pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: 2012

31 December 2012

An end has a start - 2012

Newport Beach, California
31 December 2012

When Out of the Kitchen was active, I ended each year with a recap of whatever struck me as important or amusing or hopeful. But OotK has ended, and for me, this was a year of endurance--and I don't mean that in a bad way. It was, quite literally, learning how to put one foot in front of the other. Again. And it was a year of just getting things done. A lot of that isn't very interesting. But I made it back to Europe, and the son got off to university, and we all put one foot in front of the other. By the end of the year--down to the wire, the last six weeks--it was time to look up and start looking forward.

An end has a start.

So no real recap this year. I managed two concerts which is one more than last year. With luck, that will increase exponentially in 2013. I did read a book published in 2012 and I loathed it. (Yes, it was Gone Girl, and I thought it was utterly asinine and I know I'm in the minority. So what?) I saw a bunch of movies, and read plenty of news that made me sad and furious, and occasionally something that made me happy and hopeful. I drove way too many miles. I did stuff with my loved ones and my friends, and made the best of what's still around.

I should have listened to more music. Music makes me happy against all odds. It is A Good Thing. I will listen to more music next year.

The last couple of years, I published photos of snow, but this year, the spouse had the idea to go to the beach late this afternoon. We got down there about an hour before sunset, and it was chilly but beautiful, and such a quintessential California Winter Day. It's rained quite a bit lately, but today the air was clear and sharp. I hadn't planned to take photos, but ended up taking rather a lot. There was a sea lion at the end of the pier, birds everywhere, creches in beach shop windows, and the biggest starfish I've ever seen on a beach, measuring at least twelve inches across.

Amidst all of this, we watched the sun set on 2012.

While the year is ending on a better note for me, it's ended terribly for others. It's time and past time to make some difficult choices about a lot of controversial subjects, and every single one of us needs to slow down and consider our own actions in all of our dealings with one another. Because I am, at heart, an eternal optimist, here is to a much brighter and kinder 2013, to smart decision-making and to love for us all. My wish for everyone continues to be that we come out shining on the other side. Thank you, as always, for spending time with me.

Be safe, be good, and remember to eat your black-eyed peas.

...with hope in your hands
and air to breathe

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. And go listen to some good music: "An End Has a Start" from the album An End Has a Start by Editors.

30 December 2012


Sequoia National Park
28 December 2010

The daughter appeared over my shoulder, as she is wont to do, while I was reading a recipe and cogitating over the directions for making a ginger-infused simple syrup.

The daughter: "Oh! A ginger margarita! I bet you'd like that!"

Me, mildly: "I've had one."

(Thinking: "Or three.")

The daughter: "Was it good?"

Me: "Yeah. D. and I tried it in Houston."

The daughter, sighing: "I wish I could meet your friends."

Me: "You have met D."

The daughter: "For, like, 3 seconds! I want to get to know her. She seems to be so much fun."

Me: "She is. But you have fun friends. You and your group get into all sorts of mischief."

The daughter: "Yeah, but you have stories. You two go to concerts. You have so much fun."

Me, grinning reminiscently, "That we do."

The daughter: "I want to have fun."

Me: "Okay, I'll tell D. that the honor of her presence is requested in California next time."

The daughter, clapping: "YAY!"

Is that not one for the books? The teenager who wants to hang out with the ladies of a certain age? 

It is quite cold out today.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. 

29 December 2012

Lost in the mist

Sequoia National Park
27 November 2008

We visit Sequoia every couple of years, and on this occasion had gone during Thanksgiving. There was only a dusting of snow at the higher elevations--unlike the blizzard we got two years later--so a lot of the trails that we miss when we're there later in winter were actually open. We were hiking in the general direction of Moro Rock, and the forest was quiet, drizzly and filled with mist. It was like a fairyland, but we're all well acquainted with the Grimms' grim tales, so we kept an eye out for bear and other predators. Fortunately, nothing seemed interested in us, but we saw numerous deer and as we were the only humans about, they largely ignored us and went about their business, almost silently picking their way through the leaves and rocks.

I've thought a good bit about the shape I'd like the future year to take. Not that I have much control over what might occur--my body is a constant reminder of that--but I think I'd be pretty happy if it looked a lot like the first two-thirds of 2008. There were problems and aggravations but the good was so excellent, that I was able to chuck the bad by the wayside after a good grumble over it, and move right on.

I'd like that again.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

27 December 2012

Infinite variety

Corona del Mar, California
18 June 2011

I love the ocean, but I'm not what I'd consider a beach person in that I don't go to the beach frequently and spend eons in the water. I actually prefer to stay out of the water after after a frightening experience off the coast of Maryland when I was 14, but I will endlessly watch the waves gather and break, gather and break.

This is one of my favorite stretches of beach, and near sun down is my favorite time to visit. It's usually close to deserted and the rock formations are wonderful. There are lots of good beaches in lots of places, and I've been fortunate to visit many, but this one is particularly tranquil. And it's a good place for photos. As I sorted through these pictures tonight, it was the case that I liked each one more than the last, and I looked at the waves crashing against the rocks, then pulling back again to reveal tiny, crystalline tide pools. Always changeable, never the same.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

25 December 2012

Silent night

Orange County, California
25 December 2012

I could hear the chatter of voices by 6:30 am, but I was warm and disinclined to get out of bed. Probably someone heard me cough because not long after, the spouse brought me a cup of coffee and informed me that my presence was requested in the living room.

The daughter, he told me, "is acting like she's 8 years old again."

The kids are mostly grown ups now. The son will be 19 in February, and the daughter will be 16 two weeks later. Christmas is always pretty modest around here: larger gifts tend to be for the family, and no one gets cars with gigantic bows or even expensive cell phones. Some toys and games, sure, but a judicious measure of books and some clothes. Still, we've always had plenty of fun.

