re-thinking getaways

When we lived in Gilroy going on a getaway was easy. If we wanted to visit our good friends Emily and Raymond at the (now closed) Goose & Turrets Bed and Breakfast in Montara we would head up Highway 85 to Interstate 280, take Highway 92 to California Highway 1, drive a few miles north and we were there. The drive was less than two hours.

If we wanted to go to another favorite destination, Cambria, we hopped on U.S. 101 and drove south to California Highway 46, headed west, and connected with Highway 1. Then it was only a few minutes to Cambria. It was a manageable three-hour drive.

Here in Hemet it’s not so simple. It’s easy enough to get to the San Diego County coast, but it is more crowded than we would like. We could head to the San Jacinto mountains or the low desert, but those don’t offer the getaways on the water that we love.

CambriaTerry decided that we needed to go back to Cambria. Our favorite motel, the White Water Inn, had gone all upscale on us, completely refurbishing rooms and doubling their rates. So she found us a room at a place called the Fog Catcher Inn. She reserved a partial ocean view room but we got a full ocean view room instead. That was marvelous. It was also halfway between our two favorite restaurants, Moonstone Bar and Grill and the incredible Sea Chest, both in walking distance.

But to get to Cambria from Hemet we have to go through the Los Angeles basin. There is simply no way around it. The drive to Cambria was six-and-a-half hours. We had a wonderful time and being at the ocean is always reinvigorating and healing, but we ate too much rich food and both our digestive systems made that clear to us. We just can’t eat rich food in the way we once could.

The drive home took seven-and-quarter hours. We made more stops and longer stops than on the drive north. My first thought when we arrived at home was the same as it was when we would get home to Gilroy after a trip down here to Southern California, braving that infamous, unforgiving Interstate 5: “Oh, Aunty Em, I’m so glad to be home and I’m never going to go away again!”

After catching our breath upon our arrival here Terry said that we need to find getaways closer to home.

She’s right. We do.

The Heroine with 1001 Faces

Heroine with 1001 Faces coverThe Heroine with 1001 Faces
by Maria Tatar
Liveright (September 14, 2021), 361 pages
Kindle edition $14.16, Amazon hardcover $25.49

Maria Tatar is not a big fan of Joseph Campbell. As the title suggests, the current volume is a response to Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. In an interview Tatar stated the book was not a refutation of Campbell’s work, but an extension of it. Reading the book does not bear that out. She is unhappy with Campbell, and rightly so. Tatar states, “Campbell’s confidence about what it takes to be a hero is daunting, matched only by his conviction that women have no place in his pantheon of heroes.”

Tatar covers more than a millennium of material in her discussion of how mythology, folklore, and writing across the centuries portrayed women in relation to the hero’s journey (to use Campbell’s term). She discusses fairy tales and recounts some of the highly brutal stories that were originally part of the collections of the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, and others, but which vanished as editors began to compile books of fairy tales for children. She writes about how writers and storytellers portrayed women as being responsible for the ills of the world, whether it be Pandora or Eve. Tatar discusses folklore which sent the message that it was a bad thing for women to be curious, while at the same time the stories portrayed intelligent, strong women as responsible for revenge against the men who perpetuated violence against women.

There is a long history of women engaged in successful quests, Campbell notwithstanding. Tatar writes about Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew. She discusses Wonder Woman, both as a comic book that emerged during World War II and in the form of the recent movies. Tatar has high praise for the recent trend of female authors retelling the stories of the Trojan War. She very much likes both Madeline Miller’s Circe and Natalie Haynes’s A Thousand Ships. I have read both and agree that the authors craft these stories well and that they are engaging novels focused on women.

Joseph Campbell has fallen into disfavor. As popular as his PBS series with Bill Moyers was, many saw his “follow your bliss” mantra as trite. The facts that came out about his anti-Semitism and other prejudices did not help. Tatar says that she never saw Campbell’s work on any syllabus in her program at Harvard. When I was at Pitzer College in the seventies Campbell did not necessarily appear on course syllabi as required reading, but professors regularly mentioned his work as supplemental reading.

As much as Campbell has contributed to the study of the study of mythology, and he has contributed a lot, Tatar does a great service in calling to our attention to the women he has overlooked or ignored.

haircuts in a time of pandemic

When Terry and I moved to Hemet six years ago (that meant I had returned to Hemet after forty-one years away), I obviously needed to find a new hair stylist. The logical first choice was to find someone at the salon in the lodge here at Four Seasons, which I did. I was happy with the results I got from Stephanie and so followed her to her nearby salon when she stopped working at Four Seasons. When the shop sold Stephanie moved to a salon almost half an hour away. Too far for me. I found a shop on Florida Avenue, Hemet’s main street, and made an appointment with Taylor. I was not happy with the two haircuts I got from him.

new haircutI looked around and found a salon near downtown Hemet run by a woman named Sonja. I stayed with her for a while, but then I got a couple of bad haircuts in a row. About that time the pandemic hit, and Sonja was not taking any precautions in her shop. No masks. Nothing. I decided that the best approach was to cut my own hair with some help from Terry, who took care of the back.

