pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: 2017

11 October 2017

Silver bullet


Probably the Santa Clara Valley
From the Coast Starlight
13 August 2017

I spent part of Monday night arguing with the fire hotline, part of it walking the neighborhood, a lot of it looking at the sky for ash, for embers, for the telltale glow of impending doom.

We dodged a bullet. We know it.

The fire came within a couple of miles of the house. That the wind shifted, stayed down and the cool and fog came saved us.

Late Monday, we were suddenly subsumed into the mandatory evacuation area. It made no sense and none of us left. To be fair, it wasn't like the fire department was banging on the door telling us to go. There were no phone calls or texts. I had to make a judgment call: wake the family and go somewhere (where?), or let sleeping family lie and wait until something changed. We've seen situations where things went really, really wrong really, really fast. But I had a clear exit route on a main road, so I waited and dozed in the family room, near the door where I'd be able to hear heavy equipment or pounding. I had a car packed with the evacuation stuff, all the car keys out, lined up and ready. The cats were contained and could be stuffed into bags. We even had an evac plan for the fish.

At 5 am, the spouse appeared and I staggered off to get an hour's sleep.

The fog rolled in sometime in the early hours, and everything was cool and soaking wet. In this case, the ultimate blessing. It burned off by about 9 am and I was out into the chaos to buy cat food. Because of course I would run out of cat food when I least wanted to leave the house.

The neighbor called. "Do you think it's safe to unpack my car?"

"I just drove up the street," I told her. "No plumes of smoke, just some puffs up by the toll road."

I dragged our evac kit back inside, fielding texts and calls from people who'd just heard we were supposed to not be at our house. Eventually, a redrawn map showed an all clear.

We dodged a bullet. And the more I look  at what happened in the north, the devastation in Santa Rosa and Napa and Sonoma, the more frighteningly the point is driven home.

It could have been us.

***************

And on a good note, a high note, a happy note, looks like I get to head to Europe in the new year.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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09 October 2017

But wait! It got worse

 
Canyon Fire II
Orange County, California
9 October 2017
 
About an hour after I posted last, the local emergency alert blared on my cell phone, scaring the hell out of me.
 
It announced that we were under mandatory evacuation.
 
Now "we" are part of unincorporated Orange County, and "our" boundaries are sort of nebulous. So I didn't immediately panic. At least not completely.
 
But I did text the daughter and tell her to come home. Our main concern was that they'd closed off so many freeways and roads that even though she wasn't that far away, she might find it difficult to get back here. And we didn't want to have to go hunting for her in case the worst happened.
 
As it turned out, right about the time that I texted her, the college cancelled classes because so many kids were in evacuations zones.
 
The day started out bad. First thing in the morning, the son called me from the road. He and his father had hit a bolt in the road, and the tire was rapidly losing pressure. They made it back to the house, and I handed over my car keys, and started to strategize how to get a new tire on the spouse's car. I called the service to come put the spare on, and puzzled over the haziness in what earlier had been a clear sky.
 
The guy came and put the donut on, I discovered that we had a warranty on the old tire, and they announced a brush fire near where the Canyon Fire burned two weeks ago.
 
I rolled my eyes heavenward and proceeded.
 
Then it got ugly.
 
I've been here before, once when I was 7 months pregnant with the son. A few years ago when a swath of Irvine went up in flames. But today, I watched the flames march along the front of the toll road, marking progress by my neighbors' chimney.
 
I packed the go bags with their important papers, backup drives, insurance policies. When the daughter arrived, I calmly instructed her to pack a change of clothing and toiletries for herself and her brother, locate her passport and bank stuff and be prepared to leave. I had the cats' bags at the ready. The spouse and son had already started the long difficult trek northeast, along with half the rest of Orange County. The spouse and I had predetermined a meeting place if the daughter and I had to leave (boy, I couldn't wait to drive on that donut). Once I had stuff ready here, I started to check in with the older neighbors who live near me to make sure that they were ready to go if need be.
 
I never have the television on, but today it blared in the background, and I would stop periodically to check the progress of the fire. When I saw a local recreation area go up in flames, my heart leapt into my throat.
 
California has an unfortunate weather phenomenon this time of year: Santa Ana winds. They are dry and hot, and tend to blow furiously. I've seen 120 mph winds, though 40-60 is closer to the norm (with gusts to 80!). It was windy today in the upper canyons, but we were fortunate to have only a heavy breeze. Still, as evening approached, the breeze started to pick up force, and it was carrying the flames right toward us.
 
Wind-driven fire very helpfully delivers embers and ashes to areas distant from the actual flames. I watched today as the fire hopscotched through upper canyon areas, setting neighborhoods a mile away from the action on fire.
 
But around 7, everything quieted. It got cool and damp. The smoke moved back toward the mountains.
 
Because things change fast, I am on high alert tonight. I let the family go to bed, but I'm still up. I'll nap but I'm ready to move if need be.
 
Hopefully, all will stay calm.
 
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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What a fast-moving brush fire looks like

 
Orange County, California
9 October 2017
 
This is about 7 miles away, which is little comfort because I can see it spreading from here. It's jumped from 25 acres 2 hours ago to 1,000 now. Been here, done this, hate it, hate it, hate it.
 
At least my dead lawn is gone and now I just have a dirt lot.
 
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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05 October 2017

We must surely be learning



Target
Arizona desert
11 August 2009

(Spoiler alert: we aren't)

TL;DR

I am well trained in the use of guns. I qualify for a CCW.

