Sunday, December 10, 2017

We, collectively, lost a lot of trees in the Lilac fire. I watched on TV as palms lit up like torches,
sprayed embers over roofs and began attic fires. I've always loved the look of tall palms lining driveways 
or in clusters around homes. Now, I'd never live in S. California with such a fire hazard
near my home. 

With those flaming palms featured in my dreams last night, I was bleary eyed when I opened
Brain Pickings by Maria Popova this morning, a Sunday morning pleasure.
I was enchanted by these Arthur Rockam tree illustrations.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

New England Lobster Market and eatery

We stayed overnight in SFO before boarding Emirates for Dubai. Within walking distance of the hotel was the New England Lobster Market and Eatery.
Lobster rolls were good. Coleslaw okay. The crab sandwich was a big disappointment. The place is lively and energetic. Fun.

Friday, December 08, 2017


I don't know what I'd do without Google Photos. Thousands and thousands of photos are floating around on my computer. Despite my best intentions they pile up and pile up, but— I can use the search feature on Google Photos to sift through the mess and pluck out an image that might be relevant to the Sepia prompt. This week I searched "swing"—how clever was that? 

I have nothing remotely sepia. Here's what Google found for me. 

My friend Debra helping swinging in a fish net in India
Debra jumps right into things. These men offered her a rope to tug. She gleefully joined in.

In Costa Rica we visited a sloth sanctuary. I knew nothing of these animals, but an interest was awakened. Remarkably adapted creatures.
 A sloth swinging in its hammock in Costa Rica
My balance is permanently impaired. I never thought I'd be able to walk on a swinging bridge again.  I did open my eyes for the experience even though at the moment of the photograph my eye were shut.  My friends following were encouraging me and my husband was ahead taking the photo.
Navigating a swinging bridge in Ghana
Just after my sister died, my husband and I went to Myanmar—an escape really from the grips of grieving. I died my hair red and cut it off because every time I looked in the mirror I saw my sister looking back at me.
A swinging bridge in Myanmar

Swing over to for more nostalgic tales.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Sepia Saturday #397: What's in a Name?

Sepia Saturday

What's in a Name?

I recently wrote a Sepia post about my fishing memories and find myself out of fishy material to match this week's prompt. Here's a re-post of myself at eleven years old with a string of good-looking fish.

I've had to dig deep for fish related material and decided to use a recipe. A couple of years ago, I worked on a cookbook with my Vietnamese friend, Diep. From her, I learned to make Cha Ca La Vong, a dish famous in Hanoi, her hometown. The recipe calls for a firm white fish; in the States we usually use sea bass or catfish. Even more specific, I read today that the species Hemibagrus Wyckii (the crystal-eyed catfish for those in the know) is the best fish to use.

With Diep...ready to eat!

Diep loves avocados. She enjoyed our grove—picked and ate and ate and ate.
Occasionally I find the dish on Vietnamese restaurant menus here in Southern California. It's always good no matter if there's more of this, and less of that. The ingredients are all delicious alone; together, in any proportions, they work. One thing to remember concerns the dill. You cannot use too much.

Here's a recipe for Cha Ca, not Diep's and not mine, but one I've tested and find delicious and easy to make. It's especially useful if you have an excess of dill bolting in the summer garden and you can't use it up making pickles. Pickles, you ask? Personally, I like fried fish of any kinds with vinegar or pickles—the vinegary notes enhance and balance the fatty fish.

