Thursday, December 3, 2009

Octopus Hugs

I heard a really lovely story not too long ago. This is second, maybe even third hand (how fitting!), so I may not have all the details quite right. If not, I apologize in advance.

What happened is this:
Large Red Octopus ArtTile from Choose2BHappy 

At any one time, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has two Giant red octopus on display. Each in their own, neighboring tanks. These octopus live about five years. They are one of the largest octopus species known: the ones in the Monterey Bay grow to have an arm span of 15 feet, which is plenty big enough, but the biggest specimen ever measured was more than twice that big, with an arm span over 32 feet wide.

Giant octopus are highly intelligent animals. In captivity they often form attachments to the aquarists who feed and care for them. The octopus can distinguish and recognize individual aquarists within two seconds of touching their skin with the sensitive tip of a tentacle.

A couple of months ago, it was time for one of the octopus, a large female, to be released back into the Bay.

She’d grown close to a particular aquarist (we’ll call her Sam), who was chosen to be the person to release her. Sam took the octopus out on the Bay and dove down into the water with her. At the appropriate depth, she opened the container and the octopus swam free.

The animal clearly understood what was happening to her. She “hung around” in the water near Sam for a few minutes.

As if to say goodbye.

Then she swam away and disappeared.

Sam went on about her business, doing whatever it is the aquarists do out there, examining, and measuring, counting and collecting. I’d guess for half an hour or so, maybe longer. And was probably a little sad. Or at least had mixed feelings: sad to see the octopus go, and glad that she’d been released to live out the remainder of her life in the wild.

When she was done with whatever her tasks were for that dive, Sam swam back in the direction of the boat and prepared to ascend.

And suddenly the octopus appeared again, swimming toward her.

This creature, who she’d tended for several years, and who she’d released to swim free in the vast depths of the Monterey Bay, came back.

The octopus swam right up to Sam, gently wound one long tentacle up and around her arm and, very gently, squeezed.

Once, twice, three times.

Then she slowly withdrew her tentacle, looked Sam in the eye one last time, and swam away.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Viking and I, Part I.

I love living out here, but this house has some interesting quirks of its own. Like not really having a front door (I use the one by the garage).  Small bedrooms, but a giant kitchen. And the world’s biggest laundry room. As soon as I can figure out how to move the washer & dryer, I’m turning that into a dining room. Until then, I mostly keep the appliances covered and use the rest of the room as my gallery/studio. It gets good light—from both sides—but isn’t insulated, and is really c-c-c-cold in the winter.

I digress. Back to the giant kitchen. And the giant Viking stove.

The one that hasn’t worked well since I moved in, and has been getting worse. Those yummy Blondies, which should take about 25 minutes to bake, come out half raw inside after an hour and a half. (They’re actually really good that way, but still.)

For the past couple of months, I’ve been mostly ‘cooking’ in an old toaster oven a friend of mine was going to throw out. It doesn’t heat up the whole kitchen, which was nice during the summer, and actually works great for a lot of things. Not for baking, though. Which has been good for my waistline, but…

So, with the weather turning, and the holidays rapidly approaching, I finally got somebody out here to take a look.

Took me almost two years before it got so bad that I had to do something about it.

Took almost a week between me calling, and them actually showing up.

Took him almost fifteen minutes before he was packing up and writing up an invoice.

This is where my insecurities come in. Now, mind you, I really did wait until I was ABSOLUTELY sure that there was something wrong with the oven (and the burners weren’t all that reliable either) before I called. That it wasn’t me. That I hadn’t, every single time, forgotten an ingredient, or set the timer wrong, or forgotten how long it takes to roast a chicken. Or bake a batch of Blondies.

So I only had to watch him, stunned, for a minute or two before I got up the courage to ask “You’re already done?!”

(Internally, the dialogue went something like this: He’s been here five minutes! I can’t believe I’m going to have to pay him $65 to give me one of those condescending looks and say “Lady, “ (I hate being called “Lady” that way) “There’s nothing wrong with this oven…”)

He did none of those things.

He told me, in slightly more detail than required, exactly what was wrong with my oven and the range above, which parts he was going to order, how he was going to replace them, and the adjustments he’d make once the new parts were in to make sure that the temperature stayed even, that the burners didn’t sputter, and that never, ever, ever again would the flame go out leaving the gas flowing and me worried that the dog and I would asphyxiate in the middle of the night and that weeks later the neighbors would start complaining about the smell and send the fire department in to find our dead rotting bodies… that is, if the house hadn’t blown up first.

I almost kissed him.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Rain in Liverpool Falls Mainly

About those boots. The ones I hadn’t worn in years. The ones I bought in Liverpool.

I hadn’t been there very long—it must have been the first or second weekend. I’d already been through not three, not four, but TEN bomb scares.  Was trapped in the tunnel—UNDER the Mersey River—for hours and hours each time. Had my car searched each time. Had already changed hotels—to one on THIS side of the Mersey. Which is where she picked me up that day.

So it must have been the second weekend.


It’d been a rough two weeks. I was seriously considering calling New York and asking for hazard pay. I was thrilled when one of my new colleagues suggested going riding.

And really disappointed when I woke up Saturday morning and it was raining. The phone rang. I assumed she was calling to cancel—and you know what they say about assumptions. She laughed it off.  ‘If we cancelled our plans every time it rains here, we’d never do anything. I’ll pick you up in an hour. I’ll bring a spare jacket.’

Fair enough. Besides, she assured me, it was ‘just spitting.’

I found this recent image when I googled “Liverpool rain.” Just to give you an idea: 

(It was a long couple of months. Really nice people, though.)

The British have an incredible number of terms to describe each incremental increase in precipitation. Isn’t it the Japanese who have seventeen words for ‘yes’ and most of them mean ‘no?’ ‘Spitting’ turned out to be what, in California, we call RAIN. That steady, drenching drizzle that doesn’t look like much when you’re standing in a doorway, deciding that you can dash to the car without bothering with an umbrella…until you’re in the car a few minutes later cold, wet, and realize that your clothes are soaked all the way through.

An hour later I was the slightly resentful new owner of a helmet (no rain cover, which is basically just a shower cap, anyway. They assured me I wouldn’t need one—by then it was ‘barely a drizzle’), a pair of slightly water-resistant breeches in some incredibly unnatural polyester blend, and that now-infamous pair of knee-high rubber riding boots.

And her big brother’s borrowed barn jacket.

Just an attractive picture all the way ‘round.

And a wet, windy hour after that, I was flying—right over the head of my horse, ALL BY MYSELF over a three-bar jump.

Apparently, the horse thought I looked lonely. Or that, having seen me go over, the jump was safe, after all. So then he jumped too—damn near landing on top of me.

Afterwards, we put it all together. We’d been over the same jump, with a lower bar, a couple of times already. The rain had tapered off a bit, but the wind had picked up to compensate. As the horse and I were approaching the just-raised bar, one of those ubiquitous white plastic grocery bags went whizzing by outside the ring and >SMACKED< into a nearby post.

My horse startled, planted his feet, and dropped his head. I slid forward on my wet saddle and sailed right over the top of his head, (right between his ears), somersaulted over the jump (clearing it with plenty of room, thank you), and crash landed on the the other side. This surprised the horse, who threw his head back up and, in an effort to catch up (and quite impressively, I might add) bounced over the jump from all almost-complete stop. He landed with two hooves—that’s almost 1,000 pounds of horseflesh in two round, razor-sharp, iron-shod packages—on either side of my head.

This stuff happens. A more experienced rider (or maybe just a drier one) would have kept her seat. I just lay there for a second, stunned, desperately trying to catch my breath and staring up at a great, brown expanse of heaving horsehide above my head.

(It was actually kinda nice to have something blocking the rain for a minute.)

I was fine. Muddy, sore, and mortified, but fine. It did NOT help that my colleague—who has since become a dear friend—still looked like Grace Kelly, despite the rain and the gear, perched blonde and graceful on her mount on the other side of the ring. I had now added mud—a great MUCHNESS of mud—to my overall ensemble. (Plus some impressive, Technicolor bruises which wouldn’t be visible until later in the bath. And for weeks to come...)

As soon as she saw that I was all right, she started laughing her head off.

I caught my breath, caught the horse, and got back on. As you do.

And went over the jump a couple of times—successfully—just because.

An hour after that, I was curled into the tiny hotel tub, tired, and SORE, but happy. And looking forward to going again.

I mean, having invested in all that gear, I kind of had to, right?

I  got to wear the boots a few more times after that in Liverpool, then off and on after I moved to London.

And hardly at all since.

But now they’re out again. They’re ready.

Maybe even lucky.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Riding Boots2

Monday, November 30, 2009

Boot Scootin’

I got stuck in my boots yesterday.

There are all sorts of things I love about being single, but there are times when it would be nice to have someone else around.

Yesterday was one of those times.

It was a glorious Sunday, sunny and bright and I was muddling around the house, as my British friends would say, “happy as Larry.”

I don’t know who Larry is—don’t ask. Since I usually think “happy as a clam” (which doesn’t make any more sense), I usually now picture a smiling clam with a little  “Larry” nametag. Pinned to the left corner of his shell. You know, like, “I’m Sandy…Fly me.”


