Book: Season of the Witch

My sweetie handed this to me and said, “Read this!” So I did. I’m compliant like that.

Actually, I couldn’t wait to read it. It’s a history of San Francisco from when it was sighing its last as a conservative Irish-Italian small city (1950s), all the way through the AIDS epidemic and the first anti-viral cocktails for HIV (late ’80s). Written by David Talbot, founder of Salon.com, it was fast-moving, relatively light reading, but endlessly fascinating.

I learned a ton from reading this, including why the big game of the 49ers vs. the Cowboys in 1982 was such a big deal, and why Bill Walsh was a miracle-worker (for the record, I know close to nothing about sports, and this book made football seem interesting). The tragedies of the Moscone/Milk shooting made me cry, as did the Jim Jones massacre. The freewheeling 60s and the “culture of free” was incredibly informative, as I walk down Haight Street these days and wonder what the big deal was (it was a Big Deal!). And it brought home the devastation of AIDS and the shocking and inhumane way the federal government refused to deal with it or even acknowledge it, while it obliterated a significant portion of the gay community.

Completely and utterly fascinating.

I had a few itty bitty bones to pick about the writing — sometimes it was a little too lighthearted, and sometimes summed up situations with pithy conclusions, which was a little irritating. But overall, considering the range of years and the incredible amount of change and landmark events that happened in the city during that time, it was fast, interesting reading and I really enjoyed it.

If you love San Francisco at all, this book will fascinate you. There is nothing boring about it, and it’s incredibly informative about some really important recent American history.

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Godey’s Lady’s Book

We spent last week in Florida, helping to manage my sweetie’s mom’s transition to assisted living, after she suffered a terrible stroke in February. The new place is very nice, but it was a pretty emotional week. She is/was an antiques dealer, specializing in early American housegoods, so her house was filled with wonderful things. We had to go through and choose what she should keep, what we wanted, and what was to be sold through an estate sale.

Mostly K. went through and chose the items that had significance for him, but I tried to help by choosing things that seemed useful, beautiful, and would be a joy to see and use (and keep his mom in our thoughts and hearts). I’ve known his mom for a long time and she apparently had something special in mind for me, which was a complete surprise and such a treasure: an 1870 copy of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Now, if you are a Little House On The Prairie fan like I am, you will know immediately what this is. For those who may not have read those books as obsessively as I did, Godey’s Lady’s Book was the women’s magazine that Ma looked forward to looking at (through friends and relatives) to keep herself and her daughters up to fashion. It contained fashion illustrations, patterns, hairstyles, serial novels, recipes, household hints, craft projects, and every manner of print entertainment of the day. The book I have is a collection of the year’s editions (I don’t know how they were distributed monthly, or what) – so it is a real treasure. I told her that I was thrilled to finally see and have my own copy of Godey’s Lady’s book — and, as an extra bonus, the 1870s is around the time (perhaps a few years later) when Ma would have been looking through it.

We took home quite a few wonderful old books. Here’s a few stacked up next to the very sweet Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls my mom made for me, and my very favorite stuffed Mrs. Tittlemouse doll that I could not bear to part with:

IMG_1372A closer look at the titles (the bottom book is a very old edition of Good Housekeeping, which I haven’t explored yet):

IMG_1373A few of the dress styles of 1870:

IMG_1374And some hairstyles and other bits of fashion:

IMG_1375Some “work” (sewing crafts) for in the evening:

IMG_1376And some near-incoherent-to-modern-cooks recipes (my favorite: “A Nice Tart”):

IMG_1377How hot is “a hot oven”?

I could look through this book for hours. It’s completely fascinating. A really, really special gift from a pretty neat lady.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front yard solution!

Was bothered by the ugly house-front dilemma last night and resolved to fix it somewhat today. Mission accomplished!

Here is the nice little corner wild-flower garden. Penstemon, feather-flowers, succulents. I added a couple pots of leftover petunias, and an aloe vera in the back.IMG_1357 This was my big project. Attaching the trellis to the barrel. It took some problem-solving ingenuity, that’s for sure. Involving multiple random pieces of wood, a stepladder, wood screws, nails, a bunch of swearing and starting over at least once. But, I think this works! I also added a pot of lavender that I already had. IMG_1358 In the planter is a pink-and-white clematis and a bunch of petunias, which may or may not appreciate the part-sun this spot gets. If they perish, I can put something else in there. But I think this fills the blank spot nicely. I added some more succulents in front. IMG_1359 Ahhhh. So much better.IMG_1360Now I can just see how it goes, what grows well, what else is needed. But for now, this works for me and I can quit fretting over it!