And, on the subject of catfish, years ago (it seems every memory now is from decades ago) I worked with a consulting group for an industry association which promoted the consumption of domestic catfish. The first thing we suggested (based on consumer research) was that they change the name, following the example of many other fish varieties burdened with undesirable monikers:

Goosefish became Monkfish
Slimehead became Orange Roughy
Toothfish became Chilean Seabass
Whore's Egg became Sea Urchin
Mud Bugs became Crawfish
Hog Fish became King Mackerel
Archibald Leach became Cary Grant

"What??" the Catfish Commission (I made the name up to protect the innocent) responded. "People love catfish and they love the name." End of conversation. Why did they hire us? The customer is always right. We tore up our long lists of potential names. "Chat de Mer" was my favorite and the nom the Francophiles among us preferred. I could see the name becoming Chademer very quickly—like Chere Reine (Dear Queen) Cross in England became Charing Cross, an etymology I like. You can take your pick of alternate explanations, equally unsubstantiated. Another favorite is Purgatoire, Arizona (Purgatory in French) which became Picket Wire. Say Purgatoire fast with the French accent and you can imagine how it morphed into Picket Wire after being passed from ear to ear to ear.

With no stories and a borrowed recipe, the only original thing I can contribute this week is my drawing below of a catfish surfing on a pickle. I know it looks like a lily pad, but it's's a dill pickle. You can tell by the warts on the surface. Trust me. Why the spots are called warts on a cucumber and eyes on a potato, I don't know. The Cucumber Commission should hire a consulting group to rename the them "Lucky" something. Maybe "Lucky Dots."

All's fair in love and marketing. I acquired a Fitbit recently and learned that 10,000 steps is an ideal activity level. Googling this tidbit, I found out there is no scientific evidence to support this assertion. From the website, Live Science.

Pedometers sold in Japan in the 1960s were marketed under the name "manpo-kei," which translates to "10,000 steps meter," said Catrine Tudor-Locke, director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. The idea resonated with people, and gained popularity with Japanese walking groups, Tudor-Locke said.

My composition could be called "Chat de Mer lounging on a Pickle with Lucky Dots"

Catfish catching a ride on a dill pickle


Chả Cá Thăng Long (Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric & Dill)
Serves 4

For Fish:
1 Pound Firm White Fish ( I use sea bass or catfish), cut into 2-inch pieces
3 Tablespoons Vietnamese Fish Sauce or
1 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce, 1 1/2 Tablespoons rice vinegar if you don't like fish sauce
1 Teaspoon Turmeric Powder
1 Tablespoon Fresh Garlic, finely minced
½ Tablespoon Fresh Ginger, finely grated
2 Tablespoons Shallots, finely diced
1 Tablespoon Fresh Dill Fronds, chopped (for marinade)
¼ Teaspoon Black Pepper
1 Small White Onion, sliced thinly
1 Large Bunch of Dill (there cannot be too much), sliced into two-inch pieces
6 scallions, sliced into two-inch segments
3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil, divided
1 Cup Flour
½ Cup Peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Fresh Dill Fronds, chopped
Red Thai Chiles, diced, optional
Dill pickles, optional
Optional: Thai Basil, chopped
Optional: Cilantro, chopped
Nước Chấm (fish dipping sauce) or Mắm Nêm (fermented anchovy dipping sauce)
1 Package Vermicelli Noodles, boiled according to package directions
In a medium bowl, mix fish sauce, turmeric, garlic, ginger, shallots, dill fronds, and black pepper. Add fish and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Cook the white onions until lightly golden. Add half the dill and half the sliced scallions. Sauté for an additional 1-2 minutes. Plate the onions, scallions and dill on a serving platter.
Remove fish from the refrigerator and drain off the marinade. Using paper towels, pat off any excess liquid. Shake the fish in a bag with the flour or dredge it lightly on a plate. Use rice flour if you have it. Using the same skillet, heat the remaining oil to medium-high. Pan fry the fish—about 3-4 minutes on each side—until the fish is browned with a little crust. Place the fish on top of the bed of cooked onions, scallions and dill. Top with the remaining fresh dill and scallions. Sprinkle peanuts on top and serve immediately with vermicelli noodles, herbs (basil, mint) and
sauces. Offer the pickles in a side dish...not everybody likes them.

