pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: 2013

31 December 2013

With hope in your hands: An end has a start - 2013

North Atlantic
16 July 2012

2013. The year I wrote more and said less.

What was good: travel (not enough), seeing friends (not enough), concerts (not enough). A new bathroom!

What was bad: my loved ones enduring surgery (too much), dealing with the insurance and a doctor who tried to balance bill us (my new solution for everything health related: threaten to take them to small claims court), and general malaise. Also, I'm still cleaning up from the construction as we get ready to start more.

All in all, we survived (in at least one case, that was a big one). Sometimes we thrived.

Honestly? I'm exhausted. That has to change.

Where do we go from here? I have no idea. But I always hope the journey is a good one and makes me better than I am. That I learn from it, and use that knowledge wisely. And that is what I wish for you: an excellent journey.

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

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. And yes, I've opened my new camera, but I haven't charged the battery yet. That was one disappointment: my batteries aren't interchangeable!!

24 December 2013

Hot mess - Gingerbread house edition

Gingerbread house
24 December 2013

The daughter, eyeing her creation: "I think this is what they call a 'hot mess.'"

Me, picking up the icing bag and adding more: "Hmm."

The spouse: "What do you do with it now?"

Me: "Put it outside and see if the squirrel takes it."

Wherever you are and whatever you believe, I wish you peace and kindness in this season and in all that follow.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. And because of a *really* thoughtful UPS driver, I did receive my new camera today.

23 December 2013

Sun, sand, surf and Nativity

Newport Beach, California
31 December 2012

It was so perfectly...California.


I finally took the plunge.

When I got myself the D40 for Christmas six years ago, it was the first time I ever bought myself a *real* camera. Too exciting. I started on the bottom rung, and promised myself that if I mastered the low end, I could aspire to the high end.

Well, I can't claim that I've mastered the low end, but I decided that I'd earned a better camera. Tomorrow, I get my D7000. I already know what will happen when I unwrap it in two days. I will look at it. I will circle it. I will read the box. I will put it down. I will look at it. I will circle it. I will think about it.

I will eventually open it. It might take me a couple of hours. Maybe a couple of days. Worse case scenario, a couple of months.

But I will open it. And I will learn it. And I will love it.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

18 December 2013

Golden glow

Santa Ana, California
18 December 2013
No new tale to tell.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

10 December 2013

The cloud

Santa Ana, California
10 December 2013
I keep forgetting it's nearing the holidays; shopping has been by rote. Celebration will be quiet this year, though no less filled with gratitude. Our loved one survived seven-and-one-half hours of cancer surgery yesterday. His road to recovery will be long, and probably difficult. He is not young. But he is still with us. Hopefully for a long time yet.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

09 December 2013

Straight to the moon

Airplane contrail at sunset
9 December 2013
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

06 December 2013

My odd life

Chicken tamale & "Korean moon pie"*
6 December 2013
Every year, the daughter and I go to the Visual Arts conservatory's winter boutique. It's just a little mother/daughter excursion and we look at everything on offer and buy small gifts of jewelry and ceramics for our friends.
I met her this afternoon for our traditional promenade through the tables, and we looked and talked to the vendors, and finally retired to the breezeway to share a tamale and *what the girl who was selling them described to us as a "Korean moon pie."
Then the daughter took me off to an art gallery so I could admire a print that she saw and loved. She pointed out a small sculptural set of bones made of glass. Looking at them, I was overwhelmed with sadness.
"That's me," I said to her.
"Oh, Mommy," she said, hugging my arm.
Also? This.
Yesterday, as I driving through the wilds of Santa Ana, I was rear ended. My immediate impulse was highly uncharitable but I suppressed it, and the other driver immediately apologized and took full responsibility (which would be difficult to deny, since I was sitting at a stop light when she hit me). The damage to my car appeared minimal--mostly scratched paint--so I took her number, but waved it off.
There didn't seem much point in saying anything about the damage the impact had done to me.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

28 November 2013

Traffic jam

57 Freeway
Somewhere in Southern California
28 November 2013

Even these days, one can generally rely upon light traffic on the holidays.

Not today.

As I shot this photo, the freeway came to a standstill. Similarly, once we finally got to the 210 West, the 210 East was stopped. For miles.

We almost never leave the house on Thanksgiving because most of the time, I'm cooking. This year, we picked up the spouse's parents and transported them to my brother-in-law's house where we gathered for dinner.

