday, my friend Miranda told me about all the venison she just picked up from her butcher (she's a hunter, and this season she felled a nice big buck). As she got to the end of the list of cuts and mentioned "stew meat," I started salivating.

So today, I sought out a stew recipe. First I thought of Irish stew, but the recipe I found called for parsnips. And, well, meh on parsnips.

Yeah, yeah, I could leave them out: and/or, I'm sure they'd be nicely put in their place by the carrots and turnips. But no: no parsnips.

I searched the index again and found Hungarian goulash. Which the author says is actually more like Hungarian paprikash—thicker than the Hungarians would make a goulash, which for them means paprika-spiced beef soup, plain and simple; they also don't include noodles, which of course Hungarian goulash has to have.

So now simmering on my stovetop is a nice mixture of tomatoes, onions, a little bit of bacon; pork tenderloin, smothered in paprika with a touch of caraway seeds, is waiting to be added. And instead of Hungarian yellow wax peppers—which the Safeway did not have (to my disbelief)—I'm using Hatch chilis.

Mind you, when I follow a recipe, I follow a recipe. And when a recipe calls for some specific ingredient, I typically dash all over town to find it. However, Hatch chilis! They're famously wonderful. For that crucial moment as I stood fighting off disappointment over finding no Hungarian yellow wax peppers, I was able to overcome my rigid standards and embrace a new take on goulash: New Mexican goulash! It'll be fine.

Anyway, I titled this Hungary because making goulash always reminds me of Hungary. I was in Hungary once. It was 1969; I was fourteen. Hungary was still Communist controlled. My father, mother, and I drove from Munich, where we were living for a few months, to Budapest, to meet a chemist colleague of my dad's. All I remember about Budapest—which I understand from a friend who was there recently is a really beautiful pair of cities—is a fancy restaurant up on a hill. Maybe I ate goulash. I don't remember. There were violins—schmaltzy gypsy violins. That I remember.

And the next day (maybe), our host drove us to his country cottage on Lake Balaton. All of a sudden as we neared the lake, traffic slowed to a crawl. We inched along, inched along, until eventually we could see the problem: a man had been hit by a car. He lay bloody in the road while they waited for an ambulance. A policeman was waving cars to the right, diverting traffic on a roundabout detour. As our host drew even with the police officer, he actually started insisting that he needed to drive straight through because he had Americans in the car. (I did not understand any of the words except "Americans," but the tone of his tirade was very clear.)

I had never been more ashamed of being American. The poor man might have been dying, for goodness' sake. There was a lot of blood.

I remember nothing else about Hungary except shimmering heat over the lake—because eventually, of course, we did reach the country cottage. And got to sit in the front yard regarding the beautiful lake.

Part of me would like to go back and see Budapest. Maybe eat some goulash (as in soup) or paprikash (stew), and whatever other delectable dishes the country specializes in. Drink some Tokaj wine. Part of me, though, is afraid I'll see another dying man and be reminded that I don't really belong there. 

My habit has been to post the recipe I'm working on, but this time I'm going to make do with a link: but it's a link to the very recipe I'm using. Except for the Hatch chilis, of course.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

365 True Things: 144/Goats

Today I helped a friend move to an 11-acre spread far out Carmel Valley Road. It's way too far away from civilization for me, a good fifty-minute drive from my house in the city—though I can appreciate how marvelous it must be to be there at night when the moon is new, sitting on the warm deck, breathing in the smell of grasses, gazing at the black sky spangled with stars, and listening to . . . silence. Maybe the sound of a great horned owl, or the rustle of a white oak, or a trio of coyotes. But no city noises, or cars, TVs, sirens, neighbors chatting in the backyard. Just beautifully naturally natural silence.

She may need a housesitter from time to time. I will offer my services.

But what made me sit down here to write was not the beautiful property, overlooking vineyards in the distance and steep hills rolling into the Ventana Wilderness. But goats.

Because back in the seventies, the place was a goat farm, for the making of goat cheese. The cheese production facility still exists: one room with small drains in the floor (for cleaning up after the cheese has been made or packaged, I surmise), another room with hooks in the ceiling and full-room-length drains against two walls, for hanging the milk solids as they transform into chèvre.

A few years ago, I visited a working goat farm, Harley Farms Goat Dairy, in Pescadero. Here are a few photos from that visit, with the captions I posted on Flickr.

The big dude on the right is Elvis.
His job is to service the nanny goats—this is a dairy farm, after all.
He exuded weariness.
He'd wander through the girls looking a little lost.
Every so often, though, everyone would get peppy and start running,
and the girls would all gather around Elvis; then he'd look a combination of
puzzled and hopeful. On top of it all, he stank
(it's a bizarre thing the males do with their own urine—goat cologne).
But apparently a girl goat likes a stinky boy goat.
There were plenty of pregnant girls to prove it.
Come February, there should be around 200 kids to prove it even more.

