Happy Saturday! I’m off to the post office with 30 postcards for an election in Pennsylvania. It’s warm here, so I’m wearing shorts. Don’t shoot me. It’s also windy. Then I guess I should come home and clean the house, because it really needs it and I’ll be out tomorrow. However, I’m not really feeling it.

Last weekend I was watching M packing up for China. She’s back there now — Alex’s company (he and a friend are starting a stop-motion animation company) is doing well, which means that the studio is expanding, and M and Alex, who have been living upstairs from the studio, will be moving into an apartment. The place they’re in is nice — it’s an actual house (they’re far enough from the center of Beijing that such a thing is possible) in a little neighborhood of houses. It’s got a yard, and it’s fairly big — the studio plus a kitchen, three bedrooms and a bathroom downstairs, and three bedrooms, two baths and a big living room upstairs. M has a nice studio upstairs, and they have a nice big bedroom with another room off of it.  It seems a little sad to me to be losing such a nice, big space, but the apartments they are looking at are in another nice neighborhood (they’re called gardens)  a 15 minute walk away. M says she will go back to the studio for lunch every day (it will be good for her to see people). And it will be exciting for them to have their own apartment and kitchen.

It’s also unbelievable cheap, apparently because they’re outside the 5th ring.

I can’t believe she’s been gone less than a week. We’d got used to having her around. I think we’re still adjusting to being just the two of us. In fact, I’m sure of it. Anyway, I may not get around to all the cleaning up I’m intending, and that’s probably ok. Possibly by next week I will have summoned the strength to face the basement, which is the key to all further cleaning.

There must be a way of balancing what you ought to do with what you would like to do. It doesn’t help that there are so  many things you ought to do — exercise, see friends, clean the house, read books. It’s overwhelming! It doesn’t help that we now have to spend 5 hours a day reading news/writing postcards/calling government officials/arranging resistance events.

But surely leaving the house is the first step, so I’m off to the post office.






Vacation, really, is now over


The youngest member is now on a flight to China.

She was home for over a month, and it’s now a little difficult to remember how we used to live before she was here. I have particularly enjoyed her visit — she will look at birds with me, she helps around the house, she likes to play games, and she makes me watch TV shows I would not otherwise watch. Midsomer Murders, Jane the Virgin and One Day at a Time, for example.  It’s a change from my otherwise steady diet of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell.

Anyway, I enjoyed having her here. I think she feels like she did not get all the things done that she wanted to get done, but it seems to me we did a lot – though what we did, endless rounds of cribbage in Anza Borrego, for example, was possibly not on her list of things to get done.

So, now the house is pretty quiet. I need to pack up the remains of Christmas (apparently I have until Candlemas to do that, and that’s February 2. That’s manageable.) I need to get back to work out in the yard, although it’s possibly too muddy to do that yet. I need to exercise more and get outside more.


I have been reading this nutty and beautiful book, and it makes me want to go exploring. There are lots of wild, amazing places I have not been and want to go.

I’m in the middle a sweater, and in the middle of a quilt. I’d like to finish those.

Other than that, — I don’t know!

Maybe a nap.



Ferruginous hawks!

M leaves a week from today. It has been so nice having her here. I think having her live so far away (Beijing) is bearable because she comes home and stays for a while, though I think she’s eager to get back to her life. I think she’s done nearly all the things she wanted to done while home. There were a lot — mostly doctor, dentist, eye doctor appointments before she turns 26, and then a bunch of administrative things. We usually visit museums, too, so we’ll have to fit that in as well. Hmm.

The weekend before last we went to the Salton Sea. This weekend we went to the Women’s March in Oakland, and then I drove up to meet a birding field trip near Willows, while she stayed home.

The march was excellent. We dithered about going, but I’m really glad we did. It was smaller than last year’s, but still big — 50,000 as opposed to 100,000 last year (which was phenomenal and massive).

Birding was phenomenal. We hit up two big National Wildlife Refuges, Sacramento and Colusa, then the Maxwell cemetery where we saw the resident vermillion flycatcher, and stopped on the way back in Woodside near the Plainfield elementary school to see  a field of hawks, including at least three ferruginous hawks, standing on the ground eating voles. Three people from my master birding class were along and it was nice to spend time with them.

I absolutely love driving through the central valley, driving through agricultural fields, driving in winter when the trees are bare and you can see everything, flooded fields full of ducks, being outside in the cold then coming in, exploring places that most people don’t ever go, finding the secret bird life that goes on in those places, getting to know this whole state, including, again, places most people don’t go.

