Mundane Monday: Chairs

Back in 2016 I went to a writing retreat in Hermosa SD. The retreat was located on a ranch and run by Linda Hasselstrom, a rancher and writer. The house, called Windbreak House, was the place Linda had grown up and lived in virtually all her life. The property was comfortably and thoughtfully but sparsely furnished, except for books. There were a lot of books. And there were chairs, ordinary chairs painted a cheery yellow, which I thought of for this week’s Mundane Monday challenge.

This retreat was my first and only trip to South Dakota (so far), and I blogged about it in detail here, in 7 parts:

Yellow chair on a stump at WIndbreak House
Yellow chair on a stump at Windbreak House

It was a gift from my parents, and I went to it alone. I worked for 2.5 days on my novel, and my only human contact for those days was the consultations with Linda. This was fine. It took me some time to process what Linda said. Plus, I’m an introvert and I enjoy my own company.

But I have been lately thinking about how and whether my writing, and creativity generally, would benefit from more sociability. These chairs, also on the ranch property, look inviting, but I never actually sat on them to write. Linda and I had our consultations indoors.

YellowChairsRetreat

Yes, I’m in a writers’ group, but we only discuss work when it’s in some semblance of finished-ness. How would my writing be different, if there had been someone else in the other chair while I was creating it?

For the Mundane Monday Challenge #143.  Mundane Monday Challenge encourages you to take more pictures by being aware of your surroundings. The philosophy of MMC is simple. You can create a beautiful picture even by focusing on a very common looking, dull or so called Mundane subject!

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Book Review: The Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery

The Scent of RainThe Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I want to say I enjoyed this book, but that’s not quite the right word. I read a fair amount of dystopian fiction and this novel, about a real-life dystopia, ranks with the most horrifying.

I appreciated the author’s research and the documentation she provided about the FLDS community in Colorado City. I did not know much about the FLDS until reading this book, and I think the author does a service by dramatizing and spreading awareness of the abuses that happen there. She is careful to distance this cult from mainstream Mormonism, who ended polygamy in 1890.

The author is especially strong when she writes about the paradoxes inherent in her subject: the women wearing modern athletic shoes under their prairie dresses; the happy face painted on a truck touting how happy the dour townspeople are; the beauty and timelessness of the mountains and cliffs surrounding squalor and venality; the affectionate little dog murdered by her blundering, clueless oaf of an owner. That these paradoxes are accepted as normal by the young people makes sense, because they are young and it is all they have ever known. But the adults in this tale remained mysterious to me. The author dropped some tantalizing hints of their earlier lives, dashed hopes, and buried dreams, but I wished for more.

The novel works on its own terms, as a thriller, although the pacing is a little off. I also thought that the author was trying to do too much in one relatively short novel. This story really needs to be about Rose Madsen. Rose stands also for the murdered Bonnie Buttars, for her disabled sister Daisy, and for all the girls and women who suffer oppression under this cruel system. Her escape gives them hope. Whereas Adan, Brooke, and Trak have their own stories–interesting, but separate. In this book everybody gets their happy ending, which warmed my heart but also seemed a little forced. It could have worked better as two separate books. The Adan/Brooke/Trak subplot could stand alone as its own novel about immigration and deportation, for example.

Or, in a more ambitious and longer project, this novel could explore what it means to be an immigrant and the true meaning of community. This material is rich and multifaceted and the story is not over. Rose and Adan escaped, but others remain.

View all my reviews

Three Thousand Finds

I found my 3000th geocache today. Geocaching is where the name of this blog comes from; I started it around the time I found my 1000th geocache. Back then I was behind in logging and wasn’t keeping very careful track in the first place. I had taken over the account that we made for my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop, renamed it, and was catching up the caches I had found before I had my own account. So I didn’t know exactly when it happened. I still like the idea of geocaching as metaphor, of looking for something according to the instructions and then finding something else, maybe something more.

