Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hodgepodge 183/365 - Problem Solving

This evening at dinner on the patio of the Volcano Union Inn—so pleasant to be able to dine outside!—we five workshoppers plus Susan's affable husband, Mark, talked about, among other things, our final day's tasks tomorrow.

Susan and Laurie are both making a leather-metal book with (metal) hinges and a staple. Susan is almost done—she just needs to glue; Laurie has been struggling with the hinges and will not finish the book here, but will be able to at home in Minnesota. Carol is making a similar binding, but with very different decoration, and I'm not sure what her closure system is. She should be able to finish up tomorrow. Joanne, whom I worked with last year, has been laboring over her book, a velvet-bound "kit" of The Secret Garden, for five years (one week at a time, mind you), mostly making "jewelry" for it. Today she bound the book (no metal involved). Tomorrow she must attach the jewelry she's made these last several years, and she's afraid she won't be able to finish. We all assured her—not that we know anything . . . —that once she gets started drilling holes in her beautiful book to attach the metal (eek!), she'll get the hang of it and it will go quickly. She seemed skeptical.

Me, I finished my book today. Here are some pictures taken under bad light at my inn (pillow as platform):

As we talked, Mark listened with interest. When we'd finished, he threw in that today while he was driving from the Sierra foothills down toward Sacramento, he'd been listening to NPR. Car Talk came on. One segment involved a discussion of just how to attach hundreds of rhinestones to a car—what sorts of glues would work, what it would do to the finish, how big the rhinestones should be.* He said that having heard that segment today, he felt he knew exactly what we were talking about  in our animated dinner conversation.

And indeed: our problem solving in this relatively arcane context is exactly like problem solving the world over, in a multitude of contexts. There are materials; there are techniques; there are steps one has to follow; there are shortcuts—which sometimes one should not take; there are desired outcomes; there are discoveries. As Christine puts it, "An amateur says, 'Oops.' A professional says, 'There.'" There have been a lot of "there" moments these last few days. And all in all, I think each of us is very pleased with all we've learned, as well as with our final products.

*The story in question can be found at, segment #1717, "The Rhinestone Sundance."

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hodgepodge 182/365 - Process

My normal work, of editing and proofreading, involves starting at page 1 and venturing forth, to deal with whatever I encounter as I meet it, head on sometimes, until we reach the final page. It's a straight line, no deviations (ignoring the head banging with particularly bad writing, and the occasional "wait, didn't we already hear about that in chapter 2?" jolt).

With my other normal work, writing, I have two trajectories.

When I'm working on short journalistic nonfiction, I research, research, research—until I have way too much material, but I've also got a good lead-in (or "lede," a term I hate). And then I start writing, and manage to go from A (the lead-in) to, usually, a circle-completing conclusion, via at least some of the fascinating facts or ideas I've unearthed along the way or quotes or stories gleaned from interviews. It's a bit of a jigsaw puzzle/A-to-Z hybrid, if that makes sense.

With fiction or personal essay, I start—and see what comes up. Sometimes something interesting or puzzling appears out of nowhere and I follow it, down the rabbit hole, through dark alleys, up blazing-flower mountainsides—which just makes the chase more compelling. I am not the sort of writer who creates deep bios for all the characters, researches twists and turns of history, concocts an elaborate plot, then outlines it and follows it. No. I am very much a patchwork sort of writer, when it comes to fiction especially. My characters and situations somehow tell me where they're going, and I follow along, making notes, stitching the pieces together as they seem to fit—and perhaps tearing them apart and starting over if a new character rises up and lets me know it's really her story I need to tell.

This weekend at my book arts workshop, we are creating complicated little objets d'art. And I find my start-at-point-A-and-just-go approach to creativity doesn't quite work. Nor does my patchwork approach. With handmade books, you need to think about consequences. You need to think about what you want to end up with. You need to think about intermediate states and steps. Especially when metal is involved. You do need to outline—or, as my teacher exhorts us, storyboard.

I am going to end up with a ridiculous (but beautiful) book at the end of this class because . . . well, partly because I don't have the experience to sit down and storyboard—to think about all the various bits and pieces, all the various processes and techniques, all the materials and how they behave. I don't already have that information. I need to learn it, by doing—and, to a certain extent, by listening to my teacher.

But another big part of my problem is, I'm not good at slowing down. Thinking things through. As opposed to just bullying my way forward. I can be a tad impatient.

I mentioned to my sister-in-law, a former psychotherapist, this morning my tendency to use brute force—or just go—and she said that's a known problem for so-called gifted children. "Stuff comes fast, and they like to go fast," she wrote. "Which means they don't learn the usefulness of going step-by-step, of slowing down to consider." That feels true: I was, I believe, "expected" to "get it" immediately, and so I haven't practiced the slowing down thing. I miss that, in the sense that it's a skill I lack and that I wish I had.

When I get home, I'd like to (I should say, I'm going to) devote some time—an afternoon, say—every week to book arts in that spirit: of slowing down, planning a project, focusing close in, being careful, considering all the bits and pieces as well as the finished product and how they all relate. It will be good practice, good discipline, for me. It may start to fill in that gap in my experience.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Hodgepodge 181/365 - Volcano Union Inn

I am staying at the Volcano Union Inn while on my book arts work-holiday. It is a peach of a place: four upstairs guest rooms (one of these days I will stay in a large front-of-the- house room, but the back rooms are cozy—I know, because I've stayed in both of them now, the Daffodil last year, and this year, the Mocha) plus a bustling bar and restaurant, open to the public for dinner and the odd special-occasion brunch (Mother's Day, coming right up!).

The fact that it's so bustling is a bit surprising, given that this town of 110 (give or take) is a detour from literally anywhere.

But the food and ambiance explain why.

Yesterday for dinner I had a wonderful dish of white polenta, peas, and prawns in a "chili jus"; tonight, seared salmon with pea-speckled risotto, slivered onion crisps, and tiny braised parsnips and purples carrots (I'm guessing). I would kill for both the recipes. I may ask our breakfast server—knowing that I'll be met with disappointment, but still: just maybe I'll get lucky?