American Alpine nanny goats are curious and affectionate and calm.
Though off in the distance one pair spent the whole time we were there
rising up and butting heads. Playing? A turf battle?
But they did it off on their own, letting the others enjoy their peace.
Goats may be smarter than humans in that way.


Our guide, Connie, making a pat of pretty cheese,
decorated by calendula, pelargonium, and viola petals.

I have a soft spot in my heart for goats. I attribute it to my heritage: my family name is Geissman, or goatherd. At least, that's how I translate the name. I also use it to explain my comfort hopping around on and climbing rocks, and hiking up steep trails. It comes with the territory.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

365 True Things: 143/ISTP

A while back, maybe ten years ago, I took a book-based version of the Myers-Briggs personality test. I'm pretty sure I came out INFP: Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving. "The Idealist." According to the Myers-Briggs website, that means: "Loyal to their values and to people who are important to them. Want an external life that is congruent with their values. Curious, quick to see possibilities, can be catalysts for implementing ideas. Seek to understand people and to help them fulfill their potential. Adaptable, flexible, and accepting unless a value is threatened." That sounds like me at least in part.

This came up today in my monthly Questing meeting (see #106), when I was complaining—yet again—about how hard it is to be stinking disciplined. Dear Wendy pointed out that she and I are both NFP (she's extroverted, so ENFP: "Warmly enthusiastic and imaginative. Sees life as full of possibilities. Makes connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceeds based on the patterns seen"), and that perhaps it's simply not in our general constitution to be organized and structured.

I so often forget that about ourselves, us humans: we're all different, even as we all of us share traits and similarities. Some of us, for example, really need structure; others of us thrive through improvisation.

(Indeed, one of my failings, though I try to stay on top of this, is that I think everyone else in the world is just like me!!!! Not so. No doubt just as well.)

When I got home, not remembering if INFP was correct for me—and mind you, I have no doubt changed just a tad in the past ten years—I sought out an online version of the test. This time I came out ISTP: Introverted, obServant (Sensing in the M-B formula), Thinking (vs. Feeling—but only barely), Prospecting (Perceiving in M-B, vs. Judgmental). Strongly introverted, and even more strongly prospecting—the latter meaning, "very good at improvising and spotting opportunities. [Prospectors] tend to be flexible, relaxed nonconformists who prefer keeping their options open."

Oh. Well then. That explains the discipline thing.

ISTPs are dubbed "Virtuosos" and, for the record, make up only 5 percent of the population. "ISTP women are especially rare, and the typical gender roles that society tends to expect can be a poor fit—they'll often be seen as tomboys from a young age." What doesn't fit me is that ISTPs are often engineers and mechanics; they like to get their hands dirty, pulling things apart and putting them back together. Does book arts qualify?

I also came out strongly assertive (A)—which I don't really identify with. But the alternative is "turbulent"—like, unsure, always questioning, which I definitely am not. I am confident when I step up of my own free will to tackle a problem. I expect most people think of me as self-assured. I do not worry. Maybe I'm confusing assertion with leadership, which, now that I look, is embodied in ENTJ: my opposite! so yeah, you can be assertive without being a leader type.

When I take these sorts of tests, I can easily overanalyze (which must be T—and I actually identify more with T than with F, so what's up there?). For example, I might strongly agree or disagree with a statement depending on whatever context I dream up in response. Argue an ethical point with someone? Well, if it's X, who I feel a certain intimacy with, sure! If it's Y, who I don't know except from playing volleyball with him, no way! How do I generalize?

I can't! I'm a relativist!

I'm pretty sure relativism goes on the prospecting plane (i.e., not judgmental).

Anyway. I'm not sure I can make any sense of all these letters, traits, or responses to life. But I do know that I am very different from many people I know, and I'm very similar to others. And to most everyone else: somewhere in between. These sixteen "personality traits" may be the beginning of a key to what that's all about.

And one of these days, I'll share my thoughts about astrology.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

365 True Things: 142/Poetry

I've got no inspiration today, so instead I'll give you a poem: what I consider my favorite poem, although of course I have many of those. But this one—it touches my soul deeply. Perhaps because I've been to that part of Ireland. But even more, the final lines. Perfectly capturing the experience of raw wildness.

Once in a painting class, I tried to "paint" this poem. I failed miserably—though I'd like to try again sometime. It needs to be abstract, and it needs the right colors and textures. It needs time (I'm thinking lots of glazing, with oils), which I didn't give it in my last attempt.

