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Finally catching my breath in the new year. Can I still say it or is it just too yesterday? – well whatever – I wish it for you. A Good Year.

Jeez, what a relief that the ‘holidays’ are over & we can settle into whatever 2015 has to offer. Which is already a mixed bag…as usual. I’m glad it’s still (technically) winter. How about this year we do away with ‘the holidays’ & just celebrate seasons brought on by earth’s tilting…?? These would be good – & enough – celebrations for me.

Speaking of celebrations: a (very-)belated birthday one, nearly two days with four women I’ve known nearly 40 years – deep Health Collective bonds.  &, the day prior, an hour or so w my oldest female friend of 50 years. Sustaining. Honoring the contributions & the stress of aging (& in some cases, alpha) female primates. Our families & our work. The pain & the perseverance. Yeah. Thankful for these sisters, & for others too, bound as we are by birth, bounty & bravery.

Friendships take work. Attention. At some point this comes as a surprise – or it did for me anyway. We figure out early (most of us) that marriage & family & work consume a lot of effort, but for some reason I’d assumed that friends are friends – you can count on them to be there whenever you need ‘em. Not. Necessarily. But hey, why should friendships be different than anything else in life? Energy in, energy out. Like our primate cousins, we need to pay attention to grooming. Sadly, I’ve done my share of neglecting this worthy brand of social glue.


Did I groom enough over the past few days? I wanted to. I hope so. Human primate grooming isn’t as straight forward as the bonobo/chimp variety. It’s more words & less touch. Stories & conversation. Soup. Flowers. It’s the way we are, it seems. Some of us are better at it than others. & we ponder & deconstruct it afterwards…too much I suppose. So we can be better at it next time.

It’s the (um, probably primarily female) human primate way.  Love you, Gals!


Posted in Cackling Crones, Just an Everyday Life, Our Primate Nature | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

there’s still no cure for dying

You’re probably rolling your eyes at this apparent not-joy-t0-the-world holiday season post.  But hang in here with me – this topic could fuel unusual & maybe even helpful family dinner conversations.  Still skeptical?  Well, just remind yourself that there’s nothing more important to religious holidays than life & death.

hsc3105_hiWorrying about death is uniquely the province of the human primate.  It’s where religion has a big jump on science: our species spent its early millennia around the campfire constructing stories of why & what & how & where & when.  Science only came along within the past 2,500 or so years…a mere scratch (albeit getting deeper daily) on the surface of our ancient narratives.  It’s no wonder we have a hard time letting them go.

Trying to grasp the fact of death, surviving others’, & anticipating our own are arguably among the most emotionally painful experiences of being human.  Other primates & mammals (& also, I’ve observed, chickens) may mourn the death of their offspring or peers or elders, but it seems only humans can anticipate this end for themselves.  It’s no wonder we avoid the topic.

I recently read a provocative article about this particular avoidance (…one of many things humans love to ignore – doing something about global warming being another…):  Why I hope to die at 75 by Ezekiel J. Emanuel.  The first hit from this article is the reminder that now we really do have something to worry about: living too long.  Average human life spans have increased significantly in the past 100 years, primarily as a result of much lower rates of infant death & death by disease.  More of us (& there are a lot more of us now) are living longer than ever, & instead of these diseases, we’re dying of chronic conditions that accompany old age (heart disease, cancer, etc).  Many older folks are losing their minds in the process: 1/3 of people over age 85 have Alzheimer’s disease.

So, how old is old enough?  That’s the resonating question of this essay.  In particular, the author questions the myriad measures routinely promoted by the US health care system to prolong the life of what he calls the ‘American Immortal’.  While not a part of this particular opinion piece, others have noted that about 25% of all US health care expenditures are made within the last year of life.  Some have accused Emanuel of being “adolescent” in his opinions (after all, he’s only 57…75 seemed old to me too when I was in my 50’s…) & others have reacted by touting the wonders of old age.  Of course, it’s the concept, not the number, that’s worthy of some thought & maybe, action…or rather, in this case, inaction.

