pregnant halloween

I made Rhea's halloween costume :-)

Rhea placed a special order for a Halloween costume, and I was glad to oblige. So simple: a stretchy tshirt, doll arms, and fake blood. The hardest part was finding a second hand doll to dismember.

a map of beauty is a joy for ever

Source. Usage rights: Free to use or share.

Why do I love old maps so much?

It’s partly about the colours, partly the typography. There’s also a sense of wonderment that these maps were charted with simple instruments — compass, telescope, sextant, parchment and ink — long before satellite photographs, laser range-finders, and GPS. And they were hand engraved in copper — in mirror image — before being printed.

Beyond that, there’s just a fascination with the two-dimensional representation of space. It’s not just ancient maps that appeal to me, modern (especially topographic) versions float my boat, too. There’s something about orienting myself in my physical environment, or imagining myself into a distant land, that connects me with the earth and reality. I can’t really explain it.

The map above was engraved by Benjamin Baker (1766-1841), of Islington, London, a prolific producer of engraved maps from the late 18th century onwards. It was published by William Faden (1750 – 1836) “Geographer to the King and to the Prince of Wales”.

I’ve done my share of map reproduction. The easy way: in Adobe Illustrator, with scans to trace, right-reading. Given their limited technology, the navigators, cartographers and engravers of the past have my utmost respect. Their maps truly are a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Do you love maps (ancient and/or modern)? If so, why do they appeal to you?

where the river meets the desert

Colorado River, Picacho SRA

#full #moon rising over #colorado #river #picacho #camping

#colorado #river #sunset #picacho #camping

Feral burros
Feral burros



North of Yuma, east of Salton Sea, Picacho State Recreation Area comprises miles of desert desolation along the beautiful Colorado River.

When David emailed me a while ago saying he’d be in Phoenix for a wedding, and suggesting some wilderness exploration, I picked Picacho as our destination. (And marveled that we’d see each other three times in five months. Which is probably more than we had in the previous ten years.)

It was a great choice. The weather was perfect and the campground empty. Of the 54 campsites, only 2 were occupied, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Well, except for the raccoons.

the desert is so strangely beautiful

It felt so good to unplug, unwind, hike, swim, and cook over an open fire. I heart camping. I just need a better sleeping pad.

desert break


I’m heading to the desert for some camping and exploration. Back soon!

weekly photo challenge: foreign

As a result of this:

Naturalization ceremony
Some of the 2001 other foreigners at my naturalization ceremony.

I now get to do this:


As a newbie voter, I’m a little bit earnest about it. I researched the candidates, studied the propositions, and discussed the options with people whose opinions I value. I watched the debates, including those of the third party candidates. I think this election is going to be a bit of a nail biter.

If you are a US citizen, native- or foreign-born, please vote!

how to create odd numbered magic squares

And now for something completely different.

WordPress’s prompt today is: “Take a complicated subject you know more about than most people, and explain it to a friend who knows nothing about it at all.” I contemplated explaining how to make curry powder, become a US citizen, insert an invisible zipper, address an automated flat mail piece, or French braid.

But my inner geek won out.

You might not know this about me, but I’m a little bit of a math(s) nerd (a very little bit). I discovered recreational mathematics at an early age (five? six?) when my dad introduced me to magic squares.

A magic square is a grid in which all the columns, rows and both diagonals add up to the same number. You may have encountered them in primary/elementary school, where you had to fill in the blanks on incomplete magic squares.

In the 3-square grid above, for example, each column, row, and diagonal adds up to 15.

I think they’re cool, mainly because Dad taught me where to put each number, no trial and error required! This method works for any size magic square with an odd number of rows/columns.

There are three basic rules.
1. Start by putting “1” at the center of the top row.
2. For each successive number, try to place it in the square that is diagonally up and to the right (northeast) of the last number. If there is no square there, imagine that the entire grid is duplicated beside or above your actual grid, and place your next number in the corresponding square. (Stay with me, I’ll show you in a minute.)
3. If your target square is already occupied, place the number below the current number.

Here’s the above grid again, step by step.

“1” goes in the top row, center position. (Rule #1)
The square northeast does not exist, so we imagine that our grid is duplicated above, and see that “2” belongs in the bottom right corner. (Rule #2) We write it there on our grid.

With me so far?

Again, there is no square to the northeast of “2”, so we imagine a duplicated grid and see that “3” belongs at the far left. (Rule #2)

The square northeast of “3” is already occupied, so “4” goes below “3”. (Rule #3).

“5” and “6” require no shenanigans.

“7” wants to go in the bottom left corner, but that spot’s taken, so it goes under “6”.

And I’m sure you can, by now, figure out where “8” and “9” go, and why. Voila! A completed magic square, no addition required!