I was happy and relaxed, and thinking about what a great day it was, and had just decided to take a long walk with the dog later, when it occurred to me that I didn’t know where my riding boots were. The ones I bought when I lived in Liverpool.

I haven’t ridden in ages, but somewhere in the back corner of my brain and rapidly elbowing its way forward, it occurred to me what a nice day it would be for it.

So off I went, hunting through the various closets until I found them.

And started to pull them on.

(And yes, Kim M., if you’re out there anywhere, I did remember to check them first. Not for mice—that would really be unlikely—but for spiders. Because the number and variety of arachnids out here is unbelievable.)

No spiders. Good thing, because I didn’t actually remember to check until I was halfway into the second boot.


Well, they still fit. Sort of. Were a little tight, to tell the truth.  Especially that hard edge up around the top of my calf, right under the knee. But not as bad as I’d been afraid of and I decided to leave them on for a while.
See if they’d stretch out.
Did I mention that these are rubber?
But rubber stretches, right?

So off I went, and they either did stretch out a little or my lower extremities went numb. One way or another, they were actually pretty comfortable.

For a while.

A couple of hours later, I briefly considered leaving them on to walk the dog. By the time I actually got around to walking the dog, however, I decided that that might not be such a good idea.

You can’t actually flex your ankles in hard rubber riding boots. And I realized that I did have some feeling in my lower extremities and some part of that feeling was definitely PAIN.

Apparently my left foot is slightly larger than my right foot.

Or maybe it’s just that one toe.

In any case it was time to take them of and trade them in for a pair of running shoes.

But in the meantime I’d been walking for hours, barefoot and bare-legged, in tight RUBBER knee-high boots on a WARM day.

You get the idea.

I mean, they’re lined. Sort of. With thin nylon lining stuff that gets warm and damp and (it turns out) gloms onto bare skin in a smooth, unbroken (and almost unbreakable) air-tight seal from knee to ankle.

I couldn’t get them off.

Here’s where a guy would come in handy.

Someone to grab those boots by the ankle and PULL.

Of course, if I were really prepared for all this country living, I’d have a boot jack ( hanging by the barn door, ready for such an emergency.

Having neither boot jack nor barn, I was left to struggle on my own.

And struggle I did.

Now, to my credit, I didn’t panic. Worked on that pesky left boot first. Used the right one to get it started. Since they’re rubber, they don’t even have that hard, raised edge around the sole and heel to grab with, but I did the best I could. Stood on the side of one foot with the other. Kept wiggling and twisting—the boot, my ankle, my calf—and inching it down. Maybe centimetering it down would be more accurate. In between I lay backwards on the bed in that time-honored pulling-on-jeans-that-are-too-tight move, and used both hands and both arms and everything else I could think of to p-u-l-l.

And finally got it off.

Then I realized that now I had NOTHING left on my left foot to get the right one started.

The one that was WAY too tight up around the calf to begin with.

Just breaking that air-tight seal took a couple of minutes. I finally, at great pains—and a giant mess—used one hand to pull the rim of the boot away from my leg and the other to dump baby powder, mostly on the floor, but some of it made it into the boot.

Took twice as long to wiggle my way out of that one.

Luckily, rubber is sort of flexible.

Luckily, so am I.

But a little help would have nice.

I left them standing by the door. Not back in the closet. Just seeing them there makes me smile.

Besides, I might need them sometime.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cooking with Books

When my cousin was here a few weeks ago, she’d just seen the movie “Julie and Julia.” She loved it—and thought I would, too—and wanted to see my copy of that first, original Julia Child cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

It’s not unreasonable for her to assume that I would have it. I’ve been collecting cookbooks since before I could read and have a pretty good collection.

The majority of them are here:


A couple of key volumes are in the kitchen, here,


and here,

DSCN4176 -including a Simone Beck! (That one was a gift—I’ve never actually used it.)

The rest are in two mis-matched bookcases in the living room; some are stacked with the Christmas  and Easter books (I love Easter); and some absolute favorites, plus all the recipes I tear out of magazines or get from friends and can’t wait to try, are in two big drawers in the kitchen.

But I didn’t have that one.

It took me almost two years in the last house to get all my books organized. And I mean ALL my books: the classics, the books on natural history, the children’s books, the writing books, the photography books, the sci-fi and fantasy books, etc.  And they were REALLY organized: for the first time, maybe ever, I had almost enough room, and had made the time to sort them all. A lot of them were shelved two deep, but for a brief, glorious moment in time I knew where every single one was.

And then I moved again.

I tried really, really hard to keep them organized as I was packing. How does that saying go? “We plan, God laughs.”

So now I don’t know (yet) exactly where all my books are, I still don’t have enough bookcases (is there such a thing?), and even the categories that are more or less all in one place, like my cookbooks, still aren’t sorted properly.

Which is why I couldn’t find the Julia Child book when my cousin asked for it. I didn’t even think I had it—I’ve never been big on French cooking, and couldn’t remember ever using it. And I hate to admit it—but for a while there, Julia Child was a little bit of a joke. I knew someone in college who worked for her for a while, and there were some stories….

Anyway, we did manage to find another book of hers, which, after paging through it for maybe half a minute, my ‘cooking-is-so-NOT-my-favorite-thing’ cousin handed it back with a “well, the movie was really good. I think you should go see it.”

So I finally did.

And I did love it. It’s nice to know that a movie like that can still get made.

And it turns out that I have every single one of the cookbooks they showed in the movie (except for the one with the ‘Marshmallow Fluff”).  And so I started stressing a little, thinking maybe I should get a copy of  “Mastering…” after all, and thinking that all the good, old, copies are probably expensive by now, and consoling myself that a new one would do just as well, when, near the end of the movie, they show Julia receiving her first copy of that first book.

And I realized that, of course I had it. And I knew exactly where it was. I came straight home, went straight to the bookcase, and pulled it out. (I’m a very visual person. I just didn’t remember what it looked like.) And since my cookbooks still aren’t sorted properly, it wasn’t where it should have been.

It’s right there, in that first photo of the green bookcases, just a scootch southwest of dead center: the (slightly torn) paper cover is kind of a teal green with white spots, and it has a soft orange box around the title. It’s on the wrong shelf—that’s the shelf where the baking/chocolate/candy making books are. Or should be. It’s a 1969 edition. Just eight years after it was first published, they were already on the eighteenth printing.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could say that about one of my books someday?

But Julia’s still on the shelf for now. There’s a recipe for a scrumptious-sounding dessert I’ve been wanting to try in that pile in the kitchen drawer…and I’m going to make it tonight, so it’ll be ready for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.

I’m grateful for so many things. Being able to read is one of them. Scrumptious desserts are another. And having family and friends to share them with, most important of all.

Bon Appétit!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Buy a Calendar, Save the Bees!

I got the following email this morning, from Gretchen LeBuhn, an associate professor at San Francisco State University, and project leader of The Great Sunflower Project.

You can find out more about how you can get FREE sunflower seeds, and help support bee research by watching and counting the bees in your garden--a great project for all ages—here:

In the meantime, they’ve had these GORGEOUS calendars made, with beautiful pictures and all sorts of interesting information.

I didn’t know that there are more than TWELVE different kinds of native bees! Every third bite of food we eat comes from a plant dependent on wild pollinators.

Calendar orders must be placed by November 30, and all proceeds go toward supporting this vital research.

FWD:The Buzz:
The Gorgeous 2010 Native Bee CalendarCover

Busy as a bee this holiday season? Take care of two things at once. Get a mini-guide to some common garden bees and help support the Great Sunflower Project by getting one of our calendars! This gorgeous calendar has twelve of the most common bee genera and descriptions that will help you learn your garden bees. The photographs are by Rollin Coville and the calendar was put together by one of our participants, Celeste Ets- Hokin. All the proceeds will go to supporting the Sunflower Project!

Imagine stuffing a stocking with a calendar, a data sheet, a garden description form, Lemon Queen sunflower seeds and a pair of new garden gloves. We think they will be wonderful gifts.

All orders must be received online by Monday, November 30, 2009. Calendars will be shipped to arrive by the holidays.

Price: $14.00 (including shipping).
Buy the calendar now. You can use a credit card, check or paypal.

Sales of this calendar directly benefit the Great Sunflower Project

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

The Queen Bee

Friday, November 20, 2009

Meet the Man of my Dreams, or… How to Get EVERYTHING You Want

I’ve been taking some time off  to finally do my 100 list. A friend and I agreed to do these several weeks ago, and for some reason I just haven’t yet, so it’s time.

The exercise incorporates a lot of things we already know but I, at least, almost never put into practice.

1. ASK for what you want. Even the Bible, and a lot of writings a lot older than that—say, “ASK, and you shall receive.”

(NOT: “Hope your spouse/best friend/mom/boss/daughter/lottery office can read your mind and give you exactly what you were desperately, but silently wishing for…..and be sad/hurt/angry/resentful when they don’t.”)

Just ASK.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It hasn’t been for me. I’m not used to being vocal, or even very honest, about what I want. Even what I need. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago (, and it’ll likely be an ongoing effort.

And ASKING for what you want isn’t the all of it. You need to ask RIGHT. Ask for what you want as clearly, specifically, and with as much detail as you possibly can.

