I am reading Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich by Alison Owings. Some of you may be aware that Alison is my neighbor and my mother's poker buddy. I grew up thinking my mother was a great poker player, which apparently she is, relative to the person who gave that testimony, my father. My father is not known for his "game face". I have no doubt my mother could make a mean poker player, as she is analytical, competitive, and can be quite controlled when circumstances call for it. However, I doubt her attention span compared to someone like Alison. Alison is simultaneously focused and funny. She is the kind of redhead who can wear puce and look hot. Alison is interested in everything. This we have in common.

In getting ready to blog about Frauen (Alison: can I use blog as a verb now?) I googled it and read some reviews. There is a bit of academic snitting out there about Alison's methods and her focus - all of which I think is irrelevent because she lays out her intentions solidly in the introduction. It is not a historical document, it is an exploration into what one woman might tell another about her experience. It is completely qualitative - and as other reviewers have mentioned, it may be exactly this approach that gave Alison her access to these women and their very personal stories. Reading Frauen is like getting to know somebody. First you learn the things they want you to know, then later the things they know about themselves but would rather keep secret, and eventually you learn things they don't know about themselves. Alison has been through this process with the 29 women in the book (and more who are not profiled in Frauen) and takes the reader through the same experience. Of course this is conversational - Alison herself is the protagonist of this story - and although the interviews do not appear in the book in the chronological order in which they were conducted, the reader definitely experiences the journey of discovery along with the interviewer.

To answer the critics, (if I may paraphrase them, although they clearly don't like that) is this a good way of learning about history? The obvious (and glib) answer is that this is an enjoyable and entertaining read that many people will pick up and therefore many people will learn about history - as opposed to a more quantitative survey. But to be more direct, the book does not present a history of events, only attempts to draw a portrait of what a certain group of people felt like. If you ask my grandmother Faye Mendenhall Daniel O'Neil about Earl Warren Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, she will tell you he was a charming man about the neighborhood who would walk little Johnny Warren around the block in a stroller while she walked little Barbie (future poker player). If you ask elsewhere (in this case, wikipedia), you will find out that he was the California governor responsible for internment of Japanese-Americans in that state during WWII, that he was surprisingly liberal in the view of Eisenhower who appointed him to the Court, and that he presided over Brown vs. Board of Education among other historic cases. If you mention this to Grammy, she will be surprised that you have heard of her old neighbor. I am quite sure that she would have been aware of all these events at the time they occured - but didn't mentally link them to Warren? Who's to say. My Grammy is like Forest Gump - an accidental witness to the big events of history. I'll leave it to my brother - the budding journalist - to write about her.

By the same token, I get the feeling that Alison does not believe certain statements of her subjects, whether about historical events themselves (which she explicitly tests) or about their contemporary knowledge of the events. This is especially vivid with regards to exactly when the women became aware of the gassing of Jews and the real purpose of concentration camps. At least one of the interviewees supports Alison's consistent message that "Volk" (ordinary people) must have known, and known earlier, than they admit. I'm on woman 22 or so now, I am looking forward to see whether Alison makes a go of abstracting the body of interviews at the end of the work (I am not a skip-aheader). I'll let you know how it turns out.

PS: Lest Dad start protesting that he is in fact an excellent poker player and had to hold back to avoid creating a socially awkward situation by winning all the time, I remind him that he has in the past attributed his superior poker skills to the fact that "he didn't like the beer they brought" and therefore, was clearly not doing the sportsmenlike thing by sharing the handicap.

People are Complaining

Hi everybody who is complaining about not getting enough news. Yes I know I have no phone, no doorbell, no cell, and sometimes (?) have email/skype. But I'm teaching everyday! Ahg I am tired. I have 28 perky second years, who lack that lovely silent awe of authority that so enamoured me to last year's 2nd years. Do you know what Mohr Circles for Stress can do to a bunch of teenage malcontents? Hysteria.

Anyway, some other blogs from like-minded Alaskans to keep you busy while you wait for me to give up some photos:
  • I don't know this person but I am SO right there right now: Firy Blazing Handbasket recounts the Moose vs. Broccoli battle. Here's a quote: "We get an additional 50 CabinDwelling points for having a vintage, somewhat running automotive monstrosity parked on the property". Yoo HOo SILA! Is that why you built the driveway?