When the kids were younger, I would tie their Christmas stockings to their bed posts, mostly in a bid to sleep in a little while they tore into the small gifts contained within. Nonetheless, we'd hear them run into one another's rooms to show off their treasures, and one memorable year, the daughter awoke at 3 am, took everything out of her stocking, and evidently satisfied, went back to sleep with a mutant zombie action figure tucked firmly into her arm.

Their stockings stayed on the mantel this year, the son's filled with hair gel, and the daughter's containing a small silver ring.

The son graciously allowed the daughter first pick of gifts, and the daughter made a beeline for two boxes I'd put a ribbon around but hadn't bothered to wrap, less out of laziness and more because I didn't want to the posters to get smashed. She ripped the boxes open with vigor, first pulling out a Prometheus one-sheet (Michael Fassbender prominently displayed), followed by an Avengers poster (Robert Downey Jr prominently displayed) and a Skyfall poster (Daniel Craig prominently displayed). She grinned like a maniac, a teenage girl channeling both her inner 8-year-old and her inner filmmaker.

Not to mention her altogether teenage girl.

I tend to leave funny messages on the gift tags, and the son grabbed his first box and puzzled over the notation "It's cunning!" But he laughed and immediately pulled on the hat and wore it the entire day. And silly as it is, I have no doubt he will also wear it around his dorm.

And that was the sort of morning it was. As is custom, the first thing opened was the box of See's candy (and for the first time ever, an entire pound of See's had disappeared before dinner), since Christmas morning is one of two when chocolate is an acknowledged breakfast food (I later made scones and scrambled eggs).

Christmas carols played all morning and the daughter and I sang loudly, making up new lyrics to old songs. I don't remember what I sang that had the spouse crying with laughter, but it took him awhile to recover.

And this year, we started a new tradition: grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. I really don't have the ability to stand for long periods of time anymore, and having just done so at Thanksgiving, I'd announced that we were skipping the fancy Christmas dinner. Since it was just us, everyone was fine with the idea. It was fun because there were choices for bread, and fillings and cheese, but at the end of the day, it was comfort food and quick to prepare as well as quick to clean up.

Games have been played and messages sent to friends and family. The cat has dozed on any number of laps today. Now the evening is winding down, and everyone is preparing to watch the Doctor Who Christmas special. The tree has been gated off again (the cat tends to eat it, and after a very expensive, life-threatening intestinal obstruction two years ago, we're dedicated to the proposition that the cat should not chew on things that aren't cat food).

Years and years ago, I realized there was no point in praying for peace. Recent events have certainly borne that out. But no one can stop me from wishing you peace and warmth and happiness and the simple joy of whatever family you choose. And no one can stop me from hoping that you will carry that wish onward.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

22 December 2012

O come, o come Emmanuel

Orange County, California
30 December 1999

I don't re-run posts very often, and this is the first time I've cross-posted from Out of the Kitchen (hey, now you get a photo), but the daughter at 15 years, 7.5 months, is not so very different from the daughter of 20 months. She still gets that look on her face, the one that just says "don't even think you're going to thwart me." And anyway, this is one of my favorite stories. We recounted it last night, walking around looking at Christmas lights.


I need to get pictures of the kids for holiday cards. Since it was the first Christmas we were celebrating in our more southerly Southern California house, I had the bright idea to drive down to San Juan Capistrano and take pictures at the mission.

It's one of those brilliant winter days, the light is terrible for outdoor photography, and San Juan Capistrano is abloom and beautiful. I snap a few photos, and inevitably, someone has to go to the bathroom. The spouse whisks the son off to the restroom, and the daughter, who is 20 months old, disappears around a corner. I pursue the girl, only to find her climbing through the barrier designed to keep people out of the life-sized creche. She is standing in front of plastic Mary, looking into the empty hay-filled bed.

"Baby Jesus?" she questions emphatically, pointing. Every fiber in her little body says, "Where the hell is Baby Jesus? I know he's supposed to be THERE!"

"Not until Christmas," I tell her. "Come on out."


This is a command. Since Mama is apparently ineffectual, she begins hunting in the creche for the lost baby herself.

Of course, a priest shows up, tall and sere in his long brown Franciscan robes. He looks at the daughter; he looks at me. I know he is thinking that the daughter is an undisciplined devil baby, and I'm the mother-from-hell.

"She's looking for Baby Jesus," I tell him wearily.

"Christmas," he tells the daughter. She gives him what can only be described as a sneer.

"Baby Jesus," she says again, with strained patience, pointing at the empty bed.

The priest gives me a significant look, and strides away.

Go listen to some good music: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" from the album Joy to the World by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The photo was taken with an ancient (by technological standards) digital point-and-shoot, probably an early Olympus.

20 December 2012

Santa Claus don't care

Neighborhood display
Orange County, California
20 December 2012

I hear "apocalypse" and my brain automatically moves on to the next bit of business on my agenda. The world has been meant to end so many times in my life that I've long since ceased to pay attention.

And this occasion has been no different. 

Tonight I'd finished putting dinner together, and the spouse was, predictably, discussing the end of the world, when I asked, "So how exactly is it supposed to happen this time?"

The spouse stared at me in disbelief.

"Look," I told him, "I know the Mayan calendar ends, blah, blah, blah, but you know, do the spaceships come? Do we all just drop dead?"

He continued to stare at me for a moment, realizing for the first time just how little attention I'd paid to the talk of apocalypse. Finally, he collected himself and said quietly, "Meteors. We're supposed to be hit by meteors."

"Oh," I replied briskly. "Alright then. Dinner's ready."

