Fake News

Protest Rally

The term “fake news” has been tossed around daily by the current US president, a master brander, not to mention a purveyor of “alternative facts” from his alternative universe.   Last week the death of Paul Horner, a well known “Fake News Writer,” was widely reported as due to “a suspected drug overdose.” I think it is wrong for an obituary to speculate on reasons for a person’s demise, especially if the possible cause is something as awful as a drug overdose. Reading further, I learned that Horner was proud of his fake stories and even claimed that his fakery had gotten Donald Trump elected. Despite my dislike of fake news, not to mention my negative opinion of the president, I continue to believe only verified facts are legitimate news and Horner got a bad rap, demise-wise. The irony is that the cause of death of a writer of fake news may itself be fake news.

Last month I fell for fake news. I’m a big fan of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ HGTV show, “Fixer Upper” and was surprised to read that they were ending the series because Joanna wanted to focus on marketing her new skincare line. As I remember, the article made it it sound really good, even the “greatest ever,” a lotion “The likes of which no one has ever seen!” You get the idea. The news article even included a handy link to the skin care site. Well, hey! Who wouldn’t want to have lovely skin like Joanna’s? So I bought it. For just a few more dollars the site touted some oil that would REALLY make me look younger but I declined. I thought Joanna was getting a little pushy; after all, isn’t she making enough money, what with the TV show, furniture store and her line of home furnishings? The lotion arrived and it was okay, though not as good as Moisturel and at a far greater cost.  Weeks later I read that the Gaineses are winding down Fixer Upper for other reasons. The “Joanna’s skin care lotion” story was a scam. So the next time you read that something– a product or policy or even legislation—is The Greatest Ever, Unbelievable, The Likes of Which No One Has Ever Seen, consider the source. You may be falling for fake news.

Photo by Kayla Velasquez, courtesy of Unsplash

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Roses in their prime
                                                                                                                    (Photo by Jian Xhin)

I come from a family that does not “stop to smell the roses.” My parents, brother, sisters and I can best be described as a “Let’s get this done!” family or, at worst, a “Let’s get this over with!” gang. As adults, we called my dad “Vince-Half-a-Cup of Coffee” because when he’d visit us he’d agree to “just half a cup—I have to get going.” On one unforgettable occasion, he admitted that he was “rushing even though I don’t know what I’m rushing for.” That, indeed, is the question: what’s the rush?

I believe I eat too fast because a full plate looks to me like a task to be accomplished. I make decisions quickly so I won’t keep some imaginary foot-tapper waiting. There’s always the impulse not to waste time. It often feels uncomfortable to simply sit and read—but reading while walking on the treadmill, now that’s productive! All this rushing leaves precious little time to enjoy the present. I am lucky to have friends who are not so twitchy. Morella, a painter, sees shadows and gradations of color everywhere. Heidi, a world traveler, notices all the different nationalities who use our city park. My sister Liz never misses a bird and can identify nearly every one.

In December 2014 I wrote here about the meaning of “making time for time.” an expression I learned from a French friend about for practice of taking time to appreciate the time we have on this earth. It is the antithesis of rushing. It’s taking time to stop and smell the roses–or, in the case of the French, drink the rosés. I think they’re onto something.

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Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. Photo by Freddie Collins.

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you will know that I am changing home base from the Right Coast in New England to Left Coast of California. You will also be aware that this is not easy-peasy. It was a culture shock to arrive in Connecticut 20+ years ago and it’s a culture shock to return to California, a place where I once belonged. In 1996, I wrote about right coast/left coast differences:

THEN: New England formality: when I took my son to the school office at his new junior high, I was surprised to learn that “Mrs. X,” the voice on the phone, was not—as I had imagined–an elderly matron (in California, no one I know under 80 refers to herself as “Mrs.”) but rather an attractive young woman in her late thirties.

NOW: Last week I introduced myself to one of the kids in the neighborhood as “Mrs. Popik.”

New England church

New England church photo by Aaron Burden


THEN: A few of times in Connecticut I turned and commented about something to the person behind me in the supermarket checkout line. This was met with two responses: either the person would look back to see if I was speaking to someone behind them or he/she would stare at me and then look away as if I were a schizophrenic.


