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Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Happy Halloween!

Jack-o-lantern group portrait by Steven PitsenbargerThe lovely image of carved, glowing Jack-o-lanterns is by Steven, and shows the results of our annual pumpkin carving party. Special thanks to all who came and carved: Ollie, Tim, Zoe, Larry (2 pumpkins!), Peter, Janet, Jill, Ian, Janae, Kathy and Jason.

Our dinner menu this year included:

-Pumpkin curry (really a combination of kabocha and delicata)(vegan)
-Pumpkin quesadillas (really a combination of butternut and delicata)(both lacto-vegetarian and vegan versions), on flour and corn tortillas, with a sauté of baked squash, sweet red and green peppers, garlic, and spices, served with guacamole and a choice of red or green salsa
-Pumpkin pie (butternut)(vegan)
-Blood orange tea (what a perfect name for a Halloween party!)
-olives (no eyeball labels required)
-cherry tomatoes
-Plus an array of treats that our guests brought: fresh mozzarella, crackers, sliced cheese, fresh papaya, chips, red pepper hummus, pumpkin ice cream AND lychee ice cream from Mitchell's (thank you Peter!), ginger snaps, several kinds of wine and beer, and other wonderful delicacies.

Arlene in costume as AutumnThis was the first year in recent memory that I had my Halloween costume ready PRIOR TO some ungodly hour of morning on Halloween. One of my enormously fun colleagues held a Halloween party on the Saturday night prior to this year's Wednesday Halloween, and so I had to actually PREPARE early.

I originally planned to be Totoro, the enormous, furry forest spirit star of Tonari no Totoro, the supremely delightful Japanese cartoon. A quick poll of the IT department at work demonstrated that current/modern IT people aren't in the same demographic they once were, and that I would have to spend a lot of time explaining my costume. Just the same, I went out and purchased enough fabric to transform myself into a large-headed, madly grinning woodland creature. With a ghost-bunny accessory made from organza and large googly eyes. I was *excited.*

Then the air conditioning system at work failed completely. It had been on the fritz for a long time, but the heat became even more unbearable than usual. And it occurred to me that I would spend all of Halloween lying on the floor and panting in my costume, moaning about death rather than being a bubbly, somewhat intimidating beastie.

So I decided to be Autumn. I planned out a dress (modeled after a favorite summer dress that no longer quite fits for some mysterious reason involving my chest circumference), purchased fabric leaves and fake fall leaf garlands from a craft store, and made my costume on the day of the party. The dress design failed almost immediately: I had failed to account for some darting on the dress, and my lack of formal sewing training quickly became evident around the collar... I tossed the failed dress mock up aside, and instead made a sort of leaf-covered bodice, which I could both tie onto myself and fasten to a bustier that contains me properly. I cut back some leaf arrangements and clipped them onto my head, sewed a leaf necklace onto some ribbon, draped the garland around myself, and I was ready to go.

Autumn is probably my least ambitious and most successful costume in years. The best satisfaction was that nearly everyone I encountered immediately knew I was autumn: women on BART, women on the Emery-go-round, my office colleagues, people on the street... I won praise from adults and small children.

As an added bonus, I won compliments on my current hair color from several people. :-) I don't know how many of you are old enough to remember this, but there was a color theory back in the 70s and 80s that there is a season (based on the four season system) that describes you, and you should wear the colors associated with that season. I had been evaluated as a "summer" at the time, and so was advised to wear a lot of lush, bright, fresh greens. I chafed under that designation, always insisting that I was a Fall, with periodic bouts of Winter. I think this is the costume (and hair color) that establishes me as a Fall/Autumn once and for all.

So, I think I learned a lot about costume concepts this year. In the future, I'll try to be more... direct.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Fall Nostalgia

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year, and the way the air feels brings back all sorts of feelings about past years and other places.

I went to Japan in autumn. I watched the trees turn red and gold; I hiked up mountains where I was nearly pummeled my falling leaves while walking with a red headed German engineer who happened to find me admiring a vista along the trail; I walked in icy rain, and melted away every ache in my (much younger) body by soaking in enormous hot-spring tubs. I would never have believed that hot, canned coffee dispensed by roadside vending machines made any sense until that trip. Now I know it can fill you with warmth and hope on cold, cold nights when you are searching for your hostel under a nearly black, cold sky...

