Thursday, October 14, 2010

ES - Day 6: Bodie, Mono Lake

"Goodby God, I'm Going to Bodie"

Well, we got up relatively early, ate our Cheerios and walked up the street to the Mono Lake Committee's headquarters, store.   So far so good.  Did a bit of shopping (map, gifts, stuff) which entitled me to free membership in the committee and a travel mug.  We sat and watched their slide show to get a sense of the Lake and the history and headed back down to our motel.

Things went a bit wrong.  This was the day to switch lenses.  The feared left one turned out fine but the right one was off.  Turns out it was inside out - happens a lot with the soft ones and I thought that was the case.  Then we discovered my cool black and gold hat was missing.  After semi-frantically searching luggage and car, we concluded that it stayed in Bishop - probably during the fast room move (see Day 3, part 2). Phone calls will happen soon.  Then I misplaced my lens cap - that happens a lot, it was in the car.  Then we discovered my sunglasses were missing.  I hiked up to where I'd taken pictures and as I was coming down, Nick found it under the stairs at the motel.  Must have popped out of my pack.  sigh.

Eventually, we started driving to Bodie.  Bodie is an old mining community of the late 1800s which was abandoned and is now kept in a state of  "arrested decay" for historical reasons.  It grew because they found gold there.  It was apparently full of terrible people - they should probably make a TV show about it - deaths, usually violent every day.   Deadwood comes to mind.  The quote above was from the diary of a girl whose family was moving there.

Now it's just a quite place in the middle of sage brush between the mountains. There's 9 miles of paved road followed by 3 of unpaved.  Dusty, not quite as bad as the road to the Patriarch's Grove in Bristle Cone. On the way up, we passed a couple of herds of sheep complete with shepherds and sheep dogs.  We passed them on the way back down and one herd also had a donkey.  Beats me!

We wandered around taking pictures of this building and that.  I find that my photography, like my blogging, goes back and forth between creativity (artsy shots, cute commentary) and attempts at journalism.  After a couple of hours, I told Nick that I was at the point of "if you've seen five of these buildings, you've seen them all."  There were really dilapidated houses and not so bad houses; there were businesses - in the heyday 65 saloons; there were public buildings - post office moved from someone's house to a hotel; there were outhouses.  Near the top of the hill were the mining structures but we weren't allowed into all that.  As a former engineer, I found that more interesting and nowhere near enough info in the brochure.

Off we headed, back down towards Mono Lake.

Birds of a Feather

Mono Lake has a  northern approach and a southern one.  The really nice visitor center is at the northern one.  We got there about 20 before it closed so had time to look around.  Asked the ranger about sunset.  She showed us something that said 5:22 which was a surprise to us - I had thought 6ish.  She suggested going to the Southern Tufas for sunset.  

Here's the story - once again LA and their water is the villian.  In the forties, water was deflected from the tributaries to Mono (by the way pronounce Moe-Noe, not Mohn-noe).  The lake was nearly drained over the next several decades.  Then, about the time we came to California, people started campaigning to save and restore it.  As the water level dropped, these cool calcium formations, called tufas emerged.  Also a land bridge, which allowed coyotes to get to the island nests of the California gulls.  We could argue that gulls are problematic, but not here and now.  There's some neat info about shrimp and alkaline water and alkaline flies.  Now that I'm a member, I can point you at the Mono Lake Committee website for more details.

We got down to the lake by 5:15 and started hiking around and taking pictures.  As the sun slowly set in the west, we photographers all started convening in similar places.  I found one guy who'd been there a lot and kind of followed him around.  As the sun was fully set, around 6:15, there were a bunch of us at a tip, looking out at the color on the eastern hills.  Mostly there was chitchatting, but I was underexposing 2 full stops and got some nice color behind big tufas in the lake.  And then, my battery died.  Argh.  I charged it before we left and a couple of days ago.  I may need to get a new one.  sigh.

