Ascetics Make Better Travelers

I’ve always had an ascetic streak that strives to overcome my love of clothes and home furnishings and food. When Todd and I went on our Twelve Cities, 1 Year tour in 2011, it was ascendant, as you can see from the photo below, taken in Missoula. After selling our house and downsizing quite a bit, we lived with those possessions for six months. We stored furniture and books in a storage unit, but we didn’t actually break out our dining room table until February 2013, when we rented an apartment in Boulder.12cities1year unloaded July 2011

And since then, my desire to minimize has been winning, at least in the area of clothes and books and furniture. Eating out, not so much.

Every time I go into our tiny closet in our bedroom, I compare the number of shirts Todd has hanging there with those I have, and I think, “I really need more shirts. And not just T-shirts.” But I put off shopping. If I do shop, I often go to Ross or the Goodwill on South Broadway. I haven’t paid full price for a pair of jeans since 2011, partly because my weight keeps changing, and partly because Todd and I have this question we ask each other, “Can you take that to Mongolia?” More on that later.

The process of reducing our possessions so that they could fit into a Prius changed something in me. I don’t see myself having a house bigger than 1,500 square feet, or spending tens of thousands on a kitchen remodel, or buying a houseful of expensive furniture. Don’t get me wrong—I can lust after the displays in Crate and Barrel or an antique store with the best of them. When it comes to laying down the cash, though, I’m not as interested, and that has more to do with my avoidance of waste than anything else.

If I can find what I like second-hand, I will. Usually, it takes more time because multiples of what I want don’t exist, and so I have to visit more stores. It’s also more difficult to fill a room with matching furniture. But it can be done, over time and with persistence. And I feel better about decorating my home that way than I do when buying a bunch of new things. There is so much stuff in America, so much of which is thrown away—I don’t want to add to the pile.

When Todd and I go shopping together, we try to avoid buying more items we’ll have to store during our trip to Asia in 2015–2016. Sometimes we’ll tease each other: “Will that fit in a backpack?” “Can you use it in Mongolia?” Our current itinerary has us going to Mongolia in the summer of 2016, so who knows if we’ll even get there. But that’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.


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Birds and BBQ Sauce

Today is the first warm day in Denver since Sunday, and by warm I mean 43 degrees Fahrenheit. I actually opened the windows because my apartment wanted fresh air. Alas, it’s not going to last: Tomorrow both the high and the low will be 20 degrees, and it’s going to snow.

Cold makes me nostalgic and restless, so I began looking through travel photos, and I found three to remind me that warmth can always be found somewhere, if only in a camera sensor.

B's Barbecue sauce, Greenville, NC October 2012

Just looking at the vinegary barbecue sauce makes me feel warmer. This photo was taken at B’s Barbecue in Greenville, North Carolina.

B's Barbecue takeout line, Greenville, NC October 2012

As you can see, it was a popular place in October 2012. And judging from the shorts, a warm place.

It’s true we’re in for lots more cold in Denver, since it’s not even the winter solstice yet. But eventually the days will lengthen, and before you know it we’ll be thinking of love rather than layers. Like these two coots in St. James’s Park. He brought her a stick. How cute.

Coots building nest, St. James's Park, London, UK, April 2014

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American Winter Film Is Passionate and Devastating

American Winter is a film about families working their butts off to survive in an economy

that is supposedly recovering. Todd and I went to see it last Thursday at Regis University, where Energy Outreach Colorado had arranged a screening, and both of us thought it was a good film. Directors Joe and Harry Gantz listened to 211 calls in Portland to find the families they profiled. The parents in the movie get laid off and find new jobs that pay much less, they try to take care of their sick children, they cope with having their water and power turned off—one family even moved in with parents.

At times the film is heartbreaking, at other times inspiring. One girl had a chronic stomach problem, and because her mother was briefly out of work during her illness, the family received a $49,000 doctor’s bill. A man who was desperate for work so that his wife would not be the sole breadwinner was fired by a racist boss. He did finally get a reasonably well-paying job after someone recognized him from this film.

One theme running through the movie and the talk afterward was the ugly turn in attitudes toward the poor. Americans tend to blame the poor and homeless for their problems instead of considering how much housing costs have risen or how most of the new jobs created since 2008 are service jobs that pay minimum wage or a little better. I blame Reagan for this turn of events; he encouraged contempt for the poor with his talk of “welfare queens,” and it has only gotten worse since he left the presidency.

Federal Utility Assistance, 2009–2013While doing research for the film, the Gantz brothers found that more than 1 in 4 workers in the private sector earn less than $10 per hour. When was the last time you tried to live on so little? Do you think you could make it, here in Denver where the vacancy rate for rentals is very low and costs are high?

What people don’t get is that “helping a poor family isn’t an act of charity. It’s converting a family you have to support into a family that can buy things from your company.”

Energy Outreach Colorado is a nonprofit that helps people pay their utility bills. The graph above shows the decline in federal funding for groups such as EOC—during a terrible recession.

The 211 service refers callers to organizations that provide a variety of services, including paying utility bills and finding housing. There is a 211 line in Denver staffed by people trained to find services in your part of the metro area, as well as a mobile phone app.

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Finding Birds in Asia

Yesterday I began what I quickly realized would be a gargantuan task: deciding where to bird on our trip to Asia.

I typed “Birding Asia” into Google, and the first site that came up was Oriental Bird Club (not the most politically correct name). On one page I found links to bird clubs from Japan, India, Cambodia, and many more. OBC Screen Shot 2

Given that there are some 10,000 bird species in the world (and about twice that many subspecies, with birding organizations splitting and combining species all the time), I suppose I should set a goal. But should it be to see certain spectacular species, or the ordinary ones that will be much easier to find? Should it involve a number?

I’m tempted to buy a book: not a field guide, but a book similar to our First-Time Asia travel guide, only designed for birders. Until I find one, I will keep looking on the Internet for something that will give me a way into this overwhelming research project.


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Schedule Social Time to Avoid Loneliness While Traveling

Loneliness was often my companion on my trip to England in April 2014. I had not expected that.

Once there, I realized the obvious: the system in which I was enmeshed from October 1982 through July 1983 no longer existed. I was not an exchange student, so there were no fellow students to greet, and, in fact, it’s a little weird to be on campus if you’re not a student, a parent, staff, or faculty. The English friends and faculty I knew in the 1980s had left the University of Sussex or did not respond to my emails. I was pretty much on my own. The only friend I saw in England was one I knew from Colorado.

What’s a traveler to do to stave off loneliness? Schedule time with other people.

