Everyone needs affirmation like this.

Railfan is learning driving, and today was his “short road trip.” We went to Casa de Fruta, which is a wonderful drive this time of year, although neither he nor I could look much at the scenery. The traffic was surprisingly low, but then again we avoided going anywhere near Levi’s Stadium.

Once there, we decided to grab lunch at Casa de Deli. As I was standing at the counter, I noticed one of those metal displays of magnets you see in gift shops and gas stations from   Maine to California. Among the usual suspects extolling the virtues of comestibles (“Coffee is what I drink until it’s late enough to drink wine”; “Chocolate: Nature’s way of making up for Mondays”) and consumer goods (“Money can’t buy love but it can buy shoes”), and the ones that are vaguely self-deprecating (“Of course I can cook. You should taste my cereal”), was what may be my favorite magnet of all time:

“I believe in you, but then I’m only a magnet.”

I almost bought it.*

*It would go along with my favorite bumper sticker: “Madness takes its toll. Please have exact change.”

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Fallen heroes.

It’s been thirty years today since Challenger.

I don’t know what to say that I have not said before, but it seems important to me to mark this anniversary again. So, once again, I salute the brave men and women of her crew:

Francis R. Scobee
Michael J. Smith
Judith A. Resnik
Ellison S. Onizuka
Ronald E. McNair
Gregory B. Jarvis
Sharon Christa McAuliffe.

Thank you for your service, and for showing us the courage to dream.

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“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

David Bowie died. Although I recognized his importance to a great many people, I had never been particularly a fan of his music. I recognized his genius, but but my sadness at his passing felt muted.

Alan Rickman died. That made me very sad: Rickman was one of my favorite actors. He consistently made my famous people dinner. You know the game: pick six people to have dinner with you. In my case, I invited Alan Rickman, Michelle Obama, John Scalzi, Georgia O’Keefe, Mark Twain, James Thurber. Although the other diners changed over time, Rickman and Thurber were constants.

Then Glen Frey died.

I have always thought it weird to grieve for famous people: I had friends who cried when Princess Diana died. I know that I cried over the Challenger and Columbia astronauts, and when Nelson Mandela died. There have been a few others.

Glen Frey is one of those I grieve.

Glen Frey’s music threads its way through the soundtrack of my life. I have had a lot of times in my life when I looked on “Desperado” as a theme song, and “Smuggler’s Blues” somehow captures the feel of South Florida, probably because it was used in an episode of Miami Vice.*   And then there is “Hotel California.”

In 1992, The Rocket Scientist and I headed back East to Virginia, so that he could spend a year on a temporary assignment at NASA headquarters. Virginia was the South, was home. We were a day’s drive from his family, another down to my family in St. Pete, close enough to visit more often than once every two years. The food was familiar — true, it was hard to find a good burrito, but you could get great barbecue. And grits made properly. There were green fields even in summer, and thunderstorms.

We lived in McLean, in a house I loved: a split-level with a half-finished basement, and a cool unfinished area where the Rocket Science could stash his homebrew to lager. There was a planter box out front that I was looking forward to finally eradicating the mint in, and a huge backyard where it was a battle to stay on top of the bamboo shoots at the edge of the property. It had three bedrooms, a study, a living room, a formal dining room, and a large kitchen. It’s the nicest house I’ve ever lived in in my life. We liked our neighbors. We were only a couple of miles from the Metro station, and forty minutes to Maryland. I would take The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy (who was a toddler) to the Smithsonian, and Glen Echo Park, and Potomac Falls.

The way that temporary assignments worked back then was that they were essentially year-long job interviews. If you did well, and were happy, you stayed on. We fully expected that outcome. We could have settled down: I was pregnant with Railfan, and the owners of the house were looking to sell. Everything looked rosy.

Then Al Gore came along and reorganized the government. A lot of jobs at headquarters went away. We were lucky: there was a job back in California that the Rocket Scientist could go back to.

I was disconsolate. I moped all the way West, crying occasionally. I did not want to return to California. I was in tears as we crossed the state line, just as…

…”Hotel California” came on the radio. I couldn’t tell if fate was mocking us, or welcoming us back to the state. In either case, it was quite an eerie coincidence.

