The city or the country? Which would you pick?

Between the city and the country, I’ll always pick…

A beach, with the city mixed in.

This was a question from Facebook, and I thought it would be a lot of fun to put it here.  I grew up in big cities, and visited small towns.  I’ve never really been in the country.  Not even sure how it would be defined.

Maybe farmland?  If so, I have been to Kingston, Indiana, where I saw corn growing taller than me at the side of the road, waving in the wind.  But it was so far to go anywhere, and not much when I got there.

I grew up in Southern California, right on the doorstep of Hollywood.  Friendly palm trees stretching into the blue (or sometimes yellow-gray) sky…lots of sunshine.

And the beaches.  We didn’t go much to the local beaches.  Malibu was always packed with people out sunbathing.  But we would drive North, along the 101 and later the 5 to Central California.  The area has a lot of mountains that bump right down to the beaches.  The freeways cut through the mountains, so on the right was the rocky hills covered by scrubby grass and chaparral.  Always brown and dried out.

On the left was the ocean stretching out as far as I could see, deep blue against the line of the sky and darkening where it got deep.  The water was both foreboding and inviting.

The waves curled up high, then crashed down on the beach, spreading out across the sand, foaming and bubbling.  High tide would leave a line of kelp on the sand, smelling of sea and decay.  I’d go out to the kelp and stomp on the air bladders that kept it afloat, then hunt for the shells embedded in the sand.

I could always find broken shells, especially mussels, which weren’t very pretty shells.  Other common ones were Chinese hats–limpets; butterflies, which were two shells connected together; and sand dollars, flat disks that were nearly always broken.

Then it was off to check out the rocks.  The beaches always had black, jagged rocks poking up out of the sand.  Inside were pockets containing tide pools.  I always found sea “enemies” with their flower-like tentacles twitching in the water as they fed.  Clusters of barnacles clung to the rocks, sticking their tongues out at me.

At Morro Bay, which was always our destination, the sounds of the sea lions having a big party carried across the water.  Sea otters popped up to the surface and rolled over to float.  The sea gulls barely designed to look at the humans approaching.  Get out of the way?  Not important to them.

The wind was always a bit brisk and cold, but I could spend all day looking at everything and never seeing the same thing.

Beach.  Definitely.

Apologizing for History

Washington Monument against cloudy skyThis weekend, I wanted to get out and do something fun.  That turned into a trip to the Museum of American History, which is right near the Washington Monument.  It was cloudy out, with rain predicted…and humid and hot.

The museum can be a lot of fun.  Like their Transportation history exhibit, or the one on food (with Julia Child’s kitchen).  There’s even the office of the man who invented  the first video game.  It’s pretty cool looking at how different creative people are.

There were also two exhibits which apologized for history.  I got a problem with that.

  1. History’s best value is if we take all of it into context.  Apologizing takes a piece of it entirely out of context, and devalues the rest.
  2. When the rest is devalued, we don’t hear about the positive things people did.

One of the exhibits that went on apology mode was on the Japanese internment during World War II.

What happened to the Japanese in the U.S. was a terrible thing.  I was glad for the opportunity to read George Takei’s biography, because his internment camp as a child put a different perspective on what happened (it was actually more interesting that the actor part).  I also went to an exhibit several years back (think that was at Freer-Sackler) of items made by people in the camps.  It was both sad and amazing, because it spoke of the power of  human spirit.

But I also have a bit of family history that comes with World War II and the Japanese.

My grandparents lived in San Francisco during World War II.  My grandfather was a minister of a church there.  My grandmother reported that she had to do a submarine watch on the coast of California.


After the war intended, there was a lot of distrust of Japanese.  My grandfather gave them jobs around the church.  It was a deeply unpopular thing to do, and he did it anyway.  The Japanese honored him about ten years ago.

History is about putting things into perspective and honoring who we are, warts and beauty and all.  Apologizing robs of us that perspective, which we need as human beings.


79th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco first opened in 1937.  This is article of the map from Popular Mechanics in 1931, showing both a drawing of the towers and maps of the area.  It must have been amazing to see it being built then!

My grandparents lived in Marin County, which was on the other side of the bridge, for a number of years when I was growing up.

We would drive up the coast from Los Angeles, stopping over in Morro Bay for a day, which was at about the four hour mark.  Probably at the point where the kids were driving the parents crazy.

The following day, it was off to San Francisco.  I could see the bridge from a distance as we approached—it was hard to miss.  Sometimes fog swirled around it—even the fog is bigger than the bridge!

