Sunday, November 22, 2015

Too Much Information

Our youngest son, Sam, works at the Sacramento Zoo with animals in the Interpretive Center (IC), which include, generally, animals not able to be on display in the regular part of the Zoo, but many of which are shared with the public through walks around the Zoo or shows in their little theatre.  Here's a picture of Sam with the Eclectus and the Thick-Billed Parrot.

He has worked at the Zoo since he was 14, starting as an intern and, when he turned 18, as an employee. After completing his degree, he began working full time.   He's been bitten and scratched and wounded in all sorts of ways, but I haven't had real cause to worry about his job in all that time (13 years)--until now.

Here he is with Bing, the alligator that arrived at the Zoo at about a quarter this size when he was still quite cute. (Some might argue he's still cute.)

 And here he is showing my visiting cousin the Armadillo. 

This little guy is as cute as can be.  Awww.  But Hedgehog habits aren't so cute.  Notice Sam is holding him with a glove (OK, to protect himself from the spines) and a towel. Well, never mind that.

Last night at dinner, our conversation wandered onto the subject of venomous snakes.  How we arrived there, I can't remember.  But as he explained all about who makes antivenin, how much it costs, how long it lasts, even where it is stored at the Zoo, I said, "You seem to know a lot about the antivenin at the Zoo.  There aren't venomous snakes in the IC, are there?"  "No," he assured me.  "Are there venomous snakes in the Reptile House?"  "Yes," he said.  "You don't handle those, do you?"  "Yes, I do."  "But not with your hands?"  "No," he said, shaking his head.  "Just with snake sticks."

Now I don't have an inordinate fear of snakes.  He left his snake in an enclosure in our family room when he moved out.  And I don't mind him.  He doesn't smell.  He doesn't bark.  He's boring, but pretty self contained.  And since the snake wasn't handled much when he was younger, he will bite, so I don't ever touch him.  And anyway, Sam's forced to come home for a visit every so often to feed him.  Venomous snakes are in another category.  Those I fear.

Now I've watched Sam handle the snake with his snake sticks and I wasn't overly comforted by his suggestion that he doesn't use his hands at the Zoo.  When he feeds his snake here at home, he moves him from his enclosure to another container.  And that snake has a way of slithering right off those sticks and suddenly, there he is on the floor.

Sometimes mothers can be over-informed. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

iPhone Iconoclast

Max has pride of place
Last evening, Max really wanted to go outside after dark.  Usually I can dissuade him by inviting him onto my lap.  This time, he didn't seem open to such dissuasion.  As a result, quite methodically, he used his paw to gracefully swipe item after item from the coffee table by my side.   And one by one, I picked them up and put them back on the table.  The pencil, the pen, the little tablet, the French grammar book, the tissue box, the iPad.   One by one by one.  And finally, the iPhone.  I didn't give it a lot of thought as the iPhone has fallen to the floor many times from a greater height without adverse consequence.  This time, however, it landed precisely on the corner and the front crystal cracked--big time.  So today, I've been forced to handle the phone very carefully.  The cracks are growing and it actually seems as though there is moisture under the glass. So I am having to implore Siri to help me more than I'm used to and have left the phone on the counter instead of carrying it around in my pocket.
iPhone crack creep

With each iteration of cell phone comes more technological dependence and today's incident demonstrates my growing reliance on the convenience.  I stepped outside this evening to enjoy some time under the elm tree in the breeze and peruse the Michelin green guide to Provence. At least six times I moved my hand automatically to grab the phone (which wasn't there) to look up a word in the dictionaries--both French/English and Webster's, search for more information on something I didn't know about, look up a spot on the map.  Pre-phone I had no trouble doing this kind of research without the convenience of the phone by making a note (using an archaic pen) and then consulting the atlas, my maps, the dictionary, even the modern computer.  I find myself relegated to the ranks of the young, which could in other circumstances be quite a compliment.  But I'm a little ashamed for so heavily relying on something others mock on Facebook, Comedy Central, the late night shows, cartoons, and other media--all available on the iPhone.

Max in sleep mode
Later this week, I'll be exchanging my phone for an upgraded device because while I respect the value of an old-fashioned hunt for the answer, I have grown accustomed to instant virtual information.  Max, on the other hand, would like me to stop focusing my attention on anything but him.  As I write this, Max is sitting to the left of the keyboard occasionally swiping at the letters as they populate the screen.  He's a sweetheart of a cat, but really, Max, must you?