As it turned out, coming back was not the disaster I feared. The Rocket Scientist found work he loves, we found a church community, and The Red-Headed Menace came along. Maybe we couldn’t go to the Smithsonian, but we could go to Muir Woods, and the beach. My kids are thoroughly California: wherever he goes, the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy will sound vaguely like a surfer,* and The Red-Headed Menace and Railfan, although they don’t have a pronounced accent, have been shaped by the weird cauldron that is the Bay Area.

And me? I’m not a Californian, not really, but have resigned myself to living out my days here. The area has a great deal to commend it — see my road trip post. I’m close to the ocean, and if for some bizarre reason I ever want to go see snow, that’s three hours east. Three national parks are within half-a-day’s drive. And, quite frankly, I have been thoroughly spoiled by the climate. I don’t really want to deal with a Florida summer, even if I do miss thunderstorms. Not to mention the politics.

So, even if sometimes we want to check out, we haven’t left.

:*The summer after his freshman year in college, the NSLDB came home. We were having a conversation in which he used “like” in every sentence. “Can’t you go just one day without using “like”?” I asked in exasperation. “I can’t, Mom, I’ve tried,” replied. I threw up my hands and snapped “You sound just like a Californian!” Silence struck as all three kids looked at me in confusion. “I am a Californian, Mom,” James finally replied.

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Thoughts on Flint.

Bernie Sanders was right: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder should resign. (Or be impeached.)

Rachel Maddow was right: contrary to what Snyder said in his State of the State address, local government — elected local government, that is, not the emergency manager Snyder put in place — did not let the people of Flint down. Because an emergency manager was in place, elected officials could do nothing, other than try to raise media awareness, which they did.

Speaking of Maddow, she should get a Pulitzer for this. Really. She made this into a national story, as can be seen by the fact that she was given a public thank you by the mayor of Flint, as well as Michael Moore when he was on Chris Hayes’s show. (“I’d like to really thank Rachel Maddow, wherever she is.” “Um, right down the hall, actually.”)

If I had a daughter, I would want her to grow up just like Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha: ethical, stubborn, principled, and brilliant. Dr. Hanna-Attisha shows what you can accomplish if you care more about the truth than what people are going to say about you. the water expert, Marc Edwards, was likewise important in alerting authorities to the presence of the high lead levels, but he was from Virginia Tech. Dr.Hanna-Attisha, on the other hand, worked in Flint. It’s harder standing up to people in your own neck of the woods.

The mayor of Flint, Karen Weaver, likewise performed heroically in the midst of this crisis: when the state government downplayed or ignored the problem, Weaver proclaimed a state of emergency, and went to the press. The state of emergency proclamation was essentially meaningless unless the state government acted, but it caught people’s attention.

The Michigan emergency manager statute undermines local elected government, replaces the whims of the governor for the will of the people, is undemocratic in the extreme, and needs to be repealed. Immediately.

The feds are making the right call in refusing to pony up to repair the Flint infrastructure.  This was not a natural disaster. Not a hurricane or tornado or mudslide or other act of God. It was entirely manmade and entirely preventable. While having FEMA be involved in mitigating the immediate crisis makes sense, as a federal taxpayer I’ll be damned if I want to shell out for replacing Flint’s infrastructure that was damaged as a result of carelessness and greed, while Michigan sits on a budget surplus and with business tax cuts in place. This isn’t Sandy and this isn’t New Jersey. Let Michigan draw down its “rainy-day fund” and leave federal money for actual storms.



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(mini) Road Trip!!

I woke up late Monday, as a result of starting a Lord of The Rings marathon on Sunday night. I glanced groggily out my window and saw blue! And sunshine! For the first time in what seemed like weeks, the weather was clear. I hastily grabbed my phone and checked the weather app. I dashed into the bathroom and took a quick shower, got dressed, and, phone in hand, headed for the living room.

“We’ve got two hours before the rain returns! I’m going to the beach — who’s with me?”

