Saturday, September 26, 2009


Jack was right, or right enough, about the avocados. I wouldn’t say refrigeration “stop-actioned” them, but it definitely “slow-actioned” them, so that I had one perfectly ripe avocado ready to go every day, for my daily spinach salad that also has about two tablespoons of canola oil on it—my favorite dressing lately is canola oil, golden balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic. Yes, I know, I might as well go ahead and put chocolate sauce and whipped cream on top of a salad like that. (Or would it be better buried at the bottom, a surprise?)

One week’s salads featured late-season tomatoes and thin slices of red onion. They were tremendous.

I decided that Eucerin’s greasy lotion was not feasible for everyday use, and their non-greasy lotion smells a little strange and doesn’t seem to moisturize well at all. I happened to see a dermatologist not long ago and, fortunately, remembered to ask him about moisturizers.

He gave me a bunch of samples, all of which were pretty good, with the winner being Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturizing Lotion. This stuff is outstanding: While it’s billed as being fragrance free, it’s not quite, but it smells OK to me, it absorbs almost instantly, and it moisturizes excellently. I apply it when I go to sleep, and the moisturizing properties last well into the next day. One feels positively clammy, not desiccated. It’s also cheap and easily to be had at Walgreens.

I have heard the idea of non-profit journalistic outlets mentioned a few times recently, which seems like a promising idea, as print journalism and publishing, rightly, wane (though it is going to be a painful day when The New Yorker becomes online only). I don’t know about the print edition of the San Francisco Chronicle (who reads actual newspapers anymore?) but its online entity,, is fairly lousy.

When you click on a link these days, half the time you get some other news organization, or, more likely, someone’s typo-ridden blog. They also feature a steady trickle of stories about cruelty to animals. I try to remember not to click on them, but a week or so ago, I clicked on one before I could think better of it and read the brief story. I now vow that I will absolutely never visit again.

I hate those kinds of stories, because they are upsetting in and of themselves, and they make me think about how many teenaged boys have done or will do the same thing (of course people of all genders and ages do ghastly things to helpless creatures, but I’m sure there’s a spike when it comes to a certain demographic), and I also think these stories inspire copycats. It bothers me so much. All I can really do is make sure to treat Hammett like a prince, which I do, and give money to PETA and the SPCA, which I also do.

I can also avoid eating animals and animal products, to a reasonable degree. At home, I now eat only the occasional dairy product (specifically ice cream and the bit of dairy in chocolate-covered almonds); when dining out or eating at someone else’s house, vegetarian is good enough. I don’t like to inconvenience my hosts and hostesses, but at this point, I can’t bring myself to eat flesh, thanks to PETA.

So, anyway, I swore off and figured that I would just go without local news, unless something big enough happens that the New York Times (online) covers it. I was therefore very pleased to hear (on KQED) that KQED and the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism are embarking on a non-profit project to cover the Bay Area, which I believe is a harbinger of good things to come in many places.

I do also get local news from KQED, and just pledged to give them $12 a month to make sure I continue to hear Terry Gross, etc., for the foreseeable future. It seems to me that while radio journalism suffers when the economy suffers, and will end when the world ends or maybe even a bit before—public radio might not be the very last thing on earth—it shouldn’t be as vulnerable as print journalism. By the way, KQED has more listeners than any public radio station in the United States, a tad more than a station in New York City, where the number of potential listeners is much, much higher, so KQED is the most listened-to public radio station per capita in the country.

Red Tree & Skyline

Health Wads

Last Sunday I went on a massive shopping expedition to Rainbow. I had gotten a few ideas from my cranial-sacral guy, which meant stocking up on some new things. While I was there, it started to seem I might not be able to get it all home on my bike, so I put back laundry soap and dish soap, which turned out to be a good thing.

I have two panniers which can each hold a standard paper grocery bag pretty much full to the brim, plus my backpack for overflow, plus, if necessary, I can hang grocery bags from the left and right ends of my handlebars, but only fairly light items can go in the latter. It’s not the ideal solution, safety-wise, but does in a pinch.

At the checkout counter, another shopper observed my vast haul and asked, “Did you ride your bike here? Good luck!” Sure enough, if I hadn’t put those two items back, I would have had to wheel my bike all the way home with them balanced on my rear rack.

At home, I rinsed fruit and chopped veggies and washed spinach for salad and mixed steel-cut oats with water and a bit of vinegar to soak overnight. I made enough pasta sauce for 10 servings and froze the individual servings. I made potato-kale soup and dal. It took into the wee hours (i.e., past 8:30 p.m.), but it’s worth it. I love looking around my counters and in the fridge and seeing all that beautiful, healthy, cooked-with-care food.

I was going to make Health Wads, too, but ran out of time—tasty cookies made with whole-wheat flour, egg replacer, and walnut oil, a recipe of my own devising. I’m trying to think of a better name. Tom suggested “Eco Chunks.”

The next morning I cooked the oats with a big pile of strawberries and some cinnamon and sweetener. It was great, especially with sliced banana on top. My cranial-sacral guy says soaking grains makes them easier to digest, but the very best thing he said was about avocados.

I was telling him about the nausea I’ve had lately, and he speculated that maybe it’s caused by supplements, and suggested eating something beforehand to coat my stomach, such as avocado. I said I love avocados, but I only buy one at a time, because if you buy six, they will invariably all ripen on the same day.