Besides dinner with my Colorado friend, I toured Brighton with a greeter and went on a literary tour of Hampstead Village and Heath that was most amusing, mentioning both Keats and Goldfinger, as well as scads of other writers and artists. The guide was well informed and charming, though how anyone talks that fast for two hours I’ll never know. It’s perfect for introverts like me: you can chat with the guide a bit and with other people on the tour if you feel energetic. And it was nice to stroll through a green space after navigating the crowds in Brighton and London.

This picture shows a watering hole near Hampstead Heath, originally spring-fed and designed so that carriages could be driven through it, giving the horses a drink and washing the wheels at the same time. Hampstead Heath Drive-In Watering Hole, London, April 2014 (1)

Volunteering is another good way to avoid loneliness. When I was researching my trip last spring, I looked at websites for the Land Trust, the National Trust, and the Conservation Volunteers (TCV). I decided against it, and certainly in Brighton I had no time for volunteering. But I do wish I’d set up something in London, perhaps helping with an urban gardening project or meeting some members of Transition, the re-skilling movement that began in the UK.

If you don’t want to work on your trip, consider getting lodging through AirBnB. My host in London was very nice, though she was hardly ever at home, but the first woman I queried about a room made time to sit down with her guests over a glass of wine. Or, you can sign up for Couchsurfers and find options for a place to stay or just some conversation over coffee or lunch.

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Pallet Fest: Denver’s First UpCycle Festival

I love buying upcycled goods. For example, a quilt. Or this shelf produced by Habitat for Humanity Colorado’s ReBuild program for less than $50. Pallet Fest shelves Oct 2014

Upcycled items tend to be quirky AND utilitarian. My personal favorites include a red leather backpack made from a skirt, a picture frame made from a mountain bike tire, a pendant featuring a SHIFT typewriter key. So, you see, upcycling takes trash and transforms it into something unexpected. Pallet Fest vendors Oct 2014When I found out about Pallet Fest 2014: Denver’s First Upcycle Festival, I was elated, but when the weekend came, all I could think about was how to work a visit to Gateaux Specialty Cakes and Pastries into my coverage of the festival. In the end I left for the festival after Gateaux had closed for the weekend, forgoing the pastry bites I was craving and the early afternoon events at Pallet Fest. I missed the pallet build-off, the Parkour demonstrations, and several bands, and skipped the pallet maze.

Despite dillydallying (and uploading photos to a stock website), I still arrived at the lawn in front of the Denver Performing Arts Complex in time for the fashion show, a visit to the vendors, and the concert by Shel. Not every outfit in the fashion show was suitable attire for an interview, but all of them were unique, and some were quite beautiful. After the show, I wandered into Kurious Koncepts’ booth and purchased a flared cardigan pieced together from three different sweaters. It was reasonably priced at $65. (You can buy her creations on Etsy or at the Blue Chair in Englewood.)

Pallet Fest fashion show 2 Oct 2014 Pallet Fest fashion show 1 Oct 2014










The day ended with a concert by Fort Collins band SHEL, consisting of four sisters (Sarah, Hannah, Eva, and Liza) on instruments including drums, keyboards, mandolin, and violin. Described as “chamber-grass” and “infectious pop-folk” on their website, they moved easily from a cover of “The Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin to an acoustic original song as their encore. In one song, Sarah’s classically trained voice was on full display, and toward the end of the evening, Liza demonstrated her talent for beatbox.Pallet Fest SHEL Oct 2014

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A Room with a Lift. And Art.

How could a lover of Jane Austen’s works not stay in Regency Square when visiting Brighton? Especially as it was the site of the army camp mentioned by Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice?Regency Square closer in Brighton, UK April 2014 I didn’t go looking for Austen connections, though. I was in England to revisit the year I spent studying abroad at the University of Sussex, and I wanted something near the sea and relatively close to the station and The Lanes. The Artist Residence fit the bill and got good reviews. AND it had a lift. Mind you, it could only fit two people and two to four small bags, but you didn’t have to climb all the stairs (some of them rather steep and short and dark) unless you really wanted exercise. (I asked not to have a room in the basement, so I got one on the top floor.)Artist Residence 2 Brighton April 2014 The website does a good job of “uniting truth and [accurate descriptions of the rooms] in a few short sentences.” Mine was a “small arty double,” which was true, especially of the bathroom, but I could hear seagulls calling through the window, hang up my clothes on the pegs, and sit in the orange chair to work. I admired the efficiency of the space and the mural by Peel. (I was less excited about the art in the hallways.) One morning when I was using my computer in my room, the fire alarm kept going off (that’s how I found out about the stairs), due to dust raised by construction work in the basement. Other than that and the somewhat thin walls, it was a comfortable room, all for about $600 for five nights. Artist Residence 3 Brighton April 2014 Artist Residence 4 Brighton April 2014I loved the breakfasts, included in the price of the room. I had the scrambled eggs with roasted tomatoes one day and the granola another, plus hot chocolate and coffee. Artist Residence breakfast room, Brighton, UK April 2014Artist Residence breakfast granola, Brighton, UK April 2014The            breakfast room occupies most of the main floor and is a well-lit, cheerful place, looking out on Regency Square and the sea. I was surprised to see palm trees in Brighton. I don’t remember them being there thirty years ago, nor do I remember the West Pier (behind the lamp), which was destroyed by storms sometime after the 1980s. (I do remember the Palace Pier farther east, now renamed Brighton Pier.)

Artist Residence view from breakfast room, Brighton, UK April 2014 From the front door, it was a few minutes to theArtist Residence 1 Brighton April 2014 (pebbly) beach, and about twenty minutes  east along the seafront to The Lanes, where I used to get lost on a regular basis. Walking to the train station would take about thirty minutes, much of it uphill, but you can walk up Preston Street (west of the square) to Western Road and catch a bus to the station there. Preston has a lot of restaurants, including a pub and an Indian restaurant, and Western Road features Sainsbury’s (grocer), Foodilic (fresh buffet), a bookstore where I bought a field guide to English birds, and much much more.

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Outer Banks Before the Storm

In October 2012, after spending time with friends and family in NYC, DC, and Virginia Beach (and visiting the ponies at Chincoteague), Todd and I headed off the mainland to the Outer Banks. Staying there had long been a dream of mine, and our week there was pretty much perfect, except for the lack of great places to eat. I got up about 5 a.m. one morning to photograph the sunrise. Here is a “late sunrise” photograph.Sunrise, Kill Devils Hills, Outer Banks, NC Oct 2012The Outer Banks are home to some otherworldly creatures, such as the horseshoe crab below. I didn’t find any that were living in this dimension. Horseshoe crab with tail and shadow, Outer Banks, NC, Oct 2012The Wright Brothers memorial and a striped lighthouse (not pictured) were Todd’s picks.Wright Brothers memorial, Outer Banks, NC Oct 2012I went down to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge twice, once with Todd (we had a dispute over when and how much to bird, which is nothing new), and by myself onTodd at Pea Island NWR, Outer Banks, NC Oct 2012the last morning of our stay, just as Hurricane Sandy was coming in. If we had not crossed back to the mainland before noon on October 26, 2012, we would have been stranded on the Outer Banks during Sandy, and the Prius most likely would have been ruined. Sandy with raindrops on lens, Outer Banks, NC Oct 2012We were lucky to get out when we did. But a week was not enough for me. I will definitely go back.