Gardening!

More gardening. I worked really hard this weekend, despite waking up yesterday morning in terrible pain from a stupid neck/shoulder cramp/knot/horrible THING. Ugh. Anyway, thankfully I was still able to get a lot done. Yay for ibuprofen and those stick-on heat thingies!

Here’s the area under the lilacs. It’s filling in well with the lambs ear my dad gave me from his garden last year. I also planted an oregano here, in hopes that it will sort of spread and fill in the bare ground with yummy-smelling herbs. That little dish of water is for the raccoons, in the hopes that they’ll leave the birdbath alone.

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The planter for my sweet Cleo girl. The gray-green plant loves it, but I haven’t been able to get anything else to grow in the planter. So now I’m trying a native drought-resistant geranium. This is supposed to have violet-blue flowers. Crossing fingers…

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I weeded this whole strip (and took out, um, TWO YEARS worth of fallen leaves. Yeah, I didn’t do much in the yard last year, and it was time to clean it all out). It looks so much better. It was easier than I’d expected to rip out all the weeds and the leaves were very easy to pick up as well. I think this year I’ll concentrate on getting some bark mulch for this part of the yard and do a couple of potted things. It’s extremely rocky and difficult to get anything into the ground. I think it only needs one or two large pots of something hardy and it’ll be “done.”IMG_1346

The fun stuff: planted the veggies this weekend! There’s a cherry tomato in the blue container, then herbs, cucumbers, kale and chard in the front bed. Peppers in the black pots along the back, and then a bed full of tomatoes. IMG_1347

 

Pepper pots! One jalapeno (giant variety for stuffing!) and three bells. And my lemon verbena, just starting to sprout new growth for the year. And a really really messy area behind it all… oy. IMG_1348

 

Can’t wait to sit out in the shade of the plum tree and read..IMG_1350

 

This area is doing well too — I’ve got catmint and a couple of butterfly bushes, and some salvia. And a big bunch of iris and some lavender. It’s all doing well. And, duh, ORANGES.IMG_1351

 

Patio, newly swept and ready for morning coffee and evening grilling! Maybe this year I can finally figure out what to do with that back wall. It needs something. Wall planters with succulents? I don’t really want hanging baskets — it gets so hot here, I would have to water them all the time and I don’t want to mess with that. I don’t know. It needs something. Maybe just paint. Mediterranean blue? Orange? Fuschia? IMG_1352

 

The very sad front of the house. I got the junipers ripped out last year, which is great. But now it’s so bare. I have an idea for it — it’s full of rocks but hopefully some areas can be dug where the junipers were taken out. I’m thinking…
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Lavender! This is along the sidewalk in front of the house and is doing really well. Ignore the clover/groundcover… I’ve decided to accept that as part of the slightly-wild look I’m going for. The green stuff is dying (it dies back in the late spring) tand the rest is brown and looks like it’s supposed to be there, so let’s just pretend that’s exactly what I meant. However, the lavender is doing really well here and I think it would look nice in front of the hosue too, especially a taller variety. I would love for the house to have a sort of (low-water) cottage garden/wildflower look.IMG_1353The other plant I’m thinking of pairing with the lavender is penstemon (beard-tongue). I’ve got some growing in the front, on the corner, already, and I’m thinking even if I have to put some things in pots (there is seriously like six inches of landscape rock in front, it’s so awful), having some lavender and penstemon would look nice. I think something tall would be nice as well, but I don’t know what.

(this is penstemon — would look good with lavender, yes?)

DSC_0047So that’s the spring garden update! I’ll post some more later when things are blooming and filling in. I’m hopeful about my lavender/penstemon idea. It takes awhile to make a garden so I’m not worried — I just don’t want it to look *too* bare in the meantime…

 

 

Catching Up (AGAIN!): Garden, Art, Books

I swear, where does the time go? I’m busy and happy — that’s where it goes. Anyway, a little catching up:

Gardening/yard:

The yard looks so lush and pretty right now (if a bit overgrown).