I went to Nepal in autumn. I passed through several climate zones during a trek in the Himalayas, from tropical valleys to arid hills, but the brisk nights let me know what season it was. As we gained elevation and approached Everest, clouds would form over the peaks above us as I watched, and scattered snow would fall as we approached camp each night. It was literally freezing at night - my water bottle contained only a cylinder of ice one night, despite resting between me and my tentmate's sleeping bags...

I went to the Sierras many times in fall. The gold leaves in King's Canyon are so relentlessly beautiful on a warm fall day, and they make such beautiful sounds in the breeze. Tuolumne Meadows turns dry and brown, but the river still makes lovely, quiet sounds as it makes its way toward its gorgeous granite grand canyon, which is one of my favorite places on this earth.

Fall is always a wonderful time for me. Even in difficult years, there has always been something new in the fall to enjoy: new classes, new places to visit, new relationships, new jobs, the return of the winter squash I love so much, sunsets that I can enjoy on the way home from work... There is always something I feel or see that makes me feel lucky. And the littlest things - the smell of wood in a fireplace, or the crunch of leaves blowing down the street - brings back to a particular camp in Nepal, or a particular temple in Japan, or a hike in Point Reyes, and I really can't believe that all those tan-brown-gold memories are mine.

Without dwelling too much on the past, I'm going to organize some of my experiences from other falls, and write about them here on this site, so I can remember them again on beautiful fall days, and have those ideas seep slowly into you.


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:58 PM


The sunrise this morning stunned me: when I reached the crest of the hill and looked east toward the bay, a warm orange glow enveloped everything. The sun was a perfect orange disk, and the fog that softened its intensity was lit up all around me. It was a quick moment of divine otherworldliness before I descended the hill, entered the train station, and went to the East Bay to my job.

I'm still overwhelmed by it, and I can't find the words to do it justice. It was more than just light: it was a feeling about the innate beauty in the world that the light happened to express... I know that photography, my favorite non-food pursuit, is primarily driven by the expression and recording of certain qualities of light, but even if I'd had a camera with me, I just couldn't have captured it. The streets below were too mundane, the traffic was mundane, the houses were mundane... But the light was PERFECT. The sky was perfect. The sun was perfect. The fog was absolute perfection in mist form. It was relentlessly lovely.

Maybe it was too much beauty for me to handle so early: I was out of sorts for much of the rest of the day, and surprised myself by being completely devastated by an office announcement that I had known was coming... But it was worth being slightly off balance just to have experienced the morning that way.


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:45 PM


Another week of overeating.

I thought I had learned from my excesses two weeks ago, but I managed to make many of the same mistakes last week. This week is going much better, so I can pretend that I've broken the habit of overeating, and am just looking back into my foolish youth.


The week of the 15th looked something like this:

Monday: Afghan food for lunch (sauteed spinach, curried lentils, cauliflower and potatoes in a remarkable sauce, all over rice and with a small salad). I went out for drinks with some former colleagues of mine after work: I had three lemon drops (the vodka drinks, not the candies), some deep fried polenta, and a third of a thin-crust cheese and basil leaf pizza. Mmmmm. Lemon drops.

Tuesday: spanakopita for lunch with a small salad. Dinner out with friends at Naan & Curry included bitter melon with tomato in an unusually fabulous sauce, baighan bharta, lentils, saag aloo, rice, and garlic naan with chai. And we went across the street to Tart to Tart, where I had a scoop of sorbet. Wow. It's amazing my clothes fit.

Wednesday: a mediocre lunch of garlic eggplant with tofu over rice at a new place I wanted to try. Dinner was a plate of pasta at Pasta Pomodoro with a friend who dropped by the open house at my office.

Thursday: I had leftovers from the open house for lunch, along with some fun company at the communal tables in the office. I wasn't in a mood to cook dinner, so I took Steven out to Herbivore, which was understaffed, but the food was as fabulous as ever. Steven had the lemongrass noodles; I had the wasabi soba noodles, which were thin buckwheat noodles with grilled veggies, spinach and tofu in a mild wasabi sauce. Mmmmm. Wasabi. Oh, and a soju cocktail. Because.

