Week 12  (problems w/ computer :((((()

March 19, 2017 – SUNDAY

EWA, used by the Azande’s of the Congo to get answers to questions about the future


The Question(s) Remains Unanswered: Of my memories, one of my earliest is of my sitting on the red Congo earth with the tail of the Ewa held by my toes. I rubbed its top back and forth over a leaf placed on its upturned disk-face, asking questions. Testing, I asked a question more than once. When the leaf stuck, my question was answered, but the same question resulted in various answers. Today, not sitting at my Ewa but reading my newspapers, I still ask questions and like me at the Ewa try to decipher which of the possible answers to the same question is correct. The future is hard to discern.

Early in the day JM and I read our papers informing each other of what we read. JM said, “We’re discovering who’s dead and who is alive.” I had thought Joan Didion dead and discovered she’s alive and still writing. He had thought Chuck Berry dead long ago, yet found to his surprise Berry had just died. We lose contact with family and friends when life seems too full. We lose awareness of celebrities whose lives at one time crossed ours if only by the fact we were aware of them or their endeavors.

In today’s New York Times, I read an article which, in part, discussed one of my all-time favorite movies, ‘Groundhog Day.’ It starred the personally irascible Bill Murray. He may be a self-important, prima donna, but that movie still makes me laugh, and I think it shows him at his best. I love to laugh, as does J. Michael. I love good drama, but in some ways I think comedy more difficult to write and act than tragedy. During a departmental weekly meeting years ago, my department head went around the table asking the favorite movie of each engineer / architect / inspector in attendance. Others had some Fellini or Bergman movie as their favorite. I shocked when I declared “There’s Something About Mary” as my favorite film. “That SURPRISES me!” a stunned engineer said of my selection. In that dysfunctional agency – which had a 60 percent turnover rate a year and where in a single year three mid-level agency managers left on stress leave – why did it surprise him that I rated a comedy more ‘liked’ than a serious movie? Shortly after that quiz, that boss left (as had three before him) on stress leave. I should have recommended ‘comedy’ to him. It helped me cope. Michael’s dear cousin Joan Williams, a psychologist and head of a huge department in the state government of Kentucky, said of me that I was stronger than she and was better able to cope than she was. She loved comedy, but when her boss got too crazy and her parents became ill she retired, saying the stress was too much for her to deal with. Laughter helped me deal with ‘impossible’ bosses, but more than that I had someone with whom to share both comedy and its opposite. JM made coping with a long line of ‘shits’ (shits who populated my life) ‘doable.’ That long-ago-boss was, in the end, literally carried out of the office on a stretcher. I did not laugh at the news, I did not smile at it, but written in a certain way, it could be made comedy, comedy to make people smile or laugh out loud, thereby helping those who see it cope with the ‘bad’ we all encounter in the living of a life.

I’m not sure comedy would have made working under the tyrannical agency head tolerable for my supervisor, but it may have made it possible for him to leave the job on his feet. For me, the great stressors in life are: bad bosses and nasty co-workers (not to mention certain relatives). The bad agency head finally got his due, what he should have gotten shortly after he was hired. He was fired, and if my heart did not leap up at the news, it at least had a little vicarious pleasure when I heard that the bad boss, one of the worst I have known (I had little direct contact with him and remain thankful for that!) staggered (literally) out of the City Manager’s office so overcome was he with the news that he had been terminated with no notice. It served him right. He got a little, a very little, of what he had dished out.

In the movie Bill Murray’s character evolved from a shameless ass to a well-rounded, loveable human being, something that he appears not to have done in real life. In his case, one wishes for him that life imitated art, but alas he remains ‘Bill Murray,’ and as Harold Ramis (director, actor and one-time friend) said of Murray, “Bill is Bill.” Bill, who was estranged from Ramis for two decades after they made Groundhog Day together, said of him after his death, “He earned his keep.” Many who live don’t earn their keep. I would argue that Trump doesn’t and that he is a negative value in this world and that Trump has done, perhaps irrevocable, damage to our country. To me, Trump is a disgrace as president and more than that, a disgrace as a human being. If I were his child, in spite of all his power and money (some of which I’d likely inherit), I would be personally humiliated at having had him as father.

