Sunday, June 25, 2017


Home-made tomato sauce from a can of Italian peeled tomatoes, onions, red wine, etc. Turkey meatballs with a mushroom sealed inside each one. Steamed broccolini. Freshly grated Parmesan mixed with garden herbs and olive oil. And no pasta.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"The Nix"

Reading The Nix by Nathan Hill often made me laugh out loud, which was awkward when I was reading the book and also sitting on my yoga mat while waiting for class to start. The more I try to capture the extraordinary humor of the book the less successful I am. However, here's a brief review of what I liked and the small area I didn't like as much.

The book covers several generations of one family, but not in chronological order at all. Besides the grandfather and parents of the central character Samuel, there's a penetrating though also funny description of his childhood friend Bishop, who defies authority and figures out how to stop the class bully, of Bishop's beautiful sister, and many others. Some reviewers have referred to this as a "Great American Novel," which fits when you consider that Hill covered so many quirks of American life through these four generations.

One of my favorite characters is Samuel's vengeful student Laura Pottsdam, a habitual cheater. Laura uses every buzzword in the college lexicon to avoid the consequences when Samuel catches her submitting a free-on-the-internet paper about Hamlet. Laura has hilarious encounters with her boyfriend and his strange demands on her (which I won't quote because I'm embarrassed), and also spends a lot of time on a social media app called iFeel. "The thing about iFeel was that she could broadcast how she felt at any given moment to her huge network of friends, and then their apps could auto-respond to her feelings with whatever message was appropriate... She could select an emotion from the fifty standard emotion choices and post a little explanatory note or photo or both, then watch the support roll in." However, she is challenged when she feels doubt. Nothing like it appears on the list. (p. 423)

The otherworldly life of compulsive computer gaming is critical to several of the characters, including Samuel himself, who is immersed in an online game called Elfworld, where he joins a number of anonymous players including the unemployed and divorced Pwnage, whose life is nothing but gaming and trying to stop. Pwnage wants to switch from a weirdly cheap diet to organic health food while he is literally starving himself nearly to death by never getting up from his screen. Pwnage:
"See, what's important for me is to be frugal. I'm saving up. Do you know how expensive that organic health food stuff is? A sandwich is seventy-nine cents at the gas station but like ten bucks at the farmer's market. Do you know how cheap, on a per-calorie basis, nachos are? Not to mention the Go-Go Taquitos or Pancake and Sausage To-Go Sticks or other food that have no organic equivalent that I get for free at the 7-Eleven down the street. ... Of course eating these food items is not what I might describe as pleasant, since they're tough and scorched and moistureless from their all-day cooking on high-temperature rollers. Sometimes biting through a burrito's thick tortilla casing can feel like chewing through your own toe calluses." (p. 224)
Samuel is forced by a chain of events to engage in a detailed quest to learn about the secret life of his mother, Faye, who abandoned him and his father when he was eleven years old in 1988. He discovers her frustrating life in high school in Iowa, and how she escaped for just one month to Chicago, where she was caught up in the violent protests during the 1968 Democratic Convention nominating Hubert Humphrey, a mostly-now-forgotten horror show which Hill brings back to life. Excessively, I thought. The last 200 pages of the book where the book turns from satire into a historical novel was the part I liked the least. On the other hand, I much enjoyed Faye's high school experiences including home-ec and her very proper teacher Mrs. Schwingle:
"Mrs. Schwingle teaches them how to host a dinner party, how to cook for a dinner party, how to make pleasing conversation with dinner guests, how to create the sophisticated dishes she insists the wives on the East Coast are right now making, mostly involving some kind of gelatin, some kind of lettuce trim, some kind of food-within-another-food conceit. Shrimp salad in an avocado ring mold. Pineapple in lime gelatin served with cream cheese. Cabbage suspended in jellied bouillon. Peaches split and filled with blueberries. Canned pear halves covered in shredded yellow cheese. Pineapple boats filled with cocktail sauce. Olive pimento mousse. Chicken salad molded into white warheads. Tuna squares. Lemon salmon towers. Ham-wrapped cantaloupe balls. ... America has fallen in love with these foods: modern, exciting, unnatural." (p. 288-289)
The Nix has a kind of a message, embodied in a Norwegian folk tale about a supernatural being called a Nix. The message is that we are destroyed by what we love the most, or "Don't trust things that are too good to be true." Or the last sentence of the book: "Eventually, all debts must be repaid." Fortunately, the message is carried by a series of wonderful and mostly very funny tales of life in America, the good and the bad, the political horrors and the merely commercial. (p. 115 and 732)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Back Home

... for our first lunch at home: grilled eggplant, red bell pepper, fresh herbs and tomatoes.

How the herbs grew while we were gone!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Four Fathers Celebration

A photo of our "four fathers" celebration. The fathers are: Brian, Jack, Jay, and Len. Also a few moms & kids.
Update: the original of this family photo from 1982. Same location, some different family members, some the same.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

On the Road Again: Albuquerque

Aliens at a rest stop between Flagstaff & Albuquerque. 
A long convoy of tanks was also stopped at the Rest Stop. 

Lunch in Albuquerque, at a place we've enjoyed before, the Church Street Cafe. The decor is very beautiful. Then we did a few more gallery visits. Tomorrow: a long drive. The next day: another long drive.

Montezuma Well National Monument

Montezuma Well, a natural water formation in the Arizona Desert.

Today we visited several beautiful sites where various bird life might be found. I had never heard of Montezuma Well, which is a small lake with very deep sides that is always filled with water. The source of the water is very deep underground, and the water flows out via a crack in the rocks far down below the surrounding rock cliffs. The geology, history, and beauty of the site are all impressive.