Jack said that avocados can be “stop-actioned” in the refrigerator: If you put a ripe avocado in the fridge, it will stay as it is and not go bad; if you put an unripe avocado in the fridge, it will stop ripening until you take it out again. So he says, and I hope he’s right, or Tom is going to have to eat a whole lot of guacamole, because I bought seven avocados.

Just between you and me, I skipped showering Saturday night, not too unusual, but also Sunday night, what with all the avocado rinsing and so forth. Two days in a row is kind of pushing it, but I basically work alone, as I remarked to myself while putting on my most disreputable and most pajama-like pants Monday morning.

Once I got to work, I constructed yet another version of an AM I DREAMING? necklace, so I had two objects dangling around my neck, the other being my work badge, but it was fine: who was going to see me? For good measure, I wrote “AM I DREAMING?” in ink on the back of my left hand.

I had been invited to a pizza lunch at work that day, and one of the two admins our our floor had, not long before, inquired if I was planning to attend, and I said I was, so I guiltily put it back on my calendar, but hoped she wouldn’t remember when the day actually rolled around.

But sure enough, as I was sitting in my cube eating delicious homemade dal with chopped tomatoes and dinosaur kale, I heard her yelling, “Linda! Are you coming?”

“Yes!” I said, through a mouthful of dal, and after I’d shoveled in the remainder and snuck to the kitchen on the far side of the floor to wash the bowl, I went into one of the big conference rooms, there to see 20 or so people I’ve seen on my floor for years but have never spoken with because we’re in different groups and do different things.

I took one of the empty seats at the far end of the room and saw we were going around the table introducing ourselves. Right across from me was a guy I wasn’t sure I’d seen before, and next to him a woman I definitely had never seen before—the new boss in town to meet her troops. Doh!

The occasion for this lunch I had not at all grasped, and if I had, I would probably have skipped the dream necklace and writing on my hand, and I would have taken a shower AND not worn my worst pants. Oh, well, next time.

So I got to chat with this boss for 45 minutes. She’s not my own new boss, but evidently this latest round of changes has put me under the same umbrella as, of all things, all these people on my own floor! (Like, in family tree parlance, their grandfather is my great-grandfather or something; we’re seventh cousins four times removed.) That really is rather novel. It’s been years since I was in the same group as people I actually see.

Right after lunch—oh, and no, I didn’t eat a second full meal at the pizza party; I just had a smidgen of undressed salad, the ultimate power lunch—I got a call from that same admin saying that they’re all going to a baseball game in a couple of weeks, and since we’re one big happy family now, do I want to go with them?

Wait, let me think: Do I want to sit around for several hours smack in the middle of a workday, eating free food and watching the game instead of working?

Do I ever. Score!!

I actually am not a baseball fan (to my knowledge), but my bike ride home takes me right behind the ball park nearly every day—they have valet bike parking on game days—and it had occurred to me that maybe I should go to a game just to see what it’s like.

This was formerly shaping up to be one of my least-favorite reorgs, partly because it has drifted along for the better part of a year without my finding out who my immediate supervisor will be, who I’ll be working with, and what I’ll be doing, questions that remain unanswered, but now it’s way my favorite, for the perks.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Seeking Qualified Death Panelists

And here we are at today. I had plans: Visit hospice, do interview for Tube Times, go to Zen Center for class, eat two artichokes, and watch Atonement on DVD.

It’s funny how the day you picture beforehand so vividly, thinking you know just how it will go, can have very little in common with the real day as its moments unfold.

For starters, when I arrived at the hospice, I found my guy permanently unavailable, in that he died last night. The nurse who told me that didn’t know if his wife had been with him or not. I hope she was.

I considered going to see P. during the unexpected bit of free time, but decided to come home and hack through some of my email. When I left the house again—take two—it was sunny, whereas it had been gloomy the first time around. Fortunately, it was not particularly humid. It was lovely, in fact.

I had arranged to interview and take photos of three generations of cyclists in one family for an upcoming issue of the Tube Times, the publication of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. By the time it was actually upon me, it seemed more like a chore than something to be anticipated—what if it wasn’t fun, what if I didn’t like them (or they me), what if there were technical difficulties?

The bike ride to the appointed meeting place in a park on the north side of town turned out to be really nice, and when I arrived there, the oldest generation, a retired lawyer of 85 with beautiful teeth and a tranquil, almost mesmerizing voice, was already on hand. I immediately liked him very much.

We got a chance to chat while waiting for his son and grandson, and then I took a bunch of pictures and we did our interview, and it ended up being great to meet them all. The only technical difficulty was that the grandson, who is seven, could not figure out what on earth my little cassette tape recorder was. We did our best to explain it to him.

On my way back, I heard what at first sounded like someone playing a couple of really gorgeous chords over and over on a guitar, but then I realized it was an accordion, and very close at hand, but where? I crossed the street and found a fellow sitting in the side door of an old van playing away. Leaning against the van were paintings done on old windows still in their frames.

Next I found myself on the bike boulevard on Octavia St. At Fell St., there was a big sign saying everyone had to turn right. Fell is not highly hospitable for cycling, but then I noticed that the bottom of the sign said “EXCEPT BIKES.” I continued on, and so did a motorcyclist who was promptly pulled over and ticketed, which was kind of refreshing, not to take pleasure in someone else’s ticket.