This evening I sat at my high table under the single, silent TV in the room (playing sports, of course) and scanned the menu, an unpretentious xeroxed affair, thinking I'd get something new after last night's prawn dish. But . . . the prawn dish was gone! The salmon was in its place! Otherwise, the menu looked the same. That is classy: I suspect they revise the menu each day according to the chef's offerings. No "specials" here.

And then I read (I've just started a history of Israel), sipped my wine, enjoyed looking up every so often and observing the other diners, animated in their conversations (the room, all dark wood, is loud); when the food came, I savored every bite. It's a very comfortable place to have a meal, even if you're on your own—one thing I really like about America as opposed to Europe: the nonshamefulness of solo dining.

And now it's 9:30, I'm back in my room above the kitchen, and the restaurant has closed; I'm hearing the clank of dishes being washed, the voices of the work and wait staff as they wrap up their busy evening. Banter, laughter. It's a very friendly, upbeat place.

Tomorrow morning at 6:30, I'll get up and switch on the coffee pot on the landing outside our doors. At 8, I'll hear the scrape of chairs on the plank floor downstairs as my fellow workshop participants sit down for breakfast (coffee cake, a hot egg dish, and a yogurt-fruit-granola cup is the pattern, but always with shifting ingredients and styles), and I will scurry to join them.

And so another day will start. Tomorrow for me it's cutting and folding paper, sewing signatures, and slicing leather, plus a few last little metal details to figure out. I doubt I'll finish my book tomorrow, but . . . who knows? Anything's possible.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hodgepodge 180/365 - Volcano

I'm in the tiny town of Volcano, California (2010 population: 115), doing a book arts workshop: today was day one of five. I attended the same workshop last year, and it was so fun, I had to come back. (In the post I link to here, I said I'd try to create my own design for this year's project. Well, that ain't happening. But I'm learning new techniques. And I will end up with a book I'm happy with, whatever it takes! It's all good.)

And . . . it's also good to be here!

I love Volcano, especially on a beautiful spring day. It was established during the Gold Rush, and in the next several years thousands came to seek their fortune. By 1857, however, the town was already beginning to decline, as signaled by the shutting down of the newspaper. Today, there are two hotels (at the town's height, there were seventeen), a scattering of homes, a small grocery, a post office (originally established in 1851), and a Civil War cannon named "Old Abe," cast in 1837. It's the only cannon of its age still on a nineteenth-century wooden carriage. Volcano is a town of several California firsts: first theater group, debating society, and circulating library (1854); first private schools and private law school (1855); first public hanging (in the county, of Amador, 1856); first astronomical observatory (1860); and first solar still (1978).

After class, I took a walk down the road (yes, looking for a geocache—I found it). Along the way I passed a few dozen handmade birdhouses lining the road. Here they are standing sentry, plus a few of them up close, randomly selected (and SOOC):

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hodgepodge 179/365 - Poem (Mark Doty)

Yesterday, I awoke early, and as I often do if the phone is by the bed, I checked Facebook.

Though that said, I've been checking FB less and less, better at simply ignoring it. Soon, with any luck, it will have completely vanished from my consciousness. (Okay, probably not.)

But yesterday, I was glad I checked, because there was a post by poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi, whom I do not know except via FB but whose relatively infrequent check-ins I enjoy. She has spent the last little while in Provincetown, a place I love and a place she knows well and where she received shape as a poet. She (almost) literally stumbled on Stanley Kunitz's grave there this time, an experience she shared on FB.

So yeah: FB. Love, hate. Yesterday, very much love. Mainly because she gave us this (from a 1995 collection), by a poet I very much admire:


Mark Doty


“I’ve been having these
awful dreams, each a little different,
though the core’s the same—

we’re walking in a field,
Wally and Arden and I, a stretch of grass
with a highway running beside it,

or a path in the woods that opens
onto a road. Everything’s fine,
then the dog sprints ahead of us,

excited; we’re calling but
he’s racing down a scent and doesn’t hear us,
and that’s when he goes

onto the highway. I don’t want to describe it.
Sometimes it’s brutal and over,
and others he’s struck and takes off

so we don’t know where he is
or how bad. This wakes me
every night now, and I stay awake;

I’m afraid if I sleep I’ll go back
into the dream. It’s been six months,
almost exactly, since the doctor wrote

not even a real word
but an acronym, a vacant
four-letter cipher

that draws meanings into itself,
reconstitutes the world.
We tried to say it was just

a word; we tried to admit
it had power and thus to nullify it
by means of our acknowledgement.

I know the current wisdom:
bright hope, the power of wishing you’re well.
He’s just so tired, though nothing

shows in any tests, Nothing,
the doctor says, detectable;
the doctor doesn’t hear what I do,

that trickling, steadily rising nothing
that makes him sleep all day,
vanish into fever’s tranced afternoons,

and I swear sometimes
when I put my head to his chest
I can hear the virus humming

like a refrigerator.
Which is what makes me think
you can take your positive attitude

and go straight to hell.
We don’t have a future,
we have a dog.
   Who is he?

Soul without speech,
sheer, tireless faith,
he is that-which-goes-forward,

black muzzle, black paws
scouting what’s ahead;
he is where we’ll be hit first,

he’s the part of us
that’s going to get it.
I’m hardly awake on our morning walk

—always just me and Arden now—
and sometimes I am still
in the thrall of the dream,

which is why, when he took a step onto Commercial
before I’d looked both ways,
I screamed his name and grabbed his collar.

And there I was on my knees,
both arms around his neck
and nothing coming,

and when I looked into that bewildered face
I realized I didn’t know what it was
I was shouting at,

I didn’t know who I was trying to protect.”


I woke in the night
and thought, It was a dream,

nothing has torn the future apart,
we have not lived years

in dread, it never happened,

I dreamed it all. And then

there was this sensation of terrific pressure
lifting, as if I were rising

in one of those old diving bells,
lightening, unburdening. I didn’t know

how heavy my life had become—so much fear,
so little knowledge. It was like

being young again, but I understood
how light I was, how without encumbrance,—

and so I felt both young and awake,
which I never felt

when I was young. The curtains moved
—it was still summer, all the windows open—

and I thought, I can move that easily.
I thought my dream had lasted for years,

a decade, a dream can seem like that,
I thought, There’s so much more time ...

