Saturday, December 8, 2012


People in San Francisco like to do things. Whether it's Critical Mass a monthly community bike ride downtown during rush hour, Santa Con, a massive bar hopping event, or the Big Wheel Races, we like to get our fun on.

For me, one of my highlights is something we call Crabonanza. Crabonanza was started by San Francisco Journalist and Editor Jon Rochmis. It involves going to Fisherman's Warf on a designated Sunday morning to enjoy fresh Dungeoness crab caught in local waters, local beer and locally baked bread. Typically we stand around drinking beer and eating bread as the crabs cook, then feast on freshly cracked steamed crab. When everyone is done eating we wander up to the Buena Vista for Irish Coffee. It's one of the best ways to spend a Sunday that I know of, thus being away from the Bay Area during crab season can be quite disappointing.

The good news is, I'm in Japan, land of seafood galore. I knew there had to be crab, and boy was I right. Last week an early trip to the grocery store revealed giant Japanese Spider crabs for around $25 each.  I hatched a plan to get go back and get one, but when I did, the crab were gone. I figured out, the trick to getting one or more of these beasts was to hit the store early, and not leave without crab.

Today, I employed my strategy and was duly rewarded with two unsuspecting crabs expertly wrapped in an ice filled styrofoam box. I had never cooked my own crab before, but have seen it done dozens of times, so I found my largest pot, threw in some Zateran's and a sliced lemon and let it boil. While the water heated up, I threw a couple of loaves of sourdough into the oven, and cracked open a beer.

It wasn't long before I was giddily placing a live crab into the rolling water, apologizing to it as I did. In a karmic twist, when I took the bread out of the oven, I got a bit of a nasty burn on my finger. Maybe I shouldn't have been so giddy about putting them in.

Each crab had to cook around twenty five minutes. Unlike the Dungeoness variety that I am familiar with in San Francisco, these crabs had spines all over their shells which made cleaning them a little challenging, but it was well worth it. The meat was sweet and luxurious. It was so rich it didn't even need butter. I believe I may have had my first real Crab-gasm.

Determination is a funny thing. It can yield extraordinary experiences and rich rewards. Today's homemade crab feast was just a reminder for me that some of the best things in life are the things you make happen for yourself.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I like to visualize. It's a practice that has served me well in the past. When I visualize, I can see more clearly, and know where I am going and what I will do when I get there.

I learned about visualization from a friend in my early twenties. I was spinning my wheels a lot at the time. I learned to stop for a mere moment, and see myself where and how I wanted to be, and with that image imbedded in my mind I then moved forward.  Often when I did this, I didn't even have a specific goal, but I knew the general direction I needed to go somehow meeting my goals along the way.

I become troubled when I cannot visualize because of uncertainty or distraction.   If I can't picture where I'm going in life, I feel lost and even get depressed.

There are burdens from being so driven. As I have become older, I find that I have to pace myself. I'm learning though, what to focus my energy on, and how to best employ the faculties I have with efficiency. But none of that is helpful if I can't visualize.

I found a new tool to help me through those times. It's Pinterest, arguably the most exciting thing in Social Media since Facebook. I wrote about it some on the main blog.

What I like about Pinterest the most, is that it's all about visualization. I use it to become inspired, to define who and what I want to be and to re-imagine myself in that incarnation. It's a great tool, and I use it a little every day to reenforce the process.

There are a lot of implications of being older. Health declines. Energy begins to fade. Large print anything becomes a blessing. We adapt. I don't see engaging with an online tool to do what I've always been able to do on my own as a failure. I see it as an adaptation.

From here on out I think it's going to be about adapting more than ever before, and doing things smarter and better. It will be about being truer to who I really am. I'm glad I can see it now. It's a direction I can clearly envision myself taking.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Preparedness is the New Normal

My sister often jokes that as Burners, we have great apocalypse skills. We both know how to sew, use power tools, and can fix anything with zip ties and duck tape. I think it's something we both take for granted at times. We know how to be prepared. 

We were taught to always have five pounds of rice and beans in the house by our mother and that bailing wire can fix anything by our father. Both our parents were masters of improvisation, sometimes out of necessity, and sometimes for the joy of ingenuity.

After 9 years in the Army and 8 years of Burning Man, being prepared is second nature to me. Out of habit, I carry a flashlight and multi-tool in my bag along with a mini hygiene kit and enough snacks to last me a day. I also usually carry some sort of electrolyte powder, an extra couple of doses of my daily medication, multi-symptom cold medicine and pain killers.

What's funny is that despite the preparation I maintain in case of zombies, I still sometimes leave the house without situational necessities like my mobile phone, Tokyo Road Atlas and Japanese-English dictionary.

