Thursday, April 20, 2023

Springtime and an Old Dog

Indy is asleep at my feet. He and I just came back from a slow walk around a couple blocks that didn't include much of a hill. Earlier, he had begged me to throw his toy for him, over and over, and I did, but only for a few feet and only on flat ground. When we walked up the stairs after our short walk, his back legs slipped on the stairs, but he caught himself and kept going. He is happy. He is old. 

When Indiana first came home with me over twelve years ago, he was unstoppable, full of anxious energy and young dog enthusiasm. He would play fetch for hours. Six mile hikes up the steep Altadena hills hardly made him blink. He needed to move all of the time. In the first year of knowing him, I lost 20 pounds.

Young Indy was anxious. When my friend who was on a run passed us as we walked along the side of the street, Indiana chomped down on his hand. He bit several of the first people he met at our house. He got in scrabbles. Nowadays, he has two dog friends who he has worked hard to tolerate, and dislikes the rest of his own species. He's great around cats that don't run, but chases those who do. In his elder years, he has become affectionate. He mashes his head in my thigh, smearing me with slobber and waiting for ear rubs. When I sit down, he places his head on my lap and asks for me to rub his ears and neck. When he gets exactly the petting he hopes for, his tail wags madly and a mohawk along his lower spine rises. We call this the "happy hackles."

He can no longer hit the hills with me for long walks. To take care of myself the way that I need to in order to be the person I like being, I need these long walks, so I have to take them without Indiana. I hate leaving the house without him. My leash arm feels naked.

Without an anxious dog attached to me, I'm able to move through the territory of unleashed dogs. I don't have to worry about a potential fight, or some other dog owner who has no control over their off-leash dog blaming me for their dog attacking my own. There is a freedom, not a freedom I have wished for, but a freedom just the same. This freedom is coinciding with a spring after historic rains that have filled my local wild-ish park with very wild flowers. Walking without Indiana, I've been able to stop at every wildflower that catches my eye. The meadows in McLaren Park this year are beautiful.

Blue eyed grass, Sisyrinchium bellum

Suncups, Camissonia ovata

Footsteps of Spring, Sanicula arctopoides

Checker-bloom, Sidalcea malviflora, with footsteps of spring below it.

Baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesii

Ribwort plantain, Plantago lanceolata

California poppy, Eschscholzia californica

California poppies are just getting started in our park

After I take my long walk, I take Indiana for his own short walk in which he can take all the time he wants to sniff all the things that catch his attention, and when we return home, I pet his velvet ears and gray muzzle until his hackles rise; that's pretty beautiful too.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Kingfishers and Joy in Edinburgh and Glasgow

On our first full day in Scotland, we walked along the Leith in Edinburgh and a man stopped us: "There is a kingfisher about 250 meters ahead," he said. My heart leapt. A kingfisher! I had never seen one before, but how many times had I read the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem? So many times—I work at a Jesuit institution, after all. 

A few paces further, the iridescent turquoise of the small bird caught my eye. It was much smaller than I expected, but it swooped off its branch to dive, so quickly!, into the surface of the river, and flashed metallic in teal and orange, as if it really did catch fire. I smiled so hard and I didn't stop smiling for over a week.

We had decided to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary with a trip to Scotland, in the middle of the winter, the darkest, wettest time. Though the weather was dreary, the people were warm; the stone buildings damp and grey, the art vivid and thought-provoking; the trees leafless, the history present in every inch. Scott experienced food poisoning, and we walked about 8 miles a day. I wanted to gorge myself in every space and vista, so much so that sometimes it was hard for me to spend the time needed to absorb what I was seeing and learning. But Scott was the best companion, slowing us down with questions and reflection so that what I was walking through and reading about and seeing had even more meaning.

Here are a few highlights from our trip, starting in Edinburgh, to Glasgow, and back to Edinburgh.

The Dunstane Houses

We splurged for the Christmas package at the Dunstane Houses, which included special meals, Christmas stockings and crackers, and general good cheer. But, whether we had splurged for a special package or not at The Dunstane Houses, we would have received the warmest hospitality. Not only was our room beautiful and comfortable, the whole place smelled so good. When we asked about how good it smelled, we were told it was a proprietary scent. It was impossible to even buy that scent, a scent of pine and whiskey and age and leather and spice.

