Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Hodgepodge 122/365 - Quinoa

A few years ago I started writing for UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources' quarterly magazine, Breakthroughs. My first assignment was a profile of a quinoa distributor, Sergio Núñez de Arco. He's an interesting, outgoing fellow, and very dedicated to the Altiplano farmers of his native Bolivia. (You can read the story and see a video clip about Sergio's company, Andean Naturals, here.)

The other week I visited a friend in San Francisco who prepared a delicious quinoa salad. It was something of a revelation for me, since quinoa is not part of my collection of staples. On Sunday we hosted our second Indivisible group meeting, and I made a quinoa salad as my contribution to the potluck. I know one can throw all sorts of cut-up ingredients together to make a fine salad, but I followed a recipe. It was very good, and quick. I will make it (or some variation on it) again, for sure.

Here it is (with my addition of feta cheese; you can also add chunks of chicken or turkey):

Zesty Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 limes, juiced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
5 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/2—3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender and water has been absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Whisk olive oil, lime juice, cumin, 1 tsp salt, and red pepper flakes together in a bowl.
3. Combine quinoa, tomatoes, black beans, and green onions together in a bowl. Pour dressing over quinoa mixture; toss to coat. Stir in cilantro and feta; season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or chill in refrigerator.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Hodgepodge 121/365 - Street Art

Recently I participated in a "fill Facebook with art" challenge (which I wrote about here). In figuring out what those who liked my post might enjoy (since the challenge included sharing it along), I took to the Internet, looking for interesting art unknown to me. In that quest, I happened upon a whole bunch of wonderful street artists: people who create masterpieces—or sometimes funny plays on the concept of art, or pointed social messages, or glorified graffiti—on urban buildings.

I love that sort of art.

So I've just skimmed a few pages of my Flickr stream and found ten exemplars that attracted my camera's eye in the past couple of years—the first several taken in Venice, California, the last few in Bergen, Norway (here is an article on Bergen street art: it's gained a reputation; and here are some more examples from a Google search). In the middle are two ends of a graffitied wall outside Remembrance Park in Oslo.

There's more where these came from, but I'll save them for a second installment. (As always, click on the images to see them large on black.)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Hodgepodge 120/365 - Academy Awards

I may be the only person in America who doesn't watch the Academy Awards.

Wait, no, I know that's not true. The "Hollywood elite" is not held in high regard by a lot of my fellow citizens. So no, I'm sure I'm not alone.

I don't not watch the awards show because Hollywood is elitist or because I don't like movies. In fact, I love seeing movies on the big screen.

But, yeah, I'm not crazy into fabulous thousand-dollar dresses, all the self-congratulating, and the whole "celebrity" thing. When I have watched the awards, what I've most enjoyed have been the film clips—especially of movies I've seen. My friend Dave is responsible for those film clips going smoothly, which adds to the pleasure of watching them.

I wrote about the Academy Awards just a year ago as I was close to winding up my first daily blog. In 2015, I had seen only four of the eight best picture nominees. How many this year? Let's see . . . five of the nine: La La Land, Arrival, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, and Manchester by the Sea. I am very sorry to have missed Moonlight, but I will pick that one up on DVD, I guess. Fences is still playing in Salinas, at 10 a.m., so I think I'll sneak out one morning this week and take that one in. I have never even heard of Lion, and Hacksaw Ridge does not appeal to me.

Of the five I saw, I'd be hard-pressed to say which was "best." They all had something to say about our country, about relationships, about dreams, about loss, about striving, about life. And even though I haven't seen Moonlight, I'm hoping it beats out La La Land. On principle. We are in a difficult, complicated time, and that needs to be acknowledged.

We'll know in a minute or two, I expect, since I see that the best actor (yay, Casey Affleck!—and not having seen Fences, I can't honestly say that Denzel deserved it more; Casey did a wonderful job in a difficult, understated role) and actress (nice going, Emma Stone) have been announced.

I can wind this up by saying—thanks to the passage of time—that I'm disappointed but not surprised that La La Land won for best picture. Yeah, that's Hollywood.