And since it’s harder to GET what we want, until we KNOW what we want,

2. MAKE A LIST….……..……..The 100 list ©

A list of 100 things that describe what it’s like to HAVE what you want, NOW. Present tense. POSITIVE terms. How it FEELS, how it TASTES, how it LOOKS, how it SMELLS, what it WEARS, what it MEANS, what you DO. Be as SPECIFIC as possible.

NOT the 100 things that WILL BE wonderful WHEN you get what you want.

The 100 things that ARE wonderful, right NOW, when you ALREADY (as if you already) have EXACTLY what you want.

Beyond your wildest dreams.

You need to really FEEL it, to be it. Picture it, see yourself already there.

You can do this for EACH of the major goals in each of the major areas of your life, like

Your HEALTH or fitness goals;
Your WEALTH goals;
Your SPIRITUAL goals;

For me, this means taking one goal at a time. And right now, A. and I decided that we both wanted to work on this one: That we both want someone special in our lives. For the rest of our lives.

It’s important to just start writing. Picture yourself already there, and describe it.

Part of my list might look like this:

My 100 list ©

1. I feel safe and loved when he wraps his arms around me and holds me tight.

2. He loves everything I bake!

3. I love that he makes me laugh so hard that it’s hard to breathe.

4. His butt looks great in jeans.

5. We go on lots of great diving trips—he’s my favorite dive buddy ever.

You don’t have to do the whole list at one sitting, but get started and get it done. Imagine yourself in the situation, and describe it—how it looks, feels, tastes, smells, sounds. How you feel there. The things that are important to you. The more specific your list, the clearer the image, the closer you are to already being there.

This is not about changing someone into someone else.

This is about YOU.
ASKING for what you want.

Years ago, Debbie Ford told me something her rabbi (I think) had once told her:

“You are nothing but a speck of dust --
the whole Universe was created just for you.”

The 100 list is about creating your Universe.
Describing your world, the one you LOVE to live in!

When I finally started writing, I was amazed at some of the things that tumbled out. The ‘man of my dreams’ is a really great guy…

I can’t wait for you to meet him sometime.

Now start writing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Holy mola!

No mola molas, also known as ocean sunfish, in the Outer Bay or any other exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium yet, but rumor has it that there are two being groomed behind the scenes.

One has some health issues. Molas are prey to a mind-boggling array of parasitic and bacterial diseases. If he can’t be cured, he’ll be released back into the Bay to live out his natural life span.

And the other mola is just not big enough yet. Despite the fact that hammerhead sharks in general are usually considered more dangerous (#10 on the Most  Dangerous to Humans list, world-wide), it’s the Galapagos sharks in that exhibit that everyone worries about.

Divers go into that tank in pairs. One to do whatever, the other to keep an eye on the Galapagos.

(Shortly before her release, the Great White shark had apparently had enough, and gave one of the Galapagos a nasty bite. The Aquarium’s fabulous vet, Dr. Mike, decided that it would do more harm than good to try to take the bitten shark out of the water to examine and treat her wound. Any thrashing she might do in the process of being lifted out of the water could open the wound further. But he thought it would be a good idea to give her an antibiotic, to be safe.  So an intrepid diver was sent into the tank, WITH A BIG HYPERDERMIC NEEDLE ATTACHED TO A  VERY LONG STICK, to inject the shark. What followed was a good half hour of diver-with-a-big-needle-on-a-long-stick chasing a MUCH faster, MUCH more agile, MUCH more dangerous animal with MANY more teeth around and around (and around and around….) the two-million gallon, 60 foot deep tank.

Keep in mind that there are TWO Galapagos in that tank, three hammerheads, and, at that point, an increasingly cranky Great White. Kind of a high-stakes aquatic Keystone cops routine ensued. And you know, they almost never get their shark, er, man.

This all happened last week, and I’m really sorry I missed it. By all accounts it was a sight worth seeing…

I don’t know think the diver was ever successful—the person telling the story had to leave before the show was over. If not, there are also several other ways the antibiotic could have eventually been administered: in the shark’s food, or with a needle (attached to a shorter stick) when the shark came to the surface in response to food. In any case, the Galapagos seems to be doing fine.

I’m pretty the final score was Galapagos-1, Diver-0.)

But back to the molas. Or lack thereof.

Before a mola can be added to the exhibit, the fish needs to be big enough to avoid getting eaten. By one of the Galapagos, or anything else.

Molas are slow, strange creatures that look like a fish cut in half. They’re just a giant head, with two long, flat triangular fins sticking straight out the top and bottom, and then…nothing. The fish stops there. No long body, no split tail fins, just a a funny, slightly ruffled edge, like a torn piece of paper, that passes for its tail.

And, head on, the wrinkled, toothless face of an old, old man.

They’re the most fecund fish in the ocean—they produce jillions of eggs, which hatch into teeny tiny little molas. As young fish, molas are slow, and have no natural defenses. Other fish like to pick on them. Sharks, orcas, and sea lions like to eat them. Years ago one of the aquarists told me of a collecting trip out on the Bay, where he observed a couple of sea lions flicking a young mola back and forth between them on the surface like a helpless, living Frisbee.

The molas that survive, eating mostly jellyfish, which are mostly water, grow as big as they can, as fast as they can.  Eventually they get so big that their size alone protects them.

When they get too big, the Aquarium releases them back into the ocean. A couple of years ago, a mola in that exhibit grew from 55 lbs. to 880 lbs. in just fifteen months. That’s a LOT of jellyfish.  There’s a great picture of him (her?) here:

That’s really what they look like. Completely improbable. That particular one really did grow that big. (That’s one of the Galapagos sharks in the bottom right corner.) The Aquarium had to use a special crane to hoist it out of the tank—quick—before it got any bigger.

But in the ocean, sunfish grow even bigger. Much, MUCH bigger. One caught off Santa Catalina Island in 1910 weighed over 3,500 pounds.

And even bigger ones—up to 5,000 pounds—have been reported. I would love to see one in open water—somehow my brain balks when I try to imagine a fish that size. Even half a fish.

I’m a big fan of science fiction, a geek from way back. If there are creatures this weird or weirder in our oceans—and there are: science knows more about the dark face of the moon than about the deep oceans here on Earth—then the chance of life on other planets seems inevitable. Which is a thought I find comforting.

Maybe somewhere out there is a world where giant molas are in control. Beaming out telepathic commands as they scud peacefully, unmolested and mostly unobserved,  through deep, wide seas that cover most of the planet.

Maybe it’s this one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Flying with Turtles

That story about the chiropractor and the sea turtle (and the kangaroo, and the sharks…) reminded me of something. The chiropractor said he’d been swimming there for years, and had no idea there were sea turtles. (And we already know how observant he is…) But it was in almost exactly that same spot—just a little south of Cairns—that I encountered my first sea turtle while diving.

I’d had a tête a tête with a couple of turtles  a year or two before, but that was swimming just off the beach on Grand Cayman.

This time we were underwater, maybe around 25 feet or so, when a big green sea turtle came right up to us for a thorough look.

I had to remind myself to breath. My friend D. next to me, squeezed my hand so hard that my fingers went a little numb. Having decided that we looked ok, I guess, the turtle turned slightly and floated off,  very unconcernedly. Went paddling slowly, peacefully along, checking out the occasional interesting rock, nosing into crevices or along the sand, then popping up to the surface for a breath of air.

The three of us, hand in hand, followed along behind.

Scuba diving is like flying. You know, those dreams where you soar over the landscape like a bird? Just like that. Completely suspended, completely weightless. You can turn in any direction with just a thought, stand on your head, balance on a finger, tumble in space like a happy seal, or just drift on the current, watching the whole world go by beneath you.

And the coral gardens where we were in the protected Frankland Islands National Park near the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, are some of the “most untouched, most pristine coral reefs” in the whole world.

It was magical. An effortless flight over an underwater garden teeming with life, and light and color. With our own private turtle tour guide, one who seemed determined to take us to all the best spots.

Twice, when we slowed down or veered away to look at something else, the turtle CAME BACK to see what was taking us so long, and hung around until he was sure we were following safely behind again. (“We’re swimming, we’re swimming…”) All he needed was a red umbrella.

At one point, another turtle came up to see what was going on. He’d been following us for a while, pretending complete indifference, but edging closer and closer all the time. “Our” turtle, after one dismissive glance, ignored him.

(I keep saying him, but I really have no idea. I figure that’s a pretty personal question that only another turtle needs to ask.)

Eventually the other turtle just couldn’t stand it anymore. He came right up to us, and gave us a hard stare. A good going-over, first from one eye, then the other.  Turned to look at “our” turtle, watching, waiting nonchalantly, a little ways away. The erstwhile usurper shrugged and admitted defeat. Our turtle headed off again, confident of our unswerving loyalty.

The other one trailed along behind, kind of hanging around the edges for a while.

We continued on. I think D. and I would have followed that turtle forever, but at some point the dive master reminded us that we were running out of air.

It was an experience I’ll always remember. As will D. Maybe more about her another time. For now, though, you should know this:

D. grew up in an idyllic little seaside village in the south of England. And when she was nine years old, she was almost killed swimming in that sea when a boat ran over her.