The coin I gave my husband in 2012 for his 3000th find
The coin I gave my husband in 2012 for his 3000th find

Geocaching became a way to discover my new home after moving to California. My “Mundane Monday” and “Thursday Doors” posts are both full of pictures I took while out caching: Newt. Rock Wall. Pinecones. Branches. Broken Path. Bicycle. Milpitas. I posted the pictures for UULent, and I played around with them on the Prisma app.

Walkway between Sunnyvale streets
Where the Silly Creature Lurks

And then, two years ago, my husband and I started a daily geocaching streak. I am now on day 744 of that streak, and it has been made easier by all the fun lunch events that local geocachers keep hosting. That streak is the biggest reason it took me much less time to get to 3000 finds from 1000 than it did to get from 0 to 1000. Unlike many geocachers, I’m not that big on statistics, goals, and achievements, save this one.

Today’s find was called “Where the Silly Creature Lurks,” and it was lurking in a walkway between two suburban streets in Sunnyvale. There are a lot of these walkways here on the peninsula, and usually I have no idea that they exist prior to my finding a geocache there. The fences and walls on either side provide ample nooks and crannies in which to stash a cache. In this case, when I finally found the pouch containing the cache, the “silly creature” in question was the one I saw in the mirror!

InTheMirror

Thursday Doors: Tallac Historic Site

Usually when people think about Lake Tahoe they think skiing. And that was true for us too this year around Christmas time. But on the way home we wanted to find some geocaches in the area, and that took us to some other places that skiers might not know about. For this week’s Thursday doors, I am showing my pictures from one such place, the Tallac Historic Site.

Cabin

A century ago the Tallac Historic Site was a resort and retreat for wealthy families on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Now, during the summer, it is a museum. The buildings are closed during the winter, but it is still a snowshoeing and hiking destination, and you can walk around and see all the aqua-colored doors.

Baldwin

These buildings are nestled among some really tall trees on the shores of the lake. To me they seem rustic rather than luxurious. But the scenery is spectacular.

TallTrees

This was the best-looking door:

AquaDoor

Whereas this Washoe structure didn’t have a door at all:

Doorway

Not much snow yet this year.

And this sign, matter-of-factly placed on one of the interpretive bulletin boards, was a little scary. Plague!

Plague

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) at Norm 2.0’s blog here.

Swimming Journeys

I have lived in California for almost 2-and-a-half years. One might think that I now spend my days on the sunny beach, swimming in the ocean, or at least in a pool. Alas, no.

When we first got here, while waiting for our furniture to arrive and our bathroom remodel to finish, we lived in a furnished corporate apartment complex with the portentous name of Domus on the Boulevard. An outdoor pool was part of the complex, and I swam there somewhat regularly and even blogged about it: My Kind of Exercise. Not for me, the usual middle-aged “I’ve lost my youthful athleticism” lament. You can’t lose what you never had. Instead in that blog I attempt to come to terms with my swimming history.

The pool at night at "Domus on the Boulevard"
The pool at night at Domus on the Boulevard

Two years later, I am still exactly there: ambivalent about my history as a not-particularly-athletic ex-swimmer who prefers the breaststroke.

But then I got the email:  “Thank you for your interest in the Y and for downloading a 3-day free trial pass from our website. Join in January and save 50% off the Joining Fee!”

Wait, did I download a 3-day free trial pass? Yeah, I guess I did, a whole year and a half ago. So they still remember that? What are they over there at the El Camino YMCA, some sort of tech wizards? You’d think this was Silicon Valley or something . . .

It becomes a huge production for me to actually use this trial pass, which is probably why I haven’t done it until now. When I invite him along, my son says “scout it out and tell me if it’s crowded” before turning back to his computer. The pass file is still on my computer, in a folder cleverly marked YMCA, along with a pool schedule from October 2016. Fortunately I replaced all the empty printer ink cartridges for the holiday letter, so I can print out the pass. A few years ago I thought I could combat boredom by listening to music while I swim, so I got a waterproof iPhone case for Christmas. This plan struck me then–and now–as very exciting: I am going to listen to orchestra music while swimming! I am going to emulate my heroine, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, who reports in Lifehacker: “I practically live with headphones glued to my ears—when I work, when I bike (don’t tell my mom), when I work out.”

