Women of a certain age…

May 17, 2015

Yesterday in the mail I was informed that You may qualify for the Funeral Advantage Program… Guess I’m of that certain age.

The poet Byron in 1817 wrote, “She was not old, nor young, nor at the years/Which certain people call a certain age,/Which yet the most uncertain age appears.” Five years later, in a grumpier mood, he returned to the phrase: “A lady of a ‘certain age,’ which means Certainly aged.” Charles Dickens picked it up in “Barnaby Rudge”: “A very old house, perhaps as old as it claimed to be, and perhaps older, which will sometimes happen with houses of an uncertain, as with ladies of a certain, age.”1


A few days ago when I left for work there was a rattlesnake, about four feet long, in the middle of our cul de sac.  I went around it; it was not there when I got home, so I guess nobody ran over it. Snakes are good – they keep the pack rat population down.

…in 2012 only one person in the nation died from a snake bite whereas 791 were killed by toasters…2


bobcats 009Got home from work yesterday to see a large bobcat sitting in my backyard.  My cat sat on the bed and growled.

This morning as I was reading the newspaper in bed the cat sat up, eyes wide.  I looked over, and a smaller (?) bobcat was crossing the spa deck with a large lizard in its mouth.  (Notice the lizard’s turquoise underside.)  The bobcat jumped from the bridge into the wash, but stopped a minute to put down the lizard and look at us.  (I had the door open to the screen, so maybe it heard my cat growling.)   The lizard took off running, so the bobcat dashed after it, through the fence as if it weren’t there, catching the lizard again in the neighbor’s yard.

bobcats 014


May 6, 2015

California is cutting its water usage.  I emailed my brother, who lives in Sonoma County, and his son has a small apartment in San Francisco:

I spoke with the guy in charge of our water consortium, and he told me we’re ‘under the radar’ as we all use waaay less water than the most minimal users. I’m pretty sure Ian is also a low user…apartment renters aren’t watering lawns etc.  The most water I ever used was in Orinda, and we got charged very large penalties during the first drought.

Also emailed friends in San Diego:

Are you having mandatory water cuts?  As you no longer have a lawn to be watered, and I’ve never seen you wash a car in your driveway, are you going to have to start taking showers every other day?

She answered:

We already only shower twice a week…  only cut I can think of is to replace the toilets.  It’s going to be hard for us to meet the goal of a 35% cut.


clouds 008

Three words you generally don’t find in the same sentence: Tucson, Rain, May.  However, the past two days I awoke to the patter of raindrops.  Billowy clouds edged the sky.  The air was cooler and softer, yet the humidity was only 29%.  Today the clouds have thinned out and the humidity is back to 12%.

Plastic bags 

139 cities and counties in California have banned the use of plastic bags1.  Guess the major political party of the governor and legislature.  Arizona has passed a law to make it illegal for cities to ban plastic bags2. Guess the major political party of the governor and legislature.


Victor LaValle’s new novel, The Devil in Silver (Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012, New York Times Notable Book 2012), takes place in a mental hospital where the protagonist is dropped for the convenience of the cops who arrest him.  All of the patients are so drugged up, for the convenience of the hospital personnel, that they are barely able to function.

Different from 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, which you might have read, or the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson, which you might have seen.  That book is mentioned in The Devil in Silver:  Four of the patients are at their book club. A nurse has suggested a book for them to read.

“How about Ken Kesey?” Josephine suggested. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? That book meant a lot to me in high school. I think you all might really like it.”

Sammy frowned. Well, why don’t you read Slaughterhouse Five to a roomful of cattle.”

Josephine didn’t give up. “I just thought you all might like it because it’s about a mental hospital.”

Dorry took off her glasses, which instantly made her look less nuts. Her eyes were smaller, and she seemed younger by ten years. She blew on the lenses, and small specks of dust, flakes of skin, and dandruff fell like flurries toward the tabletop. She put the glasses back on and, nutty again, looked at the nurse.

“Here’s what you have to understand about that book, Josephine. As good as it is, it isn’t about mentally ill people. It takes place in a mental hospital, yes. But that book is about the way a certain young generation felt that society was designed to destroy them. Make them into thoughtless parts of a machine. To lobotomize them. That book is about them, not about people like us.”

Josephine stammered, trying to respond, but Dorry didn’t stop talking.