Note: In Vietnam, they pre-fry the fish. When it's presented at the table, all you do is heat it up with the dill and onions.

And here's a video showing the real restaurant experience in Hanoi. I included it so you can see the amount of dill. I'm not telling a fish really use a LOT!

Think there's something fishy about this tale? Check out Sepia Saturday for more whoppers. 

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Sepia Saturday 396: Looking forward and Looking back

On The Road
Looking forward and looking back

Although the prompt this week is a cheerful scene in a market, it reminded me of the photo below. We were traveling in Syria and I'm standing with our guide Abdul, our backs to the camera.

Abdul was plagued by bad luck. He told us a story one evening as we dined at Naranj, the finest restaurant in Damascus, if not all of Syria. The meal was splendid and while we drank our coffee and lingered over a delicious tray of fruit and pastries, Abdul mused, teary-eyed, about an incident, he explained, which epitomized his life…

I headed for home one night, cutting through the alley behind Naranj where I almost stepped on a skinny, mewling kitten. I picked up the little thing and looked into its green eyes. It needed rescuing; it needed me. From the restaurant, I got a saucer of milk and some flakes of fish, sat down in the alley and fed the little thing. Pushing up against my hand, it purred so hard little bubbles came out of its nose. I'd never seen that before. “Where’s your mom?” I asked, hoping the mother would appear from behind the trash cans—hoping she might catch the fishy scent and join her baby at the banquet. I scratched the tiny ears a little more, petted it and thought the impossible—could I take it to my room? And find someone to care for it tomorrow? No, that would be foolish if the mother was nearby. I decided to bet on the mother showing up. As I stood and picked up the saucer to return it, I felt a sense of peace, rare for me at that stage of life. The kitten ran toward the end of the alley to the street and disappeared behind trash cans. I felt good. Ten minutes with the purring kitten revived me and for a moment I escaped my own troubled soul to rescue another living thing. I turned to step into the restaurant kitchen when I heard brakes squealing from the road. I knew what had happened.”

Abdul's company was called “Driving Tourists Happy.” We hired him based on the excellent recommendations of his customers on Fodor’s forums. His bad luck wasn’t mentioned in his promotional material. In the photo, we’re looking at a stall in the famous souk in Aleppo, centuries old, destined for destruction in a few years.

For Abdul, then working to build a business in tourism in Syria, the future didn't turn out well. Ahead lay chaos and destruction nobody predicted. Behind him, it was the same kind of scene.
Aleppo souk before and after.

"If I'm happy," Abdul said "something horrible is bound to happen."

The list of his bad luck episodes was long. He’d lived in the U.S. for years on a work visa as the marketing director for a company that sold an Arabic language program. After 911, he was deported and had to return to Syria with his ex-wife and U.S. born children. He was given two weeks to get out of the country–not enough time to sell his home and a business. The family landed in Damascus with almost nothing. In the U.S., his trusted friend, to whom he gave power of attorney, sold his house and business and stole his money. What else?

Abdul's family home in Aleppo was eventually destroyed and his siblings scattered around the world. The last we heard, Abdul was in Brazil. I hope his luck improved.

Friday, December 01, 2017


Older, unattractive men apparently think women want to see them naked. (Charlie Rose, Conyers, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK). Some of these men mistakenly believe women will be driven into sexual frenzy by viewing their aged penises, droopy, half-buried in fat and dangling in mid-air.

The cover of this week's New Yorker says it all.

Some men think their sexual apparatus so gorgeous, it should be photographed and posted on Facebook, a la Mr. Weiner. Being irresistible to themselves, they are deluded that the rest of the world, at least the females, share their enthusiasm for their own sad members.

I've been flashed a few times as have all of my female friends. Once, a man who worked for me came into my office, shut the door and pulled off his shirt exposing his bare puffed-up chest. My mouth fell open in shock. He flexed his muscles and before I could say anything, he pulled the shirt back on. Granted it's not as bad as the classic pants drop, but it was a flash.

