Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Cactus for the Holidays

Christmas Cactus BudEvery year my Christmas Cactus blooms in time for the holidays and every year I marvel at its timeliness.
Christmas Cactus Bloom
Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Peter Sprague on Guitar

Take six minutes from your busy, hectic lives and listen to the wonderful musical magic that Peter creates in the following video. This link was just sent to me by a friend. The recording was made when "Peter was around 20." Enjoy.

Then, treat yourself to a Christmas Eve Concert (free) at L’Auberge Hotel in Del Mar (just north of San Diego, California) from 1-4 pm (December 24th). A yearly event with Peter Sprague, "it’s a soulful, fun, free, gathering of local community, friends, family with outrageous music since Peter invites about 20 different professional, hot musicians to sit in."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

On the occasion of the one hundredth post

Fall Leaf on Tree (yellow,orange)On the occasion of the One Hundredth Post
I’m thinking of fall leaves.
Fall Leaf on Tree (orange)It’s December—normally our trees are bare.
But these leaves cling stubbornly on.
Fall Color Leaf (red)They wait for the cold to float them down.
Fall Color Leaf (red)Screaming color, they mark the season
with red, yellow, orange, and brown.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Searching for the NFL in all the wrong places

I wouldn’t call myself a sports fanatic, but the enthusiasm my husband holds for football and baseball leaks out and infects me. So I pay more attention to the NFL than I might otherwise.

Tonight’s game is being touted as one of the premiere match ups of the season with old man Favre against the youngster Romo. Both teams are 10-1 and it’s likely they’ll also meet in the post season.

Of particular interest is that the game is being broadcast on the NFL network, a for-pay offering that may or may not be something you get in your house. (We actually have a 30-day trial subscription that we opted for on Thanksgiving.)

If you don’t get the NFL network, you might try going to your favorite Sports Bar. On the road in Virginia, Paul did some pre-game sleuthing yesterday to find an appropriate viewing venue. (Reminiscent, perhaps, of our NFL-playoff-sports-bar search last January in London.)

Sports Bar #1
Paul: “Hey, will you be showing the Packers/Cowboy game tomorrow night?”
Sports Bar #1 Greeter: “Sure, look at all our TVs.” (Waves hands around.) “Of course.”
Paul: “So you guys get the NFL network?”
Sports Bar #1 Greeter: “The NFL what? What’s that?”
Paul: “Can I talk to the manager?”
Sports Bar #1 Manager: “The NFL what? What’s that?”

Sports Bar #2
Paul: “Hey, will you be showing the Packers/Cowboy game tomorrow night?”
Sports Bar #2 Manager (by-passing the Greeter): “Absolutely. I’m a Cowboy fan. I’m going to be watching it myself.” (Proudly.)
Paul: “Great, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Sports Bar #2 Manager: “Just to let you know. Karaoke starts at 9:00.”
Paul: “But the game starts at 8:15—wha?”
Sports Bar #2 Manager (shrugs): “Our customers expect karaoke on Thursday nights.”

Sports Bar #3
Paul: “Hey will you be showing the Packers/Cowboy game tomorrow night?”
Sports Bar #3 [ . . . and the search goes on . . . ]

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sometimes you can jes' pick 'em

Sunset at Beacon's in LeucadiaNo, not the weekly football pool.

No, not your guitar.

Then, what? Why, a particularly spectacular sunset!

No, you can’t always tell ahead of time, but when clouds are whisping about, throwing threads of fancy in the sky, you’ve got a shot (or two). These were all taken the same evening (Tuesday).

Above we see the glorious globe stealing the show at Beacon’s in Leucadia.

Sunset at Beacon's in Leucadia

But when the sun is gone, the clouds take over and illuminate the sky. The water provides the reflection. The mix provides the magic.

Sunset at Beacon's in Leucadia Skies like this must have inspired Monet. I can see why he spent weeks studying light at sunset and at sunrise. Here's a few more of the same in my flickr set.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Intertidal Zone

Tidal action created waves of sand and curves of sea water.Today's full moon and low tide produced yards and yards of normally submerged beach, giving dozens of Thanksgiving weekend beachcombers plenty of sand between their toes.
Sandpipers scavenge for their meal in the low tide sandSandpipers scavenge for their meal in the low tide sand.
Rocks form tidal pools in the intertidal zoneTan-colored cliffs reflect in tidal pools formed by strips of rock in the intertidal zone.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bitter Sweet

The child was not yet three. Her Daddy put her in one of those child pack carrier contraptions. He picked her up and put her on his back. The dog was an unusual mix, maybe shepherd and terrier, maybe something else as well. This little menagerie went for a walk to the beach on that hot July day.

“No!” cried the Daddy in dismay as he saw the train approaching. The dog could not hear.

Only two returned to the house.

“What’s wrong?” cried the Mommy. “Where’s the dog?”

The little girl answered, “The dog hit the train.”

In sadness, the Mommy and Daddy buried the dog in the soft sand near the lagoon. They gave her the special bandana that she sometimes wore, her collar and tags, placing them gently by her side, and her tennis ball, her lovely, favorite tennis ball. They cried and said goodbye.

Less than a week later, the phone rang. It was the lab.

“I’m pregnant,” said the Mommy and she cried softly with joy for the new life, with regret for the recent loss.