She’d been afraid of water ever since. Wouldn’t go in more than about waist-deep and never, NEVER put her face under the surface.

But she’s an wonderful friend.

It was my birthday, and she’d arranged this incredible surprise.

We met up in Cairns. She came up just for the long weekend; I was going to stay on for another couple of days, make my way up the coast to Port Douglas and the rain forest, then across to Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock); and eventually all the way to Perth on the other side.

It was June. “Winter.” A National Holiday in Australia—turns out the Queen of England celebrates the same day as I do. A gray, misty morning and the entire town deserted. Or dead. A battered little van—I don’t remember if it was actually a VW, but certainly the size and shape familiar to anyone who’s grown up near the ocean—picked us up from the ‘hotel’ (a generous turn of phrase) and headed out into the fog.

The driver was in on it.  Wouldn’t tell me where we were going. (I’ve had that experience once or twice before. This time it wasn’t as scary. Much.) We drove south for a while, on deserted, increasingly smaller, and bumpier roads. Stopped at a rickety wooden dock on a big, green murky river. Were told to get out. (OK, right there it got a little scarier.) Led onto a boat, which immediately headed downstream, through a dark green tunnel of giant, overhanging mangrove trees, standing knee-deep on long, strange roots like grasping fingers. We kept our eyes peeled for ‘crocs.’ Saw a couple, too…

Then suddenly the trees parted, blue sky and the wide blue Pacific opened up in front of us, and we headed out across open water towards the Great Barrier Reef.

We didn’t have to go far. Across crystal-clear water to a beautiful bay. Tea and ‘biscuits’ and sandwiches. Sunning, replete and happy on the deck above water so clear we could see the ocean floor twenty feet below, teeming with fish, and bright-colored corals, and giant clams in day-glow colors.

And then the cute little blonde surfer dude—who turned out to be a Dive Master—asked us if we were ready to go diving.

And more than anything in the world I wanted to say yes.

I said no.

Diving is serious business. I would never try to ‘convince’ anyone to dive who didn’t want to. And I knew D. didn’t want to. And honestly, I would have been perfectly happy just swimming and sunning. Was absolutely thrilled when D. declared herself mentally and physically prepared to try snorkeling.

It would have been a wonderful afternoon.

But the Dive Master was cute. And determined. And blonde (did I mention that already?) And had that ridiculous accent. And D. was always a bit of a pushover for the attention of cheeky, blonde, flirtatious males.

And he convinced her to try diving—something I never would have attempted. I even tried to talk her out of it—it terrified me that she might be doing something she really didn’t want to. But she’d somehow crossed a line. She felt safe—with me, with him. As safe as she could. She thought it was time.

I was already Certified. She hadn’t been in water much deeper than her waist in twenty years. Dive Master Dave (or whatever his name was) did that unconscionable thing that Dive Masters do in resorts all over the world—he waved his hands in the air a little, declared her ‘Resort Certified’ and started laying out gear.

I was beginning to regret those biscuits.

(But watching him strip down for the wetsuit wasn’t  bad. D. did rub off on me, a bit, at the time.)

(Come to think of it, if she lived any closer she’d probably have me married off by now, too.)

So the three of us went diving. Hand-in-hand, like schoolchildren, D. in the middle, and the two of us on either side.

And a big green sea turtle came right up, and welcomed us to his world.

It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Much later, when we finally had to say goodbye to our turtle, and come up for air, it was to a full-fledged barbeque feast, on the pristine white sands of an uninhabited tropical island.


It was as much fun as it sounds. Maybe more.

It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. And certainly one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.

It’s a special memory for both of us. The next time I saw D., almost a month later back in Sydney, we’d both gone out in the meantime—unbeknownst to each other—and  bought each other a token to remember the experience by. We exchanged the boxes—one a silver sea turtle charm, and the other a silver sea turtle key ring. To remember forever.

As if we could forget flying with turtles.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So a Kangaroo, a Sea Turtle, and a Great White Shark walk into a bar….

I had started another post, but got sidetracked by this:

A chiropractor in Australia was “just swimming along” in the ocean near Cairns, Australia a couple of days ago when his left arm came crashing down on the back of a ‘very large’ sea turtle that he had somehow failed to notice swimming alongside and slightly beneath him.

The impact against the hard turtle shell hurt his shoulder.

I’m sure the turtle wasn’t thrilled either.

It was the same shoulder that the chiropractor had hurt the week before, when he accidentally CRASHED INTO A KANGAROO while mountain biking nearby.

No word on the poor kangaroo.

All these athletic exertions are because said chiropractor is in training for a marathon swim. He and a friend are going to swim about 1430 miles along the Great Barrier Reef next  year to promote awareness of global warning.

(‘Promoting awareness’ on his part seems like a really good idea.)

He has elected, however, to do the swim without the solar-powered shark cage he’d originally planned to use for safety. He says the cage would be ‘too restrictive’  and the swim wouldn’t be as much fun. He’s also concerned that he could get trapped in the cage and be at greater risk for injury. Now he’s planning to use electronic shark shields instead.

Personally, I think it’s the sharks who should be worried.

VERY worried.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Here’s a link to the story in the local Cairns newspaper:

And a special thanks to all my twitter-friends in Australia, who just KNEW I’d want to know about this!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some poor schmuck at the Aquarium has been sorting through sea turtle poop.


It turns out that the sea turtles won’t be returning to the Outer Bay exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium just yet.

The back of the giant, almost two-million gallon tank is covered in tiny tiles. Almost impossible for the public to see, but the turtles discovered them a while ago.

I don’t know if they were just bored, or hungry, or acting out. It’s not unusual for sea turtles to nibble algae, so that may have been it as well, although great efforts are made to keep those walls very clean.

Or maybe the turtles had an artistic vision—a kind of abstract, negative mosaic—in mind. Maybe they were spelling out a message.

Regardless, tiles began disappearing from the wall. And appearing (seems they’re not digestible) in turtle poop.

So some poor schmuck got assigned the task of collecting and sorting through the turtle poop and counting the tiles they found.

The good news is, careful turtle poop sorting was successful: they recovered exactly the number of tiles that had gone missing.

This is dedicated science in action.

The bad news is, that until the aquarists come up with a way to keep the tile-tasting-turtles from tasting tiles, the turtles will remain behind the scenes, in off-exhibit tanks not visible to the public.

Too bad. The turtles are a big crowd-pleaser, and a personal favorite. It would be nice if there were somewhere else they could be exhibited safely, without the dangers of them tasting tiles, or the occasional Great White shark tasting them.

The people at the Aquarium are the best in the world at what they do. I’m sure they’re already working on it.

And I’m still holding out for a mola.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lasting Relationships, Changing Times

I got a catch-up email from a childhood acquaintance who found me online. She wrote that after nearly twenty years of marriage, she and her husband are still ‘fond’ of each other.

Although it was stated positively, it seemed a slightly backhanded turn of phrase. But it wasn’t more than a few weeks later that she mentioned that for every one of her birthdays, for every Christmas, and for every Mother’s Day since their son was born, her husband has written her a love letter.

That’s a lot of letters. Wonderful letters. She has a whole box full of ‘em. And that, it seems to me, says a lot about a relationship, about a marriage, about what ‘fond’ means to her. And they’re still married. They still make the choice, every day, to spend their lives with one another. That says a lot right there.

I wonder if she knows how lucky she is?

Part of me is jealous. Part of me is just beginning to realize how completely I don’t understand the process.

But I’d like the chance to learn.

I spent a wonderful couple of days recently with a beloved cousin who’s the closest thing I have to a sister. She spent a measurable portion of that time pointing out how completely clueless I am. We’ll skip the part about my hair (I pull it straight, back and up; she says I should wear it curly, loose and down.) And the clothes (I like to be put together, and comfortable. She says I need to go more casual, lower, and tighter.) And the lifestyle: I’m a bit of a hermit…well, occasionally downright anti-social. (Although another friend pointed out last year that I’m not anti-social, I’m just discerning. It’s all about the spin.) My cousin wants me out on the dance floor. Or at least out of the house.

But aside from all that, she’s convinced that I don’t even notice when, in spite of myself, other people (read “men”) notice me. That I never have.

She’s not the first one to point this out.

(Every since she fell madly in love & got happily married years ago, she’s wanted the same for me, bless her. If there were any less distance than the thousands of miles there usually are between us, I’m sure she would have managed it by now. She’s a real go-getter, that one.)

But left to my own devices, I seem to be falling short. And according to her (and everyone else I know) it IS for want of trying.

So maybe I shouldn’t have moved to a town the size of a very small private college and opened a business directed almost exclusively to women and children.

At first I was too happy and busy to notice that I was single. Too relieved to be in one spot for a while, enjoying a five-minute commute and coming home to my own bed every night instead of getting on another plane, and waking up in another hotel room, in another time zone, on my way to another meeting with another group of overgrown boys pushing and posturing their way to the top of the corporate heap.

When it did finally hit me, I looked up and realized that everyone around me was either “newlywed or nearly dead.” Or already married to their high-school sweetheart, a shiny happy little family with two-point-three kids, a dog, and a SUV (yes, it’s that kind of town), so the point immediately became moot. I got on with my life.