At the Zen Center I ate my walnut butter sandwich on the front steps (peanut butter has an unfavorable Omega 6:3 ratio) and then went in to help set up for our class. By chance, we did a writing exercise about death (what we want to be able to say when we die, and what we don’t want to have to say) and to put us in the right frame of mind, Paul Haller read a Mary Oliver poem. I had drafted my blog post about reading a Mary Oliver poem to a dying person prior to today, so that was extremely cosmic, all this death and Mary Oliver everywhere.

Upon returning home, I did eat the two artichokes, and with great pleasure, but I didn’t watch Atonement because I did this instead. Some people half a block away are into the sixth hour of the world’s loudest party—they do this extremely often, although this time they went the extra step of blocking the entire sidewalk in front of their building with one of those rented kiddie bounce houses; they also grill with approximately two gallons of lighter fluid about four times a week, creating a ghastly stench for me and I'm sure tens of others—and Tom called me up and announced that he hates these people, which is a very un-Tom-like sentiment.

He has to get up early tomorrow for a hundred-mile bike ride and was thinking of going to a café for some peace and quiet; I suggested bed and earplugs.

The latest Newsweek discusses the vast amount of money spent on end-of-life care, which partly makes sense because people are sickest right before they die, but also is because many of us are so afraid to die that we don't talk about it or think about how we actually want it to be. Doctors, I think, also feel they have failed when patients die, and may want to do every last kind of treatment they can think of, even when it's clearly futile; there can also be a financial incentive to do this.

What we need, obviously, are DEATH PANELS. We need greater awareness of options such as hospice, which can be a good thing all around: The person who is dying can spend final weeks resting peacefully, enjoying life as much as possible, and using his or her remaining energies as desired, instead of being subjected to all manner of procedures (maybe invasive, maybe painful, almost certainly at least uncomfortable), and a tremendous amount of money can be saved. Many hospice patients wish to die in their own homes and do so, though you can also receive hospice care in a hospital or other facility.

The idea is to manage pain and allow the person to have as much dignity as possible, without attempting to treat the terminal condition itself. I'm just starting out, but I have already met so many great people involved in hospice care that I think it is a very good thing indeed, and certainly something I will choose one day, if I'm in the position to do so.

It's also important for people who have figured out what they want to make sure their wishes are specified in appropriate legal documents, to avoid the situation where doctors go ahead with futile or undesired measures and/or family members who can't bear the thought of losing their relative insist on interventions that don't really make sense.

Tom and I discussed all of this, and also the situation in which a person with dementia can no longer live at home, and I gave him what I think was fair warning that the very first time he gets out of hand, I'm going to institutionalize him. I added that I think his brother who's closest in age to him will back me up.

Tom joked, "I'm sure he will. In fact, he'd probably go along with institutionalizing me this very evening." The unbreakable bond between siblings is a touching thing, or, to say it another way, be careful about who ends up on your death panel.


From Wikipedia: In 1997, Brian Goggin and a team of artists create[d] an absurdist site-specific art installation on two sides of an empty four-story building at the corner of Sixth and Howard Streets in San Francisco entitled "Defenestration", which depicted seemingly animated furniture apparently leaping out the windows and off the parapet.

From me: The city has invoked eminent domain and is now going to tear this down. Too bad.

Remembering Jean Kerr

My neighbor who used to yell “Hey, neighbor” into my bathroom window—she was darling—moved out because she lost her job and her place was empty for a couple of months and then someone new moved in, whom I overheard saying to a friend, “I’ve never had two bosses at once before,” which struck me as a euphemism, so I concluded she’s a high-end escort, or at least, if she is an escort, I hope she’s a high-end one.

In regard to new neighbors, I have often thought “I hope she doesn’t play loud music late at night. I hope she doesn’t smoke. I hope her friends don’t smoke. Or, if she and/or her friends do smoke, I hope they don’t do it outside my kitchen window. And I hope she doesn’t grill, not that she would find it easy to set up a grill in her own backyard, given how much trash her landlord has dumped there, as well as in the walkway that leads to the front of the building, as well as in the entranceway of the building—if anyone ever drops a match in the wrong place, there is going to be an unbelievable conflagration. I hope I can get out of my own building before it goes up, too.”

In all that, I had neglected to think, “I hope she doesn’t wedge a double-barreled Holmes fan into her bathroom window such that all the hot, wet air in her bathroom ends up in my bathroom instead, and such that I have to listen to the fan running hour after hour, and such that if she uses a horrible perfumed shampoo, the scent will fill my bathroom and I will all but keel over.”

I forgot to think that, and it turns out those are the things my new neighbor does. (She also leaves her bathroom light on virtually all night, which the prior neighbor also did, so that it shines right into my bathroom and on into my hallway, where it reflects right off the doorknob of my front door and lasers into my very eyeball as I lie in my bed in the next room, believe it or not, and even with the bathroom door open only a crack, it’s still noticeable. But that’s not a big deal; it doesn’t keep me up.)

So I drafted her a little note: “You may not have realized how sensitive I am to blah blah blah.” And then I decided, just as a practice in being with what I don’t like, which I’m not good at, to wait for a month before delivering the note.

And then I got used to it! She keeps very irregular hours in her work as a too-expensive-for-most escort, and she often seems to be gone for days at a stretch, and when she’s around, her schedule varies considerably, so it’s not like every single morning at 7:17, a horrible smell comes in my window, and that’s good, because if it did, I would not have gotten used to it, because in that case I would obviously march into bathroom at 7:16 every morning, gnashing my teeth, so as to be on hand for the occurrence of the irritating thing.

