Idyllwild Incidentals, Part Three

 

Continuing our tour of the Idyllwild Area Historical Society’s cabin, we move into my favorite thing to stare at: old photos! If you already have a firmly established idea of what the characters in my Loveda Brown series look like, you may or may not want to continue reading.

But I think you’ll find they aren’t too far off! It’s fun to find the facts behind the fiction.

 The photos of photos in this blog were taken from the book, “The San Jacintos” by John Robinson. If you love to research, too, the Idyllwild Public Library has even more shelves dedicated to local history:

Where are these folks headed? Why, to Lindley’s sanatorium if you had tuberculosis (before the fire) and to Lindley’s hotel if you didn’t want to contract tuberculosis (after the fire). It seems no one wanted a combination of both. Go figure.

For my Loveda Brown series, I removed Dr. Lindley’s specs and made him just a bit more animated than his portrait might suggest. Ahem.

I’ll bet you didn’t know California had “alps”. Atta boy, Lindley.

Here, we have a sample of the gorgeous old family photos I perused. I could hardly choose which ones to show you. The 1901 shot is so well done. I want you to soak up the hats, the fabrics, the shoes, the mustaches…the attitudes (oh, Ella!). The way Louie has a warning hand (or two?) on Ernest’s chin. Some things never change. Mrs. A’s doing the same with baby Henry, but she is sporting a mixed media outfit, so…extra credit.

The photo of the Domenigoni family is the one hanging in Ms. Nelson’s lobby. Remember where I mention the Swiss lace? This photo of Guanache is the inspiration behind Carlos. And I could not resist a shout out to films made in the mountains and the movie stars that eventually rolled up the hill, including Katherine Hepburn and Elvis Presley. Although I drew a pretty picture of Penelope, the first film shot in Idyllwild was made in 1914 by Cecil DeMille: “The Squaw Man”.

The grand finale: Mr. and Mrs. George B. Hannahs. Here he stands with, I guess, the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota? I got the suspenders right. The couple is portrayed as elderly in my series, and from the look of it, Sarah Hannahs is not having it. Sorry, Mrs. H. Doesn’t their little boy, Ray, have the sweetest cheeks? To note: Sign on far left says, “Burros for Rent”. Sign on right, “Rayneta Post Office”. A handsaw lies over a log on the ground to the right.
My books are entirely fiction, as you can see, but the full flavor of Idyllwild’s rich history is something I try to capture on every page.

 

Idyllwild Incidentals, Part Two

 

Today, we explore the Idyllwild Area Historical Society’s museum. Last weekend, I spent some time there, soaking up community history and clearing up a couple of mysteries with the lovely and helpful docent on duty, Jayne.

The Historical Society’s been closed up tight ever since Covid hit town, but they held their grand re-opening over the Memorial Day weekend. A yard sale and an Ice Cream Social marked the event. If you missed it, their next Ice Cream Social will be held over the Labor Day weekend on Saturday, September 4th from noon to 2:30pm. Board members will be standing by to scoop up sundaes until the ice cream runs out. Toppings, treats, and root-beer floats! Ya’all come!

Meanwhile, let’s take a quick look at the physical artifacts in the room. These items take you back to the days of pioneers, loggers, miners, and homesteaders in the San Jacinto mountains.

The heart of a home is the kitchen, and a cook required multiple skills to pull off a meal for a family or a work crew. You raised or bought your meat and produce, harvested or butchered on the regular, canned or preserved extra for winter, swapped with your neighbors in a pinch, and hoped that weather or pests or cattle rustlers didn’t ruin all your hard work. In addition, your animals required provisions, horseshoes, housing, breeding, birthing, and veterinary care.

You didn’t take your vittles for granted, and just having a cup of tea was a big deal, as Loveda will tell you.

We have a lot of items relating to the logging and sawmills that ran at various creeks around Idyllwild. In the 1880s and 90s, timber was plentiful and the market keen. Incoming railways needed lumber and a lot of lumber went, of all things, to a local box company that made orange crates for farms off the hill. Teams of oxen (11) pulled the rough timber down from the high country, and after the lumber was milled, teams of horses or mules pulled wagons (3) down the treacherous road to Hemet.