ImageLittle birds come by to say hello:Image

The front porch looks cheerful as well:

ImageI am so ready to plant veggies! I’ve already planted a row of chard and a row of kale, and I just put in some cilantro and basil seeds today. I’m waiting to see what the temps will do this week; maybe this weekend will be time to get peppers and tomatoes. I’ll wait until later in April for cucumbers, butternut squash and the pumpkin I hope to plant. I’d like to make a small raised bed for lettuce too, in a shadier part of the yard. Maybe this weekend. I took my thyme out of their pots and replanted them around the yard. I’m trying to put pretty edibles throughout the yard. I need to repot my sage; it is HUGE and totally outgrowing the little pot it’s in. It’s about ready to flower as well. Spring is so exciting!

Art: Violet Owl

We moved around stuff in the house and now the “art room” is now the “studio” and is finally ready for projects! I drew this little owl to replace a faded print in the bathroom. She’s so sweet; I love her. 

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Books:

I read my book club book, Animal Factory. Go, me! This time, we branched out into prison lit! It was pretty good, kinda gritty. It was set in the 70s, at San Quentin. This was kind of interesting because I used to work about two miles from San Quentin prison; the prison is set in the rather charming San Quentin Village, with amazing views of the San Francisco Bay, a nice little beach, and adorable little houses. It’s a bit strange. The post office was nice and not busy; I would often mail my holiday packages from that post office to avoid lines. Just a sweet little village… and then, at the end of the road… a giant prison. 

It was also interesting because recently Tammie and I went to Alcatraz, and that prison is/was similar to San Quentin in the weather, the views (or lack thereof, even though it’s set in incredible natural beauty), the proximity to a city full of everything freedom brings. So I had a hard time remembering this was set at San Quentin and not Alcatraz.

The other book I just finished was Trader, by Charles de Lint (oh, how I love you, Charles de Lint). I found a paperback version at a thrift store and I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages. I do love his writing so much. He writes amazing female characters, and weaves in life-philosophy stuff without seeming preachy. And of course his brand of urban fantasy is so charming, welcoming, believable (and slightly edgy, which is welcome). It wasn’t my favorite of his, but it was a good Newford book and reminded me how much I love his writing. I may have to re-read The Little Country soon; that was my first de Lint and it’s been about fifteen years…

Now I’m reading The Season of the Witch,  written by Salon’s founder David Talbot. I’m not that far into it but so far it’s really good. It’s about San Francisco from the 60s through the 80s, such a time of incredible change for the city. 

What else has been going on? I went up to Oregon for my dad’s wedding, but didn’t take any photos — too busy having fun! We have to go back to Florida to clean out the sweetie’s mom’s apartment; she just moved to assisted living and her house needs to be clean by the end of April. So we’re headed back there. Erin is coming in two weeks and we’re going to Harbin Hot Springs for a night. I can’t wait… so relaxing and much needed right now. Everything is going pretty well — work is crazy, I’m travelling way too much which is such a change for me, but it’s all good. I’m very happy. I’ll try to blog a little more, but things have been so busy… 

Thanks for checking in!

 

Book: Shogun

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1152 pages. Yep. That there is a big ol’ book.

But so worth it. I never thought I would have loved this big huge grandpa-style (James Michener-esque) book, but I did. It was recommended on a UC Berkeley summer reading list for lit students, so I figured I would give it a try. I really loved it, although it took a chapter or two to really hook me. No matter, there were like a million chapters, so what’s one or two?

I had no idea what this was about when I started it. I mean, I knew it was about medieval Japan, but that was about it. I wouldn’t have really been interested if I’d known, frankly. Set in the late 16th century, it tells of a Dutch ship, captained by an English “pilot”, swept off course and marooned in Japan. The captain and crew are captured by the local samurai, and there is a battle of wills as West meets East. It’s fairly gruesome at first. Lots of heads being chopped off and some interesting torture and plenty of mind games.

Eventually, the captain (Blackthorne, also known as the Anjin-san) becomes a political prize, and soon a friend. The political intrigue of the samurai leaders was not my favorite part… I skimmed some of the deep political intrigue (which also brings in the Catholic church and the silk trade from China).

What was fascinating was the Anjin-san’s education in ancient Japanese culture, and his sharing of his own culture. This part was absolutely fascinating. I really loved all of the cultural exchange lessons. There was also a bit of forbidden romance; always a pleasure.

