Sunday, November 30, 2008

Max, Pick out a Bow!

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit I did participate after all in the after-Thanksgiving sales today (Saturday). I had to take my son to Eureka anyway, so I went shopping -- feeling pretty guilty after my vitriolic ranting of yesterday.
Especially when I was in Michael's craft store and looking at the sale flyer: "Doorbuster Sale." Stores actually promote the idea of crowds busting down doors to get at the incredible sales, like yesterday when crowds busted the locked door of a Walmart in Long Island, surging over and killing some poor temp who was sweeping the floor (See "Stampeding Shoppers".)

At least I can say I did not participate in any greedy bargain-grubbing that made me forget my manners. And there were no crowds. The only ill-tempered person I encountered was a clerk who clearly hates his job.
My pretty tree
In my defense, I was after materials for my handmade Christmas gift extravaganza. I can't say what I bought because some of the future recipients of these handcrafted items may be reading this blog.

While there, I bought crafty presents for my little nephews and step-grandsons (there are five): an ant farm, a woodburning kit, a musical instrument ("my first recorder"), an art-supply set, and some glow-in-the-dark clay. Passing along the make-your-own-gifts tradition. Unfortunately, everything is made in China. That part is hard to avoid.

To top it all off, I also went to Target. You see, the ceiling of my new cottage is too low to allow my sparkly treetop star so I had to go buy a huge red bow. Also, the treeskirt seems to have vanished in the move, so I needed a new one. I got out of there for less than 15 bucks, which goes to show there was no impulse buying going on. I wonder if I can make it through the rest of the holiday season without ever shopping there again.
My pretty tree with bow
When I got home, I wrapped gifts by the beautiful tree with my big black cat purring beside me.
My big black cat
I was drinking eggnog and brandy and watching The Grinch. My favorite part: when the Grinch wraps up Cindy Lou Who in wrapping paper in the back room of the post office, and he turns to his dog and says, "Max, pick out a bow!"

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday: Leave Me Out

With the economy the way it is, I thought America's orgy of consumerism was coming to an end. But I've just read emails from two teenagers, one in LA and one in Redding, who along with their moms, spent the night out waiting for stores to open this morning. The girl in LA said at 1:30 a.m. that the line was wrapped several times around Best Buy.
This happened today: "WalMart Worker Killed by Black Friday Mob." Those crazy people, desperate to save 50 cents, should all be home baking cookies! Mobs are horrible and frightening.

I have only participated in so-called Black Friday a few times. The first was about five years ago when my sister-in-law included me in her plans. We scoped out the sale flyers from the newspaper as if mapping out a war strategy. Then we braved the crowds at the mall (at a reasonable time in the morning, after coffee) to spend our money, frantically, along with apparently everyone else in town.

It was interesting, kind of like a sport, and it was followed by a marathon gift-wrapping session, fortified by eggnog and Thanksgiving leftovers. But somehow I don't think it actually saved our families any money.

There are many reasons why I won't be participating in Black Friday this year, for example, I think it's creepy. But the most pertinent one is that I am broke. I need to actually save money, not just lie to myself that I did. When it comes to the children, my own and my nephew's, I will buy things. But the rest of us, what do we really need that comes from a store?
Don't worry, I'm not going to become a Scrooge. In fact, I fully intend to start decorating my house today and also wrapping the few little gifts I've picked up here and there. I'm going to make things this year, for example, I already made soap yesterday. Over my break, I have already addressed Christmas cards.
I just want to tone it down, less consumerism, less allowing commercial interests to manufacture my discontent just to line their own pockets. We all need to keep our safety nets intact right now, our savings accounts and our personal relationships.

Check out this site "Buy Nothing Christmas." It has a few good ideas. And there are many more sites like that out there with gift ideas.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mushroom Odyssey II

Lucy and I went on a hike today to find the Mill Creek Falls in McKinleyville. Jack's directions, "Turn right on Turner and roll your window down and listen," were perfect. Here is the lovely waterfall:
It's so peaceful to sit on the rocks overlooking this falls. The crashing sound drowns out all your worries.
On the way, we saw seven more types of mushrooms and I photographed them "for Angela." But the truth is, I'm becoming a mycophile myself, at least today.