Crisis can heighten awareness. For those unaffected by a major disaster, this is the chance to learn what more we can do to be ready.  Hopefully for myself and others this means that being prepared for the unexpected will be woven into our new normal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On the Train Platform

I arrived to the station eighteen minutes before my train. After inserting a combination of coins to pay for my 320 yen ticket, I made my way to the mostly empty platform.

Being early has it's advantages. I was able to sit in an empty seat next to an older Japanese woman. Her eyes were closed beneath large rimmed glasses and her head bowed towards the shopping bag at her feet.

The Japanese, I've learned, spend a lot of time on trains. Napping in the process is quite common.  Looking at the clock, I still had about fourteen minutes until my train would arrive, so I took out my iPad to catch up on some reading.  As I read, the platform filled, mostly with school children heading home for the day.

A familiar chime told me the train was approaching, and I stood just as it arrived. Looking over, I saw that the older woman was still dozing. The doors to the train opened and a uniformed swarm of kids began filling the cars. The woman didn't move.

I hesitated for a moment, and then gently touched her shoulder saying, "Sumi ma sen." Excuse me.

Her eyes opened, and I gestured to the train. "Ah!" She looked at me with complete gratitude. "Arigato a gazze mash te." Thank you so very much, she said, and then quickly picked up her shopping bag and ambled onto the train, disappearing among the students.

I boarded the train as well, sat down and finished the article I started reading on the platform.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Decompression Burning Man 2012

Every year I go to Burning Man, Decompression is a little different. Decompression is the period after the Burn when we come back to the Default World possibly overwhelmed by stimulation overload and definitely dusty.  I think one of the draws for those who regularly attend the event is escapism.  When you're out there on the Playa, your preoccupations are geared more towards survival than voice mail. It's always a bit of a transition coming back.

This year for me was different. I was fortunate enough to be asked to come early for set up and stay late for post event operations. I was on the Playa for a total of 34 days. Working behind the scenes is definitely more my speed. Event week was merely an increase in the number of people I saw every day.

Working is what I do best, and when I'm busy I'm at my best. I always say I learn something every year at the Burn and this year I think I realized not just how much I love to work, but how purposeful work contributes to my overall well being. I'm a different person when I have good work. I'm stronger, more motivated, and make better decisions.

I admit, that I was worried going in this year. I was worried about my stamina and whether or not I'd be able to pull my weight. But, as soon as I got there, something in me just clicked into gear. Before I knew it I was my truest self again, enjoying an experience not many get to have.

It was an interesting Burn highlighted by the epic and unexpected. I had an evening of Playa tales with Naked Bob and Cowboy Carl and made conversation with Bruno in Italian. I rode on a fluffer van, got a donut from a cop, sang with the Jerks on BMIR radio and had the best view of the burn yet. I made some new friends and cemented friendships that were merely acquaintances a couple of years ago.

I'm happy to have made it there and back and of course can't wait to do it again next year.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day

It's Fathers Day, the first one since my Dad died, and I can't help but miss him today. My dad loved to fly, so we always tried to buy him things with an airplane theme for special occasions. He also loved to tinker. For him a day out in the garage was pure bliss. He'd reorganize tools, build things out of sheet metal, and revive that which was broken or discarded by others. I remember when we were house hunting he wanted a house out in an unincorporated area so he could have his own junk yard. Luckily, my mother's sensibilities won out on that one. In some ways I understand my dad more now. As the only woman in a male household, I recognize why he sought out sanctuary in his garage. He was a male in an all woman household, although I sometimes think that my tomboyish ways helped a little. I at least knew the difference between a Phillips and a flathead. This next phase of life is nothing like I expected. As my own children grow and start to plan on lives of their own, I recognize how we change and evolve, but also how so many things remain the same, like my memory of him in coveralls, fixing things.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Working in Japan

Getting work in any foreign country can be difficult if you don't speak the language. Japan is no exception. But as the universe would have it, an opportunity was laid in my path, and I jumped at it.  So, now I have a job in Japan.

My Japanese Business Card
Although the language barrier exists, 99% of my work is based in English. Knowing Japanese would help a lot, but I'm getting by with the few phrases I know so far, and am starting to pick up a few more.

Working in Japan is different from any other experience I've had thus far.

First, is the dress code. Business attire consists of dark muted colors (black, navy blue or gray), with very plain button down shirts, although ruffles on shirts seem to be OK for women.  There are no bare legs in Japan. If you choose to wear a skirt, there will be pantyhose. Also, anything considered trendy is not acceptable. Although my office is not a strict dress code environment, I do my best to dress the part, pantyhose included.  The silver lining of dressing up for work every day is definitely dressing down for everything else.

If language and a dress code aren't enough of a challenge, there are the customs to contend with. There are very specific ways to present and accept business cards for example, and also to serve tea or coffee. I have a very helpful coworker who coaches me on such things, and for that I am exceedingly grateful.

