Daily delight for 2/21/20

One of several plum trees at Capistrano & Miramar in Berkeley, CA.
Petals are just starting to fall.

I love the few weeks in the year when these trees on my street here in Berkeley burst into masses of pink blossoms. They had not bloomed when I looked a few days ago, but today there they were in all their glory. I’m glad I caught them before the petals blanketed the sidewalk, which is pretty too, in its own way.

I mistakenly thought these were cherry blossoms for years until our neighbor George identified them as plum trees.

Note rounded petals of the plum blossom.

I decided to find out what the differences were between plum and cherry blossoms. Despite its less-than-perfect English, this Japanese travel and culture website clearly spells it all out. Apparently you can’t tell them apart by the color because both plum and cherry blossoms come in a range of colors from white to dark pink.

See the split petals on this cherry blossom? Rikugien Park , Tokyo. Photo: Tadashi Okoshi Flickr/Creative Commons Licensing.

The main distinctions involve petal shape, leaf color, and the bark. Petals on a cherry blossom are split on the end, whereas the plum’s petals are fully round. The plum tree has reddish purple leaves, as opposed to a cherry tree’s foliage, which is green. And the bark of the cherry tree is lighter and has horizontal lines.

The shape of the buds and the fragrance differ too, but who needs more than three things to look for?

Here you can clearly see the red-purple leaves of the plum tree.

Originally I had planned to simply post a picture of the plum tree in full blossom and not write a thing, allowing the beauty of the flowers to speak for themselves. But after learning how to differentiate the two, I wanted to share what I’d learned because maybe I wasn’t the last person on Earth to know how to tell the two apart!

Looking at the sky through the plum branches.

The Cutest Little Sucker

Rumpus came into our lives last August. We’d gone to an adoption event with our friend Andre, who was ostensibly searching for a doggy companion. We’d had to put down our beloved Cartwheel February of 2019, and I was sorely missing feline company. So while Andre went in search of the perfect pup, I headed for the kitten van.

That’s where I spotted him–our new kitty. Partially because our dogs’ names are Rufus and Ruby and partially because Where the Wild Things Are is my favorite children’s book (Let the wild rumpus start!), we settled on the name of Rumpus.

That first day we kept him separated from the dogs in the only place in the house other than bathrooms that had a door that would stay shut. I stayed with him for several hours in the guest bedroom, where he mostly slept on my chest and vigorously purred. At some point he started sucking on the collar of my shirt, no doubt an instinctual leftover from nursing. I thought he might give up after a while when he realized he was getting no nourishment, but he kept going.

Rumpus grew way too fast. It seems like his kittenhood lasted only a few weeks. Technically he’s still a kitten I suppose, since he’s less than a year old, but he’s much bigger now, especially with his long, fluffy tail.

Despite his size, he becomes a kitten once again when he leaps on top of me each evening, planting his paws on either side of my neck and burying his head into my pajama collar. He used to dig in with his claws, and sometimes he still does; but he’s gentler now than he was at first. (While he’s there, I usually take the opportunity to clip his nails.) Sometimes I hold his paws, which seem to generate a great deal of heat all by themselves.

To be clear, this regular event is less a drowsy kitty dreaming of his mama and more like a furry vacuum sucking vigorously with such focus that you’d swear he’d discovered a secret vein of catnip elixir.

And then, often as suddenly as he appears, he leaps down, curiously sated. Unlike Cartwheel, he doesn’t generally sleep with us at night. He often hangs with one of the dogs on the couch or appropriates one of the dog beds for himself.

Until around 6:30 a.m. when he starts knocking items off my bedside table, which is my signal to wake up and feed him.

He’s trained me pretty well.

Andre never did find a dog that day, but I came home with my new best friend.

A Year of Delight

Customarily I have started personal projects at the beginning of the year. Eating lunch at every restaurant on Solano Avenue and trekking every path in Berkeley were two such projects.

But this year inspiration didn’t strike me until February 15th, so that is the official start date of my Year of Delight project.

