The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Monday, December 6, 2010

Paris Stories Take One: Packing Lightly

I went to Paris this summer with my Australian wife, D, and had a few experiences as one is wont to do when one travels to that city. I meant to post a few of these earlier, but didn't really have a chance what with moving and being bitter and all. So here they are now in small increments.

[a few of you have already read this one, but the others will be new to you--and most likely new to me since the trip happened months ago]

Having traveled a wee bit in our lives, getting to Paris was simple. As was the transfer from airport to train into the City of Light. We could read the signs (I have a rudimentary French background and D is fairly fluent though she'll modestly argue that point), could understand instructions, and since metro systems don't really vary from country to country all that much, knew how to move around in the underground warren of trains. At this point, both my traveling companion and I were operating on 20+ hours of being awake. But sleepiness fled as we entered the bustle and energy of the metro station. We were here! Not just a sterile airport, but the metro that natives used in their day to day lives! We were listening to French being spoken by real live French people en masse! And understanding it! We looked fairly sassy despite our flight! And if we kept our mouths shut and looked purposeful, we would pass for fellow Europeans (though most likely not French Europeans)!

The excitement kept building as we quietly discussed our plans for the day so that no one could overhear our nasal English (wine, wine, and more wine, then maybe some rich and fatty food followed by even more wine). D and I could feel the gathering strength of our travel mojo. This high on life feeling was going to last us the entire week, we were certain. The adrenaline rush you can get when you travel is amazing and being in Paris makes that rush even more so, especially when, suddenly, you get your large and distinctly American luggage firmly and irrevocably wedged into the metro turnstile. All that adrenaline soars and shifts magnificently into a fight or flight mode. Or in our cases, flight or flight.

Both D and I are no strangers to the myth of the American-hating French. Both of us also had on good authority that Paris is the epicenter of such fomenting disdain. In fact, we were hoping to get through this trip with exciting as little of that sentiment as possible. So, needless to say, both of our hearts sunk into our practical yet fashionable heels. She and I exchanged looks of panic in which I swear I saw in her eyes a momentary thought of grabbing her perfectly-petite and European carry-on and making a break for the nearest cafe. I don't blame her. I would have cut my clothing losses and ran too if it weren't for the fact that I had also managed to entangle in the handle of my much too-large luggage my purse strap and slightly smaller (just acceptable as such, really) carry-on and, further, was trapped physically in a strangle hold by the web of straps. Everything I owned in Paris was twined around the handle of the turnstile including me; I couldn't get back or forward. It appeared my bag was permanently wedged and I would be spending the rest of my life in the Pasteur stop of the metro.

[side note: I am still amazed at how much D can pack in such a tiny bag. She got books, dresses, boots, heels, a laptop, hair straightener, adapters, and toiletries into her tiny bag of great magic. I, on the other hand, needed about five times the space to accomplish the same thing. And I still borrowed clothes from her! Was it the pillow I brought? Or the German cell phone that doesn't work in France? Or the 15 books?]

Remember, we are in a metro station. A bustling metro station. Not once, even during D's and my eye-locking moment, did people stop rushing around and, literally, into me. The susurrate sound of their passing perfectly complemented by the disgusted hissing noise they would make when they realized that a perfectly good turnstile was being blocked by a very obvious (the luggage, the expletives, the wide ass) American. The volume of the hissing was proportionate to whether the person had seen my predicament from a distance and moved to another turnstile or had noticed my lack of forward motion only after ineffectively pushing into my luggage and finding his way barred. To the sound of hissing, I pushed and pulled and groaned. But my bags stayed fast (at this point I had disentangled my body from the web of straps and could move freely around my bag). D pulled from one side, I pushed from the other, both feeding our tickets again and again into the turnstile to trigger the handle's moving freely (it didn't). My bags were the mountain. They could not be moved.

Finally, a kind gentleman (I don't really remember what he looked like, but the image that comes to mind is the cranky painter in Amelie) called from a gate that allows handicapped people into the metro (and Americans with lard-ass luggage), "Utiliser ceci."

"Je ne peux pas," I wailed. “Aidez-moi ici, s'il vous plait.”

[Yes, I know, not good French, but I do not claim to speak good French.] With an untranslatable grunt, the man realized that my condition was less that I needed a larger entrance and more that I needed the jaws of life to free my possessions from their metal prison. Somehow (French magic, I guess), he managed to use his brute force to pull my bag through. I profusely Merci Beaucoup’d him, but he left with no response other than an equally untranslatable cough. I am not sure if he helped me because he was nice or just fed up with my ineptitude. At least he didn't hiss.

On the move again, I quietly vowed to get me an my embarrassment of luggage to our hotel as quickly as possible without calling further attention to myself. A short-lived vow as D and I encountered the steep flight of stairs for the metro exit.