Idyllwild Incidentals, Part One

 

Idyllwild has always been beautiful. When Loveda Brown falls in love with this tiny town in the heart of a big mountain, it’s absolutely an invitation for you to join her there.

Wander up with us.

The first question you’ll ask upon arrival is, “Where’s Loveda’s hotel?” The answer is, “In my imagination.” Loveda and her neighbors are almost entirely fictional.

There’s no trace left of the original Idyllwild Post Office, but here’s a snap anyway:

There really was a George and Sarah Hannahs. Mr. Hannahs ran a sawmill in the logging days and later was Idyllwild’s first postmaster. He named Idyllwild Rayneta, after his son, and if you’ve read Book One, you already know the rest of the story!

But Idyllwild historians will tell you that there really was a Walter Lindley, and he really did run the Idyllwild Inn. And the Idyllwild Inn is still there!

The second question you’ll ask is, “Where is it?” Fair enough. You probably parked in front of it without realizing it. No need to find Foster’s Meadow. The Inn is central to the town. I asked the proprietress at the front counter whether any of the original buildings were still standing. She thought perhaps one cabin still had an original stone foundation, but that was all. Over one hundred years for a working hotel means constant updates and remodels. You can find out more about today’s Idyllwild Inn here.

The Inn began as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, as you’ll recall, and if you’ve read Book One, you also know that it burned down under mysterious circumstances in a freak April snowstorm in 1904. Nothing was saved but the piano. I didn’t make this part of the story up, but I did give this piano further adventures in Book Three, and I plan to keep it in Lindley’s new ballroom as a little piece of continued mystery in the series.

Nor did I invent the part about Lindley’s medical cronies giving up and wandering away from the venture afterwards. However, I use Lindley’s medical knowledge to help solve a mystery in Book Three, and his medical colleagues will fictitiously appear as characters in Book Five.

I have always pictured Mr. Lindley as a self-made man, quick on his feet with big ideas. Rather like a Willie Wonka for Idyllwild. His White Owl coach ran guests up the hill from Hemet and was pulled by white horses, and this was too good not to put in the books!

In reality, the Idyllwild sanatorium was one of Mr. Lindley’s later in life ventures and considered one of his very few failures. He also spent most of his life in Los Angeles involved in politics, opened an orphanage, started a hospital, and was even the President of the LA Humane Society. I like the guy. If you need his nitty gritty, click here.

Read more about Mr. Lindley and Mr. Hannahs in this well-sketched history of Idyllwild.

Idyllwild and the Cahuilla

 

This is the view of Tahquitz Peak as you stand in the little dot on the map of Idyllwild. If you had this sitting over your rooftops for enough years, wouldn’t you create a legend about it?

As the next Loveda Brown book prepares to launch, I want to share some of the fascinating historical wanderings I did in Idyllwild last month. There are always more fun facts about my materials than will ever work into each of my mysteries! Loveda Brown: Summer Storm highlights the legend of Tahquitz and the Cahuilla peoples who migrated through the San Jacinto mountain range and left the name of their shaman chief behind.

We will address the legend another time, but if you take a drive up and spend a day in Idyllwild, these places are on the “must see” list.

Our first stop is in the Idyllwild County Park. You won’t get charged for parking if you’re only driving in to see the pictographs/hieroglyphs painted hundreds of years ago on granite boulders. The gate is welded shut, if you’re wondering, and—I have to think my guess is as good as anyone’s—all the symbols I looked at remind me of maps.

The second location for Cahuilla pictographs is north from here, in Pine Cove. I put the directions in my phone and followed them precisely, but I circled back and forth on a tiny residential road while my phone insisted I had arrived at my destination. In frustration, I pulled over and asked the phone why it was making up lies and it said, “GPS Location Service Lost”.