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Nonstop Music at Riot Fest

Concert photography is fun and I haven’t done much lately (only here and there since Bumbershoot in 2011), so Riot Fest seemed like a great opportunity to practice and to try out Todd’s Nikon Coolpix P7000, a point-and-shoot I would be allowed to carry into the concert (since I hadn’t gotten a press badge). Even though I couldn’t figure out how to set it to raw files (Todd swears it can be done with this camera), I still got some cool shots, and the faraway pictures of the Cure and other bands came out much sharper than I expected.

That is good, since I picked Saturday over Sunday (when more bands I know were playing) so that I could see the Cure. Their set was exactly what a friend told me it would be: great musicianship but not much interaction. I think Robert Smith spoke about 10 words during the entire two-and-a-half-hour performance, and several of those were the names of songs.

But the day was long and I heard several interesting bands from  1 to 9:30 pm on Saturday: Dum Dum Girls (think Siouxsie and the Banshees), Strung Out (metal-rock-punk), Clutch (liked the blues-rock riffs but not the aggression), Taking Back Sunday (melodic and atmospheric), and the Used. Glassjaw and Frnkiero andthe Cellabration (not a typo) did little but scream, the Descendents did nothing for me, and Social Distortion, according to my concert companion, were much more mellow than usual.

After looking at all my photos of the Dum Dum Girls, I noticed they have matching guitars. My concert companion thought their songs all sounded the same, but I liked their set, and a discography dating back to 2008 has to offer lots of variety.

She was much more interested in the Clutch. I enjoyed them as well but wasn’t sure what to think of the songs/videos I found on YouTube.

I liked Taking Back Sunday and the Used but was so far away that I didn’t take many photographs. Sometimes I get so caught up in photography that I just keep snapping away and then later realize that I experienced the event through a lens. Not good.

About the only suggestion I have for Riot Fest Denver is to separate the stages more. As my concert companion noted, it would be nice to be able to get away from the music for 10 or 15 minutes. We were both impressed by the almost impeccable timing of bands—there were two pairs of stages separated by food vendors and so on, and the instant one band stopped playing, another band started up on the other stage in each pair. Only two bands overlapped that I heard: the Clutch drowned out the last song by Dum Dum Girls, and A Day to Remember sometimes intruded on the Cure’s set.

Two things are certain: 1. The air-conditioned trailer bathrooms in VIP were definitely worth the extra $40 or so. Just one experience in the nearly full VIP port-o-potties convinced me of that. (But don’t try to sneak OUT of the VIP area. Security will materialize and speak sternly to you.)

2. I have a lot of listening to do.



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Planning to Make Travel into Work

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Isn’t travel all about getting away?

My husband and I are planning our trip to Asia in 2015–2016. Still planning . . . it seems that we’ve been at it forever, and we don’t even have much of an itinerary. Right now we’re debating whether to start in Japan or the Philippines. We think it might be best to meet up with someone we know and get a soft introduction to Asia. But if that doesn’t work out, we could always find a tour or stay with a family somewhere.Rough Guide First-Time Asia

Today I was reading articles by female solo travelers. There are a lot of them out there, including Solo Female Traveler, which appears to be on hiatus; Adventurous Kate; the Gypsy Gals; and others. There are also many blogs about married travelers: Married with Luggage; Beers and Beans; and my personal favorite, Almost Fearless, about a couple and their two kids.

All these sites offer travel advice and resources for travelers. But what I was thinking about was more personal: How am I going to turn travel into work or, to put it more pleasantly, into a living? Adventurous Kate’s description of her work life made me think that if I haven’t made any money as a travel blogger yet, I probably won’t. Perhaps that’s too negative, especially since I haven’t been traveling all that much in the years since I started this blog in 2008.

Wait, you say, what about those six months on the road in 2011 and the three in 2012? The housesitting in 2014? The only solo trip I’ve ever done—to High Island, Texas, and back, in 2007? I know that’s more travel that many people manage in six years. But it’s still not as much as I want, and I definitely have a huge list of places to see! So what kind of work could I do to satisfy my urge to travel? I can think of several options.

1. Keep on copyediting. Meh. I’ve been doing that for more than twenty years, and I’m good at it, but I really want to move on.

2. Get a job in between travels and save money for, say two years. That might work, especially if I got a well-paying job, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a full-time office job, and I would really rather have a job that keeps me moving. Copyediting involves far too much sitting and looking at a computer.

3. Make money as a photographer. So far this hasn’t been working, though I have not been promoting my photography site, Beth Partin Photos. I am excited about taking photographs while we’re traveling and promoting and selling them, but I don’t know how much money I will be able to earn.

4. Make money as a freelance writer. This is not as easy as it used to be (not that it was ever easy). I think I could make money this way, but again, it takes time.

5. Become a kind of green consultant. One of my big dreams is to combine travel and restoration (see the tagline of this site), by seeking out groups in other countries that are restoring their local environment. I’m especially interested in women who are doing restoration. If I could become an expert on this subject, I might be approached to write articles or even go on trips. At home, I could do things like helping people move without creating a lot of trash.

I know Todd would really like it if I could make more money, a lot more money, so that he could explore what he wants to do as well.



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Bring On the Pollinators (Bees, Hummingbirds, etc.)

With the change in the weather—it may snow tonight in Denver—I found myself thinking about pollinators and how all of us on the High Plains can do a little something to keep up their numbers by spreading a table for them.

The food on that table? Pollen and nectar from native plants (and some non-natives). When I started making a list of the best plants for pollinators, I thought of rabbitbrush (see below) and Western sage (Artemisia), both of them fall bloomers. Both these plants are perennials and can grow quite large, though rabbitbrush can be cut back to a foot above the ground in the winter to keep it compact. 2794 rabbitbrush 2 bees 2 Oct 2010And if you want to attract hummingbirds, agastache (hummingbird mint or hyssop) is a good bet for feeding them in their end-of-summer migration.

Working backward in terms of bloom time, fernbush will produce flowers from June on and, in the winter, will look more or less evergreen. Common milkweed blooms in early summer and is an essential plant for monarch butterflies (especially the caterpillar).