The two young men sitting on the couch showed a decided lack of enthusiasm. The Red-Headed Menace said he had was going over to a friend’s house to watch movies; Railfan said that he wasn’t interested in the beach but would take a long walk later. “Fine,” I said a little sniffily, “I’ll go by myself.”  After dismissing the thought of going to Casa de Fruta or San Francisco, I headed towards Highway 17 and Santa Cruz.

It was a glorious morning. The air was clean and clear, the skies were empty except for a smattering of enough clouds to make it interesting. The normally harrowing (for me, at any rate) drive “over the hill” seemed like a cakewalk.  I opted not to go to the actual beach:our family’s beach of choice, Natural Bridges, has a lagoon which swells during the rainy season. After the series of storms we have had the previous few weeks, it was sure have no easy access to the shoreline.

Instead, I drove to Lighthouse Point. I walked along the seawall, and looked over and watched the surfers. I’ve never surfed, but every so often it strike me that surfers seem to have a lot of fun. These guys were, certainly.

I am an ocean person to my core. I don’t have to stand in the waves, or feel the sand beneath my toes. I just need to hear them crashing, and smell the salt spray. I stood on the walkway happily watching the white foam stream the fine green and coarse brown seaweed back and forth, like hair discarded by some wayward mermaid.

What is it about a seashore? People were smiling and polite and seemed generally happy. (Of course, it could have been the effect of the first clear day in ages.) Even all the dogs seemed to be smiling. There was a profusion of them: Yorkies, a couple of boxers, a Norwich terrier, a Portuguese water dog, more boxers, a husky, an akita, and mutts in every size and color.

After walking around, looking at the ocean and watching the people, for a couple of hours or so, I noticed wisps of clouds coming. Worried that they might herald the return of the rain, I got in the Mustang and started to head home.

Except at some point before reaching Highway 17 I decided thatI wasn’t ready for my day’s adventure to be done, and that I would go home the long way, via, um, Casa de Fruta. Santa Cruz and Casa de Fruta are far enough away from each other that under normal circumstances had credit card charges shown up from both places on the same day I would have suspected fraud.

I drove south along Highway 1 to Watsonville. (Who knew it was so pretty south of Soquel?) Watsonville is an agricultural town, and far, far different from the suburban sprawl of Silicon Valley.

Somewhere south of Sequel I remembered that I was in KPIG country. KPIG is the best radio station in the universe. Full stop. They play an eclectic mix of Americana and rock, and while I was  listening had a memorial set for Glen Frey, which included the best song that the Eagles did (“Desperado”) as well as the best song of Frey’s solo career (“Smuggler’s Blues”). Years ago, either here or in my LiveJournal, I wrote a list of my favorite phrases or lines from songs. The list included the last line from “Smuggler’s Blues”: “It’s the politics of contraband.”

It’s important to go through areas that you’ve never seen before. Even if you don’t stop and talk to anyone, it’s a reminder that there are people who live far different lives than the people I know. We forget that, a lot, in this country: each of us sees only the people who look like us or talk like us, and far too often think like us.

We lament the divisions between us, at the same time insisting that the answer is for the people on the other side of the trenches we have run across our body politic give up their cherished beliefs and take on ours. Does this mean I don’t think that what I believe is true? Not at all. It means that I need to remember that there is a reason they believe what they do beyond “they’re evil” or “they’re stupid.” It means I need to have humility, while at the same time calling out oppression and venality. It is okay to call white supremacists evil, and the would-be revolutionaries at the Malhuer wildlife refuge traitorous, or the Koch brothers and their millionaire ilk a danger to democracy, without demonizing the people who live in small cities and towns (or, for that matter, large cities) who might support conservative causes.

It is also good to be reminded just where food comes from. Passing through the fields of black plastic with the green tops of nascent strawberry plants poking through, and the rows of dark earth ready for seed, and the smell of garlic, the odor of which spreads out for five miles around the Christopher Ranch processing plant, made me grateful not only for food, but for all the people who work growing it. (There was also the  Martinelli’s plant, which doesn’t smell and which also unfortunately doesn’t have an outlet store that I could see.)

Living in Northern California gives you a chance to see agriculture at close hand. Many times the crops we place ourselves in a position to see are the grapes of Napa and Sonoma when we take visiting family members on winery tours, or the cows and fruit trees we zoom by on I-5 headed down to L.A. Perhaps if we head down the down the coast from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz we see the artichokes.