Does it make it hurt less when you’ve lost a friend to gain a new life? They call it bitter sweet.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cabo San Lucas

Lover's Beach at Cabo San LucasAt the very tip of the Baja Peninsula lies lovely Cabo San Lucas and Lands End, the famous rock formations that divide the Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Cortés (also known as the Gulf of California). We come here every other year, a short two-hour flight that whisks us away from the fog and the cold of San Diego in November to the summer-like temperatures of Cabo.

Sunny though it may be, we work really hard at staying out of the sun with hats, shade umbrellas, and cool but covering-up clothing.

The best part is taking someone who has never seen the charms of this locale; the worst part is noticing all of the unbridled building and construction that takes away the pueblo and puts in the resort.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Places In Between

The Places In Between by Rory Stewartby Rory Stewart

Sometimes a book is a good read because the author has an incredible imagination and spins a story that draws you in and keeps you captive. Other times, a book is a good read because the story it tells is true. It opens your eyes to a new and different world. The Places In Between is such a book.

Imagine walking in the dead of winter from Herat to Kabul in Afghanistan. As it turns out, there’s more than one route. One is longer and circumvents the mountains. The second is more direct, but requires traversing the mountains, climbing over passes that reach 13,000 feet elevation.

Imagine taking this trek and surviving and not getting frostbite. Advice from the Security Service (a scary duo who interviewed the author at the onset) is simply put:

You are the first tourist in Afghanistan. It is mid-winter—there are three meters of snow on the high passes, there are wolves, and this is a war. You will die, I can guarantee. Do you want to die?
Aah, but Rory Stewart is not your run-of-the-mill Scotsman. Indeed, he is used to living and traveling all over the world, working in diplomatic positions for the British Empire for much of his career. He is an Eton and Oxford-educated prodigal son, a historian in the most all-encompassing sense of the word. So, it is like a treasure find to read Rory Stewart’s account.

Not only does he describe what he is seeing, putting the people he meets in context of the land and the culture, but in an historical context as well. And sometimes, we discover, that not much as changed in a thousand years. The places that Rory Stewart visits—the places in between—are hidden from the world. No one covers them in the mainstream media, the newspapers, or journals. If not for Mr. Stewart, these places would not exist to us.

In addition to surviving the elements, Rory Stewart must also deal with a shifting political climate, where even the locals are not sure who their friends and enemies really are.

It is January, 2002, and the “coalition invasion” has just unseated the Taliban. Mr. Stewart gets unasked-for armed escorts and letters of introduction. The escorts are sometimes helpful and sometimes a hindrance. The letters work mostly for the next village alone, and from each village he must obtain letters or escorts anew. Many village leaders are wealthy within their own culture, but not all are literate. Rory Stewart’s language skills, people skills, and raw confidence see him through some tense situations.

Along the way, he acquires and then befriends a worn-out Mastiff dog who becomes his traveling companion and probably saves Rory’s life in a Jack London-type survival vignette.

And through this whole saga, Rory Stewart is carefully neutral on politics, carefully pragmatic I would say. His most political observation is

Most people in this area had not heard of Britain, though they had heard of America. Some had even heard of the World Trade Center, but they had no real concept of what it had been or why the coalition had bombed Afghanistan.
His agenda is historical from the beginning and he continues that work even today, heading a foundation that helps save traditional Afghan arts and architecture, buildings, artifacts, and crafts in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan. The Turquoise Mountain area, one of the place-gems he happened upon in his trek, is the source of his foundation’s name. Rory Stewart currently lives in Kabul.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I Have Become One of the Paparazzi

Adam Sandler filming 'You Don't Mess with the Zohan' on location in Cabo San Lucas (Playa Medano)The story: while strolling the beach (Playa Medano) in Cabo San Lucas just to the left of Pueblo Bonito Rose, we stumbled upon the active filming of You Don't Mess With the Zohan, a 2008 Adam Sandler film. He is a Mossad agent who fakes his death so he can re-emerge in New York City as a hair stylist. Here is the video of one small shoot: Adam Sandler doing a push-up on the beach and then, his work finished for the time being, walking off the set.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Shining Through

Original artwork by Joop VeldhuisJoop (pronounced ‘Yoop’, rhymes with ‘soap’) is my uncle. He’s from the Netherlands. He’s opinionated, stubborn, smart, musical, and artistic. He has created lovely oil paintings—works with abstract shapes and colors that tell a story.

His classical music recording collection fills shelves and shelves with CDs and VHS tapes of public television performances. Joop is kind and generous with people he knows and stingy and critical with authoritative figures. That could be left-over from the war. He joined the Dutch underground resistance as a teenager and was captured by the Germans. He escaped, but he was recaptured. Somewhere along the way, they broke his back (literally).

Miraculously, he survived. He emigrated to America. He taught art and art history in high school and met and married my aunt. They retired to the beautiful hills of North Carolina. I was visiting them—well, actually, I was taking care of Joop while my aunt went on a trip to visit her son.

Joop is a big man, but he has become a bit frail. He has a heart condition and diabetes that is controlled through a careful diet. He’s actually doing pretty well, considering all of his health conditions, but he can’t travel. This morning I fix his breakfast and we finish our coffee in preparation for the day.