In the time that it took to get there and back, I could have cooked a turkey.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

26 November 2013

Dreadful cell phone photo #11

Alice Cooper
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Costa Mesa, California
26 November 2013
Years ago, I used to joke that you'd find me at a Rush concert on Thursday and then you'd find me parked in my seat at the symphony on Saturday. It actually wasn't a joke--we had subscription seats one tier up from where we were sitting tonight.
Because I'm a long time patron of this place, I get love letters, emails, and colorful brochures. Three days ago, I got an email, saying Alice Cooper! Segerstrom! Tuesday! And the really notable thing about this is that I've never even seen a rock concert advertised at Segerstrom. It's all musicals and symphony and stuff like that. So, I forwarded the email to the spouse with the notation, "Half-tempted..."
And I got an email back from the spouse that said, "Do it."
(What I have not been writing about is that a close relation has been diagnosed with cancer. It is a cancer with a poor prognosis. The family is in a tailspin. The last few weeks have been bad; we expect the next few weeks to be unspeakable. Distraction in any form has never been more welcome.)
So, I found 3 pretty decent tickets and bought them.
And tonight we went.
When I was a kid, Alice Cooper was notorious. Between the make-up and the rumors of horrible things taking place at his shows, he was high on the list of reasons I was not allowed to listen to rock music.
(We all know how that ended. Eventually, I got Pandora's box open.)
Of course, I knew his radio hits, and liked most of them. But it never really occurred to me to go see him perform because, you know, Alice Cooper. About 20 years ago, I read a feature on him in the Wall St. Journal and was introduced to Alice Cooper, businessman, which intrigued me. And then a few years back, we happened to catch his radio show while we were driving somewhere, and he mentioned that he'd just discovered baby mice were called "mouse pups." You could hear the bemusement in his voice. It was epic. He couldn't stop saying "mouse pups." My kids were rolling around laughing in the back seat and even today, all you have to do is say "mouse pups" to one of the them and they dissolve into tears of mirth.
We weren't sure what to expect tonight, but I can tell you we were entertained. Several times, I looked over at the daughter who was sitting with eyes wide, hands over her mouth, shoulders heaving with laughter (She loved the song "Caffeine.") Theater macabre, plenty of music; it was the distraction we needed.
So if you get the chance, catch Alice Cooper live.
And tell him the mouse pups sent you.
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. Yeah, it's time to get a new phone.

25 November 2013

That kind of day

22 November 2013
So far today:
Made a trip to Whole Foods (I go once every five years or so because I can blow my entire weekly shopping budget on cheese with hardly a blink. It's better I don't do this)
Fired my tree guy
Hired new tree guy
Told Pacific Symphony telephone harassment specialist telemarketer that I was cooking
Told second Pacific Symphony telephone harassment specialist telemarketer that I'd already given them money this year (truth! And they always try to get me to give them more)
Ate lunch (what I was cooking the first time Pacific Symphony called) with the daughter
Now thinking: nap
Even though I really should start doing laundry...
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. No, it's not raining. It's actually bright, sunny and rather cold.

22 November 2013

Portrait of a napkin as composed by the daughter

Santa Ana, California
15 November 2013

So, yeah.

Not a lot of words lately.

Life is more or less full throttle, but it's not full throttle adventure, it's full throttle work. There is plenty to write, but they aren't things I wish to write.

Last week, the daughter and I were the featured entertainment helped out at her school's preview day. Neither of us is really fond of speaking in front of an audience, so it tends to be a fairly exhausting process. For me, the difficulty comes in remembering to put the brakes on before I say something that shouldn't necessarily be said in public.

(Like "helicopter parents." Which I did say, though I firmly believed I'd only thought it. Le sigh.)

In any event, when all that finally finished, the spouse took the daughter and I out to lunch. And the daughter started messing with my phone, the result of which was a photograph of a napkin. You have her to thank for that.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

14 November 2013

The face of evil

14 November 2013

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPad.

13 November 2013

I count the days

The Other Direction
Santa Ana, California
13 November 2013

12 November 2013

Girls With Skills

Duct work
11 November 2013
This is, in fact, not a duct. It is a 2' x 3' x 6' plywood and foamcore box. The daughter and I built it over the weekend (with an occasional assist from the spouse when I couldn't roll around on the ground anymore) for filming that took place yesterday. The little gap on the left side was part of a flip-up door that enabled them to stick a camera in the side. I was beyond pleased with the result and apparently the dailies looked great.
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

09 November 2013

07 November 2013

Pale moon and mare's tail

Orange County, California
7 November 2013
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

04 November 2013

Time change

Santa Ana, California
4 November 2013

Falling back is right up there with the Santa Ana winds in my book.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

03 November 2013

La Catrina

Noche de Altares
Santa Ana, California
2 November 2013

There's a lot going on in this photo.

As I wrote last year, the daughter belongs to her school's chapter of Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica. This year as last, the chapter put together an altar for the local Día de los Muertos celebration, Noche de Altares. Unlike last year, this year's altar was intensely personal: it was dedicated to a young classmate who passed away in February. Like the best altars, it was sad and moving because it spoke of the loss of a young and talented boy, but there were also things that made you smile, like Chex Mix. So it was, as it was intended to be, a celebration of his life.

I left the daughter to her hour of attending the altar, and went in search of the spouse. We examined other altars and food stands and places selling t-shirts, listened to bands, and watched dancers. We picked up the daughter when her hour was up, and wandered about some more, waiting until the procession and lighting of the altars began.

