Monday, November 16, 2015

and now for something completely different

Fall on the east coast is beautiful. The change in seasons brings gorgeous colors. Among them the ginkgo tree. 

The end of October saw yet another stretch of bicycle trails opened in Philadelphia. The old rail road bridge from Philadelphia to Lower Merion reopened for foot traffic to much excitement and publicity. As this is on my normal route I thought I'd check it out. From Manayunk (yes, a real name of a real neighborhood in Philadelphia) you can cross over the Schuykill (pronounced SKOO-khll) River and I 76. A bit along the trail you can take a left turn into Laurel Hill West - a beautiful cemetery with fascinating history.

Headed straight up from the trail you encounter an alleé of  ginkgo trees. Unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me when they were at their most beautiful golden fall hue.
But you can kind of get the idea, no?
Why am I so interested in these now that the color is gone? Good question...

Legend has it that back in the day (10 years ago) there were still little old Asian ladies in Philadelphia in their pink sweat pants, with heavy knitted sweaters, crocheted hats and wellies, who would swarm the ginkgo fruit strewn streets to collect the fruits. 

You'd think in this environmental, grow local, eat organic, fresh, free-range city we'd ALL be collecting the fruits for the taking... but alas, there is a catch... they stink. And I'm not talking the whiff of body odor or a barnyard on the wind, I'm talking a combination of a fresh doggy dookie and vomit shoved up your nose kind of stench.
But I've heard the fruit is incredibly yummy, not to mention healthy so I just had to give this endeavor a try.  This past Friday, I rode my bike out with back pack and accouterments to collected the prize(s).

There were literally heaps of them. Like someone already started scooping them into mounds.

 Fifteen pounds later in three garbage bags in my backpack I headed for home.  
I do wonder if I carried the stench with me on the wind. As my Danish host mother would say when I used too much garlic in my cooking, "it's okay. No one attack you tomorrow." Yeah, well, with a backpack full of this stuff, I'm sure I was well protected.

And as if the stench were not enough, the fruit contains the same toxin as poison ivy. Gloves are a must when collecting, sorting, and cleaning. 

I was actually a little worried because while I had gloves for the collecting, once I got home I didn't. When you don't have water to rinse the toxic gloves, you just pull them off inside out. But then they are done. At home I put on dish gloves under garden gloves, but there were some holes, not to mention that whatever is in the fruit eats right through latex so some of the juice seeped into the gloves. I was worried about a reaction, but luckily I washed my hands thoroughly and slathered them with calendula all night. They were fine in the morning.

I also have to say that I understand why the younger generation doesn't bother about the fruits. This was fun for the one time. I've done it - I can say I harvested ginkgo fruits. And I can also say that I don't think I ever need to do it again. It's stinky, messy, cold,  - and did I mention stinky? Plus, once you are finished, you cannot gorge yourself on the fruit! If eaten in large quantities it's toxic. No more than 10 nuts per day. Hardly seems worth it. 

How do they taste? DEE-licous. Oh boy. wow. Very difficult to only eat 10.
I sautéed them in olive oil and salt. They taste a little like popcorn, but they are chewy rather than crunchy, and if the meat hits the hot oil it caramelizes a little bit.
Actually, I probably ate 20 yesterday because I couldn't stop - they tasted so good!
 I did pay for it a little bit. I got a crampy tummy towards the afternoon and didn't feel good. But that was it. I have a feeling that if you eat too many in one sitting you feel a little sick, but if you eat too many everyday, that's when the real damage happens.  A quick search on the interwebs gives a mixed bag of results of health benefits. Some say - yay! Great! other say  - hmmm - maybe. I say, if they were really so bad would an entire culture have been eating them for so long?

I think not. And at 5-10 per day? I think I'm set for  the year.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Pope and other tales of survival

Note: I've been writing this post all month. Hopefully things are not too out of date. 

The Pope came and went. It almost feels like it never happened.
We survived millions of people and tourists. We survived the entire city of Philadelphia shutting down. We survived a senator stealing The Man's water glass. Yes, we all managed not to lose our minds - too much. And in reality? ... the Pope's visit was a great thing for the city. It brought people together. It was all we could talk about and afterward he left we were still talking - "did you see the Pope?!" You would be surprised who did - even accidentally.

Then the Pope showed up in the conservation lab. He is now part of the collections.

My supervisor - at my request - procured a cutout of Papa. He was everywhere in Philadelphia and people were taking selfies with him that looked real! Papa stood in the lab for about a week before he scared too many people out of their wits and we had to find a flat file for him. 

