Friday, October 31, 2008

skywatch friday, week 12

the rainy season is upon us.

[palo alto caltrain station]

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I have long nurtured a fascination with mass transit systems. I can't quite say why, nor can I pinpoint when it started, but I think I first became conscious of it while studying abroad in Alcalá de Henares, a suburb of Madrid.

A "suburb" in Spanish is called a cercanía, and Cercanías is what they call the regional rail networks in Spain. The Cercanías trains are what we would take from Alcalá to get into Madrid. It was four years ago, but if I stop to think about it, I can still hear the voice that announces the stops in that beautiful Castilian Spanish, theta and all: Próxima parada: Torrejón de Ardoz.

My love for the Madrid Metro was instantaneous. One of the oldest Metro systems in the world (first opened in 1919), it's sleek, efficient and enormous. My explorer buddy and I had many an adventure navigating the capital city via its underground labyrinth of Atochas and Sols and Nuevos Ministerios. Years later, while Julie was again living in Spain, she sent me the link to Red Retro: a sort of underground (pun intended) guerrilla art project involving altering the names of Metro stations. A delightful endeavor, if you ask me.

When we arrived in Barcelona at the end of our 2004 stay in Spain, we realized just how accustomed we had become to the Madrid Metro: we experienced some embarrassing difficulty entering the Barcelona Metro, since the turnstyles, in relation to where you inserted your ticket, were oriented opposite the way they had been in Madrid. The Barcelona Metro has a different flavor: it's smaller than Madrid's, and everything is in three languages. The Catalan influence means that "RENFE" (originally an acronym for the Spanish National Rail Network) is pronounced with a schwa at the end (which is a shocking phenomenon when you have been hearing only Spanish for the last three months), and that Metro stations have names like Paral•lel. Yes, that's really how it's spelled.

I take a certain pride in having experienced several mass transit systems around the world, from the smooth and sometimes architecturally grandiose Washington DC Metro of my homeland, the somewhat chaotic New York City Subway, the aging T of Boston, the endearing UTA buses in my last area and the promising TRAX light rail in Salt Lake City, Chicago's El trains and Metra commuter rail (which we like to think of as a female Metro), to the reeling speed-racing buses in Mérida and the extremely inexpensive but also very scary "buses" (really just rickety vans crammed with a couple dozen people) in Cusco.

Earlier this year, while I was trying to figure out where I would move to, my research included scoping out the transportation options in a number of potential cities. Underground rail got lots of bonus points, while lightrail and commuter rail were pluses, and buses, well, buses are better than nothing. Somewhere along the line, I came across this website highlighting artistic and architecturally interesting Metro systems around the world. Yes, that is the kind of thing that catches my eye. That said, it shouldn't surprise you that, the first time I visited the Stanford library, I discovered this marvelous book and spent a good couple of hours devouring it.

Ultimately, my decision as to where to relocate was not based solely on the modes of transportation available, though the options in the bay area did make the transition to a newfound independence a little easier and more enjoyable (like I said, I really like underground trains). Imagine my joy when, having just arrived from a stronghold of suburban America where I was one of the few supporters of the little bus system that could, I suddenly found at my doorstep: the BART! the Muni! the Caltrain! Not to mention the VTA light rail that runs from Mountain View to San José, which I haven't tried yet, but I look forward to it!

[bart train in richmond]

[muni n-judah at church & duboce in san francisco]

[caltrain in palo alto]

When I lived in Provo, I came to love the sound of the freight train whistle that always reached me in the middle of the night. Here in Palo Alto, I find the sound of the Caltrain whistle comforting. While I lived in San Francisco, I fell asleep listening to the soothing electric whirr of the Muni light rail which stopped half a block away.

Every day I take the Marguerite shuttle to work. Every Sunday I take the Caltrain and the Muni to church. I don't even own a car. That's mostly for financial reasons, but also I'm blessed to live in an area where it's not really necessary. My home address scores a 92 out of 100 on the Walkscore scale - that's a walker's paradise! And I must say it is a lovely neighborhood to walk in. It's nice to be able to run errands on foot, and I feel good about keeping my carbon footprint from becoming unnecessarily enormous. Even though my family isn't fanatically "green," we have been recycling since I was in kindergarten, and after all, I did grow up in Maryland public schools. We had regular programs entreating us to save the bay. In recent years my eco-consciousness has become more prominent, partly in answer to the volume of voices speaking up about global warming, partly because it fits in naturally with my fairly simple lifestyle anyway, partly because I've gained a greater sense of responsibility in all aspects of my life, partly because it's sort of stylish, partly because I moved to California and it's easy to do things like buy organic and local produce and to power your home entirely on renewable wind and solar energy.