And that's where the photo comes in. The procession was headed by the man who was carrying the cross covered in marigolds (or at least, paper flowers meant to look like marigolds) and he was followed by La Catrina , the skeleton dressed her in finery, carrying a candle along with her bouquet of flowers. She stopped at each altar and a representative of the altar lit a candle from her candle, and then used that taper to light whatever additional candles adorned the altar. And La Catrina moved on, followed by the musicians singing and playing in her wake.

The light was fading rapidly, and La Catrina moved as I snapped the photo, so she is blurred, while everyone around her is generally in focus. It makes her look even more otherworldly than she already did--whoever had the job never dropped out of character, and she was creepy. Quite perfect.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. Although I was born on the east coast, I spent a significant part of my childhood in the desert southwest. In those days, I remember Día de los Muertos being more of a familial celebration than a community one. Of course for me, November 1 (All Saints Day) was just another day to be dragged to Mass.

02 November 2013

Noche de altares

Santa Ana, California
2 November 2013

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

31 October 2013

Perfect autumn afternoon

Santa Ana, California
31 October 2013
What I loved most were the long shadows of the trees.
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.  

24 October 2013

Lunch at Farragut Square

Farragut Square
Washington, D.C.
18 October 2013

I'd spent the previous day on airplanes and I was going to be spending the afternoon and subsequent day in meetings and presentations.

"I want to be outside," I told the son.

So we went out, no real destination in mind, and ended up here, food truck heaven, and the son had second lunch.

(I ate some of his kimchi, but wasn't really hungry, so I watched people and enumerated the types and styles of food trucks available.)

Every time I return, the tug becomes more insistent. I've found myself looking at real estate ads. Walking up O Street last Saturday, I felt peace.

Yes, I love my new bathroom (photos soon, promise). But I'm so ready to leave the battleground that is Southern California. I've been ready to leave for decades.

Now I have a kid on the East Coast. And I have a kid who is feeling the sense of possibility. 

"University College, London," she chirps. "University of Toronto. University of Tokyo..."

The sense of possibility.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

23 October 2013

The day that you know is coming

Mile Square Regional Park
Fountain Valley, California
6 April 2013

Last night, I received an email. The news was unwelcome in more ways than one (and true to the spirit of the sender, wildly incomplete). But it was, in the main, unsurprising, because I knew that one way or another, we'd eventually arrive at this day.

The spouse walked in to find me sitting at my desk with my head in my hands, and he asked, "What?" I pointed at my monitor, and silently he read. Then he sighed.

Because we don't know the details, or what exactly the news entails, we've said nothing to our children yet. I've warned them both in the past that this day was coming. There are only so many ways one can say it without being totally morbid, but I've warned them. They are young; they've never had to deal with something like this. And when I tell them, it will change their lives forever. There is no way that can be avoided. 

We never know what form the future will take. We just know that it is coming.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

20 October 2013

Back at the airport again

Washington National Airport (with bonus river view)
20 October 2013

19 October 2013


Washington Monument, fully clothed
Washington, DC
 18 October 2013

The monument still rises above all, now just clad like some Christo installation.

 I dragged the son around for a bit yesterday before the meetings began and he ate everything that wasn't tied down.

(No, seriously. Bulgogi from a food truck. Half a wedge of cheese with crackers, and then a package of prosciutto. Sandwiches at the school reception and entire plates of crab fried rice, spring rolls and sate when I took him and his roommate to dinner. Then he mused, "I wonder if I'm not eating enough...")

Notably, as we wandered from a meeting to a reception, an attractive young woman hailed the son and came over to introduce herself to me. When she departed, he looked at me, wide-eyed.

"I didn't even know she knew I existed," he murmured.

"She's adorable and she just played the mom card," I told him. "She's a candidate for coffee."

 (Subtext: do not be unconfident and oblivious as your mother has always been. Also, I told him that coffee is the best opening gambit to get to know someone. It's innocuous and if it isn't working, you can run fast. If it is working, it can become dinner.)

Meanwhile, the Palomar has provided plenty of coffee (and barking dogs), so it's time to get back out there.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

17 October 2013

16 October 2013

Just another day

Washington, D.C.
12 April 2009

"Congress approved the proposal," I told the spouse.

"They heard you were coming to give them what-for," he responded drily.

I actually haven't been near anything that would be affected by the shutdown in about 5 years. I've got some free time this weekend, but also meetings. And I promised the son I'd take him and his roommates out to dinner.

All this means I should actually be packing.

It's been a crazy week in a lifetime of crazy weeks. The spouse suddenly started sporting a swollen jaw Monday morning after a crown was put on one of his teeth Saturday, so that's consumed an incredible amount of energy, especially as he was supposed to give a talk out of town this week. So much for that idea. So he and the daughter and the cat will be holding down the fort and then Monday I will revisit that shot-out-of-a-cannon feeling.