And after dinner we went out and had a look at the local Christmas lights while the stars sparkled down in the cold night air.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. Truly, I had no idea. And no, not my house. It's the house of an elderly man who clearly has way too much putting up decorations every year. This is only part of the display.

18 December 2012

Lights through the kitchen window

The 'hood
18 December 2012

When we lived in Los Angeles County, we lived up on a hillside and my kitchen window faced the valley below. Probably, I should remember spectacular sunsets but my favorite time of year was the end of November through Christmas. Every Thanksgiving weekend, the owner of an enormous deodar on a street far below would string lights all over it, and the result was visible when I stood at my kitchen sink in the early evening. As the weeks toward the holidays progressed, the houses in the valley and along the hills would bloom with colorful displays, and I watched them twinkle and glow every night in those all too brief period. Once Christmas passed, the lights were rapidly extinguished, house by house, until January darkness claimed my window. I always watched them go with a pang, and while I miss little about living in that house, I do miss seeing that gorgeous, jewel-like display every night while I made dinner.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. No worries, I made SURE you can't see my reflection. And yes, I was wearing clothes.

15 December 2012

Grief is not a photo op

You read the names, and they sound like any group of elementary school children. Names in a holiday program, a class list. The names are remarkably similar to the those of the children who went to school with my own, the kids for whom I'd plan holiday parties, or place Scholastic book orders. The names of the teachers and administrators are eerily like those of the people in whose classes I volunteered.

In this case, however, it's a list of the dead.

Like many in the US right now, I'm furiously angry and absolutely grief-stricken. My children...are fine. Thank you, they are fine. The son is in the midst of his first university final exams and the daughter's school broke for the winter holidays yesterday. So, my life is moving along on its usual December path, and my children are fine. For which I'm endlessly grateful. But I grieve for the parents who lost their little ones yesterday. Last week. Last month. Ten years ago. For anyone who lost someone they love to the same sort of really incomprehensible and absolutely senseless violence that took the lives of students and teachers yesterday. As I tried to explain to my own offspring, parenthood changed something in me, something fundamental, and while I can't for a moment comprehend the horror the parents in Connecticut are living with at this moment, my whole being aches for them. Because I can't comprehend what has happened to them.

And yes, furious, too. Furious mainly with the media. I am furious with ALL the major news outlets for racing to report erroneous information, including implicating a man who had nothing to do with yesterday's crime. I am furious with every photographer who poked a lens at terrified children and adults, and who had the unmitigated gall to feed off the blood of children to get to the agony of their parents. Every single one of you should be deeply ashamed. Believe me, I'm ashamed that we breathe the same air. There is no justification for any of the media circus that has surrounded this tragedy.

Then there is the whole gun thing. Yup, people with guns kill people, people with knives kill people, people with baseball bats and tire irons kill people, and people kill people with their bare hands. It is time and past time to take a serious look at how guns are treated in this country, assuredly. But more to the point, it is time to take a long, hard look at the culture of violence in this country, the incivility with which so many treat each other. And it's also time to revisit the idea of civil rights and exactly whose rights are routinely violated and who has given up those rights altogether. Spare me the rhetoric; it's time to face the nightmare that's been created head on.

And taking photos of the grief-stricken? Not checking your facts so you can scoop someone else? My God. You are the lowest of the low.

13 December 2012

Sundown in Santa Ana

Santa Ana, California
13 December 2012

I spend an inordinate amount of time watching the sun set over Santa Ana. In the wake of this morning's storm, it was cold and windy (seriously!) and I'd forgotten my jacket in my haste to get out of the house. I think the chilliness of the day caught everyone by surprise because I heard a high school girl yell, "IT IS COLDER THAN A PAGAN'S [ALLITERATIVE BIT OF MALE ANATOMY] OUT HERE!"

I shivered waiting for the daughter to show up, and finally she did and we made our way back to the car.

She chattered while I drove, and I made affirmative noises as I successfully dodged pedestrians and bicyclists and other motorists. Someday, I will film the drive home from her school and you can see the chaos for yourself. Actually, that might be instructive.

As we neared home, I told her I'd been able to find her a pretty good Christmas present, and she immediately set to guessing the what, except that she substituted who. And for some incredibly interesting reason, she assumed that it included dinner.

She pondered, and as the silence grew longer, I finally told her, completely joking, "No, Rush is not coming to dinner."

"DARN IT!" she said with what sounded like genuine disappointment.

"You know," she said, chewing on her thumb, "you really should invite them to dinner when they are in town. You cook really well and they'd probably appreciate a good meal while they're on the road."

"I think they're pretty well taken care of when they're touring," I told her, trying not to smile.

"I know, but Mommy! A home-cooked dinner!"

Sweet girl. It makes me so happy that she sees possibility everywhere.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. And no, she never did guess what her gift was. But she'll love it although it does not involve dinner in any form.

12 December 2012

Ribbon of shame

12 December 2012

After dinner, the daughter and I were filling gift bags for her friends: bath bombs, chocolate, candy canes, chocolate, colorful mints, chocolate. Milton, who'd been incredibly bad during dinner (patting our legs, yelling, jumping up on chairs, all in the hopes of scoring some chicken fajitas), was helping. 

If you have a cat, you know that "helping" generally involves knocking things over and knocking things off tables. So those pretty mint balls become tiny soccer balls in the paws of a cat. Right up until the moment that an unwary human steps on it and smashes it into the carpeting or wood flooring.

(And if you have dogs, you know that "helping" might involve falling asleep under the table, looking interested, or washing its nether area. At least this has held true with my dogs over the years.)