  • The Kodiak Konfidential, written by a fisherman who hangs out at Tony's Navigational Hazzard [sic] and calls himself "Call Me Ishmael". Why do I want to hang out with Ishmael so bad? His posted-by-ACS-cellphone commentary on the Alaskan Congressional (National Laughingstocks) delegation has me rolling, for example when the FBI raid on Ted Steven's Girdwood Mansion revealed that the Senior Senator has horrible taste in hammered brass salmon sculptures. I caught myself wondering what Ishmael might look like, but ran into a hitch trying to superimpose the image of a good-looking man on memory's of Tony's. Hmmm. Good thing I've already got myself a fine specimen of a salmon-killer.

  • Also hailing from the Emerald Isle, The Kodiak Perspective blogs from perhaps the one place in town where all must go: Christian, Coastie, Russian, New-Wave Russian, Native, Filipino... The Post Office! The Perspective got a bad slap of comments a while ago when he (rightfully) pointed out that not every public servant on the island is completely useful, all of the time. He's returned to safer political ground by heckling about the roads rather than those who police them. I check in with the Perspective about twice as often as he updates - just to see what's out and about in Kodiak. Check out his post "Bear vs. Pig" - brings me right back to our 2-pig field trip to Afognak.

Just to prove that somebody somewhere is getting something done, here is the new driveway, leading to the new woodshed/shop at 64910 Leandra Rd:

And, although not exactly up to the original specs we talked about, here is the shower:


Platteklip Gorge and a Goat

Fantastic hike Sunday up Platteklip Gorge on Table Mountain. I went with my pal James who is a MSc student and Kirsten, our new ICPMS operator (I think?) from East Germany. Lucky for us it was a cool day with intermittant swirling fog. It felt a lot easier than when I hiked up with Sila in the blazing sun!

There was a lot of water and little springs everywhere, which made it so nice to wash my face half way up. The trail is brutally switchbacked - climbs about 700m in 3 km up the nearly shear cliffs of Table Mountain Group rocks. Here's a pretty waterfall in the lower section, Graafwater Fm. terrigenous seds.

Here's James and Kirsten taking a breather behind a boulder. The number and size of boulders littering the path and the area around it is ... um... sobering. Anyone remember the house on the highway out of Red Lodge, MT? Anyway, everybody takes breaks on this trail. We leap frogged up, passing each other on breaks, with a few other groups and families. Quite social actually.

After reaching the top of the severely steep trail! I turned to wait for the others and had a wild hallucination. Actually no, this is a Himalayan Tahr, a type of goat which was (how many times will I use this phrase?) originally introduced by Cecil John Rhodes for his zoo. Here's a WWF article explaining why the invasive tahrs must be eradicated, since they directly compete with native species which could be reintroduced, such as the klipspringer. Here's an article from National Geographic explaining that the tahrs must be saved, because they've been there 70 years at least and anyway, the Dali Llama agrees.

The website says they're only 90cm at the shoulder, but doesn't that make James really really small?

Fog was quite swirly at the top but we crossed out to McClear's beacon to see the diamictite. This has been interpreted in the past as a glacial till but I am SO COMPLETELY SURE IT IS NOT A TILL that I won't shut up about it. My current idea is that it is just a intra-formational catastrophic deposit (I think tsunami, James suggested jo¨kulhlaup (a flood caused by the failure of an ice dam) or similar outburst. Can't rule out storm surge. Now spending "spare time" digging in the lit for diagnostic features of tsunami deposits. A detailed look at the diamictite is certainly in order. Old papers report ice wedges in this deposit - I can't find them but must look again!!


The Whales Are Back

On the 11th of this month, the first Southern Right Whales were sighted off St. James. This morning I had my first look at them, 5 or 6 rolling and lolling and hanging around with flukes sticking straight out of the water! They were fantastic. They looked like they couldn't be happier or more unconcerned with the fishing boats coming and going from tiny Kalk Bay harbour. They looked like easy prey for Ishmael. I am so happy to see them.

