Shinnen Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu

The new year (oshogatsu) is particularly important in the Japanese tradition. It represents the chance for a fresh start, with proper preparation, of course. December is spent in purification, cleaning house (osoji), both literally and figuatively, in order to begin the new year with a clean slate, decorating with pine and bamboo kadomatsu for good luck, and sending New Year's postcards (nengajo).

For those interested in learning more about oshogatsu in general, the Japanese American National Museum has a good, but concise description. Wikipedia also has an overview. I could have sworn I wrote a more comprehensive blog entry about oshogatsu a few years ago, but I can't find it!
Kinpira, gobo (burdock root) and carrot
I julienne them with a knife, because food processors make the pieces too small

The final days of the year are spent cooking food with special significance with regard to health, longevity, prosperity and fertility (osechi) so the first few days of the new year can be spent with family. Some descriptions of osechi can be found at bento.com or norecipes.com and Yuka Yamaguchi also has a few recipes on her blog. Even though I can buy osechi at the local Japanese grocer, I still make my own. Since this is the only tradition I really observe, I figure I should do it correctly. Plus, the stuff is expensive!
Nishime in one of Grandma's Imari dishes
Includes renkon (lotus root), gobo (burdock root), 
takenoko (bamboo shoot), konnyaku (potato starch)

As you know, this year, actually the last two years, have not been the best, financially, socially, emotionally. I even lost a cherished friend, who brought only kindness to the table when all I brought was drama. I knew I was being unreasonable, but couldn't help myself. It is in my nature to push those I care about away from me and completely alienate them. I wrote recently about how people move in and out of our lives, but what I didn't mention is that those who leave due to our own foolishness hurt the most.

The last two years I've strayed from the tradition of opening my house during Oshogatsu. Maybe beginning the year on the wrong foot jinxed me. On top of that, one month after the current year began I turned 43 and thus began the 44th year of my life. 4 is bad luck in Asian cultures that have been influenced by the Chinese, because it is a homophone for death. 44 must be doubly bad.

As December ticks down to the new year I hope to begin it on the right foot, just in case. I am currently making much-needed repairs on the house, organizing bills to be paid before year's end, gathering my house cleaning supplies, prepping my cookware and shopping lists, and making sure the tv works for my grousing dad, so that I can start the year with a clean slate and focus on spending time with my family and closest friends during Oshogatsu. And of course, as a hedge, one month later, I'll be beginning the 45th year here.


An Honest Scrap

It has been awhile since Olivia, that Rebel with a Blog, gifted me with the:

Honest Scrap

I am touched that she thought of me, and at the same time, at a bit of a loss for words. It's funny how easy it is to bare all in a standard blog post, but when someone asks you to share ten things about yourself, thoughts elude. I believe I am to reveal ten things about myself...

 1. I am naturally right-side dominant, but functionally ambidextrous because I'm lazy. When I was little I used whichever hand was closest to whatever I wanted to use. Okay, I still do that.

 2. My parents taught me too well the lesson that the only one I can truly depend on through thick and thin is myself, so I often self-fulfill that prophecy. My close friends are those who have seen me at my worst and still stayed around to support me. There are very few of them. In fact, I can count them on one hand and still have fingers left over. That's how bad I am.

 3. I have battled low self-esteem for as long as I can remember. Oddly enough, I also have high self-efficacy. This means that I don't think very much of myself in spite of the fact that I am confident in my ability to accomplish things. Yes, I think there's some relation between this and #2, too.

 4. I am often lonely, even when surrounded by people.

 5. I am painfully shy, and when I walk into a room full of complete strangers I have to force myself to smile and mingle. Sometimes I even feel that way when I walk into a room full of people I know.  I usually seek out other people who look uncomfortable, too.

 6. My grandparents' house overflows with family treasures and good memories, but I've always been happiest when I lived away from home in uncluttered surroundings.

 7. I used to dream about climbing K2 when I was younger, but the older I get the more averse I become to cold weather.

 8. The best moments of my life have occured when I shared the gift of time with someone special. Nothing elaborate, maybe a simple meal, some walking, and a lot of conversation.

 9. I always fall hardest for men I can't have. See #2 and 3.

10. I'm not a big eater, but I do appreciate good food. If I only eat half my meal but carefully store the leftovers, it means I really enjoyed it. If I generously share the bulk of my meal with my dog, I wasn't such a big fan.

I am supposed to pass the award on, however, I have such a limited number of people I follow that I'd be passing awards to the same people over and over and everyone would hate me. So instead I will say please feel free to peruse my reading list. Everyone there posts content that I enjoy in one form or another -- they are there for good reason.