In any event, Milton was chasing mint balls and wrapped chocolate balls (or trying, since I kept shooing him away), and finally I got really annoyed with him and draped a ribbon around his neck. I told him that if he really wanted to help, he could be the ribbon holder until we were ready to use it. 

The look of disgrace says it all. He sat very quietly until I thanked him for being useful and took the ribbon to tie the bags closed.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. Actually, I was trying to distract Milton; generally, he'll take the bait and play with the ribbon instead, but tonight he sat as though he was too embarrassed to move.

10 December 2012

Tree farm

Out in the hills
24 November 2012

06 December 2012

Do you see what I see?

Architectural decoration
Houston, Texas
1 December 2012

Deb and I were in the bar enjoying a quiet drink (or three), and catching up on all the things one doesn't say in emails and texts. I was facing this pillar, and sometime halfway into my second drink, I realized that I wasn't looking at the pattern of the stone as a pattern in the stone, I was seeing medical imagery, probably because I have had to look at a lot of MRIs, PET scans and CAT scans in the course of some of the work I've done. 

Anyway, the more I looked and the more I contemplated, the more the image resolved itself into...well, look at it. And just as Deb was working her way into a really good diatribe, I leaned over and said softly, "Look. Look. It's a giant..."

And Deb looked and I more or less lost her under the table, as she sobbed with hysterical laughter into her napkin.

When she finished, I asked primly, "Now, what were you saying about...?"

It was that kind of weekend. Gods know, both of us needed it.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

05 December 2012

Public art

Liverpool, United Kingdom
20 July 2012

Honestly, most public art bemuses me. This was no exception, but apparently, the Superlambanana (I've seen it written a half dozen different ways, including Super Lamb Banana and Super Lambanana, so I've really no idea which is technically correct) has a long and celebrated history in Liverpool, and after hearing the story of the Liver Bird (another story and photo altogether), I suppose I'm sort of not surprised. In an odd way, it makes sense.  However, the clownish face on this one sent us all reeling back a bit because none of us is much of a fan of clowns (see Pennywise, the homicidal alien clown, creation of Stephen King).

Anyway. There it was.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

02 December 2012


01 December 2012

30 November 2012

You know, it's not what I needed

Orange County, California
29 November 2012

I knew it wasn't going to be a good week.

I joked with D. that if I could get through it, I'd have really earned Sunday's trip to Houston.  Chaos took me at my word.

Finally, I gave up screaming about everything that was being flung at me, and just worked through it all, a problem at a time. Some of the issues were mundane--the daughter destroying one of the rubber tips of her crutches just in time for the pouring rain--and some were more problematic. You would think I would know by now that the best approach is to keep my head down and keep plodding forward, but I'm just out of patience with things being wrong.

Speaking of things being wrong, the daughter saw the orthopedic surgeon today. MRI time. It looks like there is a bone fragment lodged under her patella. Not exactly good news, but surgery isn't a foregone conclusion.

Tomorrow, I turn my back on the problems, leave my family to fend for themselves, and get on a plane.

They'll be fine. Probably, so will I.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

23 November 2012

The lighthouse

Long Beach, California
April 2002

We'd taken them to the Aquarium of the Pacific. Just a day out.

They were so young.

Tech stuff: Taken with an early digital point and shoot. I had an Olympic (I think) and later a Canon. They were both pretty awful. I was still more likely to shoot with film 10 years ago.

19 November 2012

Making up for lost time

Honda Center
17 November 2012

This is precisely why I don't spend a lot of time taking cell phone photos at a concert. At the end of the day, you get a really crummy photo! But I took it to send to the far away son who missed the tour this year and was sad. Let's see. This brings my lifetime photo-at-a-concert total to...six, I think.

It's hard to quantify exactly how stressed I was prior to the start of the show. Daughter--on crutches. Arena with lots of stairs. Not to mention she had to shoot a film Saturday afternoon, and since she was on crutches, I was enlisted to act as soundwoman, carrying the Zoom and the boom mike all afternoon.


Anyway, I arranged it so we got to the arena early. And as luck would have it, guest services saw the daughter hopping around and they brought her a wheelchair, took her down to the floor and she hopped up to our seat in the sixth row of the section where we were sitting. And they promised to bring the wheelchair back at the end of the show (which they very responsibly did--in the middle of the encore. And as I didn't know exactly how much of the last song was being played, there we were, helping girl on crutches down the stairs--just as the final section was being played. So it goes.)

But! We got there and were in our seats for the start of the show. No one fell down any stairs.

As the show began, my heart was pounding so hard, it felt like it might burst.

For all the reasons I've previously mentioned, my concert-going activities have been severely curtailed. In June 2011, I was in so much pain, it was hard to concentrate on the show at all.

"It will be a long recovery," the surgeon said.

And it has been. But I'm back.

Okay, so maybe not quite where I'd like to be. And I know that's probably not going to happen. But enough that I could scream "The Anarchist" at the top of my lungs and not even think about the fact that my body was moving to the music.

That's a long way back, baby.

As shows go, it was pretty damned perfect. But this band always is.

And the daughter stood there and bounced on her crutches, and she and I sang together, and the spouse laughed at us, and the people around us looked bemused.

And it was good.

So good that I can't wait to do it again.

Hello, Houston.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. Gleefully, I prepare for my life to once again become an out-of-body experience. In the best possible way.

16 November 2012

Dog wrangling in Liverpool

Liverpool, United Kingdom
20 July 2012

The Liverpool story is a long one and rather multi-faceted, and let me just say that I really liked Liverpool, not because I have any great love of the Beatles, but because it was our first really sunny day in the UK, and the people who lived there and helped us around were just a delight.

The spouse was ill that day, so I packed up the kids and set out to adventure. It was a good day (meaning I could charge around like I'm not partially paralyzed), so we decided on some stuff to do and went to do it.

