Thursday, December 29, 2016

Updates #7

Willard Middle School

The Willard Middle School Community Mosaic is now completed and looks great. Even the letters "H" and one of the "O's"in "School" that I worked on look OK. I think everyone who participated is quite proud.

Solar Panels Installation
on a Foggy Day

And we're proud to have an array of solar panels on the roof. We're renting them for the next 20 years (if we are around that long) but it should make a difference. And, with any luck, by the time the 20 years is up, we will have figured out how to read the monthly bill from PG&E. They don't make it easy.

We cannot recommend the company that we unwisely chose to do the work (more about that later, once the deal is completely finalized). But if you want to save money and help save the planet all at once, you might give Solar City a call. Our neighbor had a great experience with them.

Summer Amaryllis

Pumpkins and a blooming amaryllis. Must be summertime.

The pumpkin grew across the driveway with little water and even less sun. It is now soup. The amaryllis? Who knows, but it seems to re-bloom just because.

Looking forward to the 2017? Well, I first need to make sure that there isn't a cactus growing out of my head. Yeah, right now the world just seems very prickly and confused, so I might as well stop scratching and join the resistance.

Handcrafted at the Senior Citizens' Ceramics Class
St. John's Church, Berkeley, CA

Friday, November 25, 2016

Holiday Shopping Guide

Yup, baby needs a new pair of shoes, but probably isn't going to get one this holiday season. And maybe not even for the next four years. Trouble is that my most favoritist, favoritist tennies are made by New Balance, whose leadership made a strong statement in support of the new president-elect.

Too bad, because these shoes have been happily worn by all human members of this household, carrying us from the hard pavement of Madrid to rocky paths in northern India. Ironically, it's been Chinese consumers, attracted to the "Made in USA" label who have kept open the remaining New England factories producing shoes for New Balance.  I think keeping shoe factories here is great, but there simply has to be a better way.

Shannon Coulter of #GrabYourWallet has made shopping your opinions easier this season. Don't like Trump? Then don't shop at these places which work with the Trumps or carry Trump products. This convenient spreadsheet has all the information, including alternative Trump-free retailers. (And if you just can't wean yourself off fill-in-the-blank, at least email them with your concerns, mkay?)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Now What?

We lost. We all have lost. And all the cute kitty photos are not going to make it right. At least not anytime soon.

It is most disturbing that we - and the rest of the entire world - are stuck. Stuck even though scarcely more than 25 percent of potential voters in America chose this future.

We can be sad. And we can be angry.  Around this house, we are both.

This past week I've kept my brain busy devising numerous ingenious punishments and painful hardships for those supporters of hate and strife. I won't go into too many details (is it really possible to have a giant tornado and a fracking-induced violent earthquake at the same time?), but trust me, in my schemes, that Pharaoh in Exodus got off really easy.

But that is all in my head.

The real question? What to do next that will make a difference. And how to keep sane and of good cheer in the meanwhile.

Many of the issues raised during the election are important. For me, the two that seem most critical are the composition of the Supreme Court and climate change.

I do not feel that I can have much of an impact on the Supreme Court, but I do plan to work very hard over the next few years to try and keep this planet a living planet.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Vote First

Then Relax!

(Or at least try not to chew your knuckles quite so hard.)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Three Years of Peppers - Local Evidence of Global Climate Change

In the spring of 2014, my mom came to visit and, surprise, surprise, we went shopping for plants. She bought stuff, I bought stuff, and in my pile of stuff was a six-pack of pepper plants.

The little plants did just what they were supposed to do and produced a pile of small green-yellow, ripening to red peppers throughout the summer and into the fall. Wonderful.

Since they were still looking good, or good enough, I kinda didn't get around to pulling them out. They over-wintered 2014/15 and most came back big and busy for a second season. Those that didn't survive were replaced with new pepper plants - King of the North from Fedco.

The 2015 season was also bountiful, and early. Those 2014 peppers had a head start and began producing peppers by April. Eager little buggers, no?

Fall of 2015 - what to do? Why, leave them in, of course, and wait and see... new baby pepper blossoms in late January.

2016 was a long season - last week I just picked the last round of peppers for the year, although one plant is blossoming and two others are considering his/her lead. Yank 'em? I don't think so.

Now I know better than to take credit for this abundance. Yes, my thumb may have a greenish tinge (brownish, really, because of the ground-in dirt) but the extremely mild winters of recent years have allowed these and other cold-sensitive plants to survive into another year.

It seems that peppers (Capsicum annuum) originated in central-western Mexico, more than 6,500 years ago. But I'm pretty sure that it would be just fine if the climate of central Mexico stayed where it was and didn't show up on my doorstep quite yet.

Monday, October 17, 2016

She's Everywhere: Ranger Betty Reid Soskin

Ranger Betty Soskin

And I highly recommend that you go to see her and hear her story. It's easy, fun, local, inspiring and just a wee bit educational, without any of the "Oh-but-I-hate-social-studies" pain. For a brief preview, click here.

