Friday, October 28, 2016


Do any of these smells bring back memories for you?

How about the smell of green tea?

While living overseas, we developed a better 'nose' for aromas that quickly reminded us that life can be different.

After a six-week home leave, we returned each year to Tokyo at the beginning of September. When we emerged from the taxi at our apartment, we took our first breath of the humid air, and the sweet aroma of baking rice cakes filled our lungs. Besides the din of thousands of cicadas in Arisagawa Park, the odor from the rice cake bakery nearby reminded us we were home.

We are so cleansed of smells in our modern world that pungent odors can be surprising. Nothing emanates from our computers, smartphones, or televisions -- not yet, at least. We have reduced the scents from flowers, use mouthwash to cover bad breath, and work to expunge other unpleasant odors. I remember riding in a bus in Paris when a man with an unwashed body and dreadlocks entered the bus. His body odor overwhelmed me so that I had to retreat from the bus at the next stop. I thought of what life in a large city must have been like two hundred years ago. Now we are all so washed clean that we rarely notice body odor except when we are in an enclosed space such as a bus or a gym.

Do you like to color? You are welcome to download these two Inktober drawings.

While living in Paris, we attended wine fairs where as many as 800 independent wineries would offer tastings. One day, even though my head felt full of congestion from a cold, we walked through the door of a huge hall, inhaled the thick, moist air, and spent several hours trying to identify the aromas of the offered wines. At the end of the day, my cold was gone.

At the fair we purchased a wine game called "Le Nez du Vin," which included 54 small vials of liquid, which when opened offered a sniff of various aromas found in wine. We played the game with friends. Very few of us could identify the fragrances. Sometimes we would recognize a scent, but we couldn't name it. So we would pass on Grapefruit, Cherry, Violet, Mushroom, Thyme, Leather, and Toast.

The smells of cigar smoke reminds my husband of his dad, who smoked one continuously for years, lighting up after dinner and filling the dining room with the thick smoke. Do you have similar odors from your past that bring back memories of someone or of some place? Of the five senses, which do you use the most?

This month, along with my Inktober drawing-a-day, I have focused my posts on the senses. As a visual person, I found writing about the sense of sight to be easy, asking Rose Owens to talk of her love of cheese made the sense of taste come alive, but writing about smells so that you could be there with me was much harder. I needed to know more about what the sense of smell means to us. I found a research paper called Aroma, the Cultural History of Smells by Constance Classen, David Howes, and Anthony Sinnott, to be full of information about the importance of smells throughout human history. Good, short read!  Did you know that dwellers in the rainforest depend on their sense of smell because their sight is so restricted by the canopy they live in?

Keep going with your Inktober practice-a-day!

Friday, October 21, 2016


The Blue Angels roared over our heads as we sat on the long grass at Cavallo Point (formerly Ft. Baker) right across from San Francisco. I thought of Disney's "Fantasia" and the ending symphony as we watched the performance. First we saw the blue jets, then their trails, and then the heart-thumping crescendo of the engines, which reminded me of the shriek of the orchestra's brasses and the booming of the kettledrums. The jets turned at the Golden Gate Bridge and zoomed back across the city skyline, skimmed the tops of sailboats, left their trails behind, then as a group they climbed straight up in the sky, again the clap of their engines -- louder than any of the other planes that we had watched that day -- until they vanished in the sky, returning with a nose dive and a screech as they twisted in the air down towards the bay.

During the silence between the jets' sweep, I watched two vultures sail over tall trees looking for prey -- their quiet flight a counterpoint to the jets. Closer to us, the monarchs dipped and twirled their wings over the lawn before they came to rest on the path through the tall grass. A dragonfly buzzed by, and then as I sipped my coffee, a yellow jacket hummed near my hand, hoping for a drink.

The insects disappeared as the jets crossed overhead again, this time so low we could read the words, U.S. Navy, printed on their undersides. Again, their white trails followed by the ear-splitting boom of their engines. A grand finale to our day.


With today's post, I have continued writing about the five senses: my first commitment for Inktober.
How are your Inktober commitments working?
I hope you stay with the one thing a day that you have chosen to do.
Let us know how you are doing!

Friday, October 14, 2016


October means good food. One of the best is cheese. 
I've asked Rose Owens, a cheesemonger and friend,  to explain her favorite cheeses.