A Pleasant Surprise

Well we packed up and headed to where everyone kept telling us we should eat, theWhoa Nellie Deli.  Basically the Mobile Station on the opposite end of Lee Vining has a big convenience store.  In the store, is a deli style restaurant.   Having been raised on the east coast and jewish, I only have one thing to say - if there's no corned beef or pastrami, it's not a deli!   But they had a nice bison meatloaf which Nick had and a nice bison braised ribs which I got.  So much food again, that we have part of tomorrow's lunch.

The best part was when we walked in, there was my old photography teacher (the only one I've had, actually), Charlie.  We had known that he was somewhere in the area teaching a class with John Sexton.  Turns out John is the analogy guy and Charlie is the digital guy.  Charlie's going to be giving a digital printing class and guess who's going to find a way to take it!

Go to  Charles Cramer  to see his work.  If you've seen the photo of trees in my living room, that's a Cramer.

Goodnight, all!  Love
© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

ES - Day 5: Bishop to Lee Vining

The Devil Made Me Do It!

I am now a day behind in blogging.  This has come about for a couple of reasons - I tend to fall behind in things and I convinced Nick to upload some of his pictures to Facebook.   Two people sharing a computer on vacation can get a tad tricky.  Good thing we like each other.

Yesterday, which might have been Tuesday, we packed up and checked out of the Comfort Inn in Bishop.  We had an odd conversation with Dave, the manager who promised to get Nick some extra points for the double lockout incidents.  Eventually we took off up 395.

This was our take it easier day. We went to the Devil's Postpile National Monument.  Just before paying our fee, we stopped at Minaret Vista and had a fun lunch looking out over the valley at the cliffs.  Lunch was shipwreck - left overs from the past three dinners.  We've had fridges in each of our rooms and things held up well.  After taking a bunch of photos - I love my graduated neutral density filter.  I'm learning how to position it so the sky and mountains get less exposure while the foliage gets more.  A lot easier than burning and dodging in software.  I used to know how to do this in the lab but not yet digitally. 

We packed up from lunch and headed on down the road, paved, yay!!  From the parking lot, there's a relatively easy half mile walk down to the monument.  When you get there, you look up over all these rocks to see something that looks like a giant made a fence using huge  rock posts.  The formation evolved by a combination first of volcanic lava and second glaciers coming in eons later.  I'm bugging Nick to get this much.  If you're curious, there's a ton of info at the Devil's Postpile website.  In a rare occurrence, Nick said we didn't have to hike up to the top but I decided we should.  The initial steps were tough but once we got the top, you could see that each post really was hexagonally shaped.  Nick went and explored up the trail a bit more while I was photographing.  I had one moment of watching my footing and realizing if I went over the edge, Nick wouldn't know where to look for me.  But I was fine and we decided to finish the loop.  Easier walking and we saw smaller formations.  Nick named one the Reaper's Postpile.  We also walked through an area where the wildfires had hit a few years back and saw new trees growing.

From there, we pretty much just drove on to Lee Vining and checked into our current hotel which is at the edge of town.  Being at the edge of town is easy, it's a short town.  Population is only three digits - I haven't been able to read the sign.   

Coming up Bodie! 

© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ES - Day 4: Bishop, Bristle Cone Pines; Marcia

In Search of Ancient Gnarly

Turns out my good friend Marcia isn't a morning person either.  So we picked her up at 10ish for our big adventure today.

We started out by going to the Mountain Light Gallery.  It celebrates the work and lives of Galen and Barbara Rowell.  Galen was this amazing photographer who specialized in light and mountains and everything.  We spent a hour looking at photographs and books and calendars and more.  After some purchases and feeling overwhelmed by the beauty of the photographs and trying to learn lessons, we headed across the street to pick up lunches at the deli.

And then, off we went to start the long, uphill drive into the White Mountains.  That's where one finds the Ancient Bristle Cone Pine Forest. While the giant sequoias at Yosemite are large and quite old, the bristle cone pines are smaller but really, really old.

