Sunday, May 28, 2006

Why I Love Yard Sales

For most of my adult life, I've been shopping at yard sales and thrift stores. I hate to shop in "real" stores, especially at malls. I make it a practice never to enter the big box called W@l M#^t - the idea is repugnant. I would guess that at least 75% of what I've bought as an adult (excluding food, of course) has been what is now euphemistically called "previously owned". This goes for my household goods, furniture, clothing, gardening stuff, and so much more.

Thanks to the return of good weather and the gorgeous, sunny days, the yard sale season is now upon us! This morning, while walking Zuma, I came upon a neighborhood sale where I bought this box of pastels for 50 cents! These days, I'm always looking for art supplies. At the local art store, this box of pastels would cost close to $30. Did I score?? You betcha!

I love yard sales for lots of reasons, not just the bargains. I really believe in recycling things. I love the adventure of finding the hidden treasures in somebody else's pile of trash. I enjoy the anthropological aspect of yard sales, seeing how people live and what kinds of artifacts they keep or discard. I enjoy meeting people in the neighborhood, doing a little artful haggling, and all while being outdoors, in the sunshine and fresh air, while getting a little exercise too.

My friend DPR wrote a wonderful post this week about recycling, GIGO, Garbage In Garbage Out. Some parts of the country have it SO together, and the Pacific Northwest is one of them. Another we experienced last year is Massachusetts. While visiting family and friends, we went to a dump/recycling center on Martha's Vineyard (and heard about another on Cape Cod). They have little "shops" set up where people bring a few things, and take a few things, free of charge. Business was booming in both the in and out direction. Picture the "bargain barn" of Santa Cruz for free! Wow!

So don't ever ask me to go shopping with you at the mall.....

Saturday, May 27, 2006

What We Want

Poem: "What We Want," by Linda Pastan, from Carnival Evening.
W.W. Norton. Reprinted this morning on The Writer's Almanac

What We Want

What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names—
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don't remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.

Painting by Karen Kucharski

Friday, May 26, 2006

Red Rice

One of my favorite things to eat is a simple dish Daniella taught me to make. She calls it "red rice". It is easy and delicious, so watch out! You, too, might get hooked. Here's how simple it is.

Short grain Brown rice
Olive Oil
Tamari (soy sauce)
Cayenne Pepper

Cook some brown rice, however much you like to have around. You can keep it in the fridge, tightly covered, for quite a while. When you want to eat a bowl of it, warm up a serving or two. Toss the warm rice with some extra virgin olive oil (be generous), some tamari (to taste), some cayenne pepper (the "red" part) to taste (be cautious), and then some cut up avocado (be generous). Voila! It's ready to eat. You may need a little salt, depending on how much tamari you used. This is good for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Seeking the perfect cup of CHAI

I'm not a coffee drinker, and never have been. I just don't like the taste of it, and the few times I've had to drink it were torturous. When I lived in Italy, and visited people in their homes, I was given coffee routinely and told "Senora, mi fa offesa" if I refused it (rough translation, "it offends me - hurts my feelings - if you don't drink it"). They always gave me the coffee in the tiny expresso cups, black as pitch, with the little spoon standing nearly straight up in the thick gunk. I remember how drinking that coffee made me jittery, on edge, shaky, and feeling awful. That was the last of it. But I do have a morning fix. I love Chai! For those of you not familiar with it, chai is a hot drink based on black tea and a variety of aromatic spices, mixed with milk and honey. It's yummy, the ultimate comfort drink. Fortunately, living in Santa Cruz, one can always get a great cup of chai. Still, I'm always on the hunt for the perfect cup of chai, no matter where I go.

My favorite is Sun Chai, manufactured right here in Santa Cruz. It is exactly right - sweet, but not too sweet, plenty spicy, deep and flavorful. Many of the coffee shops around here use it, fortunately. The chai made by Staff of Life is also quite good. Malabar Trading Company sells a packet of black tea and chai spices so that you can brew your own. My favorite of their brands is Kashmiri Chai, but they have several other varieties. For me, the worst is Oregon Chai. It comes in boxes, and is so sticky sweet, and non-spicy. Let's just say that, if I'm desperate for a cup of chai and what's on offer is Oregon Chai, I'll pass. There are many other brands, and I've explored some of them but not all. We're coming up on summer, so for chai lovers like me there is also the possibility of having iced chai, or even a chai shake.

