Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bucket List: Sky High

For those of you who think I'm just some mild-mannered home-economist-foodie-artsy-scrapbooking sort, I've got news for you: there's a latent Evel Knievel-ish daredevil lurking in the shadows. So there are a few thrill-seeking items on my bucket list, and skydiving is one of them, although it's moved farther down the list now that there are small children in my care.

The Matterhorn is not a prerequisite to my intended leap of faith, although it does make for a magnificent photo. I've seen this giant hunk of rock before, from a few different angles, and I don't think I want to be anywhere in its vicinity when I drift back down to earth. Wide open plains of wheat fields, maybe.

Any ideas for the ultimate skydiving spot? Want to come along? I figured you would jump at the chance...

photo, Office du Tourisme du Valais

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bucket List: Carved in Stone


It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.
John William Burgon

photo, Bernard Gagnon

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bucket List: Painting with Light

Last week's solar flares caused dramatic variations in the Northern Lights and left me longing to check off the number one item on my bucket list: a chance to see the Lights with my own two eyes. It's been an obsession of mine for most of my life, which is probably more than half over at this point...

When I was a little girl, my great-grandmother gave me a tiny tear-shaped stone that seemed to contain every color of the rainbow. It hung around my neck on delicate silver chain and I never wanted to take it off, especially after she told me what it was called: an Aurora Borealis crystal. Even the name sounded magic, and I listened with rapt attention as she told of the mysterious lights which appear in the northern sky. That crystal may have been nothing more than an irradiated bit of rock, but for me, it was the seed of a dream.

Certain dreams and mysteries shouldn't be explained away. For once, I really don't care about the scientific explanation of the phenomenon, that this display of lights is caused by charged particles colliding in the thermosphere. Let me have my childish belief in astronomical alchemy, of spirits dancing in the sky. And please, please let me witness them before I, in turn, become a spirit of the void.

photo, Daily Mail

Saturday, January 28, 2012


There's a fountain downtown (and by downtown, I mean the corner where our two village blocks converge) which was installed a few years back, to the delight of some and the consternation of others. I have nothing against the aesthetics of the thing, but the engineering bothers me. The water is supposed to fall in a continuous glassy sheet from the upper basin to the lower, but often it breaks into splattering waves that make an annoying cacophonous flutter.

Mostly, I'm irritated by the fact that Ive taken probably hundreds of photos of this fountain, and I can never get the shot quite right. There's distraction in the background, or it's overexposed, or the dramatic moving parts of the thing won't cooperate with the angle I'm trying to achieve. Or someone throws a penny into a perfect reflection, or someone bumps my arm. Or the wind blows. Hmph.

Art and life are both like that. I can have all the required elements. I can set up the shot just so. I can do everything right, and still, the end result comes out completely off kilter. There's just something missing. The pieces won't cooperate. Or maybe I'm actually looking at it all wrong. It's a puzzle, one that won't ever be solved unless I keep on trying. Once more, with feeling...

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Empire of Light

Aeons ago, I went with a friend to see a Magritte exhibit at the SFMOMA. I love Magritte's whole body of work, the trompe l'oeil, the sense of humor. This particular image, one I hadn't seen before, struck me at the time and has stayed with me ever since. I was lucky enough to see it again a few years ago, hanging in its rightful place in the intimate setting of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

It's a painting I long to enter. I want to go around the corner, throw open the door, and skip steps as I run upstairs to the second floor. The light is warm and enticing, beckoning; there's something commonplace and comfortable about the scene, but it's magical too. Light is so hard to capture. I'm in awe of artists who truly get right, who can beautifully illuminate a scene from within. Magritte was one of them.

Please, leave the light on for me...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Un Peu de Mystère

Hundreds of times I have gone full circle 'round the roundabout at the end of our town, near the end of our peninsula, and I never ceased to be amazed at the sights I see at any given moment of the day. Mornings hold a particular glory, with the sun in its many costumes. San Francisco is just there, behind a dense wall of fog, as the Angel Island ranger's boat putters over on its morning run.