Went my bag and I until a petite French woman in a cream suit and work heels that put my "sassy" heels to shame, without missing a beat, bent down and grabbed the bottom of my bag, propelling me and it to the top. She graciously acknowledged my thanks, releasing my bag and continuing on her way until we reached the next set of stairs. After my first "bump" up the step, she reversed her direction and returned to the bottom of the flight to help me with my bag again. I said thanks, again. She gave a slight farewell smile, again. We parted ways, again.

Then I came to the third flight of stairs. The woman, again, helped me up. This time with a pained look of embarrassment on her face for me and my ridiculous situation. As soon as we reached the top of the steps into the square of the Pasteur stop, she quickly set the bag down and disappeared into the crowd without waiting for my (third) thanks.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Apparently Books Are My Scrapbooks

I just finished Kathleen Norris' Acedia & me--a book that has taken me a year to read. That fact alone is not unusual. I am prone to stops and starts with reading, picking up a book and reading a few chapters before I set it down to pick up another. My "currently reading" list is so long it is laughable. And a tiny bit sad.

This book was unusual in that it took me so long to finish it not because I got distracted but because it was so incredibly good. I literally could only read about ten pages; then I would have to stop and think about the implications of what I'd just read . . . for about a week. I've read other books by this author, but this one, I think, by far is her most affecting.

So today, I finished it. In a hurry, spurred by a friend's also currently reading it (and he really is, not in the "it takes me a year to read a book because I am a shameless book polygamist" way that I do) and we want to be able to talk about it by the time he comes up to visit me next week. When I finish a book that has taken me a long while to read, it is always fun to look through it and see the detritus that has accumulated between its pages over time (oh, that's where that $100 bill is) because I tend to write or slip whatever is going on at the moment between the pages. This practice can have embarrassing side effects when I lend out books (for example, I once lent out a book that included an list I made on an index card that had "vagina presentation" in it), and I now usually look through my books when I finish them to remove anything that is too personal or if it can't be removed, mark them "do not lend out." In this book I found:

disciplinary notes from my son's first kindergarten teacher explaining how bad my son's behavior was for the days of 10/20 and 10/21/2009 (including, "he touched another child at share time"--really? He was 5. They are all touching each other at that age),

a post-it that outlined how I was going to correct my son's "deviant" behavior at home and the rewards he'd receive if he "behaved" (I am using the quotation marks here intentionally and accurately), rewards that included "biking, hiking, gelato, two-square, pizza at Bronx Pizza,"

three western blots,

yellow legal pad paper with the locations of Target, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods in Monterey,

a note from my niece that reads "I love you so much, Tia,"

a map of Paris,

the card from my friends' dad's funeral,

spring semester after hours parking permit for SDSU,

two pictures from my son diagramming a plant's physical structures,

my son's first first grade report card (that's from this week),

a beer list from Anchor & Hope, a kick-ass San Francisco restaurant,

post-its describing PCR primers,

and much scribbling in the margins and empty filler pages (which includes a very bad poem--who am I?).

And as Kurt Vonnegut says, "so it goes"--another book, another year.

Incidentally, this book now falls in the "do not lend out" category. So don't ask.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Consider This Less a Problem Than a Precipitate

*and if you got the title, you are a complete nerd

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ankle Weights

So Today I:

1. Said goodbye to one of my best friends ever and my son's second mommy (the second close friend in less than a month)

2. Completed day 5 as a stay-at-home mom

3. Did preliminary moving preparation

4. Realized that I will have to say goodbye to more than the formerly mentioned people very soon.

5. Wore ankle weights while moving heavy furniture . . . by myself.

Note: I cried through it all.

I'm sure I'll be funny again someday soon. I'm sure I'll be able to look at all the blessings in my life and see how freaking fortunate I am. I'm sure that things won't see so completely random and out of control.

But for now, they aren't and are (make sense of that yourselves).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I'm Not Bragging . . .I'm Just Saying

On Saturday, I will be drinking all of these wines. All. Of. Them.

1994 Hollick Cabernet Sauvignon Ravenswood (Australia, South Australia, Limestone Coast, Coonawarra)

1997 Domaine Georges Mugneret/Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots (France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru)

1997 Domaine Ponsot Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes (France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru)

1997 Henschke Abbott's Prayer (Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Lenswood)

1998 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude (France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Crozes-Hermitage)

1998 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude (France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Crozes-Hermitage)

1998 Royer Girardin Pommard 1er Cru Rugiens-Bas (France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Pommard 1er Cru)

1998 Simon Bize Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses (France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru)

1999 Domaine de l'Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne Cuvée Prestige (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne)

2000 Nicolas Potel Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets (France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay 1er Cru)

