Bagging Bean Bag Chairs in Munich

A Sunday in Venice, Fall 1969. High on an early morning doubledose of espresso & freedom: from the parents, America, university, expectations. Strolling aimlessly with Kalle along una strada stretta…hey, lookathat! an egg-shaped leather seat. Whatsit called? Sacco?? Hmmm…wow, TOLL. Looks like giant bean bag.

We could make that.

And, we did.

Ditching our scenic Venice camping spot the next morning, we returned to that galleria caro at opening time to actually sit in & touch the free-form, luxuriously large red leather bag. The proprietor eyed us suspiciously: we didn’t fit his usual customer mould (..hmmm, best not to take measurements). Afterward, charged up with more sips of expresso, we sketched the remembered design at an outdoor cafe a few ponti away.

Following a couple more weeks of camping in torrential rain, desperately searching for a toilet along the beaches of Porto San Stefano, & being arrested in Nice withporto san stefano, italy 9/1969 a colorful collection of other undesirable transient elements, Kalle (my German boyfriend) & I retreated to Wulfing’s ex-brother-in-law Ernst’s penthouse in Munich, broke & hungry. We hatched The Bean Bag Chair Enterprise together with recently-divorced Ernst & our mutual-friend Wulfing, who I’d met during freshman year at UCSC: they’d provide the capital & we’d provide the labor (…yup, an early but enduring lesson in how capitalism works).

We spent a month or so experimenting with the design & testing materials. To make the chair more affordable, we used an inexpensive, faux leather fabric called Vistram. We didn’t know what was inside the Sacco so had to track down something that provided both structure & flexibility: turned out they were disgustingly-clingy, totally-non-biodegradeable polystyrene beads. Once the design was deemed satisfactory, Kalle & I cut & sewed & bagged daily in the basement of Ernst’s Georgenstrasse apartment building; every evening, we climbed the stairs with teeny bits of white confetti clinging to every exposed surface.

As soon as we’d sewn & filled a rainbow of sample ‘chairs’, Ernst hosted a wildly-successful coming-out party for the Munich elite. It was thrilling that everyone loved die Sessel, but mostly I was overly-grateful for those guests who enjoyed practicingbean bag chairs munich 1969 2 English mit der jungen Amerikanerin.

Turns out, our little basement company popularized bean bag chairs. Venice -> Munich ->> The World.

We called the company Sapporo Produkte in honor of the upcoming 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, & also, in anticipation of the (soon-to-be-disastrous) ’72 Summer Olympics in Munich. The city was digging a new U-bahn subway line along the nearby main street in preparation for those Games…grey memories of slogging along craggy sidewalks through mud & snow during that interminable winter, the first I’d experienced as a SoCal gal. It was bone-numbing f…ing freezing in that basement. 

Ernst was a connected guy. His ex-wife, Wulfing’s sister Diemut, owned a downtown shop which became our main outlet. They had a young son – I was his nanny for a few months until I forgot to pick him up from school one day. After that I really missed speaking Deutsch with him…I was more conversant with 5-year olds in the local tongue than the quasi-University crowd we usually hung out with.

Demand for die Sessel grew. Affluent parents wanted these totally toll giant bean bags for both themselves und ihre Kinder: I designed & crafted large bean bag turtles, soccer balls, & soft grey mice (my favorite) to expand our line @ Diemut’s popular shop.

Eventually, winter melted into Fruhling: one fine morning, we collected my sister Nancy fromsisters w kalle & wulfing 1970 her dorm on the other side of town & drove west to Teufen, Switzerland, to liberate our younger sister Sandy from her ghastly boarding school for a few hours: the housemothers were a-twitter but there was no overruling fast-talking Deutsche boys. We fervently hoped our parents, in Madrid at the time, wouldn’t get word of the Boarding School Security Breach.

In any event, by then other enterprising companies had adapted ‘our’ bean bag chair design & I was finally dreaming auf Deutsch. I wasn’t sad to leave the Georgenstrasse basement in the fall of 1970 to return to UCSC – I declared a German Literature major upon arrival in Santa Cruz, but that barely lasted one quarter: reading Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig wasn’t nearly as fun as designing furniture on tiny Venetian serviettes.

The comfy bean bag chair revolution was a perfect complement to other social movements of the early 1970’s: women, anti-war, environmental protection, cultural & racial identity. Social change & Italian design triumphs aside, it’s a reflection of our human love of food that my happiest memories of that Munich year were being introduced to glorious gorgonzola at the local market, scarfing currywurst at ubiquitous sausage stands, & daintily picking pommes frites out of a paper cone, bitte, mit mayo.

oh yeah.