Here’s a 5-square version, where each column, row, and both diagonals adds up to 65. As a kid, I knocked myself out making larger and larger magic squares.

Fun times, right?

You’re welcome.

what’s the one thing you hope other people never say about you?

I’ve been pondering this question all day. And I’ve come to understand that the things we don’t want others to name, are the things of which we are ashamed. They are the traits we hate about ourselves, and have not yet owned, and hung on the laundry line for all to see.

Think about it. If someone accused me of discriminating against the colour red, it would be meaningless to me. The aspersion has no intersection with my reality.

But get a little closer to home, and my hackles might rise slightly. Accuse me of drinking too much wine, for example, and I may acknowledge that I often exceed the RDA, but I’m OK with it. I don’t like your implied judgement, but my own assessment of my alcohol consumption tells me that I’m healthy and not an addict. But it’s an area I keep an eye on, for the same reason I might bristle at your comment. We’re entering sensitive territory, but I don’t hide anything. I am not a closet drinker.

Last hug

But the thing I really, really don’t want to hear? That I abandoned my children in 1997, when I fled to the other side of the world.

Because, no matter how I sugar coat it, actually, I did.

Oh, I can justify the act (my life was being threatened, the elder two weren’t living with me, the youngest spent much of her time to emancipation here with me). But even after 15 years, the shame persists. I am only redeemed by the continued love and understanding and awesomeness of my three amazing children.

Tui, August 2011.
Jesse, August 2011.
Rhea & me, at Felix’s birth, August 2011.

I was, I believed, saving the only life I could save. But to pretend there was no major fallout in their lives, that they didn’t feel abandoned, is self-serving and just plain wrong.

I’ve named my shame. You can now accuse me, and I’ll not be defensive.


the day i lost santa


I was a trusting child. Some might say gullible, but I just didn’t expect people to lie to me. And while I may have learned fairly early that my older brother and sister might be setting me up for an embarrassing fall, I had 100% faith in the word of my mother.

That’s how it came to be that, at age 7-1/2, I was the only kid in my class who still believed in Santa Claus. Part of my tenacious hold on the myth came from my mother’s cautionary tale: When she was little, she’d at some point declared that Santa didn’t exist, and he never came to her house again! I certainly didn’t want that to happen! But a large part of my stubbornness in the face of schoolyard teasing was my confidence that my parents simply didn’t tell lies.

Finally Mum realized I was not going to lose my innocence via my peer group, so she sat me down for The Talk. “Honey, it’s time you learned the truth. Santa? It’s me and Dad.”

At first I thought she must be joking. She had to bring forth scraps of fabric from previously received clothes as evidence. I clearly remember being overwhelmed by a sense of betrayal, and bursting into sobs.

The loss of faith — in the Santa fantasy, and in my mother’s word — rocked my world. I’d been humiliated on the playground because I’d believed her! What kind of parent would do that to their kid?

Overdramatic? Yes, of course, but I’ve always felt things strongly. Eventually I forgave her, but the experience made me into a different style of Mum: one who never fed her kids lies about mythical gift-givers, or anything else.

Christmas Eve 2007
Christmas Eve 2007. We were pretty broke that year, so the tree was just sticks wrapped in tinsel and lights.

You could call it a loss of innocence, but maybe it’s better to brand it as a loss of blind faith. Maybe that’s the day I started being skeptical, of looking beneath the surface, of reading between the lines, of questioning assumptions. I guess that’s a good thing. But at the time, it just felt tragic.

And Mum was right about one thing: once I knew that Santa wasn’t real, he never did come to my house again. Sure, I still got gifts, but they weren’t from him.

So tell me, what’s the most precious thing you’ve ever lost?

sometimes i just can’t help it

Working from home #wfh #topanga #treehouse
Working from home in my Topanga treehouse.

Back in January, when I suddenly and unexpectedly needed to find a new home, the easiest thing would have been back to my friend’s house in Inglewood. But that place was no longer available, so I made the decision to move to Topanga, a place my heart had long been telling me was home.

I’ve now been here nine months, and have not for one second regretted the move to a ‘bohemian enclave’.

Except maybe for a few minutes the day I was eating at Abuelita’s. At the next table, young hippie parents were asking their 4- or 5-yr-old son to describe his life before birth, before he chose them as his parents. Behind their backs, I was rolling my eyes.

He didn’t get the question. They pressed him.
“When you were in mommy’s tummy, what was it like?”
“Um, dark?” he ventured as a possibly acceptable answer, and I almost laughed aloud, happy that he was too young and honest to just make up crap to assuage his parents.

Question: Do you eavesdrop on people in public places? Sometimes it’s so amusing!

like mother, like daughter

Me in a tree
Me, today, Solstice Canyon, CA.

Tui, August 2011, O’Reillys, Queensland, AU