We grow an insane amount the country’s produce: California is the largest producer of 77 different crops, including providing more than 99% of the artichokes, walnuts, grapes and raisins, sweet rice, figs, and 95% of garlic, plums, and peaches. Too often we take it for granted. (The drought poses not merely a regional but a national problem. If California can’t grow its crops, America faces serious nutritional problems.)

After I hit CA 152, I drove past newly reinvigorated wetlands. The past few years, the low places had been dry; weeks of off-and-on rain had made shallow pools with waterfowl paddling in them. For all its crazy-making, the El-Nino created storms are making life a bit easier for the birds.

All the rain is turning the hills jade and emerald. Add the cows grazing on the hillsides, and you could almost put it on a calendar. The horses and goats closer to the road were less picturesque but in their own way no less charming.

Casa de Fruta grew out of a fruit stand on  the route between the Bay Area and I-5. The original fruit stand still stands, but now it is joined by Casa de Sweets, and Casa de Choo-Choo, and Casa de Gasoline (I’m not sure if the gas station is really called that, but it wouldn’t surprise me.) They have peacocks for toddlers to chase, and a carousel, and a train, and really excellent low-sugar dried pineapple. (Sadly, they no longer seem to carry the dried apricots dipped in chocolate.* Sticky, but wonderful.) Families stop here so their kids can play, and tour buses stop here on their way west.


See? Peacocks… toddlers…

I go to Casa de Fruta frequently, not because I need produce that I can’t buy at my local Safeway but because I love the drive. Going to Casa de Fruta is a small rebellion: a place that there is no reason for me to be, to buy things I don’t need. It’s a very silly, and who doesn’t need silly sometimes?

IMG_0428 (1)

Casa de Carousel

I also love carousels. I have seen a lot of them over the years: Great America’s, the King Arthur’s Carousel at both Disney World and Disneyland, the carousel on the Mall in DC, and, best of all, the beautiful carousel at Glen Echo Park in Maryland. Years ago I used to take the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy to Glen Echo. It is a very special memory for me from when the now grown man was a very small boy.

The Casa de Fruta carousel has small horses, but makes up for that by being two story, and having real horsehair tails (!). It also has a twirling seat (like the Teacups but without the handles). Having decided the last time I was at an amusement park that I was too old to enjoy making myself severely nauseous, that’s not a point in its favor, although I imagine it might be for someone younger.

When it was time to go, I flirted briefly with the idea of heading east to Santa Nella and eating at Pea Soup Andersen’s. I decided against that, and then thought about heading south. I could have gone down to 25 and hit San Juan Bautista and Pinnacles.  But I really needed to go home.

I turned northward with a sigh. I knew I should  get back home and make dinner, and clean the kitchen, and do all the mundane things one needs to do everyday. I had been lucky: the good weather had held all day, in spite of the forecasts.

I went home, but I didn’t want to. The lure of the open road is strong as the running tide for me. I’m glad I was able to indulge it for a day.

*It has been a Hanukkah tradition for me to drive the hour and a half to Casa de Fruta to get the chocolate-dipped apricots for the Resident Shrink, one for each night. I don’t know what I’m going to do next year, get the humongous caramel-pecan turtles, maybe.

Posted in Travel (real or imaginary) | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat included a very lovely Terry Pratchett shout out in Sherlock: The Abominable Bride. When Sherlock is tossing out names for the case, he suggests “The Adventure of the Invisible Army? The League of Furies? The Monstrous Regiment?”

Okay, okay. I  know that Monstrous Regiment of Women is the title of a Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novel by Laurie R. King, and before that “A First Blast Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women” is a work of political philosophy by sixteenth-century reformer John Knox, but I still think Moffat and Gatiss were referencing the late Sir Terry.

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My, how the time has flown.

I am I, Don Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha
My destiny calls and I go
And the wild winds of fortune will carry me onward
Whithersoever they blow
“Man of La Mancha,” from Man of La Mancha, lyrics by  Joe Darien


It is all Cristopher’s fault.