Where: Visitor Educational Center, Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front Park in Richmond, CA.

When: Most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  Check here for exact times and directions.

Why: Because she's 95 already, and good things don't last forever.

And as long as you are there, you may walk or bike along the waterfront, examine the exhibits at the Visitor Center, or even discuss what you just learned over snacks at either Assemble or Bubbaloo Cafe . Heck, you can even do all those things.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Wild and Crazy

This feline really was wild and wonderful.

Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana   Sept. 23, 2016

Princess is just crazy.

Oakland   Sept. 2, 2016

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Lampshades with Legs

Ta Krai Hom, 2011

Throughout my lampshade-making career, I was sometimes asked how long a lampshade would last. Of course the answer, "It depends" was not always well received. An older quiet couple without pets might deserve one answer; a household which allows the kids to play football in the living room...

But now I have evidence that even in public places, a lampshade may last a long time and still look fine. In 2005, when a small restaurant space on Dwight Way opened up (it once housed A La Carte in the late 1990's), in came a new French bistro known as Olivia.

I remember A La Carte, but I remember Olivia much better because I made most, if not all, of the lampshades, pendants and sconces for the new restaurant.  The shades were constructed using the wonderful papers of Bradbury & Bradbury. It was a sweet project and the chef, Nathan Peterson, was fun to work with.

Later, in 2008, the restaurant changed hands and names - Digs, a California-style bistro. I'm not sure that we ever made it to Digs for dinner, but I believe it stayed around for a number of years. After that, Ta Krai Hom, serving Thai street food, moved in. They kept the old Olivia lighting elements, but painted the walls a very bright green. I mean, v-e-r-y bright. And now Mim, another Thai place with more restrained wall colors, but most of the same lights. Except a few of the shades - the more portable ones - went walking.

Four different restaurants with very different styles - French, California, Thai - over eleven years managed to keep the same lighting and make it look appealing. I'm happy to have helped make it happen, way back when.

Mim, 2016

For an additional image of Olivia's dining space in 2005, click here.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

California's Five Seasons

There is an old joke about the four seasons in California - earthquake, fire, drought and flood - although I always thought it was "mudslide" rather than flood. I propose a fifth season, a far more positive season: Roasted San Marzano* Tomato Season. It is a short season, lasting only a little more than a month, but the sights, scents and flavors are unbeatable. 

Ready for the Oven

Simply pick your tomatoes, wash and halve them. Cover the bottom of a roasting pan with olive oil (rosemary-infused oil is wonderful) and arrange the tomato halves. Add salt and pepper to taste, drizzle some more oil around and bake at 300° for about one hour. Eat with gusto and a friend. Or two. But not too many more, or you may not have enough. Leftovers (as if!) are great with pasta, in an omelette or just as they are.

Now I am very aware that all roasted tomatoes make for great eating, regardless of the variety, but the San Marzanos are simply the best. Somehow, they do not stay tomatoes, but are magically transformed into tomato candy.

*Yes, I know that not all San Marzanos are actual San Marzanos, but short of moving to southern Italy, the closest that I can come to the real thing is to grow them from seed, with the seed coming from Italy.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Great Performances: Shintokiwa Cucumbers

I'm not really that fond of cucumbers, but have found Shintokiwa cucumbers to be the best. In fact, I even like 'em. And because they are so prolific, I can like 'em and still have plenty to share. Last year after I had picked 80 cukes, I stopped counting. And this was from only three plants.

I grow them from seed - I doubt that you can find baby starter plants at the local nursery, although I've never really looked. It's pretty easy and since they are open-pollinated, you really only have to buy seeds once and then save some for the following year(s).

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

August Fun: Community Mosaic Mural

I completed the "H" and began the "O"
Willard Middle School Mural

If you can spare a few hours on any of the remaining weekends in August, and don't mind wearing old clothes and getting a little dusty, then the Willard Middle School Community Mosaic in Berkeley would welcome you.

Not only will you be helping out, but you also get the chance to practice your tiling and mosaic skills. Rachel Rodi is heading up the effort, and the team is doing a fabulous job. When I was there this past Sunday, there was a large crew of parents, teachers, friends and students (boy, had I forgotten what young teen chatter was like. Somehow I doubt that it has changed much over the past forty-plus years) just working away.

And if your backside gets tired from sitting on an overturned bucket, it's OK to wander off for a cup of coffee or a snack.

To sign-up, click here.

Willard Middle School
2425 Stuart Street

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dreaming of Egypt

Not Completely Tiled
Covered in Grout
Last year, we seriously considered visiting the pyramids in Egypt - hardly anyone else was going, so we wouldn't have to worry about the crowds, right? But somehow we just weren't comfortable with the level of security required for the trip. It's not that we were scared for our own safety as much as I really didn't want to be escorted by armed guards and protected behind metal detectors while on vacation. As well, knowing that this insecurity is what the Egyptian people face every single day, sometimes even from their own government, well, somehow we just didn't go.

