Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween and Hibernation

My favorite holiday of the year.

Some folks think I love Halloween because they also think I'm a witch.  I have red hair, 2 black cats, play with tarot card, and "talk" to ravens.

That's not the reason why.  (And I'm not a witch or Wiccan - not that there's anything wrong with that.)

I love Halloween because it begins the holiday season, and it rolls fast right after Halloween.  It's also the prettiest part of Autumn.  The fervor and excitement I feel during this season is much stronger on the East coast, however, since the seasons are more clearly marked.  Here in California, Autumn sneaks in and eases her way through the end of the calendar so that you say "Yay! Halloween!" Then what feels like a few minutes later you're saying, "What the...4 days until Christmas? How the...OH!  There's the In-and-Out. Turn HERE! TURN HERE!"  And all the cool things out here distract you from the fact that you still haven't mailed a damn card yet.

The environment has a big effect on my psyche.  It does for most folks to varying degrees, but I am super sensitive to it.  Whatever junk DNA lies quietly in my genetic code are light sleepers.  The first nip of cold and I spring into hibernation mode, like a little ground hog.  The house gets cleaned.  I MUST have things that smell like apple and cinnamon strewn about the house.  And the eating!  Ugh!  I crave carbs in Autumn like a vampire craves blood.  Gotta pack that fat for winter hibernation.

Back East I am not able to control these instinctive behaviors well*.  The rustle of orange and red leaves makes me rush about like the squirrels on the ground.  I feel the urge to get in my car and drive very, very far like a migrating goose with a driver's license.  I can capitalize on this seasonal effect because I become quite productive.  Make hay while the sun shines because when the leaves  are gone and the land is windy, icy and quiet, I am hibernating.

Hibernation.  My poor little solar-powered mind is powerless against the instinct to drop everything in my hand and ooze into my bed when the ratio of sun to dark becomes "less than".  It took me a few decades to simply admit this, and then another few years to work around it (ie: move to California.)  Basically, the situation works like this: Sun comes up, Sarah is up.  Sun goes down, Sarah goes down.  This was a horrible obstacle to my 8-5 job.  The sun came up at 8 and went down at 4.  I'd look around at other people on the highway driving to work, as I did - in the dark, and think, "How the hell is everyone ok with this?"  I felt cheated, and annoyed, and mad-as-hell-notgonnatakeitanymore.  And just when all of the injustice was too much to bear, especially around Cruel February and Psyche-Out March,  I'd get struck by the smell of Spring.

Oh Spring!  Back East you were a tired and welcomed soldier back from the war that I ran up to and jumped into your arms!  (A little dramatic, you may say?  No.  That's REALLY how I felt. Really!)   I figured out later that I was smelling minute traces of a Clostridium species of bacteria that is released into the air after the snow melts.  Again, my junk DNA kicked into high gear through an environmental stimulus.  A hint of yellow on the forsythia buds and cherry blossoms threw the final switch and SARAH was back online.

Well, at some point a few years back I got tired of this wild, emotional ride through the seasons.  I moved to California, (where I was born) and where my body was able to come to some kind of homeostasis.  It's 2 days until November and I have the doors wide open, the trees are green and the sun is shining.  My roses are blooming and birds, bugs, and critters are everywhere.  The sun may stay out a shorter amount of time, but my body is adequately tricked into thinking it's always Spring.  It's like environmental Prozac.  The flora and fauna are always telling me "Eeeeeeverything's  just groovy, man.  No worries, Braddah."  Then this narcotic grin comes across my face and I deliriously forget about the stupid Christmas cards I was supposed to send 2 weeks ago.

"Noooooo worries, Braddah."

*Oddly enough, this environmental phenomena has no effect, whatsoever, in the Northwest.  My years in Tacoma, Washington were ideal!  Wet, but ideal.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Barbie's Wardrobe

I'm a girl.  That means when I was young I had a Barbie or Barbie-type doll.  If you were a lucky girl she was a real Barbie that, when thrown at someone would do some damage (not like the hollow plastic ones that could be caught in mid-air by a little boy named...say...Michael Kidd,  and thrown back at you.)

Barbie wore high heels and tight dresses with unbelievable large seams for her scale.  She may have worn home-made bellbottoms and a Bob Makie-style tank top.  My Barbies had long blond hair, for a while anyway, until I'd take mom's sewing scissors and give her the worst haircut ever.  I even had a Barbie with long red hair!  She lasted a little longer until my son got a hold of her.  I think his GI Joe had something to do with that.  Was never proven, though.