Time Lost and Found

Scrounging around my grandparent's hall closet in search of something usable as a salt cellar, I was overwhelmed by the dust and pet fur that had worked its way into every nook and cranny. I pulled everything out, running a rag over each item, and vacuumed the shelves. The difficulty came in putting everything back, as the "stuff" somehow expanded as it sat in the hall, even after throwing away odd bits and pieces. However, I did rediscover two art deco clocks I cycled back into usage.
This Telechron 4H55 desk clock, c. 1930s - 40s, was one of several my grandmother kept on her desk. It now has pride of place on top of one of the bookshelves in my office, which used to be her office.
The Seth Thomas Romance E868-000 was my grandfather's alarm clock. It now sits on a chest of drawers in my bedroom.

I have a newfound appreciation for these objects, their simple, clean lines, their mass, the materials and workmanship that went into them, even the mechanical sound of the gears. Things just aren't made that well anymore, a drawback of progress. Plastics and mass production may have enabled people from all socioeconomic backgrounds to fill their homes with more items, but they also created a disposable society. Our possessions are no longer meaningful and are thrown away and replaced with alarming frequency.

And so it is in other aspects of our lives. Like mass production, television and social networking have cheapened our relationships. We no longer engage in meaningful discourse that encourages us to think, we broadcast short, evocative blurbs that arouse strong emotions and hinder our ability to form cogent thoughts. Everything flows smoothly enough until someone disagrees, then all civility disappears in the barrage of blazing generalities. We feel extremely entitled and forcefully assert our liberties. But we have forgotten that with freedom comes responsibility: assuring you do not impinge on someone else's freedom; taking the time to truly listen to others respectfully, as you wish others would listen to you; basing an opinion on more than just a cursory look...

Courtesy isn't the only interpersonal casualty of the times, loyalty is as well. The ability to easily collect 1,568 friends has made them just as disposable as that one dollar colander. The trivial comments of a friend made today soon meld into the sea of inanity and she or he is soon forgotten.

It makes me more than a little sad that we have forsaken quality for quantity in so many aspects of our lives, particularly since the limited time each of us has to accomplish what we were meant to do in our lifetimes is so precious.

And for those who made it all the way through this post without falling asleep and are wondering about the salt holder, I found a small, lidded condiment dish that should do the trick!


After Dark Explorations

I may be out of paid employment, but I'm keeping busy volunteering in non-profit development, writing grants and organizing fundraising events for the Homeless Cat Network, an all-volunteer cat rescue group. But even unemployed volunteers need an occasional break. Last week's entertainment was an evening at the Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum. 

The Explo organizes After Dark, a monthly adult-oriented after-hours program. The series is well-planned and executed, with themed exhibits, films, lectures and artwork interspersed between the regular exhibits. And yes, there are two or three cash bars brought in specifically for the events. This month's theme was Alternative Energy Exploration, and featured alternatives in transportation, agriculture, and energy generation.

The SOHH Project, a "pedal-powered vehicle with motor assist," was conceived of by an 8th grader (and his father). The batteries can be charged via a solar panel on a sunny day or standard household 110v current on less-sunny days.
My photo does not do the cycle justice, so please visit the project website for the full story and more photos. I also visited the Flying Pig, which had been built on a Super Beetle chassis, and two modified Miatas, which were near and dear to my heart because I own a Miata (unmodifed, though). I will grant that plug-in sustainability is ultimately affected by the fuel source of the power plant, but hope in the long-run the utilities will move to more sustainable options and we will become more judicious in our consumption.

Going off the grid, I stopped by the Bamboo Bike Studio exhibit. They sell kits and help you build your own bamboo-framed push bike. The bamboo does look very nice (sorry, I didn't get a photo). It's a bit out of my budget right now, though. Plus, I tend to leave my bike out in the rain, something that my chromaly frame handles very well.

On the agricultural side, Kijiji Grows is an aquaponics consultancy based in Oakland, California. Aquaponics differs from hydroponics in that it is nearly a permaculture system. It includes an aquacultural element that requires you to feed the fish, so the loop is not entirely closed. After running by the plant roots, the water cycles into a fish pond, and then through a filtration system containing bacteria which convert the fish waste into usable components for the plants.
Halfway through the event I queued up to sample sweetwater oysters from Hog Island oyster farm. I'm not normally a huge oyster fan. I don't dislike them, but I don't go out of my way to eat them. The sweetwaters are relatively small, with a mild, almost sweet, taste and silky texture. I found myself wanting a nice, crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Sémillon with them, and I'm not typically a white wine drinker, either.