Joop is a most gracious host and asks me, “Did you sleep well?” His Dutch accent has faded only slightly over the years.

“Wonderful, yes.”

“So, what would you like to do today?” he asks. Joop is the host and I am the guest. He wants to make sure my visit is pleasant.

“Oh,” I said, “I thought we’d drive into Marion, go shopping for some groceries. Later we can drive to the National Park’s Visitor’s center and look at the crafts if you like.”

“Yes, good. They have some wonderful ceramics there. Wonderful. But expensive. It’s really outrageous what they charge.” A pause. “Where’s Laura?”

“She’s visiting Randy. She’ll be home on Friday.” I smile in hopes that my smile will make it okay.

“Oh. That’s a long time.” (He misses her.) He thinks about it for a minute. “Would you like some breakfast?” Always the host.

“No, Joop. I’m fine. I already ate, thanks.” He looks down at his own spent meal and contemplates his breakfast. I get up and clear the plates. We eat in the living room on trays. The TV is on (always PBS), but it’s low. It’s really just background noise. The cat comes in and takes her place next to Joop. The dog growls a warning at me when I move close to take his tray.

Joop watches the television for a few minutes. I return and take my place on the sofa. He’s watching a program about ice skating.

“You know,” he says, “we used to go ice skating on the canals in winter. We would go out for hours. It was so cold. We would have races. I was pretty good. Then my mother would make us hot tea. I loved ice skating.”

His discourse about ice skating morphs into his father’s garden, his mother’s love for tea, and the camaraderie he had with his brothers and sisters. He doesn’t talk about the war and imprisonment, but he has in the past. I want to sit down with him and ask him all about that, but Laura doesn’t approve. She doesn’t want him to relive something that was so painful. So I respect her wishes and never ask him about it. His memory of his childhood is pretty good, though. Somehow, it shines through and becomes alive in his words.

The phone rings and I answer it. Laura is checking in.

“Yes,” I say, “we’re fine. We’ve just finished breakfast. . . Yes, we’re going out for a bit today. . . Okay, we’ll see you Friday.”

I hang up. “That was Laura. She says she’s doing fine with Randy and sends her love.”

“When is she coming back?”

“Friday. We’ll drive to the airport to pick her up.”

“Oh, that’s a long time.” He pauses. “So, what would you like to do today? Do you want some breakfast?”

And after a bit he adds, “Did you sleep well?”

A few years passed and surprisingly, vibrant, bright-eyed Laura succumbed to cancer just two months before Alzheimer's disease took Joop. I miss them both.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The dust has settled (not even), the ashes are gone (as long as you don’t breathe), and the air is clear (again, don’t breathe). Residents are swapping stories and taking stock. We all know people who evacuated their homes, some whose homes sustained fire damage, and even some who lost their homes. For those, things won’t be back to normal for a long time. And even then, their lives will always be divided into “before the fire” and “after the fire.” “Oh,” they’ll say, “I lost that in the fire.”

Since I had to go through the exercise of packing for home evacuation, I realize now how unprepared I was for choosing, gathering, and preserving. I have vowed to do a few things so that if this happens to me again, I will be more organized.

The television news was helpful in telling people what they should do to prepare for evacuation. But, what if you don’t have time or if you lose power and don’t have access to radio or TV?

Rule 1: Be prepared as much as possible. Have a battery operated radio on hand that has fresh batteries. Go out and fill your cars with fuel if you think you might need to leave.

Sometimes officials only let you return to a neighborhood if you can prove that you live there.

Rule 2: Have documentation on your person that proves your address of residence. This can be a driver’s license or a utility bill that shows the service address.

During my rush to pack and organize, I got my digital camera and started taking pictures of my entire house. However, just hastily taken pictures probably isn’t sufficient. Each picture should also have verbal descriptions.

Rule 3: Grab all documentation and paperwork that will help you get your life back together quicker. Some of this stuff may be in a safe-deposit box (it’s probably safe) or a fire-proof box at your house (grab it). This includes passports, birth certificates, bank accounts, insurance policies, and documentation (including pictures) of your household goods that may need replacing.

Mentally go through and evaluate the effect of losing your possessions. Replaceable or irreplaceable? I have two wool, hand-woven tapestries given to me by my grandmother. They were woven by an ancestor cousin, Sophia Flagg, in 1845. Irreplaceable. The family bible lists births, deaths, and marriages and was my first source in genealogy research. Irreplaceable. Then there are photos of my family, both very old photos and even current ones. Irreplaceable.

Rule 4: Make a list and check it twice of your irreplaceables!

If you have to evacuate, you’ll feel so much better if you can at least change your clothes, take a shower, and brush your teeth.

Rule 5: Pack a change of clothes and toiletries to last a few days at least. Think practical. Include a sweater (even though Santa Ana winds drive the temperatures into the 90’s, you never know how it may cool off, especially if you’re sleeping in a tent in an evacuation center), closed-toed shoes, hat, sunglasses.

You may be able to crash at a friend’s house. You may not be able to.

Rule 6: Bedding, a pillow, sleeping bag, air mattresses. Not every one has camping equipment, but blankets and pillows will help.

Again, think camping.

Rule 7: Flashlight, water bottle, water, snacks.