I looked around. No signs. No other vehicles parked at random. I got out of the car to stretch and if I hadn’t stepped across the road to look at the view, I would have gone home disappointed. The secret entrance to the pictographs is well hidden and not tailored for visitors. This is an ancient tucked-away haven that was worth searching for.

The third item on the Cahuilla bucket list is sitting in the Idyllwild Nature Center. You are encouraged to tour the entire place, as the park is located within an ancient Cahuilla Indian village, but what you’re looking for are grinding stones and mortars. Acorns from oak trees were a staple in Cahuilla cuisine and once ground into flour, fed a family…or a nation.

Come back soon for three more places in Idyllwild that fuel the mysteries of the Loveda Brown series!

Joshua Tree National Park

 

Spending a few days in Palm Springs was the first trip Hubby and I have made in…one year, two months, and twelve days. Our four housebound walls suddenly stretched to infinity and beyond. Such space! Once the shock wore off, I’m pretty sure our next reaction was universal: time for margaritas by the pool.

After that, we went exploring.

Our day trip to Joshua Tree National Park was possible because of moderate spring-time weather, a gentle sky, and a chilly wind. We drove from scenic points to high desert overlooks and through prickly cacti meadows. We hiked to the top of Ryan Mountain and along massive rock and boulder trails where climbers scaled their heights, tethered only with a rope or two.

Joshua trees aren’t actual trees, but the world’s largest yucca plants. On average, they live to be 500 years old but they say the oldest could be 1,000 years old. They bloom around April or May, but we missed the event and found only the remains of the conical blooms at the ends of their branches.

The Mojave Desert carries its own unique ambiance. The air is distinctly distilled, stripped of tomfoolery and run through a sandstone purifier. It serves your oxygen at an elemental level. Occasionally, with velocity. It commands respect.

And yet. There’s something about Joshua trees that brings Dr. Suess to mind. Skull Rock will forever link to Peter Pan. The landscape presents ample space for the imagination and the opportunity to slow down, spread out, and breathe in a fresh perspective. An unexpected trip outside the box.

Ride along and tell me what the park makes you think of…

Covid Kitty Campaigns

 

For everyone who’s not quite themselves right now, I offer this cute picture of a cat. Because cat photos are the only thing left in America not full of controversy and political connotations. You can’t have a pet elephant or a pet donkey or let’s put it out there – a dog – these days because people will form immediate conclusions about what you probably eat for breakfast and I just can’t handle that level of stereotyping.

Stop judging me.

I did not ask for this cat, yet the cat is here. In my house. Shredding my curtains. Turning his elegant little whiskers up at the expensive canned cat food I was told I had to feed him. I worry every single day that he will push his way through our second-story window in his effort to eat a woodpecker flying by and while I am eager to feed him the feathery treat, I also don’t want to see the cat splat.

This cat is now personal.

I have some basic questions now that I own a cat.

But mostly I want to know whether cats have the same rights as dogs. For years I’ve thrown a little hissy fit when I see dog owners bring their dogs into the grocery stores, riding in the front of the cart like a kid. They strap the dog’s leash to the table leg in the patio of the cafe and never ask if anyone at the table next to them has a dog allergy. Or is maybe terrified of dogs. Assuming they keep their dogs on the leash, of course. They walk their dogs on the trails, watch them defecate, then mumble something about “picking that up on my way out”. Their dogs go camping with them, get pushed in strollers through the park, wear little “service animal” vests, are allowed to hump your leg and sniff your crotch upon meeting you.

You are supposed to take it for the love it is and say, “Good Doggy.”

Ahem.

While I am not proposing that a cat is the same as a dog is the same as an iguana is the same as a jackrabbit, I am suggesting that my cat should be able to party in the same circles. If my cat can play “fetch” and come when I call him and knows how to keep his little business in a litterbox, it’s only logical that he can go for walks on his leash, play at “dog beach”, or hang out with me at the swanky local cafe.

Wait.

Dog Beach? That feels a little species specific, don’t you think?

And those swanky little cafes have Pup Pops, Puppy Patties, yogurt frosted Pupcakes, soy ice cream cups, Canine Cuisine, and FREE PUPPUCCINOS. Kitty Menu much?