When Scott came down with food poisoning early in our stay, the staff worked to still help him feel like he was having a special experience, even though he couldn't feast. The refrain of the staff was "no worries," and they certainly helped us feel as if we had none.

We loved our stay here and would recommend it to anyone. Also, the Scottish breakfast? The best we had on the whole trip. The haggis is rich with black pepper and excellent smeared on brown toast.


The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Scott and I walked here easily from The Dunstane Houses. Here, I learned about Eduardo Paolozzi, the Future Library, and so much more. Scott and I were both moved and delighted by the collection, and we are still talking about it. 

Scott has a friend who backpacked with his brother through Europe and ended up here on his trip, and was so struck by it (and by the time with his brother) that he wants his ashes sprinkled in the pond out front. It's that kind of of museum. We didn't spend enough time here. We couldn't have.

The national museums in Scotland are free. 


The Water of Leith Walkway

We found ourselves using The Water of Leith Walkway to move between different parts of the city. It's a beautiful, peaceful walk. It's where we saw the kingfisher and many other birds and animals. It's where we saw many, many of the dogs of Edinburgh out with their people. It's also how we walked through Dean Village, a gold-toned mill town that Edinburgh swallowed, and how we got a sense of how both the mill and maritime industries fed Edinburgh.


Walking everywhere in both Edinburgh and Glasgow

We are walkers, and there's no better way to feel a place. On our walks through both cities, we experienced surprise, awe, longing, and joy. We heard and felt the textures of voice and cobblestone. We stopped for good coffee when we were tired, and everywhere encountered gracious people. During our whole trip, we did not hear one horn honk, one person curse in anger at another, or any expression of impatience.


Kelvinbridge Museum

We stopped in Kelvinbridge in Glasgow and saw some amazing things. But it is so much and all mashed together so there's hardly a breath between exploring Scottish wildlife and the Spitfire and Art Nouveau architecture and classical sculpture. We enjoyed what we saw, but if we were to go again, we would have chosen a wing or a section on which to focus and maybe made a couple visits, with a different focus each time.

Also, Scott decided this was a prime photobomb location.


Mixed Up Records

On a mega-walking day in Glasgow, we stopped in an art gallery and talked to the owners for a bit. One of them had been a DJ in the 80s and had been a very present part of the 80s Glasgow scene. His wife said to us, "You're from San Francisco. When I think of San Francisco, I think of its moment as the Summer of Love. Glasgow's moment was 80s punk." Scott, a former punk rocker, found his people with this couple. The man gave us a list of record shops that still existed—his focus was on the past, and he mourned the loss of so much that no longer existed. But he did mention a new shop, Mixed Up Records, that happened to be just off our walking path for the day. 

It was pouring outside and rain dripped off the jackets of those inside. It was warm. It seemed like people came in pairs or small groups; each entrance or exit was more than one person, and quite frequently, the group was multigenerational.

There, the pickings were good. Scott found records he couldn't find in the US. 


Riverside Museum

This was an unexpected delight. We learned so much about the history of Scottish culture through interactive, transportation-focus of the museum. We learned about Glasgow's tram workers, who volunteered together to fight World War I, and Dorothée Pullinger, who started a car company, hired women engineers, and when she couldn't find women engineers, trained women to be engineers. She was also a race car driver and general badass. We learned about how the UK has struggled to meet the transportation needs of their disabled population, and we learned that some cars might just be too cute to survive. This museum is great for little kids who can enjoy crawling in the tram cars and walking through the reconstructed city street, but it's also great for adults, because the stories are poignant and the combination of art and science beautiful. And the building? I've never been in anything like it.


Clydeside Distillery

We didn't do the tour here because we didn't have time, but I'm sure it would be fascinating. But, we stopped for lunch on our last day in Glasgow—the best lunch on our trip—and I tasted both the whiskeys the distillery produced on site.

Clydeside COP26 single malt. Delicious.