I thought of it as a red bridge though it’s actually a color called international orange.  I still think it’s red.

As we crossed the bridge, it was both exciting and frightening.

Frightening because it’s so high up, with just those cables holding us up.  There’s not much on either side except a very long drop to the ocean.  And, from the backseat of the car, with the bridge rising up, no way to visually tell how far it is to the other side.

It was always a relief to see the end looming up ahead!

Exciting because crossing that bridge meant we were on the final leg to see our grandparents!

Bridges always have a sort of mystic feel to the them.  They both represent the beginning of a journey, like a trip to grandmother’s, and a sign the journey is ending.  But sometimes it’s the adventure, too.

What’s on the other side of the bridge that’s there to explore?

Desert Storm Reunion Cruise: Cozumel

Next stop on the cruise was a place I always wanted to visit: ruins!

When we docked, I was first greeted by this sight.  On the right is my cruise ship, Freedom of the Seas.  On my left was Navigator of the Seas.  That’s the ship I took on my first cruise, so this was pretty weird.


Then it was off to the Mayan ruins.  It was very hot out (Mexico in winter is still hot!), and a long walk to get out to the ruins.

My first reaction was, “That’s it?”  I guess I expected ruins to be more exotic, though they are what they are … parts of buildings that are crumbling.

It also didn’t help that we didn’t have a good tour guide.  He gave us all headsets to listen in to him, but he spoke almost in a monotone and very softly.  He also didn’t seem excited about he was talking about … seems like that would be a requirement for a tour guide.

Mayan Ruins against a deep blue sky and dry grass

And the obligatory beach shot.  This was overlooked by the ruins.  We could go down if we wanted to, but the stairs were very steep, so I opted for photos.

A beautiful Mexican beach

Then it was back at the end of the day for the next trip along the coast of Mexico for more ruins.

Desert Storm Reunion Cruise – Cayman Islands

I remember the Cayman Islands from when I was growing because they always had these beautiful cat stamps.  It was our first stop on the cruise so I went to Hell,  checked out turtles, and played with stingrays–all in one day!

This is Hell, which a very small town, mainly so the tourists can send postcards back saying, “I’ve been to Hell and back.”  But it’s also known for the strange limestone rock formations behind me.

Looks kind of like a lunar landscape.


Then it was off to see the turtle farm.  It’s hard to see in the picture without anything to compare it to, but these are huge turtles.  They are easily 3-4 feet long.  The farm raises them for the meat.


Then we hopped aboard a boat that took us out to a shallow area in the ocean where the stingrays were.  We climbed off the boat–the water was colder than it looked.  The wind was blowing good, and the currently was strong enough that I was working on keeping my balance.

The man in the photo is one of the guides, who held the stingrays while pictures were taken of us.  The stingrays were probably about two feet long and very soft to the touch.  The only thing hazardous about them was the tail, which would only be a problem if we jumped up and down and landed on it.  So I was doing foot shuffles and managed to trip over the anchor line at least once!


Foot update:  At my last visit, the doctor said that, at 6 weeks, I was at where most people are for 8 weeks.  He has me using hiking boots around the house and the regular boot if I go out.

First time I was on hiking boots, it was a weird sensation.  It was like the floor was on uneven on one side.  That disappeared after the first day, but boy, the next few days were a big energy suck.

Next visit, I should be out of the boot entirely.

2017 Desert Storm Reunion Cruise

Just a quick plug for the 2017 Desert Storm Reunion Cruise, which is in February, 2017.  Perfect time for a cruise if you’ve got cold weather like we will in Washington, DC.

Please pass along if you know a Desert Storm vet.

Gratuitous Volcano Pictures

Volcanoes are one of those cool things that make for a great action story (real life, not so much).  There’s nothing like a character trying to escape as the volcano is rumbling and shaking and vents are opening up.

These are some awesome photos of the Kilauea Volcano spilling lava into the sea. 

The Women of the Memorial Day Parade

Sometime last year, I signed up to  march in the Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC, as part of the Desert Storm timeline in the parade. 

This year, we have a bunch of big anniversaries:

  • 911 – 15 years
  • Desert Storm – 25 years
  • World War II – 75 years

The parade was done in a timeline form, starting with the Revolutionary War and moving up through all the wars we’ve had people serve in.  The Desert Storm portion was sponsored by the Desert Storm Memorial.