One of my favorite plants, and one I am sure you have seen blooming in June in the foothills of the Front Range, is Penstemon strictus (Rocky Mountain beardtongue). Native to this area, its tubular blue flowers bloom profusely and attract all manner of insects. Best of all, it’s easy to grow and will spread to some extent, though it is not truly invasive.Ladybug convention 1

These plants are suitable for southwestern or drought-tolerant gardens. If you find that type of garden too austere, you could look for plants adapted to Mediterranean climates, such as cooking sage (Salvia). Vegetable gardeners who are willing to let broccoli go to seed will find that bees love its yellow blooms.

Note: Since I live in an apartment, I am not gardening now, but for 15 years I did work to convert my yard in Broomfield to native plants. I have not grown fernbush or common milkweed, sadly. (I did plant swamp milkweed, but it didn’t do well.) I planted a lead plant (false indigo) along the fence in my yard the year before we moved, and I’m not sure what happened to it. The yard has become overgrown, and I can’t find the lead plant now.

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Subtleties of Indonesian at Warung Tujuh, Brighton

Two days after I landed in England, I strolled along the seafront to East Street (the original eastern boundary of Brighton), turned north, went down the second righthand alley, and ended up at a small Indonesian restaurant recommended by staff at the Artist Residence. Just a little farther down that alley is Pool Valley, a road that was built over a pool at the end of one of the valleys that run toward the sea here. In the vicinity of the pool the original fishing village grew up, a sleepy place until it was discovered and turned into a resort town in the 1700s. As Lydia Bennet says of Brighton in Pride and Prejudice (1813), “A little sea-bathing would set me up forever.”

In April, however, eating inside is much more comfortable than swimming in the sea, and the quiet late lunch I had enhanced that feeling. Warung Tujuh interior Brighton UK April 2014Warung Tujuh literally means “Stall 7,” a “Warung” being a stall that sells street food in Indonesia, and “Tujuh” (Toojoo) meaning 7. There was only one other group in the restaurant, and the waiter was tall and handsome. When I asked him to recommend something adventurous, he didn’t really seem to get what I meant and pointed out the popular dishes. Everything I ordered had a subtle blend of flavors, and although the Sambal Tempe Teri had the most heat, it was by no means hot.

After some consultation with the waiter, I chose Sate Lilit for a starter, a Balinese dish made from ground swordfish and seasonings grilled over charcoal on a lemongrass skewer. The swordfish cake tasted smoky and had a firm texture, but I noticed that the Sambal Oelek—a basic Sambal (condiment) made of chiles, vinegar, and salt that may be in your refrigerator right now—was mild. Perhaps it was the tourist Sambal?Warung Tujuh Sate Lilit Brighton UK April 2014

Ikan Bumbu Bali came next, a pan-fried sea bream covered with a Bumbu (spice mixture) sauce consisting of tamarind, turmeric, sweet soya sauce, candlenut (so called because the fruit can be burned like a candle), lemongrass, and shallots. The much milder sea bream, moist with a light crust, went well with the tangy sweet-sour sauce.Warung Tujuh Ikan Bumbu Bali Brighton UK April 2014

I should have stopped with those two dishes, but the Sambal Tempe Teri sounded so good that I had to try it. The subtle anchovy taste withstood the medium heat, and the crunchy bits of tempe contrasted with the softer textures of the rest of the meal.Warung Tujuh Sambal Tempe Teri Brighton UK April 2014

Toward the end of the meal, the waiter asked me if I was traveling alone, and I said yes, I had wanted to try traveling alone in a familiar place before I went to Asia in 2015. He said he would be too lonely traveling alone. At this point I was the only lunch customer left, and the sound system was playing hip-hop. Warung Tujuh, unlike some other restaurants, did not add a tip to the bill, but I left him one anyway, and made my way down East Road toward the Lanes and the Royal Pavilion, turning once to look back at the sea.East Street, The Lanes, Brighton, UK April 2014

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It’s California Everywhere You Look

Less than a week ago I left the Bay Area for my little apartment in Denver, and here I am ensconced on the red secondhand couch, writing to you.

What I took away from California most of all is the landscapes—such a diversity of them. And I don’t just mean beautiful views, like this one from the Sweet Springs Trail in Portola Valley. Sweet Springs trail one tree and sky San Francisco Aug 2014I mean this man, sitting in Clarion Alley off Valencia Street, asking plaintively, “Do you wanna listen to a song I wrote?” Nobody did. I’m not sure any of the people checking out the murals in the alley even answered him.Clarion Alley singer looking toward Valencia San Francisco Aug 2014The panhandlers along Valencia and Mission struck me as different from Denver panhandlers—more aggressive, perhaps, or just more out there. But this man (also pictured below) was trying to make a trade and finding no takers.Clarion Alley singer looking away from Valencia San Francisco Aug 2014

The most intriguing landscapes in the Bay Area, in my opinion, were the edges where the bay met industrial areas. I visited two: Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, which is the site of a restoration project by local group Literacy for Environmental Justice, and Bedwell Bayfront Park. I walked around both parks, and was intrigued to find that so many of the people at Bayfront Park were Latino, whereas most of the people I saw at Candlestick were African American. These two places aren’t really that far from each other—perhaps half an hour’s drive—but I guess they really are neighborhood parks.

I worked in the native plant nursery at Candlestick for a few hours one Saturday, and when I walked along the water afterward, my stomach rumbled at the smell of the barbecue. I thought of begging for some. At Bayfront, by contrast, I arrived near sunset, and people were jogging, walking their dogs, and strolling with their families. Bedwell Bayfront Park sunset with ducks, San Francisco, Aug 2014Even the ducks were out for a swim.

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Candlestick Point Eco-Stewards

For 20 years now I’ve been volunteering for groups that do eco-restoration, and lately I’ve decided to go beyond volunteering and write about the work of others, to spread the word about intriguing restoration projects wherever I find them.

And last week that was southeast San Francisco, and Candlestick Point Eco-Stewards (CPE). A project of Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ), Candlestick Point Eco-Stewards are working to restore the ecology of Candlestick Point State Recreation Area (California’s first urban park, founded in 1979), with an eye toward fostering community and giving families in that community a beautiful place to hang out, have picnics and barbecue, and learn about native plants and animals.

Last Saturday I met Anthony Khalil at the Candlestick Point ranger office, which is north of the picnic areas and south of Yosemite Canal. Here is a courtyard between the ranger building and the community garden.Candlestick Point State Recreation Area courtyard at HQ, August 2014Anthony has been with LEJ for more than ten years, and he emphasized that CPE sprang from the southeast San Francisco community surrounding Candlestick Stadium. LEJ and California State Parks recently garnered a $1 million grant from California’s Strategic Growth Council. That money will help to expand the community garden pictured below and teach more young people about restoring habitats at Candlestick. (You can find more about the park’s history on the Candlestick Point Eco-Stewards’ website.)

