Today I drove to a produce market and bought fruit. Not amazing, except it is the first time in two months that I have driven my car. (My husband has used it on alternate weeks to keep the battery charged.)
At the market, I wore my face mask. The market allowed only 10 customers at a time. Within the market, duct-taped arrows on the floor directed me around the fruit and vegetable stands – if I missed something, no turning back. I avoided putting my choices in bags as much as possible – everything went into one bag at the check-out station, which was shielded by plastic curtains except where I could insert my credit card for the check-out.
For a decade we have been asked to bring our own reusable bags to shop. Now reusable bags are possible vectors of infection, and the plastic bag makers are staging a comeback. All I can do is to pile my fruit and vegetables all together in one cart, let the checkout clerk sort, and put my purchases into one paper bag.
Public transportation, re-usable bags, cluster housing – all those ecologically correct ideas are now hazardous – how can we save the planet now?
For three years in California we have bewailed the drought, the shrinking reservoirs, the lowering aquifers, and debated whether or not to build additional dams and pipelines despite the environmental cost. High winds threatened to snap power lines, spark fires, and drive them at breakneck speed across our forests. My gray water from dishes was poured onto any handy plant that would be grateful, my faucets were not allowed to run, I limited my dishwasher to once-a-day, and recklessly combined colors and whites in my laundry to save an extra load. Something called the Peculiarly Persistent Pressure Ridge was pushing rainfall northward, blocking rainfall during what were normally the soggy months.
Now the pattern has changed, at least for a while. The Peculiarly Persistent Pressure Ridge has melted away, and now we have Atomospheric Rivers from Alaska (COLD!) or Hawaii (WET!) aiming straight at the midriff of California. Instead of drought, we have record snow pack and rapidly filling reservoirs. Instead of wildfires, we have floods and landslides. Instead of talking of building more dams and pipelines, we are rushing resources to repair and maintain the deteriorating system of levys which protects our farmland. High winds are still a threat, as toppled trees land on power lines and block roadways.
So instead of moaning about the drought, we exchange news of which house was crushed by trees, which roads are blocked, which neighborhood is without power and for how long.
Still, it’s better than arguing about what “woke” means, or whether racism is ingrained in our society, or if a tax cut for the wealthy will ever trickle down to the middle class, or whether the Ukraine will be our next Viet Nam, or the science behind vaccinations. At least we haven’t politicized the weather. Yet.
My debut novel, Fox Spirit, is appearing episode by episode on my sister blog, ajmccready.wordpress.com. New episodes arrive every Monday and Thursday. They’re short, so you’re not too late to check them out, and sign up for future happenings
My six-year-old granddaughter made a computer. She fit the alphabet and a touchpad onto the lower half of a folded piece of paper, and divided the top half into four sections, each with a picture of herself or one of her best friends.
“We’re having a Zoom meeting,” she explained.
“What is the meeting about?
“We’re talking about how to make our neighborhood a better place,”
You go, girl!
My debut novel, Fox Spirit, is appearing episode by episode on my sister blog, ajmccready.wordpress.com. New episodes arrive every Monday and Thursday. They’re short, so you’re not too late to check them out, and sign up for future happenings!
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?”
When Fred Rogers sang about his neighborhood, he meant more than just “the people living near one another” as Merriam-Webster defines it. In fact, the online dictionary gives circular definitions of the word – “A neighborly relationship”, and “the quality or state of being neighbors” , dancing around the meaning without coming close.
But I know it when I see it.
I was visiting my son and his family, who live in the Lower Haight district of San Francisco. Their front bay window looks out on the street, and as I watched I saw a hook-and-ladder fire truck zoom past, siren screaming. My daughter-in-law returned from an errand and let us know that there was a fire just down the street and around the corner. “Lots of smoke, three or four fire trucks. I don’t think it’s anyone we know on Carmelita.”
My son checked the street. “The fire trucks are still there. Street’s closed. No point in going to take a look; the firemen have enough to do.”
