Monday, December 28, 2020



Happy winter, friends.

I celebrated solstice by: getting a gorgeous-smelling fir wreath and a bunch of winter berries on the branch delivered, and by washing our bedding. (My logic goes: sleep is a spiritual practice, in winter especially; bed is the altar; therefore make it extra nice for holidays. The coziest bed for the longest night.)

I always thought it a crying shame in Illinois that the wonderful "Christmas" lights got taken down in December. How about a mental health innovation: leave them up! Help get your neighbors through the grim wastes of February!

I decided myself last year, after reading The Little Book of Hygge, that I would carry on freely through the rest of winter with any previously December-bound practices of light, warmth, and ritual that I cared to.

Speaking of indoorsy pursuits: yesterday I started learning Esperanto. I never understood the appeal of a constructed language before. But I see why people like this one. It's delightfully simple, organized, and exception-free. So friendly. Lots of immediate reward.

And I've enrolled in a community college linguistics course for the spring semester...for the third time! Spring 2009, Spring 2017, Spring 2021. Long story short, there were obstacles the first two times (respectively: being nineteen, living with a felon). The third time will be a charm.

What about you - winter rituals? Winter plans?

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Read in November 2020

1. Honeymoon in Purdah, by Alison Wearing (2000)

Reread. Probably my most favorite travel memoir - just such a beautiful, funny, interesting work about the author's months in Iran.

2. Living More with Less, by Doris Janzen Longacre (1980)

Borrowed from my mother, this book represents parts of my religious heritage that I am grateful for. A sweet, earnest collection of simple-living tips from other members of the author's Mennonite community. This was a formative work for simple-living Christians of my parents' generation, and I loved seeing how those values overlap with mine (and those of other minimalist, slow living, zero waste etc. types of my generation). Some of the ideas were dated, e.g. having to personally bring your metal waste to a recycler; most were not, and the structure makes it easy to read in small pieces.

3. Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson (1977)

I am probably the only adult lover of books who hadn't yet read this as a child. It lived up to the hype. I thought the two central children and their relationship particularly well drawn.

4. Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers (1936)

Read transcontinentally on Skype with my college best friend. This is quite a thick feminist-themed mystery that took a while to get going, and is littered so densely with casual Latin phrases and esoteric literary allusions that I had to get used to feeling a bit ignorant (and/or Googling as needed). Its witty narration and dialogue kept us hanging around, and by the end I was entirely drawn in.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Gratitudes & things that are making me happy


• The wonderful sweetness of roasted leeks

• Discovering sliced Tokyo turnips as a vehicle for hummus 

• The combination of wintry light, clear skies, and fresh winds we get at this time of year in the Bay Area

• Going outside around dusk (paler colors, colder air) to get some last fresh air for the night and reminisce about other early-winter days in years past and places distant. 

• Putting my girlfriend’s extra duvet on the bed and feeling nicely buried at bedtime 

• Sleep socks 

• Vacation from work. A staycation, of course, the longest chunk of time I’ve had off work since August 2019, and specifically, a reading staycation. I spent the week leading up to it ordering books and arranging library holds so as to be entirely ensconced in books, and sleep, for the duration of the week. 

• Relatedly, going back to the LIBRARY (even if only for curbside pickup) 

• Continuing to bake bread every week or so 

• Tea forgotten, but remembered when it is exactly the right temperature

• Finding, and racing through, a single novel containing three of my favorite book ingredients: San Francisco, ballet, and Antarctica (Up to This Pointe, by Jennifer Longo)

• Reading a Rapunzel retelling and realizing what a fitting fairy tale it is for the shelter-in-place era (Bitter Greens, by Kate Forsyth)

Friday, November 27, 2020

Bread victory

Well! I've finally caught up with the 2020 homemade bread trend.

I've made yeast bread before, but only a few times, quite a long time ago, and with my mom.

With everyone taking up bread-baking this year, even my little sister (who never bakes) tested out a recipe that she proclaimed "idiot-proof" and encouraged me this week to try. I went for it on Wednesday. 

After all the Great British Bake Off that I've watched in recent months, bread seemed very intimidating and fiddly. But this turned out just fine - and was a pleasant process. And I remembered more than I thought I would from my few bread experiences with my mom. 

So that's a nice reminder for me to do homemade things, even if I think the result will be mediocre (though really, how bad can a loaf of gluten taste?). 

Non-aesthetic photo:


(My girlfriend just leaned over and asked, "What are you blogging about? Am I in it?" She suggests that I might include a bread testimonial from her.)

"I think it's grand!"
- my girlfriend

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Books read in October 2020

1. Tortall: A Spy's Guide, by Tamora Pierce, Julie Holderman, Timothy Liebe & Megan Messinger (2017)

Odds and ends about this fictional universe - only for the serious Tortall fans, probably (and even then not all of it will necessarily be of interest).

2. Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp (1996)

This memoir was a bit repetitive - which reflects the reality of alcoholism, I think- and I adored the chapters about recovery (happily, more than just a cursory epilogue!). I was sad to read that she died of lung cancer while still rather young.

3. Goddess Spirituality Book: Rituals, Holydays and Moon Magic, by Ffiona Morgan (1991)

I love the homemade community gift feeling of this, and it was denser than I anticipated (because of the highly specific ritual suggestions). From the creator of the outstanding Daughters of the Moon feminist tarot deck.

4. Sandry's Book, by Tamora Pierce (1997)

More magic-focused, and younger in feel than the Tortall books. A reread, of course.

5. A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, by Naomi Shihab Nye (2005)

I really love how many of these are musings about growing up, what to keep from childhood, what to hope for from adulthood, etc., and I always love this poet's work, since always. I didn't realize I had already read this. I think I will buy it for my oldest niece next year.

6. Womankind #5: Ireland, edited by Antonia Case (2015)

The best magazine for when you want thoughtful and interesting and eclectic but also want lots of lovely images and for nothing to be very long. Blessedly ad-free. This one was lightly Halloween-themed.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

"While There's Still," by Chrystos

an edge to the parking lot

you can hear the orange gold

songs of autumn birds

bursting into dawn in an uneven

ragged line of untrimmed trees

You could

lean out

over the railing

which keeps you from it

& despite everything

breathe in the beauty

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Little laundry magic/musing on materialism


I read a novel this summer about English prisoners of war on a forced march through Malaysia during World War II, and right after reading a description of how the POWs' clothing was beginning to fall apart, I took a break to take my laundry out of the washing machine. And I felt such gratitude then for every piece of clothing. I took them out of the washing machine one by one and shook each piece out carefully, shaking out the wrinkles, shaking off any lint, and imbuing it with my grateful attention.

Often I look at my clothing in terms of do I like this item?/do I have too much clothing?/what clothing do I not have that I want? and it felt wonderful to instead appreciate the way each one accomplishes something needed. I have made this little ritual a habit now whenever I do laundry, because it just feels good.

In the last couple years I read something (I really wish I could remember where!) about how the way people in consumerist societies approach objects is not actually materialistic, because what we are obsessed with is the non-material qualities we think these objects will bring us - happiness, beauty, respite from worry, the respect or admiration of others, a better lifestyle, etc.

In fact, we tend to have very little appreciation for physical objects as such, for the materiality of a thing - how it feels to our senses, what it physically does for us, how long it will last, how we must care for it. The writer suggested that if we were all truly "materialists," as we are accused of being, we would have far healthier relationships with material objects. This struck me and really aligns with how I regard my possessions now - and even my physical self.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Books read in September 2020

1. Emperor Mage, by Tamora Pierce (1995)

 Reread from a favorite series of my childhood. I checked out this e-book from the library to cope with my sister's announcement that was moving out of state.

2. Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer (2008)

Yes, after finding the first three books in a Little Free Library, I went on Buy Nothing to purposefully track down this final book in this series. I have to say, her writing did get better as the series went along. And I had been prepared by watching the movies (Breaking Dawn Part One being particularly uncomfortable). But the lack of conflict/consequences (even ones that had been promised previously) was strange. Everything was very perfect for Bella and I wondered a lot about why none of the vampires - or as I prefer to call them, whampires - have jobs or serious passion projects, given their unlimited time and resources. And while I did not like Jacob's narration, the combination of mind-readers and future-readers added some plot interest to his sections in particular.

3. The Window: Poems, by Dahlia Ravikovitch, translated & edited by Chana Bloch & Ariel Bloch (1989)

 Her earlier poems were difficult for me to understand. I sort of liked some of the later ones. Honestly, I read this more because I like the translator (both her translation and her own poetry) than out of direct interest in the poet.

4. Left Neglected, by Lisa Genova (2011)

Well written and thoughtful but also quick. I read the first 100 or so pages in one evening. The main character's narration is interesting, funny, and very self-aware. This is the story of a high-powered working mother who comes out of a car wreck with a type of brain damage I'd never heard of before - Left Neglect, where the brain ignores most input from the left side of the body and the left field of vision. (As a nice touch, the author is also a neuroscience phD.) I really enjoyed what I learned about rehabilitation and disability from this.

5. The Realms of the Gods, by Tamora Pierce (1996)

Another one from that childhood favorite series. I don't like this one as much because it's the one where the almost-30-year-old man takes up with his 16-year-old student. Real question, did people think that was okay in 1996?