I don't have a CCW because I don't own a gun.

I am damn certain that no one needs an assault weapon.

It is past time to get very serious about real, common sense gun control. The NRA is to the Second Amendment what the ACLU is to the First.

FULL OF SHIT.

(That needs to be an SAT question.)

***************

What the fuck, Tom Petty?

The spouse has always said that "I Won't Back Down" is my anthem (see above). The daughter said the first Tom Petty song she remembers is "Runnin' Down a Dream" because it's on my workout playlist and she heard it constantly.

What the literal fuck, Tom Petty?

I hate the term "soundtrack of my life," even when it's true. Tom Petty was part of the soundtrack of my high school and college years. He was never not on the radio or MTV and what I remember even more than Kim Basinger playing a corpse in "Last Dance With Mary Jane" was his mischievous and wicked little smirk in that catalog of music videos: facial expression as perfect social commentary. Who needs a fourth wall?

I saw him perform at the RRHoF induction in 2013 with Randy Newman, Jackson Browne and John Fogerty. The late Chris Cornell was also there that night. And we all love L.A. because it offers opportunities like that.

The best version of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is the one that Tom Petty, Dhani Harrison, Prince, and Jeff Lynne performed at the 2004 RRHoF induction. If you want to weep, watch Petty and Prince play off each other as Prince delivers a searing solo at the end of the song. Watch it even you don't want to weep. It's beautiful.

I look at you all...

You know they have a hell of a band.

**************

So that was Monday. I want to be more eloquent than "Monday really sucked!" but Monday really sucked. Fifty plus people enjoying a concert had their lives stolen. Tom Petty's dignity was stolen by the media rushing to report his death early and often.

UGH.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.
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02 October 2017

A post without words



Near Godafoss, Iceland
25 July 2008

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.
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26 September 2017

Man walks dog


Orange County, California
26 September 2017

The daughter needed to shoot a project, and she wanted to do night photography, so I went along as spotter and did my own thing while she set up and took her stuff.

****************

Yes, the fire is close, but not that close. It did startle me considerably when I pulled out of the neighborhood yesterday and saw the plume because it looked like it was right over the nearest hills. I could do without the rain of ash. Again.

****************

Steven Wilson's latest album is on heavy rotation. Since she was too young to see Porcupine Tree with me, daughter demanded that I get tickets to see him solo, so that's on tap for next year, along with Black Violin.

Now, if I can just get tickets to Yayoi Kusama...

****************

The real benefit of sending the daughter to a film school nearby is screenings. Last week, I sort of snuck into an MFA lecture and this week was able to watch a really affecting Korean drama, The Bacchus Lady. The lecturer for the latter is very generous in inviting visitors to watch the films and the director spoke briefly, too. I love Korean and Japanese horror movies (stop rolling your eyes. Bad horror is just bad, but good horror is a real art form), and I studied a great deal of Asian literature in college, so getting to see some of these dramas has been wonderful.

(The daughter and I discuss that I took a surprising number of film courses in college, that I should probably get my own MFA, or that I should just start producing films. Or writing them. But really, I think I'd rather just sit around and pontificate and let the younger set do the work. Time for middle age to actually pay off.)

***************

My house is in a state of complete chaos. Deferred maintenance is a thing and I've undeferred before the next disaster strikes, and DAMN. Having workers all over the place is messing with my zen badly. Not that I've ever been zen in my life.

But DAMN.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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21 September 2017

Through the ashes of memory


Production still
Orange County, California
31 January 2015

The daughter got home late last night and threw herself down next to me on the sofa where I was reading. It is a family habit to download: the drive, what happened in a meeting or class, emails, whatever.

The daughter: We were watching the weirdest films in Visual Culture.

Me: Really? Who made them?

The daughter: I dunno. Some woman avant garde filmmaker. Her name was...I mean they called her by her nickname which was...

And the daughter told me the nickname.

Me: You mean Ch___ S_____ ?

The daughter: You know who she is?

Me: She was a prof at my college. I had seminars with her.

The daughter: Seriously?

Me: Yeah.

The daughter: You know she was a pretty big deal, right?

Me: Pfft. (which should be interpreted as "I was 18, and 'big deal' was pretty relative.")

I hadn't thought of this person in years, and I found myself trying to chase strands of memory. I could see her, how she looked as she wandered through campus and class. Such an intense person, scary but not unkind. In memory, though, elusive.

Yet so strange to consider that my daughter is studying someone who once taught me.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6. Heavy editing in Photoshop to give it that dreamlike quality. Or the WTF feeling I was experiencing last night.
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11 September 2017

At arm's length


"And then the second plane..."

Over 16 years, I've written that sentence, spoken that sentence, read that sentence over and over again. On this day, of all days, we know how it ends. But the sense of disbelief sticks, even now. Even now, I think it and I see it as a discrete concept, as a moment in time when confusion shifted to reality and the world changed forever.

Years ago, I did write about that morning, moment by moment. I didn't leave the post up because the rawness was too much, even though the memory is still devastating. But that was my morning, 16 years ago.

Sixteen years is not much time when you reach middle age. You can pluck memories that are thirty years old out of the air, so while 16 years may not feel like yesterday, it doesn't feel particularly distant either.

But it's a memory that has become manageable, mostly because of my refusal to remember. I don't dwell on anything; I don't read about it. I keep the date at arm's length.