2001 Henschke Shiraz Mt. Edelstone (Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley)

2001 Van Volxem Wiltinger Gottesfuss Riesling Alte Reben (Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer)

2002 Baxter Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Fedele Vineyard (USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford)

2002 Joseph Daniel Cabernet Sauvignon (USA, California, Napa Valley)

2003 Martin Ranch Winery Merlot J.D. Hurley (USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Clara Valley)

2003 Nicolas Potel Volnay Vieilles Vignes (France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay)

2004 Léal Vineyards Carnavál (USA, California, Central Coast, San Benito County)

2004 Niner Wine Estates Syrah Boot Jack Ranch (USA, California, Central Coast,
Paso Robles)

2004 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (USA, California, Napa Valley)

2004 Rubissow Cabernet Sauvignon (USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder)

2005 Domaine Georges Mugneret/Mugneret-Gibourg Bourgogne (France, Burgundy, Bourgogne)

2005 Eagle Castle Zinfandel (USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles)

2005 Four Vines Zinfandel Biker (USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles)

2005 Hans Lang Riesling Trocken Johann Maximillian (Germany, Rheingau)

2005 Léal Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate "Godsend" (USA, California, Central
Coast, San Benito County)

2005 Mesa Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley Vineyard (USA, California, Napa Valley)

2005 Niner Wine Estates Barbera Boot Jack Ranch (USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles)

2005 Niner Wine Estates Merlot (USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles)

2006 Tangent Pinot Blanc Laetitia Vineyard (USA, California, Central Coast, Arroyo Grande Valley)

2007 Barth Rheingau Riesling trocken (Germany, Rheingau)

2007 Château Signac Côtes du Rhône Villages Chusclan Cuvée Terra Amata (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Chusclan)

2007 Domaine La Florane Côtes du Rhone Villages Visan Terre Pourpre (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhone Villages Visan)

2007 J Dusi Zinfandel Dante Dusi Vineyard (USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles)

2007 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Porto Vintage (Portugal, Douro, Porto)

2008 Colosi Nero d'Avola Sicilia IGT (Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT)

N.V. Domaine Chandon Brut Classic (USA, California, Napa Valley, Yountville)

N.V. Il Conte D'Alba Stella Rosa (Italy, Piedmont)

2003 Nicolas Potel Volnay Vieilles Vignes (France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay)

2007 Francis Coppola / Niebaum-Coppola Zinfandel Diamond Series Red Label (USA, California)

2006 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Grand Reserve (USA, California)

2007 R Wines Shiraz Luchador (Australia, South Australia)

N.V. Yalumba Antique Tawny Museum Reserve (Australia, South Eastern) - 375ml

Pillar box red

Luchador Shiraz

2004 Mas Gabinelle

2006 Chateau Saint Martin de La Garrigue

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

5 Embarrassing Movies I Loved When They First Came Out

.....and saw not just once.

The advent of Tron2 has pulled me down memory lane to other movies I loved as a (not-so) small child. Though Tron really isn't that embarrassing to love, I am putting it first since it spurred the emergence of these other movies I didn't necessarily want to admit I love(d). And, of course, I am now putting this all on the Internet which just goes to show you, I don't know how to stop.

1. Tron
2. Krull
3. Ruthless People
4. Short Circuit
5. The Last Unicorn

I encourage you to do two things: 1) look up some of these on youtube and watch actual clips. They are like train wrecks in a blizzard sliding perilously towards a children's hospital. 2) Add your five embarrassing favorites. They can't be things like Dark Crystal or Labyrinth or Innerspace (okay so maybe that one) because those types of movies we all loved without shame. They have to be legit embarrassments.

[Incidentally, I find it telling that Jeff Bridges is in more than one of these films . . .]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010


Hanging out with a baby is a lot like watching an infomercial: you start out convinced this thing is not for you, but you keep on watching. You don’t need that, you think. Hell, you already can do all the things it does. Then something happens. Somewhere, somehow, the pitch hooks into you. Suddenly you’re thinking, how have I lived my life without that? The next thing you know you’re in a Snuggie cleaning off a counter with your ShamWow and wondering how much a Chinese baby would run you.

So here's a picture my son drew yesterday for me. Oddly enough, he's taking to signing his name as "Laim" as in lame. Perhaps this will be his artistic persona.
Now I am way not into showing people stuff my kid does because, frankly, it just isn't that interesting. Who wants to see a bunch of scribbles poorly executed on scrap paper? Unless it's my kid's scribbles, I sure don't (so if you ever show me something your kid has done, know that while I'm nodding politely and feigning interest, I am really thinking about the awesome stuff MY kid does--that or wine).
But when it's your kid, there's something magical about watching his step-by-step transformation from a shapeless lump of boringness to an actual person who spells love phonetically and represents me (consistently in all his pictures, mind you) as a squat, thick girl with crazy hair and a high hairline.
Watching your child grow really is as if a miracle happens every day. Like when my son told his first joke. I don't remember the actual joke, but I do remember thinking 1) wow this is the stupidest joke ever and 2) holy crap, my kid has a sense of humor!
So, yes, I hung my son's picture up in my lab for all the world to admire. Because right now, I need reminders that miracles are happening on a daily basis. And that somewhere in San Diego, there is a gorgeous boy who luvs me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Typical Moment at Work

B: Hey, I'm having trouble with this GFP assay.