I know the man had problems with working for a woman...this was 35 years ago. I'd seen a book on his desk entitled something like "Working for a Bitch." He'd left it where I could see it. During this incident, once I collected myself, I said nothing, mostly because I was speechless. This was probably, by accident, the smartest thing I could have done, looking back. If I'd tried to have him fired (he was a minority) there would have been a mess. The incident would have been aired in public to no good end for me. In a predominantly male environment, I would have looked like an oversensitive sissy, a bitch, a trouble-maker.

Few women had management jobs in my industry in those days. The male HR people would likely have concluded that hiring a woman was, as they'd anticipated, trouble, spelled with a T. It never occurred to me before writing this that perhaps my denigration, via officialdom, might have been what my flasher wanted. Was he that smart and scheming? Perhaps it was sexual harassment, even though he was my subordinate. In the game, at that time, everyone would have been on his side. He would have denied the incident or said that I'd misinterpreted his action. You couldn't look to your few women colleagues for support. In those days, the lower the profile you could maintain, the better off you were.

I'm so thrilled the worm has turned and women may no longer have to endure this kind of childish, churlish stupidity.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

N. California Family Thanksgiving Photos

The big Friday celebration

Deb, Zuzu, me
Nephews, Grandnephews with Doug. From left: Khalil, Doug, Luke, Bill, Rand. 
Breakfast at Doug and Jans

Admiring the new iPhone 10

Joey, Colette, Zuzu. 3 generation photo. Kimo photographer

Quinn, media star, and Michelle

Sepia Saturday 395: Labeling

Sepia Saturday

There's much to enjoy in the Sepia photo this week—the bonhomie, the clothing, the hats. It shouts out to the viewer of a happy male bonding experience.

It's 1896 (according to the fading white ink inscription)and in Australia according to the provenance. These men have no idea how lucky they are to have been born when they were, in 1870 ( a guess) or so. If they are twenty-five years old in this photo, they would be too old for WWI, looming twenty-one years in the future. Their sons wouldn’t have such luck. My own dad was born at an unlucky, time - 1899 which made him elegible for service in both World Wars.

For this captured moment, one hundred twenty-one years ago, the men enjoyed a lovely afternoon in a fern-filled grotto, smoking their pipes, drinking beer and enjoying life.

I'm guessing someone wrote "Look" on the hat of the left-most gentleman in the photograph. The writing Looks like the same as that on the bottom of the photo declaring the year and place "...cove 1896.”

That name written on the hat reminded me of the white-inked photos in my collection.

Thankfully, my parents saved all their photos, even those with leaky-light failure. This one may be suffering from double exposure too...those faces at the bottom don't fit. I'm happy they saved it because of the creative date display. Short of dark space, Dad used the brick house next door as a blackboard. At first glance, it looks like a Facebook arithmetic quiz. 2 divided by 5 = x divided by 49 = answer

The below photo makes me laugh. It was the only time this group—Grandmother and my maiden aunts and bachelor uncle—visited our home which was less than a mile from theirs. Not "visity," they would describe themselves. How did they get to our house? My Uncle Lornie, on the left, owned a  Nash Rambler— a tiny car. Maybe he made two trips? But then it was Christmas, winter weather, and his Nash was probably up on blocks. Most everybody abandoned their cars and took the bus in the winter. It was reliable, even at -40, and walking to the bus stop was easier than shoveling out a driveway. But there was no easy bus route from their house to ours. I'm guessing they piled into a cab or two. I remember or was told about their short stay --probably half an hour.

“They didn’t even take their coats off,” said Mom, half annoyed and half-relieved. Although I never heard of a reason, there was resentment between my aunts and Mom. They talked on the phone if there was a family emergency but no chatting. All communication was through my father or through myself and my sister.

I know Dad would have poured them a drink; whiskey for Lornie and sherry for the ladies. Perhaps they had a slice of Mom’s delicious rum-soaked Christmas cake.