And there is so much water under that bridge. We have become so much worse in 16 years. I am so disappointed in my country, in its failed leadership, in the terrible polarization that exists, in the lack of common sense and generosity of spirit in my fellow citizens, in this new absolutism in view point.

Truth is, I'm exhausted by all of it. And perhaps it's become easier to keep September 11 at bay because it's become so much harder to keep everything else out.

06 September 2017

Difficult child


Butchart Gardens
Brentwood Bay, British Columbia
6 July 2010

It should be reasonably apparent from this blog that I like gardens. I visit them, I moon over them, I photograph them, I buy things at their gift shops.

I want to have nice gardens of my own.

I own a lot of books, and in that number are plant books. And garden design books. And garden design magazines. They give me ideas.

I have ideas.

My east coast sensibilities and my west coast realities are at war with one another when I think about gardens. I want green and lush, flowery and bowery, secret and beautiful, damp and rich earth.

What I have is drought. Dirt. Heat.

And a very, very, very dead front yard.

So.

I've spent the last several months putting together a site plan, and reading up even more on trees. Shrubs. Flowers. Things that will survive the drought and sun and heat. Things that will grow in the sour dirt.

In the last couple of months, I started interviewing designers and contractors. I hate this part. I really hate this part. So many people who cannot deliver will promise the moon. And the stars. I've already been down that road. It is so aggravating.

One arrived late. Did not even glance at the site plan or the very specific deficits that I needed to address. Started talking about what to do where, completely ignoring that I'd said I didn't want that very thing. Offered to draw me a plan for an outrageous sum of money. I forced a smile and said thanks, we'll talk. Wrote a note a couple of days later saying we appreciated the time, but were looking elsewhere. All very professional.

On it went.

I'd been stalking a website for awhile. I really liked her design ideas. My brief was "drought tolerant cottage garden," and that seemed to be what she did. I liked her stuff so much, I was afraid to talk to her.

But I made an appointment, and met with her whole team.

Guess who won the contract?

She sent me a conceptual plan yesterday, and I was afraid to open it, because I knew I would hate it. I knew I'd be disappointed. I knew it would be somehow not right.

I opened it carefully. I opened it after forcing myself to have an open mind. I looked at the plan, and tried to force the plants and the photos into my head. I let the drawing open up in my brain, so I could see the front of the house as it might be.

(Yeah, honestly, initially my heart sank. And I really had to work at seeing what she'd done, because despite my site plan, despite my plant list, despite my photos, her idea was rather different. So, I had to work at it, had to see her vision. And I did, more or less. And calmed a bit.)

I have ideas.

I might dig my heels in on the roses. I might, but her reasoning for not using them is rational. Still the romantic in me sings want.

I think, well, I can always plant this plant later.

Almost immediately I am subverting the plan because despite what I said, I want things my way.

Close the files and walk away. I paid almost a grand for someone to design this for a reason. The reason was not for me to plant this plant later.

(Oh, I like that ___________. Yeah. No.)

Walk away. Look again tomorrow. Rational brain. By the end of the year, new garden.

Difficult child.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. I really got burned on doing the back garden, and I still get furious--almost 14 years later--even thinking about it. So I'm trying to approach this without terror and with healthy skepticism. But I really like this person. I was worried about the last one from the start.
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01 September 2017

Before the heatwave


Golden Gate Bridge from Alcatraz Island
14 August 2017

It was epically, fabulously, incredibly cold for August when we were in the Bay Area. The day we went to Alcatraz was in the 40s, finally getting up to about 50F, with a cold, biting wind. It was awesome.

I am holding on to that memory today, at 101F, feels like 105, at least the humidity dropped a bit but it's still gross. Hello, September.

And poor San Francisco is probably also holding on to that memory as they broke a record today, 104F in downtown.

Winter cannot come soon enough.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D7000. Actually, I can't be too anxious for winter because the landscaper is supposed to start her chaos in the front garden in the next few weeks. And that means construction, roofing, house painting, and planting. Chaos. I'm too stressed to be excited.
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25 August 2017

More a sigh than a scream


Skyline from Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island
14 August 2017

This week...

Mostly I do okay keeping quiet. But trust me, the rage.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D7000..
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22 August 2017

Missing


San Francisco, California
17 August 2017

When I'm traveling, I can blog remotely via email. I discovered this 6-ish years ago when the daughter and I went to NYC together. The problem is that I can send words or a photo--not both. Sure, I could edit it all later in the hotel, but I'm usually busy, sometimes just lazy, and it means carrying all my damn passwords around. And to be fair, sometimes I'm in the middle of the ocean relying on satellite. Aggravating as can be.

I usually go back and do some editing when I get home (or in the hotel, if I'm not lazy and am carrying all my passwords around), mostly watermarking anything that's attracting attention and adding some addenda, increasing photo size as necessary. Sometimes I tell the story behind the photo. One of my friends recently pointed out that this isn't necessarily useful since most people don't go back and look at what they've already looked at, especially if they're pulling the blog off the feed. Fair point.

In any event, after our March trip, the daughter and I wanted to go back to San Francisco, and the spouse was so intrigued by our stories that he wanted to go too. So we went back, on the train, back to Alcatraz, and to various points that we didn't get to last time or didn't have time to thoroughly explore.

We still didn't see everything we wanted to.

San Francisco is small, but it's all uphill. One day, the activity tracker on my phone triumphantly announced that I'd only walked about 15,000 steps, but that I'd climbed the equivalent of 40 stories. And yeah, that was the day that we hiked up to Coit Tower, and then up to the Fairmont Hotel.