I was at the gym listening to a podcast of my absolute favorite radio show, This American Life, that originally aired on January 31. Ira Glass had handed over episode 692 to guest host Bim Adewunmi, who had come across Ross Gay’s book of essays, The Book of Delights, and had fashioned a whole hour of pieces connected to that topic, titled  appropriately, The Show of Delights.

I was, in a word, delighted. I had launched Surviving the Trump Era, the most recent iteration of my blog, to counteract the feelings of doom and helplessness that resulted from the devastating presidential election in November of 2016. And in the disappointing aftermath of the unsuccessful impeachment, I was yearning for a positive thread to hold onto.

As my body followed the elliptical machine automatically, my ears acted as conduits to my psyche: this little radio piece genuinely made me feel better about the world. As I squeezed and pulled apart my thighs on the machine whose stirrups vaguely remind me of the set-up at a pelvic exam, I smiled, imagining Ross Gay on the airplane with his little tomato plant–the subject for one of his essays. As I twisted from side to side holding the six-pound ball, I laughed out loud listening to Act Two, “Squeals on the Bus.” By the time I was gently pushing my knees down into a butterfly, I was entranced by the nighttime zookeeper who described her job as the best in the world. And, hearing the affection in her voice as she recounted her relationship with the rhino, I believed her.

Spending a lovely hour with Bim as I exercised would have been good enough, but as I walked home, I didn’t want to leave The Show of Delights. And that is when I decided to extend the experience and make it personal.

So this will be my own year of delight, in which I plan to make note of at least one moment of delight each day. Some I will consider and expand upon; others will just be tucked away in my notebook.

I hope that by writing about moments of delight rather than attempting to recount survival techniques to maintain sanity, I will be actively promoting positivity and improving my outlook.

Join me here if you feel inclined to seek out delight.

Living the Shuffle–a Master Solo Work

The Marsh has snagged a major talent for a limited run–Robert Townsend performs “Living the Shuffle” on its Berkeley stage. This marvelous actor/director puts on a tour de force one-man show that recounts his early life as a living breathing TV Guide and continues through his journey into show biz. Adept at both drama and comedy, Townsend not only tells entertaining anecdotes from his Hollywood career but shares difficult episodes from his life that include a near-death experience and a painful divorce. Townsend wrote, directed, and performs the show, which was co-produced by Marsh regular Don Reed, a master solo performer himself.

Do not miss this rare opportunity to see Living the Shuffle on the intimate Marsh stage. Once word gets out, it may be harder to score tickets. So go buy them NOW!

Unexpected but welcome benefits of walking

I’d vowed to myself that I would be better about either going to the gym or walking more on my week off work, and I stayed faithful to that promise from Saturday through Wednesday.

On Thursday, my Garmin fitness tracker was nagging at me that I hadn’t fulfilled my contractual obligation to reach 10,000 steps. (Okay, maybe it’s not exactly contractual…) Having no car to drive to a regional park or similar destination–my Honda was in the shop–I decided to explore my neighborhood and maybe a little beyond.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. I headed west on Solano Avenue, where I have walked hundreds of times, and then hung a right at the Ohlone Greenway under the BART track. Many people were strolling, riding bikes, jogging, pushing strollers, and taking their dogs out for walks. People were politely using the correct sides of the clearly marked path, distinguished by universally accepted symbols for pedestrians versus cyclists. One gentleman was actually managing to read as he kept up a fairly brisk pace. Occasionally the train whooshed noisily above, but otherwise it was a fairly peaceful park experience.

I had my earphones in, catching up on my podcasts, and just kept walking.

Albany loop
This is actually an artist’s rendition of the Albany Loop before it was completed. Alas, I took no photo as I passed it.

I saw the huge calypso-blue letters that make up the Albany Loop, a public art installation at the corner of San Gabriel and Portland Avenues that lets you know you’re not in Berkeley anymore.