A couple of hours later: Ha ha ha—as can happen only in Hollywood, La La Land did not win. Moonlight did! Vindication! And wow—wow wow wow wow wow—what a strange time we are living in. . . . This Academy Awards show is just another symptom of that fact.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Hodgepodge 119/365 - #NatureChallenge

This past week on Facebook, I've taken up a "challenge" posed by my friend Kim and posted a photo a day of nature—in my case, landscapes. Here they are. Some I've already posted here, but this is the group of the week, so if a few are redundant, so be it. They remain lovely (in my humble view) even in different company. I seem to have a thing for water and mountains! The expressionist orchard scene is a welcome interloper, though. (As always, click on image to view large on black.)

Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Folkstumyra Wetland Preserve, Norway

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska

Mt. Tongariro, New Zealand

Almond trees, San Joaquin Valley, California

Mono Lake, California

Shark Fin Cove, Davenport, California

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hodgepodge 118/365 - Taste in Movies

David was out playing rock 'n' roll this evening, and I am nursing a kidney infection (it seems), so I settled in for a movie on Amazon Prime: Mr. Church. From 2016, it stars Eddie Murphy (promising) and was directed by Bruce Beresford (his Tender Mercies is one of my favorite movies—so, also promising). It got 4.7 stars on Amazon (out of 5). Okay!

About 35 minutes in I had to stop and look at iMdb to see what viewers there rated it, because I was feeling decidedly underwhelmed. The marks, it proved, were consistently pretty high—7.7 out of 10—with words such as "must see," "Unbelievable!!!!," "Murphy's tour de force," etc.

One person commented, "Implausible sob story" (5 stars), and I should have stopped right there, but I thought maybe he was just a cranky viewer.

When I see good reviews (many people gave Mr. Church all 10 stars), though, I think there must be something to redeem it.

Well, not in this case. It is an implausible story; it's way too neatly tied up, with tidy circles within tidy circles in a completely predictable plot; the acting was so-so (Eddie Murphy was fine, but great? not so much: he deserves a much better vehicle); and it had an annoying voice-over narrator in the character of the somewhat precious, somewhat unpleasant little girl who, along with Mr. Church, inhabits the movie for sixteen years. (That is, she's unpleasant at the start—a ten-year-old acting out—though of course she grows up to be a shining diamond of a human being.) Worst, it aroused no emotion in me (which could just mean that I'm cranky, but we'll leave that discussion for another day).

Now that I look at Rotten Tomatoes and Roger Ebert, I find they both gave it one star out of five.

I do tend to read reviews of movies before I go see them. I tend to trust the New Yorker and usually the New York Times. The New Yorker (Richard Brody) had this to say about Mr. Church: "It's repugnant for its dehumanizing view (however unintentionally so) of a black man, and repugnant for its emptying-out of one of the great black performers of the time into a sanitized symbol of acceptable blackness" (quoted on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critics gave the movie an approval rating of 15 percent, but the audience gave it 80 percent). (Brody also really didn't care for La La Land—see yesterday's post—and in certain respects I agreed with him. His colleague, Anthony Lane, went easier, but did not exactly rave.)

It seems as if many people just want a feel-good movie and don't care about the quality of the package—or perhaps they don't know what makes a quality movie. Critics may get reviled, and sometimes rightly so, but some critics actually do know what they're talking about: the difference between bold and innovative (even if it's a quiet movie), on the one hand, and hackneyed and merely competent, on the other. Fortunately, I've found a few critics whose taste coincides with mine.

I don't like wasting my time on pablum. Next time, I'll seek out more reliable reviewers than "the audience" before deciding what to watch. There's too much good stuff out there already.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hodgepodge 117/365 - Movie Date

This evening we went to see La La Land, followed by dinner at (appropriately) the Lalla Grill. I liked the movie: much of it was "spectacular" in the true sense of the word, with the big set performances, the beautiful photography and costuming, the over-the-top "reality" of a musical. LA as a main character, perhaps the main character, was fetching. I enjoyed the jazz and the singing and dancing, and did not mind (as some reviewers did) that the performers weren't superb but just sort of normal. Talented normal, but normal. I can always look at Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone was fine. But something about the movie left me feeling irritated: the ambivalence of the ending—even to the extent of it being sad happy (or was it happy sad?); the characters' one-dimensionality. I felt disoriented on personal details much of the time (like, what happened to her roommates?). The movie was so zippy. And the central values embodied in the central stars' dreams—cliché, sentimental, inorganic. So yeah, I liked the movie, and I'm glad we saw it on the big screen. But I didn't love it.