It was an investment of time, but let me say that it completely beat “The Night Circus” which I was also supposed to be reading for my book club. I couldn’t put down Shogun. I skimmed The Night Circus so I could (sort of) keep up with the conversation, but all I wanted to read for the past six weeks or so was this massive tome.

If you have any inclination toward learning about Japanese culture in the days of samurai, read this. It was superb. Granted, the writing was a little stiff, but I attribute that to what I call “man-book” syndrome — it was not flowery at all. It got the job done. However, completely forgiveable as the story was amazing and kept me interested for over 1000 pages. That says something.

Now I have a LOT of catching up to do, reading-wise. Next up: Animal Factory, for book club — we’ve branched off into prison lit! Woohoo!

 

What?!

How is it already March 13th?

Life has sped up considerably. I think about blogging often, but things are moving at a fast pace and I rarely have time to sit at the computer anymore. This is good, I think. At least, it’s different, and as Phil said in Groundhog Day, “Anything good is different.” (please note: that’s not true in all cases…)

The family stuff continues with my partner, and that’s taking up a lot of energy and thought. We may have to travel to Florida again soon to help with some stuff there. As well, work is crazy busy and by the time I get home, I am just wanting to watch a movie or read a book and then go to bed. 

However, on that note, I’ve started going for a mile a day — mostly running, some walking. My best friend Erin got me started; she did a whole month of running a mile a day, and it was very inspiring. I haven’t run much since I hurt my knee training for a marathon about 10 years ago (I ran the marathon, but at the expense of my knee), but a mile seemed do-able. And, surprise surprise, it is! I’ve been able to run the entire mile (slowly) most days. On the days when I can’t for some reason (no time between work and after-work activity, for instance) or when getting myself out the door seems like it will take a minor miracle so I’m lucky to even make it to the sidewalk, I walk the mile. Don’t even have to change out of work clothes to walk a mile, and that makes a HUGE difference.

By Day Three, my legs were killing me. By Day Six, they felt better, and now, at Day Thirteen, it feels like old times. Mind you, I am not a fast runner. I never have been. But it’s fun to be able to jog a couple of miles. Or, you know… ONE.

So that’s something positive. 

I’ve also been cooking more. Now that I’m not just cooking for myself, I’m finding inspiration to try recipes and make actual meals. That’s fun too, although again: less time at the computer. Which I do think is a better trend, overall. I spend most of the day on the computer at work and it’s good to have a break. 

And it’s gardening time here in the Bay Area… I have some big plans, including making plans to take out the front lawn. I’ll definitely post about gardening stuff. 

I will try to post at least once a week… I like staying in touch with ya’ll and having this blog as a record of what’s going on. Lately, too much has been going on. But that’s okay. 

In book news: I finished Shogun — I will write a review soon! It was awesome. 

where have you been?!

It started off so innocently. A trip to Nashville to see my sweetie’s father and stepmother on Valentine’s Day.

However, when we were changing planes in San Diego, we got a call that his mother (living in Florida) had had a major stroke. This wasn’t her first; she’s had several over the years, so we were very worried. We had to board the plane not knowing if she was still with us or not. Thankfully once we got to Nashville, we found out that she was in ICU and doing a little better. We decided to take it step by step and slowly figure out our plan. Eventually we decided that since she had a lot of family there already attending to her, we’d stay a few days in Nashville as planned, and then continue down to Florida to see her, once she was able to speak a little better and remember that we’d been there.

The next day, we went for a Segway tour with his dad and stepmom through Nashville, which was really fun and very interesting all the way up until the last five minutes, when his stepmom had a mishap with the Segway and was down on the ground. So… a few hours of urgent-care doctors and x-rays and his dad dropped us off at home and took his wife to the hospital, where it was determined that… she broke her ankle and needed surgery the next day.  So she stayed the night in the hospital and we all stayed up with dad and uncle, telling stories and laughing, which was much-needed.

The next day we started making our plans to travel to Florida… when we got a call that one of his aunts, who also lived in Florida, had passed away that morning.

So now we had a major illness, a major injury, and a death.

Thankfully the Rule of Three held, and the rest of the trip, though exhausting and emotionally draining, went pretty well. We drove to Florida and saw his mom (who thankfully has started to recover, although we’re still not sure the extent of the stroke). Had some business to take care of at her house, plus family was coming in to attend the funeral, which sadly we had to miss.