The bathroom is done. A needed change completed.

More is yet to come.

All things being equal (they never are), I'm ready to start.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

15 October 2013

Pardon me, sir

Milton and the interloper
31 October 2008

"Skeptical" is how the daughter termed him.

And at the moment, I too am skeptical for reasons that have nothing to do with marble-eyed cat cutouts.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

10 October 2013

My life on a movie set

Orange County, California
1 April 2013

This is not an infrequent scene at my house. I joked with the daughter that I'm running out of rooms for her to film in and that I'll have to remodel the rest of the place so that she'll have new sets.

(On this particular day of shooting, I had to notify the neighborhood that there would be screaming emanating from my house, that a bandaged up young man would be repeatedly banging on my front door, and that it was all with my knowledge and consent, so there was no need to call the sheriff. What we do for our kids who are shooting zombie flicks.)

I know my fellow conservatory parents are in the same boat:

I haven't yet had to take any doors off the hinges, I admit.

And now, I have to go back to figuring out the best way to build a mock-up of  a ventilation shaft. Those big boxes from our bathroom fixtures are coming in handy.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPad. We as conservatory parents are the bank, the caterer, and transportation, and frequently are actors, set decorators, DPs and sound engineers. Can't tell you how many times I've had to hold that boom mike.

09 October 2013

First storm of the season

Santa Ana, California
9 October 2013

And EVERYBODY had their crazy showing.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone 4.

07 October 2013

Tough times demand tough talk (and free produce)

Washington Monument
Washington, D.C.
12 April 2009

I wanted to write a funny post about how I will be arriving at National on October 17 (which I am, in fact. Parents' Weekend. It's been planned for awhile) prepared to give our nation's putative leaders the talking to that their imbecilic behaviour demands before sending them to bed without supper. Because if you act like spoiled children, I'm certainly going to treat you thusly.

(For the record, my children got frequent lectures but were never sent anywhere without proper nourishment. I never tied food to punishment or reward. For Capitol Hill, however, I'll make an exception.)

In any event, I really don't have the heart for it. There just isn't any humor in the situation.

In other news, my neighbor R. has been dumping enormous piles of produce on my front step. We had one of our wretched windstorms this weekend and she didn't want cherry tomatoes blowing all over her yard, so I was the recipient of a couple of pounds. I got cooking and made the perfect dinner for Meatless Monday:

Cherry Tomatoes and Capers over Whole Wheat Fusilli:

1 pound whole wheat fusilli or other short pasta
3 Tbl olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 tsp dried oregano
1/16 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
3 Tbl capers, drained
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, and cook, stirring, until just golden, about 1 minute. Add cherry tomatoes, wine, capers, oregano, crushed red pepper. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring, until tomato juices run, about 5 minutes. If the sauce becomes too dry, add another splash of wine or water. Add pasta and 1/4 cup Parmesan to the skillet and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with more cheese if desired.

I adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart's Tomato and Olive Penne. I love kalamata olives, but my family doesn't, so I used capers and wine together to help cut the sweetness of the tomatoes. It was very good!

Of course, it didn't hurt that the tomatoes were free. I'll pay her back with homemade banana muffins.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. For those of you who live in the U.S., consider donating to a local food bank if you're able. Many people are losing services thanks to the shutdown, and whatever your politics, there's really no need to let others go hungry. Well, unless you're Reid or Boehner.

06 October 2013

Scene from daily life

Metrolink train
Orange County, California
6 October 2013

I spend a great deal of time at this railroad crossing.

Even on the weekend.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

05 October 2013

Interesting place of the day

Discovery Well Park
Signal Hill, California
5 October 2013

Back in the 1920s, the Alamitos #1 well struck oil on Signal Hill, leading to the discovery of the Long Beach oilfield. There is still an active operation on the hill.

We discovered the park quite by accident because the daughter was filming in Signal Hill today. The spouse knew of the geological significance of the area, but I happened to see the park on the map while we were trying to get the daughter where she needed to be. We didn't have time to hike around the area, but what we saw was plenty interesting.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

04 October 2013

Another song

Off Cape Farewell, Greenland
31 July 2008

I was flipping through photos and there you were.

The look on your face made me catch my breath. I always saw the smile. I never saw the light.

You come to me in dreams. Our conversations are so real--especially the ones when you are angry with me--that I wake confused, absolutely certain that I'd just been speaking with you. I feel your presence, as if you'd just left the room. If I could reach out...

Another year. You again. And again. I laugh quietly remembering this moment and that moment. If I had only...

What? The gulf was too wide. I didn't know how to bridge the gap. Oh there are ways, but those ways are not my ways. Like an iceberg, there is more to me than meets the eye. And I am a private person, not prone to revealing myself in public.

You look so damn happy. This breaks my heart but also makes it skip a beat. There is time yet, a tiny voice whispers.