But here's my ultimate: Mocha Chai. Find your favorite chai and add chocolate to it, either cocoa or chocolate syrup. Make sure that the chocolate is as good in quality as the chai. Mmmmmm, now you're in heaven. What could be better?? Fortunately my quest continues.....

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

End of Life Drawing Class

Monday night was our last life drawing class with a model. Our teacher this semester, Noah Buchanan, has been just outstanding. His lectures on anatomy were beautifully illustrated, and amply rich in depth and detail. He had such a broad and deep grasp of the subject matter, and always kept it interesting. The class was very challenging, highly focused, and each week demanded more of us in understanding how to portray the human body. Noah played great music while we were drawing too! Here's my last drawing for the class.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Painting Class Wind-Up

This week is the last one for my Beginning Painting class at the community college, so I've spent a lot of time at the easel. A couple of weeks ago I posted my first attempt at a figure painting, and expressed my unhappiness with some parts of the painting. So I've been re-painting that one. Here is the new version, before and then after repainting. She's much happier with her doggie next to her!

For our final assignment, we were given a list of about 30 fairly contemporary painters and asked to pick one of them to study and then to emulate. We were not to copy one of their paintings, but to try and understand their style, and then make our own painting to the best of our ability using things we learned about that painter. Since I've been so involved with drawing the body this semester, I knew I wanted to do more figure painting. Aiming high, I picked the great Richard Diebenkorn to be my muse, and have been reading books about him, staring at his amazing paintings, and trying to channel his style, given that I'm a rank beginner. Just for fun, here is what I came up with, using a drawing from my life drawing class and then abstracting it into this painting. I'll show you the drawing, then the painting....

Friday, May 19, 2006

I Am, I Want, I Wish

(Painting by Xenia Hausner)

Taken from TaraDharma, who took it from SassyFemme, who took it from Syd, who took it from KMae, who took it from Suburban Lesbian, who took it from...

I AM sitting in a bright room, on the fifth floor of a new building, looking out into the tops of redwood trees. It's beginning to rain....

I WANT it all – passion, creativity, love, dogs, laughter, fearlessness into old age!

I WISH that women were in charge of everything, and men were just there to work out the technical details and do the heavy lifting (sorry guys).

I HATE the depressing and staggering incompetence of the Bush administration.

I MISS the carefree body of my youth, all strength and vigor. I miss the sweetness of mothering young children.

I FEAR religious extremism, Christian, Islamic, or whatever. I fear our government and the ominous direction it is taking.

I HEAR poorly and wear one hearing aid. It works out great at night, however. If I sleep with my good ear on the pillow, I hear nothing!

I WONDER what kind of an artist I will become, and how I will find my artistic pathway given all the amazing choices I could make.

I REGRET never having been an athlete.

I AM NOT alone, almost never, and I have almost never been alone, what with growing up in a big family, living in dorms in college, having serial relationships, raising children, working. I often wonder what it would be like to be alone. Would I be the same person or somebody completely different??

I DANCE self-consciously and rarely.

I SING along with some favorite “oldies” when nobody is listening.

I CRY in the movies, or reading great books, or when someone hurts my feelings.

I MAKE WITH MY HANDS: drawings, paintings, books, my garden, some pretty great food.

I WRITE a blog when I can fit it in, poems on occasion, and rants when I’m crying and upset.

I CONFUSE food and love. Don’t ask! I don’t confuse food and sex, however…

I NEED lots of time to myself, quiet, unscheduled time.

I SHOULD (and mostly have stopped) "should-ing" on myself!

I START my days early with tea and vitamins, reading the paper, doing the crossword puzzle, walking the dog, eating yogurt and fruit.

I FINISH everything on my plate, most often, leaving nothing for the starving children in Armenia.

I'M GLAD when I'm in nature, hearing birds sing, feeling the sunshine and wind, walking on beaches.

I LIVE within walking distance of just about everything I need.

I PRAY - no usually I don't.

I SEEK the perfect cup of chai.

I WOULD RATHER slow down and take all the winding back roads, even get lost, to avoid having to travel on freeways.

I PREFER not to waste time and energy on regretting the past. Been there, done that, got the T shirt.

I KNOW how to live with the cup half full, how to make lemonade when life gives you lemons, and how to keep your sunny side up.

