the grass IS greener

umbrella burgers
the gentle side of el niño–having to grill under a beach umbrella

We’ve lived in California almost two years now, but we haven’t been here long enough to separate legit weather concerns from TV weatherman hype. In Houston, every storm system in the Gulf presented the opportunity for SEVERE WEATHER graphics and ominous music, even if said storm posed no threat to the area. So I wasn’t sure what to think about reports of a pending “super el niño.” The local newscast is refreshingly down-home and lacking in hyperbole, but still.

Well, el niño is here, and it’s on track to be one of the strongest on record (records only going back about 50 years). There have already been massive mudslides in southern California and a huge rockslide closed the entrance to Yosemite a few days ago. A boulder fell on a car in Big Sur last week, and there was even an earthquake four miles north of Big Sur early this morning. (Okay, not sure that’s related to el niño, but it’s the first time there’s been a quake close enough for us to feel it–though we didn’t since we were sleeping.)

asdf
before the recent rains, this yard was half dirt, half thinning grass–now it’s grass and clover, with a little trail Dali made to the corner of the yard so she can bark at people walking down the street

The main impact on us so far is rain cramping our outdoors style and greening our yard. For the latter, I’m very grateful. So are the dogs. The former issue kind of blows, but we did enjoy some brilliantly clear days in Big Sur before the rain arrived.

it's rare to see
we’re talking REALLY CLEAR days
traffic
bringing shitloads of traffic

It hasn’t been foggy here in what seems like months. We vacillate between clear blue and soggy gray. I really miss the fog. It’s mystical. One cool thing: the waves accompanying the storms have been big and loud, easy to hear from our front porch at night. Maybe I need to shift my mindset from taking beautiful pictures on hikes to taking interesting pictures of weather and waves since that’s what we have more of right now.

Oh, and I saw a whale today. First sighting of 2016. Dig it.

 

the view from here

 

christmas tree reflectionMorning breaks on Christmas Eve. December 24. Just like last year.

James and the dogs are still sleeping. The only sounds are the clicking of my keyboard, our whirring refrigerator and seabirds passing overhead. I might also be slurping my coffee a little since no one’s within earshot.

Our weather, cold and rainy, reminds me of winters past in Houston (though today, Houston is expected to reach 80 degrees). El Niño has arrived in central California, and the rain comes often. The brown, crunchy land has turned green again, a contented sigh of oxygen coming from the earth. It’s soothing to look at the thick grass and clover covering our yard, and the dogs are enjoying a soft carpet underfoot on which to make their morning deposits.

At night, the ocean is loud. We can hear the waves pounding rocks at the shore. The sound makes me want to run down the hill to the coast, camera in hand, but I never do. Too cold. Too dark. Too drunk.

James and I are off for 11 days, today through January 3. A vacation in the place where we’d travel on vacation if we still lived in Houston. Assuming the rain stays away, we’ll do some hiking in Big Sur. Maybe drive up to San Francisco. Work in the yard, removing the beautiful clover that threatens to overtake our drought-tolerant plants. Read books. Watch TV. Try new restaurants. Go for drives. Take naps. A bit of soul rejuvenation at the end of the year.

Tomorrow is Christmas, our first without family. We knew the dark side of the bargain when we made this move. It sometimes means not being there when you want to be. It often means not being there when you want to be. But our people are a phone call away, and the gifts we’ve exchanged are a tangible connection. And I’m coming home for a visit in less than three months. Time moves so fast now, three months will feel more like three weeks.

The dude abides, and so do I.

However and whatever you’re celebrating as we close out 2015, cheers friend.

 

we need to talk about a pressing issue

Gas.

Gut punching, your butthole is Alcatraz and it wants to escape on a handmade raft, hurdy gurdy gas that puts you in a panic because you live in a small house with another human being. A person with whom you still hope to share a little mystery in life. Someone you don’t have an interest in subjecting to your private emanations.

An example. It’s bedtime. You’re tired. But there’s a bit of a rumble, and you’d like to settle things down before getting horizontal. Your significant other is in the bathroom brushing his teeth when you have a brilliant idea: a quick pop into the bedroom closet. It has a little window that’s always open, thanks to the high humidity of living near water, and neither of you ever goes in there right before bed. It’s foolproof.