The nice folks who run the corner café must think I'm nuts, the way I jump out of my car and go running for the water's edge each time I drive by; there's always something new to capture: a leopard shark, a seal, a manta ray, a schooner, a skiff, a cloud front. The city skyline, dazzling in sunlight or shrouded in mystery. A scooter with a broken headlight, a penny on the pavement, an egret in flight.

Here's the secret: I refuse to see anything less than the spectacular in the everyday. It's my contest with myself. Just one amazing thing; it's not that big of a challenge, but it does mean you have to be waiting for something, expecting something. If you're looking for it, you're bound to find it. Believing is seeing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


"The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky."

Carl Sagan, COSMOS
photo, NASA archives

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pearish the Thought

We received these gorgeous pears as a gift over holiday season, individually wrapped in gold-gilt circles of pale green tissue paper, each piece of fruit tinged with the loveliest blush. They were delicious and everyone was delighted to indulge in a luscious, special treat. It's the best kind of present; one that's beautiful and useful and enjoyable, and in this case, nourishing. One that can be shared and doesn't go to waste. We couldn't ask for anything better. Except maybe another case, since we're all out now, perish the thought...

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green

While I've been romancing the romanesco, my kids have been fomenting a full-on rebellion."Where's the beef? What'd you do with the butter?" They're sneaking off to In-N-Out the minute my back is turned, I just know it... When I asked for the verdict on this lovely warm balsamic-braised salad of broccoli, shiitakes, and tomatoes, the diplomatic response was, "Well, the blandness of the veggies covers the horrible bitter taste of the arugula."

It's not easy being green. People look upon me with pity; "Really? You're only eating vegetables these days? That must be so hard for a foodie like you..." Explaining that I want to do this, that so much of what I've read lately convinces me the surest path to optimum health is paved with greens, garners me a lot of blanks stares. I don't mind. I'm certainly not going to force my ideas on anybody else.

My family, though, is obliged to humor me just a little. They have to at least try it, then they can smother it in bacon bits and sour cream and shredded cheddar. They can have my dinner with a side of pork tenderloin. I'm not giving up; I'll let the results speak for themselves. Now, pass the kale chips, please. And yes, I actually like them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Soggy + Soccer = Sogger

There's a special place in Heaven for soccer moms...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Don't Let Go

o by the by
has anybody seen
little you-i
who stood on a green
hill and threw
his wish at blue

with a swoop and a dart
out flew his wish
(it dived like a fish
but it climbed like a dream)
throbbing like a heart
singing like a flame

blue took it my
far beyond far
and high beyond high
bluer took it your
but bluest took it our
away beyond where

what a wonderful thing
is the end of a string
(murmers little you-i
as the hill becomes nil)
and will somebody tell
me why people let go

– e.e.cummings
photo of my mom, pregnant with me,
taken by my dad...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fractals are Food

Romanesco broccoli is one of nature's most stunning works of graphic art. A self-similar fractal form, Romanasco's logarithmic spirals are a perfect illustration of the Fibonacci sequence. Fibonacci probably had this for lunch, sautéed in olive oil and dusted with finely-grated Pecorino Romano. It also makes a unique conversation-starting centerpiece for your dining room table. Come on, you know you want to try it...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cerulean Soul

One of the advantages of rising before dawn is the privilege of actually witnessing the sunrise each day. This morning's tableau was serenely spectacular; it's as though there's a clear-cut line between rosy day and dark night, with its crescent moon still hanging high in the sky.

If only life's transitions were so straightforward. Try as I might to greet each day with optimism and enthusiasm, there are times when my soul stays sunk in a deep blue funk, a sadness without solace. Sorrow, though, can be a profound creative well. Minds like mine don't travel in straight lines, and sometimes a detour into the deep and dark is required to throw some perspective on the quality of the light.