So it was kind of… a whirlwind. And not relaxing. But we got to see a lot of family and be there for his mom (and stepmom) when they needed us, and we’ll probably need to go back in a few weeks or months to help with whatever transition is in the future.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. Our four-day trip turned into nine, and we are completely exhausted, but at least we are finally home and I can DO SOME LAUNDRY. Ugh.

Winterness

IMG_1246Although we do get more “weather” here in the far East Bay than, say, closer to the Bay itself, we don’t get snow. Sometimes, a girl just needs snow. So we headed out to Tahoe for a weekend of skiing. The snow wasn’t the best, and it was a bit too warm so everything got icy and slushy at the same time, but it was still very fun. It is wonderful to anticipate many more weekends of skiing in the coming years, as well. I’m not the best skiier but I know enough to get myself in trouble, as the saying goes, and I’d like to make it a regular part of winter life. Sadly it’s still a 3-hour drive away, but I think I can manage a few weekends during the season.

The yard needs attention. I may get my very-sore body out there today and do a little pre-spring weeding, think about what plants I may want to get this year, and think about the garden. We had more rain this year than last, and the bulb flowers are sprouting all over. In a few weeks it’s going to be really lovely out there.

Winter is not my favorite season here in the Bay Area… it is this strange, anticipatory lull in the regular sunny seasons. It never really gets all that cold, and sometimes it rains but not really all that much, and it never snows. It’s just sort of mildly gray, with some frost sometimes, and people complain about how it’s 50 degrees and they’re freezing, and I long for some real weather. By spring, however, I’m very pleased with our early flowers and sunny skies and the early jump on gardening. So I wait it out during winter and enjoy my excuse to wear boots and tights and sweaters, and sometimes, in my shiny new life, I go skiing and get some real weather.

 

a little booktalk

I had to travel for work recently so was able to catch up on some reading.

I read The Elephant Keeper’s Children (Peter Hoeg) for bookclub — it was okay. It was an interesting mix of madcap adventure, religious philosophizing, and quirky first-person narrative. It reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time, and also a Flavia De Luce mystery, with some oddments of structure thrown in. I liked it but had problems with it. It was a little hard to connect to the characters, and those that I wanted to know more about, were closed to the reader.

Then I raced through the latest Pendergast novel by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston, Two Graves. This series is hit or miss, but I thought this was a hit. Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast was back in all his pale, elegant mysterious glory, and there were Nazis! And twins. And a volcano! It was just exactly what I needed to read on a 9-hour journey home (three-leg flight plus significant wait time at the airport…) I like it when books promise adventure and thrills and deliver just that. It was totally brainless but had enough fun plot twists that it kept me thoroughly entertained on the long journey home.

Now I’m reading Shogun by James Clavell. I don’t know what possessed me… but so far it’s quite good! I wish the writing were a bit smoother but it’s really interesting and entertaining so far. It gets rave reviews and seems to move along quickly so hopefully, even though it’s enormous, it won’t take forever to read. Has anyone read it?

So far reading seems to be going better this year. I hope to at least get 52 books — 60 would be terrific. The number doesn’t matter, but it’s nice to have a tidy list at the end of the year to look over and remember. Plus there are SO MANY BOOKS and only one lifetime — we must make progress!

Home sick today (actually, just taking care of a sickie, but since it was a violent stomach bug, I’m worried that my time is coming…) so got some reading done. Just a bit, since I took a five hour nap. I never nap. But hardly slept last night, so it was necessary. Thomas the kitty has been carefully watching over us and enjoying an extra day in bed.

Things have been busy — I was gone for a week to LA and Pennsylvania, and previous to that had gone skiing for a day. Tomorrow night we are going to see Eddie Izzard — I’m so excited! And Sunday is a live performance of Philosophy Talk which is syndicated on public radio stations… not totally familiar with it, but it sounds like fun. Berkeley is good for things like that.

A very busy spring is planned: a trip to Nashville, a ski weekend, a trip to Oregon, a visit from Erin, and another TBD trip in May. We were planning to go to Scotland in May but have decided to go in the fall, instead. If not Scotland, perhaps Spain or something else — whatever seems like the best idea. That little nagging feeling says, “Stay stateside in the spring… overseas in the fall.” Since I ignored that little voice last year and went to Amsterdam anyway and was a zombie the entire trip, I’ll listen this year. We’d still like to go to Scotland, but the trip isn’t coming together for some reason. We’ll see what happens.

Have I mentioned that I love being able to travel again?