Actress Andie MacDowell, the co-star of ‘Groundhog Day’ said, “All of us would like to live days over.” Some days I’d like to live over because they were wonderful and I’d like the pleasure of experiencing them again. Other days I’d like to relive because I’d like to (as in the movie) change what I did and do it better. Then there are the days after which I’d like a time machine to transport me back to change the time before the day, to make right the ‘bad day’ so that it happened better the second time. I’d like to go back before the 2016 presidential election to make sure that Hillary Clinton won the Electoral College vote. I’d like to do that because, unfortunately, Trump is not just bad, he is worse than I imagined possible. Bush ‘junior’ was not good, but Trump is making him look better by the day. Trump may not be as bad as they come, but he is certainly at the very bad end of a good to bad scale. I need to laugh, to escape the reality Trump is creating, so give me ‘Groundhog Day,’ ‘There’s Something About Mary,’ any good comedy to relieve the terror I feel in the here and now, the terror created by, in my opinion, the most unqualified man ever to have become president of these United States. “I laugh so that I may not cry!” That’s a paraphrase of a line by Lord Byron that JM is always quoting.

Today is the 14th birthday of our oldest godchild. We sent him cards (both hard copy and electronic) and a check. We did not call because we thought that might suggest we were angling for an invitation to his home on his birthday. JM wanted to go nowhere and see no one. His back is seriously aching from last week’s golf game. Last Fall he slipped on the stairs when our kitchen flooded as a result of a badly installed faucet (the architect who previously owned our house knew nothing about construction), and JM fractured two ribs. We suspect that although the ribs have healed, his current back problem is related to last year’s break. Our bodies frequently heal, but sometimes the mending is imperfect. Today JM rolled on a hard foam roller recommended by our physical therapist for past back problems and put hot and cold compresses on his aching back, but he continues to experience sharp pains. Knowing my man, the pain will likely have to go unabated for days before he will see a physician. (From the future I come back to write: I was correct.)

March 20, 2017 – MONDAY


Joy in the morning: Spring is early this year. It should be on the 21st as it was in my youth, but it is today instead. The Dogwood’s buds are starting to burst forth. They are twisted and green, but they will turn cream white and then the seeds, in late summer bright red. I enjoy seeing the new buds as well as anticipating their progression throughout the growing season.

March 21, 2017 – TUESDAY


The Real SPRING: And today to me is Spring. The sun and the earth and math changed the date of Spring, but the 21st of March, remains the first day of Spring in my mind. Today is the birthday of my life-long friend Fran. She was a Spring baby and that will not change.

Oskar is a creature of habit. He will sit only on Michael’s lap, not mine, and only while JM is on the bed watching television. I slept in until 9 a.m., which is Oskar’s 8 a.m. Oskar’s stomach is still on Pacific Standard Time (PST), not Pacific Daylight Savings Time – I wish there were double Daylight Savings so I could have slept another hour – and he thinks it necessary to remind me I’m to get him breakfast. He woke me up with nudges and meows. JM was up early because he did not sleep well. His back was throbbing with pain, and we drank long-steeped Irish Tea late yesterday. Caffeine, whether from Coffee – Tea – or Cola, does have an effect, as does pain.

It rained more early in the day. I’m glad for indoor entertainment. The cats asked for their new feather-under-an-umbrella toy to be turned on. Many toys a bust: the motorized RAT (advertised as a mere mouse, but not a mouse, a large Norway RAT); the fuzzy ball; the food-filled ball; the large furry mice (small ones liked); the feather on a string (string where a feather once hung is preferred to it tipped with feather); and …. But the new umbrellaed feather toy they play with together and for long stretches. Sometimes they play from inside, behind or around their cat tunnel, the other toy that continues to delight.

Spring Flowers

March 22, 2017 – WEDNESDAY

A slow day and a rising loaf: Today was one of those days in which I seemed to have accomplished little. I shopped for groceries at one of the oldest grocery establishments in the city, Piedmont Grocery. It’s a comparatively small store but carries a wide variety of ‘sophisticated’ products and old-time products (Lava Soap; Fels-Naptha, the ‘Heavy Duty Laundry Bar Soap;’ Bon Ami Powder Cleanser, ‘Trusted since 1886’; individually wrapped rolls of Scott’s unscented bathroom tissue; canning supplies; local cheeses…). Because of Piedmont’s fresh produce and its range of products, when I can I like to shop there, although it is slightly more expensive than Safeway. Today, that is where I shopped. On shopping days I like to buy fresh fish for dinner, and I did so today and prepared the fish using a recipe (‘Asian Striped Bass en Papillote,’ i.e., wrapped in parchment paper) from Simple Pleasures cookbook by Alfred Portal, chef of the Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City. It was good, as is every recipe of his I have tried. When we visit New York, I’d like to eat at Gotham. If that restaurant is as good as his cookbook, the eating there ought to be exceptional.