It reminds me of the landscape in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, where birds write magic across the sky —

“The sky spoke to him.
It was a language he had never heard before. He was not even certain there were words. Perhaps it only spoke to him in the black writing the birds made. He was small and unprotected and there was no escape. He was caught between earth and sky as if cupped between two hands. They could crush him if they chose.”

There are other quotes that are better, but that’s the one I found easily.

Anyway. It’s a slow Monday here. I’d better get to work.


Salton Sea


M and I are just back from a birding trip to the Salton Sea.

What a very strange place! It’s got a fascinating history, but it’s now shrinking, and becoming increasingly saline. Because there are now fewer fish (too salty, there are fewer birds than there were 20 years ago, but it’s still a place that attracts rare migrants. It’s also in the south, and so of course has birds I don’t usually see. So we spent Saturday birding around the lake with a group of bay area birders, and we saw a lot. They’re also really nice people.

Sunday we drove over to Anza Borrego State Park, another amazing place, where we met up with my brother and his wife, and hiked into a desert canyon. We spent the night and the next morning there, and then drove home that afternoon, running into some hellish fog along the way so we got home late.

It was nice, though. Not only was it warm and sunny, there were interesting new birds and odd new landscapes. Also, after what seemed like a very short Christmas break, it was nice to take another mini-vacation. I think I may have shaken the torpor I’ve been existing in since I went back to work, unwillingly, on January 2.


M goes back to China is a week, so it was nice to spend some time with her on vacation. It was also nice to have a partner on a birding expedition. The birders are mostly, but not exclusively, an elderly group, and they’re always charmed when someone under 45 comes along. They are sweet.

Life seems pleasant at the moment. I walked home in the rain to our cozy house and am now propped here on the couch under a blanket, listening to the intricacies of how the NRA colluded with the Russians to funnel money to the Trump campaign. Cora, the cat, has taken over my knitting for her napping spot. M went out to dinner with a friend and  they’re now home, talking upstairs. We’ve got plans to visit N in Philadelphia in March.

It’s good.



Every day I wake up and think, I don’t want to go to work!

I have a thousand things to do — sweaters to knit, puzzles to finish, birds to observe, blog posts to write, closets to declutter, huge rose bushes in the backyard to tame, cats to spoil.

In part, the fact that I will retire in a few years makes this feeling stronger, but to tell the truth I have been feeling this ever since I had kids. Though, with kids, the prospect of a quiet lunch hour was some compensation.

Anyway. It has suddenly been raining, which is a good thing because we were teetering on the edge of a drought. M is with us through the end of december, so we’ve been watching Jane the Virgin and puzzling every evening. I AM knitting a sweater. And we are taking a trip down to the Salton Sea to look at birds — so life is not all bad.

And there you have it —

Holiday recap

Back at work. (I can’t believe I have to be back at work.)

What a busy holiday! It was kind of great.


  • Watched the Marvelous Mrs Maisel (great)
  • Played games — Ticket to Ride, Secret Hitler, Cards Against Humanity — games are great, actually. Younger daughter M’s boyfriend A had not really spent time with older daughter N and playing games is a great way to get to know people pretty quickly. It was a way M and A could spend time with my brother D and N’s friends — we could all be together and interacting. Fun. Also, at a New Year’s Eve party we played poker, Chinese checkers and something called Codenames, which were also fun and useful in the same way.
  • Went to see the Hard Nut (which the girls rejected — turns out they are Nutcracker purists.)
  • Went to the Sound exhibit at SF MOMA — the Visitors by Ragnar Kjartansson was amazing. M had seen it at Kenyon when it was new.
  • Had 3 parties — solstice, xmas eve and xmas day. Went to a few others.
  • Built two puzzles.
  • Baked some cookies, but probably not enough.
  • Watched Coco. We cried.
  • Watched Jane the Virgin, which is great.
  • M and I went birding on New Years Day and saw 42 species (great jump on 2017 count!) including a short eared owl, which neither of us had ever seen before.
  • Oh! I did the Christmas bird count and went to the party after.

I’m sure there is more, but I can’t remember. We shopped and opened presents and gave presents and sent presents across the continent. We cooked food and ate food and cooked more food and ate more food.

M is still here through the end of the month — getting in her final medical visits before she turns 26 and doing other life-administrative tasks. It’s great to have her here, actually — not least of all because she is also a birder and it is really nice to have someone to go birding with. We’re a good team, too.

