Category Archives: California

Thursday Doors: Chickens and More

DonkeyI am still doing my geocaching streak, and today’s find, called Donkey Cache, took me to an interesting area that I never knew existed in the Barron Park neighborhood of Palo Alto. To get to the cache, I had to walk through Cornelis Bol park, which is named for a Stanford professor who owned donkeys and lived in the area in the mid-20th century.

Shed

On my way back to my car, I got a little sidetracked and found myself near a shed. I said to myself, “I wonder if there’s a Thursday door around here somewhere that I can photograph.” Indeed there was.

This was a funny little area with buildings that I didn’t understand at first.

FoodandDoor

If you look closely, you can see a chicken in the background, through the door to his coop. A couple of these doors seem to go nowhere in particular.

Gate

They certainly aren’t keeping the chickens out (or in).

Chicken

A little farther along the road there was another structure, with the door closed and chicken statues in front:

Coop

What I am struck most by in these photographs is the drab weather. It’s neither raining nor sunny. Not what you think of when you say “California,” or “January.”

It’s also quite remarkable that this land is still so free and undeveloped, here in the Bay Area where housing is at a premium and prices have reached extreme levels. Cornelis Bol appears to have wanted it that way.

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.

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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.

Near-future SF Author Spotlight: Aaron Hodges

Last year I decided I needed to read more indie science fiction and ecofiction. I didn’t want to write in isolation, and in keeping with my desire to focus on the writing journey as much as the finished product, I wanted to be part of a larger conversation. I added Book Reviews to my blog and hoped to publish a review a week. Well, that’s not happening, but I have been able to get out 1-2 per month. And along the way I have met some very interesting authors and read stories that I never would have encountered by sticking only to what gets traditionally published. Indie fiction is not usually as polished, or as formulaic, as what hits the mainstream press. It takes more risks, and fails more often. It is a wild ride that brings you right up against the uncomfortable and inconvenient truths of the writers’ condition. But that rawness–that raw courage–is a big part of why I still read and write books at all in this age of increasingly sophisticated electronic media.

Author Aaron Hodges
Author Aaron Hodges

One of these authors is Aaron Hodges, a kiwi writer of dystopian science fiction and fantasy. He hails from New Zealand, but his Praegressus Project series takes place in the mountains of central California, not too far from where I live now in Silicon Valley. It is set in the year 2052, after the fall of the USA and subsequent rise of the totalitarian Western Allied States.

I have been intrigued by stories of the USA de-uniting for years, with that interest accelerating and getting more personal after our 2016 elections and the social, political, and class divisions they laid bare. The novel American War by Omar El Akkad, about a second American Civil War, was published earlier this year to broad acclaim (read my review here). I talked with Aaron Hodges via email about his world-building, the de-United States, and his vision for the Praegressus Project series.

KLA: You are from New Zealand. What made you interested in setting your book in a future North America with a defunct United States?

AH: This was actually more of a pragmatic choice than anything. The majority of my readers are from the States, so I decided that would be the best place to set the story. Unfortunately, I have only ever visited the west coast, so I decided to base the majority of the story around that region. Which meant the west coast obviously had to end up being the victors in the civil war!

KLA: I have also been working on a novel that is set in the former USA, which has federalized into different regions. I live here, so I have been inspired by things I’ve read around the Presidential elections. Red state/blue state maps are very popular, for example. What made you divide the USA into the regions you chose?

AH: There was definitely a bit of red/blue state stuff going on! It’s never explicitly stated, but something in 2020 led to California ceding from the union – after which Washington, Oregon and a few other states out west promptly followed. However, as that sort of split was more historical than anything by the time the series begins. I wanted to highlight another division that takes place all over the world even today – the divide between rural and urban populations. I wanted to show a world where the population- and wealth- drain from the countryside into cities had reached a breaking point, and explore the sort of characters that come out of that.

KLA: How is climate change working in your future world? As the century progresses I would have expected Sacramento to get warmer and drier, not colder as depicted in your first chapters. What weather patterns could account for this?

AH: It’s actually a common misconception that climate change means warming all year round. While internationally temperatures may be increasing, on a local scale the effects are far less predictable. Climate patterns such as El Niño and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) have a much greater impact on local climate than climate change, and exactly how climate change affects these patterns is very much a black box (i.e. we have no idea how it will end up impacting them!)