These sorts of things have been on my mind for a while now, but Emanuel’s article reminds me that we do have a choice in this.  The palliative care & compassionate death movements are right-on in this regard, but our choices need to start way earlier than the last days…as in months & years before our DNR’s & advance directives kick in.  While we’re still of (at least moderately, we hope) sound mind.

I don’t want to live to be 100.  or even 90, really.  I know, I know, once I’m faced with a death more imminent than it feels like at this moment, my tune could change, & I’m sure I’ll be sad to miss seeing how things turn out.  My ideal post-death scenario (which, granted, isn’t very original) would be to time travel about 200 years into the future…long enough that I wouldn’t know anybody but short enough to see if we figured out how to survive on a frightfully hotter home planet.

If I can, I’ll let you know what I find out – around the campfire of course.

ps., all this rambling is mostly just a way of sharing a tune about still being alive…a little break for you from ubiquitous jingling.  We’re nearing the winter solstice, after all.

Posted in Cackling Crones, Just an Everyday Life, Our Primate Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Encyclopedias & Other Precious Stuff

Yikes. It’s been over two months since my last post.  I’m trying to not feel delinquent.  I have lots of excuses.  Tell me you’ve missed me!

Mostly, I’ve been consumed by stuff.  My stuff.  Our stuff.  Our kids’ stuff.  Our parents’ stuff.  Work stuff.  Stuff from decades past & from last week.  Consequences of inertia & consumption & our human-as-consumer culture.  Stuff I’m trying to shed.  Recycle.  Let go.  Release.

It’s mostly the stories that are consuming.  The preciousness of an object is proportionate to its emotional packaging.  Stories are us!  How can I shed the object http://justanotheramericanprincess.blogspot.com/2013/10/gorgeous-venice-italy.htmlwithout also shedding the story?  No, I can’t let this thing go – my life’s in there!  Or that thing either – I might need it someday. It’s actually a relief to pick up something relatively useless that evokes no readily-retrievable memory…quick – into the recycle bag!  Whew.

The clothes closet is probably the easiest – though most females hold out hope eternal of being able to fit into those supple old jeans.  CD’s & old tapes…huh, what are those??  (I lie – we do still have a working CD player.)  Handwritten journals, ugh: a major source of anxiety…tucked away in an old grocery bag, waiting for their author to have the nerve to toss it into a random dumpster (although burning has more dramatic appeal).

The books & old encyclopedias are the hardest.  These wonderful tomes I intend to but probably never will read, or, tbt, ever crack open again.  My friend Lisa recounts an axiom she heard: if we read about one book a month (or week or year…this = X) & estimate that we have Y number of months/years left (…an unknown, usually, but make a guess), we’ll read about X x Y more books in our lifetime.  Hence, we can shed all the rest.  A sobering calculation for those of us who still read books.

Not to mention the artwork that’s surrounded us for so many years.  Local Santa Cruz & family artists have been well-represented on our off-white walls, but what would someone else do with this colorful collection?  In my attempt to go simpler, I’ve put only about half of the artwork back up after the deferred home maintenance project (inspiration for this current shedding exercise, btw), but the rest rests against a wall in the guest room.  I’m trying to talk my friend Suzanne into hanging some of it in her home…knowing it’s living somewhere would be almost as good as seeing it everyday myself.

I’ve felt a little smug all these years about the benefits of a small house – not much space to accumulate…or so I thought.  Ergo, it’s been a shock to really understand how much stuff has slowly piled up, & how difficult it is to let go.  Ergo, the blogging drought.

Since incrementally is usually the only way humans will willfully change, I now have a new daily ritual: select at least one (yes, it can be small) pile or file or basket or box per day & deal with it – stories & all.  Well, most days anyway.  It can be exhausting, & I’m not even moving.

And then there’s Ritual #2:  appreciate the open(ed) space.  Avoid refilling.





