January 1, 2017: SUNDAY


friends celebrating the new year with sparkle


Huggy spider cake from Gary & Mallika

points of light – the other:  “Leo ni Leo” translated from Swahili into English – “Today is Today” – meaning “tomorrow never comes.” Life/Time flows.  It is not discrete seconds, minutes, hours, but a continuum, and so yesterday and today are linked, melded one into the other.

Last night we celebrated the New Year with friends. Gary and Mallika brought cakes, one “Huggy Spider” tarantula cake commemorating J. Michael’s pet spider who, back in the early 70’s, escaped from his North Carolina State University office and terrorized the university’s janitorial staff.  After months of sightings, a resourceful janitor placed a wastebasket over Huggy, and s/he finally captured was returned safe to her/his dry aquarium home.  The chair was never pleased with the tarantula’s presence, her/his escape or return.  Who knew my giving J. Michael his Huggy would upset a doctor of literature?  JM married me, a biologist, and was not afraid of the natural world (although he became a Duke Ph.D. in Romantic English literature) as are some academics who live between dry pages of scholarly books.

Midnight came and went and behold the new year.  Gladness, her daughter, granddaughter, significant other and son-in-law traveled together into 2017.  Parents and 4-year-old with sparklers ablaze laughed and hugged in the cool night while I watched warm behind double-paned glass.  Had I not seen the child and the sparklers, my own memory of those long-ago points of light which so amazed, then vanished, would not have been recalled.  Life is the now, but always there is the past and our now, because of the mind’s time lapse, is always the past, always a fraction delayed.

Gladness and I have been friends for decades.  We were born, years apart, but only hundreds of miles from each other, she in Tanzania and I in Congo.  Had we stayed in our place of birth, we likely never would have met.  But I married a man who knew someone who knew someone who dated her and by chance multiplied by chance we met and became friends.  I often think of life as being the result of intent, but it is, more often, the result of chance.  Chance in my life, to date, has been of good luck, but that luck, always there, is certain, its kind not. Chance does bring luck, good and bad.  There is no getting around random forces.  Sometimes we set forces in motion, and sometimes forces exist with no relationship to us — until an encounter.  I’ve made no resolution this year, but I ponder what was and wonder what is to be and chance.

And we had brunch with friends from Mexico this morning.  Wonderful food created from family recipes and some containing an exotic Yucca. Teenage nephews/nieces came and left. They greeted each family member with hugs and handshakes and said their goodbyes with the same.  The young Mexican Americans, more polite than the “American” teenagers I know born to long-established ‘white’ American families.  Rudeness comes with long established US families or “whiteness?”

So Michael and I started the year celebrating with immigrants and native-born citizens.  JM is native born and I an immigrant.  I am an American, but more than that, I am of ‘other,’ and since I arrived in the US have been aware of that.  The ‘other’ makes me unique. I celebrate it. I delight in the ‘OTHER’ in our America! I celebrate the old and the new.

January 2, 2017: MONDAY

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA     study in light

the full spectrum:  I have a wonderful study. I would say I have never seen a better one. I am vain about it. It reflects me. Books, lots of cookbooks and architectural books and reference books (my biology books out back in JM’s bookroom); file cabinets filled with paper (too much paper); 3 desks (a long Burdick Group ‘computer’ desk with Herman Miller ‘peanut,’ a glass Burdick desk and a built-in maple desk); chairs, lights, memorabilia, artifacts and art. The art, my sister Lois’ fast-sketch trees (amazing) and an early water color by my mother (romantic) as well as a late-in-life small oil painting of flowers by her. Artifacts from Africa (one from my childhood) and a few items from my mother’s family (Michigan farmers). The room is cross-cultural: Shoji screened closet; Mexican wood flowers; African masks; and Herman Miller furniture from my Michigan, USA. Above all the room is light-filled and colorful. I need daylight, lots of it.  My office is colorful because I need color, too. Red is my favorite color, but next to red, I love bright colors, a multitude of colors in close proximity.  I am, like the Medieval English, a chromaholic.   I live in the full visual light spectrum (perhaps without gray)!

January 3, 2017: TUESDAY



princess priscilla

let there be light:  It is a gray day.  It rains. And if I prayed, I’d pray for rain, more than an average year of it to make up for the half-decade long California drought, a drought so bad one would have to travel back 5,000 years to see another of the same magnitude. The rain – steady, more than a drizzle – brings with it grey skies requiring window light be supplemented by artificial light.  It seems that I never have enough light. Is it my need for light, or is it the fact that I, an architect, have a need to put lights everywhere? How many lighting classes have I taken?   We have ceiling lights, wall sconces, dangling lights, lights under cabinets, hood lights, floor lamps, desk lamps, room lights, closet lights, multiple outside lights, and I would like even more lights.  Because we have so many lights in our bedroom, I decided we did not need lights under JM’s new T-shirt cabinet. A mistake.   So in daylight today, I switch on (& off) lights as I move from one room to another.  Outside gray envelops all for the moment as the rain creates color, transforming our dull brown hills to green. The rain weighs down the petals of our yellow Iris and Princess Priscilla’s purple flowers.  I prefer the sun but desire the rain, the rain which the dry earth, which nature, requires, and I thank the gods for it, if not for the grey.