I did that for more than a year. Once we were both vaccinated and protocols were in place for hair salons I decided it was time to venture out. Terry had a stylist in the local Ulta store with whom she was happy, and Ulta was implementing protocols, so I went to see her. Two haircuts. Not happy.

Time to research. I posted to the San Jacinto Valley Facebook page twice asking for recommendations on salons that both did men’s hair and followed COVID protocols. The first time someone responded and asked another person to post information on a particular salon, but that never happened. The second time the only response was someone who recommended Super Cuts near Walmart. Super Cuts? Sharing a parking lot with Walmart? I don’t think so.

So I went to Yelp. There were plenty of salon listings. One reviewer wrote about a shop with a sign saying, “masks not required.” There were several photos of unmasked stylists and clients. Then I saw a small shop with a photo of a properly masked male client. I stopped by and the owner, Sandra, seemed to follow proper protocols. I went there for my haircut this week and she did a nice job. Not ideal, but good enough.

Sandra gave me a hand mirror so I could see the back of my head. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at the back of my head. Seems that I’m losing hair back there. Yikes! What’s with that?

It’s nice to have a decent haircut after so long. Even if I am losing hair on the back of my head.

Written Communications

Written CommunicationsWritten Communications: Being Heard and Understood
Allison Friederichs, PhD
University of Denver, University College
Watch for the sale price to recur at The Great Courses
or stream the course with a Wondrium subscription

The advantage of having a Wondrium subscription is that I don’t have to consider whether or not a given course is worth buying. I can simply start streaming the course and see how I like it. With Written Communications: Being Heard and Understood, the course description intrigued me. At the same time, the title of the first lecture put me off: “Impactful Writing.” Impactful? Really? But then the Merriam-Webster Unabridged online dictionary lists the word with no qualification. There is no notation such as “nonstandard” or “informal.” So I forged ahead.

The course was, in fact, very useful. The focus of the course is on business writing, but much of the content is applicable no matter what kind of writing you are doing. Despite her use of the word “impactful” (which she uses often) and despite her charming, witty (I’m tempted to say perky) demeanor, Allison Friederichs is old school and no-nonsense when it comes to grammar and usage. She comes down firmly against the singular “they,” only offering a sort of footnote at the end of the discussion, acknowledging that the usage is becoming accepted in many circles. She favors, as you would expect, the Oxford comma.

Friederichs offers a structured approach to composing any sort of document (email included, she emphasizes). She calls the method ACE: analyze, craft, and edit. Friederichs devotes a half-hour lecture to each step. The middle step, in her view, is the least important and your time should be spent on planning the document and editing your original draft. She discusses the importance of word choice and talks about writing in such a way to maintain a positive relationship with your correspondents.

I thought the final lecture, which was on email, might be less useful than the other lectures. It turned out to have some very practical advice. For example, regarding email attachments Friederichs suggests first adding the attachment, then writing the email, and finally completing to TO: field. That eliminates those follow-up “oops” emails resulting from forgotten attachments.

The lectures on punctuation and grammar provide an excellent review even if you are familiar with the material, and the ACE process for writing is worth taking a careful look at. This is a practical course with material that one can apply to any sort of writing.

our full freezer

freezer contentsIt’s been quite a while since I’ve written about cooking here, but Terry and I continue to cook dinner at home several nights a week. We watch our favorite cooking shows on television and we subscribe to three cooking magazines: Food & Wine, Food Network Magazine, and Bon Appétit.

The problem we face is that it’s hard to cook for just two people. Or maybe it’s easy to cook for two and I just don’t know how. In either case we have lots of leftovers and quantities of meat that we bought but didn’t use in the original dish. Both get vacuum sealed using our trusty FoodSaver and put in the freezer.

freezer listLast week we were having new counters installed in the master bathroom and the installer’s truck and trailer were blocking our driveway. So instead of going to the grocery store I ordered delivery from Instacart. For Saturday dinner we had planned a surf and turf evening. That means halibut for me and steak for Terry. I asked Terry what she wanted, and she selected a London Broil.

It turned out that the London Broil was more than two-and-a-half pounds, a lot heavier than Terry expected. She cut it up into five pieces, one for Saturday and four for the freezer. Now the freezer was already full, and I needed to do some serious rearranging. Besides leftovers and cuts of meat our freezer contains frozen lunches, frozen fruit for breakfast, vegetables, and ice cubes made from water out of our reverse osmosis filter (which gives us beautiful, clear cubes in which we can see the crystals).

I took the opportunity to do an inventory of what we had in the way of leftovers and saved cuts of meat. You can see that we have built up quite a stash. We obviously need to go through our inventory for a while and make use of those ingredients and leftovers rather than buying new ingredients and cooking from scratch.

A few years ago we bought a new refrigerator with a larger capacity than our previous refrigerator. I guess it’s a good thing that we did.

Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World

Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World coverForgotten Peoples of the Ancient World
Philip Matyszak
read by Michael Page
Tantor Audio, April 13, 2021
print edition published by Thames and Hudson
$14.88 for Audible members, more for nonmembers
purchased with an Audible credit

This audiobook turned out to be a good choice for listening while I was engaged in other activities: fixing dinner, emptying the dishwasher, doing yard work, etc. That’s because each chapter runs just about ten minutes. The downside to this is that one does not get an in-depth study of the peoples covered, but only a brief vignette.