Now comes the fun part: identifying them. I really need a little field guide with beautiful, color photos.
This one is maybe a paxillus involutus. Or is it a chrysomphalina aurantiaca?
Could this one on the right be a chanterelle of some kind? This one is a little blurry but it's my favorite. I like its narrow stalk and flat top.
I really wanted this one to be a Dead Man's Foot, but I don't think it is.
I know it's hard to tell in these photos, but this one was pretty big, about eight inches tall.Maybe I will just have to admire them for their beauty and continue in ignorance of their scientific names. I'm overhwelmed by the great number of varieties found in California.
If only I could find a glow-in-the-dark Jack'o'lantern mushroom or the intriguing-sounding Stink Horn, my life would be complete.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just like the poor sap searching the kitchen here, I can't remember where I found this photo originally, so I can't credit anyone. Thank you, anonymous source.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mushroom Odyssey

My friend Angela is a mycophile, a term I just now discovered while trying to identify some mushrooms I photographed yesterday. A mycophile just loves mushrooms. Not only does Angela spot and photograph them while hiking, she even favors them as a decorative motif in her apartment.

So it was for Angela's sake that I started paying attention to the mushrooms of the world. Now, however, I've come to find them rather fascinating in their own right -- but only as something to admire visually; when it comes to eating mushrooms, I stick with the grocery store.

At the end of my little dirt road is a small green field occupied by my favorite neighbor, a cow named Ruby. Yesterday, I noticed five different kinds of mushrooms growing at the edge of Ruby's field.

To me, five different kinds of mushrooms in such a tiny space was a noteworthy photo-op. But the neighbors seemed to think that a woman kneeling by a field photographing mushrooms was far more noteworthy. So now I've met a couple of my neighbors.

Still, the only one of these I think I can identify is the amanita muscaria, the red one.
The little faceted puffball might be the same kind, only younger. Or it might be a calbovista subsculptura.

Now that I think of it, maybe the this one is a more mature version of the amanita muscaria. Anyone know?
I think this is some kind of jelly mushroom because it was sticky and didn't have gills on its underside.

Finally, this weird one, which from the top hardly even looks like a mushroom, but underneath is clearly some sort of gilled variety.I wish I could go on a mushroom identification hike with an expert. Now must be the perfect time for such a thing. There was a mushroom fair last week in Eureka, but that was before the mushrooms of Ruby's field caught my imagination.

Mushrooms are so strange, just appearing overnight, barely connecting to the ground yet totally earthy. And I love their mysterious names, like Dead Man's Foot, Earthstar and Earth Tongue.

One mushroom, the Armillaria ostoyae (Honey mushroom) in Oregon has been identified as the world's largest living thing, covering 2,200 acres. And check out this dude in Australia with the mushroom he found.

And of course, I can't end this without mentioning, reluctantly, "the elephant in the room," psylocybin, the thing that added a characteristic sparkle to my own wilder years. Still, I can never think about the word intoxicated anymore without noticing the presence of toxic right in the middle of it.

We are the strangest creatures of all, we humans, poisoning ourselves for fun. Don't you think?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Something About the '30s

I just finished watching the entire series, Carnivale. As usual, I'm annoyed it's over and canceled and that the story will never be finished. I don't know why I continue to subject myself to the faulty medium of TV (even in old series on DVD when I already know their fate beforehand).
Carnivale captivates my imagination, with its grittiness, richly detailed settings and realismo magical. I can't get enough of things that are set in the '30s, the Depression or the Dust Bowl. Examples: O Brother Where Art Thou, Miller's Crossing (both of which are Coen Brothers films, must be a favorite era of theirs too). I want to see the clothes, shoes, curtains, wallpaper, furniture and radios. And in Carnivale, the tents, trailers and gypsy caravans.
The truth is, I wasn't very interested in the great Good-vs-Evil storyline in Carnivale, just the characters and the situation: Carnies, living outside society's rules. But I was intrigued by the twist of having the evangelists and churchgoers represent Evil and the collection of misfits, outcasts and thieves represent Good.
My Swedish immigrant grandpa was a migrant oil field worker during the Great Depression. You didn't have to speak much English to do that kind of work. He got his left thumb sliced off in an oil derrick. I can only imagine what the medical care was like.

My husband is the grandchild of "okies," migrants who were chased west by poverty and hardship during the '30s. That Southern-sounding dialect you hear in Northern California, always among the working class or a "good old boy" who has risen in the ranks, is a living artifact of the migrations of the '30s.
If you can recommend any more movies or TV set in this era, please let me know.
Scene from Miller's Crossing
Scene from O Brother Where Art Thou

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Things I've Never Done

I have never flown a kite.
I have never tried funnel cake.
I have never seen the waterfall that is rumored to be near Mack Town.

Actually, there are a million-and-one things I've also never done, but these three are particularly regrettable and, more importantly, fixable. With Thanksgiving Break coming up, two of these things are on my to-do list. The funnel cake will have to wait until next summer when the carnival comes to town.