I bought yarn for Eric's Santa Cruz Hoodie and a Team Zissou hat for my pal James. I bought olive ciabatta and butternut ciabatta at Olympia bakery and a new sleeping bag at my favorite store Cape Storm. James and I went to the Oude Moulen farm stall for a hot chai and some organic jams and honey.


Coming Clean & Spring Cleaning

Alright, well, I have to tell you I had a little break-in at my place. The bars were ripped from the bathroom window the night before I left for the states, and all that was taken that night was a bit of cash I had in the bed side table. Prior to the landlord replacing the bars, the thief (who must have been extraordinarily small to fit in the tiny bathroom window) returned and stole the other items small enough to fit through the bathroom window: the electric kettle, the alarm clock, my skype camera, my sleeping bag (!)... i think I have finally checked all over for all those things and they are officially gone. Rosie, from whom I sublet, lost a few small things too, and she came while I was gone and moved some of her stuff to storage, like the TV (thank goodness) but not the piles of knick knacks and broken radiator (dammit).

This is "coming clean" because I didn't want to tell you folks at home about the break-in: didn't want you to worry? Embarrassed that I had left the window unlatched with the washing machine hose running out the window - a clear invitation to thieves? Also a bit scared myself, feeling security threatened? Strangely motivated to cover up the incident, not sure exactly why. Sorry for not being honest.

Anyway -
Time to take ownership of the event, of the place, of my space. Time to stop feeling like I'm living out of a suitcase and make it feel "homey." Time to get my own furnishings and stepwise replace Rosie's stuff. Time to paint the bathroom green:

Only the little bit around the head is green, the ceilings will be white (and the ceiling molding, hows that mom!). I will do the rest of the bathroom, bedroom and living room in a very light buttery yellow, and the kitchen will be periwinckle blue with the white tile.

In a related 2nd-hand store splurge, I purchased this 5-mug, cream pitcher, sugar bowl hand-thrown set with beautiful blue glaze - now just need a tea pot -

And as if a cosmic endorsement of my homemaking kick this week, I found an enameled cast iron pot that matches my La Crussette skillet, and bargained it down to R10: The enamel is chipped a bit but I think I can cook a lovely cake or casserole in here. Hot dish anybody?


California breakfast in Cape Town

This would be a winter breakfast because there are clementines (here known as naartjies). My good (and healthy) colleague John Compton is eating 5 pieces of fruit a day. I thought of him when I bought a half case of naartjies last night. So far I have eaten 3. I also bought a pineapple.

Most importantly, I made tortillas. Must get cast iron pan. In the meantime, they are so good with butter and western cape cloudy honey for breakfast! Eat after the naartjies.

Why doesn't Africa have Tacos?

Africans eat all kinds of corn (aka mealies), and in South Africa it is the staple and prepared as mealie pap, which is sort of like a starchy, fine grained soft polenta. As we have also discussed in this space, South Africans love meat. Really love meat. So how come they have not been turned on to the almighty TACO? Time to design a series of...

Experiments..... In..... SCIENCE!!......

Hypothesis 1: Masa Harina is treated with lime. Mealies is not. Maybe this makes the masa farina soak up the liquid better to make a paste or something.

Test1: Ask Aunt Lorraine

Result1: Lorraine turned me on to the most amazing cookbook ever, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Rick and Deann Bayliss. Besides amazing step-by-step instructions to go from the cornfield all the way through to tortilla, the book is illustrated with gorgeous pen and ink drawings of every tortilla press, herb, ingredient, how it looks in different parts of Mexico, etc. A coffee table book almost.

Discussion1: Results are inconclusive, although since it is possible to make tortillas from corn without drying/grinding I think the lime is probably not the main issue. It seems to be an additive to aid in dehydration.

Unexpected result1: Elsie and Esperanza (two of Grammy's caretakers) spontaneously went out and bought me a fantastic tortilla press and 2kg of Instant Masa. Esperanza showed me how to shape tortillas by hand in the El Salvadorian way. Elsie is Mexican and uses the press. Between them I think I got the hang of it! Hand shaping will take more practice.