Anthony and I and three local kids whom CPE pays to help with its restoration work got to work around 11 am. Through CPE, these kids have gained years of experience working with native plants like the ones shown here in the native plant nursery. Candlestick Point State Recreation Area native plant nursery at HQ, August 2014I was grateful for their expertise. The two young women and I transplanted wild strawberry rootlings into flats filled with gravel, while Anthony and the young man went off to move tables into the new area for the native plant nursery. Next we pried purple needle grass seedlings (California’s state grass) out of their soil flat and lowered their long roots into tubes like these.

Candlestick Point State Recreation Area native plant nursery at HQ, purple needle grass and others, August 2014We used the green chopstick below —or “dibbler,” as Anthony jokingly called it—to loosen up the soil and guide the roots into their new homes. Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, native plant nursery, plant ago planting, at HQ, August 2014Later I transplanted Plantago, or plantain (Wikipedia calls it a fleawort), a local succulent that has the same name as the plant that produces the fruit we like to eat and looks like thick curly grass, pale green. The transplants on this side of the white lid are Plantago; some yarrow is growing in the top right of the picture.

Toward the end of the workday, mid-afternoon, a few gardeners showed up to work in their plots (below, with a view of the bay beyond them), and I met Patrick, who has been with LEJ a few years longer than Anthony. While I transplanted Plantago, Anthony helped the three interns finish the needle grass. Then they watered the transplants, cleaned off the table we were using, and moved it to the new nursery area.Candlestick Point State Recreation Area community garden at HQ, August 2014

Anthony gave me a brochure for the state recreation area (SRA), and I went to explore. Near Yosemite Canal I found a low-lying area mostly planted and watered by an irrigation system. I was not familiar with the plants I saw there, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of birds around, so I drove a few blocks south to the main parking lot and started checking out the rest of Candlestick Point. The southern part of the SRA is opposite the stadium.

Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, view of Candlestick Stadium, August 2014On my walk, I saw huge wild fennel plants with yellow flowers. If you follow the path below to the right, it leads to several sheltered picnic areas. Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, wild fennel plant with cormorant on SF Bay, August 2014Birds included a pelagic cormorant, a Brandt’s cormorant (I think), Western gulls and other gulls, and barn swallows.Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, view of San Francisco Bay, August 2014

I want to find a place like Candlestick where I can be involved for a long time and learn all about planting techniques. I really like doing this nursery work.


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Home, Sweet Farm Stand

On Bastille Day (July 14), Denver City Council amended the zoning code to allow Denver homeowners and renters to sell raw, uncut or unbagged produce and cottage foods (e.g.,  jams and certain baked goods) from their homes and apartments (though that would require approval of the property management company, I expect).

So put that chicken coop in your tiny backyard and get ready to sell eggs. But don’t bother getting a pygmy goat; you can’t sell milk or butter or cheese.

I think it would be wonderful if adult versions of lemonade stands sprouted on Capitol Hill streets. Commuters might not even mind a traffic jam if they could pick up veggies for dinner on the way home.

Here is Denver’s guide to getting started in this new “home occupation.” Occupy eggs?


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Funny Signs, Brighton and Surrey

It was hard to ignore this sign along Brighton Beach, advertising a race to raise money for research about testicular cancer. I don’t think you’d see this wording in the United States.Big Balls 1 Brighton Beach UK April 2014 And the sign below from Surrey is another example of the little differences: “clamped” instead of “booted.”Clamped sign Surrey UK April 2014

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Terre à Terre: Vegetarian Culinary Art

Terre à Terre is plain inside, with wood floors, tables, and chairs and red walls. Even the menu carries on the theme.

Terre a Terre menus Brighton, UK, April 2014It sits on the ground floor of one of Brighton’s ubiquitous row houses and heads east from East Street, which runs north-south but refers to the eastern edge of the original Brighton, on the southeast coast of England. In essence, it’s a shotgun restaurant with housing on top in a warren of narrow twisty streets called The Lanes.

Terre a Terre prix fixe menu Brighton, UK, April 2014The all-vegetarian menu might be described as “good plain fare” at Terre a Terre exterior Brighton, UK, April 2014first glance: my meal included Welsh Rarebit and English muffins, but even the dessert listed six distinct elements. The Full Set menu was the easiest choice, though it was quite a lot for one person.

I began with Brûlée Vous, which mixed Grana Padano into a bay cream under a gingerbread crumb topping that was difficult to cut in the tallish container.  It had a delicate, silky texture and taste. The baby English muffins were a nice touch, though the berry muffins were a bit too sweet.Terre a Terre Brûlée Vous, Brighton, UK, April 2014

The main course, Run, Rarebit, Run, was robust and sharp, with local Sussex cheddar and Sheep’s Nose cider over cornbread laced with mustard grains. I loved the carrot three ways (raw, roasted, and salt-baked) and the humorous use of carrot tops in the cornbread and yogurt. Add mounds of pickled caraway purée and tamari pumpkin seeds and you can see why I was tired by the end of this meal. It was a study in orange, a joyous riot of flavor and texture. Terre a Terre Run Rarebit Run, Brighton, UK, April 2014

I was encouraged to choose Churrosimo for dessert, but I had watched the people next door wade through it and knew it would be too much. I chose Miss Marble, whose trio of ices was a good way to settle my stomach, which has never liked cheese as much as my mouth does. The pistachio wafers and the clementine spice ice were dull, but the lemon and coconut ices were good, and the fizzy “sparkles” (Pop Rocks?) were a fun way to end the meal.Terre a Terre Pudding Options, Miss Marble, Brighton, UK, April 2014

I had chosen a seat at the back of the restaurant, near the patio that wasn’t in much use on this breezy spring day. When I arrived the place was about half-empty, but then it filled up and I began to wish I had sat at the bar. Two couples came and went at the next table, but it wasn’t the sort of place where you chat with your neighbors. My servers were as attentive as time allowed, but nothing could have matched the service I received at Warung Tujuh, an Indonesian restaurant down the same road that was quiet the day I arrived and staffed by a dreamily handsome waiter.

If you go to Terre à Terre, I suggest ordering à la carte and bringing a friend to share the desserts.

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Urban Farming at Denver Public Schools

Last Saturday I spent a morning helping Groundwork Denver and Produce Denver prepare two large plots at McGlone Elementary School. Denver Public Schools contracted with Produce Denver to grow produce at several schools and use it in the school lunch program. Although the three schools now participating do not provide enough produce for the entire lunch program, DPS has made a good start. Groundwork Denver, a nonprofit, helps for-profit Produce Denver fulfill its contract by providing volunteers and members of the Green Team to do the farm work.

