"... the greatest gift someone can give me, is the gift of their time."

The above statement was made by Cassandra Ross, one of my social networking contacts.  Its simple truth touched me deeply and stirred bittersweet emotions within me:  melancholy and hope; turmoil and peace.  Time is the most precious commodity in our lives, because once it has passed, we can never get it back.  And so, the amount of time one invests in another is a clue to one's regard for the other.

How often do we give more time to someone than they are willing to give back?
 How many minutes do we waste in dwelling on time lost?


Halcyon Days

I remember when I could sit in the shade of my orange tree, engrossed in a book, sipping iced coffee and crunching on almonds, while the dog patrolled the yard and one of the cats curled beneath my legs, secure in the knowledge that if I happened to spill on myself, as is often the case, I could rinse my clothes in the sink and hop in the shower, and the incident would quickly be just a memory.  My security was compromised in the wee hours last Sunday (see last week's post), when my water line burst.  No running water for me for awhile!

While awaiting the return of my housemate, I showered at my father's house and toted jugs of water from his place to mine.  My housemate finally arrived late Wednesday night and began digging Thursday in the hole I'd started, when he hit a huge mass of roots from the yew tree, which emitted a metal-sounding ping when he hit them.  Those puppies were wrapped around the service line connecting the house to the water company's feed, and they were holding on for dear life so tightly, they broke through.  A good two meters of the iron pipe were badly corroded.

He spent a day figuring out where everything runs.  The feed originally went under the foundation, where it was embedded in a concrete slab under the house and virtually untraceable.  Panic!  And then, he found the feed was diverted to another, easily accessible point, probably due to a previous failure in the line that fed my back house (which was never restored).  We will be replacing the entire line with copper pipe from the service point to the point where the line enters the house.

I helped dig the trench yesterday, a total of 8 meters in length, although we need to hire someone to drill out the last meter and a half under the sidewalk.  That will happen Monday.  In the meantime, the housemate will begin measuring, cutting and sweating pipe for the sections he can complete before then, and installing a pressure regulator.

I am still getting drinking water from dad, but the housemate  rigged up a temporary spigot in the garden for everything else.  At some point, I, the woman who, by choice, used to trudge into the middle of nowhere for days on end without a bath, whimpered about feeling like my house had become a third world country, because I had to bathe using a squeezable water bottle, which was very unsatisfying.  And because I lost one kg for not eating because washing dishes is now an ordeal.  I got no sympathy.  Heavy sigh.

Hopefully, everything will be finished sometime Tuesday, and I will be able to return to my post under the tree, spilling on myself with abandon, and this whole plumbing issue will be a faint memory ... until I receive the bills!


Labor Day, 2009, a bit belated

The US recognizes the worker on the first Monday of September.  Many people take advantage of the long weekend by taking a short trip.  Some recognize the winding down of the warm season by heading outdoors and barbecuing.  And still others, in what could be considered an anti-labor gesture, shop the Labor Day sales (someone has to work those sales).

I went for option #2.  My housemate and I drove up to Petaluma in my midlife crisis convertible to spend the day with friends and eat food cooked in the great outdoors. I brought corn, and my housemate baked the loaf of bread in the photo on the left.  He attributes its odd shape to having to rise during the hour drive up to Petaluma.

I saw these fungi at right on a tree stump behind the grill.  I briefly contemplated tossing them on the grill, but I know absolutely nothing about mycology, and for now at least, am happy to be alive and healthy.

As I reflect on the meaning of the day, I also ponder the future of the worker.  The "stimulus" provided by the US government served to allow recipient companies the cash flow to be able to make massive layoffs in order to preserve the bottom line, which boosted the market a bit and allowed executives to receive bonuses.  Those who have benefited from the "stimulus," the executives and investors, are the ones who least needed help. 

No one sees any of that money trickling down to the (former) workers any time soon.  The vast majority of people, even those with jobs, have had to curb their spending. It is seemingly a Catch-22.  We stop spending because our dollars are devaluing rapidly, but the economy relies on spending.  When revenues are down, companies look to cut their largest expense.  And particularly when you take into account employer taxes, workers' comp insurance and benefits packages, that expense is Human Resources, so in a sense, we are cutting our own throats.  As it turns out, the mass consumerism we all bemoan was keeping us afloat, in a sense.