Our first stop was the Anglican cathedral, enormous, majestic and gorgeous on its hillside. Although I was raised as a Catholic, I'm rather partial to Anglicans. There are reasons--some of which are stories in their own right--but in part it is that the Anglicans that I've encountered in my travels (and only in my travels) seem to have their heads on straight and seem to approach the world in a spiritual but very real way. It's refreshing.

Anyway, we got to the cathedral, and there were a group of camera-wielding tourists milling about outside. How these two met up is a mystery, but I had fun watching her wrangle the dogs and the photographer try to get a shot of them. The photographer gave me a filthy look when he discovered me taking photos of his endeavors to photograph the other group, but this bothered me not at all.

So there it is: a lighthearted photo to end a rotten and exhausting week. The weekend brings challenges of its own, not least of which is trying to figure out how I'm going to get the daughter-on-crutches into her seat at an arena tomorrow night for a concert. While I'm half tempted to just let the tickets go, the wiser half of me hopes for the sort of magic that sets my soul free and my heart on fire.

I could use it about now.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. And today, I found my camera battery charger. At least that sort of puts me back in business.

14 November 2012

The day I didn't need

Key Bridge
Washington, D.C.
13 October 2012

This morning, I sat in the doctor's office staring at a poster that read "When You're Healthy, Every Day is a Precious Gift."

I cannot deny this.

But the daughter was sitting beside me in a wheelchair, so the day wasn't feeling like much of a gift.

She'd called me at 9:15 am, her voice halting, on the verge of tears. Immediately I'd assumed she'd forgotten something, but no. Her knee had done something terrible during her belt exam in Taekwondo...

My mind spun back 6 years to her brother sitting in the nurse's office after dislocating his kneecap.

I thought carefully but quickly, told her exactly what I was going to do, how long it would take for me to reach her, and then did precisely as I told her.  In an earlier life, I'd have made a great triage nurse.

After exams and x-rays, the daughter was sent home with me on crutches, a brace to wear for the duration. Because of swelling and the difficulty of assessing soft tissue damage, it's too soon to know how quickly she'll mend.

I got her fed and filled with ibuprofen, set to study, and finally six hours after we began, I realized that I was exhausted. I told her that I was going to lie down for a few minutes. No sooner had I done so than the phone rang.

It was my mother, calling to tell me that unexpectedly, my uncle had died. He'd been ill, suffered from dementia for some time, but the end came quickly and without warning this afternoon.

H. was from hell, really. He'd terrified me when I was a child because all business was conducted at the top of his lungs. He was an Irishman, an Air Force helicopter pilot. He was angry and loud. I kept my distance.

Some years passed, and he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. The tumor was removed, and the next time I saw him, he was still loud, but less angry.

When my grandmother died, I ended up stuck at my aunt and uncle's house for an extra day after the funeral. My aunt had to fly to Florida, so in reality I was stuck with H. for an extra day. He crankily suggested that I get on a bus and head into DC, but when I declined to do so, he suddenly decided to start talking to me. And not at the top of his lungs. We discussed...investing of all things. And politics. For the first time, he spoke to me as a peer (I was in my 20s by then), and I've long remembered that day as a time when I heard him speak without shouting and he was not impatient. He was interesting and almost kind.

A few years back, I was visiting the family at Easter. My aunt had long since died, and H. had declined dramatically.

"They told me you were coming," he said to me, and I was shocked at how diminished he was. He peered at me with something that looked like friendly and expectant confusion. "Do I know you?"

It broke my heart.

His death hasn't really sunk in. How does someone like that cease to exist?

In October, the son and I sat on the banks of the Potomac and ate sandwiches, enjoying the warm sun of a perfect autumn day. I told him how H. used to take us out on his boat and we'd travel along the river. The memory made me laugh.

Every day is a gift. Even the bad ones.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPad. Have I convinced myself that today was a gift? No. Not even close.

11 November 2012

In Flanders fields

Essex Farm Cemetery
Ieper (Ypres), Belgium
9 July 2012

It was here that John McCrae wrote his poem "In Flanders Fields" while serving as a physician in World War I. Behind the poppies is the advanced dressing station where he treated casualties. The rooms are dank, dark and hopeless. All I could think looking at them was what a horrifying place they must have been, cold and damp, echoing with the sounds of the dying and wounded and those tending them. An awful place to serve, an awful place to die.

The cemetery, which was behind me as I took the photo, is a very small one, narrow and neatly tended as are all the cemeteries like it that hold war dead. A busy road runs alongside, and life goes on all around. Yet, there is a stillness in this little parcel, an out-of-time quiet.

And poppies, at once miraculous and terrible.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. In honor of those who served.

10 November 2012

Fly away

Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport
Paris, France
24 July 2012

Ten years ago, I got on an airplane.

I don't like to fly. It's a well-known fact. As much as I enjoy traveling, I really dislike being in the air.

But I got on an airplane.

"You must really want to do this," the spouse said, wide-eyed as I prepared to leave. I have rearranged travel so as not to get on an airplane.

I really wanted to do it. And I flew somewhere I'd never been.

You'd stolen my heart, you see.

And that trip.

It changed everything.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. No, not this airport, of course. This was taken on a hot day last summer.

08 November 2012

Henry Pootle as Alien

Orange County, California
31 October 2012

She built the structure herself out of cardboard and wood. I papier mached it, then spray painted it and painted over that with acrylic.  It was a labor of love.

Her school is big on things like Halloween. There was a costume contest, and she entered but didn't win. Her win, though, was her fellow students asking to take her photo. That made her very happy.