Hypothesis2: Geological factors, such as grain size and/or grain shape, determine the behavior of the maize-water slurry.

Test2a: Examine grainsize.

Result2a: On the left you will see the (California-bought, yes I carried it back with me) Masa Harina. On the right, South African instant mealie meal. The grain size discrepancy is only too clear.

Test2b: Examine grain shape/surface texture.

Result 2b: Although the camera can't capture the grain shape, mealies is clearly angular, smooth, and has a very low angle of internal friction. Conversely, masa harina is considerably finer and grain shape is flattened and rough. Masa harina has a higher angle of internal friction.

Discussion2: The grain size and shape of masa harina seems to be such that there is a slight attraction between masa particles, producing balling behaviours texturally not unlike floculated clays. Unclear whether this is a static effect or an interaction with atmospheric moisture.

Hypothesis3: Due to grain size, masa harina aborbs water much faster to make an instant masa. Water will diffuse into coarser mealie flour particles over a longer time period, ultimately producing masa

Test3: Soak the mealies.
(Meanwhile, wet the masa harina, make the masa, make 8 tortillas, eat 4!)

Result3: Hard wet mealies.

Still pending. I think I will have to purchase a stone mill and crush the mealie flour down to a flat, fine flour and try that. In the meantime I went to the La Crusette store and improved the tortilla factory in my kitchen with a real cast iron skillet:

Which makes an amazing difference!


Zed-Ay Parcel String Basket

ETA: I fudged this from a yarn store example at Fishhook (Vishoek) Wools, which the proprietress had made from an Afrikaans knitting book which was never published in English. It's come to my attention that parcel string moss stich baskets also appear in Erika Knight's book, Simple Knits for Easy Living, which is now out in paperback.

Yarn: 100% Cotton Parcel String from the hardware store - I used a 3-ply that's pretty thick (3.3 wraps per cm or 8.5 wraps per inch) but you can use thinner and double it or just recalculate gauge. 100 g per ball.

Needles: US 10.5 straight needles

Yardage: 5 balls and counting - yardage is not labelled on my parcel string! About 20 yds per ball. This turned out to be some rather expensive parcel string. For reference, one ball is about a handfull.

1.95rows/cm = 5 rows per inch in moss stitch.
1.1 st/cm = 2.8 stitches per inch in moss stitch.

Moss stitch (p1, k1, p1, k1, ..., p1) every row (do not slip stitches on end of rows; work every stitch)

C/o 51 stitches using moderately unstretchy cast on, I used long-tailed cast on.
Work 19 rows in Moss Stitch
Make corner: Work 2 rows in stockinette. (Knit 1 row, Perl 1 row) The knit side will be the inside of your basket.
Work 45 rows in Moss Stitch
Repeat Make Corner
Work 19 rows in Moss Stitch
With inside of basket facing, b/o knitwise. Break yarn, leaving 6-in tail.

BASKET ENDS (do this twice)
With inside of basket facing, pick up and knit a stitch from the corner rows and pick up every garter bump, then last stitch from the corner rows (25 stitches). Perl bumps on the new stitches are on outside of basket, this forms the end corners.

R1: Bring yarn to front. With left needle, pick up first perl bump from adjacent basket side. Yarn is between first and second stitch on left hand needle. P2tog, work in moss stitch to last st. Holding yarn as if to knit, slip last stitch to right needle, bring yarn to front. With left needle, pick up first perl bump from other basket side, slip the stitch back from right to left needle (again working yarn is between stitches), p2tog.

The strange working yarn switching routine will make a nice cross on the corner of the basket, but it is not structurally necessary.

R2: Work back in moss stitch, tugging on working yarn after first stitch to tighten up that corner..
Repeat (R1, R2) 8 times. Repeat R1, picking up absolutely top corner of adjacent basket side. (picked up stitches +17 rows)
With inside of basket facing, carry 6-in tail with working yarn and b/o all stitches knitwise, loosely (saves a weaving).

Under the Golden Gate Bridge - to Freedom

Goodbye Golden Gate! Goodbye sunshine....