Friday: I wound up going on a group outing to Pasta Pomodoro AGAIN with six colleagues at lunch time. At dinner time, I was still buying fabric for an ambitious costume, and Steven realized that he was quite hungry. We were at the Westlake Mall (which has received many makeovers since I was taken there as a child), and it was raining. After a quick walk down the relatively new row of restaurants on the center street (which was once pedestrians only), we chose to eat at Burger Meister. It sounds like a joke: two vegetarians walk into a burger joint... But they have Gardenburgers, Boca Burgers, grilled portobello "burgers," and a wide range of fries, sides, beers, desserts, etc. The fries were quite good, and Steven really enjoyed his shake, made with Mitchell's pumpkin ice cream. (Wow, I'm gaining weight all over again just WRITING about this meal....)

The weekend also contained excesses in the forms of eating out AND drinking lots of wine at a party, but I don't really want to admit to those events here and now.


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:03 PM

[Insert the sound of unexpressed thoughts piling up here.]
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:02 PM

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Swish! That is both a sound effect in many Dr. Seuss books, and the noise that time has been making as it passes me by this week, unremarked upon here.

I've been carrying a little notebook with me everywhere, and trying to make little notes in it about things I want to write about here, or in letters, or in one of my other journals, but the notes are harried, cryptic, and written in that special font that I use when I'm riding in a moving bus or train. It suggests what my writing will be like in my very old age. (At that point, I will claim that it is not the unsteadiness of my hands, but rather a sublime sensitivity to earthquakes that renders my words illegible. Then I will agitate for large keyboards with fist-sized keys to communicate with, and will try to sell my handwriting as abstract art.)

The skies have been gorgeous at sunrise over the last few weeks. Stunningly red at the horizon. Creating dramatic shafts of light between clouds. Some mornings I am convinced that the entire sky has been rendered in chalk pastels. But all the specifics - which mornings involved lavender and cream pastels, which involved shades of blue I haven't yet defined, which veered off into oil or acrylic territory - are lost.

The days are filled with distractions. I lose hold of the little ideas that I want to enjoy more thoroughly, and trivia takes their place. I tire easily. I wilt in the heat. I make more little notes, and wonder if my complete absorption in NaNoWriMo next month will be empowering or if it will be escapism that becomes empowering only later, when I realize that I've written another novel, and so can likely do any fun-yet-impractical thing I set my mind to...


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, October 14, 2007



Official NaNoWriMo 2007 ParticipantYes, I've done it. I've refreshed my writer's profile in preparation for another November of frantic, hysterical, completely joyful, high-speed noveling. National Novel Writing Month is nearly here!

I think I've recruited THREE new writers to join so far, and am pressuring a past convert to not only participate, but to write more than just one day this time around.

I'm still in the system as "lene2000" for those of you who care.

And no, of course I don't have time to write a novel. I've never had time to write a novel... and I've written three so far as a NaNoWriMo participant. This isn't a practical thing to do - just like living passionately and fully isn't practical. Raise your standards!


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:35 AM

Saturday, October 13, 2007


A week of excessive eating.

Have you ever sat in a half-way filled bathtub, laying flat on your back with your knees bent, and wondered where all those... islands near your waist came from? I was wondering that last night. It was a pleasant bath, but I swear that more of my middle used to sink beneath the bathwater sea at that particular depth. It wasn't a nice revelation.

Looking back on the week, it really shouldn't be a surprise. I make fabulously healthy, satisfying food at home which I eat reasonable servings of, but when I eat OUT, I tend to choose rich dishes that come in large servings, and I tend to eat everything placed before me. This leads to trouble. Which is why this week expanded the territory of the islands I witnesses in the bathtub.

My meals out this week:

Monday: Lunch was a healthy "super roll" at Sara Deli (a Mediterranean place in the Emery Bay Public Market): lavash bread filled with roasted eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce, hummus, felafel, hot sauce, and a light dressing... which I got all down my shirt. It was a really good choice, and it came with a light salad, which was refreshing.

Dinner was a super vegetarian burrito from Pancho Villa (, made with refried black beans (lard free, of course), lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream (oh-oh), rice, salsa, and cheese in a flour tortilla. Their burritos are remarkably tasty, consistent, and reliable. They are also really, really huge. As a concession to my large lunch, I only ate half of the burrito, and saved the rest for breakfast. Yes, lunch and dinner were both "super." Ha.

Tuesday: I had the second half of my super burrito for breakfast.

This made lunch even funnier: I attended a meeting with food catered from a Mexican place near the office. I had half a burrito here, too, but it wasn't very super: rice, pinto beans, and a salty mix of roasted veggies. I satisfied myself with lots of tortilla chips and guacamole, washed down with a very large strawberry agua fresca.