Somewhere a clock is ticking. But at least it's still ticking.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

27 September 2013

Another Big Orange Spider

Yet another orb weaver
Orange County, California
28 August 2013

Here's another big orange spider for all you big orange spider fans. They must be out in force in your yards (in Illinois, Tennessee, Pennsylvania) because you are showing up in force looking at them here.

They are good spiders. This one was busy eating a fly.

(I can take a photo of the brown widow in my mailbox if you like...)

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

24 September 2013

This is a test

Aquatic sausages
Monterey, California
8 August 2013

I wondered, looking at them, how lying sideways on a rock could be comfortable in any way. And yet, there they were.

Recently, we attended an event, a sort of reunion, and there was much about it that reminded me why I never attend reunions. In the intervening time, I've gone on and done other things in the world and so have other people, and never the twain shall meet and the reasons why we intersected in the first place are gone so...

So, I found it uncomfortable.

And weirdly, I ran into someone that I met some years ago in circumstances that had nothing to do with the group in which we both currently found ourselves, and the part of me that is quasi-extroverted didn't hesitate to open her mouth, while the part of me that is utterly introverted was silently trying to beat the louder half into submission. It was a when-worlds-collide moment in more ways than one.

And I found it awkward.

Finally, after the spouse had the opportunity to talk to the requisite folks to whom he wished to speak, and the daughter had been introduced to the people she regularly sees on TV (which made her blush and stutter), it was time to go.

All in all, a bit like lying sideways on a rock. Awkward and uncomfortable in all ways.

And yet, there I am.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40, Nikkor telephoto lens.

23 September 2013

Let sleeping otters lie

Zen paws
Monterey Bay, California
9 August 2013

The shower is tiled and the vanity is installed. Tomorrow the painters come and the roofing company bashes a hole in the ceiling to install a skylight.

There was no damage to the subfloor, no mold (a thing of nightmares) in the damaged wall. Still, the expenses mount with unexpected and unwelcome finds.  Whatever, I tell myself. It was necessary. This was structural necessity, not a cosmetic endeavor. It's coming along.

I have been prepping fundraisers, and buying supplies. Familiar territory. I send out peppy emails, and wonder at the disconnect between the content (exclamation points! Terribly enthusiastic!), and the tired, disinterested author of said missives.

Really, this is stuff I could do in my sleep. And I seem to be.

If I can just get through Thursday. If I can just get through Saturday. If I can finish out next week...

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40, Nikkor telephoto lens.

09 September 2013

On his throne

9 September 2013

Milton is taking no pleasure whatsoever in this whole bathroom business. There were people on the roof today, and people messing with ductwork (and pulling off part of my bedroom ceiling). While there are workers about, he huddles miserably in the laundry room, glaring every time I check on him. He was probably more put out today by the fact that I wasn't checking on him (I was setting up fundraisers. Always something.).

There is stuff piled everywhere in my house: tile, plumbing, the odd bit of drywall. The bathtub is now in the bathroom (better than in the garage), but the toilet is sitting in two boxes.

Milton loves boxes. This box in particular is just the right size for a cat. He can sit on it and see the room and down the hall. It's convenient for having a good bath. He tried to get into it to see what's inside (to no avail), but in the main, he's content to sit on top of it and look superior.

I know he'll miss it when it goes. The contents won't be nearly so compelling in his book.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

05 September 2013


Many years ago, I stood in my dining room and admired the place settings that I'd laid. My wedding china gleamed and the crystal sparkled.  Our teak dinner table, which basically screamed newly married couple, glowed warmly as the afternoon sun peeked in the French doors that led to our backyard. From the kitchen came the aromas of dinner cooking. I'd worked hard on that dinner, and I smiled at the waiting table, feeling accomplished and very grown up. Two of the spouse's thesis advisors and their wives along with another couple were to be our guests at dinner.

At odd moments, I suddenly become very aware of my life, the strange and wondrous processes that have gotten me to a certain point in time. And as I stood there, I suddenly realized that I was feeding dinner to a lot of pretty famous scientists. In a short time, in fact, the former head of the Jet Propulsion Lab would be sitting at that table. I tried to feel the momentousness of that fact. But the truth was, to us, he was Bruce.

Bruce Murray, one of the founders of the Planetary Society, professor emeritus at Caltech, died last week. With his passing, the world loses another visionary. We lost a friend.

I met Bruce back when the spouse and I started dating. He was one of the spouse's thesis advisors, and if you've never experienced the rigors of living with someone studying for a Ph.D., then you might not know that thesis advisors sort of become adjunct members of the family, whether you want them or not.

(Of the spouse's thesis advisors, several fell into the Do Not Want category. Bruce was generally good fun.)

I am well aware that Bruce was both revered and reviled for fighting what he saw as the good fight in promoting planetary science. Personally, I'm grateful to him for making sure that we had all those amazing photos of space. But there are a lot of other people out there far more qualified than I am to write about his work and his legacy. I can only tell you about the guy I knew: a man of immense intellect and boundless enthusiasm. A man who always had an idea, was ever ready with a plan. When I think of him, I always see his smile.