Sorry that got a little technical😆! Climate was a big part of my science degree back in the day. Basically, the effects of climate change depend on location, and can have seemingly opposite results. For instance, California is likely to see an increase in droughts AND heavy rainfall events such as tropical cyclones over the next century. Likewise, summers may get hotter, but inversely winters may also get colder. Then you throw in something like a La Niña year, which means less rain and colder temperatures and…things get complicated😆!

KLA: I have degrees in biological science, and often I think the biology in science fiction is pretty unbelievable. But I thought your explanations of how the Chead are formed were quite good and plausible. Even though they are speculative, they make sense and didn’t throw me out of the story. Did your background in biology inspire this part of the plot? How does it inform your writing generally?

AH: Haha–well it’s good to hear my memory from genetics hasn’t completely failed me yet! I actually first started thinking about this project during my Genetics 202 class, when we were discussing homeotic genes and how a virus could be used for genetic modification. I found it all fascinating, and thought it would be interesting to write a scifi novel with genetically modified humans that were still grounded in some science.

For the rest of my work, such as my fantasy series, my studies in geography and environmental science were more important for the world building. Having a bit of knowledge about how mountains/forests/oceans affect local climate was very useful in developing a new world that might almost work in reality!

The final book in the Praegressus Project series, Retribution, is scheduled to be published next week, and this post is part of a blog tour in celebration of the series’ completion. During the blog tour, the first three novels in the series – RebirthRenegades, and Retaliation -are free. There will also be a Goodreads giveaway for three paperback copies of Rebirth, ending December 25th. Look for my blog review of Rebirth in the coming days!–KLA

Thursday Doors: Tis the Season

My birthday is exactly 3 weeks before Christmas. I like having all the decorations and festivities around, even if they are really intended to honor someone other than myself!

The night of my birthday this year we went to downtown Mountain View to see a tree lighting. In Massachusetts where we used to live, the tree that was lit was not home-grown. It was trucked in from somewhere in Canada, but it was still a standard evergreen tree. It usually wasn’t cold enough to snow at the beginning of December either, even in MA, but there was often fake snow. In particular one of the banks went all out and had fake snow falling from a machine on its roof.

California is a little different. There was a whole stage with chorus singing the usual carols, next to this tree:

DowntownSceneAuthor

Traditionally, the lights are hidden and just kind of peak out from behind the needles or the–ahem–snow. Well, this kind of tree is pretty too, in its own way.

And since it’s Thursday Doors, the Mountain View City Hall door shows that they have taken a more traditional approach.

CityHallDoor

Darkness bothers a lot of people this time of year, but I think the lights make it better.

This is also a season for concerts, and I’d like to share this piece from my son’s high school winter concert. My son is in the cello section and his face is hidden by the music stand. But it was so crowded we were actually lucky to get these seats so front and center, even if mostly all I could do was watch his arm moving back and forth.) They have a beautiful sound.

A Happy Holiday season to all!

Thursday Doors: Steve Jobs’ Garage

Earlier in the year I started a series of blogs about the “Geekiest Hot Spots” in Silicon Valley, with the first one being the HP Garage in Palo Alto–where two Stanford students, David Packard and Bill Hewlett, started building the audio oscillators that would be the foundation of Hewlett-Packard. That garage is informally known as “The Birthplace of Silicon Valley.” Continue reading Thursday Doors: Steve Jobs’ Garage

Mundane Monday: Madrone

This is a time of year in the United States that people like to complain about the light. Basically, there isn’t enough of it. I sympathize: I have a devil of a time getting up in the morning when it’s dark outside. But what light there is, and the angle in which it falls on the landscape, can create startlingly beautiful images.  Continue reading Mundane Monday: Madrone

Book Review: Muir Woods or Bust, by Ian Woollen

Muir Woods Or BustMuir Woods Or Bust by Ian Woollen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Muir Woods or Bust is a gonzo-esque romp through the near future. More hopeful and humorous than its dystopian cousins, it is like an On the Road for gamers and Science Fiction nerds. I had a little trouble suspending disbelief in the road-trip plot, at first. Even in context it seemed like something out of an earlier time, as if two aging losers–one of them a widely recognizable former TV star–would really be able to get away with all this with zero negative consequences. Still, once it got going, the action and the colorful characters that they encountered kept me turning the (virtual eBook) pages. As the trip unfolded, I also stopped viewing Gil and Doyle as aging losers, which was, of course, the point.  Continue reading Book Review: Muir Woods or Bust, by Ian Woollen