Only it isn’t. Your peppermint-breath partner comes into the bedroom, pulls back the covers, then remembers something he needs to get out of the closet. If he senses a disturbance while in there, he doesn’t say anything, but you’re glad the light is off so he can’t see your flushed face.

You wonder how people who live in those tiny houses do it. Each story you read follows a similar format. A (usually white) couple gets tired of the citified rat race, cashes in their big fat 401(k)s and buys/builds a 150 sq ft home on wheels. They talk about simplifying, getting back to the land, rising and falling with the sun. But they never mention the gas.

You do a little medi-googling to see if perhaps there’s something you can do to address this issue, which wasn’t such a big deal when you lived in a bigger house. You find that gas is the natural byproduct of a healthy digestive system. In fact, the average person farts between 10 and 20 times a day. Then you read about a poor soul, a 32 year old with excessive gas.

The patient maintained a meticulous recording of each passage of rectal gas over a period of months, which showed a frequency that usually exceeded 50 times/day and occasionally reached values of 129 times/day (see Fig. 1).

Suddenly you don’t feel so bad about things. It could be worse. You could be recording every fart in a spreadsheet.

we are all a work in progress

Before we moved to California, James and I had a lot of conversations about what life might be like once we got here–how much we’d miss our families and friends (a lot), whether we’d find a restaurant that serves queso (no), if we’d have extravagant utility bills (luckily, no), if our house would be big enough to hold all our stuff (no), if anyone would come visit (luckily, yes).

We also wondered how the move would impact who we are. Both being in our mid-40s, was it possible a change of scenery would equal a change of self? Or are you pretty much who you are once you reach middle age?

Since we were moving to a cool coastal climate with an abundance of natural beauty, I had high hopes the outdoorsy part of my nature might awaken. That the person I was on vacation in California–active, open and ready to adventure outside–would somehow become the person I was living in California. That I’d spend less time in front of the dim glow of the computer and more time in direct sunlight. My inner voice wasn’t so sure, but it can be an asshole sometimes.

I’ll be damned if the outdoorsy part of my soul didn’t find its way to the surface, putting my feet on the bare earth with as much regularity as possible while still meeting my work/life obligations. And instead of this being something that immediately burst forth with the newness of a change of latitude/longitude, it simmered for the first year then grew in intensity in the past six months, my hikes becoming longer and harder, my desire to be outside and unconfined stronger. A welcome surprise, to be sure.

I’m telling you this, not because I’m excited about my new relationship with the outdoors (though it’s fucking awesome and I even have a tan), but in case you have some ideas you’re chewing on and could use a boost. If my sedentary, internet-addicted, pale-as-a-vampire self could find its way into the sunlight, you can do yo thang too. Just tell that inner voice to simmer down for a bit while you find your footing. And be sure to give yourself time for a transition to happen. Change will come, but it may not come quickly.

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Onward.

 

 

catastrophe jackassery

bug-out bag: A portable bag that contains essential items to help you survive the first 72 hours of a disaster, whether you shelter in place or head for the hills. Typical items include water, dehydrated food, energy bars, fire-starting tools, first aid kit, hand-crank radio (ideally with a cellphone charger built in), duct tape, hatchet, poncho, etc.

Living in hurricane country most of my life, I usually had a small stockpile of bottled water, canned food, candles, crackers and granola bars. The only time I ever tapped into it (other than raiding supplies when there was no other food in the house) was during Hurricane Ike when we were without power for a week. Compared to the people who were flooded out of their homes and lost everything, our week without power was a slight inconvenience. A technology vacation that saw us getting together with neighbors each night to grill what was left of frozen steaks while we drank wine by candlelight and listened to night noises usually obscured by air conditioners and other comfort machinery. You don’t realize how much a city buzzes until it stops making noise.

Here in earthquake country, we have a shelf full of Mountain House dehydrated food, a propane stove and propane, water, candles, batteries and a few other items. Where the San Andreas fault runs right by San Francisco, it goes inland when it passes the central coast, and our house is a couple of blocks up the hill from the tsunami inundation zone. If we lived closer to the forest and had to worry about fires that drive you from your bed in the middle of the night barefoot and running to your car, I’d probably keep photos and other irreplaceables in an easy-access container near the door. But for now, I’m comfortable with the minor level of preparedness we have.