And then of course the truth
came floating back to me.

You know how children
love to end stories they tell

by saying, It was all a dream? Years ago,
when I taught kids to write,

I used to tell them this ending spoiled things,
explaining and dismissing

what had come before. Now I know
how wise they were, to prefer

that gesture of closure,
their stories rounded not with a sleep

but a waking. What other gift
comes close to a reprieve?

This was the dream that Wally told me:
I was in the tunnel, he said,

and there really was a light at the end,
and a great being standing in the light.

His arms were full of people, men and women,
but his proportions were all just right—I mean

he was the size of you or me.
And the people said, Come with us,

we’re going dancing. And they seemed so glad
to be going, and so glad to have me

join them, but I said,
I’m not ready yet.
I didn’t know what to do,

when he finished,
except hold the relentless

weight of him, I didn’t know
what to say except, It was a dream,

nothing’s wrong now,
it was only a dream.


Michael writes to tell me his dream:
I was helping Randy out of bed,
supporting him on one side
with another friend on the other,

and as we stood him up, he stepped out
of the body I was holding and became
a shining body, brilliant light
held in the form I first knew him in.

This is what I imagine will happen,
the spirit’s release.
when we support our friends,
one of us on either side, our arms

under the man or woman’s arms,
what is it we’re holding? Vessel,
shadow, hurrying light? All those years
I made love to a man without thinking

how little his body had to do with me;
now, diminished, he’s never been so plainly
himself—remote and unguarded,
an otherness I can’t know

the first thing about. I said,
You need to drink more water
or you’re going to turn into
an old dry leaf.
And he said,

Maybe I want to be an old leaf.
In the dream Randy’s leaping into
the future, and still here; Michael’s holding him
and releasing at once. Just as Steve’s

holding Jerry, though he’s already gone,
Marie holding John, gone, Maggie holding
her John, gone, Carlos and Darren
holding another Michael, gone,

and I’m holding Wally, who’s going.
Where isn’t the question,
though we think it is;
we don’t even know where the living are,

in this raddled and unraveling “here.”
What is the body? Rain on a window,
a clear movement over whose gaze?
Husk, leaf, little boat of paper

and wood to mark the speed of the stream?
Randy and Jerry, Michael and Wally
and John: lucky we don’t have to know
what something is in order to hold it.


I thought your illness a kind of solvent
dissolving the future a little at a time;

I didn’t understand what’s to come
was always just a glimmer

up ahead, veiled like the marsh
gone under its tidal sheet

of mildly rippling aluminum.
What these salt distances were

is also where they’re going:
from blankly silvered span

toward specificity: the curve
of certain brave islands of grass,

temporary shoulder-wide rivers
where herons ply their twin trades

of study and desire. I’ve seen
two white emissaries unfold

like heaven’s linen, untouched,
enormous, a fluid exhalation. Early spring,

too cold yet for green, too early
for the tumble and wrack of last season

to be anything but promise,
but there in the air was white tulip,

marvel, triumph of all flowering, the soul
lifted up, if we could still believe

in the soul, after so much diminishment ...
Breath, from the unpromising waters,

up, across the pond and the two-lane highway,
pure purpose, over the dune,

gone. Tomorrow’s unreadable
as this shining acreage;

the future’s nothing
but this moment’s gleaming rim.

Now the tide’s begun
its clockwork turn, pouring,

in the day’s hourglass,
toward the other side of the world,

and our dependable marsh reappears
—emptied of that starched and angular grace

that spirited the ether, lessened,
but here. And our ongoingness,

what there’ll be of us? Look,
love, the lost world

rising from the waters again:
our continent, where it always was,

emerging from the half-light, unforgettable,
drenched, unchanged.


Cold April and the neighbor girl
   —our plumber’s daughter—
     comes up the wet street

from the harbor carrying,
   in a nest she’s made
     of her pink parka,

a loon. It’s so sick,
   she says when I ask.
     Foolish kid,

does she think she can keep
   this emissary of air?
     Is it trust or illness

that allows the head
   —sleek tulip—to bow
     on its bent stem

across her arm?
   Look at the steady,
     quiet eye. She is carrying

the bird back from indifference,
   from the coast
     of whatever rearrangement

the elements intend,
   and the loon allows her.
     She is going to call

the Center for Coastal Studies,
   and will swaddle the bird
     in her petal-bright coat

until they come.
   She cradles the wild form.
     Stubborn girl.


Jimi and Tony
can’t keep Dino,
their cocker spaniel;
Tony’s too sick,
the daily walks
more pressure
than pleasure,
one more obligation
that can’t be met.

And though we already
have a dog, Wally
wants to adopt,
wants something small
and golden to sleep
next to him and
lick his face.
He’s paralyzed now
from the waist down,

whatever’s ruining him
moving upward, and
we don’t know
how much longer
he’ll be able to pet
a dog. How many men
want another attachment,
just as they’re
leaving the world?

Wally sits up nights
and says, I’d like
some lizards, a talking bird,
some fish. A little rat.

So after I drive
to Jimi and Tony’s
in the Village and they
meet me at the door and say,
We can’t go through with it,

we can’t give up our dog,

I drive to the shelter
—just to look—and there
is Beau: bounding and
practically boundless,
one brass concatenation
of tongue and tail,
unmediated energy,
too big, wild,

perfect. He not only
licks Wally’s face
but bathes every
irreplaceable inch
of his head, and though
Wally can no longer
feed himself he can lift
his hand, and bring it
to rest on the rough gilt

flanks when they are,
for a moment, still.
I have never seen a touch
so deliberate.
It isn’t about grasping;
the hand itself seems
almost blurred now,
softened, though
tentative only

because so much will
must be summoned,
such attention brought
to the work—which is all
he is now, this gesture
toward the restless splendor,
the unruly, the golden,
the animal, the new.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Hodgepodge 178/365 - Bill Paying in the Modern World

This morning I joined the modern world a little more fully: I signed up for three more of my regular bills to be paid automatically. 

In Israel, while I was strolling with my new friend Bill, the subject of bill paying came up and I confessed that I like to sit down with my checkbook and the paper statements and pay everything by hand. I like to know what I'm paying. He looked at me like I had two heads and asked, "How old are you, anyway?" (Bill, I might point out, is older than me by a year.)