ANYHOO I gave up on Barbies for a while until 10 years ago.  I was shopping in a toy store and saw a bin filled with College Cheerleader Barbies.  Imagine my surprise when I found a Virginia Tech cheerleader.  I had to buy it for oddity's sake.

I took her home and for the last decade she's been sitting in her short skirt and tennies.  She spent winters like that, with no leg warmers or letterman jacket, a constant smile on her face.   Poor Barb.  Resigned to her fate.

Last weekend I went shopping with my mother at Target.  We wandered through the aisles leaning on shopping carts and letting the subliminal advertising run its course through our minds.  We must have walked into the toy section just as the secret suggestive voices said, "Isn't it about time Barbie had a new wardrobe?  (Asile 10.)"  Well, heck yeah!  Mindlessly, I maneuvered my cart into the pink aisle and perused the dolls.  The new Barbies were pretty neato, actually.  Internationally themed ones and dolls that looked like classic movie characters.  Pretty cool!  Based on the variation I was seeing I thought, "Oh maybe a nice ball gown or a sari.  Maybe something in a batik pattern."  Let me tell you, I was so disappointed.  All I saw were thin little rags that made Barbie look like a 14th Street hooker.  I wondered if the "dresses" came with mini prophylactics or penicillin.

I wondered if my Barbie was condemned to sit on my desk in a skimpy cheerleader uniform forever.  Then I saw it.  A nice sweater and khaki pants!  Hey! That's nice!  The shoes are kinda big, but HEY, fitting Barbie feet into Barbie shoes is a notoriously painful exercise.  Maybe Mattel listened to the pleas of little girls and their moms, no doubt submitted in letters written with bandaged fingers.  Then I looked closer.  KEN.  They were Ken's clothes!  Well for Pete's sake!!!  Can't Barbie have a descent set of casual clothes?  I'd be happy with stretch leggings and a tiger print tunic at this point!

KEN.  That jerk.  He was so useless!  Now he sat there on the shelf taunting me and my Barbie.  He had comfortable, normal, law-abiding clothes.  It wasn't fair.

So I made a decision that wasn't too unusual for me - a girl, the first girl to volunteer to be a Wise Man (#2) at the Christmas play at St. Alphonsus.  I decided Barbie would be wearing a pair of khakis and a dang sweater.  Who were these market researchers to tell my Barbie-with-the-cold-legs that she couldn't wear normal clothes?  They were obviously people who didn't have teenage daughters to worry about, or there would have been USAF Flight suits, or jeans and a blazer, or yoga pants!  I proudly took the Ken outfit off the rack, threw it in my cart on top of the Franken Berry box and proudly strolled up to the register, proud of sticking it to the MAN.

This evening I took Barbie and finally, FINALLY changed her clothes.  I think this pleased me as much as I'm sure it pleased her.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brown County Town

I had to upload this memory to the Net since the Packers won last night.  I only saw the replays but didn't have to see much footage to know what a helluva party Green Bay and most of  Brown County, WI had last night.

I used to live in Green Bay.  My ex and I were stationed there for an "evolutionary" piece of my emotional career that lasted about 3 years or so.  I spent most of my life in the DC Metro area, Northern Virginia to be more precise, so I have typically been a Redskins fan.  Since I am not religious about football I have the privilege of casually supporting 2 teams: The Redskins* and the Packers.  And no, it's not like cheating on a spouse.

SO.  We moved to Green Bay.  That was around.....mmm...2002? 2003?  I can't remember.  It's not too important.  What I DO remember is how masculine the town felt.  Yes towns and states and regions all have a "feel" to them.  I have lived in many many places, being a military brat and eventually a military service member.   All military brats learn to assimilate - quickly.  My adjustment period in Green Bay was no different.  Get apartment, learn the lingo and slang, decipher the accent, and carry on.  I did this dutifully, and when I felt confidant enough, I got in my car and went to the grocery store.

Pleasant people.  Folks were very friendly.  And driven by something.  That was odd.  I didn't expect that.  There was a sense of urgency in every aisle.  Slow down lady. Where's the fire?  What was up with these folks?  It didn't dawn on me until the cashier handed me my change and said, "Go Packers!"  OOOooooh! I see.  It was Sunday.  Factoid was duly noted and logged into my mental database, cross reference "super fans".

Green Bay has a current to it that is kicked into a fierce gear during - you guessed it- football season.  I won't go into Packer history.  You can find that here.  But when the fans own the team, you will have fierce fans.  The street signs in Green Bay are green and gold.  My ex-husband worked on Holmgren Way.    Football icons are elevated to historical status.  We're talking f. a. n.'s.   Well to an outsider, as I was when I got there, it seemed oddly extreme, albeit refreshing.  