Saturday, July 25, 2015


I believe others consider me predictable.  I'm not unkind.  I know the napkin and fork go to the left of the plate and the knife and spoon to the right--knife on the inside, of course, blade toward the plate.  I treat our animals well.  I'm usually good for a laugh when the meeting gets tense.  I communicate well both verbally and in writing.  I'm fussy about my coffee.  My drink of choice is gin--unadulterated.  I love to eat.  I always glance at the river--whatever river that might be--when I pass over a bridge.  My friends can count on me in a pinch.  I love my family with all my heart.   

Add caption
So now that I've reached the advanced age of over 65 (no need to be specific) having acted mostly responsibly my entire life, I've decided today to go blue.  Blue nail polish, that is.

After all, what's the use of maturity if you can't act unpredictably once in a while? 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Le bonheur

From time to time in the last several months, I find myself suddenly overcome with a feeling of "le bonheur" or "happiness."  I can't really explain it and I especially can't ever explain the timing of these feelings. I might be walking around the block, which actually is an understandable venue.  But it happens just as often when I'm sitting in front of the t.v. watching the news--the bulk of which is stressful, anxiety producing, makes me angry or at least annoyed, fills me with sorrow, and rarely makes me feel good.  And sometimes I'm stuck in traffic watching the light turn red and green and red and green while I sit with my foot on the brake.  Or in a more understandable moment, I'm at the table with my boys enjoying a meal.  It simply strikes uninvited, but most welcome, at the strangest times.

I wonder if I am undergoing some kind of metamorphosis--some physical change in the structure of my brain.  Or is it that I've reached a point in my life when I can compartmentalize any frustration or sadness in a way that shuts it down before it can grab my soul.  I'm not fighting it.  I'm enjoying it.  But I cannot really understand it.  And I don't remember ever having this kind of intense and sudden feeling out of the blue.

I still ponder morbid thoughts about the endless possibilities that could befall me--especially just as we're ready to leave for France in the fall.  But these newfound deep feelings of elation and happiness are a welcome respite.  I'm counting on them to comfort me through the drudgery of the already-proving-to-be rancorous presidential campaign, the despair reported about people's lives on the news, the ever-worsening climate change, concern for the ubiquitous terrorist violence, ad infinitum.

I chose "le bonheur" as my companion any time it drifts my way. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day Commandments

Today is my first Father's Day without a father of my own.  It's just one more opportunity for me to conjure up some good memories.  And that's easy to do.  Recently, I came across Dad's hand-written Ten Commandments and sent them to my siblings.  My brother, of course, reminded me of the original fifteen, and Dad would have loved the association with Mel Brooks.
Dad at Nantes Cathedral, France

Here are Dad's Ten.  And if anyone lived by these, he did.  He never passed up an opportunity to sit down with someone whose views he may not have shared prepared to be persuaded--but only if the other point of view somehow worked better for him.  And listen he did--always respectfully, I might add.

1. Thou shalt open thine eyes to perceive the "round about."
2. Thou shalt create meaning.
3. Thou shalt care deeply and lovingly for thyself.
4. Thou shalt have care and compassion for all other "thous."
5. Thou shalt learn the rules which enable life to be corporate so that creatures may survive.
6. Thou shalt sing and laugh and take great pleasure.
7. Thou shalt be with others for others without "using" them against their interests.
8. Thou shalt gather together with those who share similar attitudes and meanings to reinforce thine own.
9. Thou shalt gather with others who differ from thee to learn from them.
10. Thou shalt create visions of great good.

Dad was one of a kind.  He will always be remembered.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Final Days in France

Dad in Nantes, France, 2008
I admit that my last post in October left my readers somewhat up in the air about the rest of the France story--not to mention the many months since.  Briefly, just before leaving Canet-Plage (south of France on the Mediterranean), my father, Theodore Webb, died back home. 

Four siblings
This event colored the last few days of the trip and the months following my return home.  Dad was 96 and had lived an accomplished life as a Unitarian-Universalist minister in the upper Northeast and in Sacramento, California.  The death of a parent is a sad affair, but fortunately, I have many wonderful memories; and I think of him and my mother every single day. After my return from France, the run-up to Dad's memorial consumed much time and attention.  In mid-December, we held a wonderful memorial event that brought together all four of his children and at least some of their families to honor him. 

Viaduc de Millau
On the trek back to Paris for our return flight, we crossed the Viaduc de Millau enjoying that stunner bridge that quite literally takes your breath away.  It soars across the valley as graceful as a heron in flight while engineered to ensure the safety of all who touch tire to pavement out in space.