Nuthin.

Are you saying I have to go all the way to Minnesota to enjoy a cat cafe? And if I want to visit an actual beach just for cats, I have to go to Malaysia? Obviously, someone has to be the San Diego trailblazer.

Stop judging me.

Kitty + Harness + Catpack = Adventures

A Whole New World

One Small Step for KittenKind!

Almondines – A Classic

Good morning my fellow quarantinettes!

I imagine that you’ve cleaned the pantry, weeded the garden, binge-watched your shows and taken the kids on maybe a million walks around the block by now. How about a change of scenery? My girlfriend and blogging-buddy, Mary Knight, offered a peek into her world of food and fancies and agreed to share the following recipe with us! Mary travels the world, making friends, creating recipes, and curating mouth watering photos. She’s interviewed Julia Child herself and that will get a girl inspired, wouldn’t you agree?

Mary’s blog is a cornucopia of glorious photos of recipes and travel. SpoonAndSuitcase.com will take you on a tour of Portugal, Sicily, or Santa Fe without leaving the living room and is a breath of fresh air in a world afraid to inhale. Let’s take some time to relax.

Grab some almond paste from Amazon and clear the kitchen, because we’re going to make Almondines!

While cleaning out an upper cupboard in my closet last week, I discovered a forgotten box. A treasure full of old recipes I had created when I taught cooking classes, as well as letters and postcards I’d sent my parents from La Varenne in Paris, France. It was like opening a present on Christmas day. The “missing pieces” from my life suddenly inspired me to go back to the recipes I’d embraced many years ago. Early in my cooking career, ideas for recipes came like lightning strikes, unexpected but exhilarating, followed by cloud bursts of extended creations. It all seemed so easy. I almost couldn’t get the ideas down fast enough, not to mention implement them.

Here is one of those recipes for Almondines that I’ve adapted. The results impressed me more than I’d expected. The tart is made delectable by the inclusion of almond paste. Rich and tender, the almond filling almost melts on the tongue and the unifying light almond crust is the accent mark. Divine. It’s been a hit with all my taste testers. The best part is you can fill the tarts with the almond creme, sprinkle on the sliced almonds and freeze for an impromptu breakfast or tea time. They only take about 18 minutes to bake or about 25 if frozen. I’m making a batch to freeze for weekend guests and neighbor thank you’s. Enjoy!

Almondines

Course Breakfast, Dessert
Cuisine French
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 18 minutes
Servings 11

Equipment

  • small tart tins
  • food processor (optional)

Ingredients

  • 4 oz butter (this is equal to 1 stick or 100 grams of butter)
  • 1/2 cup sugar or 100 grams
  • 7 oz almond paste or 198 grams
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour or 65 grams
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp almond extract

Pâte Sucrée (Sweet Pastry Dough)

  • cup flour
  • tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 4 oz unsalted, cold, cubed, butter (this is equal to 1 stick or 100 grams of butter)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • 3 Tbsp ice water
  • ½ cup sliced almonds

Pate Sucree

(This is my favorite from A French Chef Cooks at Home by Jacques Pepin) I added the almond extract. Feel free to use your favorite crust recipe too.

Instructions

  • Combine the flour, salt and sugar.
  • Cut in the butter pieces until size of small peas.
  • Combine the egg yolk, almond extract and water.
  • Drizzle into the flour mixture and combine gently.
  • If the pastry feels too dry, add a bit more water.
  • Knead lightly to form a ball. Pat the ball into a 6” round, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least a half an hour.

Notes

I use a food processor to make my crusts.

Almondine Filling

Instructions

  • Cream the butter, sugar and almond paste together.
  • Beat in the eggs one by one.
  • Beat until light in color and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes.
  • Slowly add the flour and salt. Stir in almond extract. Mix just until combined.
  • You can refrigerate the filling at this time or use immediately.