It was a long day. Also? Ouch.

So, the photos.

Crusher was taken from the Coast Starlight as the sun was setting. I liked the play of the machinery against the clouds. Yay for my iPhone6.

Lost souls was taken at Alcatraz. That day was bitterly cold for August--50sF and windy. We got to the island early in the day, and with fewer people, it was easy to feel the desolation. There are a number of bird colonies on the island, and the gull babies were starting to fledge, but the parents were still in protection mode, which made the whole scene like something out of Hitchcock's The Birds.  The daughter kept saying she felt like the birds were the spirits of those once imprisoned there. Hooray again for the iPhone6 and Hipstamatic.

Sirens at noon was actually taken back in March, though I posted it the day we visited Coit Tower this trip. I'm a Cold War kid, and the escalation of bullshit between the (choose your expletive) in the White House and the (choose your expletive) across the Pacific caused me...I don't even know. Something between boundless distress and boundless rage. That sets the stage. So we were descending from Coit Tower, down the Greenwich Steps, and suddenly I heard a helicopter and a siren. A long siren. An air raid siren. I'm a Cold War kid. They tested the air raid sirens every Saturday of my childhood. I stopped on the steps and listened, blackness gathering in my chest. And waited. That endless wait for the voice that says what comes next. And finally, after an eternity: "This is a test." The daughter was well ahead of me and said a woman caught sight of her stricken face, and said something to the effect of "Oh, it happens every Tuesday." The whole event struck a nerve I didn't even know was buried in my soul. iPhone6 and Hipstamatic's Bucktown pack.

In a fairy land is Muir Woods early on an overcast morning. A visit spurred by a scene from Vertigo, but what an incredibly lovely place. It was cool and calm and the fragrance of the trees was marvelous. The lighting was challenging--no sun, white sky--but a random Hipstamatic combination made the most of the ambience.

Dissonance came out of one of those completely unexpected, completely off the wall moments that makes you sit back and say, "What?" It's something about the Palace of Fine Arts. Last time we visited, the daughter and I staggered in the back end after getting lost in the environs of Crissy Marsh, and were confronted with this utterly monolithic edifice. It was jaw dropping. And kind of awesome. This time, we came in the front end, and wandered all around the grounds, happily discovering there was a café on site. So we walked into the doors and found ourselves inside a hangar with these huge scary angels, play equipment and a little sort of shack that was the café. It was just...weird. And kind of awesome. And if you are familiar with Doctor Who's Weeping Angels...don't blink.

Giants is self-explanatory. Watched SF versus the Phillies. I have to say that the park beats Angels stadium 6 ways to Sunday. These were nose bleed seats and the sight lines were fabulous.

Mining town is also self-explanatory. Can you say Comstock Lode? Sure you can. We took the California Zephyr from San Francisco to Reno, and drove up to Virginia City. I have opinions about all of this, but less said...

Watching you watching me is a reference to Coppola's The Conversation, which is simply one of the creepiest movies I've ever seen. These buildings on the Embarcadero figure in the background of several scenes. While I was out on the hotel balcony taking photos, lights were going on and off inside this particular building and I could see the shadow of a person moving across the windows. S/he would pause, then move on, silhouetted by the lights automatically turning on as the person moved. Innocent no doubt, but eerie to watch.

Missing just made me sad. Bright works of art and a small piece of paper tacked between them. The colorful paintings aren't all what they seem, either. The family motif that is repeated in the center work is taken from the immigrant crossing signs on the freeway down around San Diego. Talk about freighted with meaning.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6, in some cases utilizing the Hipstamatic app. Artwork in Missing is not mine and the copyright belongs to respective holders.
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20 August 2017

Watching you watching me

 
San Francisco, California
15 August 2017
 

19 August 2017

Mining town

 
Outside Virginia City, Nevada
19 August 2017

18 August 2017

Giants

 
AT&T Park
San Francisco, California
18 August 2017

17 August 2017

Dissonance

 
Palace of Fine Arts
San Francisco, California
17 August 2017

16 August 2017

In a fairy land

 
Muir Woods National Monument
Marin County, California
16 August 2017

15 August 2017

Sirens at noon

 
Coit Tower
San Francisco, California
19 March 2017

14 August 2017

Lost souls

 
Alcatraz Island
14 August 2017

13 August 2017

Crusher

 
Somewhere south of San Francisco
13 August 2017

04 August 2017

Random access memory


Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, New York
10 May 2011

Simply the thing itself.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.
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31 July 2017

Dallas dogs


Dogs
Dallas, Texas
17 May 2015

I'm not sure why I went to the trouble of watermarking this and then decided not to use it. Probably because I shot it without the telephoto and the lighting wasn't good.

It's still funny.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D7000.
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29 July 2017

At rest


Allen's hummingbird
Orange County, California
12 October 2010

They are perpetually screaming around both the front and back gardens, but I actually caught one sitting still on top of the magnolia tree.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.
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22 July 2017

No filter


Palace of Fine Arts
San Francisco, California
21 March 2017

Same photo as yesterday, but unfiltered.

When the daughter and I took this trip, it was intended to work as a replacement to a noir film class she was set to take that had been cancelled. I don't use Hipstamatic routinely, but I'd just picked up the Bucktown pack, and really liked the supersaturated tones to the monochromatic "film." It looked like noir with a 2017 edge. So I shot almost every single photo on the trip with that pack, and composed photos with the pack in mind. The actual looks a bit different in terms of space and color.