As for the noise, if I close my bathroom door nearly all the way, I can barely hear it. If she wants to waste electricity by having it on for hours, that’s her business (I guess), and the perfumed shampoo thing has only happened a couple of times so far, so I deleted my note, and mainly I just appreciate the fact that this person does not smoke, grill, or play loud music.

But I am not kidding about the scents thing. The smell of other people can sometimes bother me now, meaning random non-homeless people who presumably bathe regularly. The smell of some flowers is strangely bad. Irises, as they fade, smell more and more like rancid peanut butter, but even when my latest vase of irises was new, the smell was kind of disturbing, to the point that I might avoid irises henceforth. Asters smell like some forgotten pile of dirt out in the middle of nowhere: not too bad. Good, in fact, if you've forgotten what dirt smells like and want to remember.

Roses still smell wonderful, and so do carnations. I love their crisp, fresh smell, faintly reminiscent of cinnamon. The bunch I got recently lasted for nearly two weeks and smelled marvelous right up until I put them in the compost bin.

I am still beset by intermittent nausea, which I can’t call my doctor about because everything I ever call her about always proves to be nothing, but I’m half-convinced I have the type of cancer that makes you feel nauseous and makes flowers smell bad.

Why are we remembering Jean Kerr? Because she forgot to tell her kids, "Please don't eat the daisies."

Asters, Text for State Testing, Bougainvillea in the Courtyard at the Zen Center

Another use for a cat tag. Tying a bowline around one's own wrist is challenging.

Target Practice

I’ve been looking at the Shambhala Sun website a bit lately, reading some of Pema Chödrön’s articles. She has some helpful (and alarming) things to say about working with anger. She points out that, metaphorically speaking, no one can hit the target with an arrow unless we have set a target up, and since we put the target up ourselves, we’re the only ones who can take it down. She also says that when we get in the habit of reacting with irritation, lo and behold, many, many arrows will head our way, and next thing we know, we’re ticked off all the time and no one wants to be friends with us.

Her advice is not to repress anger, which I often try to do (not particularly successfully), nor to act on it (which I also often do, though I think somewhat less often as the years go by), but to sit with the unpleasant feelings. Even doing that for two seconds helps to break that entrenched pattern, which is the encouraging part.

Oddly, I find it extremely difficult to identify the sensations associated with anger. Sadness is glaringly obvious to me, and ditto fear. With anger, try as I might, the only really noticeable thing is the lecture unspooling in my head: what I’d like to say to so-and-so, just exactly what I won’t put up with and what any person in her right mind shouldn’t put up with, etc. I do know that anger is often triggered by fear. I’m working on trying to feel the anger directly, and also, if I’m lucky, to catch the moment of anxiety or sadness that triggered the defensive angry reaction.

So, anyway, I was thinking of maybe subscribing to Shambhala Sun ("today's best-selling and most widely-read [sic] Buddhist magazine"), and decided not to, because I already have too much stuff to read even without library books, and then, next thing I knew, I had rushed to their website and typed in my credit card number. I got an email back saying my subscription would start with such-and-such issue, and then, irrationally, went looking for the current issue, the one before the first one I’ll get as a subscriber.

They didn’t have it at the newsstand at First and Market, and I firmly told myself to forget it: Why on earth do I suddenly need a particular issue of a magazine I wasn’t even planning to subscribe to, even if I did end up subscribing to it after all?

Then I was at Rainbow, waiting in the checkout line, and my fell right on that earlier issue, so of course I bought it, and a couple of days later, I was reading the letters to the editor in the front.

The topic was killing insects in our homes and one letter began something like, “I don’t knowingly kill creatures in my apartment,” and I thought, “Yeah, same here. And I kind of like the way he/she said ‘creatures’ when we’re just talking about bugs.” Well, it turned out that letter was from me, something I posted on a forum on their website, so that was a very nice welcome to Shambhala Sun. (I didn’t know posting to the forum constituted sending a letter to the editor.)

Shortly after that weekend when my sleep got all thrown off, I had another night where my lucid dreaming project kept me up for several sleepless hours, and I started to entertain the idea that this isn’t my lifetime for lucid dreaming expertise, but then I found a lucid dreaming website with extensive forums where I picked up a couple of good ideas, and decided to forge ahead, but in a much more relaxed manner—I’m not on a deadline here.

It takes some people months or a year to have their first lucid dream, while I had three within my first month, plus a couple I’ve had in the past (like, literally, two), so I clearly have the potential ability to do this.

To recap, LaBerge says three things are needed to learn lucid dreaming: good dream recall, motivation, and consistent practice of effective techniques. I finally figured out the latter is the problem: I am not actually practicing the most effective way to induce lucid dreams, LaBerge’s MILD process, which you’re ideally supposed to do when you wake up from a dream during the night, just as you’re falling asleep again.

One or the other of these things happens every night: 

1) I don't wake up from a dream during the night at all. I wake up just before my alarm goes 
off and remember multiple dreams, usually, but by then it's too late to do MILD and have 
another dream.

2) I wake up during the night from a dream, do MILD, and then can't go back to sleep.

3) I wake up during the night from a dream, but it doesn't cross my mind to do MILD. 
My memory is not good.

4) I wake up during the night from a dream, and next thing I know, my alarm is about to 
go off; I fell back asleep without remembering to do MILD.

Numbers 1 and 4 happen most often, so my current goal is to improve my ability to wake from dreams during the night and make a few notes; I'm not even going to worry about MILD for 
the time being, but when I get back to it, I will only do a few repetitions if I can see it's waking me up too much.