January 4, 2017: WEDNESDAY



the leavings:  Leftovers: a bit of goose pate; a smattering of roasted grapes; fresh ricotta (I’ve attempted making it myself but was left with something other than the lovely, smooth curds of the boutique brand we served at the party); radishes, mushrooms, vegetables, crackers…. I had considered making several other items, but ran out of time. That was good because we had just what we needed and little left.  So we snack today on yesterday’s leavings.  We’ll also have a few meals made from the leftovers: mac & cheese and spaghetti with mushrooms.  I spend hours trying to decide on what to prepare for parties, hours shopping, hours making the food, and then there is the clean-up afterwards.  The hours on my feet preparing for the party left me exhausted, so I’m glad to make easy meals from the leftovers.

CONTEMPLATION: Michael is contemplating his next party — a White Elephant exchange next month. Perhaps I make some of the other dishes I contemplated for New Year’s.

I started my mother’s roll recipe yesterday, a recipe that requires several slow risings. I’m trying to figure out (contemplating – so far a year of contemplation) her technique, her proportions — exactly how much flour?????  Many of our old family recipes leave out measurements and sometimes ingredients.  It seems my predecessors cooked by sight or feel and did not need all things to be noted.  When a child, I watched Mother make the rolls and yet I do not recall if she stopped kneading the dough when it was still sticky or kneaded until it was entirely smooth and elastic.  I remember the smooth, elastic raised dough as she formed it into cloverleaf rolls, but I do not recall the texture immediately after kneading. In the past I kneaded the dough until it was smooth & elastic before the first rise, but the bread always seemed a bit dry.  This time I kneaded but left it sticky before letting it rise, and I used the warm water called for in the written recipe, but if memory serves me right, Mother usually made the rolls with warm milk and butter.  (I still recall cold butter melting on top of warm milk.)  It seems a written recipe was merely a starting point.  I remember Mother forming the rolls, their rising, the yeasty smell of the baking bread, the breaking apart of the hot leaves of the cloverleaf rolls, the melting of butter and the taste of which a childhood friend wrote, “The best bread I have ever eaten!”   So I’m trying to figure out what she did (that is not written down) to create those exquisite rolls. Always in the past, Michael has said the rolls wonderful, but the texture’s never  been quite right, the bread not moist enough, the ‘air bubbles’ not even, the tops not the proper brown, or …. And so I keep trying. Today, success, partial success or total failure?  We shall see.

LATER IN THE DAY: I formed the rolls and baked them. The taste of “Mother’s Rolls” – incredible, the ‘air bubble’ distribution perfect, the moisture content was just right, but the rolls themselves were a little too big (the recipe was for 24 rolls, but could have made 30) and the tops, not Mom’s perfect even brown.  Basically everything but the color and the number of rolls made from the recipe is correct.  Perhaps another oven would get a perfect roll, or perhaps I should not have used the convection feature for part of the cooking cycle.  Now my task, to get 24 entirely perfect rolls.

January 5, 2017 – THURSDAY


bump in the Oak:  Michael got up before me. I’m usually the first up. The air was cold and fresh. I slept unusually well last night and did not hear Michael get up, or the kitties attempts to rise us.  The sky seen through the oak – a deep baby blue and the light green of overhanging rafters bright in the low morning sun.  After the grey of previous days, the bright sky is welcomed.  Some branches of the oak seem to twist and bend back upon themselves.  One branch had an unusual turn and an odd color, a warm red brown instead of the dark chocolate brown of wet limbs in shadow.  I got out of bed to look.  Sure enough, the odd bump was a squirrel balled up, likely waiting for us to put out a new batch of birdseeds.  The red brown color, the squirrel’s tail reflecting sunlight.