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We’re All Migrants

We’re all migrants from somewhere.  There are probably a few of us left in our (so far apparent) homo sapiens hometown of East Africa, but the rest of us are migrants, or children & grandchildren of migrants.  These days we love to slam that door behind us, or vilify those knocking on the door.  Or whom we’ve displaced.  Or whom we feel displaced us – long ago or yesterday.

numbers = thousands of years ago

Home is where we make it. It’s one of our fantastic human adaptations – maybe not as phenomenal as bipedalism, but highly functional nevertheless. When things got too tight with the neighbors way back when, it probably wasn’t too hard to move our campfires a few hundred feet further along the coast or up the hill… & we could still saunter back & visit grandkids in the old hood.  It’s just…well, it’s just our problematic, parallel compulsion to believe that we own where we are.  Some of us believe that there’ve been cultures that advanced beyond this belief…cultures which understood that this human primate is part of nature.  I dunno…not many of them survive to tell.

I’m a Santa Cruz immigrant from LA, drawn north by the new University (…yeah, that was a while ago).  My parents migrated west from Minnesota.  Their ancestors migrated across the Atlantic Ocean from northern Europe, & their ancestors were transplants from Africa, maybe via Asia – we may never know for sure.  The story of ancient human migrations is ever changing, thanks to new discoveries of old fossils & new ways of analyzing old data.

We’ve lived in ‘our’ Live Oak Avenue home for 26 years.  Daughter Z has moved at least nine times in the past nine years.  Worldwide, tens of millions of humans are on the move every year – voluntarily or involuntarily.

This past week we’ve been voluntarily displaced from our home.  It’s disturbing.  I cook soup to feel attached to the (very charming) upstairs apartment we’re temporarily inhabiting; I spread my things around; I put my ear to the open window trying to figure out what’s making those unfamiliar sounds.  I am across the street & two doors down from our home.  I am clearly a migration wimp.

Millions of humans don’t enjoy that luxury.  Severe economic distress, civil wars & water wars, dysfunctional governments, natural resource depletion, climate change, population growth – these & other factors will only increase human migration into the future.

It’s probably time to figure out a better way to welcome our new neighbors.  Next year they may be us.




Posted in A Changing Planet, Our Primate Nature | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Burn7: The Dangerous Art of Feeding

So right now I’m writing this instead of starting supper.  I should be starting supper.  I’m (habitually at this time of day) thinking about what to make for supper.  My thinking is peopleandthe planet.comgenerally tempered by two factors: 1) what do we have in the house, & 2) what do I have the energy to put together right now.

Some days, my thinking about supper starts in the morning.  These are days when the energy quotient is high, the agenda minimal, & the grocery shopping was happily accomplished the previous afternoon.  Supper on these days might be (unnecessarily) elaborate dinners for two, usually involving pods of leisurely prep activities liberally sprinkled with time-wasting forays into the garden. Somedays, I have this time for leisure & waste.  Somedays, the result actually measures up to the effort.

My mother-in-law Jean made supper for nine humans of various ages nearly every single day for three decades.  My own mother only had to cook for six; she was lucky to have a IMG_2164break when we went out for lunch Sundays after church, & weekly in the summer when my father toyed with coals in the backyard BBQ.

Yeah, women are the ones who feed our families multiple times every day, assessing what’s available, how much time it will take to accomplish this particular ‘household chore’ (among many) in order to get food on the table at a reasonable hour, & to what degree the food we offer up might achieve a sense of satiation & satisfaction for our husbands, children, grandchildren, friends, other family members, etc etc.  OK OK – I know there are men who are the family cooks, & not just a few women who refuse to succumb to this ancient sexual division of labor, but the norm is, well, still the norm.  Worldwide, women are the household cook 7 times more often than men in Asia, & 4 times more often often than men in the ‘developed’ world.

So here we are, feeding the flocks day in & day out, with our smoking fires & our sharp (or not) knives & our rough hands & our hot pots.  Nevermind that other family animals may also be underfoot: cooking is dangerous work!  It’s inevitable that the knife will slip, the pot will spill, the fire will burn…I’ve taken my share.

It’s curious to me that women get so little appreciation for our perseverance with this fine art of feeding…&, to top it off, that men are revered as the finest cooks – ah, excuse me, chefs.  I guess curious really isn’t the right word – totally annoying is more accurate.  I read a quote somewhere in defense of this (only-one-of-many) manifestations of sexism (- hey, there’s a classic word we should bring back) that, well, “men cook, women feed.”