And darn it, Moonlight left our local theaters before I got a chance to see it, so I guess I'll have to wait to see that one on DVD.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hodgepodge 116/365 - Family

It seems I've never written about my family. Or if I have (which I must have, right?), it's embedded in some other story and didn't make it onto my quick-and-dirty index, which I use to check things like this.

I have one brother, Jim; one first cousin, John (on my mother's side); one niece, Erica (plus my departed niece, Melanie, whom I miss every day); and a great-niece, Kimberley. I also have a wonderful something like fourth cousin three times removed, Kris, whom I visit every time I'm in Wisconsin (so, not very often) and whom I went to the Torino Winter Olympics with, with her partner Diane. Fun time!

This past Sunday I met a long-lost cousin. The nature of our relationship remains a mystery, but her name is Mary Geissman, and that's my family name, so we must be somewhat closely related. There just aren't many Geissmans in the world. (There is the jazz guitarist Grant Geissman, but his relationship to the rest of us will forever remain a mystery. I think "mystery" is the middle name of this family.)

Back in 1966, Mary—who then lived in Chicago—came to visit us in Santa Monica. She was studying chemistry, and my dad was a chemist, so there was that link; she was also a big Dodgers fan, and was going to go to a game in Chavez Ravine. I believe I was in school (I would have been in sixth grade) when she visited, but my parents told me about the visit when I got home.

It took over fifty years for us to meet. But now we have.

I found her via a letter written by earth scientists protesting Trump. She wasn't a signer, but her brother, John, a geologist, was. A friend on FB noticed the name and asked if we were related. I figured we must be, and tracked John down at the University of Texas, Dallas. Email correspondence ensued, with Mary included. At which time Mary mentioned that she was going to be attending a conference at Asilomar Conference Center and suggested we meet.

That was several months ago, but I've been looking forward ever since to meeting Mary Geissman.

New family, in a clan this small, is nothing to sneeze at. She has a beautiful big apartment on the Upper West Side of NYC. Also nothing to sneeze at, since she invited us to come visit. I very much enjoyed getting to know my new cousin.

Here's a picture her friend took of us, which Mary sent me today. Milo showed his winningest side.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hodgepodge 115/365 - Sunshower

The rain continues today, but less violently—and more sunnily. I've been treated to a few "sunshowers" already, that phenomenon of brightly shining sun while the rain pours down.

I once ran across a Japanese term for this. Searching for it again, I encountered a long list of terms from all over the world, some of them beautifully whimsical. Many of them involve weddings: of gypsies or poor people or ghosts or witches; of foxes, wolves, monkeys, jackals, or bears—or of a fox and a bear, or a tiger and a fox, or a fox and a raven. The Japanese term is kitsune no yomeiri, or fox wedding. (Though my recollection was of a term that somehow combined sun and rain . . . but I must be wrong.)

My most memorable sunshower was in Madison, Wisconsin, one afternoon when I was home alone, after class or maybe it was a rare weekend without roommates, watching Singing in the Rain on TV in my upstairs flat. At the very moment that Gene Kelly goes swinging around the lamppost, the skies opened up with both a downpour and brilliant sunshine. The coincidence was perfect!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hodgepodge 114/365 - Flood Evacuation

I got my first taste of a Red Cross shelter today. There was (and still is) concern that the Carmel River will flood today yet (prognostication as of about 8 p.m. was between midnight and 1 a.m.), so people living in low-lying areas were advised—mandatorily—to evacuate. Though when I showed up at 3:30 this afternoon at Carmel Middle School, the site of the shelter, and talked to the two School District guys whose job it is to cover the gymnasium floor with protective sheeting, no one really knew what was happening: it was mainly a matter of flying rumors.