The Best Airbnb Ever

Yes, we had to carry our luggage up four flights of stairs through a dingy hallway, but once we were there, heaven. An art filled space with a view of Arthur's Seat, a fully stocked kitchen, a comfortable bed, and a feeling of a new experience in a very old space. The host, Carrie, was incredibly responsive and her recommendations were great. We wished we could have spent another day here. I wanted to stop in at the butcher down the block and imagine that we really lived in the Leith neighborhood of Edinburgh.


The Leith Collective

On the day we spent exploring Leith, our last full day in Scotland, both of us were a little grumpy. The day started out beautiful and sunny, but got wet fast and we weren't sure what we were looking for. We were disappointed by The Roseleaf Cafe for lunch—we had such high expectations—and didn't know where we should spend our last waning minutes. We were in a limbo: looking forward to going to our own home, bed, and dog, but also trying to grasp the last Scotland specific pleasures available to us. Luckily, when I was desperate to find a bathroom, we entered the Ocean Terminal mall to use the facilities. And while there, we discovered The Leith Collective, a shop that sold local art and used records. We could have easily purchased half the store, but we would have had to carry it all home. Scott found more record treasures that he is happy to have brought back with him. I eyed some art that I'm still thinking about.


How do you leave a place that you've barely made a dent in and may never make it back to without feeling a sense of loss? I hope we get to go back some day, perhaps during the long days of summer in which we can explore the highlands and visit islands. I hope we get to walk through the narrow, ancient passageways of Edinburgh again. Before then, however, there are many other places to see and feel. 

But right now, my own bed is feeling mighty fine.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

50 Years of Surface Tension

The rain slid through the steam and hit the water of the hot spring-fed pool. After each splat of rain, the pool sent up another drip straight into the air. Our heads were just above the mineral pool's surface, and the rising drops rose to just under eye level before falling again. They were fat, each drop rising like a narrow pyramid with a sphere hanging just over it before collapsing back into the water. The surface tension played a trick on what seemed logical. The molecules' attraction to each other is so strong, it allowed liquid water to rise for a moment against the pull of gravity.

It was Scott's 50th birthday, and we were celebrating at a nearby resort, just the two of us.

This year has been a hard year for Scott. The challenges he has encountered are different than he has ever experienced. But, he has been through hard times before, and knowing that you have survived difficulty helps you understand that you will survive again. I remember a marriage that was hard. Scott does too. But our marriage isn't hard, even though we experience hard things. With each other, it is easy to share challenges, a home, a life, a future.

At the beginning of this year, not knowing all that was ahead for him, Scott set a goal for himself: arrange, record, and release 50 cover songs, each chosen for its special meaning to him. He set out to post a fresh take on each of the 50 songs every Friday. Through the year, he covered country songs, punk songs, alternative rock songs, pop songs, and more. I would hear him play around with an idea over and over, and sometimes he would have to put it away to come back to later and choose a different song for the week. But, he would come back to the hard ones and work through them, creating something unique and beautiful. He finished this project even though he works some days very long hours, even though it may have been the hardest year yet of his life, and even when he might have felt like doing something else. 

As each hard thing pummeled Scott this year, he released another song. A seemingly impossible day. He'd follow it with a blog post and a song release that Friday. A friend commented on Scott's project: "You hear about people setting goals all the time, but achieving them is a different story." Scott made it happen. (If you would like to hear them all, you can find them here.)

He did all this while also able to make me laugh, every day. 

Maybe a buoy could be an appropriate metaphor for Scott, pushed down, but rising back to the surface. But he does more than that. He floats above. He's like those impossible drops that hang in the air after hitting the surface. 

Scott, thank you for defying gravity. I love you.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Henry Eckford Sweet Pea

A single stem of Henry Eckford on a trellis. Here, you can see the intense color, but you can also see some of the sunburn that happens on hot days.

In the first third of the 20th century, the agricultural valleys of California were full of sweet peas grown for seed, and even though Morse (of Ferry-Morse) grew his seeds a little further south on the peninsula, he maintained his business in San Francisco (1). This very land where my house now stands used to be covered in greenhouses for flower production. Maybe, in the early 20th century, like in other parts of California, sweet peas grew plentifully here. And perhaps, in the spring, the whole hill was fragrant with flowers. I like to picture it so.