Yes sir, we do feed.  Watch out though – someday we may tire of it.  My long-time friend Zig recently declared that now she’s only cooking “when I feel like it” & “when I can be creative”.  This surprising announcement from a sister also afflicted with the ‘good wife’ syndrome got me seriously IMG_0904assessing my own feelings about daily feeding.  Thankfully, R is definitely showing great chef potential.  He doesn’t yet feed, but that’s OK – he’s (only) a guy.

Always Praise the Cooks!!


Posted in Burn Series, Humans Love Food!, Just an Everyday Life | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Walking The Line

There are so many lines to walk. Fine lines. Thin lines. Deadlines. Straight lines. Front lines. Borderlines. Picket lines. Fire lines. Yellow lines … whew yeah, we’re just getting started here with the line thing.

rodeo gulch, santa cruz rail lineToday it’s about walking that fine rail line at the end of Live Oak Avenue.  Traversing 32 miles of central coast towns, cool beaches & colorful fields from south to north, this 140 year old now-publicly-owned line is patiently awaiting its post-carbon destiny.

In the meantime, I walk it.

My friend Lisa & I have become experts at walking the rails.  Our goal is to walk the entire line – we completed the Capitola-Santa Cruz-North Coast segment last month, twice!…back & forth from each starting place & different views in each direction.  I’ve also walked much of the line with Santa Cruz historian Sandy Lydon, which was nearly as fun as my walks with Lisa.

So here’s the trick*:  walk at your own pace as much as possible.  Sometimes you’ll step on ties worn smooth, sometimes on the rocky ballast in between, sometimes both in the same step.  If the edge between the two is too manresa state beach, santa cruz rail lineradical, there’s probably another, easier path somewhere nearby…that’s how you know others before you have overcome a similar challenge. Sometimes, most often on a bridge or trestle, you may, for a few moments, need to adjust your pace to match the ties beneath your feet.  Pay attentionellicott slough national wildlife refuge, santa cruz rail line & activate that core! (i.e., don’t let the distraction of animated discussion or the amazing vista that just came into view trip you up).

The downside of walking the line is:  you have to look down! So when you see people walking along the track who seem depressed or a little off, remember we’re really all just trying to stay upright.

There are multitudinous reasons why I love moving along this line:  it’s nearby, it’s basically flat, it takes me to places I want to go, I don’t have to be in a car with otherhistoric farmer's co-op, live oak, santa cruz rail line cars in annoying traffic, it’s scenic, it’s our history, & it’s our future.  & oh yeah, I put a lot of effort into making sure it came ‘back’ into public hands to be available for that future.

Sometimes, the line feels abandoned & invisible.  Somedays we’re dodging ticks while wading through weeds grown up between the ties; some parts of the tracks are flooded due to illicit drainage from adjacent properties.  Somedays the trash & detritus feels oppressive; somedays we find a rusting treasure in the weeds.  Most days, though, we just walk at our own pace, trying to paynorth coast, santa cruz rail line attention, appreciating the light, enjoying the birdsong, reviewing local debates, envisioning possible futures.  I know some of those futures might preclude the need for these rail-walking strategies, but hey, if & when, I’ll manage!

& of course, I’ve gotta end this one with that all-time favorite by those memorable Traveling Wilburys.

lisa at the end of the santa cruz rail line






*  Although it goes without saying, I hope, please don’t try this if there are actually trains or streetcars on your rail line.





Posted in A Changing Planet, Just an Everyday Life | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Carrying Water With Neandertals

A Short Paleo Fantasy

Setting: Along a creek somewhere in, say, what we now call Tuscany
Situation: The Middle Paleolithic Era, about 45K years ago
Starring: Neanda & Sapia, two middle-aged (slightly different) hominin* women 

[Scene opens as Neanda & Sapia are filling water skins to carry back to their respective caves.]

S:  OMG Neanda, it was a stressful evening in the cave last night.  The boys were squabbling about who’s stronger & smarter – our fire-mates or yours.  The only reason they didn’t end up with broken bones is that your daughter’s-daughters started making fun of them going on about such silliness.