Children present a whole new set of issues. Children like familiar things, familiar food, and familiar people as much as possible.

Rule 8: Include your child’s favorite toy (or two) in your irreplaceable list. Include their special blanket or pillow and special T-shirt or sweater. Include snacks or drinks that they like.

Pets also require extra planning. San Diego County residents needed to take care of horses, livestock, and other animals besides the normal dogs and cats.

Rule 9: Include pet food, bedding or portable kennel, container for food and water, leashes, toys, and anything that will make their relocation less traumatic.

Although life stops for you during such a crisis, amazingly enough, the world goes on outside the disaster zone and you may have to participate. Organize what you need to continue your day job, including paperwork and computers.

Rule 10: Go ahead and grab the entire desk top computer if you’ll regret not having all of your files. Don’t forget your cell phone and charger.

And finally, don’t go through this alone. Talk to your neighbors and call your friends and family. Keep in touch throughout the ordeal because conditions change. If you need something, go ahead and ask for help. You’ll feel much better if you don’t feel like you’re dealing with this all by yourself.

Rule 11: Try with a little help from your friends.

Additional information can be found here.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The New Indie Bloggers

Edit: Alas, IndieBloggers no longer exists. All good things must come to an end! Indie Bloggers was a web site designed to promote writing and writers. My previously posted submission can be found here: Kayak Surfer.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hills Ablaze in San Diego

The hills around San Diego County ablaze: Witch Fire, October 2007This picture was sent to me by my brother-in-law who received it from a friend (photographer unknown).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fires in San Diego County

This morning brings air that has cleared up significantly. Early Monday morning we awoke about 2:00AM because the air was laden with smoke and ash. Our cat freaked out and started crying. We quickly closed all windows to keep out the bad air from the fire raging 20 miles east of us.

The next morning we watched the news to determine the extent of the fire. We stepped outside. The hot, dry Santa Ana winds were still blowing hard (30-40 miles per hour) and the air was very dry (less than ten percent humidity). Ash fell from the sky. Although we were still quite far from any fire, the high winds made it impossible to predict the exact path of the fire, as well as how long we would be safe. This picture was taken on Monday afternoon. The sun appeared like an orange ball high in the sky; the lighting was eerie and strange.Smoke-veiled afternoon sun in Leucadia from San Diego's Witch FireBy noon, our area was designated as advisory. We decided to pack our irreplaceable possessions and put everything by the front door. The news helped us organize. We packed a few clean clothes and toiletries, wallet, credit cards, driver’s license, passports, paper work with utility bill showing our address, insurance information, and important work-related information. We grabbed photo albums and negative boxes (there were many), camera, sunglasses, hat, flashlight, sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, water and water bottles, day pack, laptop, and guitars. We retrieved the cat’s kennel as well as her food (oh, she is going to hate this!). We piled everything by the front door. We figured we could be ready to vacate in 20 minutes or so. If things worsened, we would start packing the cars. We went out and put gas in both cars—so we could drive far without having to find gas.

We called several friends: How are you? Are you okay? What’s your status? If you need to evacuate you can come here . . . or, if we need to evacuate we’ll come to your house. It turns out that we had friends who evacuated to our house on Monday night. We had 8 people, 2 dogs, and 2 cats. The next day, we watched the news. It was difficult getting accurate information. Some areas were cleared to return; others were more tenuous. No one wanted to go home, only to leave again.

We had a big dinner Tuesday night and reminisced about college days, since we all were friends from college. I’m really glad my friends came over. It’s much easier to go through the uneasiness with other people. You don’t want to be by yourself.

All of our homes are safe. We are the lucky ones. Over half a million people were evacuated and 1500 homes were lost.

Monday, October 15, 2007

D Street Beach in Encinitas

D Street Beach, EncinitasAt the end of D Street in Encinitas are a few benches, a lone tree, and view of the ocean. A steep wooden staircase gives access to the sand where surfers ply the rollers year round.D Street Beach, EncinitasI frequently stash my camera just in case and this day, as the setting sun played hide and seek with the clouds, I could not resist capturing the on-going light show.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Kayak Surfer

Sunset splendor at Moonlight Beach, EncinitasOnce October arrives and Labor Day is behind us, most of the tourists are gone. The beach once again becomes ours and it's time to reclaim it. Early morning or late day, low tide or disappearing beach, the beach is a playground for fishing, surfing, walking, or running.

So here I am. The clouds are blocking the setting sun, leaving an antique finish across the sky and the darkened sand. The sea is muted, absorbing the fading light. Even the waves are quiet, relentlessly depositing their gifts upon the beach. The water carries bits of shells and lonely strands of seaweed which remain strewn upon the wet sand. The tide is receding and ravenous gulls scrounge for morsels amid low-tide deposits.

I have just finished my run, some thirty minutes of rhythmic pounding, and I raise my arms to help open up gasping lungs. A breeze full of the smells of the sea fills my nostrils, mixing with the dried sweat and salt on my skin and sweat-moistened hair. I welcome this invasion.

I notice a lone kayak, empty of its driver, patiently waiting in the wet sand. I suck more air and turn my back on the kayak. Coming down the beach is its owner, identified by his paddle, full wet suit and helmet. I continue gasping for air and briskly walk for my cool-down. The kayaker and I pass each other, but he doesn’t see me or notice me. His focus is his craft, his intentions are honed in on the melding of his body with this unassuming little floatation device. He looks west to the ocean.