The night's speakers included lectures on Hydrogen and Wind energy, as well as a hands-on presentation of solar, wind, and hydro electricity generation. Unfortunately, I cannot recall what this man is demonstrating. I had to order my drink early on so I could drive home later and I hit this lecture at my high point. My apologies!
The only disappointment was an issue beyond the museum's control. Solar Sunflowers, designed by Poetic Kinetics and managed by Black Rock Solar, were inoperative. The designers and/or project managers couldn't deliver a working product on schedule, and could barely manage to assemble the defective colossi they brought. They were still nice to look at as static sculptures but didn't really fit into the evening's theme that way.

All in all, it was a nice 4 hour diversion while I took a break from fundraiser preparations. As I headed home to resume my work, I saw several people strolling the path across from the Palace of Fine Arts, which is beautifully lit at night, enjoying the relatively balmy autumn evening. I only wish I could have taken more time to take a better photo of it...


Looking Back

Piglet and Steven head south
 Le cerveau est contrariant. Il oublie bien trop vite ce qu'on a besoin de se souvenir et ne se souvient que trop bien ce qu'on a besoin d'oublier.

The brain is a contrarian. It forgets all too quickly what we need to remember and remembers all too well what we need to forget.

I began blogging 5 years ago to work my way through my midlife crisis and attempt to find myself. I can now honestly say I am still lost! But I learned a little about myself.

Nasturtium in my garden
September 2010
My midlife crisis has been backward. Just as everyone in my peer group is becoming unsettled and breaking from obligations, I long for something or someone to call home. Many of my peers, recently divorced and/or with children old enough to spread their own wings, are reasserting their independence. I, who have been fiercely independent my whole life, never married, no kids, now yearn for a solid anchor point. Unfortunately, I still make the same mistakes: I fall hardest for the unattainable, and I think that will always be the case. The heart wants what it wants and mine always seems to want the impossible.

I've always been an oddball, though, so it should be no surprise that my midlife crisis is also atypical. Not that I didn't have fun. Even I did Burning Man in the late 1980s. But it was different then, smaller, full of creative flow, special. Now it's a professionally managed event, a spectacle for the masses that throng to it now. Too many people for me.
Japanese Iris in my garden
September 2010
So now I seek stability, but it eludes, even with regard to simple things. I will soon lose my faithful, ever-vigilant companion. My housemate is moving to Southern California, so of course, Piglet will join him sometime in the coming months. I will miss them both, but mostly I'll miss my quadripedal companion who accompanies me everywhere within walking distance.

I dread finding a new housemate. My previous housemate told me after he moved in that he couldn't pay rent, then stayed 3 years on the vague promise that he would pay his debt in full when he found work. I also worked my last job for free for a year on the vague promise my pay would be backfilled if/when the company received funding. As my financial situation descends into desperation, I hope to break free of being a sucker. But even more, I don't want to take advantage of others' kindness and fail to pay obligations I may accrue. I fear becoming my ex roommate more than I fear remaining a pushover.

As I type this in the wee hours of a sleepless night, the first winds of autumn are rattling my windows and shaking my trees and they sound fairly strong. They remind me that my neighbor's walnut tree, which is slowly dying, is leaning precariously over my garage. Maybe this is a good week to prune it back...


Change of Season

As the cooler-than-usual summer drew to a close, I took stock of the oddities that happened in the garden this year and realized I'd missed showing one of the most stomach-turning phenomena...
I don't know what that is on the ends of my Amish Paste tomatoes, but those white splotches appeared on a quarter of the fruits. I closely scrutinized each one I picked, and if there was even the smallest hint of a white spot, it did not go into my little veggie basket. If anyone knows what those splotches are and how to prevent them (and whether they'll spread to my other tomatoes -- so far, no), let me know!

I made up for low yields this year with sheer numbers. I have eight tomato plants, four of which have produced, two which never grew larger than a foot tall, but bore a handful of fruit each, one that volunteered itself mid-spring and is just now fruiting, and one that popped out of the ground late spring and probably will not fruit. In the past, I dried excess tomatoes in my oven on low heat. This year, I managed to burn not just one, but two huge batches...
Somehow, they don't look quite as burnt in the photo, but believe me, they are chestnut-colored and bitter. I keep them on the counter and try one every day, hoping that either they will mellow or my taste buds will acclimate to the flavor. So far, no luck. In the upper right corner of the photo is the new batch I sliced open tonight. I'll try bringing them outside in the morning to put them out in the sun. We'll see what happens...

Now, as summer has turned to autumn on the calendar, the temperatures have risen, granting us a quick Indian Summer before the shorter days bring on the cooler air. I've saved tomato, cucumber, bean and zucchini seeds, planted garlic bulblets, onion, fennel and lettuce seeds, and the chard has reseeded itself again. I'm contemplating planting broccoli and cauliflower soon.