That, and scaring the daylights out of some of our trick or treaters later that night.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4, and fiddled with a lot in Adobe Photoshop Elements 11. The daughter used the pen name Henry Pootle (which is from Winnie the Pooh) for a story she wrote when she was very small. One of my nicknames for her since then has been Henry. It makes us both laugh when I call her Henry in public and other people stare in confusion. With regards to the mask, if you look closely, you can see the Alien's retractable mandible within the jaw. The girl worked hard.

05 November 2012

Pretty but prickly

Isle of Skye
18 July 2012

The thistle is the Scottish emblem. The story is that barefoot, would-be invaders would step on thistles in the dark, and their subsequent cries of pain alerted the Scots to the danger.

Depending on the outcome of tomorrow's Presidential election, I may need to find something equally thorny as a safeguard.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40, and fiddled with slightly in Adobe Photoshop Elements 11.

03 November 2012

Noche de Altares

Noche de Altares
Santa Ana, California
3 November 2012

The daughter was nominated for membership in Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica this year (you have no idea how bizarre it seems when my kids end up in organizations that I was in during my high school years). Like most of these sorts of organizations, demonstrated academic excellence is important, as is community service. And the first service opportunity was helping to create an altar for one of the local Día de los Muertos celebrations, Noche de Altares, and then sitting at the altar for an hour during the actual event.

As community events go, this one was pretty good. Altars lined the street--some were personal and honored departed family members; others memorialized influential individuals; some were dedicated to groups like service personnel; and still others represented different states in Mexico. Some were clearly labors of love; some were amazingly elaborate; and some had a definite sense of humor. All of them were colorful and wonderful to behold.

Of course, there was also food, music and plenty of politics. 

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. I loved this memorial, though I missed the name of the man to whom the car had belonged. The street was mobbed and I was trying to get out of the way of others taking photos. The altar that the daughter helped with commemorated Amalia Hernández (1917-2000), founder of Ballet Folklórico de México.

01 November 2012

The steps

The Exorcist Steps
Washington, DC
12 October 2012

I've never seen The Exorcist. I was too young to see it when it hit the movie theaters, whenever that was, and later, I just never really had the desire. Besides, I'd heard so much about it (Linda Blair's head spinning! Gallons of pea soup everywhere!) that there didn't seem to be much point.

So as it stands, I am the only person I know who has never seen this movie. And evidently, there was more to it than Linda Blair's head and pea soup. Because I didn't know, until this past summer, that a character falls down a treacherous flight of stairs. These stairs.

It is evidently a Very Big Deal and quite the tourist attraction on its own.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. Now what is interesting to me is that the wall to the left is part of the Car Barn where my great-grandfather worked. And are the steps treacherous? Oh yeah. I walked down them. Very slowly.

31 October 2012

Ever curious

Orange County, California
31 October 2012

He dislikes the chaos and ringing door bells and screaming children (it was an invasion tonight), but he is infinitely curious about the process.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

30 October 2012

Art and craft

Orange County, California
30 October 2012

Over the last several days, we've been responding to panicked emails from family and friends who worried about the son sitting in the path of the massive storm that just hit the East coast...and we were sending plenty of our own to the son to make sure that he was paying sufficient attention to what was going on around him. Fortunately for us, of course, DC missed much of the worst of the storm, and the son enjoyed two days of cancelled classes with the minor inconvenience of being told to shelter in place last night with whatever food he'd stockpiled from the dining hall.

So many fared so much worse, though. And as usual, there are the jokesters complaining about being asked to gather emergency supplies when ultimately their areas weren't as hard hit as the forecast predicted. And there are those who were asked to evacuate, didn't and are now suffering because of that, moaning that officials should have forced them out.

It never ends.

Today, I turned it all off and walked away from the photos and the stories. I'd promised the daughter I'd help with her Halloween costume, so I mixed paste and put papier mache on the form she'd created, dipping strips of paper and smoothing them over tape and wood and rough bits of cardboard. After an hour and a half or so, I set the whole mess on the lawn, hoping that the dry breeze and warm sun would hasten the hardening process. Later in the afternoon, I brought out the paint and set to work again, with spray and acrylic and a brush. She added bits tonight. If it survives the day tomorrow, I might post a photo of the final product.

Can you guess what she's made?

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. So, as I mentioned, the battery for my Nikon is dead...and I can't seem to find the charger.

24 October 2012

Santa Ana Saturday night

Santa Ana, California
6 October 2012

The daughter had been charged with shooting B roll footage of the homecoming dance, so we were charged with dropping her off at a theater in Santa Ana to do so. I shot this with the iPhone's Take a Picture of Your Own Face feature, holding the phone out the window.  The view in front was rather less compelling: just your everyday fender bender.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. The photo editing program I'm test driving is giving me some fits. I cannot convince it that I need multiple layers, so the watermark is temporarily screwed up. Which is quite aggravating.

23 October 2012

Finding my way

Kilfenora Cathedral
Kilfenora, County Clare, Ireland
15 July 2012

This actually was a lovely spot, and the cathedral, some of which is in ruins, dates back to the 12th century. Kilfenora is known for its high crosses, but the surrounding countryside is also gorgeous.

Disconcerting (and for me, physically difficult), however, was the need to pick one's way around, but mostly over, the graves within the walls. Everything was packed quite tightly, and there were hillocks and tufts of grass and rocks that had fallen out of borders and flower arrangements. I was trying desperately not to step on anyone (or fall over anything) so getting from one end of the site to the other was a bit of a challenge. But about the time that I reached this vantage point, the sun broke out and illuminated the morning.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. I'm also finding my way around a new photo editing package, which is taking some time.