I MUST HAVE: Chocolate. Books. The New Yorker. Friends. Laughter. The internet. Movies. Trees.

I HOPE for a better world for us all. And soon!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pinnacles - More Photos

Johna sent a bunch of photo links, showing some of the places we walked in the dark. The first one is where I had the biggest meltdown, standing at the bottom of this stairway looking up and up at the steps and handrails above, just dimly visible against the moonlit sky! You've got to be kidding! Be sure to look at the whole set of photos on this first link.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Moonlight Hike in the Pinnacles

I've never thought of myself as an extreme adventure sports type of person... not even close! Imagine my surprise to find myself inadvertently becoming one for a few crazy hours this past weekend?! To celebrate my dear friend Johna's birthday we signed up for a moonlight hike in the Pinnacles National Monument, a couple of hours away from here. I paid no attention at all to the details, and had this gauzy picture in my mind of us out in some beautiful meadow, walking around in the moonlight for an hour or so, looking at the rock formations (I'd never been there), and then going home. My first clue that something might be amiss was arriving to meet the rest of the hikers and noticing that all of them, except for the three of us, were wearing serious hiking boots. We were in our sneakers. Hmmmmm.....

After a one hour drive on a dirt road, up some mountains, across a spectacular old cattle ranch, and down into the Pinnacles Monument, we arrived at about 8:45 pm, and the hike started at 9pm. Our guide gave us little information (it turns out that everyone else had hiked this trail before and knew what was ahead, except for us). She told us to use flashlights as little as possible, to stay quiet, and she assigned somebody to bring up the end of the group. Oh, and she mentioned that we would be walking 5 miles. Five miles??!! Holy smokes! Off we went, in the deep darkness, up a trail - yes, up, for the next 3 hours we went UP. The first hour or more was very dark. The moon didn't rise until about 10. It soon became apparent that this was much more than a hike - it was also a climb. We started walking along cliff faces, inching around narrow ledges, and eventually climbing up vertical rocks using toe-holds and hand rails to keep us from hurtling off into the deep canyons below us. It was steep and narrow. I have a fair amount of vertigo, fear of heights, and my hands were sweating, heart pounding, legs shaking like bands of cooked spaghetti. I've never had panic attacks, but I think I got a sense of how one might happen. My pals Rosemary and Johna were fantastic, encouraging me and comforting me every step of the way. I think we climbed 1500-1800 feet that night, in the dark, slipping and sliding along the cliff faces. Breathe, I kept telling myself, breathe - but it wasn't a naturally occuring process at that moment!

I'll have to admit, when I had the courage to look anywhere but at my feet, it was gorgeous. If you want to see spectacular geological formations, Pinnacles National Monument may be the place for you. Millions of years ago east of Salinas, an ancient volcano rumbled and spewed, earthquakes split and moved the tortured terrain, and erosion further carved or smoothed its features. The result was a wild landscape sculpted with spires and steep canyons, marked with caves, and traversed by talus passages. The Civilian Conservation Corps built many miles of trails during the 1930s. They constructed “pigeon hole” steps to ascend the dramatic escarpments and installed handrails (but didn’t overdo it) along high ledges. Here's a quote from a web site that I should have considered reading before going on this hike: "While walkers wary of heights might want to hike elsewhere, those not predisposed to acrophobia will relish the adventure of hiking into the High Peaks area".

A highlight of the "hike" was seeing a group of about five giant California condors roosting in a tree near the top of the High Peaks. One was close enough that his glistening pink scalp was clearly visible in the moonlight. A hiker who had night-scope binoculars could read the tattooed number on the condor's shoulder (these have all been born in captivity and then released to the wild, since they are so endangered).

But best of all was getting to the end of the hike, at 2 am, when we stumbled into the parking lot and prepared for our 2 hour ride home (thanks Johna for heroic driving after all that!). We were so pumped with adrenaline that it took hours to feel tired. We laughed so much on the way home, exhilirated at having survived this wild adventure. We did it! WOW! So many times I thought of just giving up, collapsing into a sobbing pile of trembling protoplasm beside the trail, and letting whatever wild animals come along and just eat me up. Better that than inching along another cliff face in the dark. It was a loop trail, so there was no turning around and going back to the car. But we kept going - what a rush!

Today my legs ache with every step, all those stretched muscles screaming out "what were you thinking?" But I feel terrific, nonetheless. I have a memory that will last forever, and I have a new appreciation for my strength and endurance. That is priceless!