Torrential downpours are coming, probably tomorrow, and my mood may well reflect the weather. But it's impossible to watch the sun come up on a beautiful day like today and not believe that somehow, some way, things will turn out as they should. I'll save that thought for a rainy day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nothing But Blue Skies

"The coldest winter I ever spent," Mark Twain purportedly reported, "was a summer in San Francisco." We, on the other hand, are experiencing a winter unlike any other I can remember in the Bay Area: crystal-clear skies, balmy days, and visibility for miles. The conditions are so enticing that I've been taking the long way home (like this detour, up into the Marin Headlands) any time I can get out and about. According to our local meteorologist, those lovely days are numbered, but I won't forget how lucky we've had it these last few weeks...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sippin' Soda Through a Straw

Remember when a Shirley Temple was the bestest,
most wonderfulest, ginormous treat ever? Do ya?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Amped UP!

Anyone who's ever spent an afternoon at our house knows that the sound levels are in no need of any amplification whatsoever. But the noisemakers are undaunted; the louder the better! We've got lead singers, lead guitars, percussionists, keyboardists, operatic divas, a belly-dancing back-up performer, and a rapper dog. All trying to outperform each other. At any given moment. I just wish this show would go on the road, on tour, sometime. Quiet in the Studio, and all that.

Often, the home phone will ring and the conversation will go something like this:
Me: Hel-LOOO?
The other person: Hi, how are you? ...do you need to go...?
Me: I'm fine. WHAT? No, I can talk now.
The other person: It sounds like you need to go.
The other person: Um, I think I better go...
People say the house will one day seem much too quiet, they tell me how much I will miss this when it's over. Try me.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Georgia On My Mind

Calla lilies, simple and striking, have always been one of my favorites. It's easy to see why Georgia O'Keeffe was drawn to paint their sensual swirls. There is something innocent and at the same time coy in the way their curves capture light, a question and an answer, a mystery revealed. Beauty, and a thing's importance, are truly in the eye and soul of the beholder, where small things become immense. I love O'Keeffe's large-scale interpretation. It's as if she was privy to some universal secret truth and I often wonder, how did she know?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friggin' Awesome!

Who knew? -- "In the United States, roughly eight percent of the population is afraid of Friday the 13th, a condition known as paraskevidekatriaphobia... Friday is named after Frigg, the Norse goddess of love and sex. This strong female figure, some historians claim, posed a threat to the male-dominated Christian church. To fight her influence, the church characterized her as a witch, vilifying the day named after her." -- I love learning (and questioning) something new...

Frigga Spinning the Clouds
painting by J.C. Dollman

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Itty Bitty Book Club

This is possibly the most adorable book club ever! The kids in Claire's class have split into several small groups, each reading a different book, with a parent leading each group. These guys are so cute and have such thoughtful things to say about what they're reading. We're learning about moral dilemma and hard choices. Big subjects for little people, but they tackle them with all the enthusiasm you'd expect from these fresh, eager faces. Some days, I really just love this gig...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Borrowed Intelligence

In 1999, one of my editors at Autodesk called me over and said, "Hey, there's a pretty good new search site called Google. You should check it out." He was a smart guy and a painstaking researcher, so if he said something was worth a look, I made time to look. Back then, we were writing about the visionary possibilities of location-based services, imagining a cell phone driven future we've now far surpassed. We're approaching singularity at lightning speed.

Now "google" is a verb, and anyone anywhere can find practically any blip of information in the blink of an eye. I'd contend though, that for most humans, information culled in this way isn't "sticky"; it passes through consciousness and keeps on moving. I call it "borrowed intelligence". Look like you're smart and know your stuff one second; forget every bit of it the next.

For me, there ought to be something sensory, something tactile for the best absorption of information. My kids roll their eyes every time I start in with "When I was your age, we went to the library and --", cutting me off and finishing my sentence for me. There's a new way of doing things, I get it; admittedly I'm pretty cutting-edge-techno-geeky myself and don't want to be hypocritical. But give me stack access over a hyperlink any day. I'd rather borrow a pen than borrow against what my own memory can hold.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Five-Fold Happiness