I am also thinking of more indoor pursuits. This Wednesday, a friend had tickets to the opening night of Molière's Scapin, playing at American Conservatory Theater, and I had the good fortune of being the one he took to see it. The human mannequin in this photo was performing outside the theater as we entered.
I am not sure whether she was hired by ACT or if she was a street performer. My friend works for a local museum and the tickets were comps from his job, so we sat up in the nosebleed section, the lobby portion of which has a great view down the stairs.
And the play? Scapin is a comedy with a fairly foreseeable plot twist that focuses on witty dialog. This production was well acted with a fair amount of improvisation. An enjoyable way to spend the evening indoors.

Happy autumn!



Life passing by
Waiting for the train
28 August 2010

A countless number of people touch our lives. Some stay with us 'til the end. And some remain only for a moment. I admit to being sentimental and clinging to those whose time to move on has come.

The internet has made it possible for so many more people to touch us than before. Thanks to email and blogging, those I never would have met otherwise have touched my life. As with those I've known face-to-face, some of those relationships have endured and some have waned. And as with those I've known face-to-face, each of those relationships has helped me learn and grow.
Maintaining life
bees collect pollen
on Cirsium vulgare (Onopordum acanthium?)
Canal du juoy, Metz, France, July 2009
But the internet also makes it too easy to maintain those bonds that beg to be liberated. By virtue of status updates and tweets, we maintain tenuous ties indefinitely, and with more people. In one trivial entry of 150 characters or fewer, we keep the lines of communication open with hundreds of people, at least superficially.

But even as I yearn for those communications to be more profound, they can only remain shallow. Even though I know it is better to let go and focus on those who are present or otherwise make real time for me or who have something deeper to offer, I fail to find the strength to turn away completely. And so I continue entering 150 characters or fewer in a vain attempt to make something out of nothing.


Random Tomatoes

Oh, the seduction of ripe, juicy tomatoes! Unfortunately, this year's plants have been stunted by the cooler-than-usual weather and the fruits refuse to ripen. Even the Red Siberian plant, which is supposed to be suited to cooler climes, is dinky and only bore a handful of wimpy-looking fruits. The Amish paste plant did grow, but there are white spots on a lot of the fruits which seem to rot before they have a chance to ripen.

Although meager, the tomatoes have been interesting. I grew Stupice for the first time this year, and a significant number either look like two smooshed together or they have a nose. They average about an inch in diameter, but have a "tomatoey" paste tomato taste.

For years, I only grew Little Yellow Pear (yellow, pear-shaped cherry tomato) and San Marzano (paste tomato), saving the seeds from year to year. This year, San Marzano refused to germinate, but two 'Pears survived, yielding fruits about twice as large as usual. One day, I noticed the tops looked like they were turning pinkish instead of their typical yellow. Thinking it was just dirt, I forgot about them. Several days later, it was obvious they were turning red, but were still half yellow-ish green and I picked two to photograph! Since the photograph, they have ripened to full-on red and taste like paste tomatoes. I saved the seeds to see how they turn out next year if I can get them to sprout.

The volunteer tomato turned out to be a cluster tomato, and I had another two spring out of the ground in random places this summer. I'm hoping the weather will stay warm late in the year so I can see what kind of tomatoes they are!

Other than tomatoes, I collected some seeds from the chard and planted seeds of great northern beans, fennel, onion and random salad greens in random places around the garden and promptly forgot where I planted things. Amidst a patch of mâche, I tugged on what I thought was a blade of grass and accidentally pulled out a little garlic bulblet I'd planted for chives. I tried to stick it back into the ground, but I mangled it in the process. Luckily, I have more.


A San Mateo Parking Enforcement Worker

zoomed through a stop sign, narrowly missing my dog and me, because he apparently thought we weren't ambling through the crosswalk fast enough. Where are they recruiting from these days?!? Sorry, I just had to vent.

Now thinking happy thoughts, such as playing with Piglet at the dog park a few weeks ago. Behind her is another border collie mix, Tess. Piglet and Tess had the same stance, tracked the ball the same way, and ran the same patterns when running after the balls we threw for them, like shadows of one another.

One of the things I miss about Metz are dinners with Annelise and Arnaud, who gave me cooking lessons in exchange for English conversation. Last week, I decided to continue to learn to cook here at home, and joined a cooking group. I went to my first event with them, a potluck, last weekend.

I was salad. I mixed salad greens with nasturtium petals and blackberries from the garden and crumbled feta cheese over it, then toasted pine nuts, and made a blackberry vinaigrette. When I arrived at the party, I realized I'd forgotten the pine nuts! Luckily, no one noticed there was something missing other than myself.