The volunteers scattered fertilizer, raked it into the soil, and did some weeding around the edges of the property. Here I am raking one of the large plots; the girls on the right are wearing masks to keep from inhaling too much of the fertilizer, made from alfalfa.Beth at McGlone Elementary Groundwork Denver DSCF1913

The next step is to build beds, which I think will be done primarily by Groundwork Denver’s Green Team, a group of young people who help Groundwork carry out its mission to encourage local governments, businesses, nonprofits, and residents collaborate to improve their neighborhoods in Denver and foster environmental justice. One of the staff from Produce Denver told me they had thousands of vegetables to plant in the next few weeks, so they will be busy.

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Finding Vivian Maier

Finding Vivian Maier is playing at the Sie Film Center through Thursday, though only at 2 pm. There’s a slight possibility its run may be extended.  Go if you can—it’s a fabulous movie. And if you can’t see it there, get the DVD when it comes out (no release date yet).

It’s the story of a Chicago nanny who was discovered, after her death, to be a prolific street photographer. The filmmaker, John Maloof, who comes from a long line of flea market aficionados, bought a box of her negatives in 2007 after she failed to make all the payments on a storage locker. He started looking at them, not quite sure what to do with them, and decided they needed to be exhibited. He approached a couple of the major art galleries about showing her work and quickly realized he was on his own.

So he went for it, tracking down the other buyers at the auction and buying as much of her belongings as he could. He found receipts and letters in some boxes, and talked to the children she babysat and the shopkeepers she knew. I’m not sure which is more intriguing, her mysterious life or his efforts or the film itself.

So much in this movie reminded me of myself or of family members. She was very similar to my brother Matt: both were reclusive, intelligent, creative hoarders who preferred the society of children to adults. Maier kept things like receipts and letters that enabled Maloof to trace much of her life. She stacked up newspapers until she could get back to them. Matt didn’t do those things, but he did own 9,000 books and hundreds of models.

My favorite quote from the movie came from a man who said that street photographers are gregarious in that they go out into public spaces and mingle with people, but also solitary (solitaries, I think he said) because they are standing back and taking pictures of what passes in front of them. I am exactly that, but I don’t do much street photography, at least not of people. I take pictures of buildings and flowers, possibly because they don’t glare at you if they catch you taking their picture.

For information about the film: Finding Vivian Maier

To see photos: Vivian Maier




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Report Anything Unusual

One thing I remember distinctly from my student days in Falmer and Brighton is the sandwich board sign I saw on Queen’s Road. It was requesting information about a murder. It struck me as sweet or quaint, perhaps, though the subject was anything but.

On my April 2014 trip, I noticed signs of a different sort, about surveillance cameras being in use. And I noticed them everywhere. Here are two signs from City Books in Brighton.UK signs City Books April 2014

A bit of background: On July 7, 2005, four bombs exploded in three different Underground trains and one bus, killing 52 and wounding more than 770. To the British, this attack was comparable to the September 11, 2001, bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City.

I’m not sure how much of the current security apparatus was in place before July 7.

Here’s a sign from a nice little square in The Lanes. I was strolling around, enjoying the shops, when I encountered this sign and wanted to punch it.UK signs The Lanes April 2014

The sign below, from the Underground, particularly unnerved me. On the one hand, it’s true, especially if what I’m reporting is a bag that’s been left behind that might contain a bomb. On the other hand, it can hurt me if I’m somehow different or interested in changing the system. Quite frankly, this sign gives me the creeps.UK signs Underground April 2014

But the one that shouted “Doublespeak!” to me was this one in Hyde Park. I don’t feel that cameras keep me safe or reliably prevent crime. What they do is help to catch the criminal, but that’s small comfort to people who are dead or severely injured.UK signs Hyde Park April 2014

Most of all, these signs strike me as a not-so-subtle form of social control.”Behave,” they say. “You’re being watched.” And I think that when you get away from the cameras, you continue to restrict your behavior because of them.

One American I know who now lives in the UK asked, “Wouldn’t you rather know you’re being watched? Isn’t that better than the NSA?” To which I replied,  “I hate all of it.” All the “security” in the name of “protection.”

I’d rather have more cops on the street than cameras everywhere. I’d rather cities spent their money on personnel than on riot gear to stamp out the next Occupy movement. Hiring more police officers would create good jobs for people who are part of a community, rather than enriching the coffers of some security corporation. And it might actually prevent terrorism.



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Hot Food and Music at Five Points Jazz Fest, 2014

My only complaint about Five Points Jazz Fest is that I can’t see all the bands, but I did spend most of Saturday there, listening to Vintage 3D (soul and jazz with a most entertaining singer in Danette Hollowell), the Five Points Heritage Band (a youth band), the Tom Gershwin Duo (a mellow blend of horn and bass guitar), a little swing by the Brad Leali Orchestra, and some funky numbers by the Gregory Goodloe Quartet.

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University of Sussex, Then and Now

By then, I mean 1982–1983, when I was an exchange student from Georgetown University to the University of Sussex in southeast England, near Brighton; and 1985, when I made a brief visit as part of a work trip.  And now means April 2014.

I never thought I would be away from England for nearly thirty years.

When I arrived on campus in mid-April, I was expecting to see the campus and say, “Well, I remember that and that and THAT!” I was startled by how unfamiliar it seemed.

Tuesday afternoon I took a self-guided tour, using an mp3 file that I downloaded from the university website. (It is located on the University of Sussex website under Study with Us and then Visit Us.) You can also download a map, but it was difficult to read on my computer, let alone on a phone. On Thursday I was able to get a map from the receptionist at Sussex House, which helped quite a bit, and I spent most of the day wandering around campus.

I walked out of the station at Falmer (the town where Sussex is located), thinking that it used to have a door to the outside world because once when I was coming back with friends, I held the door for someone and then thanked her. My friends all laughed at my manners overdrive. Here is the front of the station today.

The campus is pretty much a straight shot north of the station, and is now surrounded by South Downs National Park (established in 2010). I didn’t realize when I was there what a long, narrow campus it is.

I doubt the underpass has changed much, except perhaps to expand as the A27 widened, or the sign along the path, or Falmer House, with its open courtyard.

I wandered inside the building, the home of the Student Union, and opened the door to Falmer Bar. It was busy that late in the afternoon, and I was getting tired of sitting in bars and restaurants by myself. I didn’t go in, but I was gratified that a dim memory surfaced.

Beyond Falmer House and off to the right is the Meeting House, a round building with stained-glass windows. I know I attended at least one nondenominational service there.