Thus far work is going well. I do my best to be competent at what I know and ask questions about the things I don't know. Some days are more successful than others, but I'm happy to have the work. It keeps me occupied, gives me a place to go and most importantly offers a rarefied experience that I simply never truly expected to have in life.

I do so enjoy Lemonade.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lessons from Mom

Santa Cruz use to be an anual trip for us as kids. When we were younger, we would stay the night at my grandfather's house in San Jose, and then make the quick jaunt over the mountain in the morning to hit the beach for the day, and then enjoy some of the boardwalk at night.

I can mark the stages of my life by our activities there: the year I learned to body surf, the first year I grabbed a brass ring on the merry go round, the first year I made out with a guy I met on the beach.

But this morning one instance stood out. It was the year I realized my mother was fearless. I was about 5 or 6 and we were camped out on the beach as a family. We had it all: lawn chairs, my Ragedy Ann sleeping bag as a beach blanket, the ice chest and being the 70's, a hibachi grill.

At some point in the afternoon a beach bum approached our site. He wore baggy pants and a trench and had a not so faint smell of cheap wine and sweat.

"How about a hot dog," the man barked. We ignored him as he continued to ramble something about living on the beach. I turned and looked for my dad, who would surely sent this guy off, but as I did I heard my mother's cheerful voice behind me.

"Would you like mustard on that?"

We all looked around half stunned and half amused. She handed the man a neatly wrapped hotdog and he left. At the time we laughed about it, and how our fool hearty mother was oblivious to who was asking for a handout. But years later I realized it was a lesson in kindness, that I still remember now.

Happy Mother's Day Mom. Thanks for teaching me it's ok to show kindness when others are not.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Apocalypse Now

I seldom get overly political here. Mostly this is a blog of personal parables. It's my way of providing a temporary distraction and maybe another perspective of things we all experience in one way or another.

I've been thinking a lot about a post apocalyptic times. Not the end times, but a time where what we hoped for is revealed as a tarnished dream.

The archetype of this found in movies is often that of a small but powerful upper class, consumed with the idea of personal wealth and comfort, but little else with all others in a kind of survival mode. Their dystopian existence is only a shadow of what generations before them had.

In the movies and literature, there is often a catalyst that brings on these times. But sometimes, woven into the stories is the sense of a slippery slope, that things began to slide, that apathy was fostered with manufactured outrage, and that the state of disfunction was a goal.

What makes me think of this now, is what I see in politics. And it makes me wonder how many will be willing to claw their way up a slope not slanted in their favour.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Japanese Morning TV

One of my favorite things in Japan is morning television. Morning shows in Japan only last about 15 minutes each, presumably so one doesn't have to miss the end of a show when they rush out to catch the train. The shows are an interesting combination of the absurd, the useful and the informative.

The channel I watch includes a morning exercise program where pretty girls in leotards lead the audience in a series of movements that involve lots of arm swinging and deep knee bends to a cheerful piano accompaniment.

That's followed by an angry looking bunny that explains the meaning behind acronyms such as IMF, OPEC and APEC. There's a cooking show with a girl dressed as Strawberry Shortcake, the doll not the dessert, and then comes what my younger son calls the Cabbage Patch Kids. Their show is a series of shorts and skits that on this morning included an animated tour of internal organs.

Everything is presented with a cheerful tone and an abundance of cuteness. It might seem silly, but it beats the gossip ridden excuse for morning television in the United States.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Situation New Normal

I returned to Japan yesterday, one year to the day after a devastating earthquake and tsunami changed the island nation forever. I arrived at Narita International Airport a couple of hours before millions of Japanese bowed their heads in remembrance around 3:00 PM. To me, it seemed to be situation New Normal. I couldn't help but notice that just as they had that day, flights were scheduled for Sendai Airport which has already been rebuilt enough to accomodate commercial traffic.

The Sendai region remains in recovery. News reports on Japanese television showed the clean up progress that now requires disposing mountains of debris. The images are just as jarring as the initial destruction.

As for my family, they continue with their own version of Japanese normal, with one exception. The kids go to school, their dad goes to work, but when they get home, they will likely be greeted by Archie. Archie originally came to us as a foster. He was found among the debris in the Sendai region. When we got him, he had been on his own for a couple of months. He was very thin and very dirty.

While we hoped that he would be reunited with his family one day, they were never located. So now he lives with us. He's a good kitty. He likes to hunt feet and cries incessantly when he wants attention.

I can't help but think that overall, we've been moving towards a New Normal. So many things have changed in the world since the turn of the century. It makes me wonder if a post apocalypse world is something that actually happens gradually, without us even noticing it.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Ever get lost in your own life? It's happened to me a time or two. Things get out of hand, projects get too big, everything is a distraction and suddenly you realize that you have forgotten who you are and what you do. It's not as existential as it might sound, but it is a bit disconcerting.