I think bug-out bags are an interesting concept, but I haven’t felt the need to actually put one together. In Houston, there’s no place to bug out to–the mass (and needless) evacuation for Hurricane Rita showed there’s no escape from the fourth largest city when everyone’s trying to leave at the same time. And here, there are a lot more wilderness options, but unless we also have a tent and other supplies too large to fit into a big backpack, I don’t think a bug-out bag’s going to do it. If we have to shelter in place, we’ll grab the stuff from the cabinet as we need it. Having it in one bag wouldn’t make a difference.

Which brings me around to this: the Prepster, a “luxury 3 day survival bag.” It comes with the usual bug-out bag items, only in “luxury” form. Like grapefruit face cleanser and cilantro hair conditioner. I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been driven from my home due to some horrible disaster, I’m not fucking around with split ends. And who wouldn’t want their hair to smell like cilantro, am I right?

You can even get the bag monogrammed, bringing your grand total to $420. I’d love to know who their target demographic is. All I can picture is a tanned woman with a yoga body and long fingernails crying as she tries to rip open the packaging around her dehydrated “astronaut” ice cream while her boyfriend is cranking the radio in hopes of charging his cellphone as they sit on the small spot of grass in front of their townhouse. Their manicured dog keeps inching further and further away, unnoticed, and their neighbors are watching through the curtains to take a break from their own drama. What are they going to do on day four when their bag is empty? Smell their cilantro hair and hope someone saves them?

asdf
A bug-out bag wouldn’t have helped clear our driveway of tree limbs, post Hurricane Ike. Beer and whiskey did that trick.

Treffen #17

Treffen is an annual caravan of vintage VWs that journeys down Highway 1 from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. This is their 17th trip, but it was the first time they had a “Show & Shine” in Pacific Grove. There were dozens of beautiful Buses, Bugs and (my beloved) Karmann Ghias.

They’re continuing southward today, and if I didn’t have to work I’d position myself on the Old Coast Road above Bixby Bridge to get some great video. You can follow their progress here.

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they once were wolves

Does an animal that finds its asshole, an ice cube and its owner’s face equally delightful to lick care about seeing the Hollywood sign?

Does an animal that chases its own tail, surprises itself by farting and is scared of the vacuum want to go to the Grand Canyon and marvel at the enormity of it all?

Does an animal that, at the peak of health, is happy running for five minutes and then sleeping for five hours want, at the very end of its life, to pose on the prow of a ship on a crashing sea as the sun sets?

Or, to put it another way, when you have the flu, do you want someone dragging you to pose in front of the house from Full House?

I’m thinking “no” on all accounts.

Dogs are delightful, happy, soulful creatures that are content with very little. Ever notice how many homeless people have a dog or two by their side? That’s because dogs are down for whatever. They just want to love and be loved in return. The accommodations don’t matter.

You wouldn’t know that from what seems to be a disturbing trend of late (if you can call something I’ve seen a total of three times a trend). I’m talking about people finding out their dog is terminally ill, then taking the poor animal on a fucking tour around the US. You know, so Max or Maggie can see Las Vegas, the Space Needle and Niagara Falls before crossing that rainbow bridge. What a happy coincidence that the places dogs want to see before they die are also exciting tourist destinations that look great in photos and the coffee table book that may come out of this!

For those of us who love dogs and consider them part of the family, the end of the road is a sad and lonely place. If you knew your dog only had a few weeks or months to live, who wouldn’t want to make the most of that time? But let’s back up for a moment and talk about what dogs enjoy.

They love the smell of shit and dead things. I don’t care how manicured and prissy your dog is. Put her in a backyard with a dead skunk, and she’s going to be all over it.

They love to eat. Filet mignon or meat that fell to the floor from your Jack in the Box taco, it’s all a wonderful culinary delight.

They love to sleep. Take your dog out in the morning when they first get up, and within a couple of minutes they’re ready for a nap.

So, for someone who wants to give Fido an exit to remember, I’d like to recommend a few hot spots the pooch might actually enjoy.

  • Dog park. Plenty of other dog assholes to smell and maybe something dead to roll in.
  • Litter box. Plenty of cat turds to eat and maybe a cat to chase or at least growl at.
  • Your bed. Plenty of opportunity to be loved and maybe a little time for a nap.