“If you remember the patients who really mattered in that story, most of them were voluntary. Do you remember what the main characters called the other ones? The ones who would never leave because they could never be cured?”

“No,” Josephine admitted quietly.

“The Chronics. Most of them were vegetables. Brain-deads. Maybe violent. Chronically sick. Diagnosed as everlastingly damaged. All of us here at Northwest? That’s who we are. Northwest is nothing but Chronics. We’ve all been committed, and most of us are not voluntary. So why would we want to read a book that barely mentions us except to tell us we’re f–d in the anus?”

Well, maybe that quote doesn’t catch your fancy.  But the book does have a lot to say about mental hospitals, and there is a bit of humor.  (But no guns or car chases, and the romance is very short.)


spiderMade from used computer parts1, watch parts and light bulbs2:



Killer Bees

April 27, 2015

beeI had noticed one bee buzzing around the outdoor cabinets on my deck.  I opened the cabinet, but only the start of a paper wasp nest.  Took it off and threw it away.  The last time a few bees were around I just sprayed the cabinets with the Deet I had left over from the trip down the Amazon; tried it but the can was finished.  And I never have any poison around, as I usually live and let live.

ant-argentine(Except for the invasion of the ants.  This is the fourth in the ant series:
https://notesfromthewest.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/rain-3/, but it mentions the poison that worked.)

beeBackstory: When I was living in South Carolina, my ex- had moved out of the house and it was on the market.  The real estate agent called and said that the bees on the deck were scaring the potential buyers.  I think he may have mentioned bees before, but hadn’t given it a thought.  The problem he now said was that a storm had blow the far cabinet door off and the bees had built a hive.  Don’t know why he didn’t call the ex-, as he was living in Tucson, but figured I had to deal with it.

beeLooked online, found a bee removal service, called them and was told that no, they didn’t relocate the hive, as all bees in Arizona had been Africanized [Africanized honey bees are known colloquially as “killer bees”], they killed them.  Plus they had to wear bee suits to do it, and it’s rather dangerous as Africanized bees are only dangerous when you attack their hive.  And, of course, it would cost more to remove the hive.  So I said Let it be done.

beeNext time I was in Tucson (unfortunately for a friend’s funeral), checked out the house.  The bee removal company had done a lousy job of cleaning out the hive, as there was still honey smeared inside the cabinet.  Oh well, I cleaned it myself, regretting that I hadn’t gotten the honey, repaired the door and reattached it.

beeBack to last weekend.  I started to call bee removal companies to get estimates on the removal of the now two dozen bees.  Estimates from five companies ranged from $125 to $580 (!!!), for only 24 bees!?  But as I was on the phone I noticed that the numbers were increasing, and at that point the real estate agent called to bring out a client, within 15 minutes!  Déjà vu.  I was freaking.  So I told him about the bees and left to go to the hardware store for problem solving, and down the street was a pest control truck, with the pest control guy in it.

killer beesI stopped to quiz him about my problem (and saw the real estate agent go down the street).  He said that bees were swarming at that time, and I needed to put weather stripping around the doors so the bees didn’t get in the cracks.  Bought the weather stripping, but by the time I got home there were four dozen bees, and the thought of going out to remove cabinet doors with them possibly attacking was a bit unnerving.  (There have been two movies made: Killer Bees, 1974, and Killer Bees!, 2002.)

beeCalled one more bee company, and this guy told me just to spray the cabinets with Raid and the bees would go away.  (Duh – why didn’t I think of that, when the Deet had worked before.)  Called my neighbors to ask if they had any Raid (not wanting to go out again), which I borrowed, and sure enough it worked.  Phew!  A dozen bees dead unfortunately, but none left trying to get in.  Took the (same) offending door off, repaired it again, and noticed that when it swung correctly, no weather stripping was necessary.  Took that back the next day for my money back.  Crisis averted!

Earth Day

April 22, 2015

Earth Day is an annual event, celebrated on April 22, on which day events worldwide are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970, and is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, and celebrated in more than 192 countries each year.

earth dayIf you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.  -Carl Sagan.

I shall celebrate Earth Day by looking at flowers, contemplating national parks, and appreciating the wild animals around me.