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The Last Super Bowl

It’s 2030, the 110th year anniversary of the NFL & the year of Super Bowl LXIV.

Unbelievably, Super Bowl 64 was the last Super Bowl. It wasn’t even televised.

Looking back, 2015 stood out as a turning point in the decline of the church of football. Similar to the demise of some other religions, it was hard to see how it could’ve happened if one gloried in the weekly hallelujas – & a lot of us did back then. 2015 was the year, though, that people started noticing the increasingly steady stream of scientific information about brain damage seeping under the wall of NFL denial.

You could hardly blame the NFL. Together with credit default swaps, televised football & its annual Super Bowl extravaganza were the easiest money of the new century: no way were the team owners & investors ever going to acknowledge that the sport itself was the problem. &, watching foodball on TV was the church of America – it was a way to join in with friends & strangers, cheer & moan, pray & curse, drink & overeat – all together as one great people.

Except, as it turns out, playing football wasn’t so great for the players. In 2015, some of these modern-day gladiators, & their families, woke up to the understanding that the money they were making wasn’t worth the risk of permanently losing their minds. Younger, newer players stopped playing; retired players renewed their lawsuits. Ten years after the first research about chronic traumatic encephalopathy was made public in 2005, NFL’s multi-billion-dollar facade was starting to crack.

Mothers & fathers started directing their children toward other, less risky team sports. Youth football leagues were the first to fold, driven by a shortage of players – by 2018 they were history. That same year, educators started getting out of the game: struggling public high schools could no longer afford high-cost, liability-laden football programs, & private schools had already nixed the sport in favor of soccer. Even Black Lives Matter activists start protesting at NFL venues (because by then, black football players represented over 80% of all professional players, up from 70% in 2014).

Colleges & universities saw the writing on the wall early in the new decade & started closing down their own costly football programs. Alumni donors, only slightly missing being reminded of their own aging at the annual bowl game, shifted their gifts toward ever-more-necessary research into new kinds of renewable energy.

Football’s fate seemed finally to be sealed when the 7-year National Institutes of Health study, initiated in 2016, achieved its goal early, in 2019, of finding a way to diagnose CTE in people who are still alive. Sadly, the subsequent required brain screenings this research made possible left no question of the risk: CTE in various stages of severity showed up in over 85% of all football players, within the NFL & without, from kids to retirees.

Major advertisers dropped football within a year. It was no longer de riguer to been seen at Super Bowl parties or yelling out halftime songs in front of dwindling crowds. Football was going the way of boxing, & the severe, 5-year drought in Las Vegas made the prospect of paying $50,000 for an outdoor seat unappealing even to the .1%.

It took another 5 or so years for the once-invincible NFL to face its endgame. Increasingly erratic climate & weather-related disasters made energy & water supply projects more lucrative for former investors. Imaginative advertisers found new venues for hawking their (ok mostly useless) products. New religions briefly burst forth & burnt out. Regular power & cellular outages got people talking to each other again.

Impossibly, the Era of American Football was over.


…then again, 110 years is just a bit longer than the lifespan of human primates. A pretty short-lived era, after all.


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Happy 1st Birthday Present: Arana Gulch Scavenger Hunt!

One of the most satisfying local events of 2015 occurred one year ago today with the arana eliz&lindaopening celebration of the Arana Gulch Pathways connecting Live Oak & Santa Cruz. YAY for the perseverance of many, many people over the 35+ year history of this project!

This route was originally planned to be a four-lane road, together with the plan for Santa Cruz to annex Live Oak – we’re talking 1960’s/70’s here (omg that’s half a century ago!). Live Oak Map009The road was called the ‘Broadway-Brommer Connection’, & there was even a concept at one point to have an additional road veer up through the gulch to Capitola Road. Yeah, those were the pave-it-over days – good riddance, I say. & the annexation that never happened? …well that’s a story for another time.

This month, in honor of this special anniversary of scenic pathways-instead-of-roads, I’m offering an Arana Gulch Scavenger Hunt. The first two winners will receive personally-autographed copies of Ghosts in the Gulch by local historian & Evergreen Cemetery volunteer extraordinaire S.L. Hawke; everyone who participates will receive a copy of Live Oak History Walks – Arana Gulch & Schwan Lake guide by Norman Poitevin/Live Oak Neighbors.

The Scavenger Hunt rules are easy: 1) Find the object or view shown in the numbered photo below; 2) Identify the photo location by number on a map of Arana Gulch, or describe it to me in an email; & 3) Email me* your answers by Leap Day 2016       (February 29).