In my defense, I have met BOTH the single men in this town, and one of ‘em still has all his own teeth. (That might be exaggerating a tiny little bit. Not much.)

For a couple of years there, it was a little hard. A little lonely. A little desolate when all of your friends are married and their idea of a good time on a Saturday night is a Little League game and then pizza with 30 screaming kids at Gianni’s. I’ve been to more than my share of birthday parties, and ballet recitals, and really awful amateur theater productions. And I’m still not old (or desperate) enough to hang out at Mission Ranch. (Sorry, Clint.)

But lately things have been changing.

Toddlers are turning into teens and heading off into the wide world, leaving their doting everything-revolves-around-my-children parents at loose ends.

Friends whose weddings I remember are getting divorced. For some it’s a relief, a blessing. For others it’s not. For all of them it’s a change, a huge upheaval in life, and a sudden (or not so sudden) veering away from, or sometimes back to, the road originally plotted.

Even more tragically, in the past few years several dear friends have had terrible losses—spouses, parents, and most tragically, a child. A beautiful, beloved, magical, only, child.

So all of a sudden, almost ALL of my friends are single. Suddenly they ALL have time to play—all the time. They all want to go out, or to lunch, or to dinner, or the movies. And can’t figure out why I don’t always have time for them.

Because in the meantime, I’ve filled my life with other things.
I’m busy.

But maybe I’ve changed, too. I’m ready to meet someone special. Now. Someone to share my life with, someone to laugh with, someone to dive, and dance,  and travel with. Someone to cook for. Someone who can fix the door in the my office. Someone who loves horses, and dogs, and curling up on the couch in front of the fire.

Someone who writes love letters to me.

I suppose it’s natural at this time of year to be thinking about the things that change. And the things that don’t.

For now, I’m single. It would be nice if I wasn’t.

But I have cousins who are like sisters to me, a mother who’s a saint, and the best extended family anyone could wish for. I have a sweet, funny dog who’s always glad to see me and sweet, funny, wise, wonderful friends. For all seasons.

Family and friends. And faith. My life is full. And happy.

And I’m giving notice that there’s room for more.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Discovery of Coffee

It’s maybe a little late, but I’ve finally discovered coffee.

I have an aunt who would tell you that she’s never been on a diet in her life—and she’s never needed to. She has a cup of coffee at quarter to dawn every morning, a cup or two for breakfast, another cup for brunch, and then one or two cups between that and the cup she has for lunch. She’d also tell you that, while she doesn’t eat breakfast or lunch, she snacks constantly. She does. All of half an open-faced sandwich here, one or two home-baked cookies there, (she’s an incredible cook), maybe an apple, or a piece of cheese. If there’s any excuse at all to make a second pot, she’ll have another cup or two of coffee in the afternoon with a couple of cookies or a piece of fresh pastry.

Of course, she hasn’t slept well in years, but she has the figure of a cute nineteen-year old, boundless energy, a kind word and helping hand for everyone, and gets more done in a day than any four other people I know put together.

I figure it’s worth a shot.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bye sharkie, sharkie.

There’s now one more Great White shark in the waters off California.

Yesterday, the Monterey Aquarium released the Great White shark they’ve had since August. She’s visibly grown in the two-plus months she’s been here, thrived, and had recently been spending more time nearer the top of the giant Outer Bay tank, instead of down in the depths where I first encountered her.

But she’s apparently also been getting restless—you know teenagers!—and the decision to release her was made on Tuesday after she exhibited some “aggressive behavior” toward the other sharks in the exhibit over Halloween weekend.


The local news joked that the surfers currently competing in the Cold Water Classic surfing competition on the north side of the Bay might want to keep their eyes open.

Realistically, though, she’ll probably head south, like her predecessors, toward the warmer water in Southern California. Maybe as far south as the tip of the Baja peninsula, and then maybe north up into the Gulf of California/Sea of Cortez. Researchers are still not sure if that’s a Great White breeding ground, or a nursery, or just a place the juvenile in-crowd likes to hang out.

But it’s a popular Great White destination and researchers are doing their best to find out why. This Great White was fitted with two electronic transmitters before she was released, and her progress will be tracked via satellite. Rumor has it that last time they released a Great White, some of the most venerable of the Aquarium founders and staff camped along the beach in Baja, hoping for a glimpse. (Or a beer.)

An interesting tidbit here: surfers and swimmers in Southern California have about a 50% chance that any Great White they encounter in the water will be a juvenile, “only” about five to seven feet long.

In contrast, surfers and swimmers in Northern California have more to look out for: most, if not all of the Great Whites sharks up here are older and much, MUCH bigger. It’s not until the Great Whites get to an impressive size that they start preferring the colder water and rich feeding grounds north of Santa Barbara.

Of course, Northern California is also culturally superior, but that’s another post.

For details on how they isolate and catch a Great White shark from a two-million gallon tank that has also has lots of other sharks in it (VERY carefully), how they lift her out (How do they pick who gets to hold the biting end?) and transport her safely—like most tourists, she took the scenic route, right down Cannery Row—to the boat, to the Bay, and to an appropriate release point, you can check out the last two Aquarium blogs here:

They’ve got details about the scuffle with her tank mates (one of the Galapagos sharks now has a NASTY-looking five-inch gash and a couple of tooth punctures behind her right fin), some great pictures of the her release, and a good link to the just-published findings about Great White movements along the California coast. Turns out that Great Whites do occasionally swim INTO the San Francisco Bay, as well as along their more well-known routes down to Baja in the south to as far as Hawaii in the west. And congregate in what’s known as the “Great White Cafe” in between.

Now that the Great White is gone, I’m hoping the two sea turtles will re-appear. They’ve been kept in some holding tanks off-exhibit for the duration of her stay.

Just in case.

But it turns out this shark was a picky eater—the piscine equivalent of that phase where teenagers will eat anything, as long as it’s pizza. It’s not that pizza isn’t nourishing. It’s just that a little variety doesn’t hurt. Maybe now, back out in the ocean, she’ll expand her palate.

No more mackerel-on-a-stick for her, darn it. I wonder if she’ll think back on that fondly?

They’d already added a small school of mahi-mahi, or dolphin fish, to the exhibit with her last week. Bright, colorful, funny-looking things, with their odd-shaped heads, and, as it turns out, curious natures.

But what I’m really hoping for is a new mola mola.

More about that another time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Wild, Wild West

I'd been living out here for about a year when my friend Sarah came to visit from London.

We were driving home one afternoon after having lunch in town when she started to giggle. I asked her what was so funny. “Every time we drive out here, I feel like I’m heading into the real Wild West,” she said.

I must have looked at her in complete disbelief.

Don’t get me wrong. This is no metropolis, but it’s not exactly the Badlands, either. I think of the Wild West as open, empty vistas, tumbleweeds, and…well, ok, I have to admit that we do have rattlesnakes. And coyotes. Not a lot, though. The occasional mountain lion. But I live in a neighborhood; there are houses on three sides of me; the electric and cable service isn’t any worse (and sometimes a lot better) than in the towns of Monterey, or Carmel, or Pebble Beach, or Pacific Grove (especially Pacific Grove); and most of the roads are paved—although not recently.

True, she admitted. Then again, none of her neighbors in London have geese. She said this just as we were heading past the last, and one of the most successful, business in the Village—the Saloon—so I let it go.

About a month later I drove into the Village center to pick up a few things at the market. It must have been rush hour—all four parking spaces in front were filled, so I backed up a bit down the road to find an empty spot.

It’s common wisdom (every fictional detective from Sherlock Holmes to Morse quotes it at some point) that people don’t look up.  Which is why in science fiction films the slimy alien with the reptile face and poison claws leaps DOWN on the unsuspecting victims from his perch at the top of the warehouse, or from where he was glued to the ceiling of the dark passageway between the engine room and the crew quarters.

I guess it’s true. Pulling into a parking space just a couple of doors down from the market I’d been going to about once a week for a year, I happened to look UP. And was taken completely by surprise to see a sign in front of the upstairs rooms—a sign that has clearly been there for some time—that said Gunsmithing.


And it isn’t a small sign, either. It stretches over the equivalent of two storefronts underneath, written in a kind of graceful, outmoded script. The sign is slightly faded, but from the size and location of the space they inhabit on the coveted second floor—up the rickety wooden steps on the side—it’s clearly a thriving enterprise.

I parked and got out of the car. To my right, the woman getting into the bronze Bentley and the  “dog” in her arms were dressed in matching pink Jackie-O Chanel. (Cropped jackets. Contrasting trim). Hers looked original.

To my left, a giant black and tan bloodhound straight out of Mayberry with droopy eyes and even droopier ears, was glowering over the top of my car at them in disbelief from atop a dusty white half-ton pickup truck with mud on the wheels and rodeo tags on the bumper.

Next to him, a spotless, forest-green late model Subaru station wagon had a crate of prize-winning chickens in the back. Not that I know from prize-winning chickens, but  I’m pretty sure that’s what all the blue and red ribbons hanging from the side meant.