It has been speculated that these spending habits may persist for a considerable amount of time, so I imagine that out of necessity, the economic model will have to change, as well.  How, I don't know.  Will the government ease regulations or their enforcement?  Will boards of directors revisit executive compensation or even their own remuneration? Will the displaced workers form new types of businesses, or will they choose to revolt?  I guess we will find out in the months to come.



Sometime during the wee hours this morning, a sudden, muffled pop emitted from somewhere outside. My housemate's dog erupted into a barrage of barking and thunderous foot thumping, as she jumped off my bed where she'd been sound asleep a moment before, and raced through the house. I probably should have gotten up to investigate, but I figured if it were any type of animal intrusion (including human), she would have already scared it off. Anything else could wait until morning.
Sometime around 9:30, I rolled out of bed, shuffled through the house, picked up pet bowls, dumped them into the sink, and opened the tap to refill them. A thin line of clear liquid trickled out. I opened the tap more, but got nothing resembling more flow. The bowls filled painfully slowly. After I shut the tap, I heard the sound of water running through pipes somewhere. "Drip system must be on and sprung a leak."

I finished watering and feeding the housemate's and my fuzzy quadripeds, and shuffled out the front door to check the drip system. Two men walking by started waving and saying something in Spanish. I hadn't had coffee yet, so I could only look stupidly. My foot was suddenly cold and I realized they were trying to tell me my yard was flooded. Water was cascading down the planter box.
I turned off the drip system, but the river that was my planter continued to flow. I ran back into the house, tracking in mud, water, pine needles, filled both Brita (water filter) dispensers, threw on shorts and a shirt, grabbed the shutoff key to the water line, and ran back outside to shut down the water feed to my house.

The leak was somewhere behind a yew tree and next to a Meyer lemon bush next to the porch, the most difficult place to reach! The distance between the house (right) and yew (left) is about .75m. Out of the photo, about a meter beyond the lemon is another lemon. To get to the leak, I had to prune back the yew branches, then squeeze myself and my tools between the yew and lemons.

The water had been pooled between lemon and yew, so I began digging there, but when I turned the feed back on to retest, water was coming from the corner formed by the foundation and the porch. Even worse! My housemate is a welder, and is pretty sure he can fix it (he's in Sacramento with his girlfriend for the weekend), but I was seriously contemplating calling a plumber. Then I remembered I'd have to dump a few investments to pay a plumber and they charge extra for Sunday calls! I continued digging. I began a trench next to the porch (the red brick), but it was too narrow, and too cramped, and it could only be about a hand wide without interfering with the lemon's roots. The lemon had to go.

Seven hours later, I had:
1. Made it through the day on a double espresso, an iced coffee, an almond-rum croissant, some almonds and crackers with peanut butter, and a lot of water. I carefully avoided anything with too much fiber or lactose, so I wouldn't have to flush the toilet.
2. Dug up and re-potted the lemon. Sort of. I threw some soil around the roots, but not enough to cover them all, and I had no water for it. I'll probably lose it.
3. Tried to look in the crawlspace under the house to see if water had gotten there and if the pipe might be accessible from there, but the crawlspace entrance is on the opposite side of the house, and spider webs covered the portal. I decided to wait until my housemate gets home to do that.

4. Widened my trench, and dug about a meter down without seeing or feeling anything resembling a pipe.

I gave up for the day and headed to my father's house for a shower and to steal several containers of water from him. Well, I know what I'm doing tomorrow...