In January 2006, my friend Cristopher had a blog. Because Cristopher is erudite and thoughtful, he wrote interesting and well-reasoned posts. And, naturally, I wanted to comment on what he wrote. One problem: in order to comment, you had to fill out a CAPTCHA.

I hate CAPTCHAs with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. I have a lot of trouble reading them, and I find the audible ones amazingly irritating. This may mean I’m a robot, possibly. In any case, I was under the (mistaken) impression that if I got a Blogspot (later Blogger) account I would be able to comment without decoding those damn blurry letters.

So, on January 16, 2006, I signed up for a Blogspot blog. It a fit of whimsy, more or less, I named it after lines in a song from a musical about one of my favorite literary characters. I chase windmills myself, sometimes.

I was wrong about the CAPTCHAs. I still had to cope with that ridiculous sloppy text.  In any case, I found myself with a blog. I had a Livejournal* already — what was I going to use this for?  My Livejournal was filled with both day-to-day entries and longer, more formal, thought pieces. I intended to  use the new blog to do the latter and maintain the LiveJournal for the first.

For a long time, that’s what I did. Even when I wrote about intensely personal issues, such as my struggle with postpartum psychosis, I wrote more thoughtfully, more precisely, than I would for a hurriedly dashed-off LJ post.

Over time, this blog morphed into something else. Facebook took over most of the day-to-day posts, but my writing here became sometimes looser, less structured. My LiveJournal fell by the wayside, mostly due to the time that it took and that most of my friends were on Facebook by that time. (I find this to be a shame: there are things I was comfortable sharing on LJ that I find appropriate for neither here or Facebook. Believe it or not, though, there are large portions of my life that I would share on LiveJournal that I will not here.)

This blog became about me, and the world viewed through my eyes.

I like to think I have a pretty interesting view of the world. I have enjoyed writing about politics, and history, and my life.   I have also, I believe, helped make a very small difference in the world. I have had posts that people have sent me email thanking me for writing. The more “shameful” parts of my life I talk about openly, because I think that society often disdains people who struggle  with mental illness or “invisible” disabilities such as fibromyalgia or who have been subject to sexual assault. Coming out, for whatever the issue is, helps people who might otherwise be silent to say “I’m okay. Whatever it is does not make me a lesser person.”

I have also informed: at one point, my blog was the top hit for people looking for “Dulce et Decorum Est,” the heartbreaking poem by Wilfred Owen. I had written a post about the poem — including it in its entirety  — and how it resonated with me as we were stuck in the quagmire of the Iraq war. I have also written about Alice Paul and the women of the Occaquan workhouse, and Harry Burn and the ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee.  The posts are not there any more, but for the 2006 and 2008 elections I had posts listing the registration deadline, deadline to request absentee ballots, and voter’s rights for every state in the country. You can now find that information in one place online, but you could not then.

My life has changed so much in ten years. Since I started this blog, I have seen my sons grow to adulthood. I have gone from Little League and marching band to texts from Brooklyn and plans for UC Davis and Sacramento City College. The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy is gone, Railman and the Red-Headed Menace will be next year. As happy as I am for them, I miss them, and look wistfully back on their childhood.

I have done work that I would never have expected. But with the boys grown and away (or soon to be), I feel as though I have been involuntarily retired from my life’s work. Opening that next chapter has been more difficult than I thought it would be.

Through it all, The Wild Winds of Fortune has been here.

It nearly died in 2009: I only had five posts the entire year. Yet in 2010 I found myself with renewed interest in documenting the world as I saw it. I am not convinced my writing improved; if anything, I think it was better the first year. In early 2013, I moved from Blogger (owned by Google) to WordPress. Blogger had an easier interface, and offered more options for customization, but, well, it was Google. In 2012, there had been some cases of Google freezing people’s accounts for minor TOS violations, and even though I knew it was unlikely I would violate their TOS, I didn’t want them to have the ability to take my blog away.

I am under no illusions as to my reach here. As I have explained to people, I am not a small fish in a big pond; I am krill in the Pacific.  Still… ten years. That’s something.

I’m looking forward to what the next ten years will bring.

*Actually, at that point, I had four Livejournals.

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