Notes

  1. I made this recipe using organic sugar with crystals much larger than the white C&H variety. The crystals melted into the butter and did not whip up into a fluffy mass. The filling was much denser than I like. I prefer using regular white sugar for the filling for a lighter crumb.
  2. I prefer to weigh my ingredients. There is a tiny bit of discrepancy in the measurements when you use Standard vs Metric measuring. This is not enough to alter the recipe.

Create Almondines Like A Rock Star

Instructions

  • Roll the dough out to ⅛”-1/4” thick. Cut into rounds appropriate for your tart tins. I used 4” tart tins and the recipe made 11 tarts. You can also make one large tart using a 9” quiche tin. If the dough seems too sticky, you can pinch off pieces of dough and fit them into the tart molds.
  • Pat the dough into the tins and put in freezer to chill.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • When the pastry crusts are cold, fill with almond mixture and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Pat the almonds down slightly to help them adhere to the filling.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes. They are done when deep brown on top.
  • Brush with strained apricot jam when warm to create a beautiful glaze.

Notes

These can also be frozen after they are baked.

Believe in your heart that you’re meant to live a life full of passion, purpose, magic and miracles.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Caio for now,

The Imperiled Ocean Winner!

The Imperiled Ocean by ocean journalist Laura Trethewey is a deeply reported work of narrative journalism that follows people as they head out to sea. What they discover holds inspiring and dire implications for the life of the ocean — and for all of us back on land. Battles are fought, fortunes made, lives lost, and the ocean approaches an uncertain future.

Congratulations to Missy from Illinois, the winner of Laura’s freshly minted and personally autographed book! These smart and thought-provoking stories are worth sitting down and thoroughly ingesting. Here is an excerpt from her piece, Cleaning the Coast.

Thank you, Laura, for an exploration of the earth’s last wild frontier, and the opportunity to get to know it – and you – better.

A worn piece of plastic drifted on the ocean over a thousand miles from civilization. A sailboat approached with a 30-year-old woman on board. She leaned out over the gunwale to pick the plastic from the surface. Except she couldn’t: long, dangling seaweed roped the plastic to the water. She reeled up the weed, hand over hand; it stretched deeper and deeper into the depths. Down below, she saw fish darting between the fronds.

As Chloé Dubois sailed farther into a slowly spinning gyre of plastic in the largest ocean on Earth, she experienced this scene again and again. It was 2015, and Chloé and her team at the nonprofit Ocean Legacy had sailed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to collect microplastic samples for The Ocean Cleanup, another plastic-pollution nonprofit.

Using samples collected by 37 boats, Chloé’s included, that trawled a 3.5-million-square-kilometer swath of the Pacific, Ocean Cleanup hoped to create the first high-resolution map of ocean plastic. Chloé remembers hauling up the water-sampling trawler and peeking in at its contents on deck, and discovering all manner of marine stowaways in the detritus. How did you get here? she wondered as she picked up a tiny crab clinging to a bottle cap in the middle of the formidable ocean. Drifting by the boat, she saw buoys covered with gooseneck barnacles. Ocean-knotted islands of rope that hid masses of organisms.

“On the news, there’s this plastic island in the middle of the ocean that’s the size of Texas, and that’s pretty much what people know unless they go out there and experience it for themselves,” she said. Instead of a floating island of waste, as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is so often portrayed, she encountered more of a drifting slurry. The pollution came in all shapes and stages of degradation, from microscopic particles and fibers, to toothbrushes, bottles and great tangles of fishing nets and lines.

She witnessed, too, how nature worked with the plastic intruders. In the ocean, bacteria and algae quickly glom onto any floating feature they can find, drawn to the nutrients that collect there. More and larger animals, like barnacles and tubeworms, follow suit, fastening themselves to the marine debris. How productive of the ocean to use the plastic to build tiny ecosystems out on a vast desert of salt water, where so little life thrives in comparison to coastal waters.

The Garbage Patch was not a dead zone at all, she realized, but a world teeming with life.