I stepped onto the covered walkway, sidled carefully around the massive German Shepherd sprawled snoozing in front of the Art Gallery and glanced at the new notices on the bulletin board:

New Yoga Class starting!
gentle, stretching, some Pilates
Community Chapel
BYO mat
Call Tristan

 Mobile Farrier Service            The Middle Way
   20 yrs. experience          Zen in the 21st Century

Chakra Balancing
by Compassionate Professional

Best price
Dry Oak Firewood          
You split, you haul

Brad—you can come back. M

Creekridge Rollers at the Running Iron Saloon 
Beer & Barbeque

I resisted the urge to look through the pile of ‘read & share’ books in the weathered bookcase underneath. Every available surface in my house is covered in books waiting to be read as it is. I did pick up an old copy of “Horse and Rider” to page through. Just wishful thinking, at this point. But wouldn’t it be nice?

Balanced on a stool at the tall table outside the Market, the celebrity owner of a local winery was debating whether smoke and ashy run-off from the summer’s wild fires would affect the taste of next year’s Chardonnay. And the problems he was having keeping wild boar out of the vines. I nodded to the wooden Indian standing guard at the door, and went inside to pick up a loaf of sourdough.

Sarah may have a point.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bumper Bees


I just reconnected with one of my best friends from high school. It seems we’ve both been looking for each other and still have a lot in common.  On the one hand, we can’t believe it’s already November, and how fast the time, and years, go by these days. Sigh.

But we can’t be anything but grateful when it’s November and 85 degrees in the shade under a cloudless, deep blue sky. All up and down the state, apparently—he lives almost 300 miles south of here. We got almost four inches of rain two weeks ago—more than half of last year’s annual total in just fourteen hours—so my dry, brown garden and the surrounding hills are now covered in soft new green. All of a sudden, everything is growing and blooming!

For the past couple of days the little creeping rosemary bushes I planted by the front door last year are covered in blossoms and HUMMING with honey bees. There are a lot of bees out here in general, for which I’m very grateful. During the summer, the buzzing of the bees in the pepper trees outside my (closed) bedroom windows is so loud that it wakes me up almost every morning. Sometimes I just lie there for a second, grinning like an idiot, and rooting for every bee.

I  don't know if you can see the three bees in this snapshot—it’s not like they’re willing to hold still, even for an instant. Rosemary must not be a particularly productive flower (keep that in mind, farmer Andrea). Or maybe bees are just super efficient. They barely alight on a blossom, poke around a bit from every angle, then take off again for the next, better flower. Buzzing around so frantically, pushing and shoving each other, that it's like watching an aerial game of bumper cars. Or news footage of women at those East Coast wedding gown sales.

I haven’t been particularly productive today, either. And not anywhere near as worried about it as I maybe should be.

Sunshine, old friends, and happy honey bees. Life is good!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Physics of Floating

One of the great gaps in my education is that I’ve never taken a physics class. (sigh) So I don’t know why the flowers in the big bowl by my front door refuse to float in the middle. Instead they wander off  to one side or another, sometimes huddling together, sometimes drawing apart in a huff, occasionally lining up like obedient school children along the rim. I  center, I straighten, I shove. Every time I change the water, I check again to make sure that the bowl itself is level in its stand. And all to no avail.

Sometimes it works, for a little while. For a brief instant the flowers float exactly in the middle. For that moment or two, everything looks picture-perfect. Peaceful. Calm. And then off they go again.

It’s a source of some small frustration and greater amusement to me. Kind of me vs. Zen.

At least I (mostly) don’t worry about setting them exactly in the middle of the bowl in the first place anymore.  Now I usually just drop them in and let them float away…and watch them move in strange, otherwise undetectable currents that I can’t control. (Who says I’m not making progress?)

But yesterday morning the bowl was empty. I’d taken out the last couple of flowers the day before and forgotten to replace them. So as I was dashing off to a slightly-too-early in the morning breakfast meeting, I broke a beautiful, incredibly fragrant yellow rose off the bush by the deck and dropped it into the bowl on my way out the door.

When I got home last night, I was through the hall and halfway to the kitchen before it registered that the yellow rose was still in EXACTLY the same place where I’d dropped it that morning. I backtracked to check. Yup: just a little off center, nearer the edge of the bowl closest to the front door.

I reached into the bowl to gently encourage the rose over to the middle.

I can’t help but keep trying.

And noticed two things.

1. The water in the bowl was a just a little low—just slightly shallower than normal. Certainly not enough for anyone else to notice.

2. Since I’d broken, rather than cut, the rose, it had a little bit of stem left on it…..

Just a little stem, not very strong, but just long enough to reach down and touch the bottom of the bowl. Just barely touching. Just enough to provide a tiny, tenuous, support to keep the rose in place. I stood there, with my hand in the water, cupping fragile petals, breathing in the sweet, old-fashioned scent, and let the realization wash over me in waves.

Just a little stem (and maybe slightly shallower water). Just enough to reach down and touch firm footing, provided all the support that rose needed to keep it EXACTLY in place.

Forget about physics, that may be the answer to LIFE.

We push, we shove, we try desperately to balance. Whenever we refill our bowl—whenever we adjust our schedules, take another meeting, add a commitment, or change an appointment, we check again to make sure that our bowls are level. And then despite our best efforts, we keep losing the center. We get shoved side to side, back and forth, by forces we can’t control.

When all we really need is a little stem to stand on.

For some it’s family, or faith. For some of us its a person we love, or a goal we strive for, or a cause we believe in. Sometimes it’s different things at different times in our lives.

What’s important is that we have one. Something to hold onto, something to provide that little bit of support, to keep us on our feet. To keep us centered. To keep our course steady, no matter what happens to, or around us.

To keep us from drifting away on currents we can’t control.

In the very strong shifting currents and uncertain riptides of the Monterey Bay, Giant Kelp grows as much as 15 inches PER DAY from a tiny base, called a holdfast, on the ocean floor. A holdfast: where the roots of the kelp wrap tightly—not down into the earth, not around a massive boulder—but typically around a rock about the size of a man’s fist. It’s enough. That’s all it takes. 

In the even more uncertain currents of our lives, that’s all we need.

Not an anchor—just a little stem. A lifeline, reaching down and touching our base. Remembering the why. The what’s important.

And maybe just slightly shallower water…maybe letting just a few of the things we fill our bowl with evaporate away. Not even enough that anyone walking by would really notice. But enough to make the difference, to make sure that we’re not in too deep.

Just a little bit of stem, touching firm ground. And slightly shallower water.

The physics of Center.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Apples to Apples

If you believe what they say about me you’ll know that I moved out here for the fruit trees and and the pool. The house that came with them was just a bonus :) For the past two months or so we’ve been watching the apples ripen on the wonderful old trees here. The larger is a Golden Delicious—the apples start out tiny and purple, turn red as they grow, and eventually ripen into very sweet, golden-yellow apples early in September. The other, slightly smaller tree somehow gives the impression of greater age. These apples start out hard and green, and ripen, a little later in the season, to a bright, almost unlikely pinkish-red. Not quite as sweet, they have a very crisp and bright flavor. I prefer the red ones for eating; the yellow are great for baking and drying.

Last year a friend from London was visiting just as the yellow apples started raining down and revealed a love of apple crumbles—what, on this side of the planet, we call an apple crisp. I put this recipe together for her. The topping is especially yummy.

Carmel Valley Apple-berry Crumble

4-6 medium apples
1 cup blueberries* 
1 cup cranberries*                                                                   (*If using dried berries, soak in warm water until soft. Drain off any excess liquid before using.)
Lemon juice

1 ½ cups oatmeal
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
1 cup flour
¾ cups butter
½ teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel and slice apples—enough to cover the bottom of a 9”x13” baking pan, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle apple slices with lemon juice (and 1 tablespoon sugar, if desired. I don’t add any sugar—those yellow apples are very sweet!) 

Sprinkle mixed berries evenly over apples.

Using a pastry blender, cut all other ingredients together to form moist crumbs. Distribute crumbs evenly over top of fruit mixture.

Bake approximately 30 minutes. Let cool before serving.

Especially yummy served with cream!                                       (TIP—let HaagenDaaz Vanilla Bean ice cream melt to form a rich vanilla cream sauce.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

The path I was following
the force of the cosmos at play.
The Possible
suddenly shifted.
The Universe, tilting my way.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Great White Beauty

I haven’t had time to write, or do much of anything lately but work on a project that’s due the 15th. But tonight I had to take time for this:

As a kid, there was a book I loved (and yes, I still have it--and I know right where it is!) called “African Great Cats.” There’s an anecdote in there I’ve always remembered:

A tourist on safari hears a growling cough in the dark beyond the tent, and, frightened and excited, asks his guide, “Is that a lion?” “No,” says the guide, “that’s a hyena.” It happens again, a low growl in the night. “But that MUST be a lion!” the tourist says. “Still a hyena,” the guide responds. It happens again. And again. “You’ll know when it’s a lion,” the guide says. Disappointed,  the tourist finally falls asleep. Suddenly, a growl begins, in a register so low that it makes human blood vibrate before human ears can register sound, and then the roar of a lion splits the night wide open.

“See,” says the guide calmly, to the tourist who is frozen, dumbstruck, bolt upright on his cot, “when you hear a hyena, you may think to yourself, ‘Is that a lion?’ But when you hear a real lion, you have no doubt. You didn’t even have to ask.”