18 October 2012

To Grandmother's house we go

Washington, DC
13 October 2012

When I knew her--from my birth to her death in the late 1980's--my grandmother lived in a condo on Connecticut Ave. It is the gloomy interior of that place, filled with cigarette smoke, ancient blinds under dilapidated drapes and paintings done by my uncle, that I think of when I think of her. She was widowed long before my birth, and though she was well-provided for, she never behaved as though that was the case.

If she was widowed early, she was also half-orphaned young. Her mother died of a stroke when she was 14 and her older sister was 16. Their father worked in the Car Barn--now Georgetown classrooms, then the place where the trolleys were parked (there is an interesting history of DC mass transit here if you like that sort of thing). According to my mother, my grandmother and great-aunt were charged with making him lunch and taking it to the Car Barn before they set off for school.

I'm not sure what year the family moved to this house in Georgetown, but it was built in 1900 (that's a bunch of separate houses, you know. Like Amsterdam, Georgetown favors tall, narrow row houses). If you look carefully (the morning was bright, the street shrouded in shadow), you can see the street car tracks running through the middle of the street.

I'm never quite sure what to make of personal history colliding with a greater history. It's a strange sense that I play no part in a greater whole, even if my DNA does.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. I don't think I mentioned that at 4:30 the morning that I left on this trip, I found that my Nikon battery was dead and I couldn't find the charger before the taxi appeared to bear me off to the airport. So every photo I took, I took either with the iPhone or my iPad. I think that taking photos with an iPad is fairly bizarre (and very unwieldy), but it's a decent camera. It's also worth noting that I hope this post makes some sort of sense, but I'm not banking on it. On the plane home, I was unfortunately seated next to the nastiest little old man, who despite his good suit and ability to get a 1st class ticket, had the most abominable manners and spent the 2.5 hours I was stuck next him spewing germs everywhere. For two days now, I've had a horrible fever (which resulted in FABULOUS fever dreams last night. Seriously! If only...) and I hold him responsible for the fact that I hurt everywhere. Probably best to stop now...

15 October 2012

Autumn on the canal

C & O Canal
Washington, D.C.
12 October 2012

I went to take stock of the kid, to see how he was and what he was doing. He seems well over all, a bit frazzled, and suffering from the general indignities of the transition from boy to man. Meaning, he wanted his mommy and he didn't want his mommy. And he needed a lot of reassurance. And some food that didn't come from the dining hall.

For my part, I was slammed by an unexpected sense of nostalgia as my plane came in for its landing at National on Thursday evening near sunset. Something about the hazy low green hills and the turning of the leaves hit right in my heart, and the feeling lingered throughout the weekend. Perhaps it is seeing the city of my birth through the new eyes of my son, perhaps just a longing for a place that perversely makes a bit more sense to me.

I was amused that the son has discovered the canal (now a national park!) and the waterfront. We sat alongside the Potomac and ate lunch, and I told him about how we used to go boating there with cousins and aunts and uncles. I pointed out the Watergate, which he referred to as a "cultural black hole"--I'm still not sure that I know what he means, other than once it was just a building and now it's a thing. To me, like so much else, it's just part of the scenery.

The weather was gorgeous, sunny and cool and breezy. Exactly what autumn should be like. As I walked old narrow streets, I couldn't help but smile at the houses decorated for Halloween, including the house where my grandmother grew up, a house she must have lived in near to a century ago.

I was anxious in some ways to get back on the plane yesterday, to return to California, but as ever, this place doesn't quite fit me and never feels quite right.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

11 October 2012


Belfast, Northern Ireland
17 July 2012

...around the corner from the Titanic Memorial, we came upon a giant TV broadcasting the Olympic Torch relay.

Say no more.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. Look, don't think for a moment that I'm dunning any other country or government for doing what this country consistently gets the gold in doing. It was just...unexpected.

10 October 2012

A Titanic year

Titanic Memorial
Belfast, Northern Ireland
17 July 2012

The Titanic was a tremendous tragedy as well as a monumental catastrophe, whether you want to blame stupidity, hubris or simple greed. The events of that April night have spawned an unfortunate number of bad movies and untold hours of TV programming, probably vast numbers of books, along with museums and museum exhibits. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking, and there was no way to escape some mention of it wherever we went. Because the Titanic has become ubiquitous (or inescapable, take your pick), I avoided most of anything to do with it in the cities we visited, though to be fair, the building that houses the new museum that's been built in Belfast is spectacular. This memorial, however, and the garden behind, were simple and moving, and were all the more interesting because we happened upon them as we walked through Donegall Square.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40, and yes, it was sheeting down rain.

09 October 2012

Sunset at sea

Entering the Irish Sea
16 July 2012

We were moving up the coast of Northern Ireland, preparing to head in toward the Irish Sea. The sunset was glorious and it looked as though the clouds had been painted on the sky.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

08 October 2012

Another day, another castle

Dunluce Castle
Antrim, United Kingdom
16 July 2012

On this particular trip, castles were a bit like icons when you visit Russia: there's a seemingly endless supply. This is not, in any way, to demean the castles or the countries (or icons, for that matter), but one hears so many stories and sees so many structures in such a short space that they all sort of meld into the Platonic form of the castle.

I did think this ruin particularly fetching, however, perched as it is above the sea, shrouded a bit by mist. It may have been the castle whose kitchen fell wholesale off the cliff one night (kitchen staff, unfortunately, included) and it may have had a tough, smart and feisty woman somewhere in its past (we heard of at least three, one each in three different countries). Or it might not have.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. Dunluce Castle is located on the northeastern coast of Northern Ireland, which is quite a picturesque area.