Outdoors, I do as much composition through the lens as my overall blindness allows, and then may tweak in Photoshop depending on mood or what I ended up with. Yesterday, I was in a mood. OBVIOUSLY.

I thought about 'shopping the people out, but then I realized they were important to the scale of this place and tell a story by their presence. The Palace of Fine Arts is monumental. Almost to a frightening degree. Weird. Otherworldly. I'd never been on the grounds before, and felt like I'd just walked into the Land of the Giants. Yesterday's red wash was grief, pain, frustration, anger, and just sheer exhaustion, but it also worked with the weirdness of the place. It looked like some Greek god inferno. Actually quite satisfying.

I don't really like to talk about what I'm thinking or think I'm doing when I take photos. It sounds weirdly arrogant to my own ears because I'm aware of not being more than a hobbyist, and certainly I'm neither an artist nor an artiste. But to be fair to myself (not something I'm good at, either), I'm not just playing P&S, and there is a process at work.

Okay, I'm going to stop talking now.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6. Some years back, I took a workshop with a photographer whose work I admire. I still read his posts because I learn a lot, and he's really one of the first people I saw push phone photography as a viable art form. This has been good for me when I travel because carrying cameras and lenses has become more difficult.
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21 July 2017

...and I'm about to break


Palace of Fine Arts
San Francisco, California
21 March 2017

I am fine.

But this is how it feels.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6, using the Hipstamatic Bucktown pack. Edited in Adobe Photoshop.
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17 July 2017

The last of them


Olivier (?-15 July 2017)
8 September 2011

I was unloading the groceries from the back of my car this morning when my elderly neighbor drove up. She asked how I was, and I knew already what she'd come to tell me. And sure enough, she said that Olivier died on Saturday.

It used to be the three of them: Max, who lived across the street and died of cancer in 2009, Milton and Olivier. The End of the Cul-de-Sac Boys. So weird that they all died of cancer, though Milton could have just as easily been taken by his bowel obstruction and complications, or Olivier by his run in with the coyote. And both Milton and Olivier lived to ripe old ages. None of us knew exactly how old Olivier was but the first photo I have of him was taken in 2003, and we knew he was about a year old when he came to live on my front porch one cold and wet winter. So he was near Milton's age.

"He liked you," E. said to me, after she'd imparted the news.

"Well, I used to feed him," I laughed. But it was funny. After his last surgery, they invited me in to see him, and he crawled over to me, purring and asking to be petted.

Poor little beast. I will miss seeing him skulking around. I will miss the way he came running to say hello if he saw the daughter or me. I will miss the way he used to walk his people. I will miss his presence at parties. I will miss his people standing in the doorway, calling for him at night.

I will miss him.

And I expect Milton was there, on the other side of The Rainbow Bridge, waiting to whack Olivier when he arrived, while Max stood at a safe distance and watched.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.
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15 July 2017

...but not here


Arizona Biltmore
Phoenix, Arizona
14 August 2009

I was listening to music tonight. Sometimes, music is, as the old song says, more than a feeling. And that feeling really can't be put into words. Or pictures.

But I liked the picture.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.
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09 July 2017

They come out at night


Somewhere around Tucson Mountain Park
Tucson, Arizona
27 March 2005

Somehow, I got engrossed in a trip down memory lane (as one does) while reading the newspaper tonight. First it was houses in Georgetown, next apartments in Dupont Circle and then suddenly, I was flipping through then-and-now photos of Tucson. While I was feeling mild regret for all the places that I saw as a kid and never visited--and are now gone--out of nowhere popped a story about mesquite bugs.

And I thought, "Mesquite bugs. Ha! Nothing! Nothing compared to Derobrachus geminatus!"

(No, I didn't think that. I thought, "PALO VERDE BUGS!")

We had several palo verde trees in the yard, and every summer, like clockwork, with the monsoons, we'd have palo verde bugs flying around. They would generally show up by either the front or back door at night, apparently attracted by the outside light. You couldn't miss them. These puppies were 5-6 inches long and they looked like cockroaches.

Absorb that one. A six-inch long flying cockroach that comes zooming out of the night...and into your hair.

They were harmless. Hideous, but harmless. But put yourself in my position. In those days, I had waist-length hair. Lots and lots of fine, waist-length hair.

And a six-inch long flying cockroach flailing around trying to disentangle itself from all that hair.

Ugh.

But the time one flew down my shirt may have been worse, though I'm not sure who was more scarred: me, the bug, or the people watching while I practically undressed to get rid of it.

Good times!

Tech stuff: Taken with a Canon PowerShot S110. There was more, mostly about how you really can't go home again, especially when you fought so hard to get out of Dodge in the first place. But I miss the landmarks of my own history that have long since disappeared.
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06 July 2017

Throwback Thursday


And you wondered why I complained...
Santa Ana, California
4 June 2015

If you were reading here for any part of the four years that I carted the daughter to and from high school, you are familiar with my delightful drive home every afternoon and my endless bitching about it.

Kids on bikes, kids on skateboards, kids texting, drunk people driving, drunk people walking in the middle of the street, impatient people on their horns and on their phones, car accidents, lost people on jury duty, people running across the street without looking to join their friends at the food truck, news crews at the court house, angry people at Probation and Child Protective Services, serial killers. It was a non-stop grab bag of fun.