The briefing
At 4, the shelter manager, Craig, arrived, with the Red Cross truck and trailer full of supplies: paperwork, pens (useless) and pencils (sharp), duct tape, signage, coffee (Folgers) and giant coffeemaker, snacks, and most important, cots and blankets (no pillows: remember that, if you ever need to evacuate—bring your own). We set up a few tables and chairs, in case we got clients, though Craig was dubious: it's mainly a matter of geography associated with social standing—some of the "camps" right along the river are less well off, so residents can't afford hotel lodgings, for example. So if they got flooded, yes, we might get business; but if it was more affluent neighborhoods, then probably not.

And . . . we waited.

A few ladies wandered in, basically for reassurance, it seemed, then wandered back out. One man came in, agitated, asked some questions about the situation in the Village (we had no answers), made a phone call, and left.

The SPCA sent a couple of workers with crates of assorted sizes for pets, pet food, kitty litter, and towels for bedding.

The briefing
And at about 5:30, people started arriving: the sheriff had ordered the Hacienda, a retirement community, to be evacuated. It was mostly sweet little old ladies; a few couples—in one case, an old woman's daughter and son-in-law were visiting, staying with her, so all three came to the shelter. In the end, we had about thirty clients, though several people wondered where everybody was, since the Hacienda is home to a couple hundred people. I assume (hope) they had enough money to stay in a hotel or had friends or family in the area.

We did get three pets: two little dogs and one black cat named Sam. A woman with two dogs, one fifteen years old and blind, checked us out but was not willing not to sleep with her old dog—and I don't blame her. She left and did not come back, so I hope she found another place to stay. Though she was seriously considering just sleeping in her car. We've got to make the choices we're comfortable with.

After helping people to sign in, I headed out to get sandwiches for Craig and me. The local shopping centers were without power (it is spooky to see entire areas of shops and businesses completely without light), so I headed over the hill, hoping Monterey still had power. It did.

At about 8 Cal Fire and the Sheriff's Office gave us a briefing, saying that people won't be allowed home probably until tomorrow morning. And around then, too, two more Red Cross workers—Doug and Omar, the night shift—arrived. Now it was time to get to work, building cots. It took an hour, hour and a half, but it went smoothly with three of us working and the fourth manning the front desk. When I left at 9:30 half the clients were settling down to bed.

Operation Dormitory
There's nothing comfortable about a Red Cross shelter: bleachers and hard plastic chairs to sit on, and basic army-style cots. But at least it's dry. And we did have power, which the Hacienda, I noticed as I drove by, did not. And hopefully it'll just be one night—and even more hopefully, the river will not rise that high, and everyone will get to go home to a dry, cozy apartment in the morning.

Everyone was in a remarkably cheerful mood. They had the right attitude—it was an adventure! I hope when I get to be that old—a couple of the ladies were in their nineties, and many were in their eighties—I am as resilient. A good attitude is everything.

Meanwhile, at home, our little creek across the street sounds like a raging torrent. I haven't seen it today, but David took some pictures on his walk with the dog this afternoon. The Frog Pond is overfull, and the creek up by the park is now a lake. But we're safe. And we have power (though we've lost it a few times during this storm). So all's well. Here's a couple of photos that David took:

The creek normally flows well under the bridge
The trail at the bottom of the stairs is no more, for now

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hodgepodge 113/365 - Fish

We went out to dinner tonight. I very often get fish when we eat out. When I asked where the salmon was from, the waiter said it was farm raised—which means Atlantic salmon. Okay, never mind. The sand dabs were described as fresh. I went with the sand dabs. They were good. I like sand dabs. I never cook sand dabs myself because Safeway doesn't sell them. Perhaps I should find a local purveyor of sand dabs—what a concept!

That said, my favorite fish is without a doubt Copper River sockeye salmon (and that we do get, these days "previously frozen," at Safeway). I remember well the first time I had sockeye—fresh! It was in Seattle, after finishing a writing conference. Both the conference and the fish were life-changing. If I ever get in really bad trouble and am on death row and they offer me my last meal, it would be sockeye, a baked yam, and . . . hm, favorite green vegetable . . . well, right at the moment, I'd say sauteed spinach with garlic. Or chard. But ask me again when the time comes, I might think different. The sockeye for sure, though.

