Friday, September 26, 2014


Riding on the BART train, we approached the Oakland station that would lead us across to baseball park to see the Oakland A's play. My husband and I go to a half dozen day games where we enjoy the sun, the goings-on in the stands, and the play on the field.

At a game I still wait for the "Peanuts, Crackerjacks" call of the vendors who sprint up and down the stands through all nine innings. We don't buy Crackerjacks, but Bill and I both love peanuts and we often share a bag during a game. In a full bag, one peanut looks like all the others. The shells are shaped like a human body without the arms, legs, or heads. Inside are the nuts we crave.

Bill digs his hand in the bag. I dig in next. We each get a handful. We each want to make sure we get our fair share. I look at his handful. He looks at mine. Satisfied, we begin to crack the shells, pop the nuts --one or two -- into our mouths,  and crunch on the salty treats. By the end of the bag, we both have a circle of spent shells around our feet. Neither of us wants to take the last peanut from the bag. It's already broken -- the Old Maid of the bag. Bill leans over towards me with the bag, and I finally take the last one.

I look at the mottle, brownish-gold casing with its hairline cracks running through. The casing is tough though, and holds on to the nuts within. I crush the shell with my thumb and it splits. I push the nuts out into my hand, pop them into my mouth, and drop the shell without care on the ground. I didn't offer Bill one of the nuts.

The peanuts brought out our selfishness when we both coveted a handful, yet we also were mindful of the other as we passed the bag back and forth. We played with the last peanut shell until Bill offered it to me, and I forgot that I could have shared its contents.

We went to a game in Tokyo. At the end of the game everyone picked up their own trash! (peanut shells included)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Seven Billion and Counting

By the time I am 105, there will be nine billion people living on earth.
Nine billion people -- an incredible number -- two billion more than today.
The October issue of National Geographic brought this astounding fact to me. How do you feed nine billion people? 

When we lived in Japan, we attended a gathering for the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.*  M.S. Swaminathan, the father of the green revolution in India, was the honored guest. He is the scientist most responsible for increasing crop production and encouraging modern farming methods in India. People at the party sat at his feet listening attentively to everything he uttered. I was interested because his foundation supports increasing opportunities for women. Others from India had firsthand experience with the effects of large population on food availability. In a Tweet in 2014, Swaminathan stated, "Future belongs to nations with grain, not guns. Will we see food security for all?"*

M.S.Swaminathan in the center

While we were in Japan, we became friends with a couple who founded Asia Initiatives.* The group provides funding for local bank loans to villages, builds structures in villages that increase community ties, and encourages the education of women. Our small donation along with many others helped to build a village radio station and tower before the tsunami in 2004. Many lives were saved because the station gave warnings of the pending disaster.

 Radio station in operation

Asia Initiatives is one of many groups working outside of the U.S, not just on food and sustainability issues.  There are many more opportunities at home as well. My husband Bill volunteers with Wardrobe for Opportunity,* which provides clothing and job skills workshops for low-income individuals. I've just signed on as a writer coach with WriterCoach Connections* at a Berkeley middle school. Coaches work throughout the district (and Oakland, Richmond, and Albany) as supporters for each middle and high school student with teacher-assigned writing projects. Both of these opportunities require large time commitments, but there are so many small ways we can help someone in need:

A postcard. A hug. Good listening. Food donations. All those touches that uplift anyone.  There are so many people who need help in different ways and so many places to help. Are you one of the seven billion now who can make a difference?

If you work for a group that helps others and would like to share the name/website, email me the information and I will post it on this blog.  Thank you! 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


I am still practicing lettering. I'm using a Tombow brush instead of a pointed pen. 
I like the brush much better.

I find the concentration needed in lettering  similar to setting type for letterpress, ironing, or writing haiku. The small sweeps of the brush remind me of a walk on the Iron Horse Trail. I wrote a poem about my walk as part of an ABCDarian, which is a poetic form that uses each letter of the alphabet to create an A to Z poem.



Black tar marks scroll down
the asphalt on the Iron Horse Trail.
Like calligraphers,
two workers with a large pen,
swoop across the cracks
pushing out more tar 
letting the last dry brush strokes
peter out across the trail.                     

The ghost of 'yama' -- river --
wanders the path
the tar has sunk in.
Leaves, dust and
a broken pinecone or two
fill in the valleys.

The asphalt conceals the old
railroad line which
covered the horse trail which
covered the deer path which
covered the silt and mud which
covered the bones turned to fossils
deep beneath the asphalt trail.             

Ants near the strokes,
push up dirt from the tiny
caverns they are making.
Dirt from deep down below -- 
fragments of wheat, oats,
manure, glass, bones.

Calligraphy makes you see letterforms in many different places.  Do you see them too?

Friday, September 5, 2014


I am a gardener. People who garden work against nature. We plant plants that need water, we put plants where they don't belong. Even a succulent garden needs water once a week. If I didn't garden, our home would be surrounded by the golden grasses, oak trees and mesquite that are native to our area. (Not a bad idea, really) We have a beautiful garden. Even with the shade the trees provide, this drought year, our garden is suffering in a severe drought.

A leaky faucet set us down a muddy path. Around us dirt flew, stethoscopes probed. We were looking for a leak that was spewing out gallons a day. In water-starved California, we cringed as we realized our efforts at saving water by taking Navy showers, turning down sprinkler settings or not planting water-thirsty annuals, were minuscule efforts compared to the water lost in our garden.We discovered  the culprit and we capped off a forgotten faucet at the top of our hill. Our trees  nearby had broken the pipes leading to the faucet.  (We found the leak by subscribing to EDMUD's WaterSmart, which graphs residential water usage.  

We, like so many Californians, have been seduced by the thoughts of cool English gardens -- green places sheltered from the sun. In our garden that we planted long ago, we grow flowers that bloom every season, fruit trees that depend on water to bear fruit, coastal redwoods, and the green grass that every home in our town seems to require. I watch my garden with a sad heart as the leaves crinkle up from the heat and the grasses grown brown. This year we need to make hard choices.

A visit to Ruth Bancroft's garden in Walnut Creek reminded me of the true landscape of this part of California: dry and parched in the summer with plants sustaining themselves with winter rain.  Ruth Bancroft, who celebrated her 106 birthday this past week, planted a garden of succulents and cacti that can survive with a weekly watering.  (Check out the garden at

What I liked best about her garden were the trees that she planted.  Underneath the trees, there was no grass, but there were picnic tables spread with cheery tablecloths. Though the temperature was hot, the shade of the trees made a comfortable place for a picnic. The need for green grass and flowering plants seemed less important when friends could gather around a table for a good meal under the shade of a native California tree.