The desert continues to bloom beautifully.  The brittlebush which edge the roads are finished with their yellow blossoms, but the palo verdes have taken over.  The Desert Museum palo verde that I have in front is a dud.  Don’t buy one!  Here are the palo verdes down the street:

earth day 007
But even though my palo verde is a dud, the blackfoot daisies, yellow lantana, and aloes are blooming attractively out front.

earth day 005

Today I braked for a roadrunner; yesterday it was quail.  Neither bird likes to fly.  The roadrunner loped across the road; the quail skittered.  And there was a coyote checking out my yard outside the fence this morning.  Have not seen any bobcats, deer, or javelina recently.

The White House blog is following Earth Day: This morning, the President is heading to the Florida Everglades along with Bill Nye the Science Guy and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.  https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/04/22/follow-along-earth-day-2015


John Muir’s birthday was yesterday.  I remember “meeting” him.  We had taken the kids to Yosemite many years ago, and the theater there had a one-man show, an actor playing John Muir.  Excellent.  But even better was the same actor, in character, giving Yosemite tours during the day, pointing out spots “he” liked, talking about “his” cabin and the rattlesnake which lived under it.  Marvelous!

The naturalist John Muir is so closely associated with Yosemite National Park—after all, he helped draw up its proposed boundaries in 1889, wrote the magazine articles that led to its creation in 1890 and co-founded the Sierra Club in 1892 to protect it…1

john muir



April 19, 2015

April Fool’s Day

April started with a friend posting on her Facebook page:
So we’ve decided to sell our house, moving to Puerto Rico!

My daughter posted:
trailerJosh and I are super excited to move into our next adventure… we have decided to take a little break from “real” life and have purchased a camper to move into with the kiddos for the next 6 months to a year. We haven’t decided yet where we will be parking and living, so let us know if you have any good suggestions!


yellow 009A few weeks ago got up at 5am (!!!) to go birding with a friend.  Noticed that while she was looking up, scoping birds, I was looking down, taking photos of the wildflowers.  We both checked out this broken saguaro.

(When T. S. Eliot wrote, April is the cruellest month, birding 013he wasn’t living in Arizona where our temps are in the low 80’s.)

birding 011

House for Sale

Many people won’t consider buying my house because it has stairs.

If you go to New York City, you will find thousands of 85-year-old ladies climbing three flights of stairs and shopping with their bundle buggies. They claim that those stairs, and the walk to the bodega, keep them healthy. In fact, we need to bring people closer together, not spread them apart with ever-bigger bathrooms in bungalows. Climbing some stairs might not be a bad thing for some people, and it might keep them out of wheelchairs. (Isn’t that better than designing our houses for living in wheelchairs?)1

More from Facebook

Sent this to my niece, who lives in Brooklyn:

My daughter posted a photo of my grandson (age 6) at the doctor’s with strep, and a photo of the grocery list he made for her.


I bet Monty Python could do a spoof on this.  (Read it with an English accent.)

The Queen has spent a second day enjoying the spring sunshine in Windsor Great Park this week.

Her Majesty, who is approaching her 89th birthday, was spotted riding her faithful black Fell pony, Carltonlima Emma, as she was joined by Lord Vestey [one of the richest men in England] and her Head Groom Terry Pendry in the beautiful park close to her Windsor Castle home on Monday.

She was well prepared for any spring showers in a lightweight waterproof, and, as is her wont, eschewed a helmet in favour of one of her silk scarves.2

liberalA friend posted this, Being Liberal:





The Dead Animal Museum

April 10, 2015

dead animal museumArizona always does so well in the news.  Now Tucson’s Dead Animal Museum (also known as the International Wildlife Museum) is getting zinged.  Don’t go there! 

Many many many years ago I had taken my visiting mother-in-law on an Opera Dames Tucson Annual Home Tour.  One of the foothills homes had a gymnasium-sized building next to the house filled with stuffed dead animals!  I was appalled.   Then, apparently, the owner decided that he could make money displaying his trophies, so he had a fake-medieval castle built on the west side of town and charged $6 to get in.  He even has dead penguins.  Who shots penguins?  Read the article.

TUCSON — ON the outskirts of this city stands a fake-medieval castle with an elk statue atop its battlements. In the courtyard is a bronze relief of a man shouldering his rifle — one C. J. McElroy, a Texan who founded both this International Wildlife Museum in 1988 and, before that, in the early 1970s, Safari Club International, the trophy hunters’ group that’s headquartered here.