Whether or not sweet peas grew here in the past, they grow here now. But the single variety that I choose to grow dates back to 1904, so it could have been here 100 years ago.

Sweet peas are among my favorite cut flowers to grow, especially the old varieties that were bred as much for fragrance as for other characteristics. Modern sweet peas have relatively large, ruffly flowers, with many per stem. But, so often, they lack the scent that gives them their name. Older varieties may or may not be ruffly (depending on whether they are pre or post the development of ruffly Spencer varieties), but they're dependebly fragrant. However, it's getting harder and harder to find single named heritage varieties in the United States. Seed companies occasionally sell heirloom mixes, but only a few sources provide named heritage varietes.

The best way to keep a historic variety alive is to grow it and share it. That's how another seedsaver and I kept afloat a breadseed poppy that enslaved people grew at Jefferson’s Monticello. When I first received seeds for that plant from Seed Savers Exchange member Patrick Holland, he included this letter:

"These seeds come from the poppy original [sic] grown by Thomas Jefferson on his estate in Virginia. It is called "Monticello." I first obtained this seed from a member some years back who, herself, obtained it from Monticello. For some years now the operators of the estate have discontinued its sale. For approximately 5 years, as far as I know, I am one of the only persons (or the only) who possess this seed. It represents an unbroken chain of seed transmission that extends back for over two hundred years. No one should be burdened with bearing that responsibility alone. [. . .] As of this year, there will be only 4 people left with this seed including yourself as one of them. 200 years of living history in 4 [sic] hands." 
I grew these poppies and shared the seed through Seed Savers and my local community, and I bragged about the plants' beauty until it was picked up by fellow gardeners, then by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and now a few other commercial sources, too. The sources have renamed the variety to "Charlottesville Old," but it is the same plant. Holland's effort of maintaing the plant, sharing the seeds with me, and the both of us sharing it and telling other people about it means now lots of people have access to its beauty when it had been almost extinct.

So, since named heirloom sweet peas are harder and harder to find in the US, and because this general area of the country was once a hotbed of sweet pea happiness, I've decided to adopt a variety. I chose Henry Eckford.

I chose this variety because it is orange and I love orange things. It's just a slice more orange than runner bean blossoms but a lot more red than the color of orange fruits. I chose this variety because it is ridiculously fragrant, so much so that I can smell it in my whole garden when it blooms. And I also chose it because the "father of sweet peas," Henry Eckford, felt so connected to this variety that he named it after himself. Eckford released this variety in 1904, so it appears to be one of the last varieties that he developed before he died in 1905. 

I also chose it because there is something about Eckford's story that appeals to me. He started out, like many plantspeople do, by working for other plant geeks before ending up in charge of other plant geeks. He had a two-decade long gig at an estate as a head gardener. But, he still hadn't started developing sweet peas. He didn't start his sweet pea experiments until after his first wife died in childbirth, until he remarried, until after he left a long-held and stable job. He didn't start sweet peas until his world shifted entirely, and he took a job I wonder if he previously had ever imagined:

"In 1878 Eckford was invited to work in the gardens of the lunatic asylum at Sandywell Park, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, run by the physician William Henry Octavius Sankey (1814–1889). Sankey was a keen amateur hybridist himself and together they raised seedlings of florist's flowers at Sandywell and then, from 1882, at Boreatton Park, Shropshire, where Sankey moved his asylum." (Urquhart)

He begin his exploration of sweet peas in 1879 (Urquhart). He started the sweet pea developments for which he became famous (2) while he worked with and for a doctor at the "lunatic asylum." There is so much more I want to know about that story.

Eckford's variety "Bronze Prince" was the first to catch the attention of the garden world of the time, and for it, he won a Royal Horticulture Society award in 1882. "Bronze Prince" has disappeared through time and history. There aren't even any images of it ("The Sweet Pea and its King"). By its name alone, "Bronze Prince" sounds like a flower I wish I could have met.

I didn't get to meet "Bronze Prince," but I am lucky to know Henry Eckford's self-named variety. I think I might also know a little something about the man from the plant he chose to name after himself. It's a loud, funny color. It gets sunburned easily. For a sweet pea, it is pretty darn tough, rolling with drought and brushing off the dreaded powdery mildew. It doesn't hide its fragrance, and even though it works well in a vase all by itself, it gets along with others beautifully.