Since this blog entry has no general theme other than randomness, I'll mention here that I went roller skating for the first time in over 20 years last night to celebrate the birthday of a friend of a friend of a friend. I was never much of a skater and last night was no exception, as I tottered out onto the floor, my feet ready to slip out from under me any second. But the people were fun, the music funky and I only fell once! My back is a little sore today, though. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so all I have is this one grossly underexposed camera phone shot.


Summer Festivals

During the summer months, the churches in my parents' sect of Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu, a form of Mahayana Buddhism) hold fundraising festivals that they also use as an opportunity to share a bit of Buddhist/Shinto and Japanese culture with the local communities. Each weekend, a different church in the area holds its festival. Last weekend, my father and I headed South to Palo Alto for one of these festivals.

The church has its own adult taiko group, primarily women! June (foreground) and my father have been friends since childhood.

Dad and I actually went to the festival to watch his friend (right) play the shakuhachi, a flute made from bamboo. The woman on the left is playing a shamisen, a two-stringed instrument traditionally played by geisha.
Dad's friend played with three koto players. A koto is like a horizontal harp, but each string has a movable bridge, which tunes the string. Any time a key change is made, each string needs to be retuned to the new key... no mid-song key changes for this instrument!

 There were also ikebana (flower arrangements) and suiseki (rocks) displayed. Natural displays in Japanese art are typically abstractions of other natural scenes. In Japanese gardens and ikebana, things that are higher tend to represent the skies (clouds, sun, moon, treetops), while lower elements represent terrestrial elements (animals, minerals). I have no idea what this particular arrangement represents, though!
Suiseki are rocks that can represent a whole scene, a mountain, a tree, anything that it may resemble. What do you think this rock might represent? The person who found it saw a flower, specifically a chrysanthemum (which has relevance in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, although I can't remember exactly what!), but maybe you see something else in it.
In almost all Japanese arts, students may eventually go through what is essentially a certification process in order to be able to teach. When they pass this process, they also receive a "name" that they use in relation to the practice of that art. For many of these arts, the students must still travel to Japan to receive their name.

I had hoped to show stunning photos of the garden by now, but to be perfectly honest, the garden is languishing. Other than the blackberries, the plants just aren't flowering and fruiting as prolifically this year, and I wonder if something changed in my soil or if its the uncharacteristically cool summer we've had, or...


Blogging Awards

Assorted vegetables from my garden
(the water was "dyed" by the bougainvillea)
July 2010
In January, Gelisa gave me a Blogger Appreciation Award, an award  that bloggers pass on to other bloggers. The process allows people to connect to new people, and to find out a little more about their current contacts through their reading interests and a stipulation that the bloggers granting the award tell a few (actually seven) facts about themselves.

By coincidence, I expressed appreciation last week for several blogs I read, and then, Linda also passed on two blogging awards to me.
And with that, I figured I should at the very least make an effort to thank them. You met Linda in my last entry, but not Gelisa.  Gelisa is an accountant, musician, mother, wife whose break with her mother's family sometimes haunts her. While her primary blog is in French, she also keeps a blog in English, which she updates a bit less frequently. Many thanks to both Linda and Gelisa, who not only thought of me, but also took the time to continue the chain.

As for the award, I'm going to take the lazy way out and confer it upon those I mentioned last week, and leave it up to them as to whether they choose to pass it on to others. And seven facts about me...

1. I am my mother's daughter and at my best somewhere between 5 in the evening and 4 in the morning. Needless to say, I hate mornings. I keep a notepad next to my bed, because I will invariably wake up in the middle of the night with a possible solution to some problem or some item I need to add to my list of tasks.

2. I work too much. Maybe it comes from my parents, who practically lived at their pharmacy, maybe it's because I began working for them as soon as I was old enough to wield a dust cloth without breaking anything too precious. I have been known to put in more hours on the job (in the office and at home) than most people and still be focused enough to be highly productive. The downside is that my identity is tied to my job, and now that I'm unemployed, I feel like a non-entity. I am nothing.

3. I'm a loner, and yet constantly lonely, even when with people. Try to figure that one out!

4. I lack self esteem and most of the time, I don't like myself. In spite of having been a high achiever, I have never been happy with what I've done or who I am. I'm incredibly insecure and have been known to push away those I care about the most in fear of being hurt.

5. I am one of the few middle-aged people on this earth who has never been married, never had children and never planned for either. I would love to be able to share my life with someone, but I'm not an easy person to live with, probably due to that self esteem thing, so I will probably spend the rest of my days alone, as well.

6. I dream about improving educational systems in underserved areas, which is a monumental task that I don't think I'm up to. People like to scapegoat the teachers in those schools, but the problem is way beyond a few bad teachers. It is a system set up so that more resources are diverted to compliance issues and administration than to direct student services, and home situations that often discourage scholarship and discipline. How do we combat that?