Pretty simple. It may not get anyone a book deal or make them an Instagram star, but it will make their little buddy comfortable and happy. And isn’t that really the point?

adfg
Lest I lose my crazy-dog-lady bona fides, here’s my dog Stella in her CAR SEAT. Yes, she’s strapped in. I bought this for her when we moved from Texas to California, the longest journey the dog or I ever made. Do you know what she did 99% of the way here? She slept.

PS: If you’ve been spared these treacly stories, here’s a link to one of them. Doesn’t that dog look like he’s having a GREAT TIME and not like he was propped up for the photo and then quickly collapsed because he’s TERMINALLY ILL? The man said, “It was a little bit for him, a little bit for me.” Uh huh.

look, up in the sky

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I was about to hop on a conference call yesterday afternoon (yay) when I heard a plane circling nearby. I assumed another tourist fell off the edge of Pacific Grove and the Coast Guard was looking for them. Still, I went outside to look up–and saw this message to Ada.

The sweetness of the message coupled with the old schoolness of the delivery was just a delight. I posted a shot of the banner on Instagram, wondering what Ada said, and was happy to get a comment from her this morning. She said yes!

Romance is alive in Pacific Grove.

#GD50

Last weekend the Grateful Dead (or just the Dead, if you don’t want to insult Jerry) played two shows at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, 80 miles north of here, and this weekend they’re playing three shows at Soldier Field in Chicago, a few miles further. These five, swan-song performances mark the 50th anniversary of their founding. They haven’t played together in years and likely won’t again–so we went to both Santa Clara shows.

Considering Levi's Stadium holds nearly 70,000 people and these were mostly sold-out shows, getting into the place wasn't terrible.
Considering Levi’s Stadium holds nearly 70,000 people and these were sold-out shows, getting into the place wasn’t as terrible as expected.
Long security lines (with bag checks and metal detectors) gave us plenty of time to check out the scenery.
FARE THEE WELL
You'd think a band would get lost in a stadium, but the stage was HUGE.
You’d think a band would get lost in a stadium, but the stage was HUGE.
We knew our seats were "restricted view" but thought we'd be okay since we were on the side. Nope. Huge screens blocked any view of the band. So Saturday night's show was like being at a weird simulcast.
We knew our seats the first night were “restricted view” but thought we’d be okay since we were on the side. Nope. Huge screens blocked any view of the band. So Saturday night’s show was like being at a weird simulcast.
Not being able to see the band (and having a slight aversion to watching them on the big screen), I took the opportunity to people watch. I don't think I've ever
Not being able to see the band (and having a slight aversion to watching them on the big screen), I took the opportunity to people watch. So much good stuff. This dude danced the entire show with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. Whether that was prompted by chemicals or the music, I don’t know. Why not both?
The costumes people wear at Dead shows could best be described as "circus hippie."
The costumes people wear at Dead shows could best be described as “circus hippie.”
asdfd
It’s nice to live in a state that didn’t just humiliate itself over gay marriage (now called “marriage”). Also note the guy trying to fly a kite.
There were Dead flags, too.
There were Dead flags flying, too.
Gumby.
Gumby.
The crowd turned and looked into the sky behind the stage. I thought they'd heard some kind of pot dog whistle, but ends up it was a rainbow.
Toward the end of the first set, the crowd turned and looked into the sky behind the stage. I thought they’d heard some kind of patchouli dog whistle, but ends up it was a rainbow. A double-rainbow, actually, though it’s hard to see the second one in this shot.
asdfds
So. Many. People.
So. Much. Weed.
So. Much. Weed.
So. Many. Colors.
So. Many. Colors.
The seats for show number two were much better. The performance was, too.
The seats for show number two were much better, if not further away from the stage (this is zoomed in).
My friend Evan is involved in an effort to create a huge natural swimming pool in the middle of Houston. This beach ball was my Kickstarter reward.
A friend is involved in an effort to create a huge natural swimming pool in the middle of Houston (called Houston Needs a Swimming Hole). Thought I’d spread the word out here by sending this ball on a journey.
It made it all the way to the front of the stadium.
It made it all the way to the front of the stadium.
Hey, look who it is!
Hey, look who it is! Circus Hippie! And he wasn’t the only person we recognized from the first show.
We don't know these people.
We don’t know these people.
Things got more interesting after dark.
The 80-mile drive back home each night sucked, but it was worth it for a couple of pretty amazing–and colorful–shows.