(Yet as David points out, they would probably just translate that to Frozen Fish Sticks, and it's not like I could complain. Maybe I'd better just stay off of death row. Okay.)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Hodgepodge 112/365 - Cheaters (as in, Spectacles)

I, like everyone who uses reading glasses, keep losing them. I had two pair just yesterday, but today? I think they've must've run off to Rio together.

So while we were at the hardware store today getting lightbulbs, I spotted a rack of cheaters and picked out two new pair, complete with little cases: +1.50 and +1.75. Different strengths for no real reason—to experiment, I guess.

I can read without them. It's just easier with. Especially teeny type in dim light. Well, okay, teeny type in dim light, forget it: I need the glasses. But for regular sitting on the couch in decent light reading a book, I don't.

So for today, here's a little gallery of photos I've taken over the years of other pairs of reading glasses (most taken while proofreading or editing) that have similarly run off to Rio. They must be having a wonderful time down there, assuming they all found each other!

This is my Facebook icon.
Here, I was editing a memoir by jazz trumpeter Clark Terry,
then 90 (he has since passed away). As I noted of this photo:
"Not at all literary—just fun! I think he recorded the chapters
on a voice recorder, so it's got a lively, spoken quality. A nice
change of pace, compared to my usual editing jobs."
The book was on the wines of California.

The book was about detainees at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan.
I remember it not at all.
An article about sharks—
not very good, my original caption tells me . . .
No recollection what this book was about.
And reading an actual published book, Ben Fountains's
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, for pleasure!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Hodgepodge 111/365 - Sitting

Today, a quote, from Natalie Goldberg's The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and the Zigzag Life, which I have not read (I have a love-hate relationship with Natalie and so probably will not). But I like this quote. Especially as I ramp up—once I get work out of my life one last time—to try, try, try yet again to launch a sitting practice. At least I can find comfort in the fact that I won't be struggling like her for forty years. I will not live that long. If, however, the Buddhists are correct and we are reincarnated, and I come back as a human (a better one, I would hope), I will try to institute a sitting practice in a timely manner, such that maybe I, too, can speak in terms of decades.

Okay. Here's the quote.

Tasting Your Own Mind

More than four decades is a long time to be engaged in one activity. Have I managed to do meditation every day no matter what? No. Have I often experienced states of bliss that kept me going? No. Did my knees hurt? Yes. Did my shoulders ache? Yes. Was I sometimes filled with anger, aggression, tormented by old ragged memories? Yes. Did I burn with sexual desire, crave a hot fudge sundae so bad my teeth ached? Yes.

Why did I do it? What kept me going? First, I liked that it was so simple, so dumb, so direct, so different from the constant rush of our human life. When I sat I wasn’t hurrying toward anything. The whole world, my entire inner life, was coming home to me. I was tasting my own mind; I was beginning a true relationship with myself. This was good—and it was inexpensive. All I needed was my breath, a cushion or chair, a little time.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Hodgepodge 110/365 - Serenity

I am into facts lately, and here are a few:

1. There is not enough time in a day.
2. I will never get my ducks in a row.
3. Entropy always seems to win—which I guess means, I don't work hard enough. (That's an inside joke. One of David's favorite sayings is "Fight entropy. Do work!" Ergo.)
4. Though it seems like all I've been doing lately is work. Maybe I'm not doing the right kind of work?
5. I am going to have to really, really concentrate on structuring my time, if I want even half a chance of making a dent in entropy's rabble-rousing.
6. It's very easy to do anything but what I should be doing, which is why this post will consist of a few images from my Flickr stream—the first ten pages—randomly chosen based on a simple "ooh" response, as in, "ooh, yeah, that's the sort of mood I'd like to create around here, once I get the chaos under control." Edited down to ten.
7. That was fun. Choosing the photos, I mean, and then narrowing down. I may have to make a regular practice of this. I've got many pages of pictures on Flickr, after all.
8. I am very, very, very grateful that I have had a life full of beautiful landscapes like these. And for so much else.

Please enjoy. (And as always, click on the images to view them large and on black.)

Hawaii somewhere

Watsonville: strawberry fields forever

Joshua Tree


Blackwater NWR, Maryland

Provincetown, MA

Bosque del Apache, NM

On the way to Coromandel, NZ

Antietam, MD

Mo'omomi Preserve, TNC, Moloka'i