Friday, October 2, 2020

On my second sister moving away

a poem scribbled into a journal after saying goodbye, before falling asleep

Sister, I have the
two bottles of wine
intended for you as a gift -
you see I must
see you again
soon, if only to hand off
this wine that your coworker made
at home, with care, left
out on his porch for
me to pick up, a favor
for you on this your last
weekend of living nearby -
a weekend of boxes, travels,
steely resolve that you
will arrive!
- one long, long
day and a bit later, more than a
bit tireder, full of apprehension
and hope. I imagine your
dusty cars pulling into that faraway valley,
into that apartment complex where
$2400/month will now get you a three-bedroom.
When I see you next will the hug be as good as the one
I was supposed to get tonight?
Supplanted by an elbow bump to
close out our strangely distant
picnic, with our overly loud voices
trying to travel through these
masks and across the circle
of beach chairs. They say nine feet
for a witches' circle. I say, a circle of mountains
to keep my sisters safe. How will we remember
this time? I hope there's not too much
COVID there for people to be nice to you.
I hope your new neighbors aren't too nice
to wear masks. I will try to send you your first
real piece of mail there -
slim paper housewarming present
to break your Montana mailbox in.
Right now your moving-weekend crankiness
is fresh enough in my mind for me to
feel a little less sad about no more you
at my birthday dinners
. Good work,
if you planned that. I still
know your phone number by heart.
I've changed mine a few times since we all
got our first cell phones together in 2007,
 and I'm glad you never stopped
calling. I will try to send you your first
Montana mail. I will try to bring you these bottles of wine soon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Books read in August 2020

 1. Diana: Princess of Amazons, by Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by Victoria Ying (2020)

 This was cute, but not particularly memorable or special to me. I know I'm not the target audience (but I do love the author and care about the isle of Themiscyra!)

2. Ultralight: The Zen Habits Guide to Traveling Light & Living Light, by Leo Babauta (2016)

This was just a reread because I've been in a particularly "light" (minimalist) mood. Living and working in a small shared space will do that.

3. A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute (1950)

First half (Englishwomen on a death march in World War II-era Indonesia) was far more interesting to me than the second, even though I have an interest in Australia. The casual racism of the times was pretty appalling where it was apparent.

4. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson (2007/2009)

Gosh, there was lots of bureaucratic digging that had to be done to unmask The Conspiracy (!) in this one, the final of the Millennium trilogy. I still don't quite understand the outcome of the trial. But it was all well filled in and enjoyable.

5. Up a Road Slowly, by Irene Hunt (1966)

Sweet old Newbery Medal winner. It reminded me of Anne of Green Gables except a little less perfect, a little bit darker, and set in more recent times - but similarly centered on a young girl moving to the country to live with an unfamiliar spinster figure, and on her rich inner life.

6. The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander (1973)

How likable! My first Lloyd Alexander. It really felt like reading folk tales, except with more humor, and more quirks to the characters. I found this at a Little Free Library and shall have to seek out another of his Prydain books.

7. New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer (2006)

 A reread. Edward is so loathsome and this book is so painful and empty for the majority of its pages.

8. Eclipse, by Stephenie Meyer (2007) 

Somewhat more plotty. Hurrah! Not a reread. The love triangle stuff continues to show Edward and Jacob at their fairly loathsome best, but Edward has improved a little by the end.

Read any of these? What have you been reading lately, and how's it been?

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Point & shoot photo album: August 2020

Candle bath to cure some tension.
Morning sleepiness and loving it.
An unusual white peach variety that has a trademark stripe of golden flesh running through it - exactly on the cleft.

Treasures left by my coworkers for me to find on returning for my once-a-week office day.
Those dry-farmed tomatoes...incredible.
Look at these fallopian shapes!
Celebratory fancy take-out dessert - for my girlfriend's last final exam and me getting a raise.
Relishing the evenings as they get earlier.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dreaming of fresh air



Untitled when we were sheltering in place, but could also go outside, because the air wasn't hazardous to breathe. New summer/fall realities on the West Coast, people. It's been difficult. I am cranky and emotionally worn out. I would love to walk on this path by the waterfront again. Hopefully it won't be too many more days.

Relatedly, I really spoke too soon last week, because for all the sun was strange on Tuesday morning, it had nothing on Wednesday. Wednesday the sun didn't really rise for us - the entire Bay Area existed in an eerie orange dusk for the entire day due to a very high layer of smoke. We woke to ashes. It's hard to describe. Imagine streetlights and headlights being on at 11 am. We were not able to turn off our indoor lights at any point.