Next is Library Square, the scene of much to-ing and fro-ing and frisbee throwing, then and now. I walked into the library and then realized that the students had to tap their cards to get in, so I explained myself to the man at the desk and he let me in. I wandered through the stacks and up and down the stairs, wondering why I didn’t remember this building at all. I knew the banks of computers weren’t there thirty years ago, but nothing else seemed  familiar. Did I spend all my time studying in my flat? I still remember my flatmates going to the campus radio station on a Friday night and playing “19th Nervous Breakdown” for me because they thought I didn’t know how to have fun. And with all that, I still didn’t make it all the way through Ulysses.

The Arts buildings ascend from the north side of Library Square and form a kind of backward S. I wonder if that’s where I took my English novel and Shakespeare classes with Dr. Jeremy Lane. I sent him an email but didn’t hear back, and the other professor I  wanted to see again, Marc A. Williams, no longer teaches at the university.

There are lecture theaters in Arts A that may have hosted the international students orientation in 1982. I remember sitting in a stadium-type theater, watching the man down at the podium rolling a joint. Or so we speculated among ourselves. He was actually rolling a cigarette, but I didn’t realize then that people did such a thing.

Or maybe it was this theater with blue seats in Chichester I, which is directly east of the Library, across the square.

In my memory the road from the train station to my flat in Park Village forms an arc. One night I was walking home through campus and kept glancing back at the man following me. When I reached Park Village he had almost caught up to me and remarked to another man that he thought he had scared me.

A path leads off to the right from Library Square, passing the Arts buildings on the left and Chichester on the right, going under Arts Road, and passing the new Jubilee Building on the left. That is most likely the arc I recall.

(If you go to the University of Sussex website, under About Us and then Campus and Facilities and then Campus Tour, you can launch the online campus tour. Click on Tour Map and then go to Campus Nature, which provides an aerial view of the campus that was taken several years ago, as far as I can tell. In the lower left corner, you’ll see Falmer House and the Meeting House to the right with its light-blue roof. The library is above another round building on the far left. A couple of sets of buildings above the library, still on the far left, is a very light-colored set of buildings that form an upside-down L. Today the Jubilee Building sits in that area.)

Across from Jubilee is Bramber House, which looked pretty brand-spanking-new to me, but I wonder if that’s an upgrade. I think that building may have housed the laundromat where Katie got electrocuted. If not, I can’t remember what was there before.

Bramber now has Eat Central and Dine Central, as well as the Students Union co-op that used to occupy the ground floor of York House. Signs advertising the move still adorn York House, which is also a residence kitty-corner northwest from Bramber.

And just north of York House is my first home at Sussex, Park Village, a V-shaped group of zigzag buildings, each one holding 12 flats. It was one of the things I recognized instantly.

The first person I recall meeting in my building is Majid, a student from Iran. He was afraid I would hate him because of the Iran hostage crisis. We became friends, and I discovered tzatziki at a dinner with some of his friends. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of him, but I do have a picture of these guys dressed up for a toga party. The one on the left definitely lived at Park Village, as you can see from the second picture.

During my campus visits, I found a building in Park Village that was unlocked and went in. The ground floor was more cramped than I remembered because of the kitchen; the shower and toilet are on the second floor. For some reason these buildings had two kitchens and one shower for twelve people. I don’t remember anyone quarreling over the kitchen, though I do remember a complaint posted near the shower about someone “wanking off” in there.

I left Park Village after the first trimester because the design of the building guaranteed that every room was cold.

So far, I’ve led you up through the west-central part of campus.

The campus is about 25 percent longer than it was in 1982. Park Village used to be the northernmost residence on the west side. Lewes Court, northeast of Park Village, was built in the 1990s, as was Brighthelm (across campus from Park Village and north of East Slope). Northfield, the newest and fanciest residence, lies at the northern end of campus.

Some of the newer flats have en-suite bathrooms. Rooms in Park Village had sinks with separate taps, but East Slope rooms didn’t—that’s why they were cheaper. I don’t remember it being a big deal, though I’m sure I had to wait for the shower sometimes, since I was sharing it with five of my flatmates.

I paid about 175 pounds per month in 1982–1983, but today the flats go for 80 to 130 pounds per week.

Here is East Slope from the 1980s, as well as some pictures taken in 2014.

Staff in the alumni office (in Mantell building) told me that East Slope, which was built in the 1970s, will be torn down and rebuilt in the next few years. They laughed as they recalled alumni saying they couldn’t believe it was still standing. The Students’ Union set up a website about the planned demolition of the East Slope Bar, where they express their concern about the university building a newer, privately managed bar to replace it.

I lived in East Slope from January through June 1983, so I must have gone to the bar with friends, but I don’t remember it. I have memories of sitting at a round table at a pub, and I did find this round table inside the bar. Maybe that pub I remember was East Slope Bar, and maybe it was somewhere else, in Falmer or in Brighton.

I was fascinated by East Slope and Park Village and kept going back to them and the open land that surrounded them, trying to relive my time there. I have always been oriented toward the past.

South of East Slope and east of Bramber House are the three long buildings that form Swanborough, another new residence. Swanborough residence, University of Sussex, UK, April 2014Except for Stanmer Court, which is right by the train station, Swanborough is the southernmost residence on campus. Between it and the A27 lie lecture halls and buildings dedicated to research and administration. When you enter campus from the train station, you pass among the buildings you might use during the day to reach the building where you sleep at night.

I found it disconcerting to be an adult on a college campus who isn’t a parent or a teacher or on staff. When I was a student at Sussex, I did my best not to look like a tourist. But this trip I was walking around with binoculars and camera, sometimes both draped around my neck at once, trying to identify new life birds and taking pictures of everything in sight.

Speaking of birds, were there always this many herring gulls on campus?

I’m so glad I made this trip. It was great fun to stand on the fields above East Slope, which offers a good view of campus, and remember my crazy flatmates who dropped acid one day and painted 72A; the Thanksgiving dinner we fixed for my boyfriend’s flatmates and the shop clerk complaining “Bloody Americans!” because we wanted canned pumpkin to make pie; people playing frisbee along the seafront in Brighton; the classmates who flummoxed me by pointing out corporate influence on politics (so much more true today) and Marc Williams responding, “America is not a monolith!”

At times I felt like a ghost in plain sight, and at times I tried to bring back more of that girl. Now I have reacquainted myself with campus and it will be familiar to me for a little while, but most of that comes from the new memories I just made, not what happened thirty years ago.


I want to thank Sarah Brown and Sally Atkinson at the University of Sussex alumni office, who took time out of their day to help me figure out where the international student orientation might have been held and where the old co-op was located.