…the McElroy Hall, where hundreds of disembodied heads, many from animals shot by the museum’s founder, are lined up in long rows on knotty pine walls. The room is a monument to the scale of these kills. (Mr. McElroy reportedly took more than 100 safaris on six continents; his obituary says he claimed 425 trophies in the safari club’s record book.)

More About SF

When I was in San Francisco I saw my nephew a few times.  At one point, we were in a Japanese restaurant owned by a friend of his, and she joined us at our table to say that she had to move the restaurant because the rent had gone up.  So we discussed gentrification and how the Google people in SF (who have their own free bus to the office compound), are able to pay higher rents so the price of everything has gone up.  Mom and Pop restaurants (the one we were in only had six tables) are being replaced by high-end bars, small groceries by high-priced gourmet food, and so on.  My nephew and his girlfriend will probably have to move out of the city, and he’ll miss being able to walk everywhere. Anyway, last Sunday there was an article in the Times on a similar theme: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/nyregion/a-cranky-blogger-crusades-to-preserve-the-ordinary-in-new-york.html

Seen today

As I was on the phone at my desk this morning two young coyotes ambled across the driveway.  Probably the twins that had been in the yard last July.1  When I got to the college half a dozen students were staring up into a mesquite tree; there was a great-horned owl staring down at them.  (Aside: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… well, actually, just in the house my kids were raised in, a great-horned owl sat on the back wall.  I brought both of the dogs in so they wouldn’t bother it and was watching the owl from the sliding door when I looked down – both dogs, the cat, and both kids were staring, fascinated, at the owl too.)

Pima College 

Our beneficent governor has signed a bill which cuts $166M from K-12, cuts $99M from our three universities, and cuts all state funding for Pima and Maricopa community colleges for 2016.  (Regarding taxes, in Arizona if you earn between  $50K and  $150K you pay 4.24%; over that you pay 4.54%.  That hasn’t changed ’cause it’s so fair.)  Guess you can tell that he and the most of the legislature are Republicans.

pieI looked into the 2014 budget (couldn’t find 2015) for Pima College: Instruction + Academic Support get 33% of the pie. Student Services + Institutional Support (40%) = 53%.  And here I thought that the college was here for academics.  Silly me.

Then I saw an article in Sunday’s Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/the-real-reason-college-tuition-costs-so-much.html 

Even more strikingly, an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase.

Their administrators outnumber the faculty members, 12,183 to 12,019!


So open up your golden gate…

March 29, 2015

Flew into San Francisco two weeks ago to visit my brother, D, in Cazadero (population 294), Sonoma County.  We both teach and have the same spring break.

Sunday went to Bodega Head to watch for whales.  Three had been by already, but it was going to be another hour-and-a-half until more showed up (they were on the phone communicating with others further south), said one of the docents who had a table set up at the end of the parking lot, full of whale books, a chart of different whales, a sample of baleen, a whale vertebrae, and so on. They recognized my brother.  Turns out they’re not only into whales, but volunteer at the bird rescue1 with D.  We started chatting and the husband mentioned that he had gotten a degree from U of A, and had worked in optical sciences, which had just been discussed at the last science lecture that I had attended. It’s a small world, after all.  (If you’ve been on that ride at Disneyland, that song should be ringing in your mind now…)  We didn’t stay for the whales, but left to taste wine.

Sonoma Wineries

We visited two wineries (Fort Ross2 and Joseph Phelps3) that were on the list of Best of Sonoma, but their wines were too expensive for me.  The next day we researched, starting with cards that I had gotten for free tasting, culling half that D said were too far, and then getting the number down to four that had wines (specifically whites, as I have been drinking more of them with my fish, chicken, and salad meals, and I still have a number of reds in my wine cabinet) that I could afford.

Started with the Taft Street Winery, with an unpreposesing building, not on Taft Street, but Barlow Lane, Sebastopol.  They do not have their own vinards, but buy all of their grapes.  They advertise, Garage Crafted, Russian River Valley.

Like the renegade Bordeaux winemakers known as “Garagistes,” Taft Street began in a garage rather than a grand chateau, stressing quality without pretense.

They had a nice 2013 Pinot Gris, which I bought, but a marvelous Chardonnay Russian River that I purchased a bottle of despite it being over my price range because it was so delicious. My one splurge.