Fog Lake, Ocean, Guest Bed

You'll probably have to click on this one to see it's a lake of fog, seen from Highway 1 as Tom and I drove to the Sea Ranch. (You can tell a really good photographer by how she always has to say, "You probably can't tell this from the photo itself, but it's a picture of ...") We were above the fog!

The Pacific Ocean as seen from Ann and Mac's guest bedroom; the hummingbird feeder seemed to have a hovering visitor about ninety percent of the time.

Ah, and this! The bed where I spent so many happy, happy hours, complete with lucid dreaming book and my lucky outfit.

Most Pampered Water on Earth

In the homemade bread department, I did try using a food processor, which required doing the initial preparation of one loaf’s worth of dough at a time, which was slightly inconvenient, and the dough rose even more slowly than usual. The end product seems just fine, as always—yum, homemade bread!—but I have since learned that you need to chill the water before you put it in the food processor, because the processing heats up the water and can thus potentially kill the yeast. I probably at least disheartened my little yeast specks without realizing it.

But since I heat the water on purpose to activate the yeast, does that mean I have to HEAT the water and subsequently COOL the water? Isn’t that more special treatment than your basic cup of water really has coming? My mother said to get instant yeast. That doesn’t sound like the way they did it in the Stone Age to me.

My next idea was to get a stand mixer, which is what certain highly esteemed bread bakers of my personal acquaintance use, and rightly so, after decades of laborious hand kneading. I went so far as to clear a spot for this prospective stand mixer by balancing my blender and food processor on top of my toolbox on the floor.

I do feel I have an appliance coming , since I didn't end up getting a grain mill to grind wheat with, somewhat of a miracle, as I really kind of had my heart set on it and very nearly went ahead with that purchase. Now I’m glad I didn’t, in part because I don’t always use whole-wheat flour, and the bulk flours at Rainbow are good enough.

Choosing a stand mixer is not as simple as one might hope. My mother has helped with the research, since she has a Cook’s Illustrated subscription and can access their website.
(There was a chilling moment on day two or three when Cook’s Illustrated proved to conflict with reviews at Amazon’s website—isn’t Cook’s Illustrated utterly infallible? I had always believed this to be true, even though I am not a subscriber and don’t aim to be; its concerns probably overlap with my vegetarian/vegan concerns only intermittently.

It seems that a lot of stand mixers these days aren’t actually powerful enough for kneading bread dough, because the cost-conscious/crafty makers of same know that hardly anyone bakes her own bread these days, so they don’t bother to produce machines that are equal to the task.

One person at Amazon's website said he had to return five of a certain KitchenAid stand mixer in a row, though he said they were perfectly nice about it; Cuisinart’s customer service is apparently lousy.

Now we have a new wrinkle, however, in that my cranial-sacral practitioner all but convinced me yesterday evening that bread is evil (i.e., gluten is); he said gluten is the one thing on earth he avoids without fail. For what it’s worth, both he and his partner look absolutely fabulous—utterly radiant, all the years I’ve known them, so I thought I might look into a period of gluten freeness just to see.

Note from my mother earlier this week: “I have discovered that my newly re-covered chair is a tad firm, so you will be welcome to sit in it whenever neither I nor the turd is occupying it.” She added, “I can sit in it but it's not as comfy as it was or as my recliner is. It needs breaking in, and that's where houseguests can help!”

Finally, a chance to use my major talent: sitting around.

Later in the week, I sent my mother this note:

“I'm sorry I was distracted when you called. I had gotten stressed out by something at work and so my life forces were gathered to eating chocolate-covered almonds as a healing measure.”

During the conversation in question, she was sitting on the deck off the kitchen of their new house pounding in errant nails, and she answered my email by saying, “That's OK. I was a busy deck repairman anyway,” which I thought was cute.

I didn’t want to tell her what stressed me out, but I’ll tell YOU: a bomb scare. I was sitting in my cube at work eating lunch when this came over the P.A. system:

“Attention, attention. We have an emergency situation on the 12th floor. Please activate relocation procedures for the 12th floor.” (I sit on the 4th floor; the building has twelve floors.)

Then: “Attention, attention. We are investigating a bomb on the 12th floor.”

Then: “Attention, attention. We have an emergency situation on floors ten, eleven and twelve. Please activate relocation procedures for floors ten, eleven and twelve. DO NOT USE THE ELEVATORS.”

“All right,” I said to myself, “I’m going to have to put on my hat,” but about two minutes later, we received an all clear. It was probably someone’s bag lunch that overshot the trash container, but I did feel slightly rattled, hence the chocolate-covered almonds.

I hope now that my mother knows how close I came to being vaporized at work, she’ll forgive me for the stand mixer research that might never be used. (Or had she already forgotten and I shouldn’t have mentioned it again?)

Sea Ranch Sunset and Tom with Sophia

That's the Pacific Ocean underneath the sunset.

Doesn't Tom look particularly handsome in this picture? There's nothing like a little dog to bring out that quality.

And Bad is the New Good

Last weekend, Tom and I took Friday off, rented a car, and went up to see Ann and Mac at the Sea Ranch, always a treat for these Mission neighborhood dwellers. We stopped at Toast in Novato for lunch on Friday, and did the same thing on Sunday. (French fries with blue cheese melted over them: very fine idea.)