I think dinner was a plate of cheese tortellini, which Steven purchased and prepared. A day of heavy meals made by other people! That meant another night of not doing dishes. :-)

Wednesday: I attended another lunch meeting, which is odd - these may be the only two lunch meetings I've attended in months, and yet they came back to back. This one was catered by Extreme Pizza. I wound up having two types of veggie pizza (the Pandora's Box and the Drag It Through the Garden), both of which were extremely tasty. I also had a side salad with red lettuce, black olives, red onions, a hint of cheese, and a balsamic dressing.

Despite having all that food, I was hungry for dinner by the time I left the office. I abruptly developed an irrational craving for tempura, but couldn't bring myself to go to my usual omnivorous tempura place, where I wouldn't be able to drink the (fish-laden) miso soup. I managed on short notice to schedule a dinner out with my cousin at Chaya Vegetarian Japanese Restaurant on Valencia in SF. Chaya has an extremely long menu with a wide range of Japanese dishes that are familiar by type (sushi, soba, sukiyaki, etc.) but which are executed usually well, with a creative wide range of ingredients. Chaya is likely the best Japanese restaurant I have ever been to - and better still, absolutely every one of the nearly overwhelming, fabulous choices is VEGAN! We shared tasty veggie gyoza in a delicious sesame dipping sauce. My cousin had mixed veggies (cauliflower, lotus root, carrots, greens, etc.) over glass noodles in broth; I had eggplant stuffed with soybeans, tofu custard, and corn, all given a tempura treatment and then sliced open and presented in a sweet and salty sauce. It was unusual and really tasty. We also had delicious tea: Chaya has a great tea menu, which shouldn't be surprising, but I'm ALWAYS pleased with my selections there.

Thursday: Breads of India ( is a Berkeley restaurant (with a companion location in Oakland) that is famous for its naan and parathas, but which also serves a short menu of 8 or so lunch specials each day. My social group at work had been eager to try it, though we had trouble finding dates that worked for everyone. Eventually, we gave up, and four of us with open schedules went to have a stunning lunch with enormous servings of carefully prepared food. I ordered the vegetarian special, which meant that I would get to enjoy TWO of the vegetarian specials of the day. This meant a lot of food, though everyone's meals were enormous. In addition to chickpea whole wheat paratha, garlic naan, pilao rice,and a matching a yellow dal, I had an entree of garbanzo beans that were given a sort of felafel treatment, and served in a rich, deep-red gravy which included 22 spices AND a delicious tray of mixed veggies in a sweet, lighter mixed curry. There was also a salad, but I had no room to eat it.

At this point, you're not going to be surprised when I tell you that I also went out to dinner. Black Francis was playing at Cafe du Nord, and my social group's favorite sushi place, No Name Sushi (a.k.a. Yokoso Nippon, the name on the menu that no one seems to use), is just a block away. So, four of us went there before the show, with three of us being vegetarians. (No Name has an especially strong veggie sushi offering.) We ordered extensively from the hosomaki vegetables menu, which meant we received 16 small rolls (nori on the outside, classic sushi) of avocado maki (double order), horenso maki (steamed spinach with sesame seeds, double order), takuwan maki (pickled radish), nasu maki (pickled eggplant, which only I would eat)... There was also kappa maki (cucumber), shiitake maki (shiitake mushrooms), and a shiitaki hand roll that one of my colleagues got with the same hot sauce that is used for spicy tuna. I didn't pay much attention to the things the piscotarian in the group ordered, but it came on a separate tray, so I didn't have to pay much attention.

I also had a cocktail at the show. We didn't get to stay for the entire thing - Steven starts work at 6:30 a.m. this time of year - but we did get to hear some of the new songs, plus the older song "Cactus" which was more recently covered by David Bowie.

Friday:. For lunch I had a large "La Sorbonne" crepe at Mes Amis Creperie in the Emery Bay Public Market. It was a crepe (not the buckwheat kind I had in Paris, but the more conventional, bleached-wheat-and-egg kind) filled with crumbled mozzarella, fresh spinach, black olives, and diced tomatoes. I also ordered a side salad. The crepes aren't stuffed alarmingly full like they are in local breakfast eateries, but are instead more modestly sized (like they were in Paris), but very satisfying.