Piece a’ cake! & as a bonus you’ll get some fabulous walks or bike rides logged onto that nifty fitbit. Let me know if it’s a group effort & I’ll include extra copies of the Live Oak History Walks guides.

Here we go, & of course (as I remind myself), enjoy the path you’re on!

#1  twisted








#9fence view

#10four bars


ps., if you don’t happen to live along our beautiful central California coast, please come & visit – I’m always up for a personalized Arana Gulch scenic tour!

*My email can be found in About. You however don’t have to find everything to submit your answers, but the more you find, the better off your chance of winning. Please include your name & contact info. I’ll inform the winners by March 5, 2016. All photos are taken from locations on or adjacent to signed pathways in Arana Gulch.


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Making Peace with Ants

Got ants?!… .. ….. …….  .. … ….  .. ….. . . … ….  …… … ….   ..   ……..  ..

OK…it’s the drought. It’s the rain. It’s global warming. No really, it’s those ineffective ant stakes. Or just Mother Nature (uh oh, I guess I should be sayin’ Mother & Father Nature, given the preponderance of sexual reproduction & all). Whatever. They’re here, they’re relentless, & apparently I’ve got to keep working on (yet another) lesson in acceptance.

My ants (yes, I’m starting to feel some kinship with them…) are enforcing this lesson – we are all in this together on the home planet.

Our particular home technically qualifies as historic – it was built in 1960. I could try to seal up every minuscule space in the moulding, the gaps behind the dishwasher, the weathered seals on those old french doors…yeah right.

Maybe this recent ant invasion is because they’re that dreaded Argentinian species – tiny like the other, more familiar ones, but even more determined, with multiple queens overseeing this current Live Oak Avenue population explosion. I guess we should be happy they’re not the seriously scary army ants who live on other continents (because ants live everywhere except Antarctica… just you wait though, once the ice melts I’m sure they’ll find a happy home there, too).

I’m actually getting used to that subtle but slightly sickening sensation of a wayward ant creeping along my arm, or who knows where else – that human primate ability for accommodation is definitely useful at the moment. & I totally enjoyed the movie Ant Man – a likable human harnessing collective ant intelligence to challenge the dark side – we should all be so lucky.

Did you know that if you weighed all the ant bodies in the whole world & compared it with the biomass of all other terrestrial animals/insects/birds/reptiles/etc, the ant biomass would be 15-25% of the total? When you think of it that way, it’s no wonder they’re roaming here right on my desk, or using their ant-enae (or body odor or whatever other amazing communication strategies they’ve evolved in order to be the highly successful species they are) to tell their fellow ants where that omg overlooked minuscule crumb of [something apparently edible] is located on my otherwise immaculate counter.

The renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson once said: “Ants have the most complicated social organization on earth next to humans.” Since human primates nearly always assume we take the gold for ‘intelligence’ on this planet, it’s probably not a bad idea to pay at least a teeny bit more attention to those guys who are hands down winning the silver.

…because hey, they’re even doing it without guns & Facebook.

…  …  . .   ..  ……  …..   .. ..  ….  … .  …….  …… …  … … ……   … .. …


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What’s so special about Homo naledi?

Unless you live in a cave yourself, it would’ve been hard to miss the big news about a new kind of hominin recently unearthed from deep inside a nearly-inaccessible South African one: Homo naledi.

The fossilized bones of this newly-discovered cousin (possibly even ancestor!) of ours is fascinating paleoanthropologists & their fan clubs with its never-seen-before combination of human-like legs & feet, Lucy-sized brain & pelvis (but with a more human-like cranium structure), & shoulders & hands still adapted to climbing, but with a more human-like thumb & wrist which would have enhanced manipulation.

All of this mixing-&-matching is interesting enough, but not really all that surprising due to discoveries in recent years of other bipedal primates with a ‘mosaic’ of features who lived between 2-5 million years ago: in particular, Ardipithicus ramidus (‘Ardi‘ – discovered by a preeminent U.S. paleoanthropologist, Tim White…see ‘naysayer’, below) & Australopithicus sediba (discovered by Lee Berger & unearthed near the cave where Homo naledi was found).

No, what’s remarkable about this particular early human primate species is the way in which these initial fossils from the Homo naledi site were excavated & analyzed, and the way in which information about Homo naledi is being shared. In other words, the amazing news is not necessarily the what, it’s the how.