I remember him giving a talk on a theoretical lander for Mars, and while he stood in the projector beam, his arms described huge arcs as he went up on his toes, mimicking how the payload would bounce along the surface. I also remember him calling and waking us in the middle of the night when he'd come up with some important something that he needed to share with the spouse that very instant. At least until the night I answered the phone, and told him--sleepily but firmly--not to call after 10 pm. Which, bless him, he never did again.

Last week, the spouse and I raised a glass in Bruce's memory, and we laughed about the time he gave us two visiting Soviet scientists to entertain. We remembered the fun dinner to which Bruce and his lovely wife Suzanne treated us just before the spouse and I married. We grinned about the time he got Carl Sagan to sit in on the spouse's first talk at a conference, and the BBC science program that both he and the spouse ended up in. We recalled the many reasons for our affection for him. And we drank, not to the well-known scientist or the mover and shaker, but to the man who came to dinner.

04 September 2013

There will be wallpaper

Vinyl wallpaper--YAY!
3 September 2013

About 10 years ago, I pulled on a loose bit of corner on the daughter's bedroom wall, and the paint came up and I discovered layers of wallpaper covered in layers of paint.

Didn't anyone ever tell them that you aren't supposed to paint over wallpaper?

Anyway, that discovery led to a month's worth of wallpaper stripping and repainting, and a good bit of blue language from yours truly as she stripped and painted.

Knowing this, I warned the contractor that when he started pulling stuff out of the bathroom, there was going to be wallpaper. And there is! Vinyl wallpaper covered in oil-based paint. And I wondered why I couldn't control the mold despite constant scrubbing.

I'm sure that wallpaper was quite fetching with all the orange tile...

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

03 September 2013

Fun with mid-century bathrooms

Scary brownish-orange bathroom
ca. October 2003

There are crashes and bangs and the tinkling of broken tile coming from the back of my house.

I've been talking about this remodel for close to 15 years, and trying to make it happen for 10. I even entered this photo in an ugly bathroom contest.

(Actually, compared with what it looked like at 7am this morning, it looked great 10 years ago. And the bathroom we lost to? SO much worse. I was happy for those homeowners.)

Why did it take 10 years to make this happen? We aren't entirely sure. At first, it seemed that the economy was so good, housing so hot, that contractors didn't want to remodel a bathroom unless they were taking 1/2 the house with it. I wasn't ready to remodel 1/2 the house 10 years ago, so I would get contractors out here to give me an estimate and they would laugh, not call back, or tell me honestly my bathroom wasn't worth their time. At least one of those has since gone under. Another (who wouldn't return my calls after the first visit) now regularly contacts me ("let's renew our relationship!"), begging for work. Who's laughing now?

Anyway, I persisted, but got side-tracked when the spouse needed surgery. Then, I started thinking about it again (the plumbing started dripping) and in early 2007, the son blew out his knee, and I spent the next 18 months occupied with his rehabilitation, surgery and rehabilitation.

The bathroom only got worse.

By the time the son was back in shape, the economy started to go to hell in a handbasket...

...and the spouse needed surgery again.

Something started leaking inside the shower wall. Contractors were returning my phone calls. I got a guy out here to give me an estimate...

...and three days later, I ended up partially paralyzed.

At which point, I came to the conclusion that there were malevolent forces at work keeping me from remodeling the bathroom. I said it, laughing, incredulous, not really believing it.


So, rehab, rehab, rehab.

Also, life.

November 2012, I opened a website on my computer to look at bathroom vanities being sold by a local designer. The phone rang. My daughter, between sobbing breaths, informed me that she'd just dislocated her right patella.

Rehab, surgery, rehab.

In April, a contractor came to do some work for us that did not include bathroom remodeling. I haltingly showed him the bathroom, and in hushed tones asked if he'd be interested...and by the way, it was haunted and didn't want to be remodeled.

He laughed and slightly snidely suggested that we have it saged. And yeah, he'd do the work.

I ultimately decided that he wasn't a good choice. Called another contractor.

The new contractor came out in late July. I loudly announced that my poor tired bathroom wanted to be beautified. The bathroom did not immediately contradict me.

Contractor submitted a bid. I accepted it and started buying tile and hardware.

My right plantar fascia became inflamed.

I signed a contract and wrote a deposit check, and promptly became violently ill. Friday morning, the spouse was trying to get me to call the doctor. I pointed out I was in horrible pain, but this did not meet my personal doctor-calling criteria: no fever, no blood, no symptoms of shock.

I picked out the granite countertop Friday afternoon.

Saturday morning, the spouse fretted that I probably needed to go to the emergency room.

I yelled at the top of my lungs that it didn't matter if I was hospitalized, if I was in emergency surgery all weekend, that the bathroom demolition was starting Tuesday morning at 8 am WITHOUT FAIL.