People of the Sinagua culture built dwelling places in the cliffs beside the water, and used the water for agriculture in the lower fields nearby. We walked around the area, as well as visiting several other mountain and forest sites in the area.

Montezuma Well is quite mis-named as the Aztec emperor of that name was years later and had nothing to do with the people who lived there and used the water. Several very ancient irrigation ditches can still be seen in the National Monument surrounding the very beautiful water source.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Along Oak Creek

Oak Creek is a beautiful stream near Flagstaff, where we are staying. Today we birded at several sites along the creek, and ate lunch in Sedona, where the creek flows into the Verde River. We especially enjoyed a walk along an irrigation channel beside the creek, where we walked on private land near the home of a friend of our guide. Irrigation channels were built along the creek over 100 years ago when the area was developed for agriculture. We saw several farms with cows and horses in fenced enclosures as we walked and searched for the many types of birds that live in this beautiful habitat.

A young Great Horned Owl near Oak Creek.

Monday, June 12, 2017

California Condors and More

The high point of our incredibly long and eventful day today was seeing this California Condor. These birds became extinct
in the wild, and are being reintroduced from a captive breeding program. There are only a few hundred of them alive now.
The male condor was outside the small cliffside cave where the pair are raising a chick. The female was nearby. 
We spent several hours at the Grand Canyon -- obviously another high point of our day and of our entire trip west.

We had dinner at the Cameron Trading Post on the Navajo Reservation.
Another high point of the day was trying a Navajo Taco on fry bread.
The trading post is  decorated with magnificent Navajo rugs and other artifacts.
We left our hotel at 6 AM and returned at 8:30 PM. Our guide drove us 360 miles, from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon and onward to the Navajo Bridge where a pair of condors are nesting. The beauty of the scenery on the reservation, the many views of the Grand Canyon, and the many other birds we saw also made for a remarkable day -- though very long.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Flagstaff Birding Tour

A Bullock's Oriole.
Today was the beginning of our guided bird trip to the Flagstaff area. After a long day visiting quite a few beautiful areas and seeing many birds, especially many new ones, we were invited to our guide's home for dinner. From his back deck, we saw the beautiful oriole in the photo above.

We loved walking among pines and aspens, searching for birds.

We also spent quite a bit of time in this burned-out pine forest...
An unusual species, the three-toed woodpecker, lives in and near the burned out forest, eating the beetles that
live on the dead wood. After a long and frustrating search, we finally saw the bird in this photo.
We saw a total of seven species of woodpecker today,
including this Williamson's Sapsucker.
Aspen trees have eyes!
Also at our guide's home: a pinyon jay.

Our guide and his wife, who cooked us a marvelous dinner including a pie.

If you ever want to take a great bird tour, here is a link to tours organized by Field Guides Birdwatching Tours and guided by John Coons, our guide:

Friday, June 09, 2017

Birds, beasts, flowers, and streams

 The Santa Fe River, far upstream, near the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary in Santa Fe.
During our Santa Fe visit this week, we took a morning walk there.

A hummingbird at the Davey Audubon Center.
Flowering cactus, Davey Audubon Center.
A western bluebird, which we saw in downtown Santa Fe, near the Santa Fe River.

The Galisteo River (or Creek) runs behind the small town of Galisteo, NM.
We took a beautiful walk there.
A friendly dog ran, jumped, and waded in the stream, accompanying
us on our walk.
We called the dog Dolly because she looked like the dog we used to have.
The Galisteo church stands quite near the stream where we walked.
Galisteo is about half an hour from Santa Fe.
After three days of varied activities, we left Santa Fe this morning, and drove to Flagstaff. We will be spending a few days of intensive, guided birdwatching here. On the way, we stopped briefly for a picnic at the visitor center of the Petrified Forest.

A bunny near the picnic area at the Painted Desert.
Two finches in a yucca plant at the Painted Desert.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Lunch and More Museums in Santa Fe

After another morning of birding along a beautiful creek in a town called Gallisteo, we came back to Santa Fe and had lunch in a small Mexican deli called the Palacio Cafe. Len had a Cuban Reuben Panini -- made and served by Spanish-speaking cook and waitresses -- that is, 4-way fusion food.

Inside the Palacio Cafe: paintings that recall the work
of Frida Kalho, unibrow included.
My lunch: New Mexican enchiladas.
We then proceeded to New Mexico Museum of Art and then to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

The courtyard of the New Mexico Museum of Art, where we saw a collection of drawings
on loan from the British Museum, including works by Michaelangelo, Leonardo,
Rembrandt, and many more works from the 15th century to the present.
The Georgia O'Keffe Museum.
The O'Keeffe Museum has a remarkable collection of paintings and other works that she produced throughout her life. It also presents many photos of her and her surroundings -- even photos and sketches of her in early childhood by her mother and sisters, who were also painters. 

In her earliest years as an artist, O'Keeffe was influenced by a famous art-instruction book by Arthur Dow, and by Alon Bement, her teacher at University of Virginia where she studied. The work above depicts the UVA campus, in the style she was then learning.

Not long after her time at UVA, she began to develop her own style of abstraction. She lived in a number of places, including New York City, where she began to be recognized as an innovator and creative artist. Visiting the museum reviews the details of her personal and creative life, especially the many years she spent either part of the year or full time in New Mexico.

"Pedernal, "1941-1942. Among the vast number of O'Keeffe paintings I have seen, her depictions of this mountain near
Ghost Ranch near Santa Fe are always my favorites. A few years ago, I drove up to that area from here, and
was amazed to learn that her paintings aren't abstractions, but that the Pedernal mountain truly looks like this.
O'Keeffe was a gardner and a cook. This New Mexico photo, by
Tony Vaccaro, shows her preparing salad for lunch. (1960)
In this photo, she's picking Angelica for the salad.
One of the galleries.