I felt like I was in college again.  The pride I felt for my Alma Mater when I was in college (VaTech) was strong.  So was this feeling in Green Bay, except it was much, MUCH bigger.  In college, the fervor for the team (Hokies btw) was contained to a demographic that was roughly 18-36 year olds.  But Green Bay...  well, it was infants to grannies.   I'd see little old ladies knitting green and gold scarves (or purple things in crocheted nooses.)  I saw oblivious babies in green face paint.  Packer fans crossed genders and generations, but they added a sense of family as well.

To illustrate how Green Bay life changed when the Packers played I will describe a trip to the grocery store, Festival Foods.  I liked going there because they had a  day care at the front of the store.  You could deposit your offspring, get a claim ticket,  not unlike a hat check, and commence your shopping experience.  Loved it.  Well Festival knew how concerned you as a parent could be when you were separated from little Wally.  So they installed monitoring stations all over the store (ie TVs).  In the meat aisle, look up and there's Wally!  Eating a crayon, how cute.   This made my shopping experience great!  My son was, well, a little difficult.  I relied on the monitoring stations.  They kept me paced.  Eating crayons- ok, that means he's still good.  Running around the room - eh, maybe 10 minutes.  Mouth-open scream and a slight delay in the sound getting to me in produce - OK. It's time to go NOW.  

So lets recap.  Monitors = Brilliant.  HOWEVER, Monitors + Football Season + Packer Game = Monitors SHOWING Packer game.  Yes.  This particular day it was a Packer game.  I strolled along the meat section, looked up and... What the hell!  Where's Wally?  I saw Brett (whose name was still spoken aloud back then) running here, there, whatever.  "Where are the KIDS?"  My concerns were drowned out by happy fans who cheered throughout the store when Green Bay took that pigskin and scored.  I gave up.  I submitted to the waves of exhilaration when the ref's hands went up.  The kick was good.  And for a good half hour everyone in the store- rich, poor, hispanic, white, Canadian were all united in a joy that lasted all football season, every Sunday, especially during home games.  Thanks for the great memories, Packers.    

*(By the way, I have just as happy memories of my 'Skins and will write about them this winter when I go back to DC for holiday.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Portuguese Bend Reserve Hike Part 2

Saturday I went back to the PV Nature Preserve's Portuguese Bend Reserve.  It had rained the last time I went, making picture-taking a muddy venture.  I parked the car, walked to the trailhead and was stopped in my tracks when I saw just how beautiful the vista was.  The visibility on my earlier hikes was no more than 20 feet so I never saw how high, or breathtaking the view was.

The first thing I noticed on this hike was the great commotion above me.  Ravens.  There were up to 50 or so ravens ganged together partly to attack nearby hawks or vie for potential mates.  Their calls varied from the typical "Hey-Everybody!-Check-This-Out" coarse caws to very sweet and rounded "Hey-Baby" hoots.  Some carried pebbles in their beaks, the raven equivalent of a fat wallet.  The aerial acrobatics lasted the entire hike.

The ravens weren't the only aerial stunt-masters I saw that day.  Zipping in and out of the clouds were 3 fixed-wing aircraft that were performing spectacular maneuvers as part of a mock dog fight.  The area right off the coast here in Southern California sees a lot of historic aircraft, zeppelins and blimps.

As I continued down the trail the sun started to gather strength and heat, drying out the water-logged flora.  I started to hear a consistent clicking or popping.  I leaned closer to the bushes from where I heard the sounds and found these little guys.

Acacia melanoxylon.  The plant is non-native and considered invasive.  Originally from Eastern Australia, it finds American soil just ducky.  It grows fast after fires and is easily propagated.  If left unchecked it can grow into a substantially tall tree.  Like most invasive (and successful) species it tolerates almost any kind of environmental condition.  Kind of like a special ops soldier.

I ended up walking to a nice little shady spot near the start of the Klondike trail.  From here I was able to see Palos Verdes Drive South and Catalina Island peeking out of the clouds.  I sat down and watched pelicans dive into the ocean, ate my banana, and let whatever doubts and confusion about life's constant dramas dissipate from my mind.    It was a good hike.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Replicants, Robots and Androids

I was talking to my co-worker today about sci-fi stories and eventually the conversation led to robots.  He remarked that the US Air Force led the way in unmanned vehicles.  Sure.  I agree with that.  Then we started talking about lunar and Mars missions. Unmanned missions lately.  Makes perfect sense.  Let the androids, robots and replicants take over these missions.  Agree with that, too.  But when do robotic missions cross into the moral grey area?