These tiny tokens charm my heart. The artist, Judy Vilmain, captured these symbols of the Chinese concept of five-fold happiness with perfect balance. I love the weight of them in my palm of my hand, the jingly sound they make when they jumble together, and the good tidings they represent. Such great pleasure from things so small:
  • a coin for WEALTH; the circle signifies heaven, and the internal square represents earth
  • a gourd for GOOD LUCK, to ward off evil spirits.
  • a monkey for PROSPERITY, especially success in one's chosen career.
  • a pair of Mandarin ducks for DOUBLE HAPPINESS in love, because they mate for life.
  • a pine branch for LONG LIFE, from the hardiest of trees.
Here's wishing all of you all of this in the year to come...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bend It Like Wynham

Jack saw this picture and said:
"Wynham, Wynham, he's our man;
if he can't do it, no one can!"

and Claire said:
"Hey, whatever happened to those pom-pons, anyway?"

and Chloé said:
"I'm going to make chocolate chip cookies."

and Wynham said:
"Mom! There's not even a BALL in the picture!"

Ya win some, ya lose some.
I simply like this photo for all
the possibilities just beyond the frame, and
the way Wynham is running up to greet them...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Parenting: Epic Fail #427

If ever I forget any of my shortcomings as a parent, my kids are quick to remind me. They are so helpful in that regard. Every once in a while, when I've had all the hemming and hawing over homework I can stand, when there's just one more whine about what's for dinner, well, I SNAP! "Fine then! You can just go to boarding school!"

There are any number of excellent parenting books which could point out the grave error of this reactive type of statement: You're damaging their fragile little psyches! They'll spend years in therapy undoing all the harm you've inflicted on them! I'm sure Claire has read them all. I'm sure she can quote the chapter, page, and paragraph correcting any of my various infringements against her delicate soul.

The last time I used the boarding school threat, Claire ran down the hall, to be seen moments later climbing the stairs to my room. Upon receiving this missive, left forlornly on my pillow, I had the following reactions:
  1. I am the world's worst mother.
  2. Wait, I'm going to redline this text and give it back to her. If she's going to call my bluff, she should at least use proper spelling and grammar. And editorially, "sad" and "little" together is laying it on a bit too think, don't you think?
  3. Aack. Back to reaction #1.
Ultimately, I told Claire I was going to frame her note, to preserve it for posterity. That stopped her in her tracks, but probably not for long. I can tell you one thing for sure, there's not a single line in any of those books to prepare you for the day when you suddenly realize your kids are smarter (or at least way more clever) than you...

Friday, January 6, 2012

When Royalty Goes Awry

It's that special day of the year again, the Feast of Kings, the occasion when we serve the Galette des Rois and someone is crowned king or queen for the day. This year the favor was found in "the share of God," the extra piece left for the first person to arrive at our home after this celebration.

Claire was having none of that. She insisted on having the favor, on the grounds that she had never been the lucky recipient of the crown. To my surprise, some parent (Not me. Ahem.) acquiesced to this demand.

Drunk with the possibilities of her newly-appropriated sovereignty, Claire headed straight to the kitchen and came back with the marble rolling pin, hollering "Off with their heads!!!" No flimsy orb and scepter for this monarch, no siree. She attempted to wield this daunting bit of authority in the whereabouts of Wynham's pate, but like the good French peasant that he is, he took up his dinner fork and retorted with "Vive la Révolution!!!"

At this point, the Queen Mother decided she'd had just about enough of all this abuse of power and uttered words guaranteed to deflate any budding potentate: Go. To. BED!

Long Live the Queen...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rock Star for Rent

Possibly, the only thing more egregious than a teenager with attitude is a teenager who goes away to college and comes back with more attitude. Don't get me wrong, Chloé's a good kid getting good grades, and I'm proud of her and all that, but I think her sosie came home for the holidays. Gone is that helpful young lady who could be relied upon to put the dishes in the dishwasher and watch after her younger siblings, the one who never missed a curfew, who called when there was a change of plans, who could be counted on to clean up after herself.