So, for today: Seamus Heaney's "Postscript," the final poem in his 1996 collection The Spirit Level.
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
 Photo courtesy of


Monday, August 17, 2015

365 True Things: 141/Schedule

I wrote about my schedule (or rather, Ben Franklin's schedule) back in May. Today I am pondering my schedule again, since I have a new, very large J.O.B. in, and I don't want to let it consume me.

Anymore, it seems, I'm unable to multitask. So that's part of what I'm pondering too: remembering how to, if not multitask, at least duotask. As in: do my own work, and do income-generating work also. Two very different animals.

It's good (fun, at any rate) to find "inspiration" from other writers. Here, for example, is Kurt Vonnegut on a typical day, sent to his wife in a 1965 letter. I identify 100 percent with the opening comment about "an unmoored life."
In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me. I’m just as glad they haven’t consulted me about the tiresome details. What they have worked out is this: I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do push-ups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not. Last night, time and my body decided to take me to the movies. I saw The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I took very hard. To an unmoored, middle-aged man like myself, it was heart-breaking. That’s all right. I like to have my heart broken.
So he did his own work from 5:30 until 10. I can't do that. There's no way I'm getting up at 5:30. But I think I can do my own work from 7 to noon. Five hours. With a break midway for exercise. Or meditation. (But not both? Why not both? Yeah, yeah, both takes more time, but
. . . I need both.)

Then work on the J.O.B from noon to 5. With a break midway for—oh, this is how I can do both: meditate in the morning, exercise in the afternoon. Simple.

In the evening, no belts of Scotch and water (though that does sound somehow comforting), but this here blog and maybe some reading or TV (DVD). Take the evening off. (If spending an hour mining myself can be considered "taking time off.")

The blog has been good for me on the not-working front. Although I keep meaning to knock it out early in the day, get it over with, I find that about 8 or 9 in the evening is when I finally get to it. Like, now: it's 8:50. Right on schedule. And in a way, it's an opportunity to decompress. It's not work. It's just something I want to make sure I do each day. It's part of my discipline.

I would like to resolve to take at least one weekend day off too. That's hard for me: when I get in a work cycle, I just work. (I mean J.O.B. work here. Doing my own work is a whole other story.) But this new job will take eight weeks. I can't not take days off.

It's all something I just need to pay attention to. Be conscious. 

And then I found eleven (of course!) "commandments" of Henry Miller, written in 1932–33 while he was working on Tropic of Cancer—some of which fly in the face of what I've just said. As I pay attention/be conscious, perhaps mixing a little Miller into the Vonnegut asceticism won't be a bad idea. (The second commandment is not relevant to me, so here are ten worthwhile, if confoundingly contradictory, commandments.)
  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  3. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  4. When you can’t create you can work.
  5. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  6. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  7. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  8. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  9. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  10. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Here, too, is part of his Daily Program:
If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.
If in fine fettle, write.
Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.
See friends. Read in cafés.
Explore unfamiliar sections—on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.
Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.
Paint if empty or tired.
Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.
So there we are. Plenty of food for thought as I try—yet again—to inflict a little more discipline on my haphazard, unmoored, quixotic life.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

365 True Things: 140/Cats I

We have had four cats during the course of our marriage. The first, Tisiphone, joined us a few weeks into our so-far lifelong adventure together; she lived 18 and a half years and had many excellent adventures herself. We figure she used up all eight lives handily before her earthly one expired.

The most dramatic story involves the time we, on the spur of the moment, decided to head out of San Diego for the night and camp in the desert. We turned down a dirt road, got stuck in soft sand, agreed "Here's good enough," and set up our tent. All night long, coyotes howled in the distance, and Tisiphone came and went—prowling for mice or lizards or just enjoying basking under the starry sky. She was that kind of cat. We did worry a little about the coyotes finding her and having a tasty snack, but she survived. Next morning at 6, we packed up, got ourselves unstuck, and headed back to the highway. There we were, speeding along at 60, alone on the road—or so we thought—when all of a sudden Tisiphone decided to jump out the driver's window. (The temperature was already up in the high 80s, so we had our windows rolled down, not even imaging she'd be foolish enough to try such a stunt.) She hit the ground, rolled, and froze: just as a BMW hurtled past in the opposite direction. Then she dashed off into the desert. David watched the scenario in the rear-view mirror, hung a U, and we zoomed back to approximately where she'd jumped. (Hard to tell in a featureless desert full of scraggly shrubs.) The BMW driver also stopped, bless his heart. We all headed into the scrub, and soon we heard her mewing. We didn't see any obvious damage—nothing broken, no big abrasions . . . just a scared shitless little orange kitty. It was Sunday, so we decided to take her home and watch her; find a vet the next day if necessary. It wasn't. She bounced right back. But still: I consider that her biggest adventure.