I locate that case, never actually exposed to water, in a bottom drawer under my goggles, suit, and one of my daughter’s old swim caps. I briefly consider that I should try it out with my ancient iPod touch first, in case the case leaks. But the iPod doesn’t have any interesting music on it, and its touch screen is almost non-functional, so I’m back to the phone. It fits in the case but it takes me a while to figure out how to plug it in. And then there’s getting the current orchestra music onto the phone. Download, copy into itunes, plug phone into computer. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yet when I drive to the Y, I still manage to leave my phone at home and have to drive back for it.

By the time I traverse the cold, cold concrete path in my bare feet (forgot flip-flops) from the women’s locker room (forgot a combination lock) to the pool, the sun is low in the sky. Attention Lap Swimmers! a sign along the path admonishes me. Do not enter a lane without telling the other occupants of that lane.

There are only 1-2 people per lane, and they don’t appear to be swimming super-fast. In fact, here is a lane where one middle-aged guy is doggedly swimming the breaststroke. I sit on the side and dangle my feet in the nice warm water while I wait for him to come back so I can tell him I am “entering his lane.” He doesn’t mind sharing. I find out a number of things about him, including that he used to manage a pool himself, that he has been in California about the same length of time that I have, and that this pool is better than the one at the YMCA he first joined. He is amused by the contraption around my neck, but wishes me good luck with it. I let him get a good head start and then I’m off.

Yes, you can take a picture with your iphone while it is in a waterproof case
Yes, you can take a picture with your iPhone while it is in a waterproof case

My first several laps are a tangle of leaking goggles and the phone case knocking around. First I can barely hear the music, then it’s too loud. One minute I’m listening to Journeys by Linda Robbins Coleman, and then it jumps to Scheherazade. Then my earbuds fall out again. Finally I figure out that it works best to put the phone case in the front of my suit, the equivalent of sticking it in my bra. It probably looks weird, but there isn’t much drag and it stays put, which also keeps the ear buds in place. My goggles are too tight and give me raccoon eyes so I’m going to look for new ones, but for now at least they don’t leak.

MeSwimmingAs the sun goes down and the pool lights come on, I start to find a rhythm. The laps run together, but I keep swimming: mostly breaststroke and a few lengths of front crawl, sidestroke, or backstroke in there just for fun. The music, which is all modern and unfamiliar to me this early in the rehearsal cycle, fits the watery chaos. I feel alone in the universe, suspended in time and space. A couple of the pieces have astronomical themes: one is called Transit of Venus, another Saint-Exupery: of Heart, Sand, and Stars. The last one is called Journeys, and I’m finally on one.

Mundane Monday: Our new kitchen faucet

The Mundane Monday photo challenge has weekly themes this year, and this week’s theme is a “washbasin.” I put the term in quotes because we in the USA don’t usually call it that. The picture in the blog looks like a sink to me. Clearly this challenge is right for me, though, because I already have some sink pictures.

These were taken before and after we got our new faucet. The old faucet came with the house when we moved in. It was burnished stainless steel and matched the sink and appliances. It was also a pain in the neck. The button that allowed you to switch from a steady stream to a shower-like rinse had fallen off and gone down the garbage disposal. Then the whole faucet got loose and wobbly. I tried to fix it myself but wasn’t able to. Neither was our regular handyman, because something inside was irreparably broken. “Cheap plastic parts inside,” he said. “They don’t last.” So we bought the one on the right. It’s shinier and it feels more substantial than the old one. We’re hoping it will last a little longer.

I also think it is interesting that you can see the persimmons from our backyard tree that I had put on the counter to ripen. There are fewer in the “after” photo because I had used many of them to make persimmon cookies by that time. Now they are all gone: I pulped the remaining few and froze the pulp.

For the Mundane Monday Challenge #142.  Mundane Monday Challenge encourages you to take more pictures by being aware of your surroundings. The philosophy of MMC is simple. You can create a beautiful picture even by focusing on a very common looking, dull or so called Mundane subject!