Henry Eckford and white nigella in my grandmother's vase.

Henry Eckford pods, almost dry.

Addendums and Digressions:

1) Ferry-Morse now lists only three sweet peas in its entire catalog, and none of them are either single varieties or heritage varieties. Each is a modern mix. This is particularly sad, especially since the son of Morse (of Ferry Morse), Lester Morse, in 1917 wrote a book detailing the world's varieties of sweet peas, titled Field Notes on Sweet Peas (Taylor). The fact that the company isn't working harder to maintain its own history is such a loss. I don't bemoan the creation of new varieties—that is necessary and important. Instead, the loss of old varieties is what worries me. Old varieties of any plant contains genetic material that we may someday need. And, very important to me, varieties also carry with them stories, and when we lose the variety, we lose the story.

2) Yes, Henry Eckford was relatively famous. It still happens occasionally. Consider Floyd Zaiger, the developer of so many of our modern stone fruits. He said about his releases: “It gives me great satisfaction, far greater than any return on investment, to create something new that gives so many people so much pleasure.” If we lose some of Zaiger's varieties through time, just as we've lost Eckford's, we will similarly lose so much pleasure.


Holland, Patrick. Personal letter. 27 March 2008.

“The Sweet Pea and Its King….” The Gardens Trust, 26 Sept. 2015,

Taylor, Judith. “Sweet Peas in California: A Fragrant but Fading Memory.” Pacific Horticulture, Accessed 30 June 2022.

Urquhart, Suki. “Eckford, Henry.” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew et al., Oxford University Press, 2004, p. ref:odnb/96775. (Crossref),

Monday, April 18, 2022

Clarence and Easter Morn

My bearded iris began blooming yesterday, Easter Sunday. 

Their bloom date reminded me of another iris that belonged to another woman in another part of the state. I knew this woman in the early 2000s. and she was in her 80s, quick with a smile and to share an opinion. She was mad about iris. Beds and beds of bearded iris filled her front yard. While she had so many iris of so many colors, she had a favorite: Easter Morn. It's a simple iris, mostly white with a little gold veining near the gold beards. Its fragrance is spicy and sweet. I looked it up and discovered that Edward Essig patented it in 1931. Even though it's considered a historic iris, it was younger than my elderly friend. She claimed that no matter how early or late Easter fell in the spring, Easter Morn would always bloom on Easter Sunday. 

My iris is not Easter Morn. I'm pretty sure the variety I have here in San Francisco is the tall bearded "Clarence," patented in 1990. There's no storied history I know of attached to this particular variety. However, to me, it has a sweet provenance. I received the rhizomes as a passalong plant a few years ago from another elderly friend whose garden is full of color. She's in love with flowers, and each spring starts loads of blooming annuals from seed to go along with her flowery perennials. When I met this friend a few years ago, she had red colored hair, but she stopped dying her hair during the pandemic and it is now the shiniest, most incredible silver. Most of the time when I see her, she's wearing a pink jacket, red lipstick and her silver hair glows. She's beautiful.

I planted the rhizomes she gave me a few years ago in the late summer, and they promptly bloomed that fall. The standards are silvery almost white gradually darkening to a pale lavender. The white falls darken to a watery blue-lavender towards the edges. While the beards are white, the tiniest hint of yellow emerges from the center of the blossom. The individual cell walls are translucent enough to catch the light and each cell sparkles, as if the blossom is crusted with tiny gems. Amazingly, though the heaviest bloom is in the spring, it reliably reblooms in the autumn. In a previous garden, I've grown more unique and more colorful bearded iris, but I've never grown an iris as floriferous as this variety.

Last year, I divided the part of the patch that had grown dense and started a new stand. This morning, I counted 16 spikes in the original stand and 6 in the new clump. Clarence is indefatigable. I'll need to divide part of the origianl clump again this summer, and I hope to share rhizomes with my friends and neighbors.