I turn around so I can face the kayaker now reunited with his craft. With the paddle in one hand, he drags the boat towards the water, choosing a position not quite in the water, but within the waves’ reach. He positions the boat carefully and climbs in. He busies himself with some attachments or fittings and then uses the paddle as a lever to push himself towards the water. He strains as sandy goop sucks his craft and tries to prevent his leaving. He stops and waits for a wave to arrive.

I chuckle. The man reminds me of a small child sitting in a wagon, waiting for someone to come by and give him a pull. The kayaker turns impatient and once again begins to push against the sand to inch his way seaward.

At last, the sea relents and a wave lifts the little craft made heavy with its cargo, ever so slightly. He is working furiously now to paddle through the inch or two of liquid before the wave can take back its gift. One side, then the other, the paddle dips into the water, and the little kayak takes on a new wave. After each wave the kayaker responds by paddling with a burst of energy. He is fighting the incoming surf and working to get through the onslaught. The deeper he goes, the bigger the waves become that battle against him.

I am now completely drawn into his playful mastery of the sea. While I had expected the kayaker to work through the waves and reach outside, I now realize that this struggle is but the setup. The real goal is catching an incoming wave, controlling the kayak through the surf. Agile, sharp turns allow him to move up and down the wave.

I continue watching him as he once again battles the incoming waves and struggles to reach outside. He squirrels around a bit, looking for a promising swell. He sees a wave that he likes and attacks it, paddling with the surge to catch his ride. Once caught, the kayak becomes an extension of his body. He works the wave, using paddle, body, and kayak. He rides the shoulder and twirls in the surf.

He is the kayak surfer. He releases the wave and manuvers free to fight the battle once again. He is as relentless as the sea itself.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Moral High Ground

I weep that this proud symbol has come to represent a nation that torturesI am beyond angry at my government for being immoral.

First, I resent how we came to invade Iraq based on false premises (lies). I note that we are perpetrators of a pre-emptive war. We have relinquished the moral high ground based on this fact alone.

We further diminish our moral standing by locking people up in “secret” prisons or in Guantanamo Bay without any redress, charges, or legal stature.

Oh, there’s more. We advocate and practice torture, even as our President insists that we don’t. In the fall of 2005 I participated in a letter-writing campaign to President Bush protesting the use of torture by U.S. military, agents, or contractors. Here is a portion of the response I got.
President Bush has repeatedly affirmed our country’s commitment to the worldwide elimination of torture. He believes that human dignity must be protected and that freedom from torture is an inalienable human right.
Does that mesh with water-boarding, sleep deprivation, and sexual indignities? Here is the
whole letter.
Apparently, there’s more. Blackwater USA is a federal contractor operating without any accountability, actively spreading wanton violence without any behavioral checks and wrecking havoc in an already-festering terror-breeding environment. Why do we need Blackwater? Because we don’t have enough troops to continue this war (“spread democracy”) without them. Why isn’t there a draft to make up the troop deficit? (I am not advocating a draft.) Because then a whole generation of young people would actually become engaged and informed with what our government is doing. A 60’s-style activism would emerge.

Why isn’t everybody vocal and upset? Because ignorance is bliss. Don’t bother me while I’m trying to make a living, get my life together, or raise a family. Don’t bother me while I watch another lame reality show on the boob tube. Don’t bother me while I go shopping. (Remember, that is the sacrifice we were asked to make for this war: Go shopping!)

I don’t care if you’re conservative or liberal, Christian, non-Christian, or atheist. I don’t care if you think Bush is a good president or the WPE (Worst President Ever). You cannot convince me that this administration is not morally corrupt.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Lost Hope

(And you thought this post was about politics??? Ha!) When did it become so painful to be a sports fan in San Diego? Not only did we witness our inspired and much-cheered-for Padres’ season melt away, but the Chargers have already equaled the total season losses from all of last year and we are but a quarter of the way in (I am including last year’s post-season in that number). I am at a loss for words. Yoga, anyone . . . anyone?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ray of Hope

My favorite beach at sunset (Stone Steps in Leucadia)A recent sunset at my favorite beach: Stone Steps in Leucadia.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pumpkins on Parade

Pumpkin Patch overlooking Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, CaliforniaHigh on a slopping hill overlooking the sea a couple of blocks up from the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) Temple and Ashram Center in Encinitas, a plot of land brings forth the fruits of fall. Pumpkins brighten the coastal scenery and provide a peaceful setting to admire the wonderful crop. The true miracle is seeing the land being used for agriculture. The ocean views make this a prime piece of real estate.

The land is owned by SRF and is used year-round to grow vegetables. It is attended by the monks who live at the temple.

When my children were young, we used to attend the SRF’s annual Halloween festival. Hundreds of intricately carved pumpkins greeted Halloween celebrants on all hallowed night. As we entered the fellowship grounds, a wonderful world of good and evil, make-believe and real-life lessons greeted us. Plays, musical numbers, characters, wish-granting queens and villainous plotters barraged our senses. The festival grew and grew in popularity, until the thousands of people it attracted made it too popular. After 2001, SRF no longer hosted the festival. Glorious pumpkins ripen in the sun at the SRF patch in Encinitas, California (better than condos!)

The Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association still hosts its Safe Trick or Treat, where businesses along Highway 101 remain open and provide treats to youngsters in costume. Halloween activities are provided in the Lumberyard and SRF still provides carved pumpkins for Encinitas.

So, although I miss the SRF-hosted Halloween Festival, I am thankful that the monks still own the land and use it to grow these glorious pumpkins.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Leisure Time on Labor Day

Del Mar Sunset as two surfers catch a waveSouthern California baked over Labor Day weekend. Cool down Rx included beach time in both Del Mar and closer to home in Leucadia. The waves were pumping the whole weekend with mist forming occasionally as the cool water met the sizzling air. Absolutely no complaints. Here the sun sets in Del Mar as two surfers catch one more wave.
Labor Day in Leucadia with wide-open stretches of beachLeucadia was relatively peaceful, as the number of people sharply diminished the further you walked from the nearest access point.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Hey Joel! Put it in the garage.

A very pretty urinal from Csiga Cafe, Budapest, Hungary. Photo credit: atmannI wanted to post a picture of my neighbor’s urinal—it’s in his garage and he added it when he built his custom-designed home. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to ask. “Hi, Pat. Happy Labor Day. How’s it going?”

“Yeah, I was wondering if I could take a picture of your urinal? . . . No, you don’t need to be in the picture . . . No, no, I don’t want an action shot . . . ” So, instead I show you a lovely urinal culled from the internet here.

But getting back to the point of the post. Recently the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed piece by Joel Stein who laments that perhaps his home value will diminish if he installs a urinal in his bathroom. He gives reasons why installing one is great
Toilet seat is always down
Decreased water use
Time-saving device
With opposing views from women he consulted that included
Urinals are found in large, impersonal institutions (think prisons)
Lidlessness is unsanitary
Urinals diminish the real estate value of the home
Here is a reason for putting one in. I recently attended a college graduation party that included both college-age kids (sorry, they’re kids to me) and members of the “parental generation” (relative to the college-age kids). A mean game of beer pong took place in the back yard with much beer consumed. While there were some young ladies, the ladies did not consume as much beer as the young men. As happens at cross-generational parties, the youngsters congregated outside to play beer pong, while we parental units huddled inside (watching an exciting Padres game on TV, as I recall).

And as the beer goes in, it must also come out. Many of the young men could not be bothered to enter to house (and walk nonchalantly past the leering adults) to use the bathroom. They found discreet (and as the night wore on, less and less discreet) corners of the garden to water the plants. Had they had access to a convenient urinal in the garage, I am sure they would have used it.

The garage is the perfect place for the urinal because the garage is the domain of the man. I don’t know if I really believe that. I do try to stay away from gender stereotypes, but as Joel pointed out, one of the complaints that women had with putting a urinal in the home bathroom was that a urinal is just too “aggressively male.” Unfair, he says. The house is already way too slanted towards the dominion of the woman. I agree. It is unfair. But, the garage has been the man’s domain: his tools, his car, his precious stuff from his previous life, and all his stuff that doesn’t go with the décor of the home.

My neighbor and his wife think that having the urinal in the garage is a great compromise. It’s great for beer pong. And so, Joel: put it in the garage!

Friday, August 24, 2007

One of Them Spanish-Sounding West Coast Cities

Letter to the Editor regarding: At the Plate: Deathly Numbers, by Roger Angell, The New Yorker, August 20, 2007.
Bonds's record dinger, in the fifth inning of a night game against the Washington Nationals at Petco Park, in San Francisco, came at his third at-bat of the evening . . .
Please tell Roger Angell that PetCo Park is in San Diego, not San Francisco as his article states. While one might forgive and even understand how such an embarrassing blunder could occur given that the Padres were involved in Bonds’s homerun record chase (see my own report here), nevertheless, confusing San Diego’s PetCo Park with San Francisco’s AT&T Park is bush league. I might think that Angell either isn’t a baseball fan or, more likely, such an East Coast-centric fan that to him the National League West Division is the geographic equivalent of, say, Afghanistan. Would the editors of the New Yorker let slip the phrase “at Fenway Park in New York”? I don’t think so.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More Signs of Summer

Summer day at Stone Steps Beach, LeucadiaI can't help it. The beach has been the needed oasis of cool. Water temperatures have reached bath tub levels—the high side of 75—allowing me to stay waterside for a good hour. Wave after wave—when the shoulder right (or left) is there, you take it.Water temperature exceeded 75 degrees--we embraced the tepid waterSerenity.Follow the footsteps to surfer heavenFollow the footsteps in the sand.Three fishermen are one with the sea, so sayeth the sea gullThe fishermen, the sea gulls, the surfers, the swimmers. We all share the glories of the seashore.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Signs of Summer

Mimosa: summertime brunch drink at Shades in Ocean BeachMimosa, a summertime drink
Shades of summerShades of summer
Bike power at the beach with a shimmering simmering backdropBike power at the beach
The OB PierThe OB Pier
Sticks on paradeSticks on parade

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Luscious Tomatoes

Harvested tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumberand other veggies too. While I certainly try, I cannot possibly eat all of these tomatoes. Even after multiple pasta sauces, roasted vegetable ratatouille, minestrone soup, fresh tomato and cucumber salad, and fresh tomato slices on ... everything. I am thinking of a roasted tomato garlic purée ...