We live in a nation where many people are used to getting in a car and driving wherever they need to go. If you're one of them, next time you're heading out, I encourage you to try an alternative to driving. Go catch the bus instead; descend into the belly of the earth and discover the experience of slipping through dark tunnels on a high-speed train; hop on the commuter train or the light rail, if your city is blessed with such options. You'll ease the stress on your wallet, on the roads, and on the atmosphere. And who knows, you might just meet someone wonderful who happens to sit next to you on the train.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

settling in

Maybe you wouldn’t know it by the looks of the place, what with the stacks of still unpacked shoeboxes of miscellaneous trinkets and supplies, and the still very blank walls all around, but it has been six weeks since I moved into my new home. It really was a great find, a charming studio in an old (1930s-ish) yellow stucco building right in downtown Palo Alto.

It’s lovely to have my own space that I don’t have to share with anyone (besides a troop of little ants that snuck in to join me for a couple of days a few weeks ago): no coordinating shower schedules, no fussing over other people’s messes, no dress code, no worries about suiting another’s taste with what I watch or listen to… you get the idea. Little things, really, but still something of a revelation when it’s the first time you’re really on your own. There will probably be days when I get lonely, but so far it hasn’t been an issue, since I am too (happily!) busy settling into my new town, my new job, my new life.

My mom and dad, in their overwhelming generosity, flew out from Maryland to move all my boxes of stuff from my grandmother’s house in Sacramento to my new place in Palo Alto and to get me all set up with new Ikea furniture. My dad was nice and let me try to help assemble things, but then he and I both realized that I am rather power-tool-challenged, so he took over and I stuck with pieces that needed only to be popped or twisted into place. Kind of sad, I know. I did stain my wooden kitchen cart last Saturday, and it turned out quite nicely, if I do say so myself.

I think the trick is that if a given home improvement project can be done by hand, I can probably handle it. If it involves an electrical source of power that is in magnitude far greater than what is natural, then there are conflicts. I mean, power tools essentially do traditionally manual tasks, only faster; so what’s the rush? Time doesn’t exist, anyway.

I am always reaching toward home, though the specific reference point for that concept may differ depending on the city or the year or the state of mind that I am in. There are many facets to the act of making a home out of a mere crashpad and junk locker. Two of those are to give everything a special place where it belongs, and to maximize the aesthetic appeal of the walls which hold up the roof over your head. So, today I am tackling the tasks of organizing my kitchen and decorating the walls. Overdue, perhaps, but it doesn’t matter. I’m doing it now. Watch this space for before-and-after photos. Maybe. Or maybe you’ll just have to come to California and see it for yourself!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

skywatch friday, week 11

"And they said, Go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name..."

[stanford, ca]

see more skies, both ordinary and spectacular, at skywatch

Monday, October 20, 2008


I saw this on a couple of friends' blogs, and it looked like fun. And since I am somewhat frenetically trying to make up for a long dearth of verbal blog posts, it seems fitting to throw it into the mix now:

1. Rock Star name: Cleo* Marguerite** (first pet + current car)
2. Gangster name: Dulce de Leche Snickerdoodle (favorite ice cream + favorite cookie)***
3. Detective name: Green Golondrina (favorite color + favorite animal)
4. Soap Opera name: Ann Columbia (middle name + city where you were born)
5. Star Wars name: Davem (first 3 letters of your last name + first 2 letters of your first)
6. Superhero name: The Orange Tamarindo**** ("The" + 2nd favorite color + favorite drink)
7. Nascar name: Huck Rex (grandfathers' first names)
8. TV Weatherman name: Sheer Shanghai (5th grade teacher's last name + major city starting with the same letter)
9. Spy Name: Spring Daffodil (favorite season/holiday + favorite flower)
10. Cartoon Name: Blackberry Scarfie (favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now + “ie” or “y”)
9. Hippie name: Granola Bar Redwood (what you ate for breakfast + favorite tree)
10. Rock band name: The Wandering Blizzard ("The" + favorite hobby + favorite weather element)