I made a focaccia from Carol Field’s Focaccia. I modified one of her recipes using a frozen whole-wheat biga (dough sponge made from flour, water, yeast) that I’d made from another cookbook, a bread cookbook with complicated recipes. That cookbook’s biga is supposed to be kept going day after day by the addition of flour, water, etc. I decided keeping up that biga was too demanding to maintain in my busy life. I gave the cookbook to someone who works for a local baker. However, using that several-day old, whole wheat biga (as well as soda water) was a terrific addition to Field’s focaccia. Periodically I could probably make a whole wheat biga, keep it for a couple of days and add it to a focaccia dough without having to go through the on-going process of keeping a biga /flour-yeast-water mixture growing in my kitchen. The resulting bread may not be as wonderful, but then the making of it would be much less trouble. The work-versus-results ratio did not seem reasonable to me to continue to keep ‘growing’ the whole wheat biga, but the focaccia made with that whole wheat biga is mighty tasty.

March 23, 2017 – THURSDAY

Ducking It: I had planned to cook Peking Duck yesterday, and I did a few first steps. After buying the duck and reviewing recipes in The Duck Cookbook, I had decided on Peking Duck. I glanced through ingredients and skimmed the recipe’s directions which said to 1) submerge duck in boiling water for a minute, then remove and let sit for an hour; 2) Glaze and let sit for an hour; 3) Bake in an oven for 4 hours. I started the duck 7 hours before supper hour. Unfortunately, after starting the preparation, I read the recipe more carefully and noticed a few things I had missed. Following directions earlier, I had brought a pot of water to a rolling boil, submerged the duck for a minute and removed it to dry. Then I noticed at the end of the paragraph, “Repeat this process three more times.” And then I realized, ‘Oh, this step takes 4 hours, not one!’ I read the next step in the process more carefully. It too concluded with a ‘REPEAT’ clause, “Repeat two more times for a total of three times.” That meant that prior to the 4-hour baking time, the duck needed a ‘pre-treatment’ lasting 7 hours, for a total preparation time of 11 hours, not the 6 hours I had thought. I missed the repeat, the repeat of the repeat. There would be no duck for dinner last night. I completed the first phase in the preparation and refrigerated the duck to complete today.

Today duck glazed and dried; re-glazed and re-dried; re-re-glazed and re-re-dried prior to baking. I cut long pieces of Spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced the cuke, cooked the pancakes; set the table all making ready for the meal. After a couple of hours in the oven I checked the temperature of the duck. It was perfect (for a regular-baked duck) and called JM to the table early. The skin was a beautiful dark amber, but not at all crispy. I, however, was unwilling to wait more hours for perfect skin.

The meal was delicious. The pancakes were perfect, even if the duck skin was not (although the duck meat was just the right shade of pink). JM said of the meal that he was glad that I had made it because he learned of the process – but he doubted if I’d do it again. I’ll gladly make the light pancakes, but the duck? Unlikely. “Chinese restaurant, here we come!” There is a reason why only a few have Peking Duck on the menu and why one must order it 24 hours in advance. The next time I get Peking Duck, I’ll really appreciate the crisp skin because I now understand: to get the perfect skin, time and expertise are both required.

March 24, 2017 – FRIDAY

Play Off  New Body

The Remains of Yesterday: The whole house smells like duck, or at least the main floor does. My mother said of duck, “It is mostly fat.” And of that fat, some of it now coats the stove hood and the cabinets above. The duck’s dishes were washed yesterday, but the washing of the duck’s kitchen cabinets – a task for today.

Our tasks today: get J. Michael’s new pants altered; and to the camera store to look at the new OM-D1 – Mark II camera. Pants done – check. See camera at store – check. We looked, then we bought it —- an early birthday gift for me. For a ‘rebate’ we turned in the old film Minolta Camera we bought decades ago. It was, we were told, one of the first automatic focus cameras. It had taken good photos. It was put aside. We forgot about it because we thought an electrician working in the house had taken it, so we bought another. The camera remained ‘lost’ for years. We found it this past year, but never used it again. Today, there, still in the camera, a roll of undeveloped film. We learned that the lenses had, in hibernation, developed mold and that one lens was cracked. Just like people: “Use it or lose it.”