It’s after 10 pm and I just got back from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. At night—when there’s almost no one around—the Aquarium is a very different place. I’m looking forward to spending more time there.

But tonight I got to see, for the first time,  the Great White shark that’s been on exhibit since the end of August.

The huge Outer Bay tank was dark. They’d just switched off the lights, and for long moments we just stood there, watching tuna and silvery barracuda flash by the giant window in the faint light from the viewing area. A shark swam in a curving line up from the depths. “Is that her?” someone asked. “That’s a hammerhead,” someone else replied, and as it came closer we could see the distinctive-shaped head. There are two or three hammerheads in that exhibit, and each time one appeared someone asked—“Is that her?” No—each time.  A Galapagos shark came up—also no. And then again, another. Still no.

And then the Great White shark rose, in a fast, clean line from the dark below and NO ONE had to ask. When a real lion roars, you know it. And when you see a Great White Shark, rising, turning in the blue depths before you, heading straight at you for a breath-stopping instant, before veering up and away in line with the curving window and passing so close overhead that you could reach out and touch her through those inches of window glass… you don’t have to ask.

She’s beautiful. I mean, drop-dead, take-your-breath-away BEAUTIFUL. She’s young, and ‘only’ about five or six feet long, and so perfectly adapted to her environment that even in an aquarium tank, even with the lighting turned off (which makes the tiled back wall of the tank very obvious), I felt a shiver. A thrill of fear, or just a primal acknowledgement of power. Of grace. Of beauty.

She’s darker above, and lighter below, and the tips of her fins look black, and no one could ever mistake her for anything but exactly what she is. (That might be a life lesson right there.) And she’s perfect—still young enough that there is hardly any of the scarring we’re used to seeing in those open-jawed, feeding-frenzy Discovery documentaries. Her skin is smooth, glowing. She glides through the water with no visible effort, and is gone. Disappears. The tank isn’t THAT big. Each time she reappears again, materializing suddenly, I can hear, or feel, the gasps from the handful of people around me. Maybe it’s me. I could stand there and watch her all night. I keep forgetting to breathe.

If you have a chance, if you’re anywhere near Monterey, go see her. In 2004, the first time the Aquarium had a Great White on exhibit—the first live Great White EVER on exhibit anywhere—Peter Benchley came to see it.

If you can’t make it, you can learn more about her on the Aquarium’s Great White Shark blog:

or read the press release here:

Ninety-eight percent of the living space on this beautiful planet is underwater. And for millions of years the shark has been the apex predator there. I’ve been in open water with sharks; one of my favorite dives ever was 100 feet down, where there were sharks as far as I could see in any direction—20 to 30 of them at any one time. Three, four, maybe five species, ranging from little blacktip reef sharks at three to four feet, to lemon sharks and nurse sharks over nine feet long. It was an incredible experience. The more so for being completely unexpected.

But tonight I’m grateful for glass viewing windows, and for people who dedicate their lives to preserving the planet and all the creatures who live here, and for coming face-to-face with Great White beauty.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Changing Friends, Changing Seasons

I asked a question about friendship the other day and it seems that I’m not the only one struggling with this issue. Not by a long shot. I  appreciate the wonderful, supportive, and thought-provoking responses I received. Thank you for every one. Some came from unexpected places, like far-away tropical islands and, in an odd bit of synchronicity, some came from old friends and acquaintances I’d lost touch with, who’ve found me recently because I’m finally online, spilling secrets and thoughts that I’ve always kept hidden.

So the world turns…

This is a topic I’m sure I’ll return to. But in the meantime, these two thoughts:

1. Reading the comments and experiences that you’ve been sharing with me, it occurred to me that this situation, like so many others, is really about integrity. That’s a big one. About being true to yourself, first, before you can be true to others. That unless you’re true to yourself, you’re really lying to everyone else. That’s a really different way of looking at it for me, and important enough to say twice: If you are not being completely honest about YOUR needs and wants, you are LYING to everyone, ALL THE TIME. 

How’s that for terrifying? If I think about it too much it makes me cry. Because it contradicts such core beliefs, and the way I’ve lived my life. I have always considered myself to be a person of high integrity, and it is a trait I value highly in others.  But I’ve always, “honestly” believed that in order to be a good person, you must put others first; that their needs, their wants, supersede my own. A result, I suppose, of my Christian upbringing, but not an uncommon value across many belief systems. I’ll keep working on this one.

2. My experience, and the responses to it, have also made me think about the nature of friendship itself, how we define the word friend, what it means to different people. Facebook uses the word ‘friend’ to mean…what? Anyone who has ever known you, ever known anyone who has ever known you, or has even a passing interest in any topic you might ever have been interested in? At best, that’s just creepy.

But at worst…..

More another time. I promise.

For now I’ll leave you with this poem, which seems appropriate for this experience. The original author is unknown—this is my version. My Buddhist friends would remind me here of two things, I think.

Impermanence – all things change

Remain in the present – appreciate what you are, where you are, and the loved ones with you, right NOW.

Reason, Season, Lifetime

People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is, you’ll know exactly what to do.

When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed, outwardly or inwardly. They have come to assist you through a difficulty, or to provide you with guidance and support, or to aid you physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

They may seem like a Godsend, and they are! They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrong doing on your part, or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they just walk away. Sometimes they act up or out and force you to take a stand.

What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled: their work is done.

The prayer you sent up has been answered. Now it’s time to move on.

When people come into your life for a SEASON, it is because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn. They may bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it—it’s real. But only for a season.

And like Spring turns to Summer, and Summer to Fall, the season eventually ends.

Some people come into our lives for a LIFETIME. They make our souls dance. Even through distance, we remain close. These are the relationships we should cherish and hold closest to our hearts. Lifetime relationships teach lifetime lessons: the things we build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation and create a life of worth.

Reason, Season, or Lifetime, friend. In each case, our job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what we’ve learned to use in the other relationships and areas in our lives.

-Author Unknown

And the seasons are a’ changing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Losing a Friend…Getting Something Better

Ever think to yourself, ‘I need new friends?’

I’ve been going through an odd time, for a little while now. I’m basically happy, busy, and healthy. And at the same time, I feel like I’m in limbo, stressed and worried about all sorts of things, and mostly, incredibly frustrated that I’m not doing more with my life.

More and more I’m feeling like it’s finally all coming to a head. And that something REALLY incredible, really GOOD, is just around the corner.

If I could just GET there already!

That feeling’s been so strong lately, that last night, very late, I decided to go to the office and check my email one last time. Just in case. (?!)

And found a note from a ‘friend’ who said she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. Not exactly what I was expecting.

We’ve been friends for more than ten years. Like all friendships, you take the good with the bad. She’s critical, has a VERY selective memory, and, like most of us, wants everything on her terms—because she’s the only one who knows how to do anything right. I love her anyway. I make excuses for her; she “means well.” She’s the friend that can always be counted on to tell me the truth—not just the ‘you’re wasting your life and doing it wrong” variety, as well as the occasional “You’re too fat to wear that.” She’s also the “your eyes/hair/skin/smile look beautiful today” and “that was really clever.” She DOES mean well. She has lots of really wonderful qualities. I’ve treasured her friendship.

Without going into all the gory details, the inciting incident was that her husband behaved abominably, shockingly, UNBELIEVABLY, badly at dinner at my house. During the incident, my friend kept a bland, slight smile on her face, and watched me, not him, while he carried on and on. She said nothing. Did nothing. I’m a VERY good actor. I pretended to make light of, and diffuse the situation, while doing my damndest not to cry. I have never experienced anything like this before. I felt attacked— violated and betrayed—in my own home. I was embarrassed in front of my guests. The rest of the evening was strained, and it was a relief when they left. For the first time ever, I couldn’t walk them out. I couldn’t stop shaking.

She left a message the next day, apologizing for her husband’s appalling behavior. She hoped that I wouldn’t “never want to see” her again because of it. I called her back, to accept the apology and belay her fears. In that conversation, and in a subsequent email where she asked if I was avoiding her, I explained that I was hurt, and really rattled and needed a little break. I suggest that  we could wait another week or so for things to settle down and then get together when her husband had left town.  I let her know I was still dealing with a big problem at work 24/7. She didn’t respond.

Several weeks went by. Not unusual for our friendship—she often travels for weeks at a time, then comes home, calls me to either say she has no time to see me, or has a specific slot or two when she’s free and would like to see me at that time, before leaving for another week or two. I was still busy with the problem at work, and didn’t worry about it. In between, as is also usual, I sent her a couple of emails, articles I thought she’d be interested in, a book I’d ordered for her, and left a note on her car when I spotted it at Safeway. By the last email, I’d started to get worried and said I hoped she was ok.

And last night she responded. She wrote that by saying I needed some time, I had “not acknowledged” our friendship, instead having a “snit” and “shunning” her. She calls my behavior “sophomoric.” She thanks me for the things I’d sent, and says they show what a “dear and caring” person I am. She wishes me a long and happy life, but says “I think I’ll stay out of it.” That the friendship has “run its course.” (And could I please let my mom know, because she’d like to remain friends with her!)

Her husband never did apologize for his behavior.