By the time we were preparing dinner, we knew that a “cute Victorian” several houses in on the alley was severely damaged, and the neighboring houses had some smoke damage but nothing serious. No one had been injured, but the owner had lost her two cats, and she and her renter would need to find new shelter.
The next morning I spent time at my grand-daughter’s kindergarten, and then the three adults went for lunch at a neighborhood café where the owner greeted my son by name. As we waited at our table several other people said hello, and the woman who lives in the downstairs flat came up to exchange news about the fire.
“The house is probably a total loss. Too bad, all their stuff, and the rent from the lodger was probably the owner’s main income. But there’s a GoFundMe started to help them out. And someone has offered a two-bedroom apartment rental that’s just come vacant in the neighborhood, so they have a place to stay.”
My son checked the GoFundMe. “It’s already up to $35,000!” he announced. This was less than twenty-four hours after the fire had been extinguished. As of the next Monday afternoon, almost five hundred people had chipped in to help with donations adding up to over $70,000.
Now that’s a neighborhood.
My novel Fox Spirit is being published episodically on my sister site ajmccready.wordpress.com , starting February 27. You’re not too late to catch up!
Here’s a sneak preview of my novel Fox Spirit, which I will be publishing chapter by chapter on my sister site AJMcCready.wordpress.com, with new episodes every Monday and Thursday until the thrilling conclusion.
When Sara Miller’s husband dies and the inquest is inconclusive, Sara impulsively accepts an offer to work in Beijing, away from gossiping neighbors and a resentful daughter-in-law. In Beijing she finds a new set of challenges, as she navigates culture clashes, political minefields, and a perilous possibility of new love.
Here’s the first few pages:
Huli jing (Mandarin Chinese): Fox spirit. Literally, “exquisite fox.” Also a modern colloquial term for a dangerous seductress.
You traveled a ten thousand mile road
To fulfill my long waiting.
Hence from the stagnant night
Burst forth a million stars
-Chen Li Qiang (1998)
“I thought sure the corpse would be bleedin’.”
Sara was certain she was meant to overhear the half-whispered remark. She stiffened her back, sitting as straight as possible, and willed herself not to turn her head. She could feel the tell-tale flush rising, knew her cheeks would be splotched with red, but if she didn’t turn her head, they would not see.
The mortuary chapel was quiet for the moments between the soft organ music and when her brother Jasper would step forward and begin the memorial service. She was the widow, she was not expected to speak, she would not have to face the whisperer. At the end of the service she would be in a receiving line with her son Mark, his wife Rennie, Jasper and his wife Carol. Everyone would walk past and take her hand. She would not try to identify the whisperer, not look for shifty eyes, ironic voice tones. They would be there, in more than one face, more than one voice.
If she had known the consequences, would she have acted differently?
If you would like to follow Sara’s adventures and misadventures in China at the turn of the 21st century, hop over to my sister site https://ajmccready.wordpress.comand look for a new episode every Monday and Thursday.
If it hadn’t been Christmas, I wouldn’t have moved my “office” from the corner of the living room to the kitchen table. That corner is where the Christmas tree always goes, so I did this every year.
If our housekeeper hadn’t been ill, I wouldn’t have vacuumed the living room carpet and noticed how dirty it had become.
If we hadn’t decided to have the dining room carpet cleaned too, I would have eaten my lunch at the dining room table as usual.
But it was, and she was, and we did, and so I had my sandwich and a glass of water on the kitchen table next to my computer, and when I reached for a napkin I bumped the glass and…
Drowned my laptop. The screen flickered bravely for a moment as I froze in horror. I reached to turn the computer off, too late. The screen went black, and it was dead. Not even a snap, crackle, or pop. I took the battery out and turned the corpse upside down on a towel in the bathroom. It streamed water as though I had cut an artery. I aimed my small space heater at the keyboard. The next day there were still no signs of life, so I was off to the Geek Squad.
The Geek on duty managed to look doubtful, even behind the face mask. Eyebrows are amazingly expressive.
“We don’t handle water damage here. We send it out, and it will be 3-4 weeks before we get it back, IF they can repair it. But it’s long odds.”