Goodness, this isn't a new question, but as I am sitting here watching Blade Runner for the umpteenth time (director's cut, btw) I can't help but see a very large ethical debate approaching in MY lifetime.  It may be time to ask ourselves now: How would you perceive an android?  As tool or friend?The question should be tossed around more often than it is, I think.

Friend or tool?  I tend to anthropomorphize so my answer would tend toward the "friend" perception. But then I think about all of the lame little cell phones I have gone through.  I have a little box of them.  A collection that looks like a technical chronology.  What worries me is how fast the upgrades came and how easily I grew tired of the older models.  How fast will I get disappointed in my Droid?

Last summer my son and I went to Walt Disney Land and had a chance to see Asimo, Honda's robot.  My son was fascinated. Everyone was, really.  But I kept thinking the show was a bit demeaning.  The poor thing had to walk here, bow, do other tricks.  Now, I know Asimo isn't Data or Roy Batty or Batou even.  He - It is limited.  But I still saw a future of I Robots and gynoids being discarded as soon as upgrades walk onto the showroom floor.

AI is progressing so quickly.  And although I don't foresee a protocol droid in my apartment anytime soon, or even a better vacuum, I know that someday I will be a little old lady in my cottage trying to wrestle a broom from Rosie the Robot.  Will I fire her or turn her off?  Looking at this box of cell phones now I begin to wonder.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


This is my little girl.

Her name is Fionna.  She came with an apartment we rented in Blacksburg, VA back in 2003.  When she became part of the family she was a small black puff ball who couldn't meow.  Oh, she'd open her mouth and look like she was meowing, but nothing would come out.  It took a while to train my ear to the little breathy hiss she made when she spoke.  She is more vocal now, but only chirps like a sparrow.  It's a beautiful sound, if I may say so.

Why am I devoting a blog entry to Fi?  Well she, along with Kig, are a huge part of our lives.  We are cat-worshiping types who cater their every whim.  In return they let cater to their every whim.  I also feel that if any soul is that much a part of your life, it deserves to be uploaded to the Net.  

Fionna  was named for Fiona Apple, who is a great singer, but has nothing in common with my little girl.  Fionna the Pest or Princess Fionna has a better ring.  

Fionna's former people, a couple of well-meaning VaTech students, seemed to think that their animals should eat vegetarian food.  I'm sorry.  I have a degree in Biology so I've had some measure of instruction in animal physiology.  Cats are carnivores. They eat meat.  I ... you know,  I could go on about that, but it's not the time or place.  Let's just say Fionna happily gained the weight she needed by eating real kitten chow - finally.

Fionna has short legs.  She is almost like a munchkin.  Her fur is rabbit-soft and unlike anything I've ever felt.  The hairs are very, very long.  In the sun she is a beautiful dark chocolate color.  She is a complete clown, and when she knows she has your attention, she will play games just to see your reaction. 

When we took in Fionna we already had a cat at the time - my other little boy, Kiggee.  The adjustment time for them was very short, mostly because Kig is a good, even-tempered and patient soul.  Pretty soon they were grooming each other and wrestling.  

Both of my cats are black. Some people think I'm a witch because of this.  I'm not.  I never care what color or breed my adopted cat-kids are.  The universe just pulled us all together somehow.   

Now Fionna welcomes me at the door along with Kig the moment I come home.  She and Kig usually demand a treat and then Kitty Wresting begins.  This pleases me.  Actually, I do get a kick out of watching their stalking techniques.  (Cats have wonderful stalking and capture strategies, and my babies don't disappoint.)

Tonight, like every night, I will soak in a tub.  Fionna will demand to be near the water.  Later she will go to my son's room and lie next to him until he falls asleep.  Then she will come to my room and sleep next to me.  If I don't wake up at 0400, she will wake me up.  If I sneeze she will come running up to me to check if I'm ok.  I am a mommy cat to her.  That's cool with me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last Weekend's Hike: Portuguese Bend Trail

I spent last weekend walking along the Portuguese Bend Trail in the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve.  Beautiful scenery.  The weather was atypical for Southern California.  It was foggy, raining and chilly.  That would keep a good number of people away from the woods and trees, but this park sees a steady stream of visitors regardless of the weather. 

Last August, the park was engulfed in flames.  According to the Conservancy’s 2010 1st Quarter Newsletter, about 165 acres burned.  Walking about the trails I could see the clear evidence of fire destruction.  Happily, I also saw evidence of regrowth.  Even though it was a year, later the rain made the smell of soot and ash very easy to detect.