Thursday, September 10, 2020

"Stars," by Chrystos

full generous in beauty hold me in tender light
Each one a burning kindness against the icy bite
All comfort comes from mystery we let be
shining without reason
across a thousand years of sky
simple as white primroses who open
all through winter
denying snow in shelter of a drooping fir
Each heart petal centered gold
as strangers exclaim my miracle
gift given as sweet sustenance
for grief more terror stained
than any want to bear
I planted these
rescued from bins of ignorance
They thrive as do I
in spite of chill cruel frosts echoed in her eyes
I've made my mother be
all that lives in rooted harmony
She whose blood carried me here
I've sent beyond the night
so I may laugh with stones & shells
hold shelter with my arms around a tree
whose old bark patterns my face with words
In my footsteps no child sings
my voice calls out alone
in darkness I name rest
This dandelion of my breath a silver promise



From her book Fire Power (1995), which I read and admired in June.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Strange sun today

Amidst the wildfire smoke, there was a strange sun out this morning - dim and orange, not illuminating the apartment as well as it usually does. Walking outside I felt like I was in a weird dream where a blood moon had become overly bright. 

My CSA newsletter notes that the smoke is affecting the yield from plants on their farms and I wonder if it's because of the strange quality of light I am observing here.

I have been thinking about climate breakdown, of course. It's not just the wildfires, and the way they now strike in areas they weren't seen in before, but the two heat waves one after the other, and the long drought that presaged these wildfires. 

I've been thinking about the Flight Free campaign, in particular, I think because I've been hearing a lot about plane journeys recently. Many people seem to find it unthinkable that someone with sufficient means would refuse to travel by plane. (It's my right as a middle-class millennial to travel, travel, travel, isn't it?)

(I have a lot I could say about consumerism and travel, maybe another time. I remember starting to say something here a long time ago.)

Thich Nhat Hanh refers to the sun as a second heart, "that great heart outside of our body," and the forests of the world as our lungs outside our bodies. He says this about environmental destruction: "We are imprisoned in our small selves, thinking only of the comfortable conditions for this small self, while we destroy our large self."

Similarly, I recently treated myself to a book by Ffiona Morgan - a old-school feminist witch, and the designer of the wonderful, beautiful Daughters of the Moon tarot deck - and found a place where she wrote about how women's bodies mirror the living earth, microcosm and macrocosm of the same divinity, "Goddess Within, Goddess Without."

And I'm recalling Ocean Country, a book about a Bay Area woman exploring the effects on climate breakdown on the oceans. She wrote that in the age of global environmental crisis, what we consider home must be bigger. What we consider family must be bigger.

When I breathe in ideas like this, I find it hard to feel deprived by a life that treads more lightly. It feels like not doing physical harm to my own flesh or bones. It feels like connection and devotion (to self, home, family, reality, our future).

I'm not sure what difference my choices make - that's okay. Sometimes it feels ironic how much attention I give to making the little pieces of my life more environmentally friendly, only to be confronted with a roommate or neighbor or family member who has far more room for impact than I do and thinks far less about changing their ways. But I won't be unhappy in the end, no matter what - I value the sense of the world that my choices give me, and they are good for my spirit.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Point & shoot photo album: July 2020


  My mother took me paddleboarding on the bay as a belated birthday gift. 



And she also gave me my first wrapped present of the year. (Of course, given the times, the rest of my birthday gifts came by mail directly from the manufacturers.)


A small but treasured garden near my work.


Some nice signs that appeared in my neighborhood ahead of Independence Day. I don't know if they stopped anyone, as we still had fireworks galore around us, but I appreciate them anyways. The one above inspired my girlfriend to make the one below.

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Luscious pink hydrangea giant.


Does anyone know what this fruit is?


Gigantic magnolia blossoms - heavenly to me.


Twilight walks.


And morning walks, with admiration for these glories.


The seeds of a yellow watermelon I ate look like this.


Lovely cat neighbors.

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Asian pears growing in the neighborhood - among so many other fruits. Persimmons, apricots, artichokes, grapes...!


There was a third cat who ducked away when I approached with my camera.


My CSA has been showering me with heirloom tomatoes. Here: Purple Cherokees and Solar Flares.


So: fresh incredible tomatoes (can't remember if this was a Purple Cherokee or an Early Girl) with salt, and nectarines, both raw off the cutting board.


Neighbor kitty. Margo.


Gorgeous skies. Afternoon walks too.


Glassblower's mural.


Summer evening vibes, shadows, light.

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Cape gooseberries. So cute! And interesting taste.


Overflowing bougaivillea.


The nectaplum. Incomparable.


Then for my mother's birthday, I baked this cake to eat outside, socially distanced, with her and my girlfriend, graced also by the company of such trees as below.

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My first hike alone, ever.


There was a lot of climbing, and a lot of view (and wind) to enjoy.


Potatoes for breakfast.


And the other neighbor cat (or kitten, really)! Asoka.

(I lost track of time, and now it's almost time for the August p&s photo album!)