S: What's the problem?

B: Well, I fused a protease cleavage site into the small loop of GFP but now I don't get any expression even in the absence of protease.

S: Are you sure the fusion is correct.

B: Yeah, it sequenced fine.

S: Could the cleavage site be disrupting GFP from folding?

B: I checked the literature. They usually insert it into the larger loop but this was an easier ligation.

[J walks in with lunch . . . ]

S: What is that?

J: Ribs.

S: I thought is was calimari.

J: No. I don't like that. Smells too fishy.

S: Funny, that's what P said about your mom last night.

P [looking up from where he was quietly working]: What did I say?

J: That my mom smelled like fried calimari.

P: She smelled like fried food?

B: No, if that were the case, she'd be crunchy. [Turning back to S]. There really isn't any reason for GFP to not express with this site in there.

S: Well, how long is the site? Maybe that is the problem. Let's check the amino acid sequence.

[and cut]

Yes, I work with lots of boys.

And yes, I actually made this way more PG.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What San Diego is Like For Me

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). "God’s Grandeur" Poems. 1918.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Art is Everywhere

Yesterday, my son and I watched a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy. It was truly beautiful to see my five-year-old son sit still and be amazed at how Goldsworthy creates pieces that are both taken from and given to nature. The tension the artist creates between impermanence and permanence, light and dark, stone and water is both powerful and poignant.

During our viewing of the documentary, the sun began to reflect off our neighbor's pool in such a way that the light from the water shone through our blinds and onto our ceiling. The result? A perfect rectangle of shimmering light broken by thin, dark stripes.

My son looked up and said, "Look Mom, art."


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Galen Rowell: A Retrospective

A collection of Galen Rowell's photography that spans his lifetime and the globe. Mostly breathtaking landscapes taken from his hikes and climbing adventures. Some portraits of people and animals. Photos are accompanied by essays written by those who Rowell influenced in his life.

I love that Rowell was committed to taking the picture as the eye/camera sees it without any post-shot manipulations. Using filters and film, he was able to beautifully duplicate what the eye so readily perceives. Because he wasn't going to modify the photo after the shot, Rowell had to plan his pictures very carefully over the course of time, watching the light. That said, he was also a master of constant preparation so that he would be ready to take an unforeseen shot. Many of his photographs are taken while suspended from a sheer rock face.

Rowell was committed to his passion. So much so, that he stopped living a secure life in 1960 (being settled, owning his own business) in order to exclusively pursue a dream that had little basis in his reality at the time. Rowell refused to settle as a hobbyist. He was constantly engaged in the discipline of his artistic process whether it be climbing, camping, writing, photographing, so that he would be prepared for anything life threw at him.

His daily pursuit of his passions reminds me of others I know personally. Those who know that time is how we fill it and fill theirs with things that make their spirits thrive. Also, they know that we can't just sit around and wait for life to happen. We have to actively engage in life. Actively discipline ourselves. Actively create and in doing so be artists.
That is difficult to do. I want to be like this. I want to drive from the tip of Baja to the arctic circle on small highways and back roads. I want to see the Northernmost piece of land in Greenland and the Southernmost in Antarctica. But I also want to be able to drive--in my backyard, so to speak--up the 395 and see the heart-breaking beauty that Rowell so perfectly captured.

Mostly I want to live. Wherever I am to find joy in life.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Conversation

5yrold: When I grow up, I am going to run an animal rescue center.

me [not really paying attention because he talks nonstop]: That's nice, honey.

5yo: Yeah, and when hunters come, I am going to kill them.

me [now paying attention]: What?!

5yo: If they come to hurt the animals, I will stop them. I will kill them.

me: Do you think that's very kind?

5yo: Well, I hate animal suffering.

me: Yeah, but isn't killing humans also causing suffering?

5yo: But, Mom, they're killing animals.

me: So maybe instead of killing hunters, you could do something else.

5yo [honestly at a loss for another alternative to murder]: Like what?

me: Well, maybe you could take the hunters' guns and then have them go to school to learn about how not to kill animals.

5yo [thinking it over]: I could take their guns. . . [face lights up because he's just had a bright idea]. That's what I'm gonna do: I'll take their guns and tell them "hey, you have to stop killing animals. You need to get a house and a wife and a baby."

Apparently, yuppiehood is the solution to animal suffering.