How did I survive the Pope?  Well...
Because of the anticipated millions we had a four day weekend. I think some businesses had more because my train was pretty well empty at rush hour. I could actually sit on one of the middle cars, the key word being "sit." Normally I head for the first car because it is the furthest from the exit, and since no one wants to go that far you usually have some breathing room rather than being packed in like sardines. It was really nice the evening I had to pick up my farm share. Plenty of room and no guilt for taking over two seats.
I kind of checked out over the weekend. I took it easy, did laundry, cooked, relaxed, worked on long awaiting projects, took care of business and got hooked on a new TV series (for me), Scandal.
I tried going for a bike ride, but the normal route was closed (shocker) and when I tried to ride into Center City on all of the car-less road, that only worked for a while. Philadelphia's one-way-street-paradise came to an end with the absence of cars. Which made zero sense to me. The rules of the road are not just for cars, they are for everyone. But oh well. Pedestrians were coming from the south en masse, and fine the city was shut down for them, but the cyclists decided they could go any which way they wanted, and quite frankly they were the more dangerous. I wasn't the only one who felt so. At 19th St. I decided I'd had enough close calls (with other cyclists - not pedestrians) and turned around. It was amazing to see so many people in center city - and I think it was right that it was shut down. I'm not convinced about the bigger decisions - but Center City? Yes. It was a smart move. So smart there is an online petition to have car-less weekends in center city. You can see the petition here:

After that I stayed home. I worked on something I've been wanting to do for a long time. Make cushions for my garden furniture. 

Of course - I didn't purchase enough fabric. I got two pillows out of what I have and am sure I have enough for a third, and I'm hoping for a fourth.
 But all in all, I'm pretty happy with them and they are very comfy. 

Prior to the Pope's arrived my friend Melanie came for a visit. We had a great weekend. Pedicures, food, bike ride, and talk talk talk.
I made the most fun breakfast I've made in a long time: quail eggs in mushroom caps.
Those are:
LARGE baby portabella mushroom caps, broiled a few minutes, then sprayed with lemon juice and sprinkled with salt and pepper, crack a quail egg into each cap, and dot with butter and Grüyere cheese. Broil until egg white is set. Oh yum. Serve on family heirloom china you never get to use with breakfast sausage from Reading Terminal and papaya with lime. Oh yum.

Of course that weekend wasn't without it's hiccups. sigh. My poor Swea'Pea wound up in the UPenn Vet emergency room. He was totally blocked - as in he couldn't pee. A very dangerous problem for little-boy kitties. He was so mad at me too when I went in to say good bye. Big round eyes with a scowl and flattened ears which could only have told me he did not think this was a very funny joke at all. I was able to bring him home on Monday and then we had another trial and tribulation: giving that little guy some pills. Oy!
Swee'pea does not like the pills. You know that funny email that was going around a while ago? About "How to pill a cat"? Well - they must have based it on Swee'Pea. I'm not kidding. After shredding my dress once, then my forearms, I took anyone's advice. I even "scruffed" him (grabed him by the back of the neck - which isn't upsetting at all *rolls eyeballs*) and sat on him. The result? One angry little Tasmanian devil who shredded the inside of my thighs.
By Wednesday I called the vet and said - "help?" To which I finally got the answer, well - one pill only helps 50% of the time - so maybe you don't have to give that to him, and the other is a pain killer and while it would be great to give it to him, he'll be fine without it. Gah!
It took a week for poor Swea'Pea to trust coming anywhere near me again, but finally he did. He is once again my faithful little buddy. But we have to now go see a Kitty-dermatologist because we have to figure out what he is allergic to.

I have also (most recently) survived Nerd Nite. I was asked to speak about penmanship for Archives Month. It went fine. Fine but not great. Oh well. I ended up with too much research and tried to squish it all into a 20 minute presentation. It was just too much.
Here's what I learned:
1. Human's have been making marks to record data or communicate ideas to fellow human beings for millennia. And we are the only creatures on the planet that do so.
2. The first written "language" was cuneiform and it was invented for just that - record keeping, probably because of an explosion of population about 7000 years ago.
3. The Egyptians had hieroglyphs as you all know, but they also had a script called hieratic.
4. In spite of Gutenberg's fabulous invention of movable type, we still need writing.
5. "Ill-informed" pundits and bureaucrats are what is killing writing in our public schools. And after this research I do believe it is writing (by hand) whether printing or cursive that is suffering.
6. It is suffering because of testing. You can't test cursive. (seriously - you cannot put it on a scantron and run it through a machine. Therefore you can't test it). Apropos testing; there is so much pressure on schools to do well in the other areas (reading and arithmetic) that anything that doesn't serve that purpose is cut. And finally, the "Ill-informed" pundits have convinced people that cursive does not help facilitate literacy. Well, neither does math, but they still make us learn that.
7. There have been some amazing studies with students from elementary school through college which show time and time again that those who take notes by hand learn better and more permanently than those who type. Their ideas are more sophisticated and this leads to all sorts of other benefits.
8. Dyslexics do better with cursive because it is an entire block of letters rather than individual letters.
9. Stroke victems who've lost speach can sometimes regain it by writing. This seems to jumpstart the language area of the brain.
10. There is also some evidence that writing everyday helps keep dementia at bay.  
11. And that therefore begs the question - what will happen to this generation when they start having strokes and start having dementia? How will not having a foundation in writing affect them. 
12. For me - the evidence is clear:

Over the Columbus day weekend I was once again doing a lot of odds and ends, but most of all trying to stay near the phone so that I am available to talk to my dad who is recovering from open-heart surgery. He went in Thursday to have an aneurysm wrapped and a third aorta added! He's apparently survived his whole life (including a brilliant cross country running career and a lot of cycling) with only two ventricles. But he is 75 and this is not an easy surgery. So far so good. After so irregular heart rhythms and very low heart rate, he was finally release from the hospital after a week. He was very glad to get out of there!

Here at the end of October we are now surviving the shift of the seasons. Fall is upon us.
The trees are exploding into fire balls and the color is one consolation of the shortening days. I still need to plant the garlic and next years daffodils. But not this weekend. This weekend I put most of my plants indoors.

And the boys also seem to know that winter is coming. That lump under the kitty blanket is Swee'Pea. He loves to curl up in caverns. And Jacques lets him be. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Run for the hills!

 I returned from California only to find that Philadelphia had lost. it's. mind. 


Pope frenzy everywhere. The amount of work that had been done in August was astounding. Streets that had been cracked and pot-holed for years, were suddenly paved and wonderfully smooth. I actually couldn't drive them anymore because I didn't have potholes and manhole covers to avoid! 

Perfectly, beautifully, smooth, paved Market St. at 21st:
I know this bit of road very well since Trader Joe's is on the next block. Under the bus is a manhole cover that used to be a good 4 inches below street level. Not anymore!

And while the smooth streets certainly are nice, there are plenty of other things that make you want to roll your eyeballs. Can you can spot what's wrong with this picture:
That would be the white F-1 ticket location sign strapped right in front of the traffic signal which in this photo happens to be red - not off. But drivers can't see that! I took the photo while in my car. Who is doing quality control here? 

As September progressed there were other things that just made you wonder how this was all going to work out. All of the hype and talk about security started to sound like a real nightmare. Everything in Center City is going to be closed except all of the food businesses. Then there are traffic boxes where only emergency vehicles can be and if you drive out you will not be let back in until after the weekend. And finally over the weekend the traffic box will be expanded to a 38 block swatch. From the Delaware River to 38th St. in West Philadelphia. At some point almost all of I-76 will be closed from Conshohoken to the Walt Whitman Bridge. This is a good 30 miles of highway and a main artery to Philadelphia. We are expecting millions of people to come - how in the heck are they going to GET here? After all of the hype and crazy planning I do hope the millions of people come, but on the other hand I wouldn't be surprised if they'd been scared away.  My good friend Melanie called me the minute she found out the Pope was coming to reserve a bed with me - back in January. She decided to come last weekend instead. It wasn't clear that she'd be able to get to me on the Friday before with all the road closures so she didn't want to risk it. 

While it sounds like all of this would be the ultimate nightmare for any resident of Philadelphia, I have actually been enjoying it. Yes, some people are heading for the hills. But I for one am glad to be staying here and I want to go in and see the festivities. We spent the morning listening to NPR in the lab and there was a nice discussion about what the Pope's philosophy on the environment is. I am really starting to like this guy! I'm not Catholic - but after listening to the radio shows and hearing his humble message to Congress, I want to hear him speak! Now I'm sad I don't have tickets to any of the events on the Parkway. I'd even go to the mass on Sunday - just to see it. Tomorrow I'm going to look and see if I can find tickets somewhere. 

As the date comes ever closer, I have been watching the developments with amused interest. I want see how everything works out. I also think someone in charge started realizing they were scaring people away and they needed to change tack. In the last few weeks signs have popped up all over: 
 There are smaller posters appearing in shop and restaurant windows and I think people are genuinely excited for the Pope to visit. Here are a few of the favorite things I've seen: 

I'm not sure what this is exactly.  

These banners went up around City Hall and on Broad St. some time last week.