N is back on the east coast, staying with her girlfriend A’s parents, visiting my mother, returning to Philadelphia pretty soon for classes to start up again.

I am really enjoying having kids who are adults. They have their own lives. They seem to like to come and hang around ( ) and then they go back to their own interesting lives (and then they send me pictures! mostly of their pets). I don’t know why, but I never anticipated how great this would be. The fact that they have their own, interesting lives — why does this surprise me? But it’s the best thing!

In other news, I love January. It’s like November, I think — both cold, bleak, underappreciated months. I love that it’s dark and very empty outside. M and I went up to an old ranch off the north bay yesterday to go birding. It is so beautiful, with the rusty marsh plants and the looming dark mountains and the quiet bay in the distance. I love every season, but I do particularly love winter.

And, since she’s here, we’ve got another few birding trips lined up — to the Salton Sea and the Central Valley.  And March is really busy — we want to go camping in the Carrizo Plain, to Nebraska to see the Sandhill Cranes and to Philadelphia to visit N. And then it will be summer. I’d love to go back to China in the fall — So that’s all a lot.

I’d also like to build a shed/office in the back yard. K needs a place to keep all his files. I think it could be really nice. So we need to think about that. And I have sweaters to knit and a quilt to finish.

Lots of projects.

Happy New Year!






I did the Christmas bird count yesterday. Oakland has the biggest bird count in the world, and it’s a lot of fun. (Really, go read that article. You’ll see a lot of what makes Golden Gate Audubon so special.) This was my third year, but the first time I made it to the compilation dinner, and I don’t think I’ll miss it again, if I can. You sit at a table with your teammates, and Bob and Dave first go over all the birds which have been seen ten years running. (The only bird from that list which was not seen this year was the Loggerhead Shrike, which means it may no longer exist in our area, which is sad.) Then the birds seen 9, 8 and 7 of the last ten years. Of those birds, a few gulls — Heermann’s and Bonaparte’s — were not seen this year, though they may have been seen by one of the boats. (We have boats!) Then each table reports anything it saw that was not previously mentioned. It’s very festive, and we eat Chinese food, which seems completely appropriate — you can imagine in the beginning, when there were 9 people doing this, they might have ordered Chinese food while they counted what they’d seen. Nowadays we get about 260 people.

No one from my team showed up for the dinner, but I found some people I know from the Master Birding class to sit with. I felt kind of sad that I had not been assigned to one of the crack teams, but I talked with the organizer afterwards, just to let him know that someone from my team was there (the leader had phoned in our results), and he asked if I was okay there, and said that they had assigned me to that team because they thought the leader might need help. And in fact, I was the leader of my little sub-team, which consisted of me, a ten year old bird-enthusiast, and his father. So — if that’s the case, I think I’m going to start birding in that area so I’ll know the whole place for next year, and I’ll try to lure some of my crack birding friends to come with me. Next year, I hope we’ll actually have a table.

Because I really did nothing but bird yesterday, I am playing hooky today to get the house in order for Christmas! and for Nora and Maddy! who are coming home for Christmas! Maddy with boyfriend Alex in tow! Nora’s coming in tonight, and I realized that all I really have to do is to get her bedroom in shape. Because it’s a big room, and because she doesn’t live here, it tends to fill up with detritus. My camping gear, for instance. I went backpacking in late August, I think, but it’s been an insanely busy year and it’s still sitting up there. Anyway, I have now made up her bed. I need to vacuum, and finish the ironing (which also happens there) and haul several boxes up to the attic (which is not easy), and then at least her room will be done.

Maddy comes on Wednesday, but I want to have the house clean enough that I don’t have to worry about it until after Christmas.

We have lived here 11 years now, I think — almost as long as we lived in our first house three towns north of here. We moved here when the youngest went to high school and the oldest was a junior. So that was 8 years with kids still in high school and college, though they’ve both been back for periods of about 6 months in the three years since we’ve had no kids really living here. Actually, if I think about it that way I understand why I feel that we’re only just now figuring out how to live in the house.  It felt so big when we first moved in, but in truth it’s actually pretty small, and if you think about it as a small house it seems to make more sense. In any case, though, I think I’m fonder of it than I’ve ever been. Partly, I think I have reconciled myself to the fact that the  few closets we have are very small, and the only way to deal with that is to have less stuff.

I think part of it is realizing that it is indeed great to have more space than things.  So I’m working on that.

Anyway — off to deal with the camping gear.