Saturday didn't go very well. But there was still no fever, no blood and no symptoms of shock. I slept when I needed to, cleared out bathroom cabinets, made room for the daughter in the master bathroom.

Sunday and Monday were much the same.

The contractor and demolishers arrived this morning.

Demolition has proceeded apace. Dear bathroom, I stopped telling you how ugly you were and started telling you how beautiful you could be.

Hopefully, I will survive the next five weeks.

Tech stuff: Probably taken with an old Canon Powershot S110. And yes, I'll eventually get to the doctor.

28 August 2013

Breakfast of champions

Orb weaver
(aka Big Orange Spider California)
Orange County, California
28 August 2013

This is a baby. She's really still quite small, and throughout the autumn, will grow several sizes larger. And likely oranger. I love these spiders because they're useful and beautiful and make amazing webs, although I need to remind myself not to go wandering in the garden at night this time of year because one tends to walk straight into the webs. At any given time, there are usually 6 or 7 in the back, 1 or 2 in the front and at least one where we store the garbage cans. That's the one I'm most likely to walk into.

A closer view:

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40, Nikkor 1:1.8G lens, natural light. And now a word on my photos: I am an amateur photographer, a hobbyist. I photograph and publish what interests me, sometimes what I think looks nice, bits and pieces of my life. Sometimes other people like these things, too. I don't make any money on this blog. There is no advertising, no revenue stream.  I've gotten very aggressive about watermarking my photos because some people think it's ok to republish my photos elsewhere (usually ad-laden spam blogs) without attribution. That's copyright infringement, folks. It does not qualify as fair use, especially if you're making money off my work without my express permission to do so, even if you do include a link back to my blog. That said, if you see something you like and you'd like to purchase a photo without a watermark, feel free to contact me. If you wish to use one of my photos for educational purposes, you may also contact me and we'll see what we can arrange. I don't bite. Much.

21 August 2013

Back in the saddle

Santa Ana, California
21 August 2013

The daughter started her junior year of high school yesterday.

None of us are ready for this.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone 4. 

13 August 2013


Somewhere in more-or-less central California
8 August 2013

So, this is a spot I've been trying to talk the spouse into visiting for...oh, 25 or so years. For whatever reason, he didn't want to go, it wasn't convenient, whatever. In trying to talk me into this little jaunt, he used this place as bait.

And I took it.

You have to book a tour to get anywhere near the property, and the tours are not inexpensive. The actual building itself...well, "monument to bad taste" was what I whispered to my family as we exited. And in truth, I was rather appalled at exactly how accurate that sentiment was. As the daughter grumped about conspicuous consumption, I tried to be a bit more generous and commented that it could be called a completely uncurated museum. And that's also accurate. In any event, it certainly wasn't attractive. But hey, if that's how the previous century's 1% chose how to live, it's their buck.

Anyway, I was perfectly happy to get back out of doors. While I can't really say much nice about the interiors, I will say that the gardens are lovely. And I love gardens. As you can see, we were blessed with a beautiful day. It was warm and clear up on the hill top, while the ocean was amazingly blue and gorgeous in the distance. The fog hung in over the horizon for most of the continuation of our drive up to Monterey, rather than doing what it does best, which is spoiling perfectly nice days. So all in all, quite gorgeous.

No regrets in visiting the small part of the interior that I did see, but I can say decisively that that itch has been scratched.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. This site put me in mind of the Winchester Mystery House, though the endless changes and unfinished building stem from a different sort of mania, and also of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, in part because of the dim interiors; the heavy, unbeautiful furnishings, and all the bloody carved cherub faces.

12 August 2013

Scene from afternoon flight

Old Mission Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California
7 August 2013

It sort of worked like this: last Monday night, I made reservations at two hotels up the coast. We packed a couple of bags, left the cat to visit with the vet, and got in the car. Mid-afternoon, we stopped in Santa Barbara (stretch legs, coffee, the necessaries), and I mentioned to the daughter that Karana (also known as Juana Maria or the Lone Woman of San Nicolas) from The Island of the Blue Dolphins was buried at the mission. So, of course, we had to go up to the mission.

It's at times like these when I realize what an amazing job I did of raising my children in almost total ignorance of the faith in which I was raised. They grew up with very strong moral values, and a bent toward charity, but little understanding of Catholicism and certainly no sense of the cultural aspects of being Catholic. So I tend to be put in the position of explaining things. Like saints. And religious orders. Burial rites. Church architecture. CYO basketball. I thought that I was doing them a favor in allowing them to choose religion rather than being browbeaten into accepting it.

I still believe that I made the right decision in that regard, but it makes me a little sad. They missed the bad parts of the highly religious upbringing to which I was subjected, but they also missed the good.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone 4. And really, you should have been there when I tried to explain St. Blaise and the Blessing of the Throats to the daughter.

09 August 2013


California ground squirrel
Central California Coast
8 August 2013

In the end, we managed to escape for a couple of days and wander up the California coast. For as brief a trip as it was, it felt like a marathon. We're all more exhausted than when we left.