NOW: I went to a local Oakland cable store and chatted with the woman behind the counter while we waited for someone to fetch a cable box for me. By the time I left ten minutes later, I had the names and contact information for a hairdresser and acupuncturist as well a thorough understanding of the benefits of the Kaiser Health Plan for seniors as well as her age. As I left, thanking my new friend, she turned to the person behind me in line and said, “Hello, Pumpkin!”

It’s beginning to feel like home.

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Keyboard for the anxious.

This is unfortunately more true than not.

Something has gone wrong with one itty bitty piece of the technical chain that beams my blog around the world (yes, truly!) at 4:00 a.m. EST on Mondays. I am assuming you, too, were sent the same blog as last week’s. I have no idea why. I am in touch with a WordPress/MailChimp/GoDaddy wizard who can likely fix the problem. I don’t want to read that same Cat/Hurricane blog one more time, either.

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NOTE: This post was first published in February 2015.

Temple Window, Nepal

Temple Window, Nepal

“Mindfulness” is everywhere these days, sometimes in unexpected places. My friend and photography teacher, James Martin, forwarded two excellent, short video conversations with Jay Maisel, the acclaimed photographer. What Maisel said is not only good advice for photographers, it applies to writers (and other people who are creative) as well.

In the first video, without using the term or referring to other forms of artistic expression, Maisel describes creativity as a form of mindfulness. “If somebody said to me, ‘Give me two words that will make me a better photographer,’ I’d say, ‘Be open. Be open to what’s actually in front of you, to what really is happening at that moment.’” In response to questions about what he looks for when he shoots photos, Maisel says, “I’m not looking for anything. That’s the trick. I’m trying not to look for anything.”

Anyone who’s ever been trying to work out a plot knows that the best ideas often come during the blank moments of an idle mind: in the shower, driving on a quiet stretch of road. And the pitfalls of photography are much like the difficulties encountered when writing: “It’s stumble, bumble and fall and pick yourself up and start again. There’s no mystery to it.”

Yesterday, while reviewing a couple of particularly lifeless pages I had written, I realized what was missing were telling gestures–motion or expressions that would indicate mood or attitude. In Maisel’s second video, he talks about that very thing—the importance of gesture. “Gesture is not [movement]. Of course it is, but it’s also the quality of a table leg, the way a tree looks, the way you stand….”I’m looking for specificity….You can’t just say ‘water.’ Water has millions of different gestures. It can be placid, it can be reflective, it can be violent.”

The photo accompanying this blog is one I took that attempts to convey what, though I didn’t know it at the time, Jay Maisel describes. I was wandering through a Buddhist temple in Nepal, tired and not thinking about much of anything, when I came upon this quiet corner, a place with a pleasant breeze where someone must like to sit and maybe even practice Mindfulness.

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Polydactyl cats have five toes. I could not find a free photo of a polydactyl, so you have to imagine that my kitty, CatmanDeux, has an extra toe on each front paw.

How do cats react to hurricanes? Good question. Key West, Florida, in the path of Hurricane Irma, is home to some of the most famous cats in the U.S.—Ernest Hemingway’s polydactyls. Thanks to the kitty-loving British, I can assure you that all 54 six-toed cats at Hemingway’s former home (now a museum) are safe. The cats rode out the storm with ten of the museum’s staff, who refused to evacuate the kitties and instead hunkered down with them in Hemingway’s house. You can read about it here at the Daily Mail’s website.

Hurricanes are, of course, on my mind.  Today I came upon this apt quotation from Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier than it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we’re still at the mercy of nature.

The first time the reality of being at the mercy of nature hit home for me was during my first ice storm in Connecticut. I had never heard of an ice storm and was unprepared for the wind, the sound of trees crashing all around our house and the knowledge that this was a problem I could not solve by calling 911.  We were on our own and Nature’s force was bigger than all of us. (This was also the occasion of an oft-quoted scream of mine. I tried to get my husband and sons to go to the basement with me to be safe in case a tree hit the house. I stood in the upstairs hallway trying to get them to follow me downstairs and when no one moved, I yelled, “Fine! You can all just go ahead and DIE!”)