On Monday we started seeing people with clear backpacks and bright green name tags walking around everywhere. They were here for the beginning of the week-long festivities the World Meeting of Families. I started to get this wonderful happy feeling. All of these people coming to Philadelphia. You could see they were happy to be here and the natives were being nice to them! So many people kindly redirecting tourists to where they wanted or needed to go. I had to take the bus to teach on Tuesday. But because of all the closures the bus had to go a very strange round-about route. But there were several groups of tourists on the bus and it was heartwarming to see all the locals helping them and reassuring them that they would get where they needed to go. (My designated tourists wanted to get to the Rocky Statue at the Art Museum.)

Yesterday is when I think it really hit us - this is happening. I was walking down Broad St, past a block of port-a-potties. And I wasn't the only one taking pictures! 
When I got to work I bumped into our facilities guys and we talked a bit about the visit. Tyrone pulled out his phone and showed me a picture - a "selfie" with himself and the Pope!! It looked SO real, but it was actually a cardboard cut out of the Pope. And I think that's when I knew, this is really going to be amazing.   
We've been given tomorrow and Monday off for all of the festivities. So today was my last chance to know I could walk around freely. I took advantage to walk around the restricted areas a bit. Everyone is on the Pope bandwagon. My favorite coffee shop, Cake and the Beanstalk is serving the Pope-kin Spice Latte: 
A Chinese Noodle Bar, Cheu, is obviously Pope-approved:
The new Wawa (like a 7-11) got the construction finished extra early to be open for the Papal visit. Also, more portapotties and one of our favorite Philadelphia locals. The gentleman standing on the far right of the image on the subway vents can be seen in a few locations around Philadelphia. He wears very loose silk shirts and stands on the grates and lets the air make his shirts billow around him. He always looks so serene.
There are mobile showers called "No Sweat" parked in front of one of the Jefferson Medical school buildings: 
and exactly who are these for? 

I decided I better go to Trader Joe's before I went home for the weekend. I wasn't sure if it would be accessible the rest of the weekend! On my way I walked over to the Knotted Grotto art installation at the Cathedral.  
And after reading the article I realize I didn't do it correctly! So I have to go back and untie two prayers and move them. 
But look - 
Look at all of those strips of white. Everyone one of them has a prayer written on them by someone who has visited the grotto.  

Then it was time to head to Trader Joe's before it got too late. On the way I passed more preparations for all of the people coming to the mass.
I also passed a truck and crew from the US Postal Service who were removing the blue mailboxes for the weekend. All to be put back by Monday. 
I think the Pope has brought out the best in us. We (Philadelphia residents) have all been talking about this with each other. Everywhere you go - someone starts: are you going to see the Pope? And either they are staying - oh heck yeah! Or, oh no - they are gettin' out of town! Either way the conversation is good. Perfect strangers are bonding over our wonder at all of the preparations for this event.

I stopped to take this picture on the corner of 20th and JFK Blvd. A second later a woman on a bicycle skidded to a stop next to me and said, "Oh yeah, I totally need a picture of that!"

 She then proceeded to tell me she had see the pallets of toilet paper being delivered to another spot. And she said, "No way was it enough!"
Ha! We shall see.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Tahoe to LA

Part 2 
And now the thrilling conclusion to my week in Tahoe. 
The hike I did on Thursday to Ellis Peak wiped me out. My knees were very unhappy and so I thought it best to give them a break. So on Friday, I putzed around in the morning, went for a lovely, slow bike ride, and sat by Lake Tahoe reading in the afternoon.  

Saturday I went for another hike with Denise. This was a really nice hike from Tahoe City along the valley corridor that is Hwy 89 to Squaw Valley. The day was very hazy and smokey, we assumed from all the fires, so I didn't take many photos. After what I'm guessing now was five miles where we could see right down onto the turn off to Olympic Village, we stopped and had lunch. We were joined by a bunch of big ants and this little guy, who kept watching us.
Finally he plopped himself on this rock right in front of us and began nibbling on some sort of nut as if to say - "hey ladies - HINT HINT."  We didn't take the hint.

We had been chit-chatting all the way up and I didn't register how far we'd come. It didn't feel like five miles, but by the time we got back down it sure felt like we had done a good 10mile round trip. The trail was really nice, lots of different vegetation and every so often it would take you to the rim of the valley. You could look down and east to the Lake, or straight down onto the Truckee River.
After our exhausting hike we needed fuel. We stopped at a lovely new-agey health food store and Denise treated us to kale chips, ground cherries, heirloom cherry tomatoes, chocolate and grapefruit sodas. We devoured all of it at the Lake which was gorgeous. Then it was back 'home' to pack all of the stuff and get ready to leave at 6am.