Rose with two wheels of blue cheese

In my daily cheese life, I am frequently asked about my favorite cheeses. It's a tough question, not unlike deciding your favorite child, or your favorite thing about being alive, Somehow, I have narrowed it down to three that I will always enjoy no matter well as the flavors I find within them. Join me!

Rose with a wheel of Comte Marcel Petit Essex
Comte Marcel Petite Essex

This magnificent cow's milk cheese from France is truly a king among its brethren. Comte is an Alpine style that is reminiscent of Gruyere, Appenzeller, and other large wheels from Europe. To me, however, Comte is so much more than just a cheese from a particular region. My ideal cheeses are the wheels made with summer milk, which brings out fresh, vibrant tones (the grasses the cows graze upon are freshest). These wheels taste like sunshine, rocky grassy mountain ranges, falling in love, the deep happiness that strikes you at random and highlights your day. It's the perfect cheese, and I could spend the rest of my days eating it!

Berthaut Epoisses

Epoisses is a washed-rind cheese that has been continually wiped or bathed in a liquid that lends particular flavors to the rind, traveling into the paste of the cheese as well. Epoisses is washed in Marc, a liqueur distilled from leftover grapes that have been pressed. Because of this, the cheese has a very strong aroma, characterized by some as quite "stinky." Fun fact: when a cheeses smells particularly intense, this does not mean the cheese itself will taste quite as funky; be brave and give it a try! Epoisses has a wonderful choir of flavors to me. I taste bourbon, vanilla, meat, and passion! That's right, passion itself!

Mothais au Feuille Dantan

Ok, you caught me. I love many cheeses, but the French ones really do a number on me. This cheese is the BEST goat cheese I have ever had the fortune to try. It is made by Fromagerie Poitou, and they seem to have made a deal with the devil, because this cheese absolutely sends me. This cheese is woodsy, with hints of lemon Starburst and fresh clean pillows. Eating this cheese brings me into a forest, where I'm bundled up in a cozy turtleneck, and the leaves swirling around me sing a song of eternal comfort and joy. There are many goat cheeses that dance me to the moon and back, but Mothais does so every single time.

Basically, I learned about tasting cheese by doing just that: tasting cheese over and over and over again. Your intuitions are best; connect the flavors you savor with foods or taste you already know. There's nothing wrong with saying a cheese tastes like "Cheetos" or "bubblegum" or "beef jerky."  Your experiences are real because they are yours! Cherish your tastebuds and taste everything. Come and visit me and we can experience it together!


Rose Owens comes from vibrant stock: the windswept fishermen of Newfoundland and the swarthy romantics of Italy. Her parents taught her to love food with ferocity, and so she has tried to put that into words. She is the Cheese Department Head at Bi-Rite Market on 18th Street in the Mission in San Francisco.

If you would like to take a cheese-tasting trip to meet Rose, let me know. And thank you, Rose, for writing this blog for Postcards in the Air! 

Friday, October 7, 2016


October is such a luscious month, tempting all the senses: the chill in the air after the heat of the summer, the scurry of leaves across the road, the aroma of pumpkin spices, the feel of corduroy, wools, and sturdy shoes, and the taste of butternut squash soup, roasted vegetables, and a thick slice of cheese.

For an artist, October is full of pen and ink drawings in response to Inktober, an event first created by Jake Parker, who encourages us all to enrich our lives by drawing something every day. Last year each week I showcased drawings from relatives and asked you to commit to doing something with intention each day. I challenge you again to do the same. My own posts will focus on the five senses, and will include drawings along the way.

I am short, which is maybe why I like small things, such as the seeds from our Japanese maple trees. Right now our deck is carpeted with hundreds of them -- no small thing. The squirrels love them and as they scramble through the branches and tear at the seeds, they shake many down. Sometimes the seeds are still attached to each other and like helicopter blades, they twirl as they float to the deck.

No small thing to sweep them up. They catch between the wood slats of the deck. Left to themselves when the rains come, they sprout and we will have the start of a small forest in the spaces between the wood. We have to scoop them out before they settle in.

Still, I like small things. Just because they are small doesn't mean that put together in a group they aren't a powerful force.

As Margaret Mead once said,
       "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. 
Indeed it's the only thing that ever has."

I challenge you to think of that statement as you do something with intention for October.  Let me know your choice and how it made you feel by the end of the month.

We have designated October as Compassion Month as well as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Among the women I know, many have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Many have survived that disease and treatment, while others have not. October is a time to remember and cherish them all.