7. One of my big worries is the constant, gradual stripping away of citizens' rights and increasing  dominance by an elite few. The powers that be use crises, our own prejudices and partisanship, and even our need to be entertained to accomplish that, and we are falling for it hook, line and sinker. In a visually oriented world, we are most fascinated by those who speak passionately, using catch phrases and sound bites that don't add up to a logical conclusion but stir up strong emotional reactions. Somewhere in there, we forgot how to think for ourselves. And "they" are using this to their advantage, as well.

That's me. And that's seven. Please do take a look at my last entry and visit the blogs there.  Actually, take a little time to peruse my reading list. Everyone there is there for a reason.


On a Lighter Note...

After the last bummer of an entry, I'm moving to something lighter. With 4+ years of blogging under my belt, I'm always disappointed to discover my writing skills haven't improved! Granted, blogging for me was never an exercise in writing so much as self-discovery to help me through my midlife crisis, which, oddly enough, is still going strong. But since these sites allow picture uploads, I can make up for my lack of writing skill with bad photography! And so, I've decided to make this entry a pictorial dedication to a few fellow bloggers I've connected with here...

I admit it, a giant photo of her Stuart Weitzman pumps first attracted me to Middle Aged Woman Blogging. [EDIT: I also like her Kickin' Ass and Taking Names... tagline!] Although our lives have been nothing alike, I feel as though we share some of those growing pains brought on by midlife. In honor of MAWB, not the highest or most expensive pair of heels I own, but the red patent...
Red pumps, 2008 (please excuse my worn out floor)

I found Wander to the Wayside while searching gardening enthusiasts... and discovered a person of substance. If you read nothing else on her blog, check out the series she wrote about discovering her biological mother through the records from the orphanage where she lived several months as an infant. In honor of Linda, I snapped this courgette blossom from my garden. The seedling appeared in my compost one day, and is from a light green zucchini I bought at the farmer's market. Funny, I usually cook zucchini seeds and all...
Squash blossom, July 2010

Confession: Elizabeth is a friend of one of my exes, so I didn't meet her through blogging. But she is a talented designer and free spirit, who has been known to drop everything, move to a new place AND not just survive, but thrive. I always enjoy her photos of her travels, even the ones of familiar sites, because she always has an interesting perspective. My regret with this photo is that it isn't very creative. On the few occasions I leave my house to have a drink, I go to the Uptown. It's low-key and I like the details in the bar, the egg(?) strip along the top, the Corinthian columns, the pipe cleaner men lined up along the top and the old-time pharmacy drawer pulls.
The Uptown, June 2009

An Englishman in Southern Germany will always hold a special place in my heart. When I wanted to "see" what life is like where he lives, he introduced me to photoblogs and Phonecam 365, the photoblog of an Englishman in Saarland, and the first blog I "followed" on Blogger. AB likes rusty metal and shows the mundane in unique perspectives. My housemate welded together this now rusty stove from scrap metal while he lived in a shipping container in a welding yard. It was his lifeline in the winter, and now it enjoys its retirement as conversation piece and occasional s'mores heater. I dedicate this photo to both AB and my Lobo, wherever he is now.
Woodstove pieced together from scrap metal, July 2010
(yes, my house really is THAT yellow)

Blackandwhiteandcolours is another photo blog from Southern Germany, with a twist. Martina combines her photos, usually black and white, although she throws in a colour shot here and there, with a quote from a book or story she is currently reading. I've seen snails in a few of her photos, these two (and the bug with them) are from my garden. Alas, I don't have a matching quote, so I'll pick something from my current read...  "Merriweather was the King of the Game, the Liar's Poker champion of the Salomon Brothers trading floor." Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis.
Garden snails, July 2010

Tim visited my blog first, so I visited his blog, Catnip, an amalgam of fiction, poetry and commentary, quid pro quo. He's a Renaissance man and hard to define in one photo, but he recently posted photos of his cats and dog. I thought about posting yet another Piglet photo, but instead, I'm going to toot my own horn and post stellar sea lions recently used on the Schmapp tourism guide (one of hundreds, uncompensated, so not much of an honor). It should be the first photo to appear in the upper right box and if you click on the photo, it takes you to my Flickr account, where they found the photo.
 Stellar Sea Lions, Pier 39 San Francisco, August 2009

 This post is not exhaustive of my reading list, and I had more blogs in mind, but the length of this post is becoming a bit unwieldy, I'm running out of photos, it's 1:30 at night, AND I have to remember to visit everyone I mentioned to let them know I have something for them. Perhaps I'll find the energy to continue on another post...