Here's my lesson of the day - If you're going to go hiking with an orienteer and a person who built a hiking trail on your own property, be sure a) they love you and b) they want to take a lot of pictures too!  Otherwise, they might just have left me behind especially on the ups in high altitude.  Oh, and they don't get into imaginary answers to questions like "what's that shiny area down there" - two votes for something scientific, one for baseball diamond.  OK, so maybe they were right.

We did three hikes.  First was the half mile, Pinyan Nature Trail. Pinyan is a type of pine - we saw many different pines.  On this hike we learned that Marcia really could live off of the land if she had to!  She had us trying pine nuts fresh from a pine cone (not the bristle pines).  A few words about Marcia.  I met her the one year I was in the Women in Engineering program at UC Davis.  She had a bachelor's in math (as did I) but her masters is in zoology.  Often, when I'm hiking with Nick, I say "I wonder what this plant is.  I'll take a picture and try to remember to show it to Marcia.  She'll know."  Well, when she's there - she knows.   She's also a bit nuts!  In a different way from my nuts - she had a signal and GPS on her phone and some ap to tell us how long since we started hiking, how much time we'd been moving and how much not.

This little hike took us about an hour, yeah, I'm slow.  We drove more to an overview and tromped out to the point.  Nick was great and went back for my new filter.  As I was shooting with it (to get the foreground more exposed) a young couple came along and the guy was intrigued.  Eventually, I took a great picture of them with their little point & shoot camera.

Back in the car, going up and up.  Get to the Ranger center (a trailer but with books, patches and the passport stamp.  I use my little all-purpose notebook to get the stamps.)  We had lunch there.  Marcia lured in a golden mantled ground squirrel with one of the nasturtiums from her salad.   I had the telephoto out already.  See facebook pics.

Our hiking choices, did I mention we were at 10,000 ft, were the one mile Discovery Trail or the 4.5 mile Methuselah trail.  Survival won over seeing the oldest living things on the planet.  We did see their slightly younger cousins.  We saw the remains of a 3600 or something like that tree that died in the sixteen hundreds.
Because of the conditions, wind, weather, snow, high altitude, the trees lose branches and bark and grow very twisted.  The word for the day was gnarly.  Marcia and I went crazy taking pictures.  Actually, Nick got into it too. Not just to rest but because the trees are just amazing - the area where bark is gone is an almost bright yellow.   The little trail took us about two hours.  Almost forgot, something, maybe a red tail hawk, flew over us at one point but too fast to photograph.

Back down to the car and off for the Patriarchs grove.  This is where the largest bristle cone pine is.  It's 12 miles away and the road is dirt, sometimes tight (not as bad as the other day's North Lake, but close.)  Less traveled.  Oh, and snow in a couple of patches.  But it was open and off we were going.  and going and going.  I was beginning to think this was totally not worth it when I caught a glimpse of motion up ahead at the side of the road.  Then Nick saw it and stopped. Then the coyote crossed the road in front of us, marked some territory (as I'm scrambling to switch lenses.  She then crossed in front of us and trotted parallel to us and waited.  Wildlife photographer's dream come true.

Eventually, we got to the Patriarch - took the 1/4 mile nature hike - misplaced the trail in the snow a few times - the duo convinced me that the canine tracks were domestic, what with going exactly where we were.  And we started feeling a few drops of water.   Back in the car and back the 12 miles to the main road (really off to the side of a side road, but you know.)   Had a stopped truck driver point out a herd of deer on a hillside.  Oh, and it did rain on us coming down but twas ok.  Watched a bit of sunset and got back down to Bishop to find that, once again, our room keys didn't work.  This time, the card magic worked and we got in.  Met Marcia shortly thereafter for a lovely Japanese dinner, very tired.

Once again, Nick is our hero for driving in these conditions.