As I’ve said, the last year or two has been an odd time, a time of transition for me. I’ve spent too much of my life trying to make other people happy. When I’d finally had too much, I withdrew. Almost completely. Farther and farther from my life, from people and places and activities and even professions. Even physically moving, twice, until now I live just one mile marker short of absolute nowhere. And then I worked on healing, and figuring out what I want. What makes me happy. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m working on it. I’ve come out of hiding.

And I’ve learned, once in while, to stand up for myself.

So I’m going to let what was becoming a toxic relationship go. Not without some sadness.  And a little relief. I’m trying to forget that earlier that same, disastrous evening, my former ‘friend’ started moving a collection of cookie molds around that I’d recently put up in my kitchen, telling me that I’d arranged them WRONG. I  told her how much time and effort I’d put into arranging each beloved piece into just the right place. And then, when I left the room for a moment, and after specifically being asked not to, she RE-ARRANGED them, so “it would look a little better.’” Not much, since according to her, the whole thing was set up backwards, anyway.

I realize that I’ve internalized her constant criticisms, the way she liked things done, to an unhealthy degree. It’s made me resentful, and increasingly reluctant to spend time with her.

In sharp contrast, I had  dinner a few nights ago with a dear friend that I also hadn’t seen in a while. She’s wise, and warm, kind and considerate, intelligent, and incredibly generous of spirit. It was a really nice evening. We had a great, real, conversation that gave me lots to think about. It was an evening that left both us feeling strengthened and nurtured by our friendship.  

Maybe my former ‘friend’ is right. Maybe our relationship has run its course, and the mature thing to do is to move on. To leave behind the clutter, the things that don’t serve us anymore. Or maybe I’m in denial. (Or shock.) Except for a high school girl who once sent me a note saying she ‘”would never be my friend again” because the boy she liked had asked me to the Prom, I have never heard of anyone else cutting someone out of their life this way. But I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. This woman, by her own account, has cut a number of friends and even family members out of her life over the years. She’s told me some of the stories—even referenced one in her email. So maybe it was inevitable.

But by removing herself from my life, she’s left a hole. In my heart, in my head, in my calendar. And a hole is just SPACE. Which means that now there’s room for something new. Something BIG, something incredibly, unbelievably exciting. Something wonderful.

I can hardly wait!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Little Lost in the Dark

I had a really rough night after an odd day. I finally gave up around 5:00 am this morning, got up, and went frantically ricocheting around the dark house for a couple of hours (opening windows, among other things, to let in some still-cool, fresh air). All of a sudden I noticed that something had changed, and I stopped dead, panicked in mid-bolt, to figure out what .

Then I realized that, despite my fears that the world is crashing down around me, outside the cold, dark, scary night was lightening as the sun rose slowly over the mountain. The first few rays lanced across the Valley and hit the Range on the other side. What had, all night, and until just a few moments before, been menacing shapes , looming in almost impenetrable darkness, turned into mountains, and trees, and houses. Houses where other people live, and work, and worry. And draw together in times of need.

And I pulled myself together—just a little—and remembered to breathe.

So today I’m grateful:

1. That the sun comes up every morning. No matter what. And that I have nothing to do with it. That “God is in His Heavens, and all is right with the world.” Even if I can’t see it right now from where I’m standing here in the dark.

2. For waking up in California: the sky is unbelievably blue, the air is fresh and clean (love those sea breezes!) and, in the middle of September, it’s over 80 degrees, and climbing. For waking up each morning, period.

3. For having clean water to drink—a BILLION people on this planet don’t.

4. For having clean water to swim in. I know it’s an incredible luxury, and I’m incredibly grateful every time I get the chance. The chances increase with the temperature: another reason to love Indian Summer.

5. And for my little dog, too.

What five things can you be grateful for today?


ps: Here’s something, if you haven’t seen this yet this summer: Mars is still giving away FREE chocolate bars (your choice) every Friday @ They’ve extended it until October, and you can get one coupon each Friday, 4 per household. I’ve already eaten mine :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sharing the Wealth

Took some of the Franken-lemons off the tree on Sunday.



1. Throwing them all away—most of the neighbors around here already have more lemons than they can use—and their lemons are nicer.

2. Squeezing and freezing the juice.

Option #2 won out—naturally. But only temporarily. We piled them into boxes and bags, schlepped them around the house, and filled my mom’s car before she headed back home.

By noon the next day, her friends, neighbors, the entire staffs of both her bank and my bank, and the ladies at the thrift shop where she volunteers had relieved her of ALL of ‘em.

She did manage to keep a couple of the little ones for herself. And called me to make sure I didn’t mind that she’d given the rest away—there’d always be more, right?


I’m pretty sure now that the Frankenbush started out as TWO separate lemon trees. The little ‘normal’ ones grow on the right side (this is the first year I’ve had any one those); and the big ones on the left. None came close to the GIANT ones we had last year, but they’re big enough. And they’re HEAVY – there were a number of branches that looked like they were ready to break. And this year,  under that inch-thick rind, they’re pretty darn good. Which is where we got the idea for juice…

So instead, now a whole bunch of people are enjoying them. Not even discounting the novelty factor!

And I still have the lovely ones from my neighbor, and am still thinking about that new lemon bar recipe…

So go out, and have a bright yellow day! Think about the riches that you take for granted, that someone else would be happy to share.

And if there’s a  little bit of sour, that just makes the rest all the sweeter.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


The number of out-of-focus pictures I take, (with a more or less automatic camera!) is mind-boggling.

And then, once in a while, I get one like this.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Ultimate Goal

It’s 8am and almost 80 degrees under an impossibly blue, blue sky. Still a coolish breeze teasing around, but it’s going to be a very warm, beautiful day. I love mornings like this!  Time to walk, breathe, be grateful. Not stress over GAINING a pound and a half this week, instead of losing. Despite staying on plan. Despite going to the gym faithfully. Despite swimming for hours after work. Despite not having had any chocolate in….well, days and days at least.

I saw an old college friend a couple of months ago and one of the things that came up was keeping your eye on the ultimate goal when confronted with obstacles. In a professional situation, that has always meant I get smart, I get more focused, and I get results. For whichever large organization I’m working for at the time. Yay for them.

But it’s not something I’ve always been good at personally. If it’s “just” me, I get frustrated, I get my feelings hurt, I get defensive. I retreat. I make emotional decisions. And in the process of trying to “show” them,  (what am I, four?!) I end up hurting myself.

Tuesday afternoon I was at the funky little gym here in the Village. The one that’s only open Monday through Friday, and then only until 6pm.


Let’s call the proprietor Moody Mike (MM). Because he is. Very. And Moody Mike gets bored, sitting all day in the funky little gym. Understandable. But woe betide anyone who comes in after 4:30 for a workout. Or heaven forbid, close to 5:00, which is what I did Tuesday.

I signed in at 4:50. An hour and ten minutes is enough for a decent workout and some cardio, doncha think? But by 5:30 the only other guy in there wrapped up his loud, lengthy conversation with MM and left.

And then the glowering starts (MM’s a BIG guy. It’s intimidating.) MM wants to go home. Waves of resentment (?! He’s the one with the OPEN sign on the door) start rolling off him and hammering at me, quietly cardio-ing away in the corner. I try not to notice, but the heart monitor in front of me registers higher. I don’t mind if he switches off all the lights. I’m THRILLED when he switches off the bone-jarring music (don’t get me wrong—I love music, but the gym is really LOUD in a really small space and the mostly older members or already-deaf younger members with ipods in their ears YELL to be heard over…you get the idea). I don’t mind when he empties the trash or starts mopping the floors.

But at 5:50, when he closes the doors and turns off the machines I’m USING, it’s too much.

I try to unclench my jaw, and leave.

And I decide not to go back.

I think about checking out the ‘other’ gym again. The ‘real’ gym, in Mid-Valley, about seven miles away. The one with better hours, that’s open on the weekends, and has showers and lockers, albeit a bit primitive. The one close to the grocery store, and the bank. The one the ‘guys’ go to.

The one my (female) neighbor calls an unprintable name, and says smells.

I also think about the unused equipment in my garage. And living room. And walking shoes. And my dog. And whether I need to go to a gym at all.

So I don’t.

I didn’t go to the gym yesterday. It’s a month-to-month membership and yesterday my check was due. I hadn’t made a real decision on the other gym, but I had decided to take at least this month off from this one.

That’ll show him.

And then I thought about Lisa, and the Ultimate Goal.

So I’m going back to the gym today. Like a big girl. I’m going to pack up the TWELVE sales I had yesterday, take them to the post office on the way and get them mailed out. Maybe I’ll make it to the gym a little early – not for Moody Mike, but for me. I don’t need the hassle. And I’ll hand in a check for another month.

Because that gym suits MY purposes. It’s close, it’s cheap, it’s an important component on the way to my Ultimate Goal. MM is a good trainer, and he can help me get there. I want to be fit again. I want to be strong, and healthy. And look hot in whatever clothes I choose to wear.

Besides, maybe I’m imagining the whole thing, and MM doesn’t mind at all that people who’ve paid to use his gym actually do so.

It doesn’t matter. I’ve got my eye on the Goal.

And I’m not buying any chocolate, either.