Grout Mostly Removed
Instead, I went out to the garage.

It's not that I consciously intended to imitate an Egyptian-esque design; sometimes these things just build themselves. I wasn't even too aware of how it was shaping up until the project was underway. I think it's in the colors mostly, that suggest desert sands and starry night skies. But as I was working on this piece, I did have time to consider ancient glories and clouded futures.

Ready to be Sealed

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Jane and Zinnia Sitting in a Tree...

Benary's Giant Wine Zinnia

My baby sister kisses zinnias. She claims they kiss her back. 
I might just have to find out for myself.


Friday, July 8, 2016

How to Make a Trellis: Part II

Western Bluebird
Now a trellis, any trellis, serves well as a natural hangout for many of your local non-human friends, especially those with feathers.

These little fluffy visitors inspired me to finish off the top of the trellis with a flock of mine own. On each of the eight uprights (three at both ends, two in the middle) there now perches a handmade ceramic bird of a no-name little brown jobbie-ish type (aka LBJ or LBB).

Most people don't notice this small flock. In fact, most people don't even notice that there are dinner ingredients within arm's reach. And, for me, that's a very good thing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How to (And How NOT to) Make a Trellis: Part I

Bad Idea

Over the past while, I have constructed quite a number of trellises to support big viny plants, such as peas, pole beans, squash, cucumbers and gourds. With advice, trial and error, error, and more error, I now have a system that, although not quite bulletproof, may actually withstand the next earthquake.

First lesson: do not use bamboo stakes if you want the trellis to last longer than part of one season. Not one entire season, just part of one season. No matter how well, deep or meaningfully those stakes are anchored, and regardless of the rebar reinforcement, they will fail. You see, when that first big wolfish wind comes along, (think Three Little Pigs), your growing plants act like a giant sail, and take down the entire ship.

The solution - 1/2" electrical metal conduit (EMT). It is inexpensive, readily available, sturdy and not completely ugly. And a 2' piece of rebar inserted up one leg at each side means additional security.

Second lesson: use three support posts at each end. Now you may remember from eighth grade geometry class that three points define a plane. You may not. But it sure makes for a much more solid and grounded base. And since you are paying less $3 per 10 ft. length of EMT, it's a small splurge.

Hose clamps
The support posts are linked together with a metal hose clamp. The cross piece is then tied in with a separate smaller hose clamp. The only issue I have encountered with hose clamps is that someone has been cheating on their length. So buy the next larger size if you have any doubts about the diameter of the pipes to be tied together.

Third lesson: work with a friend. It's more fun to argue with someone else than just yourself. And once you're done, it's definitely a lot more fun to sit down, have a beer and admire your handiwork with someone else.

Fourth lesson: Tie up your own netting. I start at the top, anchoring the string at the bottom with a a bamboo pole (finally, it has a use!), about 6"- 8" apart. The horizontal rows are also spaced at approximately 6"- 8" wide.

It takes less than an hour to string up an 8' x 10' mesh, lasts for one year (a winter season of peas and a summer season of cukes and pole beans), and if using cotton string, can be tossed in the compost bin along with the green waste.

The Completed Trellis w/o the Netting

Epilogue: After the first summer of Fortex pole beans, two more posts were added to the middle of the 10' expanse for additional support. I would never have guessed that the bean vines could be so heavy as to cause that much sag...

Total cost for the trellis: under $40.00

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Kinetic Heroics

Atomic Funguys
In Oakland over Memorial Day, a whole lot of people were not really thinking about barbecues and sunshine. Nah, they were much more wrapped up in whether the Warriors were going to make it into the finals.

But at the Kinetic Grand Championship 2016 in Eureka/Arcata, many others had their fingers crossed to see how well the Kinetic Kootie, along with all the other entries, could make it into the water.

Regardless, I recommend that you: Go with friends. Enjoy the sunshine. Applaud loudly.

Kinetic Kootie

I would like to note that, as an Oakland resident and occasional crankypants, since 1971, the Golden State Warriors have been playing in O-a-k-l-a-n-d.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Botanical Wonders Made Easy

I had never heard about the American Horticultural Society (AHS), but when it came to my attention, I quickly signed up.

An AHS membership entitles one (or more, depending on the level of membership) to free entry to an amazing number of botanical gardens, arboretums, public and private(ish) gardens throughout the country. In the west, the variety of gardens is astonishing, as is the dedication of the staff and volunteers who keep these organizations and their collections alive.

Over the past months, I've been burning up that membership card. Often I've dragged along some poor soul who I hope has a slight interest in the botanical. So far, no one has complained, or at least not loudly. But I know better than to press my luck and ask if they want to go birdwatching too.

Day of the Dead
Desert Botanical Garden
Phoenix, AZ