Joking aside, the magnitude of the destruction and dislocation in Texas, the Gulf Coast, Florida and other states is hard to comprehend. Our thoughts, prayers and hopes are with all our fellow human beings now and in the long period of recovery ahead.


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Chef on balcony

Working Chef in Austin, Texas

Happy Labor Day
On this day it is useful to take a few moments to think about those Americans whose labor make our lives better. Though membership in unions has been in the decline, the effects of the unions’ nearly 200-year effort is part of the fiber of our society and the struggle continues. We wouldn’t have laws guaranteeing minimum wages and overtime without the labor movement. Unions fought for or supported and eventually won the minimum wage and 40-hour week as well as the Equal Pay Act banning wage discrimination based on gender and the Civil Rights Act banning discrimination based on race. It is fashionable to complain about unions (as my parents did) but if you are fortunate enough to have health insurance and a pension, you can thank the labor movement. Their efforts on behalf of their members raised the bar for all working people, union or not. So thank you, grocery store clerks, my letter carrier and UPS deliverer as well as the electricians, carpenters, laborers, refuse collectors and dozens more workers in my everyday life.

Meyer Lemon

Happy to be back on the ground.

Lemon Tree, Very Pretty
If you have followed the saga of this little tree, you’ll know that I have been in a life-and-death struggle with a potted Meyer Lemon tree (see previous blogs of 5/16/16, 5/23/16 and 6/27/17. Things are looking up. In June the tree moved west and I planted it in our front yard. After years of trying to keep it alive in New England the tree is thriving, a living example of the maxim, “Don’t fight the site.” It’s free at last from its big blue pot and obviously grateful. It will thrive in California, as I hope we will.

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The Golden Gate Bridge

I used to belong in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve gone to college here, given birth to three children, rented, bought and sold houses in a large swath of the East Bay: Berkeley, Oakland, Kensington and Alameda. And now, after 21 years in New England, returned to where I once belonged.

New England in 1996 was a culture shock. In our small Connecticut town, I learned that many families had occupied the same land for more than one hundred years and that a five-minute wait at a traffic light was a traffic jam. Children addressed adults as “Mrs.” or “Mr.” No one referred to men as “dudes.” When someone said “Let’s get together,” they meant it and “reserved” doesn’t mean “unfriendly.”  I really love New England, a place where I came to belong.

Now we are back in the Bay Area for most of the time. There have been a lot of changes. The traffic is dreadful; the housing prices are ridiculous. I’m not used to constant ambient noise. On the other hand, I love the friendliness. People talk to you in line at the grocery store! Everywhere you turn there is diversity of all sorts. Our Asian letter carrier has a southern accent. The project manager for our new house was born in Afghanistan. I can’t get over how people dress. It was 75 degrees last week and people were walking around in sweaters. Looking out the window while drinking coffee at a local spot, I was startled when a rather large woman in a wheel chair cruised by in a Santa Claus suit, complete with fur-edged hat.

It is going to take a while to get used to this new environment, though obviously there is no need to worry about dressing appropriately. I’ll take you along on this adventure as I learn to belong in an old new place.

X  X  X


Photo by Gaetan Pautler via unsplash.com

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Last Friday I embarked on a real adventure—viewing the total eclipse–with part of my family: Bill, my daughter Sara and the fabulous Kamiko, our granddaughter. Here are a few impressions.

We spent the first night in Elko, Nevada, a city that is roughly halfway between Oakland, California and Jackson Hole, Wyoming (from where we hope to get a good view of from the “Path of Totality”). Elko may not be known as a destination spot but we enjoyed it. We stayed at the Best Western. For Kamiko, this motel with its free, fresh cookies in the lobby and indoor swimming pool, this was the height of luxury. Forget the Taj or the Four Seasons! It’s the Elko Best Western or nothing! [In our photographic travels we have stayed at several levels of accommodation, from the Yak and Yeti in Katmandu (very nice) to the Everest Base Camp lodgings in Tibet (no heat, no plumbing, a thermos of hot water and two metal bowls—you decide what to use them for).]