January 6, 2018 – FRIDAY


beaded parrots


A matter of taste:  I was working in our front yard a few days back.  A woman walking her dog stopped when she saw me and announced across the length of the yard, “Your house charms me.  It charms me every time I walk by.”  I thanked her and said it made me glad to hear that.  That was a wonderful way to put it, not I’m charmed by your house, but your house charms!   I was especially glad to hear what she said because the neighbors who live in the grand house at the apex of the hill (their house painted dark, dark cool grey with a two story high black front entrance – done, we suspect, as a statement against our color scheme) hate the colors of our house, hate our trees, hate our exuberant plantings, hate our birdhouses, hate our yard art, hate, hate, hate, hate … However, two neighbors on the other side of the house love everything the one neighbor hates. They love the playfulness of the house, the yard, the colors, the plantings and have asked for our paint colors, cuttings from our plants and repeatedly let us know that looking out at our yard and house brings them pleasure.  Our grey neighbor’s house, a formal, traditional house build shortly after the 1906 earthquake, sits next to our 1957 Mexican ranch inspired house.  The neighbors in the old grand house were friendly with us when our house was drab and boring, but the more we altered the house, the more upset they became. Invitations to their parties stopped, then the long neighborly conversations became shorter and shorter until they ended entirely, possibly because we did not alter what we were doing to our house in response to their criticism.  I love beauty, but my idea of beauty is not formal, is not traditional, is not symmetrical, is not what other people have — it is unique, even eccentric. I want to create not something like something else, but something that reflects us, here and now.

crophouse  drab formal entrance

A few years ago, a woman was photographing our house.  It was a couple of days after the drab-house neighbor had turned in our house to the city as a blighted property.  Because I thought perhaps someone was documenting ‘the blight,’ I went outside and inquired why our house was photographed.  The woman was visiting from Paris and found our home so compelling she wanted to show the photos of it to her design friends in France.  I invited her in so she could see the interior of the house, which also is not at all ordinary.  Upon returning home, she sent me a lovely etched ‘Paris’ thank you card — one of the most artful cards I have ever received.  I found it interesting that the French woman remembered my name and had bothered to note the house address.  The French woman was not alone in stopping to look at our house.  Lots of people stop and some stop to comment when they see us in the yard.  We have had people stop their cars in front of our home, roll down their windows and holler, “Love your home.”  Many neighbors have stopped on their walks and commented on their pleasure at walking by our home.  One dog walker said she takes her dog walking in virtually every neighborhood in Oakland and of all the house and all the yards she goes by, our house (& yard) are her favorite.  Last Halloween, a young trick-or-treating boy asked to come in to look at our living room.  He kept saying, “It’s beautiful. It is beautiful. It must be really, really expensive. How much did it cost you?”   I thanked him for complimenting out home, did not comment on the expense and said something to the effect that I was a designer and that’s why it looked the way it did.  A neighbor from a few blocks away (whose house colors we love) stopped by with her tripod dog and told us that she has loved walking by our house for years. “I always want to see what your doing. You’ve made your house delightful and we’re so glad you moved into the neighborhood.”  But then there is Michael’s friend, who now lives in LA.  Last summer he visited after a several-year absence.  Said he, when he saw the house, “You must be your neighbor’s worst nightmare.”  Well, he is right, a third right.  One adjacent neighbor hates it, but the other two like it.  Our boring neighbor’s reaction to our home has made me keenly aware that what brings joy to one person brings unhappiness to another. But to me the most important thing is how we perceive the home we live in.  Michael, almost every day, says how much he loves our home and how much joy he experiences living in it.  Well, I could use a larger kitchen, another room or two, but ‘what there is of it, such as it is” I do very much love. AND beyond the house, I love what lives in it, Michael and the cats – all beautiful, all my daily delight.

January 7, 2017 – SATURDAY

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    Chicken on stones

Home 2015    Chinese stools

cock a doodle do / un-do:   All cats on bed when we woke up — cold and rainy out. We suspect they are glad for the warmth and a dry place to curl up.  We are too.  Planes fly over our house in bad weather, don’t know why we’re in the flight path on bad-weather days, but we are.

I may not enjoy waking up in the morning, but I do enjoy walking down our walk to collect our newspapers: Oakland Tribune/East Bay Times; San Francisco Chronicle; Financial Times; and New York Times.  I anticipate the walk because I do not know what I will hear, see or feel.  This morning in the cold drizzle, the rocks under our oak shiny wet, and our pottery chicken – named Slick – is too.  Our flock of chickens is much diminished.  Often we found little Peep in the middle of our grass, seeming to defy the laws of physics, an inanimate object rolling down an incline unaided.  Later we learned our neighbor’s chocolate labs, Wolf and der Wolfe (wolf in German), thought her a real bird.  Peep’s demise: Wolf or der Wolfe dropped the chick at the feet of his master and she cracked like an egg.  The rooster Clack met his demise early one morning on the sidewalk, smashed to smithereens (pieces scattered as far as 10 feet) by someone (perhaps an unnamed neighbor who does not approve of whimsy).   Cluck simply vanished (as did a mouth-blown glass gazing ball), so only Slick, not part of the original flock, remains.  We assume that Slick too will someday be done in by a ‘no chickens in the city’ adherent.

The Chinese garden stools displayed along the edge of our front porch remain, bright even without the sun.  One stool has a three-dimensional Janus dragon looking out onto both porch and yard.  No one has messed with the garden stools, and confronted by the dragon’s fearful faces, I would not meddle either.   Replace the ‘lost’ chickens with dragons?