I believe my Norwegian relatives have been paperless for approximately ever. They don't even have checks anymore.

While I was gone, David paid the bills, so my usual routine of sitting down at the end of the month with a stack of envelopes and paying off the utilities and mortgage was interrupted. That left me with a small handful of bills to deal with this morning, now that it's almost the end of the month again. One comes quarterly, so I'll continue to pay that personally. Another is from a long-distance phone company that according to Wikipedia no longer exists (it's MCI, long since owned by Verizon: but the bill still comes from MCI, with no instructions on automatic payment options . . .). And AT&T, well, maybe next month I'll set that up for auto payment.

This revolution in my life came about specifically because of MCI. Although it gives us long-distance phone service, and it's really not very expensive, I know most people in this modern world have a phone service that includes "free" long distance. Certainly the two or three people in other states whom I have regular phone contact with do, and so I always ask them to call me, because, for them, it is "free." Or at least, no extra charge. But that makes me feel a little childish. I should be able to pick up the phone and call them too, right?

So I was looking into shedding MCI and bundling long distance into . . . something. AT&T, I guess? For free! But the AT&T website convinced me to call customer service to explain my situation (because no, I don't want Internet, or wireless, I just want a land line with a decent rate), but when I called the 877 number, I got a message: The office is closed! Call back later! Granted, it was 7:45 a.m. my time, but still: don't you expect 877 to always be available? I do. Being of the modern world and all.

So there I was, foiled. I continued paying my bills. And when I got to Verizon (wireless), I needed to check an old payment, so went online—and the option of automatic payments was right there in the middle of my screen! And I thought, Why not? It's a regular charge—as in, the same amount every month. I manage to deal with my credit card payment being automatic (that, because it was due out of my end-of-month sync and I kept missing deadlines: it was self-defense against late fees), and that's not a regular charge. Maybe, just maybe, I can do this.

And thus emboldened, I went ahead and signed up for the mortgage and the electric/gas bills to go on autopay as well. 

I feel so adult. 

Plus—and this is the best thing about all this: paperless! Because, yes, I am a member of the modern world. And helping the environment all we can is important.

Now, of course, I'll have more emails to deal with. The price of living in the modern world.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hodgepodge 177/365 - Answering the Door

These days, when the doorbell rings, it's usually the mail carrier or UPS delivering a package (usually fulfillment from the Amazon, a habit I am trying to break).

But sometimes it's young people trying to raise money by what I consider spurious means. Or members of a religious group that I am definitely not interested in. Or kids selling raffle tickets or some such for school fund-raisers.

So when the doorbell rings in the middle of the day, I generally don't answer. If it's a package, it will sit there patiently until I'm ready to check. (I have nothing against legitimate fund-raising, but I'm not interested in listening to the song-and-dance and then inspecting the documentation to figure out if it is. More often than not, it seems, it is not.)

Today my defenses were down: the doorbell rang, and I went to the door. So did Milo, barking furiously, as he does—not in rage or even any semblance of protection, but just because that's what he does. (We are not very good trainers: I'd really prefer it if he didn't bark at everyone who approaches the house, but can an old dog—meaning me, practicing consistency in reward follow-through—learn new tricks?)

It was a youngish woman new to the neighborhood starting off a career as a financial advisor, trying to drum up business. I told her we already work with someone, and she very nicely said, okay, thanks, and started off to the next house. I wished her luck. She then turned and said, "And thanks for opening the door."

That struck me as poignant: she must have encountered a lot of silent houses. Of course, many were no doubt unresponsive because the residents work or go to school. But I bet not a few inhabitants didn't respond because it was a stranger at the door. Wanting God knows what.

It made me sad, this unfriendly, xenophobic society we live in . . .

And for once, I'm glad I answered the door.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hodgepodge 176/365 - Pet Peeves

From Dictionary for Kids
I'm a pretty easy-going person (at least, I like to think I am), but there are a few things in this world that drive me absolutely bonkers. I just finished dealing with (okay, seething at) one of them, and that is people who separate their grocery store purchases into two orders—especially if they proceed to pay for both orders with a single credit/debit card or cash. I can only imagine that they bought the items for someone else and don't want to go to the bother of doing the addition to figure out the reimbursement.

As if the nickels and dimes—never mind pennies—even matter.

This evening, we were making a simple purchase of wine and beer. We got in a line with two people ahead of us: perfect! Only, it turned out both people ahead of us were splitting their orders: one bought a single box of Tampax, after a larger hundred-plus-dollar order; the other had a stack of about ten Hershey's milk chocolate bars, as well as half a dozen miscellaneous items. In effect, two people in line became four.

Sure, sure, the doubling of transactions didn't add all that much time to the process—maybe three minutes (the average time for finishing a transaction is between 40 and 60 seconds, depending on the chattiness of the checker—though the new chip readers have slowed things down, so that estimate is no doubt optimistic). But when I choose a line to get in, I do it based on the amount of merchandise on the conveyor belt as well as the number of transactions. I see two people, I see two transactions. It's a science and an art!

I find, for example, that one very large order gets processed more quickly than, say, four orders in the 15 Items or Fewer line—so I'll generally choose a conveyor belt full with one order over four segregated small orders.

And let me just mention: the box of Tampax got pulled out as an "extra order" after the fact. Grr.

Ironically, as I was waiting to collect our items, I noticed that the man behind me—with two cartons of ice cream and one big box of soft drinks—had separated the ice cream and soft drinks into two orders. I guess he learned something new standing in that line. Grrrrr.

(I wrote about my other pet peeve—people who don't use their turn signals (grrrrrrrrrrr)—here. At the end of that post, I mentioned that I have "another pet peeve, probably idiosyncratic." I can't be sure that I was referring to this issue of supermarket lines, but at the moment, I can't think of anything else that peeves me more.)

Finally, in looking for graphics to illustrate this post I ran into this mathematical thing called "queuing theory," which posits that a single line to three cashiers will almost always be faster than three separate lines. The self-checkout stations work that way—but you can't buy alcohol at self-checkout. So tonight we were forced to use a single line. And yeah, I was (again) reminded of my second pet peeve—and of my own personal bad line karma. Which I probably ought to just accept. And thank my lucky stars that most of my other personal karma is pretty darn sweet.