Since she was 17 years old, Chloé has been involved in the environmental movement. In her early twenties, she began collecting plastic from beaches and she’s now cleaned shorelines across Mexico, Alaska, Costa Rica, Panama, and Canada. When she was 29, she co-founded the nonprofit Ocean Legacy, and she has become obsessed with cleaning plastic from the environment. She knows the names, acronyms, and resin codes of the plastic pantheon like they’re her children.

For a moment, Chloé hesitated before destroying the little crab’s home, this plastic piece of garbage that it had found and colonized and survived on against all the odds. Rationally, she knew that the crab’s plastic bottle cap was on its way to becoming a toxic pill. Plastic is a master at teasing out toxins from the ocean, sucking floating chemicals from the water column and condensing them into ever more hazardous forms. Industrial metals, pesticides, fertilizers, plastic softeners, and flame retardants can dissolve in water or be hydrophobic, meaning they want out of the water fast. Plastic already contains some of the chemical contaminants found in water, and that makes certain types of plastic naturally attractive hosts to wayward chemicals. A smaller animal might then ingest that poisoned plastic item, covered in slimy nutrients and pollutants, like PCBs, that have been banned on land for decades but are still drifting out in the ocean. A larger animal will then eat this animal, and up the food chain the plastic goes, magnifying its toxicity as it jumps to each new animal.

Chloé knew all this. She had seen the damage firsthand, yet destroying an animal’s home still gave her pause.

Then she plunged her hands in and removed all the plastic she could find, no matter how much life clung to it. The team built a home for displaced crabs in a glass tank on deck.

When they had sailed outside the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Chloé dove off the boat and into the sea. When she climbed back on board, tiny pellets of plastic covered her skin. After a month and a half sailing across the Pacific, her sailboat returned to land with 154 water samples hauled up from across the ocean. Every single one contained plastic.

Not all plastic is a problem. Much of it helps us and is integrated into every step of human life from birth to death. As I write this, I tap away on computer keys made of plastic, scroll through webpages on a mouse made of plastic, and peer through glasses rimmed with plastic. It’s the cheap, omnipresent plastic that lasts hundreds of years but is built to throw away the second after we use it that’s a big problem, perhaps one of the biggest for the ocean.

For almost as long as industrial plastic production has existed, we’ve known that plastic was going in the ocean. In the 1970s, a team of researchers sampling water in the sluggish Sargasso Sea reported that tiny plastic fragments were floating on the surface. During a 1997 yacht race from Los Angeles to Honolulu, a sailing scientist named Charles Moore passed through a remote stretch of Pacific Ocean and found himself surrounded by plastic debris in all directions. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it was later called, grabbed the world’s attention.

Suddenly there was a tangible place where all our waste was going, just outside the limits of our imagination.

The sea is a vast, deep, mutable force that covers 71 percent of the Earth. Plastic is small, ubiquitous, and breaks into ever-smaller pieces. When these two meet, they marry: a horrible collision between the synthetic and the natural.

A trawl sample collected from the Great Pacific Gyre by Ocean Legacy.

Given enough time, the ocean has the ability to spread plastic to the most remote reaches of the planet. Today, plastic is drifting in the waters off Antarctica. Plastic comes down in rain. Plastic fibers pass through the filter-feeding valves of oysters. Not long ago, Japan’s Deep-sea Debris Database reported finding a fully intact plastic bag in the Mariana Trench, the deepest underwater trough in the world.

We still don’t know exactly how much plastic is going into the ocean. One study, published in Science in February 2015, conservatively estimates that eight million metric tons of plastic is entering the ocean each year from municipal solid waste streams on land. That is 200 times higher than what had last been calculated in 1975 based on plastic pollution entering the ocean from maritime activities, and more than 2,000 times higher than what had been estimated from floating debris samples.

In that 2015 study in Science, environmental engineer Jenna Jemback and her co-authors argue that barring any major changes, plastic going into the ocean will multiply by a factor of 10 in 2025. That’s 80 million metric tons of plastic dumped in the ocean each year.

Despite the startling numbers of waste already in the ocean, our love of plastic endures. Plastic production is growing and expanding right along with plastic demand. By 2030, our need for plastic is expected to double.