Commercial interruption here:  The Desert Storm Memorial is looking for donations:

The uniform was khaki pants or chocolate chip pants and a brown t-shirt that had a big 25 on the back.  The optional hat was the boonie one that we wore over in the war.  I opted for the khaki pants because I already had them; most of the people had to go out and buy the chocolate chip pants and the hat.  I didn’t want to spend money on something I was going to wear once.

About three days before the parade, our cold rainy spring in DC ended, and summer marched in, all hot and bothered.  Humidity shot up, and we were getting 80-90 degrees.

My day on Memorial Day started at about 8 AM.  I was assigned to the first group in formation, with about 100 people, and we hopped the Metro to go downtown.  We took over the first two cars, so I’m not sure what the other passengers thought!

Though one of the men commented that it was probably the safest car on the train.  If anything happened, 50 people would be all over it in a heartbeat.

Our first staging area was by near where would start, by Constitution Avenue.  A tent had been set up nearby with water, and we needed a lot of it!  We were going to be out there until the parade started at 2:00, and it got hotter and hotter.

Suppose there’s a sense of irony in that …

So it was a lot of hurry up and wait.  We watched a WWI truck (for the WWI memorial) stop by, manned by a Navy guy who put it together with parts from all over the world.  There were also bands in some pretty cool looking uniforms (hardly the ugly mustard yellow from my high school days), though they had to be even hotter than us.  At least we had short sleeves!

At 2:00, we lined up out by the Smithsonian castle and waited for another hour—but at least we had a building with real bathrooms in and not porta potties.

At 3:00 thereabouts, we were a go.  I was in the first group, the last one in line, on the right side.  Most of the photos were taken of the left side.  We marched down the street connecting to Constitution, past two bands, who collectively turned and watched us.  That was kind of weird, because we were all in the same parade.

We pivoted at the corner and the viewing stands were right there.  Packed with people.  Cheering for us.

We were stiff and formal at that point.  I think everyone was screaming “Don’t screw up!”

And it was overwhelming.  I’d worried about going to the bathroom while I was out there, and I forgot it for a while.

We marched until we came to a stop.  It was like a traffic jam—you can’t see what’s going up ahead to know what’s going on.  Later we found out someone in a group ahead of us had a heart attack.

But after we got moving again, things changed a bit.  It was like suddenly we were freer.  A couple of the men broke away from the group and ran to the sidelines to shake the hands of veterans watching.  A spotter behind me identified the veterans by hats or t-shirts.

A woman in an Air Force uniform had five men launch for her; I think she was a little dazed at it all.  Two of the women ran out giving high fives to the crowds.

And the crowds loved it all.

All the way down Constitution, people were lined up, calling out to us, and waving.  We finally reached the end of the route and turned off.  The fire department had a hose aimed into the air so the spray would fall down on the marchers.

Better still, there was a stand of porta potties, and a bunch of made a beeline for them.  After that, the Kuwaitis asked us all to sign a flag so they could take it home.  I signed it with my name and my unit.

Then it was time to go home.  By the time I got back, it was nearly 6:00.

There was an immediate camaraderie among us, though I only knew people from when I went on the reunion cruise last year.  But we all had the same shared experience.

This is a photo of the women participating in the parade, taken by one of the other veterans.  I’m standing behind the service dog.

Desert Storm 5

* *  *

And I have a new contemporary fantasy short story out on Amazon:

Cover for Dance of the Wind Chimes


Strolling Downtown Amidst the Mud Architects and Mud Cloth

This weekend I decided I really needed a fun day.  It’s kind of hard going out on fun days, because I don’t want to do them every weekend—it’s supposed to be fun and not feel like I’m “supposed” to do it. 

May’s also probably the only time I will have now to go downtown.  Starting in June, Metro Rail (the subway we use to go into downtown DC) will undergo major maintenance that will include shutting down lines.

So it was off to the see the Natural History Museum. 

We’ve had rain all week, and the nasty kind of rain, where you can’t see where you’re going.  The sky was clear and pretty when I got up, but by the I finished my early morning grocery shopping, clouds crowded in, gray and promising rain.  In fact, I debated going or not because I really didn’t want to caught in a downpour.

Ultimately though, I needed to get out and have fun.  I took my umbrella and hopped off the Metro down near my quarry.  It was a lot of walking, even though I was pretty close—I only needed to cut across the mall, turn right and go down a block.  DC is deceptive like that; you never think you walked very far until you realize you walked pretty far.