Our final day in France we visited Chantilly--on the outskirts of Paris. We have driven by on several occasions and never taken the time to enter.  This time we enjoyed the riches of art in the Musee Conde, which is reported to be the second museum of old art (before 1850) in France after the Louvre.
Staircase ram's head

Jeanne d'Arc
Chandelier detail

The Chateau was built in the 16th century and sits on 20 thousand acres of meandering parkland and includes an 18th-century stable for almost 250 horses and many more hunting dogs. 

Hunting dogs statuary
View of the stables from the Chateau

It was on our return drive to the airport before sunrise that we discovered our headlights were frighteningly bad.  Traffic on the highway toward Charles de Gaulle was horrendous, so we took an alternate route on back roads where there were blessedly few cars but zero ambient light.  We avoided any critters that could easily have been crossing the road in our path unseen and arrived at the car lease company relatively unscathed.   After an uneventful flight, it was good to be home.

In the months since our arrival in October, we have already started planning for our next trip in September.  Flights have been purchased, the car has been leased, and we have settled on two separate weeks' locations.  The remainder of the plans will be on the fly and as the spirit takes us (and the weather is good).  When the time comes, I'll post from France again.  In the meantime, I'll try to be more communicative. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Au Revoir, Méditerranée

After spending almost two weeks waking up to the sunrise over the water, we head north for Paris and parts west--far west.
From our balcony, sunrise over the Mediterranean

Our apartment is just above entrance with green tablecloth

Seaside walk in front of our apartment
Our host (landlord) arrived exactly on time to check the apartment and was most gracious (and discreet) in checking around at our cleaning job--stellar, I might add.  We had spent the early morning cleaning and went for coffee in order to steel ourselves for the day ahead.  The lavarie (laundramat) was closed, so I was unable to wash the draps (sheets) and duvet cover, and M. Rigo seemed unfazed by that though his wife may have more to say about it.  Right around the corner, we have visited a particular brasserie where we enjoyed either coffee or beer depending on the time of day.  We bid adieu to the Madame there, packed the car and carried out the bags of garbage that we Americans accumulate like nobody else.

After saying goodbye to M. Rigo and leaving him with his keys, we hopped into the car making our feeble attempts at showing energy for the day ahead.  We drove north toward Narbonne where the road is often very windy.  Fortunately, even the wind generators were still.  The last time I drove that stretch, I returned home wracked with pain in my arms and shoulders from clutching the wheel.  

The terrain changed from seaside and oyster beds to scrubby hills.  North of Narbonne, we headed toward Millau in the Central Massif where the hills changed to mountains and valleys.
Millau bridge approaching from south

Millau bridge from north side
Constructed 10 years ago, the bridge at Millau is the highest viaduct in the world.  The road bed is 900' above the River Tarn.  It's a magnificent feat of engineeering and construction spanning a deep valley in a way that is both practical and graceful.  It's a wonder to look at.

The skies opened and we were deluged with rain slowing us down and making the driving more challenging.  On the péage (toll road), signs are posted, which show that the normal speed limit is 130 kph.  When it's raining, the speed limit reduces to 110 kph, which means the 8.5-hour trip is stretched into a 9-plus-hour trip.
Speed camera ahead

Mr. Speed Camera--box in center with evil eyes
 I've described the speed cameras before, so you know we slow down whether we want to or not.

As we moved out of the Massif Central to lower hills again, the woods crept up to the road and the trees became skinny and tall the way they are in northern France (because they are constantly harvested).  By the time we passed over the Cher River (which runs through the Loire Valley and, in fact, under my favorite chateau, Chenonceaux), the sky lightened and we saw the sun peek through here and there. After the Cher, the landscape changed to flat long fields far into the distance--a little like the terrain in the agricultural central valley of California.  But different. . .

Closer to Paris, traffic became thicker and unpleasant.  Already tired, we became resolved to our fate of having to drive the périphérique around Paris at rush hour--in the dark--along with many others not wanting to be there any more than I did.  There were no other choices and I found a lane (as far right as possible without being kicked off at whatever the next exit was) where I sat--and I mean "sat," rather than racing smoothly along at my allowed 110 kpm.  We finally dumped onto the A6 toward Charles de Gaulle airport and headed for Senlis where we had hotel reservations.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot of the Hotel IBIS, it was past 8 p.m.  We had left at 10 a.m.  That 8.5-hour drive somehow ballooned to 10 hours.  We checked in, dropped our luggage in the room and had dinner at the hotel--not our first choice. But considering our day, that was the best choice.

Glad to be here.  Well, sort of glad to be here. . .