It wasn’t particularly sunny up there. In fact, it was overcast and a bit brisk, which is my new favorite weather: Lousy is the new sunny. It is too damn hot in San Francisco now, and it is too damn humid. When I wake up and see it’s grey and forbidding out, I’m delighted, because cycling in hot, humid weather is yucky and disgusting, not so much during, but definitely after.

Grey weather also makes for excellent napping conditions, so while Tom strode up and down the trail along the water’s edge—he did that both Saturday and Sunday; very odd—I reposed peacefully in the guest room upon my bed next to the open window. Sleeping at night with the sound of the ocean wind and its cool touch on my face was also splendid.

On Sunday afternoon, right after we got back, I went to see A. at the hospice. To me, he looked noticeably worse. In fact, for a moment or two there, I wasn’t sure he wasn’t dead. His eyes were open but unseeing. The only thing he said was to ask for a damp towel, which he used to wipe his face with. Then he kind of went to sleep and I kind of sat there, until I began to feel I was somehow derelict in my duties, and held his hand for a bit.

When he next briefly awoke, he seemed mildly surprised to find his hand being held and casually moved it out of reach, so then I just sat with him, and after an hour, I walked home, buying a bunch of asters on the way.

I initially signed up to do vigil, which is sitting with people who are expected to die imminently, in hopes no one will die alone. I now think that may be rather strange, in that I likely won’t have met the person beforehand, so I will be meeting almost-a-corpse, and we likely won’t talk, though in training it was stressed that hearing is the last sense to go, so it is very appropriate to talk to someone who is dying—but what to say, exactly?

I was thinking of perhaps reading some Mary Oliver poems, but what if the person is thinking, “I can’t move, I can’t talk, I can’t even see you and I have no idea who you are, but I CAN still hear, and that isn’t my idea of poetry, mister! Don’t you have the Old Testament?”

Or do I say “Everything is OK” to someone who, for all I know, is in a panic, thus making me a liar, or do I say “There is nothing to be afraid of; you are perfectly safe” to someone who hadn’t until that moment thought there WAS anything to be afraid of?

I guess I will learn as I go along.

I’m going to wrap up by explaining the use of capital letters in this blog: It’s due to my lousy memory, to wit: I draft a post and know which words I want to emphasize, but when I paste the entry into Blogger, formatting such as italics gets wiped out, and likely in the intervening two minutes I will have forgotten which words were meant to be emphasized, but if I put them all in caps to begin with, that is retained in Blogger.

I could at that point change to italics, but I also keep soft and hard copies of every post, just in case, and when I paste from the web into a Word document, again the formatting gets wiped out, and I’m too lazy to look back at the actual post to see which words were italicized, and that’s why the caps.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Labor Day

The Most Incompetently Laid Plans of Mice and Men

It’s ended up being kind of a strange weekend. Saturday was fine—I visited A. at the medical facility, and didn’t do much else. A perfect day! And I got irises. Things began to veer off course on Sunday.

One of LaBerge’s suggestions for learning to have lucid dreams is to wake up one hour earlier than usual, stay awake for 30 to 60 minutes, then go back to sleep. Since more is always more, I woke up TWO hours earlier than usual, and then stayed up for about SIX hours.

Then I was determined to get those two hours of sleep I felt I still had coming, and lay in bed for some hours hoping to fall asleep, but never did. Finally I gave up and proceeded with my day, but by then it was pretty much four p.m.

Tom came over in the evening and we watched Sean Penn’s movie Into the Wild, based on the book by Jon Krakauer of the same name, a true story about a young man, Chris McCandless, who breaks free from his family and privileged life just after he graduates from college. He starts by contributing his entire law school fund—$24,000—to a charity. Then he abandons his car, burns his paper money, and embarks on a series of exhilarating and brave adventures, ending up in Alaska, where he dies, unable to cross back over the river that is now a rushing flood, so different from the tame aspect it displayed when the young man easily crossed it months earlier.

(I read the book, and if I recall correctly, there was actually a bridge not far off, but this isn’t mentioned in the movie.)

I was wondering how Penn was going to sustain our interest over two and a half hours or more in a story that basically has one character, but he did it brilliantly. It’s a wonderful movie, and Emile Hirsch is perfectly cast in the lead role. The scenery is gorgeous, too. Songs by Eddie Vedder.

I’m not one hundred percent sure I think it was so great of McCandless to leave his family to worry about him for so long, only to get the most heartbreaking of news in the end. I think a person who wants to be a free spirit and have a genuine experience might also have found a smidgen of compassion for people he knew must be frantic over his whereabouts and to have put their minds at ease, even if they weren’t great parents.

While watching the movie, I ate a sufficient number of chocolate-covered almonds to make it impossible to go to sleep until three or four a.m. Plus, LaBerge’s MILD technique, which I was practicing faithfully, can tend to wake me up. I’ll get the hang of it. It’s a process. (Though I did have, for the third time in four days, a dream that pertained to flying, so it was worth it.)

By the way, he (you know which he) mentions in passing that once you learn to be lucid while dreaming, you might be able to be lucid while NOT dreaming, but asleep, a state that is supposed to be akin to a very deep meditative state.

He also points out more than once—he makes a point of this in all three of his books that I have read or am reading—that even our waking lives are constructed by our brains out of the sensory input we receive, just as our dreams are constructed out of a much more restricted cache of sensory inspiration.