For me, remembering who I am in life is writing. Those who actually read this dribble, thanks by the way, can always tell when I'm over-committed or overwhelmed. Once in a blue moon I'll even get a concerned email: are you ok?

Writers block is never fun when I have it, but when it ends, I often feel like I was able to reboot my brain, and in the process delete errors that are distracting me, and start over with a clean desk top.

Now what to do with all of those extra files...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Families and Tribes

Dealing with death can be draining. If the death is unexpected, shock can overwhelm the emotions and a sense of loss that initiate the grieving process. But when that is not the case, when the death of a loved one is a long time coming, that process is much different. Maybe it's because I'm much older now, or maybe it's because I understand what it means to celebrate life. Whatever the cause I'm thankful that this experience was not traumatic.

We had my Dad's memorial this past weekend. It was a really good time. We had food from his favorite Chinese place, attendees were encouraged to pick out and wear one of his ties as a keepsake, and there were friends and music, and a good amount of laughter. My cousin Mary Helen who accompanied my 80-year old Aunt, put together a great memory board. We had photo albums, his Air Force uniform, and what turned out to be a crowd favorite, the "beefcake" picture by the bar.

Overall it was a great reminder of what it means to be surrounded by friends and family. Later in the weekend, when my cousin from Texas noted how many people we seem to know, I explained to her that we don't have a lot of family here, and what we do have is scattered across the state, so we made our own family. "It's more of a tribe," I told her.

Although the concept of the Urban Tribe became more main stream with television shows like Friends, and Seinfeld, looking back I recognize that I learned the practice from my parents. At the age of 21 and 22 settled in Vallejo, California, not knowing a soul, but they made friends and connections, made careers and made a life.

I realize now, how lucky I am to have had that example. Although my parents were largely square, and played by the rules, no one could ever say that they didn't do brave things. It was a great lesson learned. I just hope my kids will be so lucky.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Death and Taxes

The only two things that are certain in life are Death and Taxes. Or so I am told.

I received my tax documents this week. With a steady resolve, I put them all into a drawer of my recently inherited china cabinet, where they wait ominously.

The thing about taxes is that it is kind of a reality check. I made how much? What did I spend it on? If it's been a good year, I feel a bit scandalized by the amount. If it's been a bad one, I go through a more complex feeling of self congratulations for making it on so little, and genuine fear of not making it at all. I know there are a lot of folks out there who are much worse off.

The death of a parent is another kind of reality check. When your parents start their own decent, it's hard not to notice the issues they deal with. I can't help but wonder what degenerative disease will take me now that I know what risks I have. The risks, make old age just as ominous. Instead of documents sitting in a drawer, I have future visions of myself losing my memories, motor function and eventually succumbing to a degenerative disease.

I know, it's a fate we all face, like taxes, but in this instance my own personal dilemmas seem to be at the forefront of my preoccupations this season. But at the same time I can't help but recognize the current health I have and my desire to have a life well lived.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Always Wanting More - Alfredo Guajardo Morales

In few short hours we will bury my Dad. He died 4 days ago just shy of his 78th birthday.

Although expected, his death was still a bit of a shock especially for my mom who was convinced he would out-live her based on the life line on his palm. When we told her, she kept looking at her palm rubbing her thumb along her life line in disbelief.

Growing up, my Dad was practically mythical. He was involved in everything and exceptionally well connected. We considered it normal to have the Mayor over for parties, to be on a first name basis with judges, and to always be in the 4th of July parade. Even with our own activities, our parents were involved. If there was a project or a committee, my Dad would be on it, making things happen.

His involvement bled over to political arenas where he quickly became involved in many campaigns. I learned my way around, by mapping the streets of my town, walking precincts. He was in service clubs, on boards, and just had this way of making things happen. Once, he organized groups of low-riders for a neighborhood street cleanup to combat their bad image.

Looking back on it now, I realize where I get my own tenacity, because my dad was simply never satisfied. When he went in the Air Force, he was deemed too short to be a pilot, so he took one of the most dangerous jobs he could get on a plane without flying it. He was a flight mechanic on a typhoon chaser out of Guam. After the Air Force, still determined, he took private flying lessons and learned to fly single engine air craft. One of the proudest days of his life I think, was when he flew his own plane back to Texas to see family. I'd never seen him happier.

My Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about 12 years ago. One of his doctors called it the "long goodbye." He was right. Sadly, most of my kid's recollections of their grandfather is of him being forgetful, not the man I knew.

Alfredo Guajardo Morales was born in San Antonio Texas in 1934. He lived life to the fullest, and taught me everything I know about always wanting more. Although we commit him to the ground today, all I can think is, "just keep flying Dad."