This area is filled with large patches of opportunistic fennel that grab the empty real estate left after a fire.  Humans seem to be the only ones that dislike the herb.  It’s considered an invasive species in California  and is usually slated for eradication by one method or another, even though it has been wild here over a century.  Several bird and insect species love the stuff.  The plant perfumes the air when the fog rolls in, making any walk memorable for the smells alone. 

The twisted, fire-ravaged trees made wonderful Tim Burtonesque shapes in the grey fog.  I expected the headless horseman to come flying out of the fennel fields holding a flaming head.  Instead I had to (several times) hastily make way for a heavily-geared mountain biker who looked like something out of Battlestar Galactica.

I also noticed the network of fissures along the Ishibashi sub-trail.  After it rains the area hills become waterlogged and the upper layer of land slides down along the more steadfast, lower layer.  Landslides aren’t uncommon in these parts, but it’s still impressive to see the cracks and fissures that precede the break away. 

I went to the trail twice that weekend.  It rained both days and I muddied up 2 pairs of hiking boots.  It was worth it, though.  

You may not be able to sense it from the paragraphs above, but walking in the woods is crucial to my mental health.  Ever since I can remember, and I mean, really remember anything, nature has been like another soul to me.  It isn't "me" and "it".  It is "soul mate".  I don't just appreciate nature, I have a personal relationship with it.  I have mentioned to some folks that it is my First Love.  It calls me back every once in a while like some jealous lover.  It fills the mental and spiritual voids.  

When I was a little girl I used to come home from school and, after watching Dr Who or Star Trek, I would go outside and just look at nature.  Stick my feet in a stream and watch minnows nip at my toes.  Climb a tree and look at the pattern of the bark or the seed pods on a magnolia.  I'd follow my cat, Fred- my kitty Sherpa guide, all over our territory.  I would observe the anole lizards and study their hunting skills.  Sometimes I would just watch how the wind would move over the bayou reeds, in waves and in a frequency I eventually absorbed.  I'd watch the thunderstorms move over the Gulf before the wind got too strong and I had to go back inside.  

When I was older the connection was stronger.  I could "feel" my way through the woods without a compass by just sensing something from the trees and ground.   I knew it would rain days before it happened.  I could smell the differences in tree species.  My skills were a little more Jedi.  I could feel the hum of the earth beneath my feet.  As I sit here and type, I am amazed that so much of that neural net is rusty.  I have been working inside for waaaaaaay too long.  

It- Nature was, and still is a breathing entity to whom I belong.  I am like some distal phalange or a scout insect from a colony. I am part of some larger brain/force and destined to carry out it whatever impulse it sends my way.  It's no wonder I initially went for a career in natural and environmental science.  This career was far too brief.  The military is very good at diverting your attention, apparently.  

Now it seems my First Love has come back at my window (or patio) and has demanded that I start making some preparation to come back out to the woods.   Each time I go back to a trail, some buried memory surfaces and taunts me.  What's a little wood-witch like me to do?

So.  3 more years and I will be able to pull up the anchor and go find my little woods.  I'll be ready.   Meantime, I hike a trail.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Sarah Rivera Corrice
Help Me by Joni Mitchell on @: One of my favorite albums EVER.
from Rancho Palos Verdes
California, US

Mentioned in this tweet

I was going to write about my fabulous hike I had today, but that requires a  little more research on the park, since it caught on fire last year.  Instead, I wanted to write about something I just observed a few minutes ago when I was crowing about my favorite songs on Twitter.

Grooveshark's share...thingy... automatically places the hash tag #nowplaying at the end of the song you post.  Well that's not novel, and not about what I am writing.  It was the waterfall of posts to #nowplaying that caught my eye.  I just sat there as my little song (Joni Mitchell's "Help Me", btw) was lost in the sea of songs that flowed every 20 seconds onto the page.  

Right at this moment, there is someone listening to a song that moves them so much they have to share it with everyone - perfect strangers!  A Japanese man listening to Michael Jackson, a Greek guy listening to the Isley Brothers, someone likes the Kings of Leon, another likes a symphony.  On and on.  I was watching humanity showing its personality through music.  

Results for #nowplaying

20 new tweets
 Nuлuℓ ɑtîkɑ 
 teenage dream
 by B0NNIE_B00
RT @ Waka Flocka - No Hands <~ that damn song won't get out my head!
 Joseph Mueller 
 im a brat - @ , awesome :)
 Andres Santibañez 
 Ente copa y copa - Pedro Infante
 Finlie 李施苹 
 BEAST - SOOM, keep playing this song, and I think I already play it about 100 times??
Mais que naaada...#nowplaying showwww
 M.M. Hero 
@ : Indescribably Blue by Elvis Presley 

Beautiful.  Humanity, you are so wonderful.