Stopped at Geyser Peak.  Told the sommelier (or was she merely a pourer?) that I could only afford the California  Series, the least expensive of the four tiers, and she replied that I would do better going across the street to the grocery store, as they bought the wine in large quantities and their prices were better.  But she gave us a few tastings, and I didn’t like them anyway.

Next went to Rued Winery, with its rolling hills of vines.  The first wine of the flight that we tried was a 2013 Pinot Grigio Dry Creek Valley that I absolutely loved. Got two bottles. Then there were two great Chardonnays. The first, 2014 Russian River Chardonnay,  didn’t even taste like a chard – not buttery or oaky; it had been aged in a stainless steel cask. I bought one and so did D, and he hardly ever drinks wine, preferring ale.

Wednesday we spent the day with friends of D’s from when they had all worked for Colossal Pictures.  I found the most entertaining gossip about Stephen Hillenburg, who they had worked with and who created SpongeBob SquarePants.  (D did not know him, having only worked for a short time in animation.)  Anyway, Hillenburg had not taken the hundred thousand or whatever he was offered by (maybe) Disney, as he wanted to retain control.  So now he has the TV show,  the t-shirts, the dolls and all, the movie  (which he did write).  Probably worth  $$$$$ but, they said, still just a nice guy.  Interesting afternoon.

Science Lecture

That evening we went to a California Academy of Sciences Conversations on Science lecture on Minds of Their Own: Animal Intelligence with Virginia Morell, whose recent book is Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures.  She was interviewed by Roy Eisenhardt, who has interviewed such luminaries as Stephen King, Gene Wilder, Desmond Tutu – you get the idea.

(California Academy of Sciences is a relatively new science museum in Golden Gate Park.  I had toured it back in 2008, just after it opened, as an architect, because the building had received a LEED platinum award, with old bluejeans being used for insulation, a green roof covered in wildflowers and so on. Back to the lecture.)

The rigorous test by scientists for intelligence in animals was discussed.  Jane Goodall could not say that the chimp conspired with her to get a banana after the alpha male  (haven eaten the entire rope of bananas without sharing) fell asleep, because that would have been anthropomorphizing.  And there is debate as to whether an earthworm is intelligent when it chooses between four materials put before it to close its tunnel.

Alex the parrot  (now deceased, but if you haven’t heard of him, you can easily find a YouTube video, or read the book, as I have, Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process) is a marvelous example of intelligence as he used English; he didn’t just “parrot” it back.  (He made fun of one of the other parrots he didn’t like. Say better, he’d call out from his corner, which meant Griffin should speak more clearly.)  The Economist magazine devoted the whole of its obituary page to him when he died.

Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz

SF 004

The next day we went to Alcatraz to see the show by Ai Weiwei: @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz5, 9/27/14 – 4/26/15.

“The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill.”
— Ai Weiwei

With Wind

SF 008The first room held With Wind.

He says that for him, the dragon represents not imperial authority, but personal freedom: “everybody has this power.” The individual kites that make up the dragon’s body carry quotations from activists who have been imprisoned or exiled, including Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden, [both shown here] and Ai himself.

SF mandelaSF snowdon





The next room in the New Industries Building was Trace, carpets of Legos, with portraits of 176 people from around the world who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs or affiliations.  Photos here show Aun San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King (among others), and pages of the notebooks around telling what each person was incarcerated for.   Notice that the US is guilty also.  (You can click on the photos to enlarge them.)

SF 027 SF suu kyi







SF kid


Stay Tuned

dickPhoto of my brother in one of the cells.  (They are quite small.)  The three-legged stools are heavy metal made by Ai Weiwei and I believe bolted down.

This sound installation occupies a series of twelve cells in A Block. Inside each cell, visitors are invited to sit and listen to spoken words, poetry, and music by people who have been detained for the creative expression of their beliefs, as well as works made under conditions of incarceration. Each cell features a different recording.


SF 054Ai’s father, the renowned poet Ai Qing, and his family were sent to a labor camp in the 50’s. He spent five years cleaning toilets.

The artist has designed intricately detailed encrustations of ceramic flowers to fill the sinks, toilets, and tubs that were once used by hospitalized prisoners in several Hospital ward cells.

…an ironic reference to China’s famous Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956, a brief period of government tolerance for free expression that was immediately followed by a severe crackdown against dissent.