N:  Yeah, I know what you mean.  Hey – looks like that grass over there is nearing its seeding time, maybe by the Egg Moon?  Y’know, last night when the fire was low, Sapio whispered to me that he’s worried about the coming dry season – the days are still short but the creek below our cave is drying up already.  That means longer water-carrying walks for us, & y’know Sapia, this water sure feels heavier than it used to!

Women in rural Kenya spend an average of three hours per day carrying water to their homes from distant sources. ( I couldn’t find a flattering picture of my two starlets, so please note that in spite of this one above, people of 100% African heritage are the only humans who DON’T have Neandertal genes.)

S:  Oh come on girl – you’re as strong as you ever were!  So what if we’ve got a few creases on these worn faces & our tired-out milk-jugs are a little droopy – we can still dig roots & gather snails & sticks more quickly than those sleepy daughters of ours.  Poor things, day & night, day & night – all they can do is feed the babies & throw sticks on the fire & try to keep the older babies from wandering too…Aack – watch out!  A snake!

N:  Nah, don’t worry, it’s only a small grey one – not even worth trying to catch for a snack.  Those big fat green ones though, roasted in the coals?  When I’m hungry, those can even taste better than the meat our hunters sometimes bring home, doncha think?  Of course, sometimes I wonder what they’re really doing out there while we get all the water & dig all the roots & smash the seeds & comfort our daughters in their pains & feed our milk to the older babies….

S:  Ha!  I’d rather gnaw on dried roots & berries though than eat a snake…personal preference & all that.  But [sigh], I really do love it when we have enough mammoth meat for us all to share, especially those tender belly slices – although of course our daughters need that more than we do.  I have to say though – I don’t miss the hunt…even with our complaining I’m happier carrying water!

N:  Hey, look at the birch saplings over there – maybe at the Hunter’s Moon they’ll be ready to offer us some sweet young bark to help repair our spears during the cold season.

[The two women walk in silence for a while.]

N:  But y’know, another thing that’s worrying Sapio & me is that our son’s mate has no children.

S:  Yeah, you know that ours doesn’t either, at least not yet.  Even Neando’s noticed that it makes our son & his mate very sad, although they’re still some of our tribe’s best hunters, & like I said, you can’t have enough roasted meat!  We’re lucky though that our daughters’ve had some healthy babies, even though too many of all our children are buried in the dark passages far from the fire…[sigh, long pause].  Hey look!  A bird’s nest with eggs!

N:  Uh oh, mama bird, wherever you are – so sorry but we’re going to have to steal your lovely blue eggs.  The older babies will love cooked egg-meat!  Y’know Sapia, it makes my heart lighter to walk & talk together like this – my stooped old grandma, who lived through many cold seasons, told stories of the Old People & the New People & how at first they were scared of each other & couldn’t understand what each other was saying…some people just ran away from the fire & never returned.

S:  Hmm, we have some stories like that too, but it’s odd, our stories call us the Smart Ones & you others the Dumb Ones.  Which was the reason for that silly fight last night & so ridiculous too, because I don’t know how we’d ever have yummy mammoth meat or warm clothes or strong hearths for our fires without the tricks we learned from you & your fire-mates.  & I just love these shell necklaces that you & I traded with each other!

N:  The one you gave me is my most favorite possession, thank you, Sapia.  It seems we’re all in this together now, & that’s a good thing when times are hard – which seems to be most of the time!  Whew – we’re nearly home…I’ll be sooo relieved to put down this sack of water.  See you in the morning – Sleep Safe & Warm.

S:  You too, Neanda.  Sleep Safe & Warm.


*  The hominins in this story (if you hadn’t guessed) are homo neanderthalensis & homo sapiens.  Recent source material can be found here & here; see also this earlier blogpost, Neandertals Are Us.  They are.  New research is showing that collectively among human populations outside of Africa, 20% of the Neandertal genome shows up in our own genes, at various genome locations in various people, for an average range of 1.5-4% Neandertal genes overall in any non-100%-African-heritage human being.

Although there can be numerous explanations for this (still to be revealed by scientific inquiry – I can hardly wait!), imho, it doesn’t seem possible that these high percentages are the result of just an occasional illicit liaison during the exciting times of the Middle Paleolithic (about 200K – 40K years ago).  Ergo, this little fantasy.

via nat geo




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