Dinner Friday had the potential for trauma: our phone line had gone down, and our DSL line went down at some point during the day, making it very difficult for me to figure out what the plan was for the four friends Steven planned to have over for dinner in the evening. I had e-mailed Steven a shopping list, since he got off work 3 hours before I did, so I figured he could gather the ingredients I needed before I arrived. That didn't happen. That stressed me out for a couple of reasons: there wasn't much in the house, and I pride myself on rather lavish food offerings, which would be impossible. Also, we were expecting a guest with an extreme wheat allergy, and everything I planned to make required the groceries Steven hadn't bought. And my back up plan, which was to have Thai food delivered from our favorite local place, wasn't possible with the phone down. (Pizza, which we could have ordered through the web, was off-limits because of its wheat.)

I arrived home to learn that Steven had done no shopping, and that both the DSL and phone remained completely down. I arrived about 40 minutes before our guests were supposed to arrive, and 10 minutes before the nearest market closed. It was a rather ridiculous scenario, and I felt rather helpless. Fate intervened in two ways: the allergic guest had canceled before I got home during a brief session of functioning DSL, and the other couple brought a ton of food!! So we had green spiral pasta in a chunky purchased sauce (which burned while staying warm in the oven, waiting for our guests; I should have instructed Steven on watching it more precisely), garlic-marinated olives, green olives with pimentos, fresh hot pepper strips (all items on hand), plus the items our guests brought: hummus and pita chips, guacamole with salsa on top, more olives, crisp banana chips, chocolate covered toasted edamame (soybeans), tortilla chips... Plus wine. We also had two kinds of ice cream in the house, which we had as dessert. And I cracked open the rum with pineapple in it that I've been aging for the last several months, and they helped me make a significant dent in it.


Remarkable, isn't it? It's remarkable that there were multiple islands, rather than one large one in the tub! (Or that I fit in the tub...) Many circumstances combined to make this such a face-stuffing week, but I am working on reducing that level of excess now that the weekend is here. Wish me luck!


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:02 PM

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Flying my Geek Flag High. YES! Yes! It is true! NaNoWriMo has author merit badges! (

I am SO ordering these. In fact, I just did. I can hardly wait to geek out one of my messenger bags.

Also, the t-shirts look really good again this year.

National Novel Writing Month is just weeks away!



posted by Arlene (Beth)11:00 PM

Monday, October 08, 2007


Mt. Diablo Challenge.

Arlene biking up Mt. Diablo, photograph © Doorstep Photography
Photo of me biking up Mt. Diablo, taken at Devil's Elbow by Doorstep Photography (, who sold me a lovely print. More of Doorstep's images from this event can be found here.

My employer was a major sponsor of the Mt. Diablo Challenge, a timed bike ride to the top of Mt. Diablo in the East Bay. Organized by Save Mount Diablo (, it is described thusly:
The Mount Diablo Challenge is a 10.8 mile timed bike ride, starting at Athenian School in Danville and climbing up Southgate Road 3,249 feet to the summit of Mount Diablo.
Somehow, my colleagues persuaded me that attending this event would be a good idea, even though I'd done so little riding since breaking my arm in May. When they persuaded me to sign up, I don't think I had done ANY riding, but October seemed like such a long way off...

I hadn't read about Bicycling magazine claiming it was one of the toughest bike ascents in the country. (Though I wouldn't have believed it. I mean, there are entire states like Colorado which are likely more difficult... Though perhaps they mean rides that people actually do?) I hadn't realized how few riders complete the event in under an hour, and how big a deal that is. I mean, it was obvious it was hard. But... it is HARD. (Duh.) I had signed up thinking it would be a social ride, and that we'd have half the day to complete it. Then someone took me aside and explained that people are SERIOUS about it.

That bled all of the 'fun' I'd been hoping for right out of it, and I began to dread it.

I did what any sensible gal who was recovering from a serious bike-wreck-surgery trauma would do: I rode my bike a little more. Just a little more. As in, the Mt. Diablo challenge was my 12th bike ride since I got back into the saddle post-surgery. It was only my third time on my road bike. (As a concession to the concept of training, I had taken my precious road bike on a single loop around the City, which I detailed for you with Gmap Pedometer in an earlier entry.) But that was it. I mean, biking remains kind of scary. One of life's greatest pleasures, but... also scary.

So off we went on the morning of October 7th, in the car (long before BART started running, ruining our chances of participating via transit), as the mountain got larger, and larger, and larger... I put a timing chip on my ankle, and instead of feeling excitement over participating in my first-ever timed athletic event, I felt something like a tagged bear.