Film Review: Coco

I saw two movies over Christmas break, The Last Jedi and Coco. I don’t feel like reviewing The Last Jedi right noweven though I enjoyed it. Maybe it needs to percolate a bit longer, or maybe with all the hype and dissection afterwards it just didn’t seem like I had anything to add. But Coco was a delightful surprise. I’d heard it was about the Mexican custom of celebrating the Day of the Dead and honoring one’s ancestors, but I hadn’t realized it was about music. The film has been out for a while, so I’m not going to be concerned about spoilers. If you are, please stop reading here.

Coco starts out as a sort of Cinderella/Harry Potter-ish tale, with a child, Miguel, who doesn’t feel like he belongs with the rest of his family. He plays a homemade guitar and sings, hiding in the attic where he has built a little shrine to his musical hero, Ernesto de la Cruz, a celebrity singer and guitarist. His family of shoemakers is mean to him, and seemingly tone-deaf about what he needs. The scene in which his grandmother smashes his guitar is particularly harsh. At first the idea that the family hates music and has banished it from their home because of their musician ancestor who abandoned the family seemed overdone and melodramatic to me. The story was heavily weighted in sympathy with poor little Miguel, forbidden by these old, hidebound meanies from following his sacred dreams. The film is visually gorgeous and inventive, so I was prepared to enjoy that aspect of it even if the story was cliched.

And then the story surprised me.

In order to “seize his moment” and enter the talent show his family forbade, Miguel tries to steal Ernesto de la Cruz’s guitar from his mausoleum, and thereby becomes cursed and sent to the Land of the Dead. There he meets the ancestors he has heard so much about over the years. He meets Hector, a ne’er-do-well who seems good only for comic relief, and he meets his hero, Ernesto de la Cruz, as big a celebrity in death as in life.

The rules governing the Land of the Dead are both complicated and unforgiving: souls can’t cross back to the Land of the Living, even for a holiday visit, unless their ancestors have put their photo on the family’s ofrenda, a ritual altar for the Day of the Dead containing a collection of objects associated with the familial ancestors. (One might wonder what happened in the days before photos, but that, and other equally interesting questions, are left to the viewer’s imagination). Hector, whose descendants put up no photo of him, tries to cross every year by disguising himself as someone else who does have an ofrenda photo, and keeps getting caught and returned. Ernesto, who has no known living descendants, prefers to stay in the Land of the Dead anyway, where he is still a big celebrity who throws a swanky concert and sunrise party. Hector claims to have known and played music with Ernesto in life, and offers to take Miguel to him.

At first, Miguel’s meeting with Ernesto goes well. Miguel is convinced that Ernesto is his long-lost great-great-grandfather, and that Miguel is his rightful musical heir. Ernesto parades around with Miguel at the party and urges him to do “whatever it takes” to follow his own dream. But in the course of their conversations, Hector shows up, and it is revealed that not only did Hector and Ernesto know each other and play together, but that Hector wrote Ernesto’s most famous songs. And not only that, but Hector wanted to go home to his family, and Ernesto murdered him and stole the songs for himself. Hector, not Ernesto, was really Miguel’s great-great-grandfather. And Hector didn’t abandon his family on purpose; he was murdered while trying to return to them.

Miguel returns to the Land of the Living and, in a touching scene, plays Hector’s most famous song for his great-grandmother Coco, Hector’s now-elderly daughter. She is the last living person who remembers Hector, and hearing Miguel play the music awakens her from what may be the silence of Alzheimer’s Disease. The denouement is graceful and returns Hector’s photo to its rightful place on the family’s ofrenda.

Most of these customs were new to me, as a Northern-and-Middle-European American, and I enjoyed that aspect of the movie very much. I had initially been a little put off of going to it at all because I recoil from the stylized iconography of death. I just don’t like skulls and skeletons; I find them creepy and uncomfortable, and not a fashion statement. Watching this movie, I got over those feelings in about 2 minutes. The filmmakers did their homework and Mexican culture and customs are treated with respect and love. For their perspective, read these wonderful reviews by Latino Film Critics.