The photo of Mill Creek Falls is from the McKinleyville Press blog and by one of my favorite photographers and brave adventurers, Jack Durham.

Friday, November 21, 2008


There was this guy in front of me in line at Target this evening. He was casually dressed and nondescript, and like me, he was buying about a hundred bucks worth of household miscellany. I paid him little mind until he went to pay for his purchase.

He pulled out a giant, messy wad of large bills, fished out a hundred, gave it to the clerk, and fumbled the wad back into the pocket of his jacket. Crumpled bills littered the floor as he walked out. A Target clerk had to go running out the door after the guy to return his dropped cash.

Not exactly incognito.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stranger than Fiction

In Death Valley, there are rocks that move by themselves across the dry plains. They're called the Sliding Rocks of Racetrack Playa, or sometimes the Sailing Rocks. You think the website is an unauthenticated, unprofessional hoax? Here is the author's doctoral thesis on the subject.

The theories about what moves these rocks are all a little odd. Wind blows them? The mud flakes expand and contract moving the rocks? Magnetic fields under the surface?

And while we're on the topic of crazy desert features, have you heard of the Door to Hell, also known as the Burning Gates? Located in Turkmenistan, this cavern is full of burning gas and looks like a lake of fire.
The Soviets were mining for natural gas and found a rich pocket, but then the mine caved in. To prevent major gas leakage, some genius set it on fire, and it's been burning now for 35 years. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that Turkmenistan is the Next Big Thing when it comes to business of extraction.

The desert is full of mysteries. Like the Nazca lines in Peru, for example. Drawn by ancient people, these huge pictures in the ground are only visible from the sky.
Or the Devil's Hole pup fish, an ancient species that only exists in a cavern in the middle of Death Valley. This little guy has been around for 22,000 years but now is endangered. A desert fish.

Devil's Hole in Death Valley.

Monday, November 17, 2008

So Go Ahead and Shine

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
- Mark Twain

I saw this quote today on the blog of a classmate of mine who died of cancer this week. Her blog chronicles the struggle of her last months. I cried reading it, remembering how vulnerable we all are, how fragile life is, how we can't take life for granted, and how 45 is neither old nor young. It is an age where mortality becomes a reality. We have to watch our cholesterol levels, accept our limitations, get regular breast exams, and get treated like old fogeys by our teenage children.

Somehow I am always collecting quotes to remind myself why fear can't be allowed to rule our behavior. I have let my shyness or fear rule me many times. Opportunities arise, I hold back, and the opportunity becomes a regret.

It's usually in relation to doing something publicly or calling attention to myself. Those things take a strong push of determination, and sometimes I can't do it.

Once, a favorite band of mine, Acoustic Junction, played at a party I attended, and the bandleader asked me if I wanted to sing my favorite song, "Desire," onstage with them. Yes, I wanted to! It could have been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. But I said no, because I was afraid I'd forget some words, miss musical cues, look stupid, be embarrassed.

Here is a quote I heard around that time and wrote down in my journal. Joseph Campbell, a mythologist who has studied cultures over the world and throughout time, says the secret to a good life is, "Follow your bliss." I didn't take it to heart at the time. Pithy quotes can't teach the way experience can.

There were times I didn't let fear rule me and that resulted in remarkable experiences and memories that I can file away and ruminate on someday when I'm an old lady.

I was in a couple of plays, for example, in Garberville back when Pure Schmint Theatre staged productions regularly. I was so scared, and waiting in the wings before going onstage, I really thought I might have a heart attack. But I survived and now I get to say I've done it. I know the feeling of stage lights and the dark, breathing presence of the audience.

The Indie was like that. Although it was my idea and I rounded up interested, capable people, I never envisioned myself running the operation. I just wanted a decent local paper I could report for. After the first issue, I wasn't even involved.

But after the second issue, the guy in charge walked away. I remember someone came over to my office at Trees where I worked and told me it was all over unless I came back and was in charge. There was a moment when I stood at a crossroads, walk away or give the project my all. I had to conquer my fear to be in charge of the newspaper, because I had little experience, no training and had never owned a business.

That experience was a mixed blessing, because as a single mom, I really wasn't capable of giving the project enough time. The paper was more demanding than two children, and many times I have looked back and wished I had just walked away. Nevertheless, the Indie is something I can look back on with a sense of accomplishment. Here is a quote I had on the wall of the office then:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Nelson Mandela is another person who put into words this struggle and the reminder why it must be overcome to have a full life:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Open Minds and Opening Minds

Perhaps it is a little unseemly to blog yet again about blogging. But I just discovered this list of more than 180 local blogs. Not all are active, not all are broadly interesting and some are downright wacky. In other words, they are as individual as people.