Going to bed now.  Really need to catch up with sleep.  Short amount about Devil's Postpile tomorrow, I hope, before we head for Bodie.


ps, this link should get you to photos:

© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Monday, October 11, 2010

ES - Day 3, Part 1 of 2: North Lake, Manzanar, Alabama Hills

In Search of Fall Color

Nick says, let's go find some fall color and after asking a few people where to look, we turned right at the traffic light and went up and up and up.   I wouldn't say our marriage was in jeopardy, but I was mighty skeptical after we cleared the town limits and the only plants anywhere in sight was sagebrush.

Eventually, we start seeing some trees and Nick starts feeling vindicated.  The road has, of course, gotten more narrow and more twisty.  There begin to be lots of cars by the road.  Hikers, you may think.  Well, not really - it's photographers season.  At one bend in the road, there's a zillion cars and a bridge over a bubbling stream.   The bridge  is packed with photographers. So we keep driving.  At one overview, I noticed a sign that said "North Lake."  We were heading for lake Sabrina.  We stopped further along and did take some pictures over the river of the aspen.  We went along the main road a while and decided to turn around and head back.  I suggested we check out the North Lake road.  Now, silly me, I was thinking, lake, amenities, something.  Guess I've driven around Tahoe too much.  Yes, I know, much bigger, more developed and thus less dense with photographers.  Here, you had to compose pictures carefully to not have one or more tripods in them.  My tripod was back in the room.

Off we headed up and up and up and around and around and oh yes, it's now a dirt, one lane road.  Nick has a thing about heights, he doesn't like them.  He gets the hero award for that drive - the outside of the road is up direction.   He was actually better off since I'm ok looking out over the edge.  But, eventually, after passing too many cars and largish pickup trucks, we came to a clearing with a latrine and parking.  We drove past it to catch the lay of the land and sure enough a small lake.  Went back and parked.  The lake was beautiful - the fall color, especially the aspens, the clear reflections, the background of mountains.  Photos were taken, by us, by people with tripods, by people with small children.

I forgot to mention - this was our "shorts" day.  Weather was 72 per the car when we headed up the hill.  According to the car it was 48 while we out taking pictures.  It probably was, but oddly, it felt good.  Eventually, we headed back down, agreeing that the twisty, turny, narrow, North Lake road was worth it.

We headed down 395 and had a nice lunch in Big Pine  Passed through Independence, formerly like 150 years ago, as Little Pine and on down to Manzanar.


Nick and I have both heard a lot about Manzanar.  It's hard to live in the Bay Area and not know about how dreadfully our military leaders decided they could treat US citizens.  As the exhibit implies, some people think the Constitution is great except when they want something.

The first thing that struck me was how stark the surroundings are.  Beautiful but stark.  The Eastern Sierras on one side, the White Mountains on the other, with sagebrush of Owens Valley in the middle.  The original auditorium building is now the visitors center. We were both somber driving in and walking in.  Teared up reading the exhibits and while watching the well-produced 22 min video.

A few words about Ronald Reagan.  I vaguely remember him hosting the 20 Mule Team Borax TV western show [name escapes me.]  I never voted for him, I actively disliked all that I saw or read about his wife. Two good things from my point of view.  He was allegedly the only Type B POTUS in our time.  And on the Manzanar video, he was my hero for the way he signed the bill officially apologizing and giving survivors some reparations.  Too late for most, but needed closure.

As I walked around, I continued to be tearing up (as was Nick).  I nearly broke down reading the roster of internees, posted as a giant scroll.  I looked for and saw last names that I personally knew (including one Murai).   The experience was similar to my reactions at the Birmingham Civil Rights Center and the Washington, DC Viet Nam memorial.  And there were exhibits about other acts of prejudice and hate.  And I thought about the debate over the proposed Muslim Community Center in Lower Manhattan.  I'm tired of hate and fear and how it brings out the dark side of our populace.  I found myself quoting Pete Seeger "when will we ever learn."

We drove the self-guided tour of the whole site. Stopped and walked the bases at the playing field.  I put a rock that i picked up outside at the cemetery memorial, among the other rocks and pennies and cranes.  Thought about all my cats at the pet cemetery.  Wrung out emotionally, we headed to the next stop on Nick's tour of Pines.