(Oh and, a little voice on my shoulder whispers, such situations could be the perfect opportunity to practice your Zen. Have you considered that?)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Hodgepodge 175/365 - March for Science

It was no Washington, D.C., Women's March, but it was a rousing little display of citizenship and resistance: today's March for Science, Monterey-style.

We do have a large scientific community hereabouts: Moss Landing Marine Lab (of Cal State University), Hopkins Marine Station (Stanford), the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and of course the Monterey Bay Aquarium itself, all representing marine biology, oceanography, and related sciences; Fleet Numerical Meteorological and Oceanography Center and the Naval Postgraduate School, both administered by the Department of Defense (and probably safe from budget cuts to science because . . . DOD); U.S. Department of Agriculture field station (perhaps not safe from budget cuts to science because . . . who cares about safe food?); and no doubt many others that are smaller, like county offices overseeing water quality and pesticide management, never mind all the schoolteachers imparting science and the beauty of critical thinking to our youths, and what about physicians, whose expertise we depend on for our very health?

The cars rolling down Del Monte, many of them honking approval: they go because of science, and they don't pollute as much as they might because of science, and they are making us less and less reliant on fossil fuels because of science. So much of modern society—the world as we know it, as we rely on it to be—revolves around science. 

Also, as someone in the march behind me pointed out, we would not have superheroes without science. So there's that.

But most of all, the future of not just our species, but all life, is, in a way, dependent on human science. Because we have the intelligence and responsibility—I like to think—to keep expanding our knowledge and our ability to steer events in a proper direction. We are stewards of this planet, of this amazing habitat and life form writ large.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hodgepodge 174/365 - Fighting Entropy

I've been feeling a little down in the dumps. I attribute it to the political situation, but it's also a bit of a case of laziness—and being lazy never did anybody any good. So today I took the proverbial bull by the horns and got active.

One of David's mottoes is "Fight entropy: Do work." And that's what I tiptoed into today. I figure if I spend just fifteen minutes every day fighting entropy, I will be a saner, happier person.

I've got a long, pretty much never-ending list of things that need doing. You know: grappling with materialism—maintaining, cleaning, organizing, reducing. That sort of thing.

But one action item that has been on my list for far, far too long is getting my photo printer fixed. I wrote about it breaking down way back in August 2015. And yes, it's been sitting like that—broken down—ever since, even though all I needed to do was make a phone call, at least to get the ball rolling. I even had the direct phone number of customer service in, not India, but Virginia! Easy!

You'd think.

Well, long, boring story short, this morning I finally decided to act. In the meantime, however, I've lost the email with the magic phone number, so I googled for contact info. And found a website where one can submit a question via a form. I didn't even have to pick up the phone! And a response arrived within short order! Suggesting that a phone call really is the most efficient way to get a problem solved.

Yeah. I know that.

So I've made a note in my datebook for Monday: Call Canon! And I will. Because I am sick of having this thing weighing on me. Unfinished business really does sap your soul.

Plus, now I have the relevant phone number.

Off to such a rousing start, I then sorted through my pants (yes, I tried them all on—and yes, some of them no longer fit . . .) and so cleaned off a shelf in the closet. If I do that every day, my side of the closet will make me sane and happy within only a week or so!

Or at least a little more so.

One can hope.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hodgepodge 173/365 - Trail Work

Mt. Manuel Trail, looking west
(toward the Pacific)
I spent a glorious day pulling and lopping weeds! And tossing them down a steep hillside! I sawed a couple of small trees as well, which was a nice break from the tugging and lopping. All to make a tiny dent with three fellow wilderness rangers on an overgrown trail (Mount Manuel) in Big Sur—overgrown because of last summer's Soberanes Fire coupled with copious rains this spring, and also because the forest has been closed since the fire started, so no hiking-booted feet have been keeping the vegetation at bay.

Midafternoon I dropped my tools and took a walk upward to scope things out: the trail is still obvious—nowhere is it not passable—but man, the work that needs to be done to get it back to "clear" status, never mind "wilderness highway." It was, I confess, a tad discouraging. Spiny thistles, encroaching ceanothus, and in places five-foot-tall wild oats. Not to mention dips and drop-offs in the tread.

But a dent we made, and once the forest opens and booted feet resume, hopefully the trail will show itself again and the weeds—I mean, healthy native vegetation—will be convinced to quiet down.

I now am redolent of sage, because some of the time I was sitting in the middle of sage bushes lopping away: So many stems! So lush! It could have been worse . . .

I did not have a camera with me, not even my phone, but a few highlights of the day were (stealing from others' photos):

A California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) flew right over us,
checking us out
(photo by Mark K. Daly)
This photo is from San Luis Obispo, but the top of Mt. Manuel
looked very much like the top of that mountain: covered with poppies
(photo by Kurtis Wurster)
Globe lilies, aka fairy lanterns (Calochortus albus), were out in force,
along with so many other flowers, making a gorgeous
bouquet of whites, pinks, lavenders, oranges, scarlets, blues
I love these little (and they are little—11–16 inches long,
the thickness of a pencil) coral-bellied ring-necked snakes
(Diadophis punctatus pulchellus),
and one rippled out
to bid us farewell as we walked back to our car
(photo by Gary Nafis)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hodgepodge 172/365 - Poem (Ellen Bass)

Maybe I'll just post poems here on out . . . But no, seriously, for today, another: because it's wise and beautiful, and resonates with yesterday's.

The World Has Need Of You

Ellen Bass

everything here
seems to need us
—Rainer Maria Rilke

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hodgepodge 171/365 - Poem (Galway Kinnell)

Saint Francis and the Sow

Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hodgepodge 170/365 - Snakes

On Sunday while we were geocaching we stumbled on a snake. It was hiding in a crevice, but its tail was sticking out, and we spotted it as it slithered more fully into the crack in the rocks. I moved in for a closer look and noticed a little clawed hand— wait, was it a snake? Even closer inspection, as the poor thing peered up at me peering in at him, confirmed: yes, definitely a snake, in the process of swallowing a blue-bellied western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis).  