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Artists on the Street

I spent hours today walking around the center of Brighton, mostly through The Lanes. I used to get lost in them when I was an exchange student at the University of Sussex almost thirty years ago. I believe I bought a pair of not-quite-forest-green suede boots there that I kept for years. Today as I was wandering I heard “Puff the Magic Dragon” being played on piano and followed the sound to Market Street, where I found Mark Davies and His Mobile Piano and took these pictures with his permission. Then he launched into “The Sting.” When I ended up at Market Street again later that day (because I still don’t know The Lanes well), he was gone.

Mark Davies and His Mobile Piano 3, Market Street, The Lanes, Brighton, April 2014 Mark Davies and His Mobile Piano 1, Market Street, The Lanes, Brighton, April 2014










But Mark wasn’t the only man working for his supper on the street. On North Street, on the way back to the Artist Residence, I stopped at Sainsbury’s for a sandwich and some fruit. Outside, Nick was making chalk drawings, complete with a written explanation.Nick at Brighton Pavement Art 4, April 2014

He has a site called “Brighton Pavement Art,” but there isn’t much there. I left him a note about sending him this photo.

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Dreams of Horses

Like many young girls, I went through a horsey phase. I read Black Beauty and Misty of Chincoteague beach fall 2012Chincoteague and played with a plastic horse that I could walk into its stable  by pressing down on its back while moving it forward. My parents or grandparents gave me a delicate china bay with white stockings. I learned that the word “bottom,” when applied to racehorses, meant “heart,” or the quality of never giving up. Neighbors down the block laughed at me because I wanted to take riding lessons. Apparently they thought everyone should learn that skill from their relatives who owned horses.

And then I took those horseback riding lessons when I was 12. I remember a saddle, with me on top, sliding down the side of a pony that had puffed out its stomach while I was cinching the saddle. I remember a magical canter through a meadow. I remember a horse galloping across the paddock with me and then stopping, but I don’t know whether I stopped it. I remember trying to saddle a horse whose back was above my head. It kicked the stall, and then one of the instructors came in and kneed it in the belly.

I ended up afraid of horses but would like not to be.

And all the years since, I have dreamed of going to Assateague and Chincoteague without ever knowing exactly where they were.

In October 2012, I finally arrived. Greater black-backed gulls staked out the lights on the bridge north from Virginia Beach, where we were staying with family, to the first in a string of islands slowing the Atlantic: Fisherman Island, Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and then Chincoteague.

Yellow Duck Bakery Cafe exterior fall 2012Yellow Duck Bakery Cafe breakfast fall 2012Yellow Duck Bakery Cafe Novelty Ducks






About halfway, we stopped for breakfast at the Yellow Duck Café in Exmore, a whimsical, homey place. As you can tell from these pictures, my breakfast was not exactly healthy.

We crossed the Assateague Channel and drove out to Toms Cove visitor center. I was searching for seaside and sharp-tailed sparrows along a brushy stream and wondering to myself, “Where is that red-winged blackbird I keep hearing?”  Very possibly, it was a seaside sparrow, but I never saw it, and for some reason I felt I shouldn’t linger there. We walked along the beach for a while, and then headed back to the car. I think we drove the wildlife loop, looking for birds and ponies, and of course, we found the ponies just as we were getting desperate for lunch.

Chincoteague ponies fall 2012After lunch, I left Todd at a coffee shop to go birding along the Woodland Trail. I stayed a little longer than he would have liked, but—there is always so much to explore!

It was a long day, with about five hours of driving. We got up early to get to the refuge while the birds were still active, and we drove back in the dark.

Now that I’ve been to the place of my horsey childhood dreams, I’m partly satisfied. But I would still like to go back. That’s the kind of traveler I am—the one who almost always wants to go back, retrace her steps, remember, and then add a new memory.Chincoteague sun through trees fall 2012


For you diehard Misty fans: Horse of the Week: Misty of Chincoteague and Jane Badger Books, a website specializing in horse and pony fiction.


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National Museum of the American Indian, D.C.

I could spend weeks browsing the museums in Washington, D.C., both on the National Mall and off. But in late 2012 Todd and I had only part of a day. My first stop, the National Museum of the American Indian, was both grand and intimate. NMAI exterior, 2012According to a brochure I picked up (nearly 18 months ago now), “The building is aligned to the cardinal directions and to the center point of the Capitol dome.” To me the design of the building evoked the flow of water and how it shapes land. NMAI exterior, close-up, 2012Inside, it was spacious. This shot from an upper floor gives an idea of the scale of the place. NMAI interior, ground floor and staircase, 2012One of my favorite exhibits there was the wall of tribal names. We Are the Evidence, NMAI, 2012Here I zoomed in to find “Diné,” the Navajos’ name for themselves.Close-up of We Are the Evidence, NMAI, 2012 I’ve been down to that reservation, the largest in the United States, a few times since 1999, to Black Mesa and, once, to Window Rock, the capital, to see Star Wars dubbed in Navajo. But it is only one among nearly 600 in the United States alone—in addition to the First Nations in Canada and all the indigenous tribes from Mexico to the tip of South America.

When I was growing up in Kansas City, I didn’t know about the Sac and Fox  or Potawatomi reservations nearby, nor that Oklahoma was originally Indian territory. I thought there weren’t that many people in the Americas when Europeans arrived. I could excuse myself by saying I avoided history in high school or that American high schools teach a lot of misinformation about the original inhabitants of the Americas. But, really, I didn’t bother to find out until I had a work-study job in graduate school at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. The then-director of AISES, Norbert Hill, was Oneida, one of the nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

This statue commemorates the Oneidas who helped Revolutionary War soldiers survive the winter at Valley Forge. Allies in War, Partners in Peace, Edward Hlavka, gift of the Oneida Nation to the NMAI, 2012From left to right, George Washington; Polly Cooper, who taught the soldiers how to cook corn; and Oskanondonha, who helped to convince the Oneida to side with the colonists. I remember reading somewhere that one of the largest items in the U.S. budget during George Washington’s presidency was wars with the Indians. I wonder if he fought the Oneida, and if they ever regretted helping him.

Sacred Rain Arrow was selected by Senator Daniel Inouye, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, at the invitation of sculptor Allan Houser to choose any piece from his collection of works. The sculpture was inspired by the story of an Apache who shot an arrow into the Spirit World that carried a prayer for rain.Sacred Rain Arrow, Allan House, NMAI, 2012 It used to be in display in the committee’s meeting room and is now on loan to the Smithsonian.

When I look at these pictures I think how inadequate they are to convey all the museum has to offer. I hope you’ll visit the National Museum of the American Indian in DC or New York yourself and see how magical it is.



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