Alabama Hills

Apparently, our latest thing is to go where they made movies and TV shows.  First Vasquez Rocks, now Movie Row.  You get there by turning right off of 395 in Lone Pine, crossing the Aqueduct, going up the hill, past the replacement Lone Pine.  Turn right again, following a guide book we got from a park ranger station. The rock formations are amazing.  We saw where Roy Rogers made his first movie and (not sure exactly of the spot but we saw it) where John Wayne made his last video, a commercial.  Took lots of pictures; followed the slight detour to Murphy Ranch Road.  12 miles or so and eventually came back.

Two last comments.  In the last Alaska trip, we had to go to the zoo to find moose.  Well, we watched and watched back up 395 - for elk, it was the right time of day, but no luck.  Actually we've seen very little non-human life forms.  There's still time.

When Nick was a child, they lived down Cape Cod during the summer.  There was a highway running nearby to Provincetown, Highway 6.  Well, guess where the other end is.  Yes, here in Bishop.  And that's why the last photos I took yesterday are of him and a highway sign.  Posted on my facebook page.

It's now Columbus Day and we're off in search, with Marcia, of ancient bristle cone pines.  A single destination day.


© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Sunday, October 10, 2010

ES - Day 3, Part 2 of 2: Evening in Bishop

How things go Amuck!

You're wondering why part 2 is first.  Cause it's so stupid that I want to get it out of the way and if you come in late, you'll read part one first.

We had a lovely day - read all about it in part one.  We came back to Bishop to meet up with my dear friend Marcia so we can all go to Ancient  Bristle Cone Pine Forrest (who named it that?  I have to keep asking Nick what the name is) in the morning.  The plan was she'd call us about an hour out to work out dinner timing.

We get back to our room at  the Comfort Inn and the keys don't work.  Now we've had that problem before, only when we had two (or more) sequential reservations because that's the only way they can book a room free on points.  Nick goes back down [we're on the second floor almost the furthest room from the lobby, we're both too tired to haul stuff up and down any more.]  Roger does the desk clerk magic on the keys.  Nick returns.  They don't work.  Nick goes back to lobby, comes back with Roger and housekeeping and master keys.

Meanwhile, I hear the phone in the room ringing.  This is mysterious as only a few people have the number.  I'm also checking my cell for calls from Marcia - concerned about her long drive from Applegate.

Roger tries all keys - nothing works.  He shares that this room had a problem last week.  I observe that there really is a spot for a metal, old fashioned key.  Roger leaves.  I call Marcia.  Well turns out, she was the one calling.  She left her hotel and walked to ours.

Roger comes back with key ring and pass keys for a new room for us, cause by now we all know it's bad.  His master key (apparently expired) doesn't work in the new room but the keys for us do.  We plop down, he goes back to old room.  None of the metal keys work.  Marcia comes,  we sit in new room.  Our stuff is still in old room, including Nick's cell phone which he'd forgotten in the am.  Marcia has a new phone.  NOT in it is my phone number but she had Nick's on a message I'd sent.  So, you get it right?  I'm waiting for her to call but she only has the hotel and Nick's phone numbers - both inside the still locked room.  sigh

Roger returns with the now awakened manager Dave.  I go down the hall to parlay.  Dave has this whizzy electronic calculator looking like widget with a big metal passkey probe on it.  He kits the calculator number keys - lights flicker.  Roger tries some key - doesn't work. Discussion of phoning Jesus ensues - he lives two blocks away.  I mention we'd like to eat dinner.  Roger offers to move our stuff when the room is finally opened.  Nick & I decline (we'd unpacked, had stuff in drawers, shelves, closet, fridge).  Go back to new room.  Phone rings!  Dave has the room open.