I’ve taken altogether too long to finish this.  So I’ll stop.  See the web page for the rest of the installation.

2 http://www.fortrossvineyard.com/

Attack of the Crane Flies

March 10, 2015

250px-CraneFlyThe crane flies have been all over the house and attacking the windows for about a week.  According to Wikipedi, Although crane flies look like mosquitoes, they do not bite humans. Adult crane flies do not eat at all; most adult crane flies only mate and then die.  The larva eat the roots of grass so they no doubt love the golf courses here.  Looked at old blogs — didn’t mention crane flies last year.   Maybe was too busy to notice.  But two years ago they showed up in April, not March.  This must be a warmer year, climate change and all.  (For all of you folks back east, buried in snow, notice that I didn’t say global warming.)


meadow 011
Imeadow 003t’s spring, and with the bit of rain we’ve had, the flowers (mostly alyssum) that I seeded in my “meadow ” are thick, as well as the volunteers in my vegetable garden, from snapdragons that I’d planted years ago to wildflowers, California bluebells (shown here), desert verbena with both thin and wide leaves.    Plus my Lady Banks rose, which I have tied up
to the back fence, is roses 007 starting to bloom more than it ever has before.  BTW, this website is good for identifying flowers and recommending ones to plant: http://www.cvwd.org/conservation/lush_book/lush3_8.html

But even nicer to look at than flowers are the bicyclists of spring, packs of svelte bodies clad in lycra, riding up or down Anklam, taking in Gates Pass.

Seen yesterday: six cars stopped on the main drag through Starr Pass (a road with very little traffic) as a small herd of javelina crossed the street.

Life In The Universe

This week’s lecture, Intelligent Life Beyond Earth by Christopher D. Impey, University Distinguished Professor, Astronomy, was killed dinosaursthe best!  Chris has such a great sense of humor. (65 million years ago a comet killed off the dinosaurs; unfortunately it missed Barney.)  You must watch the podcasts.  All are on this site except for this one, which should be there in a week:
Here is the introductory spiel:

One question rises above all others when it comes to our place in a vast and ancient Universe, ‘Are we alone?’ With a billion habitable locations in the Milky Way galaxy, and more than ten billion years for biological experiments to play out, a search for intelligent life beyond Earth is well-motivated. Unfortunately, the single example of life on Earth gives no clear indication of whether intelligence is an inevitable or an extremely rare consequence of biological evolution. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, is more appropriately called the search for extraterrestrial technology. So far, the search for intelligent aliens by their electromagnetic communication has met with half a century of stony silence. It’s challenging to define life, and even more difficult to make general definitions of intelligence and technology. We’ll look at the premises and assumptions involved in the search, the strategies used, and the profound consequences of making contact.

He also mentioned that, according to the eminent physicist Stephen Hawking, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” … He argues that, instead of trying to find and communicate with life in the cosmos, humans would be better off doing everything they can to avoid contact.

Scandalous Women

This week we discussed the movie Mildred Pierce,  with Joan Crawford, 1945.  Here is some of the editing that was done:

Mildredmildred pierceApparently the book would not have passed The Code.  So, in addition to the language being cleaned up, the panoply of screen writers (including the uncredited William Faulkner and Catherine Turney), changed the plot to a murder mystery, simplified characters to make them either bad or good, and killed off one of the “bad guys”.  It was a box office hit, and won many Oscars.  You can get it from the library or Netflix.


This is what I picked up at the CSA today: Beets, Carrots, Collard Greens (which I traded for more beets, as I can cook them and freeze them), Hakurei Turnips, Navel Oranges, Salad Mix, Sweet Potatoes, Swiss Chard.  Lots of veggies to finish before the weekend, when I leave to visit my brother during spring break.


You don’t have to see a picture of James Beard to know what he looks like, just read the descriptions of his breads in Beard on Bread, [They] should be eaten fresh, with plenty of good sweet butter.

Morning Laugh

March 8, 2015

dame ednaI was starting this blog seriously about extra-terrestrials, but this morning was laughing at Scott Simon’s interview with Dame Edna Everage1, and had to share. For example, “she” mentioned her mauve hair…

He said, “Well Edna your hair is still a natural, very, very natural mauve.” I was born, by the way, Scott, with this color. I was. It’s very unusual. Very unusual. … But, I said to the doctor, “Well what can you do?”