*my neighbor's cat when I was little. I've never had any pets of my own.
**actually the Stanford shuttle bus, named after Leland Stanford's favorite horse
***in my opinion, this is seriously flawed gangster name methodology
****okay so maybe this is my second-favorite drink, but the orange hot chocolate just didn't have a very nice ring to it

Saturday, October 18, 2008

farmers market bounty

It turns out that I live three blocks from the spot where the farmers market is held every Saturday morning. In Palo Alto, those three blocks translate into a mere five minutes from the time I walk out my front door until the time I am faced with the rather difficult but very pleasant task of deciding which variety of pluot to buy.

pasta primavera à la emily
simple and delicious. good in any season, best in late summer (i know primavera means spring, but it still sounds nice in the name.) feel free to experiment with variations.
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
½ red bell pepper, cut into short strips
1 or 2 small green chilies (mild or spicy), cut into strips
1 zucchini, sliced thinly
1 yellow summer squash, sliced thinly
1 green summer squash, sliced thinly
a couple of handfuls of grape tomatoes, cut in half
fresh basil leaves
cooked pasta, any variety (for this dish I like penne or farfalle)

Sauté garlic and peppers in good olive oil. Once peppers are softened, add zucchini and squash. These will cook very quickly if they are sliced very thinly; you need wait only a minute or so before adding the tomatoes. Along with the tomatoes, add several leaves of fresh basil, torn into smaller pieces, to the skillet. Cook until tomatoes are softened and heated through (another minute or two). Serve over freshly cooked pasta.

the internets and i

Remember when the internet wasn’t working, and then it was, and I was very happy about it? Well, the very next day it stopped working again. And I was very frustrated again. I couldn’t figure out why the internets were up against me, or, at least, why the cable coming out of my wall seemed to delight in devouring cable modems. Well, when technician number two came last Saturday, I found out that my predicament was not mine alone, but had rather been something of an epidemic. It turns out that Comcast’s recent software update had sent poor, unsuspecting modems all over the place into an irreparable state of shock. So, now I’m working with modem number three (four if you count the dsl modem that I sent back without ever using), which was made by a different manufacturer and seems to be getting along just fine with my cable and my wireless router, with my computer and, ultimately, with me. And I can go on with normal life, because we all know that normalcy is impossible without the internets.

Friday, October 17, 2008

skywatch friday, week 10

It's been a very busy, but very enjoyable week. Maybe I'll write about it once I sleep it off. Anyway my point is that this Skywatch Friday post comes a little later than usual, but at least it is still Friday where I live, so it counts.

[through a glass darkly. stanford, california]

Friday, October 10, 2008

skywatch friday, week 9

[stanford, ca]

watch the skies from your desktop - see more skywatch posts here

Saturday, October 4, 2008

glory glory hallelujah

That's right, my friends, this blog post is coming to you direct from my new apartment.

At last, I can connect to the internets (yes, plural) at any hour of the day or night, from my sofa or from my kitchen table, heck probably even from the bathtub, if I weren't concerned about electrocution. Okay, so I haven't yet hooked up my wireless router (which is still tinged yellow from an incident with Claire's paint), so until then I'm pretty much limited to this spot on the floor where I'm sitting, or maybe on the edge of my bed if I arrange the cords just right.

I'll spare you the saga (I've told it to a couple of people and decided that it's not really as interesting as I had believed), but here are the highlights, by the numbers:
  • two internet service providers
  • three modems
  • a dozen customer service reps
  • two routings to an Illinois call center because the system got confused by my California address and my Utah phone number (Utah + California = Illinois?)
  • one technician
  • one bewildered, oft-frustrated, but after all happy internet customer
So, yes, I am delighted to finally have internet access in my home. Not to offend anyone with this post's title, however, I want to clear up any suspicions of sacrilege by noting that my having internet access now allows me to watch General Conference this weekend. I know, I know, the internet is not the only way that one can participate in Conference. However, (1) I do not own a tv, (2) I do not live within range of KBYU Radio, and (3) I don't really know where the Stake Center is (and I'd need the internet to look it up!) So. The technician just left about a half hour ago, so clearly I missed the live feed of today's Conference sessions. Fortunately, I can access the recordings with my brand new, shiny internet! So that's what I'm going to do now. Cheers.

Friday, October 3, 2008

skywatch friday, week 8

[stanford, ca]