Up. Up. Up. A little down - wheee! Up. Up. Up... I was determined to maintain a steady pace of around 6.5 miles per hour, and did so easily for the first six miles or so of the ride... And then the hill became very steep, and my nice plan fell apart.

But the views were lovely. Really lovely: rolling hills in all directions, with the view expanding farther and farther out with every turn in the road... And the other riders were friendly. Despite the competitive atmosphere, several riders gave me very cheerful words of encouragement.

At the beginning of mile 7, I pulled up to a woman who was biking with her daughter on a tag-along. I praised them for their strong pedaling, good form, and respectable pacing. The mother beamed at me and said, "Thank you." And after a pause, she added, "We're so lucky!"

It was an amazing thing to say while working so hard to bike up a mountain, but it was completely true. We are healthy enough to TRY biking up the mountain! The weather was beautiful! We were making good progress! We were there with friends and loved ones... And I was biking. With a functioning elbow (with a cool scar). On an arm that I can straighten out completely when I want to, something that had been in doubt for many months.

I said, "We ARE lucky," and kept on pedaling. (And pedaling. And pedaling.)

Despite my lack of preparation, I made it to the top. It took me 2 hours and 10 minutes. If I hadn't stopped at the water stops and taken a couple of stretching breaks, I could have worked that down by a few minutes, but not by much at my current, casual-cyclist fitness level. While other people were being very competitive about their time, or about beating their colleagues, or other such stuff, I was standing around, stretching my calves and thinking, I am so lucky to be alive! It's amazing that my elbow surgery went so well! It's amazing, considering my newly developed falling phobias, that I am able to ride today at all! And I made it to the top!

And then I hauled my falling phobia back down the hill on my road bike at 18 mph, riding my brakes hard all the way.


I am so happy! I am especially happy that the ride is OVER.

Steven, who participated (and came in at a very respectable time), suggested that I find a new job between now and this time next year, so that we're not obligated to participate again. :-)


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:18 PM

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mysteries of the Calendar. I am a busy person. I work full time; I have a long commute; I work on photography projects all hours of the day and night; I go to the movies; I attend live music shows; I hike; I go out to eat with friends; I maintain extensive correspondence with people who are dear to me. People often express shock that I "accomplish" so much, from making handmade photographic prints to writing novels for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) (

I do not have more available time than other people do: I just prioritize it differently. I "make" time for things that are important to me.

I enjoy spending time with friends, but many of my friends are difficult to get together with. They are also busy, and it can be complicated to schedule events where four or more of us can attend. Some of this is "real" business, and some of it is "imaginary" business. "Real" business is based on actual commitments; "imaginary" business is wishful-thinking about commitments which may or may not occur. An example of imagined business: a friend said she couldn't meet with our social group for the rest of the year on a certain day of the week because she was taking a business class in the evenings. When we finally got together a few months later, it turned out she had not been attending the class, but continued to insist that day of the week was unavailable... because of the class, which she wasn't attending. So we'd been working around an imaginary obstacle all of that time.

I have two groups of friends that have a great reluctance to schedule events with any specificity: they like to say 'let's do lunch,' and sincerely seem to enjoy lunch when it is 'done,' but it's very difficult to get them to that point. They know how to reject dates, but can never propose them: somehow, only I am imbued with that power. Without describing any particular social group, and with no intended disrespect to anyone in particular, I provide a sample conversation:

1: I miss you kids! We should get together for lunch again!
Me: What a great idea! How about Saturday?
2: Oh, I can't do this Saturday.
Me: Okay, how about the next Saturday?
1: Oh, I can't go then. Relatives are visiting.
Me: No problem. What day can you gals come out to lunch?
3: Hey! I just saw all of your e-mails. Next Saturday doesn't work for me, either - I might have to give a lecture that day.
Me: Okay. What day works for you? Should we try dinner instead, maybe on Thursday? Or some other day that works for you?
1: Oh, I'm busy Thursday.
Me: [throws up hands]

One week later:

1: Why don't we ever get together?

With the folks who are worth the effort, I sometimes send wedding-RSVP-form invitations, if wedding RSVP forms permitted rescheduling:
"Ladies! Let's go out for drinks on the Xth!" Please reply:
___ Yes! I can attend.
___ No, I cannot attend, and counterpropose that we go out on __________.
___ No, I cannot attend: please go out without me.
Yes, as you suspect, the really serious dodgers won't answer the question... but they weren't going to attend anyway, and didn't want the rest of the group going out without them! The fun folks who really want to go out propose dates, and the events actually happen, which makes it worth the trouble of sending out such silly invitations.