Well, I was not ROTFL, but I was LOL when “she” talked about adding a double chin:

On how she’s kept her looks all these yearsh

It’s so simple. Now, I looked at my face about 10 years ago … and I thought to myself, “What have I done? A pact with the devil? Why am I looking so young and so unconventionally lovely? Why?”

And, I thought what I need to do is to age myself in some way. I have to look normal. People won’t believe it! So I went to Brazil, and I saw the top man there, of course, a cosmetic surgeon. And I said, “Look, I need to look my age!”

And he said, “Well Edna, you must have some little crow’s feet! … We’ll give you some crow’s feet.”

And he said, “What you need – your neckline is perfect! You haven’t got that horrible turkey neck.” He said, “You need a little soft, double chin. A soft little pillow, a little cushion under your chin.” …

“And do you know what he did? I saw him delving in a sort of white box, a freezer. And he pulled out a little shrink-wrapped package. It looked like a chicken breast. And he said, “We’ll stitch this on. And it will settle in. And it will give you a lovely double chin.”

And I said, “What is that?” He said, “What? More like what was it, Edna … That was Elizabeth Taylor’s left love handle.”

Elizabeth Taylor’s love handle is now my soft, little chin. And if you look at it very closely, you can see some indentations where Richard Burton’s fingers held. … Isn’t it beautiful? It’s history in my face. History.

Life in the Universe

Last Monday’s lecture was Amazing Discoveries: A Billion Earth-like Worlds by Laird Close, Professor of Astronomy, Steward Observatory2. On Mount Graham (the research arm for the Department of Astronomy, in the the Pinaleño Mountains northeast of Tucson) they are looking for Goldilocks planets (which are not too hot or too cold, but just right), Earth-like planets. Here is the UA Science Lecture Series lead-in the lecture:

One of the most fascinating developments in the last two decades is humankind’s discovery of alien worlds orbiting stars near our Sun. Since the first such discovery in 1995 there has been a truly exponential growth in the detection of these new planets. Scientists have been puzzled and surprised by the diversity and extravagance of these new extra-solar systems. For example, we now know the most common type of planet is actually missing from our own Solar System. Recently, the space-based NASA Kepler Mission has discovered thousands of new worlds and suggests that one in five Sun-like stars may harbor an Earth-like planet. We will take a grand tour of some of these amazing new worlds, specifically noting where life might already exist, beyond our Solar System. The latest developments and difficulties of direct imaging for life on an exoplanet [extrasolar that does not orbit the Sun and instead orbits a different star] will be discussed.

According to Wikipedia, the Milky Way… contains 100–400 billion stars.  If one in five Sun-like stars may harbor an Earth-like planet, and we use a conservative estimate of 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, then there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of sun-like stars and red dwarf stars within the Milky Way Galaxy (also from Wikipedia).

This is the Department of Astronomy’s blurb about the professor:  Laird specializes in novel astronomical observations utilizing new adaptive optics instrumentation. He is utilizing adaptive optics (which removes the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere) to study at very high resolution: low-mass stars, brown dwarfs, and extrasolar planets…  He is the head scientist of the Magellan Adaptive Secondary AO [Adaptive optics] system in Chile.

He explained how a deformable mirror can be used to correct wavefront errors in an astronomical telescope, such as the one in Chili, shown in this diagram.

Today, the largest telescope in the world is the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in Arizona, with two 27-foot mirrors made in the SOML, Steward Observatory Mirror Lab (beneath Arizona Stadium, home of the UA Wildcat football team), and that telescope has had a lot of exciting discoveries; at least Professor Laird Close told us so, at least 27 times.  It was pretty amazing to think that telescope could see, from Phoenix, two dimes he’d hold up in Tucson.  (Which is how we can see so many other planets.)

Giant_Magellan_TelescopeBut the Giant Magellan Telescope (artist’s concept here), also constructed in our  SOML, will be more than 80 feet in diameter and is planned for completion in 2020. The GMT will be located on a mountain top in Chile (where, according to Wikipedia, the night sky in most of the surrounding Atacama Desert region is not only free from atmospheric pollution, but in addition it is probably one of the places least affected by light pollution, making the area one of the best spots on Earth for long-term astronomical observation).  Obviously, Tucson has the best mirror lab in the world!