The financial guru Warren Buffett once compared a stock market crash to the tide going out: you find out who’s been swimming naked all along. During the 2008 financial crisis, we discovered that big banks can fail. For centuries, we’ve believed the same of the ocean: that it was simply too big to fail. But an encroaching movement of threats, such as a warming ocean, overfishing, and pollution, could change that in the not-too-distant future.

If we could see beneath the surface, what would we find at the bottom of the sea? Perhaps millions of tons of plastic lying undisturbed, except for the bottom-dwellers that nibble at the nutrients collecting on it. Perhaps this evidence of the world’s waste will eventually become a layer of sediment pressed between rock layers: the Plastic Era, a fitting symbol of human-made change, baked into the Earth’s crust.

Author Giveaway, The Imperiled Ocean

Laura Trethewey sits across the folding table from me on bright San Diego Tuesday mornings, but we’re not supposed to talk to each other. The writing room is pretty much like sitting in detention and being forced to write a three page essay on dust bunnies before the bell rings. We swing between frantic typing and staring in frozen silence at our screens – or out the window – and this is what we do for fun.

It works.

All of us writers come and go in anonymity here unless we make it a point to step out for a ten minute break. On one of these jaunts between our laptops and the coffee place down the way, I discovered that Laura was working on nonfiction essays about the ocean. And she’s been working on them for a while. When you meet other writers, it’s polite to ask about their projects, but I’ve found that sometimes the best stories are the writers themselves. Laura’s been on a lot of travels and adventures, and writing them down for magazines and newspapers has recently culminated in her first book, The Imperiled Ocean. Congratulations, Laura!

Laura is a native Canuck who has also lived in Scotland but now lives here. Because, San Diego. You can read all about her on her website, but her projects, like this video, which she wrote, researched, and produced, will give you an idea of her passion for all things ocean.

Hubby and I attended her book launch last month. We sat in the cozy downtown bookstore, listening to her broad perspective on the relationship between people and the ocean. “I’m very curious,” she said, “about the ways that people view and use the water. I’m used to thinking about traveling over water, by boat for example, but I hope this book helps people think about the ocean from many other angles.” As these amazing essays cover topics from refugees to plastic pollution to Hollywood, I’d say Laura did just that.

On a life raft in the Mediterranean, a teenager from Ghana wonders whether he will reach Europe alive, and if he does, whether he will be allowed to stay. In the North Atlantic, a young chef disappears from a cruise ship, leaving a mystery for his friends and family to solve. A water-squatting community battles eviction from a harbor in a Pacific Northwest town, raising the question of who owns the water. In this exploration of the earth’s last wild frontier, I follow seven true stories of the ocean undergoing tremendous change as it faces an uncertain future.

To win an awesome autographed copy of her new book, enter a comment in the box below. Entries will be accepted through Sunday the 26th at midnight and the winner will be announced next week on the 28th! Addresses accepted from anywhere in the world that a book can be mailed.

Laura Trethewey reporting from the Dogpatch, an off-grid boating community fighting eviction from the harbor of Ladysmith, British Columbia.

Seattle Shenanigans

Ah, romance. What else would you make a trip to Seattle for? If Tom Hanks is sad and sleepless and says so on talk radio during Christmas, this intrepid reporter is going to catch the next flight into the land-that-never-stops-raining-shoot-me-now, to cheer him up.

Or at least spy on him. The man is such a great actor, I had to watch Saving Mr Banks again last night, just to be sure. Of course, this time he was in sunny Disneyland where he and everyone else belongs, so life is good again.

The entire clan went to Seattle last week to attend my nephew’s wedding, and so far as romance goes, it was thoroughly done. Roses, harpist, ancient barn venue hung with twinkle lights and chandeliers. The ceremony had people in tears, as did the mini donut truck parked outside. Tears of joy and harmony and hot, cinnamon-powdered sweetness.

After a couple of turns on the dance floor, the newlyweds drove off in a giant truck because, weather. I’m constrained to report that the weather remained outside the building for this event and during the rest of our adventures in the city, and it was our own fault if we went through an exit.