Armed with a list of laptop ratings from Consumer Reports, I browsed past dozens of glowing screens and stopped at the sleek silver entity CR liked best – “Special Sale 30% off!” How seductive! I picked it up – so light! A sales Geek materialized at my elbow. “Do you have any questions?”
“Where are the USB ports?”
“You mean, USB-A ports? Oh, almost no one uses USB-A ports anymore. They’ve all gone to C.” She showed me the tiny slit on the side of the computer.
“But my external hard drive! My multiple thumb drives! My mouse! How do they attach?”
The sales Geek managed to look amused and condescending, even behind the face mask. Eyebrows are so expressive.
“It’s all in the cloud. Backup to the cloud. Access anywhere through the cloud. You still use a mouse? You’ve got a touchpad and touchscreen. But you can buy an adapter that lets you use your USB-A stuff.”
Back to the Geek Squad station. The Head Geek offered to check to see whether my hard drive had survived, if I would allow him to open the case. I felt as though I was ok’ing an autopsy on the corpse. OK. Fifteen minutes later, he came back, smiling. Eyebrows are amazingly expressive.
Next steps: Buy the silver sylph of a computer, give it to the Head Geek, along with the rescued hard drive, and in a few days I reclaim my old computer’s brain transplanted to a slimmer, more powerful, more flexible chassis.
The new computer takes some getting used to. That cloud thing – I don’t trust it, but that’s where the Sylph wants to put all my files. On the entry screen and in the cloud I am “Allyson”, but to access files on the hard drive the Sylph only answers to “Owner.” Worse, it keeps offering to complete my sentences for me (even more irritating from a computer than it is from a friend or spouse.)
I will wrestle it into submission. After all, I am the live person in control. But I remember that Dr. Frankenstein had some trouble with his brain transplant project also.
Princeton-by-the-Sea (sometimes, especially locally, called Princeton) is an unincorporated community on the coast of San Mateo County, California. As of 2000, the population of the community is 297. So how does this tiny community manage to support at least three very classy restaurants with a total seating capacity of at least 400?
Old-time California coasters know Princeton mostly for its excellent boat harbor, and for the annual surfing competition Mavericks, which actually takes place in Princeton, although it is usually attributed to neighboring Half Moon Bay. But the same turnoff which leads to the Mavericks overlook also leads to a cluster of destination restaurants, each with its own atmosphere and specialty.
Oldest of the group is Barbara’s Fish Trap, which began in 1971 as a little shack by the side of the road serving fish and chips to the folks moored in the harbor. Over the years the Fish Trap has expanded, added a neon fish sign over the take-out window, picnic tables, an awning and sheltered outdoor seating, and some inside seating, but the fish and chips are still the same and still attracting a line of people waiting for their orders which is visible just about any time you pass by.
Mezza Luna, at the far end of the harbor, was opened in 1993 per their website but looks older. It has the feel of an Italian family restaurant that has been at the harbor for generations, and their house-made fettucini is to die for, especially served with the fresh clams or shrimp and cream sauce that is a standard. This is a white-tablecloth restaurant with an extensive wine list (and generous pours). The service is attentive but not oppressive, and if you want your entree with a side of fettuccine, they are happy to oblige.
Just across the road from Barbara’s Fish Trap is the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, a more casual restaurant as you might expect, with dog-friendly outdoor seating as well as comfortable indoor tables, both with views of the harbor. Their list of craft beers is extensive, but what keeps me coming back is their fish tacos, served baja-style with shredded cabbage, and sides of black beans, salsa, and delicious guacamole. The standard plate has three tacos, but the smaller serving of two is ample for any but the largest appetite.
As you make the turn to Pillar Point Harbor, it’s hard not to notice the large newish buildings on the right. This development includes a hotel, and a small shopping center, but the anchor tenant is La Costanera, a large and lovely Peruvian restaurant boasting a celebrity chef, a Michelin star, two stories of beautifully appointed seating areas, and food which is flat out wonderful. It’s the priciest of the choices, but oh my, what a marvelous setting and with food and service to match. We asked our waiter about the desserts, and he steered us away from our first choice, the Suspira a la Limena “unless you have a really sweet tooth.” The Vanilla Bean Panicotta which we shared instead was the perfect end to a superlative meal.