David called it a gopher snake, which I repeated on the Facebook page of a herpetologist friend, Harry W. Greene, an author whose wonderful memoir, Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art, I had the distinct pleasure of editing (not a very common occurrence: pleasure in editing, that is). My ID puzzled Harry, who remarked: "Not impossible, but unusual for a Gopher Snake to eat a lizard . . . was it a young snake?"

This got me wondering, so I googled "snakes of Henry Coe" and got a marvelous resource in return: Amphibians and Reptiles of Henry W. Coe State Park. There I determined that what I had seen was in fact not a gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer), which has patterned skin—much like a rattler—and dines mainly on small mammals (hence its common name), but a western yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor mormon). Here's its entry:

Racers are slender, medium-sized snakes reaching 2 to 5 feet in length. Adults are solid colored, in shades of olive, beige, or brown. Juveniles, on the other hand, are blotched, and resemble small, wide-eyed gopher snakes. The mature racer has very smooth shiny scales with a divided anal plate. The head is narrow but still wider than the neck with very distinct brow ridges. The belly is white, light tan, or yellow in color. The male can be distinguished from the female in that the tail is longer with a wide base, sometimes even a bulge.

General Information/Ecology
Racers are one of the few snakes found from coast to coast, and the 11 subspecies exhibit much regional variation. Racers favor open habitats such as grasslands and oak savannah, where they are highly active, spending much of their time foraging, often with their head raised. They are among the fastest of snakes. They are strictly diurnal and inactive at night, for their retinas contain only cones. They are dietary generalists, taking a wide variety of prey items. In spite of their scientific name, they do not kill prey by constriction but subdue it and swallow it immediately. If cornered they are aggressive and will not hesitate to strike repeatedly.

Coe Specific
Racers are common in Coe and frequently seen on warm spring days in the open areas of the park.
I shared my conclusion of a racer snake with Harry, who responded, "Sounds much more likely . . . any stripes or spots visible?" (perhaps still trying to age the animal). I told him no, it was just olive brown. That nailed it, and he confirmed my guess. 

That's another reason I enjoy Facebook (when I'm not busy hating it, which is sort of the case at the moment: so much discouraging news there lately . . .): I've got some super-intelligent, super-knowledgeable, and very generous friends on FB. That's something to cherish, for sure.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Hodgepodge 169/365 - Taxes

I have the easy job in this household when it comes to taxes: I just need to figure out my own business expenses. David does the big job of filing the taxes. It's easier these days thanks to TurboTax, but still: it's tedious and requires lots of bits of paper.

This year we'll have some nice deductions: a car donated to a charity; solar panels credit; many year-end donations to all sorts of do-good groups.

And this year, for a change—because I worked fairly consistently and actually made some income—I paid estimated taxes again. Last year we had a big tax bill (and a small penalty), because last year, too, I had pretty good income, but I did not pay estimated taxes. It all adds up. This year, though, I was proactive.

I don't mind paying taxes, really. Though I'd mind it a lot less if I felt my taxes went to social goods. And this year, for sure, I don't feel that way. And I resent the man in the White House not disclosing his own tax returns, or much of anything about how he's conducting business. He's our employee, after all. I don't understand what has become of this nation.

More and more often, I really wish I'd been born in Norway or Denmark or Finland. English would be my second language. So be it.

Still: I feel very, very fortunate that I'm in a position of comfort in this country, in this world. Yes. There's that.

But I do not understand humanity, and the rampant greed and arrogance and destructiveness and selfishness. We are here, in this life, but for an instant. The vast majority of the billions of people on this planet don't seem to realize that. I find that baffling and very, very sad.

Wouldn't the world be a better place if we all got that? I think so. . . .

I'd certainly be much happier about paying my taxes if we did.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Hodgepodge 168/365 - Geocaching

Today, a photo:

From a very long day of geocaching with our friend Alastair: finishing a 31-stop challenge cache in a very high-topography county park on a gorgeous spring day. My Fitbit claims that I walked 42,498 steps (18 miles), which could be true: going uphill, the steps were very small (because steep), and coming back, ditto (because exhausted and knees complaining).

Thanks to cell reception after our 31st cache (one cache was not findable due to a fallen tree, which meant some necessary info was missing, which we solicited from the cache owner via email—which meant we needed connectivity to access his reply), and thanks to some very tired and error-prone but ultimately successful arithmeticking, we prevailed and found the reward cache (#32)!!!! It's in that tree there. Really!

Here's a screenshot of our route, courtesy of Alastair (the line on the left, between the blue marker and the upper loop, is actually a road and not part of our hiking route):

Friday, April 14, 2017

Hodgepodge 167/365 - Book Report (My Promised Land)

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, by Ari Shavit (2013) (4/10/17)

I shlepped this book all through Israel and Italy, reading it in small doses, learning about the complexity (one might say schizophrenia) of that fascinating country even while I was looking out the bus windows at the passing landscape of the place itself. I finally finished it on the plane ride home.

It's an excellent, conflicted, passionate book about an impossible idea-become-reality, the salvation and homeland for Jews worldwide, written by a former columnist for Israel's Haaretz newspaper. One of the strengths of the book is the actual people who populate it, from Shavit's own great-grandfather, one of the original Zionist settlers, to current-day Israeli professors and politicians and scientists and club owners and businessmen and ultra-Orthodox Jews, to Palestinians who are being pushed from their land. Another is Shavit's moral intelligence and his willingness to look at uncomfortable contradictions and exigencies straight on.

The structure of the book is chronological, beginning with the arrival of the Zionists in 1897 and the establishment of the seminal colony of Ein Harod in 1921. Shavit describes the elevation of mythic Masada and the destruction of Palestinian Lydda in 1948; the establishment of the new Jewish state and subsequent conflicts, with associated needs for self-defense; and the diversity of faces, and of strengths and weaknesses, of the modern state.