Somewhere, in another garden sometime in the future, Clarence will bloom wildly for its new host, and that person will smile over the unstoppable nature of hope.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022


I stuck my hand in my pocket and found a loose piece of purple sprouting broccoli that I had harvested earlier, but that didn't make it to our dinner. I popped it in my mouth.

"Did you just pull a vegetable out of your pocket and eat it?" Scott raised his eyebrows at me.

Yes. This isn't an unusual experience. I live and eat and create in this space because of what grows in the back yard.

My garden drives my kitchen and much of my free time and it informs what I build at the pottery studio. What I build at the studio pottery shapes what I cook. It's all a tangle. I can't think of living in a home without also thinking about feeding the home and creating tools for the home. Because I once had an overabundant lemon tree, I began making preserved lemons, and now that funky salty flavor is often central to my greeen vegetable dishes. And since that flavor is central to my cooking, a lemon tree was one of the first fruit trees I planted here in San Francisco. Because Scott and I drink pourover coffee, I made us a pourover set that makes us the perfect amount for what we need each day: two cups for me and three for him. 

In no previous garden has sage grown as abundantly as it does here in San Francisco. I grow the Berggarten selection of culinary sage, which has broad silvery leaves and stays relatively low and dense. The gophers leave it alone. Light brown apple moths have annoyed it in the past, but it recovers quickly and seems to grow even better after an attack. I planted two plants that over the years have spread into dense 2'x2' patches of fragrant foliage. And, sometimes, the plants even bloom for me.

Because I have riches of sage, I have shared handfuls of it at each Seedheads meetup. I've also learned a few really good things to do with it:

1) Sage salsa verde: In a food processor, dump a handful of sage leaves, enough parsley leaves to equal triple the amount of sage leaves, grated lemon peel from at least one lemon, a garlic clove or two, a couple tablespoons of capers, a couple anchovies, salt, and pepper. Add a little red pepper if you feel like it. Start blitzing the mixture then drizzle in olive oil until it is the consistency you hope for. Sample it to see if it needs more salt or a squirt of lemon. It should be salty, sharp, and deeply umami-ish. Serve it with lamb or pork or even chicken. The next day, spread it on bread to make sandwiches with the leftover meat. You can also replace the sage with mint for a different flavor profile.

2) Sage bread crumbs: Grate frozen stale bread to make at least a third of a cup of bread crumbs. Grate the rind off half a lemon into the same bowl, and grate a garlic clove into it too. Finely mince 10-12 sage leaves and toss them in the bowl. In a frying pan over medium heat, add a glug of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the bread crumb mixture and begin frying the crumbs, stirring frequently. As they cook, sprinkle the pan generously with salt and pepper. Cook until the breadcrumbs are evenly brown and crunchy. Taste for salt and season as necessary. Use them instead of parmesan over simple spaghetti dishes or over vegetables or fish. They add not only flavor but also texture.

3) Brown butter fried sage leaves and walnuts: Each autumn, I make as many winter squash tortellini as I can manage in one day. The filling is simple: mashed roasted winter squash, parmesan, ricotta, egg, salt and pepper. I freeze it on trays, then bag it to keeep in the freezer for Scott and I to eat during the winter. When I cook a batch for the two of us, I get the pasta water going. When it is boiling, in a different pan—a frying pan, I begin melting a big knob butter. As it just starts to brown, I add sage leaves and chopped walnuts to sizzle in the butter and flavor it as it browns. This is about the perfect time to add the pasta to the boiling water; it doesn't take but a few mintues to cook. The browning butter infuses the sage leaves, which become crunchy and savory and release their oils into the butter. The same happens to the walnuts. I scoop the just-cooked tortellini from the boiling water into the frying pan, tossing everything around, and the tortellini fry together with the flavorful brown butter, some even gaining a browned, delicious crusty side. Just before serving, I taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly. The brown butter fried sage and walnuts are also good with other pastas and over cauliflower.

The three recipes above are staples in my cooking now that I have befriended sage. But, I have so much that I want more ideas. Anyone have a good sage cocktail idea? What about using it with vinegar? I think there is an idea to suss out there that I haven't yet explored. Any preserving ideas beyond drying? Ideas to use sage with fruit? Bread? What about how it might appear in pottery?