In Joan Didion’s recollections of the year after her husband died, The Year Of Magical Thinking (which was pretty depressing, but you could probably identify if your spouse had just died), she spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself and quotes D.H. Lawrence,  I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.   But disagrees:  This may be what Lawrence (or we) would prefer to believe about wild things, but consider those dolphins who refuse to eat after the death of a mate. Consider those geese who search for the lost mate until they themselves become disoriented and die.  I feel worse for the dolphins and the geese, (and all of the great apes, and elephants, who grieve) because they cannot understand death, where we at least can.  (BTW – Misao Okawa, the world’s oldest human being, has officially turned 117. She lives in a retirement home in Osaka.  Would you want to live that long?)   This segues into a poem about Death of a Tulip by my friend, Krista:

Have you watched a tulip fade?

It is so simple, really –
a few white petals

on a long slender stalk
stretching up
once rooted with its family in the good earth.

A gentle gravity
begins their journey,
the petals in a graceful

each hour, each day
a bit more

a pleasurable
each time you glance their way

the journey
marked by their firm, juicy
skin, soft and supple.

This gorgeous tulip
welcomes your long look
into the heart
of its very being.

Days pass

the petals reach out sideways
open to the world
finding their way
inviting your relationship.

Then in full innocence
they begin to fold downward.

Their shiny vibrant softness

Soon these dear familiar petals
are dry ruffles

a dancer’s skirt,
its fluted edges
embroidered with a wisp
of earthy brown.

The drape is ever more pronounced,
the flower’s soul pushing
delicate sepia striping
from its center.

* * * * *

Reach your arms high overhead:
a baby seeks its mother

at infinite slow intervals
arms fall open
open to the world

o'keefe tulipnow parallel to the earth
at last they stretch across the universe
you can embrace it all
and all can come to be enfolded

the transformation to a dancer,
graceful skirt
hands gently fluttering to your side.

Intimate tulip friend,
in your center
the soul of Georgia O’Keefe

-Krista Neis


The Cost of Beauty

March 2, 2015

rita hayworthThis week in my Scandalous Females in Film class at the U we’re studying Rita Hayworth.  She was born Margarita Carmen Cansino, of an English mother and a father who was a Spanish classical dancer.

To anglicise her, her first name was abbreviated and she took her mother’s maiden name, but the electrolysis was the worst.  This is from a journal article we read: Being Rita Hayworth: labor, identity, and Hollywood stardom by Adrienne McLean:

The half-moon eyebrows were all the rage then.  My mother plucked hers too (she lived in LA and wanted to look like the movie stars), and they never grew back.

In a previous week we read in an article that, In the United States more money is spent on beauty than on education or social services.  (Can’t remember which article; this quote from the NY Times1.)

We watched the movie Gilda, 1946, supposedly Hayworth’s best.  She had learned dancing as a kid and Fred Astaire, who co-starred with her in two movies, said in his autobiography that she was his favorite dancing partner.  Life magazine called her The Great American Love Goddess.  She was married five times and had a rainchild each by Orson Welles and Prince Aly Khan.


It’s pouring outside, and there’s a science lecture at the U tonight.  Bet they’ll be a bunch of empty seats.  Think that instead of parking at my friends’ house six blocks away and walking, I’ll cough up the $4 to park in the Tyndall Avenue garage, only a block away.

Also a 1932 film, based on a short story by  W. Somerset Maugham that I had read years ago, with Joan Crawford, another scandalous woman.


dried lizards 001
My feathery cassia hedge is in bloom, about two weeks behind the rest of the city.  The quail love my wildflowers out back.

Kehinde Wiley

kehinde wiley
Raphaël_-_Les_Trois_GrâcesAt the end of January the Sunday New York Times had an article on Kehinde Wiley and his giant portraits and I realized that the collectors we had visited in Phoenix2 had a huge Kehinde Wiley taking up an entire wall, similar to this one, and I tried to get my head around it.  Now I understand.  This one is based on Raphael’s The Three Graces.

He is known for vibrant, photo-based portraits of young black men (and occasionally women)… their images mashed up with rococo-style frills and empowering poses culled from art history.3

This is a show at the Smithsonian, and you can tell how large the paintings are by the size of the people.

Here, a portrait of Ice T based on Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne by Ingres.

napoleon Ice TNapoleon_on_his_Imperial_throne


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