[EDIT: another confession... I've been trending toward crazy lately with wild mood swings, and in the process, even though I've been trying to keep away from everyone, have managed to alienate a few people who are dear to me. If any of those people happen by this blog, I'm sorry. Life in general is so uncertain right now. Not an excuse, but an attempt at an explanation.]


Vicious Cycle

Warning: this blog topic is heavy! If you want to avoid that, here is the latest on the garden -- I put a planting strip between the brick seating area and fence and threw in some Great Northern beans to grow something there until I have more permanent plants. Plus once the beans are done I can turn them into the soil for fertilizer!

For the permanent plantings, I took cuttings of Salvia elegans (nice in salads if you can get over the fuzziness, good flash fried, not so great dried), Salvia officinalis, Lavandula dentata (currently dying), Melissa officinalis (dead as a doornail, probably good, since it can be invasive) and Rosmarinus officinalis (still green but not rooting, I think I need a greener cut).
 Things in containers keep the dog from digging...
Quercus agrifolia bark, Laurus nobilis, Mentha piperita and bbq tools!
 - end of garden talk, heavy stuff starts below -

I read a blog yesterday that showed a video of a Black Panther (edit: New Black Panther Party head Samir Shabazz) promoting violence against white people. For the most part, the comments about the video were a combination of knee-jerk defensive reaction and "hate in any form is wrong" response. One person gave the "what would happen if a white man were promoting violence against African Americans" line, which I have to say grates on my nerves.

To me, those who ask that question are on par with those who are openly hateful. From my perspective, that question was originally coined in order to incite strong emotions and perpetuate the cycle of ignorance and hate. It's insidious, asked as though it were an innocent enough query, when it will most likely elicit a strong emotional response. So the one who perpetuates it either intends to foster ill feelings or did not take the time to take a breath and think about what the question really asks.

If we take a step back and think objectively about the question, we would see that people  generally act consistently with their beliefs. Those who are sympathetic or are maneuvered into sympathy by a charismatic speaker will agree. Those who disagree will either take a stand or walk (or run, depending on the situation) away. Unless he were particularly captivating, the white man would have the same fate as that Black Panther: his rant might be passed around the internet for awhile to stimulate gut reactions one way or another and then he'd fade into obscurity when the next loudmouth appeared.

By the way, I have to point out that people generally promote their views in locations where they are most likely to have a sympathetic audience. I seriously doubt I will ever see a Klansman spouting his spin in Watts, or a Black Panther pontificating his position in Westwood.

So where do you weigh in on my interpretation? Do you think I'm off base or missing some sort of critical information? Is there some reason to my view, or...?

* * * * *
Edit: I have mentioned this elsewhere, and on thinking about it, I think it's relevant to this entry.

I have been in a situation, as mentioned by the commenter, where the tables were turned, when my date (who was white) and I were singled out by skinheads. The responses of passersby were exactly the same as those in the video I saw. While some people looked at us sympathetically (and yes, some looked at us with derision, emboldened by the power granted by the skinheads), everyone rushed by as quickly as possible. NO ONE took the initiative to voice a dissenting opinion. Nor would I expect them to do so: face-to-face, people in the process of spewing venom are frightening.

Now that I think about it, I've also been shoved in a bar from behind by an angry drunk man (who was later outside the bar beating his girlfriend who told me to mind my own business when I asked if she needed help) and punched from behind by another angry man on speed. No one helped me in those cases, either, so maybe it's just me! On the bright side, I have learned pretty handily to be my own knight in shining armour since I can be reasonably sure that chivalry has gone the way of the dodo.


Random Ramblings

Welcome to the rat, er, pig race!
San Mateo County Fair, June 2010
My thoughts meander lately. Like so many others, I find myself contemplating the BP oil spill,  and how far-reaching its effects will be. As the oil and the chemicals that have been dumped into the Gulf to try and contain the oil dissipate into parts unknown, we can't even guess what will happen because nothing to this scale has ever happened before.

I ponder how our legislators continue to pass bills that, little by little, revoke the freedom that this country was founded on and impose more of the obligations on us that were the basis of revolt against King George in establishing such freedom. And how the administrative branch, little by little, exerts more and more of its executive power over us. And how our judiciary supports these actions. And I worry about the future of my nieces and nephews.

I have also been thinking about sport. I was surprised when French striker Nicolas Anelka was publicly vilified for profane team room talk. The French Football Federation not only demanded a public apology for what should have been a private issue, they barely batted an eye at the fact that someone sneaked a microphone into their meeting. In my books, this situation is tantamount to someone breaching a confidentiality agreement. While the public berated Anelka for being a bad role model to their children, they were essentially implying to their children that while it isn't okay to cuss, it is okay to spy on private communications.