My grandmother, second from right, was Queen of her family and my aunts were her court. They didn't visit other people, period. They were the visited, not the visitors. That's the way it was. Not to imply that we didn’t see this group often. Alverstone Street aka “the nest of aunts” was right next to the Catholic church and my sister and I visited them every Sunday after mass.

I admire the way Dad split the dates between the figures of these grande dames dressed in their formidable fur coats. Half the year is on his mother's, Ma'am's, feet and half on his sister, Hilda's, feet. The date and month, the 4th of December, got lost in the snow between the two ladies.

I enjoy thinking about my father seated at the dining room table, the cigar box of photos in front of him, white-ink bottle open on a piece of newspaper spread over the lace tablecloth his mother crocheted for the parents as a wedding gift. A goose-necked lamp shone on the scene from over his left shoulder. Birds of Paradise wallpaper graced the walls, navy blue at that moment but the paper changed color periodically when Mom painted the spaces, the background, between the leaves, according to fashion or her mood. It was maroon when first hung, then light blue, black and navy. She painted the spaces with a very fine brush and it would take her an entire winter to complete the job.

Like our Jesus in the dining room
The Keene replacement
With the nibbed pen in his hand, Dad studied each photo and decided what and where to write. His silver-waved head would be bowed over the work while Jesus supervised from just above. We had one of those odd religious portraits of Christ hanging over the table—the kind where the blue eyes of the subject follow you everywhere. It was there for years, most of my childhood, until it was replaced by a Walter Keene portrait, one with the now famous big eyes. You can tell there were no artists with finicky taste in our household.

Dad would be wearing a holey (not holy) khaki green sweater, a deeply loved relic of his WWI uniform, and baggy trousers, not out of place now in the ghetto except Dad’s pants covered his butt. From time to time he’d check his watch, counting down the hours until he could cap the ink, put the cigar box away and head over to the legion hall to spend time with the boys, as in the Sepia prompt.

The dark photos provided the best canvas for his white ink display. Most of the inked photos were taken in 1947. Either there was a wave of white ink fashion or a very cold winter. From Weather Canada:
"Jan. 30 to Feb. 8, 1947. Massive 10-day blizzard hits the Prairies, burying towns and railways across all three provinces." 
After being shut in for a couple of days, the white ink and pen likely looked like an attractive distraction and a way to pass the time. 

The rare dark photo provided a perfect canvas for white ink writing. This must have been a tricky shot to get considering his camera at the time.

The next photo preceded the white ink period. My sister must have used a fountain pen for her labeling job. I don’t believe there were ballpoint pens in that era. You have to look closely to see "me" printed on her dark shirt. She was always a fine printer as her round, unsmudged letters testify. The photo was probably labeled years after the event when she was eight or nine. She was five in the photo.

In this shot, I like the arrangement of "Xmas" horizontally, and the year "1947" positioned vertically, on the pine tree behind. It adds motion to the tableau. Dad used the abbreviated and hated term “Xmas” in most of the photos to save room.

Time and technology marched on. By 1964, we were writing on photos with ballpoint pens. The white ink pot had dried up and been thrown out. This shot, a favorite photo of mine, captures the spirit of my sister and her little family very well. Jim was finishing his service in the Royal Canadian Navy, paying them back for his medical school tuition. I never noticed before that the photo was not taken in Esquimalt B.C. as labeled, but rather in our family home's backyard in Winnipeg. The family lived in Esquimalt but were visiting Winnipeg before leaving for California where they would settle. I’m guessing my mother’s cognitive skills were fading (something she hid well for years) when she labeled the photo.

That’s the best part about studying these images for Sepia Saturday. There are stories inside of stories inside of stories you can root out and remember. They're like the Russian Matryoshka dolls one nestled inside the other, just waiting in the photo box to be opened up and enjoyed once again