Because the really big news is that all of this discovery & research was & still is being conducted via open access, via public & social media information channels, & with the active participation of a diverse group of younger, less ‘senior’ scientists than any human Marina Elliott and Becca Peixotto work inside the South African cave where fossils of homo naledi, an ancient species of human relative, were discovered. (Garrreth Bird)fossil discovery before now. That, and, it’s all happening before scientists have been able to figure out the age of the bones! Unbelievable…I love it!

Open access is definitely not your standard paleoanthropology operating procedure, where, for example, it can be more than 15 years between an important fossil discovery & when information is finally published in science journals; even then, access to many of these journals is only via a paywall, & access to the fossils themselves is nearly impossible. Not surprisingly, some of the field’s prominent elders aren’t as enthusiastic about open access as Homo naledis lead scientists, Lee Berger & John Hawks (along with many others), but it seems to me the naysayer arguments are a bit thin; have been countered more than adequately; & are probably driven by not just a little bit of jealousy (…yes, scientists are human).

Because WOW! – there are also some other unusually phenomenal aspects of this discovery: the sheer number of fossil bones from various individuals, representing nearly all bones of the body, & all from a single hominin population deposited over time (- vs. some human ancestral species pronouncements Cross-section of a portion of the Rising Star cave system leading to the Dinaledi Chamberwhich have been based on analysis of a single finger bone or tooth); and the location of the bones deep in an underground chamber of the Rising Star cave, with no evidence of other animal/plant fossils or of geological disturbances nearby that might explain how the bones got there. Huh?! The working theory is that dead bodies were deposited there by the living – we don’t know (yet?) whether their intention was to keep predators away or otherwise, or how they managed to get all those bodies into the chamber. And while this isn’t the first evidence of early human ‘burial’ (e.g., there’s quite a bit of evidence that Neandertals intentionally buried some of their dead), this intriguing new mystery about our ancestors has even religious folks interested in human evolution, & that’s sayin’ something!

For now, exciting research & learning about our newest relatives continues – via 3D-printing of the fossils, making them readily available to educational institutions as well as the general public; open access to the original eLife publications & fossil metrics; future additional fossil retrieval; & collaborative efforts to determine a date range for the treasure trove.

The Homo naledi fossil fun is just beginning!

Thank you to Lee Berger, John Hawks, & all the scientists & cavers working on this project for your commitment to open access.


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Grandmothers & Other Newly Remarkable Hominins

Back in the studio after a summer hiatus, greedily chomping on multi-colored cows, tractors & bunnies, a (really only-slightly-satisfying) snack that ended up in the computer bag after rejection by the 6-year old grandson. Well, he at least demonstrated his own good taste, even if the primary rationale for an upturned nose was that farm-themed crackers are for ‘babies’.

My pathetic defense for consuming these completely unhealthy crunchy animals is that it resulted from doing my grandmotherly job of providing my daughter’s weaned child with food (- food which, for this particular post-menopausal primate, is usually responsibly locally-sourced, lovingly home-cooked, & thoroughly age-appropriate… but hey, even grandmas get lazy once in a while). It so happens that this ancient grandmotherly pastime of feeding the grandkids is now being held responsible for not only the greater longevity & shorter birth intervals of humans relative to other great apes, but as well for increased male competition for mates, male tendency toward ‘mate-guarding’, and human ‘pair-bonding’ (aka coupling).

Geez, that’s a lot to plop onto Grandma’s already-full plate.

The still-slightly-controversial grandmother hypothesis regarding the unique nature of human primate longevity has been reinforced in recent years by new research and data analysis, often with anthropologist Kristen Hawkes as the lead scientist. The general hypothesis goes like this:

Menopause occurs at about the same age in humans as it does in other great apes. Unlike our closest relatives, however, humans have the physiological capacity to live decades beyond the average age of female menopause.

At some point in our evolutionary past, probably in response to a changing, more stressful environment around 2-3 million years ago, some ancestral human* females beyond their child-bearing years started regularly sharing food (e.g., food that was difficult for young children to obtain on their own, such as tubers) with their daughters’ (or nieces’ et al) weaned children when their mother was otherwise occupied with caring for & nursing a new infant. Over time, this led to a proportionally higher likelihood of survival for the mother & her offspring, as well as more frequently-spaced human births, thereby ensuring greater survivability of the assisting grandmothers’ longevity genes.

Some scientists also theorize that the grandmother effect further stimulated the ‘sharing-economy’ already in affect with mothers and their children, fostering increased sociality, empathy & cooperation among human groups.

hmm, do ya think she’s his daughter??