However, no one can say that I didn't plan a vacation this year.  It's not my fault that the summer turned out to be as wacky as it was.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40 plus telephoto. My blog is beginning to resemble Animal Planet.

05 August 2013

Blue bear

Convention Center (with visitor)
Denver, Colorado
2 August 2013

Probably anyone who has been near the convention center has photographed this appealing (and odd) bear. So I don't think my photo is anything unique, though the bear amused us mightily.

I'm supposed to be on vacation, but I'm not, in the main because this summer has been so...difficult. The daughter and son both were left completely exhausted by their respective school years, and evidently I was, too, because once the girl had finished for the summer, I had a dream that the daughter had just finished her junior year, and I was sitting in my car, staring out over a road, thinking, "I only have to make this drive for one more year." And in the dream, I started to cry with sheer relief.

That, my friends, is stress talking. Along with the sad knowledge that I still have to make that drive for two more years since she's just starting her junior year in two weeks.

(The idea that there is only two more years of this is almost overwhelming. People keep asking me if I'll be sad to have an empty nest, and I look at them like they're crazy and say, "NO." I love my children, absolutely dearly, and my family is more important to me than almost anything, but the prospect of no more school, tests, back to school nights, school obligations, college applications...gods, the prospect. It almost smells like freedom. I won't let the door hit me as I run out of it.)


Anyway, I have plenty on my plate for the next several months. But freedom will come in a small way when I fly back to DC in mid-October (parents weekend...useful this year because I have to navigate the vagaries of semester abroad for the boy. You see?) which will mean some responsible meeting attendance but also some time to myself in a city that makes me happy. Away from my video-game afternoon high school pick up, which the lucky spouse will get to take on.

(Do you have any idea how often I also have to do morning drop-off because he's out of town? OFTEN.)

So what does all this have to do with a blue bear in Denver?

I'll be busting out again in October. And that makes me happy.

Which is enough.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

04 August 2013


Guggenheim Hall
Colorado School of Mines
Golden, Colorado
2 August 2013

After we saw Rush in Austin in April, D. and I decided we'd need to see them at least once more before the tour ended. I was able to manage the Baltimore show because of the serendipitous alignment of the planets and the son's need to pack up his dorm room at Georgetown but her schedule didn't allow for it. Ultimately, we decided that Denver worked out best in terms of proximity and availability and time frame. So it was a date.

Not long after we decided on this plan, the daughter asked if she might be allowed to go with us because it sounded like we had so much fun when we embarked on these mad sojourns.

(We do. Oh, we do.)

I checked with D. and she cheerfully agreed and the daughter was in. It was just a matter of getting to August.

And life got crazy as it is wont to do.

The daughter is now of the age where college planning is coming into play. She sat the PSAT as a sophomore primarily for the practice, but colleges took note of her scores and her interest in science, and she began getting lots of informational mail. Colorado School of Mines was one of the places that sent her mail and email, and since we were going to be in Denver, it seemed to make sense that we should visit.

(Of course, it didn't make sense in so many ways, but hey, I'm always game for an adventure. Or what is more properly called bringing insanity and chaos into my life.)

In any event, we flew into Denver Thursday afternoon, and after an evening of jollity with D., the daughter and I  had to get up at dawn to catch a bus, a train and another bus to arrive at Mines in time for her appointed tour. None of this really took terribly long (I did my research! And I'm pretty adept at using public transport. I also know how to ask questions, which I did with gusto), and we arrived in good order.

It's a pretty campus and it was a gorgeous day as evidenced by the photo. We proceeded through the tour and information session and then found our way back to the train station, and eventually got back to Denver in time to meet D. for lunch.

After running for trains and buses, and climbing many stairs and hills, the daughter was tired and I was aching. We went back to the hotel to rest a bit and clean up before going to the show.

(And yes, I had my cane with me, but I have a strong aversion to actually using it. It gets conveniently left in the suitcase more often than not, and I frequently live to regret that bit of pride. I have a hell of a time with stairs and crowds cause me anxiety because I can't reliably depend on keeping my balance. Falling over in front of an audience is embarrassing. And I simply can't stand for long periods. Still, I'm not one to live life as a bystander, so at least for the concert, I let common sense have the upper hand, and took the cane.)

That night, when we'd gotten to our seats, the daughter's sense of excitement was palpable. She'd been to concerts but now she was playing with the big girls.

Three hours of pure joy. We sang and danced and soaked up that beautiful noise. The daughter linked her arms with mine and leaned her head against my shoulder and sighed with happiness.

As for me, there I was with my daughter and one of my dearest friends and my favorite band.


Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

02 August 2013

From a hotel window: Denver

Denver, Colorado
2 August 2013

A good deal of my life takes place at the crack of dawn. This day was no exception.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4.

01 August 2013

I won't even tell you what Deb sees here

Hotel drapery
Denver, Colorado
1 August 2013