My new camera is light and beautiful. It will take some getting use to – the buttons and functions are slightly different from my older Olympus. I dread the learning curve. There is much I still do not understand about my old Olympus. It (and some of our lenses) needs to be refurbished: Buttons are failing, the on/off switch does not always work, the review function is slow, and the software requires up-dating. For all the lack of use of the lost Minolta, the Olympus has been used, even overused. It’s been to Africa and Europe and Canada with us. With today’s purchase, we now have two cameras, each of which can use the same interchangeable lenses. JM says when he retires, the old one will become his.   We’ll send off the old OM-D to camera hospital while we break in the new one. I hope it provides as good of service as the old.

March 25, 2017 – SATURDAY

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Egrets, Swallowtail, Sitting Ducks

Study of Duck On water

Early day: Dawn. More Owl than Lark – I’m not a morning person, but sometimes getting up early is necessary. When I awoke, JM was already up with back pain. I arose early in order to prepare equipment for the landscape/nature photography class and so that I’d not be late for class. I made it (a bit late) — and spent a few beautiful hours at the edge of a lagoon, doing my best to capture creatures in early light and more importantly, learning basics about my camera. Photographing ducks, the very creature I ate nights before, “irony or coincidence?,” I wondered.

I’ve tried to learn my camera by reading, but I learn more and understand more when I’m instructed by a live person. I’m not so much on book learning – although those who visit JM & my house, seeing our books, might dispute that claim – as I am on ‘people’ learning. As a result of today’s class, I understand some of my camera functions for the first time. I’ve spent hours reading, but I’ve learned more in a few recent camera classes than I’ve learned from hours of reading. I learn and remember (I hope) more by being shown. This morning while learning to use my camera better, I saw a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Coots, Mallard Ducks (hens and drakes and a white one), Phoebes, nesting Great Egrets, reflections in water and …. Because I was familiar with it (or at least partially so), I used my old camera. I did capture some images I liked, but, oh, how I would like to be better photographer.

Today’s ‘assignment’ was to capture bright white objects. The class instructor helped me adjust my camera setting so that I might capture, without ‘washing-out’ detail, those beautiful creatures nesting in a tree at water’s edge. Egrets, I’ve seen them before, but in trying to capture their image, I saw them more distinctly. ‘Dressed in fine feathers,’ I remember, as a child, hearing that phrase. I looked through my camera at the long, formal-looking feathers of an Egret, wispy feathers hanging about the body like fine fur, or hair (their nuptial plumage, their mating feathers). It seemed the bird itself dressed in her/his best dress/suit. Those long arching feathers once graced many a society woman’s hat. Women put on their fine feathers (or rather that of the Egret), their rare expensive feathered hats (those feathers per ounce once equal to the price of gold) to complete and/or complement their outfits. As a result, the Egret (as well as other beautifully plumed birds) was hunted almost to extinction.

Part of the conservation movement was started to preserve Egrets and other fine-feathered birds. Oakland’s Lake Merritt Park has a bird sanctuary, the OLDEST in the country. It was created to save birds. Today many species – birds, manuals, insects, amphibians, sea creatures and all kinds of plants – are threatened with extinction by Global Warming, by acidification of water, by destruction of habitat. The destruction caused, not so that we may dress in our finery but similarly driven by our desire to over consume. We are doing to multiple species, because of our indulgent living ways, what was done to the Egret. As I write, many pretend that Climate Change is not real. With or without belief, animals are dying, habitats are being destroyed and whole ecosystems are being eradicated. I’m photographing a few birds, birds that live today because individuals evaluated the reality of what was occurring in their world and took action to save bird species. Will humans collectively act to stop Global Warming, or will we in this, our day, refuse to acknowledge what is there before us and, in our denying, utterly destroy the natural world we inherited from our forbearers?

I capture the fine birds with their flowing nuptial plumage today only because of actions taken by wise people who lived long before I was conceived. I want tomorrow’s world to be one where today’s threatened species, threatened ecosystems remain. I want to leave to those who follow me a real world of real species and real habitats, not a virtual world (where they can see and partially experience what once existed) devoid of the living things and their environments. To that end, I am politically active. I am a member of: The Nature Conservancy, The Audubon Society, The Sierra Club, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The World Wildlife Association; and … I believe in putting my money where my values lie.

I think of the larger world and today’s challenge to preserve it, as I try to capture an image of something that was almost lost. It was almost lost because of human greed. It is greed, I believe, that motivates many to deny what scientific research has revealed about the cause of Global Warming. It is that greed which might, if unchecked, destroy our world for tomorrow’s children. What is a feather worth?