California Condor in flight - wing span can reach 9-10 feet!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Latest Lesson - Figure Painting

For the last 10 days or so, I've been working on this latest class assignment, figure painting from a live model. Since I've also been taking life drawing, it was the perfect tie-in for me. But I focused my attention on the body, to the detriment of the surrounding area. Oh well, I had fun doing it, and learned a lot by trial and error, lots of trial and error!

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Short, Sad Story of How A Gopher Broke My Heart

I've lived in my home for over 31 years (lucky me!) and never had a gopher problem, even though they are quite common in this area. Just recently one seems to have moved in. Here you see a photo of three California poppy plants that were blooming in my back yard. The two on the left looked just like the one on the right until a few days ago, when a gopher lunched on their roots. Now they are dead and flattened on the ground after this invisible, underground attack. What's really sad was that there were originally six of them, and now there is only one left. Based on experience, what are it's chances of survival, eh?

I know, I know. In the greater scheme of things, when our whole world is struggling to survive the voracious munching at all of our roots by the greedy capitalists, war mongers, constitutuion twisters, corporate raiders, moralizing born-agains, and other shameless power brokers, maybe it seems indulgent to mourn such a small thing. But still, those little golden flowers were (are) a shining light for me. I think it was Mother Teresa who once said "bloom where you are planted". I've been thinking about that, and wondering how we can continue to bloom, here in our homes,in our beloved country, while our own (un)elected officials are chewing at the roots of everything we hold dear and true, poisoning our water and air, compromising everything that lets us bloom freely. How can we hold on to what is left, and get rid of these noxious pests?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I'm Still Here...

I haven't posted anything in so long, I'm beginning to feel as if I'm disappearing. Mostly these days my head is filled with art - making it, looking at it, dreaming about it, and wondering what I'll do next. The semester is winding down and the two classes I'm taking are nearly over, except for "final projects". This week I've been doing my first ever figure painting, from a live model, and it is completely engrossing. I'll post a photo of the finished work when it is ready, but I'm still in the thick of it. Meanwhile, i've been working 2 days a week, sigh, but that is almost over for now. Can't wait to get back to the fully retired lifestyle to which I want to be accustomed again! (Painting above is by Richard Diebenkorn, one of my favorites).

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Bravest Man in America - Stephen Colbert

By now you’ve probably heard about Stephen Colbert’s remarks to Emperor W on his lack of attire at the Washington Correspondents’ Dinner. It's amazing how many newspapers ignored this event, and did not report on Colbert's stunning moment of courage. You can watch the performance on-line and also register your appreciation for Colbert’s ballsy performance at Thank You Stephen Colbert. Almost 50,000 thank-yous so far.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Big Sur Marathon Weekend

We spent the weekend in Carmel and Big Sur. Every year, for the past several years, I've been walking the 10.6 mile walk in the Big Sur Marathon. It is one of the most gorgeous walks in the world, as Highway 1 south is closed from Carmel to Big Sur, for runners of the marathon and walkers of the walk! We went down on Saturday morning with our great friends, Johna and Rosemary, to pick up our registration packets and walkers "bibs". We strolled around Monterey for awhile and then went over to a favorite place, Tarpey's Road House, for a most delicious lunch. Later we went down to Carmel, stopped in at Highland's Gallery to see Daniella's beautiful paintings on display, and then went for a good walk down to the Carmel beach, and around some of the scenic neighborhoods in the back streets of Carmel - a thoroughly charming little town. Finally we stayed in a motel not far from there, and were at the buses at 6 am on Sunday, ready for the walk.

Walkers are driven by bus down to Rocky Point, where we are dropped off. There is always a breakfast offered down there for the walkers, and at 7:30 the horn blasts and we're off! Only 10.6 miles to the finish line! Our group always makes an effort to have a new "personal best" every year for taking the longest time to finish the walk! We purposely stroll along, enjoying every minute of this glorious opportunity to be on the "ragged edge of the Western World", as it was described on some runner's T-shirts. In past years we have seen whales migrating north, near our walk. This year we did not see any whales, but there were seals and otters and sea birds, and spectacular coast line, and spectacular homes in the Carmel Highlands area. We made it to the finish line at about noon. Our bodies were tired but it was exhilirating to have walked so far and loved every minute. Here are some photos from the day!Finish Line! We made it!