Oh, he did, by breaking in through and cracking the window!  And apparently the metal key broke off in the mechanical lock.  Not a good evening for Dave.  No sign of Jesus.  Nick, Marcia and I move stuff in record time leading Dave to ask if we're in the hotel business.

An hour after we should have, the three of us went off for quite yummy pizza at The Upper Crust!

Will now let Nick use the mini for a while before I tackle part 1 and/or photos.


© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Eastern Sierra - Day 2: Yosemite to Bishop


My friends know that I'm just not a morning person.  We keep saying that we'll go to bed early and get up early and go off early and somehow it never works.

We got off earlier today than yesterday, that's saying something but at this moment, I'm so tired (and Nick is napping and it's 11pm, go figure) that I don't remember when.  Ah, but the camera knows, wait a sec...........
Took a picture of Nick loading the car at 10:38am.  Took a picture of officially entering Yosemite (while there was a long line of cars to get in at 11:16am.  I apparently took another 200 pictures before getting to Bishop (where we are right now!).   Oh hey, Nick's awake.  This will be short since he wants to check email too.

Why are we both so tired?  We took two hikes in high altitude.  The first was down to see the Giant Sequoias in Tuolomne Grove.  It's just a mile - downhill the whole way.  We also did the 1/2 mile nature loop at the grove.  And then, the long slog backup hill.  We took a short granola bar break and several photo breaks and smiled and chatted more pleasantly with the people coming down than those coming up had when we were coming down.  One woman (she up, we down) actually said "it wasn't worth it!")  I disagree, trees which are thousands of years old - you know?  Gives you a sense of your real place in the universe.  

We found a pace at which I could keep moving without losing my breath.  Slow and steady.  My best bit of detective work - there were no markers or landmarks for a sense of distance - was when a young woman came by eating a Popsicle.  I said to Nick - it's 75% eaten, she had to have pulled it out of a freezer in the parking lot - she was moving at a decent clip - how far did she come?  We decided we had 10-15 more minutes.  Then we passed the berries that I'd photographed early on and voila - the parking lot!

Our plan was to eat lunch at Tenaya Lake.  We had the leftovers from last night's dinner.  We hadn't been sure we had decent plastic knives so cut everything up before putting in the to-go boxes.  A good idea!  But, while we've mastered leaving before noon, we still haven't gotten to lunch before 3pm.  Maybe tomorrow.

Part of the challenge is the slow hiking, part is the need to stop and take photos.  One reason I take so many is I bracket my shots [what the camera thinks, one step more than camera thinks, one step less]  In general, the best shots are the ones one stop underexposed.  Back in film days, the rule was overexpose print film and underexpose slide to get greater detail and richer colors. Digital appears to be like slides.  

Of course we had to stop at the outlook at Olmsted Point to see (among other things) Halfdome.  then we found the picnic area by Tenaya Lake.  I nearly froze from the wind coming down off.   After lunch, We got to Tuolomne Meadows.  How to describe it - one long, vast wide meadow surrounded by gorgeous mountains, some with snow.  The amazing part is it is all at 8000 ft elevation!  We walked to Soda Springs - only one half mile but, did I mention 8000 ft and that we're both senior citizens in many places?

Eventually back at the car, we worked our way out of the park by about 5pm. Showed our receipt and said goodbye to the nice rangers at the gate.  Since that was at Tioga Pass,  Nick announced "now we're in the Eastern Sierras"  Then we made the drive down - the steep, curvy, drive down.  Stopped a couple of times, esp when we could get out and make snowballs.   Gorgeous,  just gorgeous all the way down.  We stopped for a couple of minutes to check out the famous Mobil Station in Lee Vining - home of the Whoa Nellie Deli.  We expect to eat there later on.  On the way down to Bishop, saw beautiful color on the mountains.  We hadn't considered that sunset would be earlier on this side of the mountains (you know, the
east, so mountains are blocking it, etc.).  