We arrived at dinner time, resigned to some dreadful pizza joint on Business 80. However, the hotel provided a list of local restaurants and that’s where we really lucked out. The Fresh Fare Bistro and Pub was only six minutes away and it lived up to its name. The food was fresh and interesting. The beers and ales were good, according to Bill. The house white wine was delicious, according to me. So if you’re ever anywhere near Elko, Nevada, stop and stay a while. We have already made reservations for our journey back home.

I have always wanted to see a moose in the wild. I’ve seen a couple standing beside New Hampshire freeways, contemplating destruction of either themselves or a passing car, but I’ve yet to see one moosing around. All that changed today. We spent an hour admiring a moose feeding in a pond (Moose Pond, actually). It’s a messy process involving lots of clumps of aquatic weeds, dripping water and giant moose head-shaking. Then when we got back to our friends’ condo, we noticed a group of people standing around a clump of trees—some with cameras, others with glasses of wine—watching two young male mooses stripping the leaves off the compound’s bushes. The larger of the two stared us down a couple of times and then resumed eating. Impossible to count him as a wild moose.

The only thing I have ever known about a moon shadow is from Cat Stevens’ song. It has a lovely tune but the lyrics are not informative. Now, with all the news about the eclipse everywhere, I have discovered an odd and moving essay by Annie Dillard with a thrilling description of the moon’s shadow. You can read it at the Atlantic Monthly’s site here. It’s unforgettable.

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For the second week, we have a “Guest Blogger,” my spouse, Bill Popik. He and Jim Martin–our friend, photography guru and sometime-photo trip guide—embarked on a cross-country trip to photograph parts of the northern United States. This is Bill’s next installment.

Suspension Bridge

Mackinac Bridge,


After leaving Detroit, we headed north for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or “UP.” For those who have never been there, the UP is that portion of the state on the northern side of the Mackinac Straits, the site of the confluence of two Great Lakes—Michigan and Huron. To get there, one crosses the Mackinac Bridge. In the Upper Peninsula, everyone is friendly. You’ve heard the term “Minnesota nice”—the same ethic exists in the Michigan countryside.


Minnesota city

Duluth, Minnesota


Our plan was to stay on Lake Superior but all the lodgings were full, so we headed for Duluth. What a great move that was. Duluth is incredible! Its early history was trapping and trading with the Indians. That gave way to mining, lumbering and later steel production. The opening of the Soo Locks allowed the passage of ships from the Atlantic all the way to Duluth, a distance of 2500 miles. That enabled shipping goods into and out of the mid-point of the country. In the 20th century, Duluth became the busiest port by tonnage in the United States.


Repurposed building.

The city’s decline started in the 1950’s when the iron mines petered out. It continued into the 1990’s, when the city realized that tourism could play a major part in its future. With that guidepost, the city began a transformation into a vibrant and exciting place. (If you are interested in learning more about Duluth, check out James Fallows’ American Futures Project. Duluth is one of the cities highlighted there). Old buildings have been renovated and house shops. There is a thriving arts community. The shore of Lake Superior has bike paths and boardwalks. It’s a city made for being outside when the weather permits.

Duluth Memorial

Memorial to slain African Americans

There are restaurants everywhere. We had breakfast at Uncle Loui’s, a highly recommended short order joint where the pancake is as large as the plate it’s served on. We walked around several downtown blocks and at Second Ave and First St. came across a memorial to three innocent black men who were accused of raping a white girl and were lynched. This is a city that does not try to bury the sins of its past but honors the memory of those who were unjustly slain.


Headwaters of the Mississippi River

It was a perfect short stay with one exception. We wanted to get our picture taken with Senator Al Franken at his Duluth office. I was even willing to pose next to a cardboard cutout but instead we pressed on. A few hours from Duluth, we crossed a small river with small boats parked along the banks. It was the headwater of the Mississippi. We took pictures just as a rain storm started. Onward to Grand Forks, North Dakota.



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