We create our waking lives out of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, other physical sensations, and mental factors—memories, thoughts, wishes, etc. When we dream, we do the same, minus nearly every kind of raw material other than mental factors. That’s why dreams are so unstable. They are not drawing on objective reality.

But while waking life does draw on objective reality, it is not itself objective reality per se. We make it with our minds, and could potentially wake up from our waking lives the same way we “wake” from our dreams into lucidity. A lucid dream is to a non-lucid dream as (what?) is to our waking lives. One reason people meditate is to try to have a direct experience of that what.

I had meant to go to Rainbow yesterday, but since I got up so late, I didn’t have time and had to defer that trip to today—Labor Day. You can’t go to Rainbow on Labor Day, nor on Gay Pride Day. (You can go on Independence Day, if you want.)

Well, that isn’t quite correct: You can finalize your shopping list, assemble your empty bulk food containers (for spinach, strawberries, carob chips, beans, walnuts), get your second sturdy Jandd grocery pannier out of the closet (after removing the spare helmet that lives in it), take out the trash and compost and recycling for that clean slate feeling, wash any dishes that may be in the sink, sharpen the big knife, sharpen the little knife, check your bike tires for pieces of embedded glass, pump up the same bike tires, meditate, get dressed, put on face sunblock, put on arm sunblock, close and latch the various windows, put on your helmet and bike gloves, and pedal over to Rainbow—you may certainly do all of that, and I did, but on Labor Day, you may not enter Rainbow and buy groceries.

I considered proceeding to Whole Foods, but just didn’t feel like it, so I must now think of a Plan B. In any event, I’m going to make bread, but my kneading career, such as it was—I can't say I had really mastered the technique—is over. I think shoulder arthritis or something is upon me, and the last time I kneaded, it hurt quite severely, so I’m going to let the food processor handle that part.

It’s a beautiful, idyllic, sunny day today. With so many people out of town, it almost seemed there were more cyclists than motorists in the Mission today.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


Artificial Poo Deters Pushy Houseguest

OK, I’m back. I was going to post this immediately after the last post, but I got a long email from my lucid dreaming buddy, and had to send her a long email back. Now that we’re temporarily on the subject of dreams again (how did that happen?), I’ll mention that three nights ago, I dreamed of flying as a passenger on a commercial jet through a fairly dense forest. Right outside the windows were tree branches. “This pilot must be very familiar with this route,” I rationalized.

The next night, I dreamed I’d been tapped to fly a one-person plane to try to break a speed record. I left the three-day orientation in the middle of the second day, however, after I remembered I don’t know how to fly a plane. If I’d realized I was dreaming, I would have said, “Heck, yeah, I’ll fly that plane!”

Flying in lucid dreams is very common. I think these two dreams were a hint that I’ll be flying one of these days, without a plane (and without LSD), though I’m sure my waking-life experience of being in a little plane not long ago contributed.

My mother tells me she has lately had the green leather chair that once was Grandma Helen’s refinished, and that I’m not allowed to sit on it ever again. Then, perhaps realizing that the alert listener might have perceived a subtle inhospitable tone, she said she was thinking of getting a plastic turd to put on the chair when she herself isn’t sitting on it. When she wishes to sit on the chair, she can just put the plastic turd in her pocket.

And there you have the difference between the impeccable hostess and the rest of us: she gets the point across tactfully, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

One recent day at work, after reviewing some important information about “K-Fed — Eating for Two?” along with the contextual material “Fat After Fame (see photos),” I went over to Whole Foods to get some vegetarian sushi, a vegan brownie, and a Bumble Bar. Before I went in, I asked the homeless guy outside if he wanted anything and this negotiation ensued:

“Some water would be great. Just a plastic bottle of water.”

“Mmm. I can’t buy anything that comes in a plastic bottle. Those things are environmental disasters. How about an Orangina?”

“Nooooo. I don’t really drink soda.”

“What about water in a glass bottle? It might be carbonated,” I cautioned.

“I don’t know if carbonated is so good. Non-carbonated would be better. Oh, also, it would really be good if it was kosher. You know? Have you ever noticed that little K?”

“Right, I’ll see what I can do.”

We were both pleased when I returned with Whole Foods brand kosher “Italian” still mineral water in a glass bottle. Since then, every time I pass that guy, I ask him what he wants and get it for him: a jar of peanut butter, water, Clif Bars. His name is Arnim and he has quite the affable, urbane manner. He’s often to be seen in his socks, which appear to be cleaner than my socks, despite my socks being inside my shoes.

I’ve begun my hospice volunteering career as of yesterday. The place I went to is billed as having a homey atmosphere, and before going there, I read reviews online that said it is lovely, tranquil, beautiful. It is not, unless one is comparing it to a grim hospital ward; then it is. I found it fairly shabby and depressing, though it’s obvious the intention is for it to be homelike, and I know much money and care went into trying to achieve that. It is a medical setting, full of the necessary equipment. Walking down the halls, you can see the ends of hospital beds and the emaciated limbs of those hours, days, no more than weeks from death.

I liked my guy right away. (I’ll call him A. The next person I visit will be B.) The hardest part was understanding what he was saying. I confess I was employing the technique of nodding and saying “Uh huh,” until he said, “You didn’t understand what I just said, did you?” That was embarrassing. I said, “No, I’m afraid I didn’t,” and then I closed his door partway to block the sound of whirring medical devices, and moved my chair so I could look straight at him and so he wouldn’t have to move his head to see me, and then I just concentrated as hard as I could, and got most of everything he was saying.