Pier 39

My stroll with my niece along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf included Pier 39.  The pier was converted into a shopping center in 1978.
This Coca Cola sign was not at the shopping center, but across the Embarcadero a few blocks up.  It has been there for as long as I can remember, and has been weather beaten and rusty for a long time, as well.  Maybe it was made to look like that!  There are two stages for performers and musicians within the complex.  Admission is usually free, although the performers do work for tips.  One of the biggest attractions along the pier, though, was an accident!
In 1990, sea lions began camping out on the docks.  Look at them, they're so cute and docile ... not!  Boat owners could not get to their vessels -- the sea lions weighed down the floating docks and chased away anyone brave enough to walk out onto them!  I remember the sea lions were originally considered a nuisance and plans were underway to chase them off.  But then the boisterous pinnipeds began to attract crowds.  And those crowds brought business to the restaurants and stores in the shopping center.  So new docks were installed and the boats were relocated.  The sea lions still attract a large crowd (caveat if you plan on visiting: the smell is quite strong), and they are the only performers that are completely free to see!


Fisherman's Wharf

Although San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf was built around commercial fishing, most people think of it in terms of the kitschy tourist attractions which exist today -- oddball museums, chain restaurants,  souvenir shops, and street artists and performers, such as Michael Lee (right), who does impersonations. When Michael started talking to us, my niece kept walking, eyes focused straight ahead of her,  trying to ignore him, but I made her stop and be social.  Michael likes to drink coffee in North Beach on his days off, and has lived in Germany, where he has a son.
I actually buy dungeness crab live off the boats at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, but no wharf visit is complete without a stroll past the crab pots on Pier 47. Dungeness crab is slightly sweet, delicious eaten plain.  I usually serve it in cioppino, an Italian-style fish stew, with sourdough bread.  We saw these guys piled up after being boiled, waiting to be someone's dinner.


Small Kindnesses

I have been fortunate to have two kindnesses bestowed on me in a short time frame, both of which came at low points for me.

Not all was perfect in Metz. My boyfriend and I didn't see each-other as often as we would have liked and the days we spent together were often cut short. Combine that with my inability to find work, and I had quite a few low days. One day, Mickaël brought me roses his aunt had picked. Both had gone out of their way (their days are mentally and physically demanding, and often long) to pick and bring the flowers. It was a beautiful gift, given with no expectation other than the wish to make me happy, plus, it was a low day, and it had been awhile since someone made an extra effort to make me feel special. I cried. I pressed two of them for easy transport home to California.

The rest of the flowers have been dried, and are currently in a town in the French Alps, near Geneva, with the bestower of the second kindness. Didier is one of my oldest friends. I have not seen him in over 20 years, but he is storing four boxes totaling four square meters and 20 kg of my junk for me (his mother has a large home). I was at another low, and feeling stressed about having to move back home and he swooped in, my knight in shining armour, to help an old friend in distress.

Right, one of my final views of Paris on this trip, from Gare de l'Est. Across the street at l'Ecu (on the right), my new favorite Parisian waiter, Chris, works breakfast. Okay, technically, he isn't Parisian, he's English. If Chris worked at l'Insulaire, my favorite restaurant (thanks to my sister for bringing me there), that would be the perfect combination for me.


Musée Mécanique

When she was small, I used to take my niece to the Cliff House at the North end of Ocean Beach in San Francisco.  We'd head downstairs to a dark room off the terrace and throw a quarter into the box in front of the 8 foot tall doll with red, curly hair.  The giant's upper body would start moving, and hideous cackles and laughs issued from somewhere in her depths.  My niece and every other kid under the age of seven within view would begin to cry!  Laughing Sal had been terrifying children since her days across the street at the Playland amusement park, and when it closed, she found a home with Edward Zelinsky's collection of coin-operated mechanical creations.

We'd head across the terrace to the giant Camera Obscura after leaving the musée, and inside the giant pinhole camera, we'd watch the waves of ocean beach projected onto a white disc before going back out to explore the remains of the old Sutro Baths.  If it was late enough in the day, we'd have a snack at the Cliff House and watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.  Alas, that routine is now broken up

Several years ago, the Cliff House renovated and recreated itself as a stark art deco building, and the musée was kicked out of its home.  It found a new space on Fisherman's Wharf, a better location for foot traffic.  When my niece, who is now a married woman, and I went by recently, we were not as impressed.  The space is brighter, cleaner and has higher ceilings.  But without the dark, closed-in feel, it lost a little of its charm for me.  Even Sal seems a bit less imposing!  I still enjoy the machines, though, and more likely than not, I'll be back.