Author Philip Matyszak divides the book into four sections: The First Civilizations, From Assyria to Alexander, The Coming of Rome, and the Fall of Rome in the West. Within each section he describes the various populations that interacted with the dominant empires. The term “forgotten peoples” is really a misnomer; the book is really about the “minor” civilizations that came into contact with the big powers. After all, Matyszak writes about the Canaanites, the Philistines, and the Samaritans, none of whom are in any way forgotten. He also has a chapter on the Sea Peoples. Anyone who has read about the collapse of Bronze Age societies in the Mediterranean and the Near East is well aware of how closely the Sea Peoples are associated with that mysterious phenomenon.

On the other hand he writes about the Illyrians, the Epirots, the Celtiberians, and the Iceni, to mention just a few. I think I can safely say that these peoples qualify as forgotten. Though the discussion of each civilization is brief, there is a lot of interesting material here. It is sobering, however, to learn about civilizations that simply cease to exist.

The book is skillfully ready by Michael Page. His clipped British accent is ideal for Matyszak’s writing style and makes for pleasant listening.

Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World is worthwhile reading (or listening) for anyone interested in ancient history.

Dangerous Religious Ideas

Dangerous Religious Ideas coverDangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Rachel S. Mikva
Beacon Press (November 3, 2020), 262 pages
Kindle edition $16.99, Amazon Hardcover $17.47

Beacon Press publishes books that tend to be both intelligent and interesting. The good folks at the Unitarian Universalist Association run the publishing house, and as one who spent several years as a Unitarian, I pay attention when I see a book reviewed that bears the Beacon Press imprint. Thus, it was not surprising that I followed up when I encountered Dangerous Religious Ideas.

The author, who is a rabbi and teaches at Chicago Theological Seminary, takes on the content and interpretation of scripture in the three Abrahamic religions. Mikva writes about the inconsistencies and disputes that surround the interpretation of scripture. She asks, “Why were biblical and Qur’anic texts that seem to support patriarchy prominently deployed, for instance, while those showing women equal in creation, with moral courage and political and spiritual power, were not seen to have equally broad mandates?” She tells us that Clement of Alexandria pointed to the first chapter of Genesis, where man and woman were created at the same time, as an indication that women should be equal in the eyes of the church.

Mikva notes that even within a religion there is not full agreement. She points out that the various Christian divisions (she mentions Roman Catholic, Orthodox Protestant, Orthodox, and Coptic) have canons that differ from each other. I grew up a Methodist but am today an Episcopalian, so I know that Protestant denominations do not accept the Apocrypha as scripture, but the Episcopal Church does. The author tells us that Martin Luther personally disliked the New Testament books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation and put them at the end of his 1522 edition of the Bible.

A long passage on Judaism and the Talmud discusses how the rabbis debated and interpreted the Torah, the first five nooks of the Bible. Mikva states that in the early days of Islam there were nineteen schools of legal opinion, which eventually narrowed down to four.

The author tackles head-on the topic of supersession, the idea that a newer religion replaces an older one. It is something of which both Christians and Muslims are guilty. She suggests that it is not likely to go away any time soon.

Mikva suggests that ultimately scripture can be both good and dangerous at the same time. Perhaps the best we can do is focus on bringing out the good.

A Short History of Humanity

Short History of Humanity coverA Short History of Humanity: A New History of Old Europe
Johannes Krause and Thomas Trappe
translated by Caroline Waight
Random House (April 13, 2021), 253 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon hardcover $16.89

I have been doing a lot of reading and watching video courses about genetics recently. It’s fascinating stuff, and recent discoveries in the field have taught us a lot about our world that we didn’t previously know. Given my interest, this was an excellent book to add to my learning. Johannes Krause is a distinguished DNA researcher in Germany, who has been involved in several key discoveries in genetics. His field is known as archaeogenetics. Thomas Trappe is an accomplished German science writer. And Caroline Waight renders the book into clear, readable English.

The authors tell us that all humans can trace their lineage back to a “mitochondrial Eve” who lived about 160,000 years ago. They say that there is also a “Y-chromosomal Adam” who lived nearly 200,000 years before mitochondrial Eve, so, obviously, “we can say with certainty that they weren’t a couple.”

You are no doubt familiar with the Neanderthals, but there is another early human line discovered more recently: the Denisovans, who lived in Asia. We know about them because we have one bone from one individual, but having sequenced their genome we can tell about their interactions with other lines. DNA analysis tells us they branched off from the Neanderthals. The authors tell us that modern humans had sex with both Neanderthals and Denisovans and that Neanderthals had sex with Denisovans as well.

Krause and Trappe discuss the movements of modern humans around Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The authors also discuss genetic analysis of the source of the plague in Europe during the Middle Ages. It turns out that the plague pathogen was present in Europe as far back as the Stone Age.

It is fascinating to read about how much the science of genetics has added to our knowledge not only of humankind, but of other living organisms as well. And what better source for this material than one of the leading researchers in the field?