Friends, even/especially busy friends, are great company.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:41 PM

Monday, October 01, 2007


Gmap Pedometer is a fun toy!

I enjoy biking, hiking, and walking, and so I tend to underestimate the distance that I travel. Everything seems pretty close to everything else. 14 miles is a completely reasonable distance to hike in a day. It is reasonable to walk 4 miles just for the heck of it.

Now that I have a "bike computer" - an odometer - on my road bike, I'm learning that many places I go are farther away in miles then I tend to think. I used to routinely tell people that I lived just 5 miles from my office, when it turned my most direct route was more than 7 miles, and I often took a 10.5-mile scenic route to get there. (Those distances are one way, of course.)

My bike computer changed my perception of distance in a good way.

gmap-pedometer ( is another tool that is great for developing more accurate perceptions of distance. I've been using it to figure out how far I travel on my foldie, which doesn't have a bike computer on it. This tool has all the wonderful functionality of Google maps (, but you can set it on "record" and double-click through a route, and it will both map your route in a way you can save and share with others AND it will measure out the distance. The measurements are about as good as you make them: I tend to be unwilling to zoom in and deal with every little corner, so I cheat myself out of some distance. But it is a great tool.

I took a loop around the City on Sunday, and it is mapped here. (Note: I didn't actually start and stop it where I live. So there.) I didn't zoom in as much as I could have to map things like curves more accurately - I literally cut some corners - which cheated me out of nearly a mile that shows up on my bike computer, but this is still a fabulous representation of the trip, and a pretty good estimate of it, despite my lackadaisacal mapping effort.

I suppose this means that, if my favorite backpacking places are ever mapped by Google maps in high enough resolution, I'll be able to provide links to my routes quite precisely.

I can see myself happily wasting weeks of my life with this wonderful tool.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:30 PM


Parkmerced Farmer's Market

assorted sliced heirloom tomatoesSaturday I went for a walk at Parkmerced, which is a retro-cool, rather strange apartment development near Lake Merced in San Francisco. It's probably the closest thing SF has to a "planned residential community," and it has always struck me as rather foreign. There are a few high rise apartment towers with a radial structure (the wings all meet in a center core), surrounded by wide lawns and low-rise stucco dwellings with wholly alien architectural details. They are in the process of repainting the complex, and I went to shoot photos in both color and black and white of some of the buildings.

While I was there, I happened upon the Parkmerced Farmer's Market (, a small, well-stocked open air market which says runs "Saturdays, 10 am - 2 pm, June - October." I can't resist a farmer's market - when can you ever have enough fresh fruit and veggies? So I let go of my camera and bought some produce.

The market had about a dozen stands. In contrast to the huge overflowing boxes and piles of produce at Alemany, or the abundance of woven baskets at Ferry Plaza, Parkmerced's market was about tidy, rather artful arrangements of fruits and veggies on tablecloths (also known as nice tarps). There were cut flowers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peaches, plums, nectarines, heirloom tomatoes, baby bok choy and several other Asian veggies, sweet and hot peppers, lettuces, leeks, potatoes, melons, long eggplant, and those lovely green and white eggplant that look like they are painted... Every booth sold several items, the way you'd like to imagine small, well-run, diversified farms do, and so there was a good selection.

Since I was there on a photography mission and didn't have a big canvas bag, I went easy. I got heirloom tomatoes (just $2.50 a pound) of five different varieties, including an apricot-colored tomato that is nearly solid and seedless (see inset photo for a range of the colors); fresh lettuce; leeks (since a friend recently gave me a butternut squash, I figure I'll dice the squash and bake it with leeks and garlic in parchment on a cool night); peaches (ENORMOUS, late season peaches, with good texture but very mild flavor); and pale green pluots. Then, I resumed taking photos, which was slightly trickier with my hands full of produce bags, but I did okay.

The market is just a short walk from the M streetcar, the 29 Sunset, the 28, and the 17 Parkmerced - in fact, the 17 stops just across the street from the market - so close, you could hit the bus with a peach, if you tried, but that would be a waste of a good peach. Considering the size of these peaches, you might also pull a muscle throwing one.


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:49 PM

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