By the daughter's senior year, I had a GoPro mounted to my windshield just in case. The photo above is a grab from the video from the daughter's second to last day of high school. I mean second to last day EVER. I'd just pulled away from the curb when three cars from various agencies pulled around the corner and officers swarmed the street to take down a guy on the sidewalk. The woman he'd assaulted was nearby yelling. Complete chaos. And something that had never happened to us before on the drive!

In the end, it was fine except maybe for Mr. Problem who wound up cuffed in one of the police cars.

I made my way around the mess and drove us home.

Tech stuff: Taken with my GoPro. For the first five or six years that I lived in California, I lived in an incredibly rough part of Los Angeles, so I developed something of a combat mentality toward this sort of thing. I never felt particularly unsafe in Santa Ana--I'm really good at taking care of myself--but I was absolutely terrified of harming some damn hapless person who wasn't paying attention. That the fault wouldn't have been mine didn't signify.
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02 July 2017

Girl, you'll be a woman soon


Baby orb weaver
Orange County, California
2 July 2017

Right now, she's about 1/4" long. So tiny, that I saw her web first and then I located her in her wee orange glory alongside her little bitty bug dinner.

(I'm guessing it's a female. I couldn't even tell you which type of orb weaver it is. Maybe Metepeira?)

Anyway, by Halloween, assuming she isn't eaten or stepped on or otherwise harmed--not by me. I love watching these spiders--she'll be a lot bigger and very hard to miss.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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30 June 2017

Things that go bump


Milton, helping with computers
14 July 2016

Sometimes when I'm stuck and can't think what to write (or don't want to go off on a rant), I'll go back and look at photos from a random year--I picked last year today--to see what I was doing during the same period of time.

So, a year ago, I was tearing down old computers. As you can see, I had help. He always helped me with whatever I was doing, and he liked climbing on computers. Because they were warm. Because they had fans. Because he was Milton.

That this is what came up in the photo archive wasn't a surprise. I was bumping into Milton all day today: shredding old files, and there was the receipt from his last surgery. Turn the corner and swear I see him, until the shadow in the corner resolved itself into a bag. I see these photos and he hasn't been gone for nearly 3 months. My eyes always go automatically to his left hip, assessing. But there is no tumor. He is whole and beautiful.

And gone.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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25 June 2017

Ghosts in their natural environment


Hedge maze
Governor's Palace
Williamsburg, Virginia
23 March 2016

I was the weird kid who loved history and wanted to know how things got done. I learned to cook, to bake bread from scratch, to sew, to knit, to make adobe mud, to spin, to weave, to embroider, to dip candles, to plant flowers and vegetables, to work wood and to fix cars. I've milked cows, and though I've never sheared a sheep, I've watched it done. What I couldn't do in a hands on sort of way, I read about. But I tend to pursue knowledge and experience in a very physical way.

The daughter is much like me in that regard.

I visited Williamsburg for the first time when I was 14. A young teenager, an impressionable teenager. I was traveling with a passel of women: my mother, aunts, a cousin. When everyone was tired (I wasn't), I was given permission to go off and visit the gardens on my own. I loved and still love gardens, herb gardens, knot gardens, formal gardens, flower gardens, secret gardens.

All gardens have secrets.

It was actually a cool spring day when I took this photo, but I look at it and I feel the weight of weather, of heat and humidity. It was August the first time I stood here, decades ago.

The hour was late, and the gardens were close to closing, all those years ago. I was short on time, but long on enthusiasm, and I jogged along the paths at a good clip despite the August heat, despite humidity carried in on a hurricane coming up the coast, referring to my pamphlet periodically to get my bearings. I was enchanted by the maze, running through it, then gazing down at it from the mount. But as I sought out paths less traveled, I saw a little sign:

Icehouse

An icehouse! I'd read about them, and now I could visit one. I chased along the path until I came to a low brick arch.

These days, the arch is sealed by iron bars, but I swear that when I was a young, impressionable teenager, it was open and accessible because I have the most distinct memory of carefully treading down the dim, curved stairway and peering into the dark pit at the end, marking the chill air and the fact that I was underground and all alone at the edge of a big hole in the ground, a place that would be a fine setting for a murder. The hair rose on the back of my neck, and I didn't waste too much time finding my way back up to the arched doorway. When I exited into the heat, humidity and failing sunlight, it wasn't lost on me that the hour was late, I was due back at the hotel to dress for dinner, and I was very much alone there behind the mount at the far edge of the gardens.

So I started back along the paths that were likely to lead me to an exit, eventually. I expected that an adult would show up to chivvy me along.

And I did see a woman as I made my way out of the maze. But that's another story.

It's not a story that I often share.


Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D7000. Yes, all this is true, even if from the mind of a 14-year-old with an overactive imagination. It's as true as the impossible pipe tobacco I smelled in my hotel room in a historic house, and that was as true as the ginormous cockroach I killed in the en suite bathroom.
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22 June 2017

Her horizon


Near Badwater Basin
Death Valley National Park, California
24 November 2015

When I get out of bed, I lurch to one side. Which I expect because it's become more frequent. But as I catch myself, I lurch the other way and then back again. Stop, right the ship, move forward.

If you'd pay more attention... I tell myself. Though I know it probably makes no difference. Sometimes, if I concentrate very hard on taking steps, my feet don't drop and drag along the pavement. Sometimes it makes no difference. Like the small misstep that landed me back at a food-free diet.* If only I'd paid more attention.