I picked the Natural History Museum because I wanted to see an exhibit called the Mud Architects of Mali.  The Mud Architects practicing an ancient craft of masonry, using the mud of the local area.  Doesn’t that sound cool and the perfect thing for a fantasy novel?

That exhibit led me to the African Voices one, which had the Mud Cloth.  They are women who make intricate designs on cloth.  They take a plain cloth and dye it with mud.  The designs have specific meaning—for example, one pattern represented marriage.  That’d be cool for a story, too.

The exhibits were interesting, though I wished the curator had done more on them.  So when I came back home, I stopped off at the library for three books on Mali–like I already didn’t have enough books to read!

This is from a prompt by the Daily Post, though I handily took a stroll beforehand

Cover preview for Rogue God, due out in June:

Cover for Rogue God, showing a tiki face on a surfboard.


Washington Wanderings: Planetside and Blanketside

Saturday morning I realized I needed to recharge the muse a little with a trip to see art. I started with picking the museum pretty much because I did want to do a transfer on Metro. If any of the lines are single-tracking due to maintenance, it becomes a big headache and a whole lot of people. So, when I saw that there looked to be a decent art exhibit by Kay Walkingstick at the National Museum of the American Indian, that was it. The exhibit actually opened that day.

Generally, I haven’t liked the NMAI. I went to the museum right after it opened its doors for the first time and found it visually noisy. Smithsonian had some criticisms for being politically correct, and the museum felt like they were trying to please everyone. They had tried to put in a section for all the of the tribes, and there were too many to do a decent job with it.

The second time I went, it was to see an exhibit by a Hawaiian artist that was a joint project with a local gallery. I was writing my Hawaii book Rogue God at the time, and I was intrigued in seeing contemporary Hawaiian art.

I got home tools like shovels and brooms.

So this was my third time at the museum. Fingers crossed!

It was raining out when I left. Not really hard, so I figured I could manage without the umbrella. The news made it sound like the rain would blow through. I hopped the Metro and got off at L’Enfant Plaza and back out into the rain. A short walk to the museum (thankfully!).

First stop inside was at the 4th Floor theater, mainly because there was a sign over the elevator that said something like “Start your visit in the theater.” The theater was kind of strange because it had three “screens.” The first was on an Indian blanket, and that was the primary screen. The second was on the “grandfather rock,” which was a polished globe in the floor. The third was on the ceiling, and it was sort of a planetarium screen.

I was sort of torn between planetside and blanketside, and ignored poor grandfather. Some aspects of the film reminded me of these Alaskan films that I saw in 5th or 5th grade. The films showed the Alaskans (who were also in the blanketside film) cutting freshly killed animals and eating the meat from the knife. The grade school films were actually quite bloody. We had a little bit of that here, but nothing like those school films.

Then the film wrapped and it was lunch time so I wandered off to the café to see what was there. This was, hands down, one of the best of the food restaurants in the Smithsonian (Air and Space is one of the worst—it’s a MacDonald’s so there are very few options; Natural History Museum is also pretty poor because they imply healthy food, and healthy means free range).

I picked Indian Tacos, which consisted of Buffalo Chili (beans and sauce, not buffalo meat); lettuce, tomatoes, bell pepper; cheddar cheese; and fry bread. I’d read about fry bread in the Ellah Clah books, so it was on my list to try it. The bread was round and kind of flat, but thicker than a tortilla and puffy. Inside it was pleasurably soft. The taco parts were spread on top of it, so I may have to make a trip back for fry bread by itself. But it was very good.

And I was amazed that the people in front of me just ordered hamburgers. Seriously? You can’t try something new out?

Up to the third floor for the Kay Walkingstick exhibit. The museum guard warned me that an alarm would sound if I got within two feet of the paintings. That’s probably in place because of the Gaughan incident a few years ago. There was a Gaughan exhibit at the National Art Gallery. It was his Tahiti paintings, so lots of nudes. A woman went nuts and tried to damage one of the paintings.

He also said the artist had been by the day before, and he was in awe of her. Pity! I wish I could have seen her. That would have been cool. I settled for a movie she filmed for the museum that was part of the exhibit.

The exhibit itself was very extensive (not like my previous experience with three pieces that consisted of tools). It covered 1970s all the way through today. I found the modern day landscapes just stunning. The colors and images were stunning. You can see the artworks on Walkingstick’s site. Each section has art that was in this exhibit. The section called “Works on Canvas & Wood” feature the landscapes that I really enjoyed.

After I finished wandering, it was time to go back outside. Yup! Still raining, and a bit harder. Really should have brought the umbrella!