06 October 2012

Nothing but air (and board)

Taekwondo belt test
Orange County, California
5 October 2012

The daughter has been studying taekwondo for a little more than a year. Yesterday, during the class' belt test, the kids broke boards for the first time. They seemed to be both nervous and thrilled.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

01 October 2012

The backstory

Giants Causeway
Bushmills, Moyle, United Kingdom
16 July 2012

The story of the glass that is half full is that I hiked this far under my own power, and eventually, I made it back to the visitor's center under my own power. This is what I hold to remind myself of what I still can do.

The story of the glass that is half empty is that I wanted to have a look at the formation at the center of the photo, but I couldn't manage the climb. And this rears its ugly head to remind me of what I've lost. On the good days, it seems incomprehensible that I couldn't get there. On the bad days, I'm amazed I got as far as I did.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. I still hope for and work towards improvement.

27 September 2012

So grand and complex

Giants Causeway
Bushmills, Moyle, United Kingdom
16 July 2012

It was right about here that the daughter and I spontaneously burst into "Natural Science," same verse, as if reading one another's mind.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. Giants Causeway, located on the northeastern coast of Northern Ireland, is the remnant of a ancient volcanic eruption. It's not obvious from this photo, but the area was remarkably reminiscent of Devil's Postpile National Monument in California, though a good bit more damp.

26 September 2012


Near Foynes, Ireland
14 July 2012

I don't know if these buildings were abandoned, but there was something so lonely about them. A panel of the door appears to have been bashed in, and I couldn't see a road leading to them. There is an air of fairytale--the plant life growing up the roof reminded me so much of a book the daughter had as a little girl--and they seemed to be waiting.

Yes, I have my romantic moments, too.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40 and telephoto.

25 September 2012

The rest of the castle

Caernarfon Castle
Gwynedd, United Kingdom
13 July 2012

It did seem a bit hard just to show the mortar and not give the rest of the castle a chance. But you should be sensing a theme here...note the color of the grass. It has a lot to do with the color of the sky.

Or more to the point, the water that kept falling from the sky.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. Heading back from the castle, the tour guide made a special point of noting the Tesco where the former Kate Middleton was spotted shopping after her wedding. Also, the railway station with the longest name in the UK, in Welsh, which he took great pleasure in repeating.

24 September 2012

Fly away

Endeavor flyover
Orange County, California
21 September 2012

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40, Nikkor 70-300mm lens.

21 September 2012


Endeavor flyover
Orange County, California
21 September 2012

Far more exciting than I expected and a lot nearer than I'd hoped. I'll post more (and cleaned up...yikes!) later.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40, Nikkor 70-300mm lens.

19 September 2012

No bricks

Caernarfon Castle
Gwynedd, United Kingdom
13 July 2012

I have no way of knowing, of course, whether this is the original mortar between the bricks that make up the castle, but each place I looked, there was a microcosm.

The castle itself was quite pretty, too.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

11 September 2012

Lost island

Guernsey, Channel Islands
11 July 2012

One of the highlights of this trip for me was to be a visit to Guernsey. Evidently, that is Guernsey, but I wouldn't really know because this is as close as I got. Reports were that excessive wind and chop made a visit untenable. Hell, I've kayaked in worse than that!

Not that I was given the option.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40, telephoto lens. I was more than a little annoyed, but I guess it means that next time, I go back and visit all the Channel Islands.

10 September 2012

From a hotel window: Ieper

Ieper (Ypres), Belgium
10 July 2012

Sitting in this window, I watched dawn break. A bird perched on a chimney sang the sun rise, liquid notes in the soft, cool air, such beauty in its voice. Light touched the quiet buildings and silent streets below me. It was so incredibly peaceful. 

I tried, sitting there, to imagine the sound of cannon, the shouts of men, the crash of buildings as they fell. I tried to imagine smoke rising at the edge of the town. 

Birdsong filled the sky. A duck swam in the channel below. The rhythmic sound of footsteps approached as someone jogged along the pavement, and I watched a man open his garage and pull his car out into the alley. All very peaceful. 

So much blood. So many lives. So many years of conflict. And I wondered if that was really the price for the calm and lovely town laid out before me.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40 in the early morning light. Speaking of tenacity, Ypres was bombed flat during the course of WWI. They rebuilt. The town is magnificent.

31 August 2012


Bastogne, Belgium
9 July 2012

The siege of Bastogne was a part of World War II's larger Battle of the Bulge.

For a lot of people of my generation, World War II holds a terrible fascination. It was our parents' war, and their stories--of combat, of privation, of concentration camps--colored our childhood, even as the Vietnam War played out in the backdrop of our own lives.

As I took classes in the history of the 1960s trying to comprehend the decade into which I was born, I also took classes in the history of World War II in the hopes of better understanding the time in which my parents' generation lived. Truth is, dry facts and figures, newsreels and newspapers only give the basics: a battle was fought here; people died; buildings fell. And where war is concerned, I'm not sure there is any understanding.

Like me, the spouse is fascinated (think carefully on the connotation and denotation of that word) with World War II. We come at it from two different directions, however. My father and uncle served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Amphitheater, my uncle saved from certain death at Pearl Harbor by the happenstance of going to early Mass that morning. The spouse is 1/2 German. His grandfather, a German country doctor, died of TB contracted treating troops on the Eastern Front. His mother and aunts tell stories of bombs dropping and fleeing the advancing Russian army.

It was thus that we visited Bastogne. There is a monument, a huge monument, to all the troops who met there. I wandered away from our group and I looked. I listened to the air, the sounds that came from the quarry, the distant lowing of cows and the cries of birds, the sussuration of cars on the highway. I thought about all I'd read about that area, first person accounts and dry history. I thought about the movies and the TV shows that had tried to depict what went on there.

You can watch documentaries; you can watch recreations. You can read all you want. You can stand on the same soil.

There is no understanding.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40 from the top of the Mardasson Memorial.