His assessments are wise and beautifully written. Here is one paragraph that looks back to the beginnings of Israel and the Zionist project in an effort to clarify the present-day place:
The act of concentrating the Jews in one place was essential but dangerous. If another historic disaster were to strike here, it might be the last. The founding fathers and mothers of Zionism realized this. They knew they were leading one of the most miserable nations in the world to one of the most dangerous places in the world. That's why they were so demanding of themselves and of others. That's why they acted in such a shrewd and resourceful and disciplined manner. They knew that their mission was superhuman, as was the responsibility thrust upon them. But over the years, it was not possible to maintain such a high level of revolutionary discipline. It wasn't possible to maintain the devotion, precision, and commitment. The following generations lost the historical perspective and the sense of responsibility. They were fooled by the Zionist success story and they lost sight of the existential risk embodied in the Zionist deed. Gradually they lost the concentration and caution required of those walking a tightrope over an abyss. As resolve waned and wisdom dissipated, there was no longer a responsible adult to lead the children's crusade. A movement that got most things right in its early days has gotten almost everything wrong in recent decades.
It's difficult to pull out relevant portions and have them make sense, without the rest of the long, convoluted story of Israel as background. But that passage gives a sense of Shavit's wise questioning.

He concludes by describing three concentric circles of threat that close in on the Jewish state. They are (1) the Islamic circle (the external circle)—"Israel's very existence as a sovereign non-Islamic entity in a land sacred to Islam and surrounded by Islam that creates the inherent tension between the tiny Jewish nation and the vast Islamic world"; (2) the Arab circle—"The Arab national movement tried to prevent the founding of Israel—and failed. The Arab nations tried to destroy Israel—and failed. As such, the very existence of Israel as a non-Arab nation-state in the Middle East is testimony to the failure of Arab nationalism"; (3) the Palestinian circle—"Israel is perceived by its neighbors to be a settler's state founded on the ruins of indigenous Palestine. Many Palestinians perceive Israel as an alien, dispossessing colony that has no place in the land. The underlying wish of a great number of Palestinians is to turn back the political movement that they blame for shattering their society, destroying their villages, emptying their towns, and turning most of them into refugees." In recent years, Shavit observes, these three circles of threat have merged, creating ever more threat for Israel and ever more pressure for Israel to stand firm in resistance.

He also identifies a moral threat to Israel: "A nation bogged down in endless warfare can be easily corrupted. It might turn fascist or militaristic or just brutal. Surprisingly, Israelis have generally upheld democratic values and institutions while being in a permanent state of war," but that identity is constantly being challenged. And finally, he points to the threat of crumbling identity: "At the core of the Zionist revolution was an identity revolution. . . . Now it is all falling apart. Our new fierce identity is disintegrating into a multitude of identities, some of which are frail and confused. At times we do not recognize ourselves anymore. We are not sure who we really are."

He ends on an uplifting note, however, speaking of the "ongoing adventure," the "odyssey" that is the state of Israel—a nation unique on the face of the planet, without a doubt.
There will be no utopia here. Israel will never be the ideal nation it set out to be, nor will it be Europe-away-from-Europe. There will be no London here, no Paris, no Vienna. But what has evolved in this land is not to be dismissed. A series of great revolts has created here a truly free society that is alive and kicking and fascinating. This free society is creative and passionate and frenzied. It gives the ones living here a unique quality of life: warmth, directness, openness. Yes, we are orphans. We have no king and no father. We have no coherent identity and no continuous past. In a sense, we have no civic culture. Our grace is the semibarbaric grace of the wild ones. It is the youthful grace of the unbound and the uncouth. We respect no past and no future and no authority. We are irreverent. We are deeply anarchic. And yet, because we are all alone in this world, we stick together. Because we are orphans, we are brothers in arms and in fate.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hodgepodge 166/365 - Tesla

David's Miata was broken into last week, the roof slashed (even though the doors were unlocked). It's now "repaired" with a piece of camo duct tape. Very classy. The middle console was broken too, and now won't close. Never mind the various dents and scrapes from 18 years of hard use.

We started talking about replacing the Miata, even though it's a fun little car. David mentioned that he'd really love a Tesla. I must say, whenever I see a Tesla on the road, I feel a surge of lust. Although it looks like a regular car, the fact that it's entirely electric is so sexy. Being unwed to fossil fuels—yes!

Today we went to the local Tesla sales room (not dealer) and got a thorough tour of the Tesla S. What a machine! Though it's really more of a computer. With wheels. Okay, it has a motor, maybe two (for all-wheel drive), but no engine; the motor is mounted on the axle, i.e. attached directly to the wheels. No transmission: no Park, no Neutral, no Drive, 2, 3. It doesn't even use a key! Just wild!

We also got a demo drive, seeing how the adaptive cruise control and auto pilot/auto steer worked (that computer again, plus eight cameras). The sound system is pretty swell as well.

Ours will be dark blue

Yes, we were sold: as soon as we got home, David pledged $1,000 for a "reservation." Which puts us in line behind 400,000-plus others. Delivery is not expected until 15–18 months from now. So David's Miata will have to flap in the wind a little while longer. No instant gratification here (unlike my Subaru purchase, which was made on the spot, almost before the test drive).

I figure an electric car (yes, yes, we could be looking at the Chevy Bolt, which might provide more immediate gratification, but really? when we can have a Tesla?) is the right thing to do for the planet, sure. But more selfishly, I also figure that we won't be driving all that much longer. My Subaru, David's Tesla—these could very well be our last cars, since our habit is to drive our vehicles into the ground.

Then again, if electric vehicles really start to take off, maybe I'll trade the Subaru in for one last car before I turn in my driver's license. Time will tell.

For now, we're excited about our new purchase. Sweet anticipation.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hodgepodge 165/365 - Superbloom

We have reluctantly decided not to make the drive to the Carrizo Plain where a superbloom of wildflowers is occurring.

Photo uploaded to Flickr by Denise Dewire on April 11

Busy lives . . .