She's been replaced by a somewhat unruly creature who's out all hours, leaves apple cores and underpants on the mantle, has a constant in-and-out stream of adoring fans, and seems to think there's room service 24/7 and perpetual housekeeping services at her disposal. I'm thinking, as her personal manager (every rock star needs one), I could cover the cost of all these amenities by setting up gigs for her, whereby she goes to someone else's house for 24-hour increments and impresses folks with her many talents. Just sayin'.

For any interested parties, please expect impromptu concerts any hour of the day or night, an incredible slowdown in your wireless network, an incredulous look if expectations aren't instantaneously met by the minions, and oh yes, you might want to install a revolving door. And an extra large-capacity water heater. And don't forget to stockpile enormous quantities of chocolate for regular care and feeding of the rock star. You've been warned...

Coco! I love you! *mwah*

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hard to Pin Down

The New Year always seems to bring with it a sweep of ideas and emotions, relief and regrets, optimism and determination. This go-round, I resolved to keep my resolutions realizable. They are small and fuzzy, not grand and polished, and perhaps a little hard to pin down. They might, just maybe, be doable.

In the spirit of starting small and staying focused, I took a few photos with my new microscopic lens for the iPhone. I love the results, and this one in particular is the perfect talisman for 2012. It's a straight pin, threaded through a tiny glass bead and a seed pearl, on an ornament I made 40 years ago. A tiny thing, but enduring.

So the motto for the year is, "If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way." Starting small is just fine. The important thing is to start...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Learning My Lines

Certainly, I've had my issues with getting older. Gravity, for one, is not my friend. In the last couple of years, I've spent a lot of time and energy fighting the inevitable, inexorable, downward trend. *sigh*

A dozen years ago, an older friend of mine complained to me that the creases which appeared on her face while she was sleeping now seemed to stick around for quite awhile after she'd gotten out of bed. I didn't have a lot of pity for her at the time. I should have, but how was I to know?

To no avail, I waged an all-out war against that little Grand Canyon between my eyebrows, the one that careens off towards my left eye. The one I probably got from squinting for all those years while I refused to admit I needed the glasses. All the time, not just for reading. Well, now I'm making peace.

It's time I learned to love my lines. Time to treat them, not like scourges on the landscape, but as badges of honor: something earned. No matter how that landscape evolves, the smile, I hope, will always shine through...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Falling for Franz

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how many musical notes does it take to convey the powerful provocation of a given image? Far less, I imagine... Well, you might not call me an aficionado of the majority of his compositions (although certain pieces are quite moving), but I'm absolutely besotted by this portrait of Franz Liszt, painted by Henri Lehmann in 1839.

It happened by chance encounter one sunny afternoon a dozen years ago, at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris. I can't tell you much about my visit other than the fact that, in a tall-ceilinged room flooded with natural light, this canvas stopped me in my tracks. Long rays of sun mimicked and illuminated the original lighting of the scene. The painting, well, it glowed...

Liszt was a handsome-enough fellow, known to make ladies swoon, a virtuoso sporting a checkered romantic history. His face may have been his passport, but his power was in his hands. You can see how Lehmann captured that essence: the confident-yet-not-quite-insouciant posture, the unusual ring on his index finger, those puissant and perfectly formed digits.

Words fail, but his music still speaks volumes. And so does this portrait, with its nuances and innuendos indelibly etched in my mind.

To crack open the lid on Lisztomania, start with this NYT article.
Henri Lehmann gets a place in history, too.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you have set in place,
what is man, that you are mindful of him...?"

Sometimes in the sleepless hours of a cloudless night, I play a game with myself. Staring at the western sky, I attempt to will a shooting star into my field of vision. I mean really, how hard is it for the Universe to nudge a bit of space junk into the atmosphere for me?

The object of the game is to go back to sleep, of course, by loosening those filaments of thought from their tightly wound configuration which keeps me up in the first place. If I focus on the space between the stars, planets, and moons, if I concentrate just hard enough, I might be rewarded with a fiery arc across the heavens. Or better yet, slumber. Or best of all, both.

I'm a tiny speck in the grand infinite. But once in awhile, in the evanescent skeins of a falling star, I feel my power. And then, If I'm lucky, I can dream...