We left during a weird low that came with very light (5knot) southerlies and flat water. We were expecting to make a run for Drake's Bay - which is open to the south and would not stay comfy for very long if the southerlies persisted. With the low came a damp fog but it was relatively warm.

Here's Pt. Diablo (a little known point west of Kirby Cove, in the Golden Gate). Those in the know will immediatly pick out the west-dipping pillow basalts and imbricated red chert structurally overlying them. And what's that in the top of the pillow basalts but repeated flakey calcite veins - in an S orientation to the C-surface of the basalt-chert contact. Daaaamn. This is part of the Marin Headlands Terrane described in great detail by my friend John Wakabayashi as: sandstone-chert-basalt-FAULT-sandstone-chert...repeat. (For discussion of the fault veins, see Meneghini and Moore (2005) GSA Bulletin v. 19 n. 1/2 p.174-183 for explanation of fluid pressure and effective stress cycling during seismic cycle on nearby Rodeo Cove Thrust Zone.)

GGB so pretty in the fog:

The Point Bonita Lighthouse is on it's own terrane (Pt. Bonita Terrane) that is thrust over the Marin Headlands Terrane. It's an old seafloor volcano (seamount, MORB) which was thrust up into the accretionary wedge during Franciscan subduction, probaly during the late Cretaceous. Here's a pretty descriptive field trip guide to the area.)

We wore our (regretably matching, ha!) good new sailing gear from WestMarine (who since discontinued their women's line, jerks, my animosity toward WestMarine seems to have hit some kind of positive interference because it continues to grow even when I'm not shopping there) and our Mustang safety harness/PFDs. We love our inflatable PFD's which are hydrostatic, not the salt-tablet-trigger kind, so you won't accidentally inflate if a wave gets you. We bought them at the Strictly Sail Pacific after the Mustang rep let me pull the cord to try it. He must have dropped a fortune on recharge kits at $45 a pop. A "pop", get it! ha.

I had to go down for a nap just north of Cronkite Beach. I learned something about my seasickness on this trip - first day out I will get sick. For a day sail, or if I am in command, I can just muscle it and swallow a lot. Hydration helps, obviously. However - after a 2 hr nap in the seaberth I do not seem to feel sick anymore, even down below, even if it gets crappier and crappier, until I re-equilibrate to land. This is a pretty good thing to figure out - not only does it help with planning but Sila no longer complains about my napping! Woo hoo!


Amable around the north San Francisco Bay

Ahhh what a great trip home I had. I will trickle in some photos in the coming days.

Here's Sila driving us out of Sausalito when I first arrived from South Africa -

Mooring ball in Alaya Cove, Angel Island...

And who pulled up behind us? Our Moss Landing neighbors! Dane, Boz, and Robin on Cadence II... destination unknown!

Eric didn't row:



Here's my Grammy Faye on her 91st Birthday:

She is too frickin funny. We all laughed ourselves silly the whole weekend, especially Grammy:

Here's Grammy cracking herself up with a story about men rudely pointing at her for walking through the "men's bar" in a snooty golf club:

Here's Grammy explaining how her handicapped placard curled up on the dashboard in the sun and she put it in the fridge to see if it would straighten out. It was then discovered by her hilariously confused nurse Elsie, who could feel it but not see it because it was on the top shelf.

Here's Grammy telling about the first time Brad came for dinner and she dropped his steak out of the broiler into the corner of the kitchen where the dog hair used to blow:
"so there it was! and we're ready to eat! so whadya do! you wipe 'em off!"

Here's Grammy at her birthday lunch when the wait staff walked right by our table with a slice of chocolate cake with candles on it - we all thought she was coming to Grammy - and all Grammy thought was, "Jeez, nobody remembered I hate chocolate cake!"

Here's Grammy telling about calling my mom on her "C-phone" to order Trader Joe's salads when in fact, my mom was standing in the kitchen, not at Trader Joe's at all. Grammy found this out when when she got spooked by "the voices in the kitchen" and went out to investigate.

Here's to so MANY MORE, Faye Lorraine Mendenhall Daniel O'Neil! What a lady!