Then there was the time she fell through a glass ceiling: stitches needed on a hind leg. And when she was attacked by a dog—nasty belly infection, which involved much nursing back to health.  (The latter may have been a bigger adventure in terms of nearness to death.)

But then there were the fun adventures: camping at Fremont Peak (more leaping in and out of the tent all night—and delivering us two mice, which we found in the morning: one alive and terrified, the other dead). Camping with a whole group of people and the people's dogs at Coffee Camp on the Kern River: she was the kitty heroine of that get-together. Begging for food from our Swedish neighbors in Oakland, and then again from our backyard neighbor in El Cerrito. She roamed the neighborhood, making friends.

Everyone loved Tisiphone.

When her time came, we followed the lead of another friend, whose kitty crawled into a cupboard to—as her act was generally interpreted—"signal" that she was ready. Tisiphone had liver cancer, and although we let the vet give her some appetite-stimulating medicine, it was clear that she was no longer herself. No more gazing at starry skies; no more camping. The day she was unable to jump onto the bed, and then crawled to the back of the linen closet, we decided we needed to do the hard deed.

We buried her in our yard, and planted rosemary over her.

When we were remodeling and they plowed the yard to prepare it for the new landscaping, I thought of her delicate bones, and hoped they were deep enough that she wasn't disturbed in her sleep.

Sweetest and softest of kitties.

Empress of the universe.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

365 True Things: 139/Corn

Today was a gloriously hot day. Especially glorious when I was sitting in the shade of an oak and a nice breeze was wafting over me.

We don't get heat here on the central coast of California all that often, so it's special. Though after about a day of it, everybody starts bitching. We're a bunch of softies.

The heat made me think a little of summer in Wisconsin—which does get plenty of überwarm weather, as well as humidity, and thunderstorms.

I loved those cracking good thunderstorms. I remember the first day my friend Kathi and I pulled into Madison and connected with her old friend Mario. He took us downtown, to State Street. We were strolling along, window gawking, catching up, sweating, when all of a sudden, having glanced up at the sky, he said, "We'd better get inside. Here's a bar. Let's get a beer." It was about 4 p.m. Seemed a little early for a beer to me, but I wasn't going to argue.

No sooner had we settled at our table and ordered beer and bar food than BAM, a thunder clap near knocked us off our chairs. Then it started pouring. And it poured. And poured. We were sitting by a window, and I just sat staring out at the deluge, mesmerized. And when we finished our snack and emerged onto the street, the air seemed twenty degrees cooler—beautifully fresh.

So yes: it's hot and muggy in the Midwest, but oh, those refreshing thunderstorms!

But the other thing that kept flitting into my mind today, as I was sitting in the heat, was end-of-season corn. Fat cobs full of juicy, sweet, succulent kernels. Mmmm-mmmmmm-mmmmmmmm.

Partly I was thinking of four cobs I picked yesterday from a huge pile of white corn cobs in the Safeway, destined for corn soup. We never used to get heaps of corn, but now we do, and I'm not complaining. I love corn. It's one of the few in-season vegetables anymore. Something you genuinely get to look forward to.

But more, I was thinking of a corn festival I went to at the end of my stay in Wisconsin. Corn picked fresh from the very field adjacent to the festival site, that very day—that very hour, maybe even. Corn that had roasted, or steamed (lightly), in its wrapper every day for the previous several months, maturing into the most remarkable taste treat I'd ever had. In the corn department, anyway.

A friend of mine's wife was born in Germany, and she refuses to eat corn on the cob "because it's for pigs." Oh, sweetie, what you're missing out on!

So yeah: summer; heat; fresh corn. We don't really get any of those predictably on the central coast (it really should be cool and foggy right now: our "summer" typically comes in October; and corn? I have no idea where the tableful at the Safeway comes from, but I'm betting it's not the Midwest). But I'm glad we're getting a nice trifecta now.

Here's the recipe for Indian-spiced corn soup we're making for dinner this evening:
  • 4 Tb butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tb grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • Large pinch cayenne
  • 3 cups corn kernels, from 4 ears
  • Salt and pepper
  • Whole milk plain yogurt, for garnish 
  • 1 Tb chopped chives, for garnish
  • A few cilantro sprigs, for garnish
  • Lime wedges, for garnish, optional
  1. Put butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, mustard seeds, and cayenne and sizzle for a minute or so.
  2. Add corn kernels and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 4 cups water and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. Puree soup in a blender. Check seasoning and adjust salt.
  3. To serve, ladle into small bowls. Garnish each with 2 tablespoons thick yogurt. Sprinkle with chives and cilantro sprigs. Add a squeeze of lime.