****************

Yesterday, stuck in traffic, wrists resting on the steering wheel so I wouldn't clench it with my hands, I realized that here I am. There is management but no cure. I want to argue, as my doctors have done with me so many times, that I am too young for this. I stare hard at the license plate on the SUV in front of me without seeing it. Death lies somewhere up there, and I test that theory. I mean I've always known that, it's just that I felt I had some control in the process.

I probably don't. And it suddenly feels more real.

Then in the afternoon I find the story of Kam Redlawsk, an artist with a rare genetic condition which will ultimately completely paralyze her. My soul aches for her. My story is different, but I know the anger and pain of each progressive loss. I also know that in comparison, I am lucky.

And then the daughter tells me of the announcement that one of her college classmates has died. The young woman withdrew from school a few months ago because of illness.

I am lucky in more ways than one.

***************

I know that I promised happier words. It's a process. I am not particularly sad or depressed. Just working through...everything. It's been hot and humid, which makes me irritable. I've been stressed by people under my house, putting up fences, cutting down trees. Which makes me irritable. I've been trying to stay away from all the nonsense going on in the world, which makes me irritable. I've been half ill, which makes me tired. And irritable.

It's a process.

I suffer from the idea that I have worked hard and I should be happy. But that isn't how life works. You work hard and you have good days and bad days. You do good, but bad things happen anyway.

This makes me irritable.

It's a process.

That I can't control.

Which makes me irritable.

**************

I was talking to Deb today about Death Valley. Talking to Deb makes me happy. Travel makes me happy.

Grace in those things.

Eyes on the horizon.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D7000. *I took two doses of Motrin last weekend because I had a wicked headache because of what happened in Death Valley. I am not supposed to take Motrin, which is basically the only pain reliever that helps. Other than the high test narcotics they like shooting me full of in the ER. Also, NO, I am not dying any faster than usual. Just to be clear.
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20 June 2017

Narcissus


Cooper's hawk
Orange County, California
20 September 2011

The sustained drought, which finally and unexpectedly broke this winter, has done so much damage. I've lost so many trees--today, the 15-ft. tall magnolia in the front of my house was pulled out. In a month, the ficus that form a lovely green wall to shield me from my neighbors also will be removed. The magnolia was drought-stressed and dying. The ficus are still doing well, in part because they are finding other sources of water, and now have become an invasive nuisance.

When we bought this house, the gardens were described as "park-like" but we learned the truth when spring rolled around and we discovered that the many of the trees were dead, others dying. One of my first acts was removing them all, including the loquat that both dying and planted too close to the house, the tree privet that stank to high heavens and was planted at the foundation of the house, and a podocarpus, a plant I dislike on general principles, and a raft of long-expired stone fruit trees. In the front, that left us with 3 river birch and the magnolia, and I planted a large buddleia which delighted Milton for years with its afternoon bounty of butterflies, along with a bougainvillea that cheerfully banged and scraped on the daughter's bedroom wall every dark and stormy night for years.

The river birch, which should never have been planted in So Cal in the first place, rapidly succumbed to oak root fungus (I took at least one of those out on my own...because I used to be able to chop down trees), but the magnolia was a haven for the parrots and mockingbirds who ate its fruit every fall. I already miss it.

Last week, before the current heat wave, I went out and measured the front garden, and am creating a plot plan. I have ideas, and I'm calling landscape contractors. I put horrible mirrored film on all the front windows now that I no longer have any shade from the afternoon sun.

Some good will come from all this down the road. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.
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19 June 2017

Imprisoned


Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary
Alcatraz Island
18 March 2017

When the daughter and I went to San Francisco, visiting Alcatraz was high on the list of things to do. It turned out that we were able to book a tour that took us both to Angel Island and Alcatraz, so we did both. It was quite foggy, gloomy and chilly that morning, but eventually the sun broke through.

Sunlight did not necessarily improve Alcatraz. It is a creepy place. With a capital "C."

Despite the eeriness and the unpleasant history surrounding the island, I'm glad that I visited. I think the daughter was too, even though once she got a look at the steep path to the top, she decided I was going to ride the accessible tram up to the top.

Talk about imprisoned.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6. Don't worry. I'll eventually cut through all the crap and get back to relative cheerfulness.
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18 June 2017

It's complicated


Healy Hall, distorted
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.
31 March 2012

I've seen a lot of #CallYourDad on social media and in the news. And I suppose given it's Father's Day...

My own father is long dead. He died when I was in my 20s, post-stroke after a good, long session of binge drinking, and emphysema after 50-odd years of chain-smoking. I cried when he died, not really for him, definitely not for myself, but for what was wasted, for what he wasted. All those wasted years.

So, Father's Day. It's complicated.

I wish that it had been different. I wish he hadn't seen the world through a distorted lens, and I wish he had cared more for his families and his children. And if wishes were horses...

But they aren't. We are human. We are complicated. One greeting card doesn't fit all.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. In this case, the photo speaks volumes, but I still feel a certain desire to protect my father, though he in no way earned that during his life. Though the words might seem to belie my true feelings, he is only a fact that is peripheral to my existence, and I see him in a wholly neutral way, tinged with regret for what might have been different.
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17 June 2017

You're the worst thing I ever got addicted to


Going-to-the-Sun Road
Glacier National Park, Montana
12 July 2010

There are words...

Or there is the moment.

(Moments.)