However, here at 830 Altura we have a superbloom of our own going on on a small scale:

California poppies, plus some flowering herb (the purple):
the poppies are closed up for the day, taking shelter from the wind

The yard is a riot of poppies. Just gorgeous! But in the days to come I will be removing many of them from our raised beds, in order to plant edibles—which will bring sensory pleasures of their own, if in a different way. Getting a bit of a late start because of my travels, but as they say, better late than never. Fortunately, our growing season is long.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hodgepodge 164/365 - Souvenirs

Yesterday in Austin, the customs guy looked at me askance when I told him I'd been in Israel and Italy for four weeks but I wasn't bringing anything from there home. "I don't buy souvenirs," I told him. To which he responded, "Do you travel often?" I'm not sure my response—once or twice a year—was convincing in the "no souvenirs" department. Don't normal people like keepsakes?

But now that I've unpacked, I see that I was wrong: I did buy six fabulous little notebooks, three French (papier velout√©, douceur de l'√©criture) with lined pages, three Italian with blank pages, plus two Schneider Viscoglide pens, one black, one blue. I also bought some toothpaste and hair conditioner in Italy—indeed, it's something of a tradition of mine to buy toothpaste overseas, because it reminds me for another several months, every day, that I was lucky enough to be over there, wherever it was. And I bought two reusable shopping bags in Israel, because: Hebrew! So cool!

And finally, I did bring back a few rocks from the Negev (but those I did not buy). They have joined my New Zealand rocks on the deck railing.

"Without bags! Shopping is clean" (approximately)
"Shufersal protects the environment"

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hodgepodge 163/365 - Go

Long day today: up at 4:50 a.m. in Venice, arrived at my house at 10:20 p.m. With a rather big time zone adjustment, that makes for . . . a lot of hours. Most of them awake.

Four flights, every one on time. A group of folks in Venice were hung out to dry by American Airlines and had to fight to get on our flight (which they did, by the skin of their teeth), but I have to say, I had no complaints at all about American today. Maybe I just have good flight-travel karma, because in all my years of flying, I've only had delayed bags three times, missed connections twice, and been bumped from a flight once (because of overbooking).* My memory may be faulty, but I think that's about right. It's about a 2 percent mishap rate. If that. (Knock wood.)

Frankly, I'm astonished that air travel works at all. I mean, seriously: I can check in in Venice and get four boarding passes that work, and my bag can get checked through all the way to home (with a minor interruption in Austin for "customs"—which I consider a mere circus act, but never mind). And the computers are keeping track of tens of thousands of similarly complicated trips every day?

It's a miracle.

Except for those poor folks in Venice, who I surely do hope got to their destination. It's also a miracle that more people like them don't fall through the inevitable cracks of such a complicated system more often. Never mind the vagaries of weather and mechanical failures. And it's a miracle that in case of missed connections, people get squeezed on to later flights and, yes, eventually get where they're going.

Also a miracle is in-flight entertainment, which sure beats the old days of having to watch whatever movie they happened to show, with a screen either too close or too far away, with lousy audio to boot. Today I was able to select from a vast menu, and I could pause and rewind at will, the tiltable screen just a foot away. I watched Moonlight (wonderful), The Big Lebowski (very funny, but a bit of a train wreck by the end: thank goodness for Sam Elliott), and Amadeus (a few scenes are too long, but I enjoy the music and the cavalcade of the short ten years depicted in that film: Mozart was and will always be one for the ages, no matter how similar he actually was to the character in this film).

And now: I'm home! No more travelogues on this Hodgepodge. I'll have to think of something topical to write about. Wish me luck.

*Re overbooking: I don't really know how overbooking occurs (i.e., if it's a matter of policy or of piled-up circumstances), but yesterday it led to an incident of assault that was, justly, all over the Internet news. Apparently the airline, United, needed seats for standby employees, which makes it a matter of union rights, I suppose—and those are bound to be stronger than mere consumer rights (if such a thing even exists). Apparently, too, the staff dealt with the overbooking problem "at random" after trying to entice volunteers with vouchers. In my case, the reason for the "overbooking" was a change in rules at the destination airport, having to do with work being done to extend runways, and they had to restrict the weight of the loaded aircraft (if I remember correctly, though that doesn't really seem possible, given that three individuals don't weigh all that much). In any event, they chose the three of us to bump by the cost of our  tickets—which is less "fair" than by the date of booking, but who said life is fair? In my case, too, they simply didn't let us on the plane: there was no question of having to remove anyone. My two fellow bumpees were not at all happy, though we were immediately rebooked from a late-night flight to an early-morning one and provided with lodging. Me, I was on my way home with no real obligations the next day, so I took it in stride. As I try to do anyway. It just makes life easier . . .

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Hodgepode 162/365 - And . . .

I took the water taxi across the lagoon to the Marco Polo Airport this afternoon, found my hotel, and located on the map a couple of geocaches that were in close proximity. Great! A walk!

What was especially great about this walk was all the green: trees and grassy fields. Also the wild beauty of the marshland. I realize I've been missing the natural world, being walled up in cities these last two weeks. Parks help, but they don't cut it in the end. While I was out I spotted a bunch of shelducks, a tern, and, surprisingly, a swan, and I heard some glorious songbirds whose identity I do not know.

My walk took me down to the marshy edge of the great lagoon, with a good view of the airport runways and of the busy water taxi channel. On the levee path I encountered ordinary people doing ordinary things: walking dogs, riding bikes, fishing, plane spotting. (All right, plane spotting counts as odd, but I have to assume it was ordinary folks engaged in the activity.) One fellow donned hip waders and grabbed an enormous net, heading into the water for, I'm guessing, shellfish, or maybe some sort of fishy fish. A couple was gathering some sort of natural marsh delicacy—seaweed? pickleweed? I couldn't get a good look, but they were intent on their plucking and had several small plastic bags full.

Venice from a remove
I also realized I've been missing normal life, being walled up in cities with thousands of tourists, with not much to look at but touristic sites, these last two to four weeks.

On my way back to the hotel, I stopped for pizza in the little dot of a town, Tessera (the hotel's restaurant being closed Sundays), and there, too, I enjoyed the fact that it was simply the only restaurant open today, it wasn't trying too hard, and its patrons were normal Italians plus a couple of groups of Slavic-language speakers (Slovenians? Slovenia is not too very far away). I sat outdoors and listened to the traffic swish by.

And . . . I'm ready to head back to real life. Tomorrow bright and early, the long trip starts. And at the end of the super-extended day: hugs for husband and dog! And cats if they'll allow it! Can't wait.