I would like to offer my personal thoughts from the perspective of a musician. I don’t play the guitar; I play the violin and viola, stringed instruments with a different provenance. And I’m a musical mudblood, a Hermione Grainger (but with less talent). When I was Miguel’s age, my family didn’t hate music: they bought me my first instruments, came to my school concerts, and paid for and shuttled me to and from lessons. But they didn’t play music themselves, either. In fact my father had a bad experience with being forced to play the clarinet as a child, and he gave it up as soon as he left home. And my mother’s large working class family had not had money for music. So I don’t see myself as having come from musical roots. If it hadn’t been for that public school orchestra program I had in 4th grade, I doubt I’d be playing today. I still identified and sympathized with Miguel for that reason: music and family can be complicated.

The other reason I identified and sympathized with Miguel was that he became swept up in the excitement of achievements, goals, dreams, fame, and celebrity glitz. That is how music–even classical violin/viola music–is sold to us these days. Especially in early January when resolution mania reaches a fever pitch, we are exhorted from every side and even from within to seize our moment, do whatever it takes, and take charge of our dreams. It’s a seductive call to action; it’s the golden flower-petal promise of youth. Of course Miguel would desire it too. Don’t we all?

Coco may be the first mainstream, mass-market movie shown in the United States that I’ve seen that dares to suggest that this “seize your moment” and “follow your dreams” attitude has a dark side. And it doesn’t just suggest that, it spells it out plainly: no, doing “whatever it takes” to achieve your dream is not admirable. It can be downright evil. It can destroy families and destroy lives.

What had me crying tears of joy at its end is that this film doesn’t stop there as a cautionary tale. It offers an alternative: music as a way of connecting people and bringing them together in love. Coco, Hector’s daughter and Miguel’s great-grandmother, is the perfect title character. Elderly by the time the film takes place, she is brought back to herself by Miguel’s singing the song she heard her father sing when she was a child. At the end of the film, a year later, Miguel is shown playing joyfully on a new guitar. His cousin Rosa appears to have taken up the violin. Miguel didn’t have to make that false choice between his musical dreams and his family. He could have both.

Featured Picture: Concept art by Robert Kondo. ©2017 Disney•Pixar.

Book Review: Rebirth by Aaron Hodges

Rebirth (Praegressus Project #1)Rebirth by Aaron Hodges

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rebirth is an ambitious and exciting beginning to the Praegressus Project series. This series, by New Zealand author Aaron Hodges, is in the same vein as The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, and other dystopian near-future fiction that puts teams of young adults through a series of brutal tests, the purpose and origins of which only become clearer to the protagonist and the reader as the story unfolds.  Continue reading Book Review: Rebirth by Aaron Hodges

Mundane Monday: A Toast to the New Year

The Mundane Monday photo challenge has added themes for the new year, and this week’s theme is bottles.

WineBottles

As 2018 opens, I have 3 unopened bottles of wine in my kitchen: 1. Veuve Clicquot, the champagne our realtor bought us when our offer on this house was accepted; 2. Woodbridge, some wine that a guest brought to our housewarming and we never got a chance to open; and 3. Petiole, some wine that I recently bought at Trader Joe’s that was grown in the Willamette Valley, where my daughter goes to college. I didn’t drink that either. Yet.

These bottles are all sitting in a corner of our kitchen counter. I’m struck by how dark the materials are that the counter is made of. This is trendy, but our old kitchen was lighter and I preferred that. There’s also a knife block next to the bottles. These knives are old and no longer particularly sharp. I have a gift card; maybe I will use it to buy some new knives.

I’ve also been thinking that I’d like to learn how to make a few new dishes in the new year. Cooking is not usually my favorite activity, but I do like making dinner with nice tools in a modern kitchen while sipping some good wine. Maybe I can make that happen more often in the New Year!

For the Mundane Monday Challenge #141.  Mundane Monday Challenge encourages you to take more pictures by being aware of your surroundings. The philosophy of MMC is simple. You can create a beautiful picture even by focusing on a very common looking, dull or so called Mundane subject!

The Brain—is wider than the Sky

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