Sunday Morning
 I didn't quite manage to get out the door at 6am. That was a little ambitious. But by 7 I was on my way.  I stopped at the Lake for one last look and caught this beautiful sunrise through the smokey haze. My conclusion about Tahoe? I enjoyed it. It is not as rugged a wilderness as I'm used to, but maybe this time that was okay. My first impression of it being pampered wilderness didn't change, but I got used to it. I enjoyed the hiking and sitting by the lake in the afternoons. It was a good vacation, the kind I needed, a real break from my life.

The drive home was another adventure.
I stopped in beautiful downtown Carson City NV for coffee and gas and in Carson City I geeked out on all of the fabulous typography!

It is full of all wonderful examples of huge slab serif fonts and retro stuff like the san serif "casino" above, and a few others in the next few pictures. 
Ya just don't see this stuff on east coast establishments. 
And I love it! Check out this font on this garage:
That is Hobo (or a font based on Hobo) - a super retro font from the 30's. My question is - is this original to the business? or did they hire a brilliant graphic designer. I so hope it's the first one.

Then I started the long long drive down 395 back to Los Angeles. I don't think I've mentioned my rental car? It was a Chevy Spark.
This thing is so cute and tiny, it will fit in your pocket! The sound system is fantastic. It works on blue tooth with your phone! So in the back waters of California where the second you leave a large town (population 500 or so) and you have zippo phone service, you can still play all your tunes and any anything else you have on your phone! It's great! I love listening to books on tape on long drives like this and on the way home I was listening to Amy Poehler's, Yes Please! 
If I thought things had been hazy in Tahoe the day before, it was nothing compared to this drive. I've never seen it so murky. I took a side tour to Mammoth Lakes to see Horseshoe lake, then headed down to Tom's Place to do a short hike out of Mosquito Flats. Its one I always do and debated about not doing. But since I was as close as I'd be for a long time, in spite of the bad air quality, I did a little part of it.  Then it was off to Bishop, where I arrived around 3pm on a Sunday and had to stand in line at Schatt's Bakery for almost 45 minutes for my sandwich - sheesh! That's how popular this place is. 

Now, remember that cute and tiny car? Ahem, I should have gotten gas in Bishop ($4.35/gal). Then I should have gotten gas in Independence, or Lone Pine, or even Olancha! Nope. I did not. I thought I could make it to Mojave.
I was mistaken.
That cute little car has a cute little gas tank that only holds 9 gallons. That is not enough to get you from Carson City NV to Mojave, CA with a few side trips.
At about 6pm on Sunday evening 16 miles of north of Mojave (also where Edward's Air Force Base is - where the space shuttle used to land), my little car ran out of gas. In the middle of nowhere.
Yup - that's it! A paved driveway to a cattle grate, three stop signs and dirt roads from there.  
Here's the view from the front seat.
I literally just coasted into this spot. It's kind of amazing that this is exactly where I ran out of gas. Things happen for a reason.
My next worry was cell phone service. And believe it or not, not only did I have service, but my car decided to make the phone call for me because it was still linked to the blue tooth on my phone. Ha! That was a strange experience. Thank goodness for AAA. It took a while for the operator to locate me though. I mean I had nothing at all to give her except that the last sign I had seen said I was 16 miles away from Mojave and I was on Hwy 14. She asked me if I was by the airport - and you know, thank goodness I knew what she was talking about. You can actually see all of the planes from the highway and so I knew I hadn't gotten there yet. After I hung up with her I spotted a call box. I walked over to get the number and called them back and gave it to them. That eased my mind as it would give them an exact location.

While I waited the 45 minutes for AAA to come, I rolled down all the windows, watched the sun set, and sweated. It was really hot.
Looking into the landscape reminded me of Maxfield Parrish.  
  Maybe this is how he would have painted the California Landscape had he ever had the opportunity.

AAA came earlier than expected (yay!) and while there was a little moment of panic where the guy couldn't find the right spout in order to pour the gas into the tank, it finally all worked out and I was on my way again. Filled up in Mojave and scooted home. Wow. What an adventure. I have never, and I mean never, run out of gas before. I don't think I need to do it again. 

I spent a few more days with the family before heading home on Wednesday. This included a trip to urgent care (to look at a really nasty rash on my leg that I have no idea how I got), my favorite art store, Liam time and In-n-Out.
Liam's first In-n-Out:
He was just too wiggly to show off the onesey I made him: "When I grown up I will read books" 

Everybody sleeping.