Not Seattle’s.

Gloom on the outside, sparkles on the inside.

We’ve explored downtown on a prior trip, so we went to the waterfront for this visit, and discovered the curious, the glorious, and the grotesque.

Grotesque: Bubble gum alley. People, why? My floors were this exciting during the toddler years. I should have cordoned off my dining room and charged admission for viewing. “Move that cheerio two inches left of the grape juice spill next to last week’s bogey. Yes. Perfect.”

Glorious: Pikes Place Market. All four levels. Flavored honey. Arcade. Leather bound journals. Tibetan singing bowls. Squid. Magic tricks. Hot clam chowder and double-sour bread. Fresh cheese. Jewelry. The giant brass pig, “Rachel”, on the street corner that collects change for downtown center services.

Glorious Honorable Mention because my sister said so: The original Starbucks store. I was expecting the Sistine Starbucks and instead found a mall version. It has a brass marker stamped 1971 but no painted ceilings or statues. We should have walked nine blocks further to the Roastery, but we had plenty to work with, right where we were.

Curious: Taxidermy. Life-size wood carvings. The giant ferris wheel for a full immersion weather experience. You can buy a whole fish the size of your arm and the fishmongers will seal it into a “24 hour airplane bag” after throwing said fish around first, tenderizing it for you.

Seattle offers live fish as well, and we spent some time in the Aquarium. This is where we watched a giant octopus work his snack out of a tube and then travel around trying to find snacks in the audience. The kraken is real. We wandered into the underwater dome, trying not to hyperventilate, when I recognized a giant fish overhead.

“That’s a sturgeon!” I said, chasing it with my camera. “I know that one!”

My kids patted me on the head. It’s not like sturgeon can compete with a butterfly fish. But thanks to my author friend, Laura, I am educated now, and yes they can. Next week I will tell you all about Laura and hold a give away of her new book!

The star of next week’s blog!

However. If you sit next to me on the ride home, you’d better not be carrying a flying fish. Or an octopus. Or a prickly sea urchin, which wouldn’t be allowed through airport security anyway, as I discovered. Seattle wasn’t going to let me go home without a little personal cuddle time.

I was the lucky winner of a random TSA security check giveaway!

“I’m going to wipe this little tag over your palms to detect any trace of explosives,” said the lady.

“Cool,” I said, offering both hands. “I never win anything!”

The palm reader flashed red, declaring me a national security threat. “It could also be a lot of other things that aren’t explosives,” she said, “but we’ll have to frisk you down anyway.”

“Okay,” I said, offering my luggage, boots, purse, electronics, boarding pass. Go, ‘Merica.

“I’ll be touching your breasts, buttocks, and other body parts that shouldn’t be said out loud. Do you want a private room for this screening?”

“Nah, go for it,” I said, offering up my dignity and a lot of laughing. Pretty bold for a blind date.

I stood with my feet apart, arms out, palms up, and waited to see if anyone wandering by in the airport would notice our shenanigans. Instead, while the lady checked for sea urchins in my hair, I caught my sons standing on the other side of the blockade, taking photos, delighted with my predicament. (Later, I demanded the photos for this blog, knowing they were solid gold, and they confessed to “Snapchatting” them, which means they are lost to space and we have only the good memories to prove any of this ever happened.)

“Ma’am, this can’t be taken through security,” said the lady with a righteous frown. She pulled a yogurt cup from my purse. “This is a gel and as it clearly states, right here on the label, is over the 3.4 ounce limit.”

“Yogurt is a gel? Eww.”

She was so excited to find something amiss, that I let her run with the victory. I offered to help the other agent repack my luggage, but she was having a great time waving my brassiere around in front of everyone and cheerfully replied, “I’ve seen worse.”

Ah, romance.

The date’s a bit off, but…

PSA: Fish market door greeter. He’s on a chain and they will make him jump to scare you. You’re welcome.

Crab is about right sized.

So. Much. Nope.

Pirate gold

Purple reef

I likey.