There are a couple of small restaurants on the same short road which we haven’t tried yet. My question, though, is: these restaurants have a combined seating capacity of at least 300, not including outdoor seating. How do they stay alive? The answer, of course, is that they are very very good. So do your part to keep them going – you won’t be sorry you turned off Highway 1 onto Capistrano Road, no matter which one you choose.
I received an email from my financial advisor starting with “Many of us wonder what lies ahead for 2023 in regard to the markets, the economy, and inflation.” It started me thinking. I confess that when I wonder what lies ahead for 2023, thoughts of the markets, the economy, and inflation are way down the list. Here are some of the things I do wonder about:
Will our school children catch up the education and social time lost during the COVID-19 lockdowns?
Will someone pick up the opportunity to develop the foreclosed Dutchints site on El Camino Real?
Will the Los Altos School District decide what to build on its purchase of land at San Antonio Shopping Center?
Will the Los Altos City Council permanently allow outdoor eating parklets on State Street and Main Street?
How will the newly elected trustees of the Los Altos Mtn View High School District make good on their promises to address mental health problems among our teenagers?
Will the Walter Singer bust finally find a place?
Will the Lehigh Permanente Quarry be reclaimed or restored, or will the buck continue to be passed?
Will local animal shelters ever run out of abandoned pit bull terriers and Chihuahuas for adoption?
Where will Los Altos find space to build “affordable” housing when residential land in the city is selling at roughly $12-15 million per acre?
How many flagpoles will eventually be installed at Veterans Community Plaza to satisfy all the groups who want banner representation?
My financial advisor says that 2023 will be “A Year for Yield.” He has in mind investments in bonds and international markets. I have in mind a different kind of yield.
Investments in friendship: Will I keep alive friendships that have been based on monthly meetings but for months have been digital at best? Will I learn to use Zoom for meetings that feel like real conversations rather than just talking heads? Will I remember how to reach out to people as COVID restrictions loosen?
Investments in community activities: Will my work with the American Association of University Women lead to better outcomes for women and girls? Will my participation in the Los Altos Community Coalition help enable less partisanship and more cooperation among civic leaders?
Investments in family: Can I make time to read stories over Zoom to my grand-daughter? Can I find events and experiences to share with my marriage partner? Can I find ways to help family members in trouble when we are separated by miles?
Investments in service: Will my helping tend the gardens at the History Museum pay off with more happy events held there? Can I resume volunteer work with the homeless through the Community services Agency despite COVID restrictions? Should I become more involved with political action groups?
The yield on these investments won’t show up in my bank account or on my 2023 tax return. But if they pay off in serenity, quality of life, sense of significance, that’s plenty for me.
I’ve always thought of myself as pretty tech-savvy. I was an early (think 5.25” floppy discs) user of computers, had an email address with AOL, a car with GPS, and carried a Blackberry for business. I was always a little ahead of the curve, I thought.
But twice in one week I’ve been jolted into realizing that all that is so last century, and I’m headed for the scrap heap along with the other technological dinosaurs.
The first jolt was at my beloved alma mater just to the north. It was a lovely day, and my spouse and I decided to pack a picnic lunch and drive up to the campus, where we could eat our bread and cheese while watching the next generation whiz along on motorized scooters and electric bicycles. On a Wednesday we would have to pay for parking, but what the heck – we’d splurge. My spouse wrote out our license number to tap into the pay kiosk, and I had my credit card at the ready, being grateful I no longer had to scrounge for quarters for the meter.
But when we arrived at our preferred picnic table, no pay kiosks were to be seen. Instead, a sign on the curb directed me to pay using my smartphone, with an app to be downloaded if I needed it.
Alas! I had forgotten to plug in my phone that morning, and it languished on the car charger at only 8%. No chance of downloading or paying anything. We cruised around a bit, but every Visitor parking space was marked with the same sign. If one has no functioning smartphone, one is a non-person on this campus. We turned back to picnic at a local park, where parking was free and the younger generation strolled by on strollers and pushbikes as we ate our bread and cheese.