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. Photo isn't particularly significant. Just a pretty picture.
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16 June 2017

Line in the sand


White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
10 July 2007

I've largely held my peace since the general election last November. Don't mistake my silence for approval, however. I've actually written a great deal about it, but little of what I've written has seen the light of day. (Short version: I'm enraged with politicians in general, and both political parties specifically. But also idiocy along with its friend incivility.) I decided that I didn't want to be part of the rage and the hate, though I certainly feel both in abundance. But to add mine to the general melting pot is so pointless. Yes, I have a point of view, but sometimes keeping one's opinion to oneself is the better part of valor.

In the wake of the shooting during practice for the Congressional softball game, I've finally seen two major news outlets acknowledge that we no longer have civil discourse in this country, just hatred. Everyone has an opinion--and you know what they say about those--and few people seem to mind airing theirs in the most definite and profane ways possible. Hey, I get the frustration and the sense of being unheard, but what should be reasoned resistance has turned into something (or rather, many somethings) else entirely.

But by continuing in this vein, I risk doing exactly what I'm trying not to do. So, I'll return to silence on the matter.

Just know that for me, this is the line in the sand.

Tech stuff: Taken with a Canon PowerShot S110. I think this is the first time I've ever deliberately reused a photo. What is actually funny is that I re-edited it...to create the identical print I'd used before. Nothing like consistency.
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14 June 2017

Better in black and white


Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field Marsh
San Francisco, California
21 March 2017

It's beautiful in color but so alien in black and white.

"So...," said the daughter. Leading question.

"I haven't written since May," I said, hurriedly.

"You're grieving," she replied matter of factly.

So much grief.

And I don't want it anymore. Any of it.

I can photograph in color or black and white. Both are valid. Each is a point of view.

It's so much harder to bring the color back into my own life.

We'll see how brave you are.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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02 May 2017

Current affairs


Unknown artist*
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Washington, D.C.
6 May 2014

Doesn't that sort of feel like the current administration?

I love the Hirshhorn, but sometimes the installations creep me out. This one was unsettling; there was something so wrong about the figures.

And the only reason the artist is listed as unknown is because I don't know who did them.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D7000.
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30 April 2017

Start again

 
Brothers
27 April 2017
 
It's too soon--for me, anyway--but they've been living in a cage for months. They're very sweet and they needed a stable home. I can give them that.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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13 April 2017

Echoes, silence, and absence


12 April 2017

The days have been soft and warm, sunny and breezy, lovely low 70sF.

The house is silent. No small snores, no sound of stretch and roll, no little songs suggesting meal time. No dripping of his water dish. The sounds of the washing machine and dishwasher startle me because I'm unused to hearing them without the white noise of his water dish.

I wake at night, testing the bottom of my bed for a small warm body. He liked to sleep on my feet or behind my knees. Only when he was wearing the cone and it was a cold night would he consent to getting under the covers.

The windows where he used to sit and chitter at the birds or watch the butterflies are empty now. He had a funny habit of beating on the crank handles of my bedroom windows, trying to close them when the a/c came on, as if he knew they shouldn't be open. Or the sound bothered him.

He didn't like loud noises, and he abominated, separately and in concert, the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine and the piano. He had come to something of an accommodation with the piano, and would sometimes sit next to me on the piano bench while I practiced. I still find myself planning out cleaning so as not to disturb him.

There is no one to pounce on the bits of things that inevitably fall on the floor while I prep meals. He would play soccer with a piece of celery or ice cube and gobble stray things that he enjoyed like cheese or meat. He was a champion oven-watcher, and would wait cheerfully for the chicken or roast to be taken out, sitting demurely on the floor to receive his portion.

He was noisy walking across the wood floor of the dining room and we were mystified how a 10-lb cat managed to sound like a fully grown adult.

Slowly, traces of him are disappearing. Tuesday afternoon I put his carrier and his bed in the bin for today's pick up along with the dozen or so catnip mice I got him for Christmas, knowing it would be his last Christmas. His food bowls have been washed and put away; his water dish is gone. I gave a neighbor who has cats the rest of his food and extra litter.

I haven't been able to bring myself to vacuum the chair where he spent most of his time the last two weeks, so white fur is still enshrined there. He didn't like the vacuum, though I repeat to myself that it no longer matters. Part of me is still sure he's just in another room and I expect to find him luxuriating in the sun on my bed, or around that corner.

But the house is silent and I am alone.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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12 April 2017

The streets of San Francisco


Montgomery Street
San Francisco, California
19 March 2017

The daughter was supposed to take an interterm class in January on noir film and literature. Not enough people signed up and the class was cancelled, so I said I would take her to San Francisco and we'd do our own class.

Which is what we spent her spring break doing. Walking the landmarks by day; watching movies by night.

"Humphrey Bogart stood here," she crowed at one point.

We had fun and it was a reprieve we both really needed.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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11 April 2017

In the end

 
Milton
9 April 2017
 
When I first held Milton in Tucson, August 11, 2001, he was a frightened 5-month-old kitten who tried to bury himself into my chest, purring deeply and wildly.
 
He died today, April 11, 2017, victim of a cruel joke called a rabies shot. It was his last rabies shot that gave him cancer.
 
I stroked him and murmured to him as he died, thanking him for all the love and comedy he'd given me. I told him how much I loved him, how glad I was that we belonged to each other.
 
The last thing he did was purr.
 
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6. Milton was very susceptible to catnip. I made him pillows and filled them with his drug of choice. This last one I made a couple of weeks ago. He slept on it even after he became too ill to be amused by it.
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22 March 2017

Vertigo

 
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, California
21 March 2017

21 March 2017

The conversation

 
Union Square
San Francisco, California
21 March 2017