So, while blogs only represent the segment of the population that is comfortable with the written word, they are still representative enough to give readers a sampling of viewpoints.

Once, a writing professor of mine told us that literary studies makes people more open-minded and tolerant because it exposes us to many points of view. I believe blogging is doing this in the non-academic world.

This is especially interesting when it comes to politics. While the wider trend is toward polarized partisan politics, closed-mindedness and "standardization," the subversive world of self-publishing is promoting a more tolerant paradigm. Humans are as individual as snowflakes, even bloggers with their bent toward writing, publicizing and technology.

Granted, there are plenty of anonymous commentators and hard-core curmudgeons represented in the comments. But whether they like it or not, even they are being exposed to different points of view, as they read the posts and comments and engage in argument.

I am so excited to have more blogs to read, and I'll bet at least one of my new discoveries will become a daily favorite.

Thank you to "Darsh," the author of Myrtletown, who put the list together.

Friday, November 14, 2008


(Calliope and the Seven Sages)

Jack tagged me a couple of days ago, but I've been at a loss to think of more than a couple of things that people may not know about me. My whole blog is overflowing with self-revelations (see "Confessions"), so what can I say without repeating myself? But Jack's my boss, so I have to do what he tells me to do. So here goes.
I used to be a notorious bookworm.
My dad used to get mad at me for reading on vacations instead of looking at the scenery. I used to read under the covers at night with a flashlight, a habit my parents blame for my very poor eyesight now. I used to buy old Gothic paperbacks by the dozens from thrift stores and throw them away when I was done, like kleenexes. When it came time to pick a college major, I was equally interested in psychology and anthropology, but just for kicks I took a look at the literary studies major. Choosing to major in Lit was a guilty pleasure for me, since it seemed like a glorified book club. The choice backfired, though. It stole some of the pleasure, and all of the escapism, from reading. Now, getting myself to read a book requires self-discipline.
I was a total Bohemian hippie between the years of 1985-1989.
I missed the entire big-hair era, thank God, in favor of the natural look. I lived alternately like a beach bum, a street urchin or a Grateful Deadhead. I have seen no fewer than 50 Dead shows. I kept a daily journal all through those years and it makes me laugh out loud to read it. The adventures were many, as you can imagine.
I love to swim.
When I was in grade school, we had a swimming pool, and I used to spend hours in it, practicing the dead man's float or imagining I was a captured mermaid forced to swim in this little pool. The fantasy was inspired by the TV show, Man from Atlantis. As an adult, nothing made me happier than being at the beach. Through much of my adulthood, I collected mermaid art. I was a mermaid for Halloween once, with seashells in my hair and a sparkly, scaly dress I designed myself. Sadly, no photos exist of it.
I have multiple sclerosis.
I got sick in 2000 and was diagnosed in 2001. Pre-MS I was a very serious go-getter with seemingly endless stamina. But this disease makes me know my energy limits and manage my stress. The process toward diagnosis was life-altering and contained some very scary moments, but I've been doing great ever since. My disabilities are blessedly few and visible mostly to myself.
I play guitar and sing.
I have a rare and gorgeous Daion 12-string acoustic guitar that I bought for a boyfriend in a tiny music shop in Texas in 1983. We broke up before I gave it to him, so I carried it around for years imagining I might learn to play. In the aforementioned hippie years, I spent considerable time honing my music skills. During the height of my musical years, I loved to play Pink Floyd, Neil Young and Eric Clapton covers. After that, I played lullabyes and children's songs. I hadn't played for years when recently I became inspired by Gillian Welch.
I make the most delicious cornbread you have ever tasted.
Seriously, over the years, I've outdone even my own mother, who is a fantastic Southern cook. I'm convinced that my cornbread was instrumental in winning my husband's heart in the beginning. I will gladly share the recipe if there are any cornbread enthusiasts out there.
I can write in Elven.
In 9th grade, my nerdy friend and math tutor, Chris, and I taught ourselves to write in Elven script, from J.R.R Tolkein's Silmarillian. We learned this phonetic writing purely for the purpose of writing notes in school. In my journal, which I have been keeping in one form or another for 30 years, I reverted to Elven when I had to write something of utmost secrecy. I can read and write it to this day.

Wait, I almost forgot that I have to tag some people. But who do I know who hasn't done this yet?
And, because s/he hasn't responded yet, I'm tagging Heraldo again