Recipe: Roasted Tomato Garlic Soup
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled

8 (approx.) medium tomatoes, preferably home grown

5 cups water or stock, divided

1 Ω teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  2. Quarter the tomatoes and place them in a shallow roasting pan. Add the peeled garlic cloves. Drizzle with approximately 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 3 cups of the water/stock. Sprinkle with the thyme, pepper, and salt.

  3. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 60 minutes, stirring once during the baking.

  4. Remove the foil, stir again, and bake for another 30 minutes.

  5. While the tomatoes and garlic are baking, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a soup pot. Add the sliced onions, cover and cook over medium heat until tender and lightly colored, about 15 minutes.

  6. Add the remaining 2 cups of water/stock to the onions and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes.

  7. When the tomatoes and garlic have finished baking, transfer them to the soup pot. Using a stick blender, purÈe the soup until smooth.

  8. Adjust the seasonings, ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each bowl with fresh parsley.

6-8 servings.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Being a Part of History at the Ballpark

“Hi, I just landed.” —me, from the airplane, landing at Lindberg Field, San Diego.

“Oh, man! It’s extra innings . . . did you hear what happened?” —Paul, from PetCo Park, Saturday night, August 4, Padres vs. the Giants.

“No, what’s up?” —curious, I’ve been ensconced in an airplane for the past four hours—I have no idea what’s going on.

“Bonds tied the record in the second inning. We are all here—Kellen, the two Kyles and I.” Father-son fantasy realized. Be at the ballpark when Bonds ties the record. Not a Giants fan. Not a Barry Bonds fan. But baseball history is baseball history. In person. They are there.

“Okay, call you later.” . . . thinking . . . He really does not want to leave the game early just to pick me up at the airport. Extra innings. No problem. I’ll get a cab. Pull out cell phone. Redial.

“What’s up?” he asks. It’s still extra innings.

“Hey. It’s me again. Look, I’ll get a cab to the Omni. Meet you at the bar.” I’ve just flown in from Canada, but you’re at the ballgame with our son and the boys. I can chill.

“Yeah! Great idea!” —obviously relieved— “Call me when you get here.” You’ve just flown in from Canada and I’m at the ballgame with our son and the boys. You can chill.

So I share a cab with a charming young woman who lives a few blocks from PetCo Park downtown San Diego. The Padres game has just ended when I arrive at the Omni (which connects to the ball field). The Padres win. Yeah. Here’s to you Barry, but the Padres won. Now you can go home and break the record in San Francisco. The Padres beautiful ball park is on the cover of SI just because Barry hits a home run. The game ran so late that the L.A. Times ran the story about Barry tying the record but did not record the winner of the game. So just in case anybody out there in baseball land doesn’t know: Barry hit his record-tying homerun against the Padres, but the Giants do not win. The Padres beat the Giants.

In fact, a mere three days later, Barry breaks the record in the Giants versus Washington Nationals game. The Giants do not win. The Nationals win the game.

But we aren’t going to remember all that. We’ll remember the father and the son who were able to witness baseball history live, in person, together. How cool is that?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Émile Zola's Germinal

Emile Zola's GerminalI selected Émile Zola’s Germinal for Book Club in June. I originally read the novel about 10 years ago and reread it for Book Club. By rereading it I’ve come to appreciate Zola’s work even more.

When I first read Germinal, I came away with the idea that Zola wanted to address issues of economic classes, labor and society, and basic needs of working class people, such as health care and living wages. Sandwiched into these societal issues were more personal challenges such as love, loyalty, honesty, industry and the literary workings of a tragic character. Zola uses irony and he juxtaposes bourgeois families with poverty-stricken families.

The second time I read Germinal I still appreciated the tragic, uphill struggles of the miners and the individual characters that played a part in this epic story. But what was new to me was the feeling that Zola didn’t so much write a novel as he created a series of paintings that beg us to visualize his settings. We enter the museum (okay, I am visualizing now) and in the first room we see a beautiful but haunting painting of the early-spring landscape (April, or the germinal month), treeless with ugly slagheaps, smoke that curls into the grey sky, and grey figures that are but shadows trudging their way to the mine. It is a beautifully-wrought but haunting landscape.

The next painting perhaps shows old Bonnemort and his horse down in the pit. Over and over Zola portrays the mine as a living monster that devours the workers. We see the haphazard timbering, the hay, the wet walls, and the lamps that provide the only light. There is a sadness to Bonnemort’s face and we detect a bond between the man and the horse. The horse and the man are both slaves within the working mine. They bond because they suffer together.

Another painting shows several miners at work. Their shirts are off and their bodies are glistening with sweat. The air outside is cold, but in this living hell, temperatures rise dramatically. Their arms and shoulders which have worked in the mines for all their lives should be strong and steady. Instead, they seem weak and exhausted.