New research is shedding light on the pair-bonding aspect of human culture as an extension of the grandmother hypothesis: over (more) time, more humans living longer led to a higher ratio of males to females in ancient populations. Unlike females however, male apes, including humans, retain their fertility as they age; ergo, with increasing longevity, more & more males were competing for the same number of fertile females. This led to “the male tendency to guard a female mate from the competition and form a ‘pair bond’ with her instead of mating with numerous partners – a strategy which would have increased male reproductive success. An excess of fertile males is also “a likely source of men’s preference for young women” (- in contrast with male chimpanzees’ apparent preference for older females…aren’t they the smart ones! – of course, these mature ladies were probably still fertile…).

In some quarters, this newest extension of the grandmother hypothesis stands in direct opposition to traditional theories – promulgated over a century ago by (primarily) male anthropologists – that human pair bonding resulted from males providing meat for females & their offspring. To me however, for reasons discussed in previous blogposts about digging tuberscooking meat & early humans’ most likely sources of digestible protein, the Grandmother angle on human evolution seems a much better fit with current science than a concept which relies on idealizing Man the Hunter.

Just sayin’.

(…with that still mouthy old feminist voice of mine. I swear that being a provisioning grandma myself has absolutely nothing to do with it!)



* “Human” refers to Homo habilis &/or Homo erectus, or another, as yet undiscovered early Homo species – or maybe even Australopithicus! We don’t know yet; the current estimated timeframe for this longevity transition is based on mathematical modeling.

& well now, we haven’t even made it yet to talking about the newly discovered hominin species, Homo naledi!  Watch for comments about this somewhat mysterious addition to our ever-more-branching family tree, and what’s so great about this latest discovery, coming soon to The Everyday Primate.


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Burn8: Costume Season

Ahh – finally tuning into murmurs of fall – had already felt the slipped angle of the sun, but that favored burn & gold season is now unmistakably in the air as well.

During these recent burning hot summer days (& more planetary record-setting, I might add), only the faithful jack o lanterns 2were already in costuming mode – whether enthusiastically bouncing toward Burning Man or longing for dusk’s candles dripping in carved squash. I’ve never been to Burning Man (uh huh, please tell me you’re not surprised…) & although there’s a vicarious thrill via many family&friends (& MAH Glow), when you can offer me that sand-proof RV with bathroom, I’d love to joinburning man 2004 in wedding dress  you (more)free-spirited folks one of these years. But then, it was probably more – well, intimate – when it was a village rather than a city. Like many things in life.

Nor am I a Halloweenie (though it’s one of those holidays Santa Cruz is famous for) – we made a few attempts in pre-kiddie days (notably as a carrot & ear of corn during the early community gardens era) & once, for work, I dressed up as the Eastern Access Road (remember that controversy?) but disappointingly, no one could figure out what I was. OMG, it was so obvious. I guess I pretty much gave up after that.

But I recently enjoyed outfitting myself with the invitation’s suggested Gatsby look for my cousin’s 50th birthday bash – oh yeah, this is my kind of costuming (& not only because I love Downton Abbey). The fine gals at Closet Capers were masterful at assembling the perfect collection of color, kimono, bag & bangles from the far reaches of their abundantly chaotic costume rental shop. I’m a little wary of the headband & feathers they insisted is essential to the look, but I totally love their dedication to community-masking.

A couple of years ago I had to go to a masquerade ball – being on the board of the sponsoring organization & all that. In order to mentally balance this slightly-worrisome obligation, visions of a hand-crafted mask caught mask with glasseshold, embedded with silver beads & gold strands & an old-but-still-adequate pair of glasses. It was a project, for sure. I totally loved making this mask & took photos of each laborious step, thinking that someday I’d post a ‘how-to’ about masks with embedded glasses.

Ah well. Long story short: DIY documentation lost, debut disappointing, maybe time for lasik.

But hey, another little life lesson learned:

#1: if you wear glasses, don’t assume your mask needs to have glasses, because when everyone’s wearing masks, it’s probably best not to see very well; even though bits & pieces are concealed, much is not.

#2: glasses make masks look kinda creepy because they reflect light; this lends your character (i.e., you) an additional air of weirdness that can make others even more uncomfortable than they already are with this whole mask thing going on.

#3: when you tire of not ‘seeing’, just take the mask off & put on your glasses; if you only have the mask, you may have to wear it the whole evening – ugh! No one wears a mask during the entire party…well, some people do, but you already know who they are, right?

Well, mask or not, costuming for Halloween still isn’t a likely candidate for most-favored holiday activity. Its ancestral ritual just may be though – in fact, I believe it already is.


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