The second jolt was at my local museum, which is currently undergoing a remodel, but where the staff had created an outdoor exhibit, where visitors could amble through the museum garden along a path where signboards and photos illuminated the career of an illustrious local author. I love museums, and usually spend at least an hour per exhibit because I can’t resist reading every explanation on every wall and every caption on every exhibit (much to the chagrin of my impatient spouse).
But I zoomed through this exhibit. Instead of time-and-budget-consuming informative posters, each of the eight pathway markers was adorned with a few photos, a brief paragraph, and four of five QR codes to be scanned for “additional information”.
My phone was charged, this time, and I have a QR code reader on it, but standing in the sun staring at a miniature screen was not compelling. I passed up hearing a daughter talk about her father’s work habits, the author reading from his own work, photos of the author’s boyhood, and many other QR code- accessible features of interest. The thre- step process, the scrolling through screen after screen, the phone held to my ear, the ignoring of my surroundings… I decided I knew enough about the illustrious author without that.
So I may have to confine my visits to my alma mater to late afternoon when the parking limits expire. And when the local museum completes its remodel, I’m hoping it will have the headphones and placards and interactive displays I am used to. Meanwhile, look for me at the Computer History Museum. I’ll be one of the exhibits.
We are ready for the parting of our ways: M and the trailer will return to Davis, where she will dive headfirst into the maelstrom of detail involved with selling a house and buying another, while I will catch a Capital Corridor train at Fairfield and spend a relaxing two hours reading, writing, admiring the scenery, and feeling sorry for the people in the homeless encampments along the tracks.
First wrinkle: There are now TWO Amtrak stations in Fairfield. Our faithful GPS unerringly directs us to the new one, Fairfield – Vacaville. I have been to the Fairfield station before it was re-labeled Suisun -Fairfield, and I am pretty sure this adobe “Transit Center” in the middle of a giant parking lot next to nothing at all is not it.
Moments of panic –I check my ticket and realize the error. Is this really a train stop? Where are the tracks? Will my ticket be good starting at a different station. Should we head off for the other station? Cooler heads prevail; I spot an underpass which leads toward the tracks, we trundle through and there are a couple of benches and a sign saying that the train I am scheduled to travel on will arrive in 15 minutes, and, most reassuringly, another passenger waiting.
I hug M, “Wonderful trip!” and watch her pull out of the parking lot. The train arrives as advertised, and the conductor doesn’t get around to our car to check my ticket until after we have arrived at and left Suisun Fairfield. My only regret is the lack of a snack machine at the new station – I had counted on a candy bar to get me through to my Great America stop. Rummaging through my tote bag, I find a forgotten granola bar. All is well.
Until we get to Richmond. We stop. And stay. An unintelligible announcement is made. I get out and find a conductor in the next car. “There’s damage to the tracks ahead. We don’t know how long the delay will be. Could be 45 minutes. Could be two hours.”
I go back to my car, inform my fellow passengers, and we stare disconsolately out the window – at the sign that says “Take underpass for BART”. The young woman across from me is distraught. “I’ve GOT to get to the Oakland Airport for a flight! I allowed an extra hour but…”
I look at the sign. “There’s a BART stop at the Oakland Airport”, I tell her. There is also a new BART station in Milpitas, not so much further from home than the Great America station. We gather our bags and lead a parade of passengers to the BART station.
To our surprise and pleasure, a BART official is handy who tells us “We have an arrangement with Amtrak. Just go through that turnstile there – no charge.” A BART train arrives a few minutes later, I phone my Personal Travel Agent at home, he checks the route to the new station, and I settle down to read, write, admire the scenery, and feel sorry for the people in the homeless encampments along the tracks.
Coda: The next day I get a standard email from Amtrak asking about my trip. I grouse about the lack of signage at the new station and most particularly about the delay and poor communication about it. The next day I receive another email from Amtrak giving me a voucher good for the value of my trip from Fairfield –Suisun to Great America. They are trying!