I walked past the fitness gizmos that promote outdoor exercise. Nobody was utilizing them, but they made me feel healthier just by being in their presence.

I passed both Albany Middle School with its colorful tiles and Albany High School (Go, Cougars!), though because it’s early August, both campuses were quieter than they would have been a month from now.

I discovered a dog park that I never knew was part of Memorial Park. It was just a small fenced enclosure, but the seven or eight dogs frolicking there didn’t seem put off by the size or lack of aesthetics.

Behind the Albany Little League snack shack I happened upon a sweet little public garden that was home to a variety of herbs and vegetables. Apparently it’s been there for six years!

And parents and babysitters were out with their little ones, enjoying the playground’s slides and swings.

So not only did I surpass my fitness goal of 10,000 steps, I experienced a few thriving micro-communities just blocks from my home. It was only later that I remembered reading that exercising out in nature–even suburban nature–is an important element of staying healthy. I think that strolling by a garden, a dog park, and playground structures probably benefits my mental health more than my physical health because all of it made me smile and feel lucky to live where I do, mere steps away from so much life.

Victorian Ladies send a timeless message

Is Jack the Ripper at it again? That is the question that the trio dubbed the Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective sets out to answer. The similarities between London’s most famous serial killer and the Battersea Butcher are striking terror in the hearts of young actresses, who are getting picked off at an alarming rate in London’s Battersea district.

The only advice from the men in the play, all portrayed by Alan Coyne, is to warn women to stay in their homes, rather than risk becoming the next victim. However, former stage actress, Lovejoy Fortescue, a fiercely independent and enterprising soul (played by the incomparable Stacy Ross), is set on discovering the murderer’s identity. She offers to help the local constable but is turned down, so she repeats the offer to the local group of men who have been deputized to aid in local police matters but is turned away again because, of course, they consider women incapable of detective work. Armed with intellect and persistence but lacking in income, Miss Fortescue is dependent on her sister, Valeria Hunter (played deftly by Jan Zvaifler), and therefore must persuade her to finance her detective work.

Enter a young and beautiful American actress, Katie Smalls (played charmingly by Chelsea Bearce), who is one of Valeria’s boarders. Katie is also intent on bringing down the Battersea Butcher and brings her own skill-set to the Victorian Ladies Detective Collective. (Wait till you see what she can do with a fan!)

Stacy Ross, Jan Zvaifler, and Chelsea Bearce (photo courtesy of Central Works website)

Local playwright Patricia Milton sets the play in Victorian England, but if you removed the period costumes and accents, it could be Hollywood, circa 2017.  The sad truth is that in many ways, women’s status in society since the Victorian era has not progressed all that much. Although the premise of the play is a murder mystery, the theme is much grander–women, faced with sexual discrimination,  sexual harassment, and misogyny need to trust and protect each other if we hope to approach equality and disrupt the business-as-usual patriarchy.

Despite the serious subject and the grisly deaths happening offstage, humor permeates the play, so the audience gets plenty of chances to laugh. The result? A wonderful balance of a whodunit, a charming period piece, a consciousness-raising experience, and a greatly entertaining evening of theater!

Central Works has extended the run of The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective to June 9, so there are still plenty of opportunities to catch Patricia Milton’s delightful play. But don’t wait until the last minute to purchase tickets; the intimate venue of the Berkeley City Club means that space is limited.

Connie’s Photo Park–A fun detour

In Madrid, New Mexico, along what’s called the Turquoise Trail, we happened upon Connie’s Photo Park. No attendant approached us, and there was no gate or admission fee. A slot with a sign suggesting a donation sat quietly off to one side.

My husband, Dave, and I were the only two visitors while we were there. Paintings were varied but several were vaguely reminiscent of the old West.









Some had a cut-out for one face and some for two. Clearly somebody had a good time creating all these characters. I wish I knew more of the story behind the paintings.

In the back was a big empty bathtub on what looked like an old set for a western.    I got Dave to get in the tub for a photo.

No, it was not exactly a day in a museum, but we had a blast.