Still walking through the museum, we see an oil painting that depicts the Maheu’s family room. It’s early morning and Catherine is fixing coffee and building up the fire. Again, it is dark and the oil lamps and the fireplace provide the only lighting. She is careworn but young, a sad figure. Yet, there is somehow hope in her eyes. Hope that she can do better than her parents. Hope that she can find a way to create a comfortable living situation for herself. Hope that she can rise above the rabble.

The labor/union meeting in the woods is carefully composed. This painting is not quite a landscape, but larger than the intimate paintings we have seen of the miners. We see the group, with Étienne, Maheu, Rasseneur all prominently positioned with others eagerly looking on. The peasant dress, the lively discussions, and the fallen branches used as makeshift sitting places all help portray the intensity of the meeting.

I can imagine many more paintings. The pub, the company town of Montsou, and the mob scenes (there are several—Zola seems to excel at describing incredibly realistic and frightening mob scenes) all are adaptable to a visual representation.

I heartily recommend this novel.

And how relevant is a 19th century novel about working in a coal mine, dealing with fair pay and disasters where loved ones are trapped, maimed, or sick from breathing coal dust their whole lives? Surprisingly relevant.

March, 19, 2007: Siberian mine blast kills most in 10 years
“Labor union officials blamed the explosion in part on quota systems that encourage miners to work faster and dig more coal, potentially leading to errors. Some government officials in the past have accused private companies of cutting corners on safety measures in order to save money.” (Source)
May 24, 2007: 38 killed in blast at Russian coal mine

And of course, a bit closer to home:

August 6, 2007: 6 trapped in Utah coal mine collapse

Lastly, Germinal is one novel in a 20-volume series depicting several families in 19th century France. Zola’s output is staggering, considering the depth of his characters, descriptions, and actions portrayed in his work.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Family Reunion at Weslemkoon Lake

Canoeing at sunset on Weslemkoon Lake, Ontario, CanadaSomewhere between Toronto and Ottawa in beautiful Ontario “cottage country” lies Weslemkoon Lake. My cousin Patti and husband Chris’ family has owned a cottage there for 40 years. Over a year ago Patti organized a family reunion for her siblings, cousins (first, second, once-removed, twice-removed and any combination thereof), nieces and nephews, and aunts and uncles. Over 25 people attended. Beds were provided for all who were over 50; tents and sleeping bags were arranged for the youngsters. Weslemkoon Lake proved a wonderful spot for the week-long affair. With skiing, tubing, swimming, sailing, sail boarding, canoeing, kayaking, and hiking, no one was bored and everyone who wanted to got their fill of exercise and fun.
Also, there is no road access to the cottage; it's a 10-minute boat ride from the marina. It is also out of cell-phone range, there is one land line, and no television. This is heaven!

View of Weslemkoon Lake from the cottage porchDinner for 26? No problem. Enough people pitched in to chop, sauté, grill, whip up, and griddle that no one went hungry. Clean up? Group participation ensured that all dishes were cleaned and the work load was spread about.
Handy aluminum boat for putting around Weslemkoon Lake, Ontario, CanadaBut all this was possible due to the incredible organization skills of our hosts Chris and Patti.
Sitting on the dock, watching the sun set at Weslemkoon Lake, Ontario, CanadaAnd while the setting was wonderful, the true wonder was visiting with cousins I haven’t seen in years and meeting cousins for the first time. From a six-year old first cousin once-removed cutie-pie to my aunt and uncle 80-years young, we shared a few days packed full of action, peppered with conversations long overdue.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Anza-Borrego Pull

Silver Cholla Cactus in Anza-Borrego DesertAnd thank you all for dropping by today. Let’s give the band a hand . . . yes, yes—aren’t they wonderful! I hope you are enjoying the food; I spent hours picking out today’s menu. My friends all said “You better choose something with a bit of ham. People always like a little ham.” Okay, okay.

Today is my one year blogiversary. So I am celebrating. (Here is my first post.)

Yeah, yeah. Thanks so much. And as such, I’d like to say a few words about the glowing silver cholla cactus that sits atop my blog header (a larger version of the same photo appears above).Ocotillo and BrittlebushBack in March of 2005 when the California deserts were experiencing a centennial rainfall year, the desert wildflowers bloomed like never before. I saw whole valleys covered with yellow Desert Sunflowers, purple Sand Verbena and white Dune Primrose. The Ocotillo produce gorgeous red blooms that fly like flags against the blue sky. Jimson weed grows white trumpet-like flowers and cacti of all kinds sprout colorful flowers that emerge from the cactus spikes.
Ocotillo Cactus I love the Anza-Borrego desert. It glows in its own starkness. It’s big and clean. I have never seen more stars than the night I slept outside in the desert. It was August and it didn’t cool down until about 3:00 in the morning. Since I couldn’t sleep anyway, I just looked up. No moon. But the sky was littered with diamonds and the Milky Way arced across the heavens.
Jimson Weed The next day my friends wanted to go hiking (they were obviously delirious from lack of sleep), but I talked them into retreating to the cool mountains for breakfast instead. Day time temperatures would sore to over 110 degrees F and ground temperatures can reach 140. I didn’t think we could carry enough water. I didn't think it was safe.
Beavertail CactusThe only time to see wild flowers in the desert (there are none in August) is in spring, which can start as early as February. Things are pretty much gone by the end of April, but it always depends on the winter’s rainfall.