 Cliff House from the street
San Francisco, July 2010
And I have been thinking about the Cliff House, one of the best places to watch the sun set in San Francisco. After taking a friend for drinks there last November, I promised not to go back until I returned with him. I only go to the Cliff House once every few years, so the promise wasn't all that farfetched considering my friend lives in France and his financial situation is about as good as mine. But with the pledge pronounced, I think of it much more than I normally would. And so as I drove home from visiting friends one night, I passed by and took a quick photo. This is not its best side. As its name suggests, the Cliff House sits quite dramatically atop the cliffs over Ocean Beach. But it was dark and cold, and I didn't have a jacket, so I stole a quick snap of the entrance from my car on the street.

pain au chocolat de Crêpe et Brioche, lavande de mon jardin
June 2010
Most of all, I have been thinking about pastry. A farmer's market started in downtown San Mateo this spring. It's walking distance from the house, so I can walk Piglet and buy produce in one trip. The first week, I noticed the stand from Crêpe and Brioche Bakery, and was excited, because I like their pain au chocolat. The second week, he sold out before I arrived. I pouted. The third week, I was there 15 minutes before opening and grumpy, but I got my pastry. The next week, I woke up late! I tumbled out of bed and ran as fast as I could, Piglet pulling me along, ecstatic at being able to jog. I arrived, sweating, and dry heaving. He saw me and picked up a bag he had set aside for me. He is my new best friend, and I don't even know his name.

 Piglet plays in the water, Aug 2009
Just so you know that my Piglet is a dog!


Boxwood Blues

After bricking in more of the seating area, and plotting where I want my herbs to go, I noticed that the boxwood hedge around the holly needed pruning, and took out my trusty bypass clippers and started whacking at it.  Then I noticed that all the gunk that I'd just let drop down into the hedge through the years had settled into the nooks and crannies to rot.

Ooh, bonus compost! I grabbed a rake and began shaking the hedge to make it drop all the decomposed matter to the bottom, where I worked it into the surrounding soil around the pavers, which needs amending, so I can plant ground cover. With the detritus removed, all the dead limbs on the interior of the hedge stood out like sore thumbs.

Out came the hand pruners! And away went the dead limbs. A large pile of prunings began forming under the hedge.  I should have stopped there, but I noticed that a lot of branches were crossed and trying to grow around each-other and thought "well, that can't be good for them!"

So then I pruned off crossing branches, and grabbed the loppers for the larger limbs. The result up-close was a nice, airy space for new growth to come in. Except, of course, two problems:

1) I'd gotten the itch to prune in summer, rather than dormant season, so conditions aren't ideal for the hedge to recover from the shock. This summer has been relatively cool, so I'm hoping that won't be much of a problem.

2) When I took a step back to get the big picture, I realized I'd  pruned big, fat holes into the hedge. It's hideous! Where this last photo shows empty space, there used to be a carpet of leaves. Now it looks like the bad haircut mama gave you and sent you to school with, so the other kids could laugh mercilessly at you.

It took a few hours, plus 3 different types of cutting implements, a rake, and a shovel (to work the compost into the soil) to ruin a boxwood that my grandfather took years to shape and train. Defeated, I turned toward the house, looked up and noticed the cedar bonsai also had decomposing material stuck in its branches. I grabbed the rake and shook out as much as possible, and realized that it, too, was in dire need of pruning...


We Skipped Right Through Spring

Two weeks ago, at the end of May, the rain and cold made one last blast through the Bay Area. Usually by then, the fireplace has been long cleared of the winter's ashes, but at that point, I built one last fire. I definitely prefer being warm. I'm miserable in the cold.  I'm even wretchedly cold when I walk into an air conditioned room in the middle of summer! And speaking of that sunny season, last week, we went straight to it from winter.

My vegetable garden, slow to start due to the long cold snap (and I planted late because I hate grubbing in the garden when it's cold and wet, see previous paragraph), initially breathed a sigh of relief, then wilted a little with the sudden rush of heat! I planted beans on April Fool's day (photo above right), and am so glad I took photos, because the subsequent rains washed out all my handwritten tags (I thought Sharpies were waterproof!) that tell me which variety I planted where. Two months later, the poles are filled with vines (left).

I didn't plant as much as I have in the past, but I have been busy otherwise in the garden, hacking at weeds in the middle yard between the main house and the original house (which is now a giant storage shed), breaking up the hard clay, and laying bricks for a seating area and a little strip of soil (behind the grill) for plants next to the fence. I'm thinking herbs in front with Solanum Jasminoides climbing the fence behind. The seating area will be tested tomorrow (today? Sunday) afternoon, when I have my first guests since I returned home from France almost a year ago. It still needs a lot of work, but I'm making progress, little by little.