After a while, I noticed I was feeling some physical strain from leaning forward and tried to breathe and relax. Down the hall, I could hear someone who works there scolding another patient, “Mami, you pee-peed in the bed!” At that moment, I completely bonded with A.: I am on your side no matter what.

If someone who is dying pees in the bed, isn’t that more the responsibility of whoever is supposed to put on, monitor, and change diapers? Let’s hope those two people actually have a warm relationship and that it’s a running joke between them or something.

It made me think of the place where P. lives, which is staffed by a group of tiny Filipino ladies who speak almost no English, and who are always calm. They aren’t warm and gushy, necessarily, but they seem entirely peaceful and friendly, and I have never seen any of them even remotely irritated, even despite the woman who shrieks obscenities hour after hour. P. confirms that. He says they never get mad. (We still talk on the phone now and then, but he is no longer inclined to engage much, and our conversations are fairly brief, though he is always the one to call me.) He lucked out, ending up there.

I was only with A. for 40 minutes, because he got tired and wanted to rest. I was honored to be able to hear what is on the mind of someone who has so little time left, and I was also utterly weary by the time I departed. I pass two nice flower stores walking to this place, so I bought myself some flowers on the way home, irises, which I love, and my very favorite, pink and white carnations. What a nice smell they have. Tom and I were going to watch a DVD in the evening, but I was too exhausted.

Millennium Tower

This is my favorite building in San Francisco. It's not hugely unlike my favorite building in Seattle. It's at the corner of Fremont and Mission St. It's the fourth-tallest building here. You can open the windows.

Chicken Weather

My lucid dreaming project continues. That’s what I’m doing up at this ungoshly hour on a Sunday: per the experts, lucid dreams often result from waking up an hour or two early, staying up for a while, and going back to sleep.

So far, in the course of a month, I’ve had three lucid, or briefly lucid, or semi-lucid dreams.

LaBerge says (many of my sentences begin that way now) that it’s easier to notice anomalies that might inspire lucidity if you are mindful in your dreams. He writes that many people spontaneously develop the ability to be lucid in their dreams as a byproduct of meditation practice—being consciously attentive during the day makes it easier to see clearly while asleep. My meditation practice, alas, has not produced any such result. Could it be that I'm, ahem, not quite as mindful when I'm awake as I think I am? Surely not!

He says the three requirements for learning lucid dreaming are motivation, which I have; excellent dream recall, which I have; and “correct practice of effective techniques.” I’m doing that, aren’t I? Well, I’ll just have to keep at it. I have a lucid dreaming buddy online, and we are corresponding at great length about the matter.

The other night, I dreamed Frank Manahan came to visit me and I hugged him for so long that we started to lose our balance and he said, “Oh, dear lord,” just the way he would in real life, and then he said, “I’m reading this book on conscious dreaming. Interesting stuff!” I said to him, “Hey, me, too! Look!” and I showed him the lucid dreaming website up on my monitor at that very moment. All that without it ever crossing my mind that I was dreaming.

I still think living in San Francisco is making this more difficult, as waking life is decidedly stranger than my dreams. In a dream, I walk to the corner and mail a letter. Yawn. In real life, here comes a man wearing a dress made out of marbles and yelling, “Chicken weather! Chicken weather!” (Or is he saying “whether”?)

Using a string and a little piece of laminated cardboard with a hole punched in it, I've made myself a dream necklace that says "AM I DREAMING? (WHAT IF I WERE?)" It provides some text to use for state testing (which means I don’t have to get a tattoo).

I already wear my work badge on a string around my neck, and I basically wear my pajamas every day, so I don’t have to worry about looking like a dork—I’m afraid it's several decades too late for that.

Last weekend Tom and I had dinner at a Mexican place on Steuart St. with his friends Jeff and Rhonda, and then we all went to see In the Loop, a satire about the British government at the beginning of the Iraq war. It was quite witty. The bit that has stayed with me is where one man says in a sprightly tone that something or other is going to be “easy peasy lemon breezy.” The person he’s talking to says with a glare, “No. It won’t. It will be DIFFICULT DIFFICULT LEMON DIFFICULT.”

I recently asked a co-worker of mine if he's a griller; I confess that if he said he was, I was going to think, “Figures.” But instead, sorry to say, he told me that his wife has cancer, and while they did indeed used to grill all the time, once they found out from her doctors how unhealthy it is, particularly with lighter fluid, he not only got rid of their grill, he came straight home from the hospital and destroyed it in a rage. Very sad story.

Hammett is finally collared and tagged. I told him, “This is your ticket home,” when I put it on him, as a cat without a collar is very unlikely to be reunited with his mother if he accidentally ends up outside, perhaps due to a careless repairperson or earthquake or fire. Hammett has a chip, but there is no guarantee that whoever might find him in such a circumstance would think to have him scanned, or would have the means and willingness to do it, so it’s best to have both a chip and a collar.

I ended up getting him a breakaway collar—it should pull apart if it gets snagged on something and he’s dangling from it—from The Cozy Critter, one of their solid (“marble”) colors, and I got two tags from Boomerang Tags that lie along the collar itself instead of dangling down. One has Hammett’s name on it, his chip number and the phone number of the chip place (thus obviating the need for actual scanning of the chip), and the other has my name and phone number on it. (It wouldn’t all fit on one tag.)

He doesn’t seem to mind the collar too much. Actually, I think he kind of feels more important now, with his credentials there for all to see and admire.