I have semifigured out how to do pictures here.  I have to upload to Picassa which has limited storage.  I don't want to deal with that, so you're going to have to look on Facebook.   I'm still sorting out how I review them here on the Netbook.  I don't like that the editing actually changes the original on my disk.  like messing with a negative.  so cropping, lighting improvements, etc isn't happening.  

I've tried following a tip I found in the Blog help area, so comments might work - who knows.  I managed to post one, so maybe it's not my blog specifically.  sigh

Tomorrow Independence and Manzanar - I plan to pack tissues.


© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Friday, October 8, 2010

Eastern Sierra - Day 1: Menlo Park to Buck Meadows

Nick & I got up, packed, said goodbye to Borealis and Denali and were out the door by 11am. Zipped across the Bay, no problemo, had a leisure lunch in Livermore and made it up to Murphys in time to taste at  three different wineries.

Oh wait!  That was the plan. Reality is much more challenging.  There were emails to send off, a conference call to attend - a new chair, it was only fair that I be on for a while and most importantly, a run to my optometrist for replacement left lens.  It's partially a photo expedition, I really need to be able to see.

A short tangential rant -  I've been wearing extended wear soft contact lenses for 40, yes kids 40, years.  I'd get a pair and they'd be good for an entire YEAR!  A year ago, my eye doc talks me into disposables, better for the aging eyes.  First batch, no problem.  Second batch - first left lens uncomfortable whenever I look up,
like driving.   Try another from the batch - comfy enough but tolerance on prescription off.   Month passes, try the third one; same as the first.  Not optimistic about the remaining three.  Hence today's last minute trip to Dr Chin.  Well he didn't have any spares and says "how about the daily ones?"  DAILY - like a new lens every day.  He claims I can wear them for a week.   I went home and packed three right- and nine left-eye contact lenses so I can see when I go to Bodie.  Conspicuous consumerism is winning.

Eventually, we left around 1ish, as in after, not before noon.  Made it across the Bay ok.  Before going to bed (don't ask! but it did involve remembering that I had a column due at 10pm) I had discovered that my new 4Mb camera disk wasn't working.   Apparently my camera chokes on SDHC cards - got an obscure message [flashing CHR or something].  So, the plan was to pick one up at the Target in Union City.  Target doesn't carry SanDisk! At this point, we're pushing 3 hours late, I'm hungry/cranky and worried about e-film.  Like I wanted Kodak and they were offering me unknown.

Next, we get stuck in traffic - on 238 as expected (but not bad) and then a lot on 580.  Eventually, I spotted a Staples off the highway in Tracy.  Turns out there's a Golden Corral in the same parking lot!  Turns out we were so late for lunch we got the early bird dinner special.  Things are starting to look up - at least our blood sugar was.  Talked to a nice guy in Staples about SD vs SDHC (for High Capacity).   It's bad enough that James, Liz's fiance who is our go-to computer guy, tells me my 2000 computer is old. [c'mon where does that put me?  oh never mind!]  Now I have a nice but random stranger telling me that my 2006 camera is old.  Let us consider that both really work well - it's the creeping elegance and consumerism that are doing us in!

The nice man convinced me that he uses PNY and it's just as good as SanDisk and I have 14 days to return it (yes in Menlo Park if need be) if I'm unhappy.   So far so good.

Well fed and having camera issue resolved, we worked our way up the road.  Made it to the only winery that is open till 5:30 at 5pm.  Twisted Oak has a twisted sense of humor - the road up is twisted and there are signs, ala Wall Drug, at each turn, including rubber chicken crossing.  They have a fricken out in front - ah, did I forgot to mention this is Calavaras county as in Mark Twain short stories?  If I could figure out how to post pictures in this blog, I would up load it here - from the PNY disk.

Twisted Oak also has some fine wines.  Amanda served us and after others left chatted with us for about 45 min.  We then worked our way back towards Groveland (I remember it as Grover the muppet) and Buck Meadow where I now sit.  Nice dinner at the Buck Meadow's restaurant with leftovers for lunch tomorrow.  More, I hope, after we visit Yosemite, the northern part.


ps, at some point on the drive, Nick shared with me a lot of highway numbers - more when the appropriate photo is taken.

© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My 5771 Kol Nidre Appeal

Yom Kippur is when we look back at our sins and deal with guilt.  Actually, it's quite cool.  But as a blogger, I've been feeling guilty.  When I'm doing interesting things, I don't have time to blog.  When I have time, I don't have much to say that I think you'll think is interesting.  This year, I gave the appeal at the Keddem Congregation Kol Nidre services.  Picture me in my long white, embroidered dress on stage with about 400 people seated in front of me.

Thank you Elaine. Shana Tovah.  As Elaine said, I am the Immediate Past President of Keddem Congregation.

In my other role, as High Holy Days chair, I’ve been reading the reservation forms as they’ve come in and know many of you are new to Keddem Congregation, to you I say welcome.  I know many of you have been with us, some many times before, at HHD: welcome back.  And to the active regulars,  I’ve probably hugged you on the way in, or will do so on the way out.  I’m big on hugs.* 

Since it’s Kol Nidre and this is a Jewish congregation, I know I can be honest.  My goal is always diplomatic not blunt honesty, but let’s face it, I know that most of you know why I’m standing here.   I know that appeals make some of you uncomfortable and that some of you understand why it is necessary.

When I was a child, our family’s synagogue handled this very differently.  My father as “head of household” (I'm sure my mother had something to say about that!) was handed a card with his name and tabs with numbers on them.  He was to indicate his commitment to the synagogue by folding down the appropriate tab.  Far less disruptive to the service, but I remember how embarrassed he was about how little he could pledge.  So, hold that thought while I give you some context for why I am talking to you now.

Seven years ago, at Kol Nidre, I talked about how I had, now ten years ago, decided to finally  join a congregation and how I was drawn to Keddem by the values listed on the website.  It is, for those who have not seen it.  Thanks to the work of our Long Range Planning committee and the participants at our May congregational meeting, we have revised our Vision, Mission and Values, in what I consider to be a very Reconstructionist manner - study, discussion, considering what is right for us as Jews here and now and deciding via a democratic process.

The Vision, Mission and Values define what we want to be as a community.  Many of us have Hebrew names.  Ours is Kehillat Keddem, Keddem Community.  Community is only as strong as its members.  It is built up by members trusting, and respecting one another as individuals and recognizing each other’s contributions.  As a member of  this community, I’ve seen us celebrate with each other and mourn with each other and very much care for each other.  Because Keddem is Inclusive and Egalitarian, any one of you in this room is more than welcome to become a member.  We are also Inquiring at Keddem and one of the benefits of membership is being able to ask questions about Jews, Judaism and the Jewish experience and find answers in discussions with other members.  It’s what our Torah Study and Learners’ Minyan are all about.

Communities thrive when the work is shared cooperatively through teamwork.  They need a diverse range of skills and yes, even opinions.  We are Participatory at Keddem - we do it all for ourselves.  Do you realize that our services at these High Holy Days are led by three technology professionals, a professional artist and a professional rabbi?  Our song-leaders are an accountant, a program manager, and a high school student.  And in case you’re curious, our chair is an engineer turned diversity consultant now studying to be a Parliamentarian (I'm a little crazy.)  Our colorful wordle logo, which you can see on the screen in the lobby, was designed by one member,  colorized by a second member and had the Hebrew added by a third. You get the picture.  We function best when many people  volunteer to help by bringing food to events, setting up or taking down, writing publicity, even editing our newsletter. 

Just as importantly, we would love to see you more often than once a year!  If you find yourself drawn to the liturgy or the music or the ideas, you should come to Shabbat services or festival celebrations.  We’ll welcome you equally warmly and more personally.   And if you have a new idea and are willing to take the lead, we’ll support you.  Because we are Innovative.

Now, think back to my father awkwardly having to make a financial commitment  before being able to leave services.  You’ll notice that you’ve all been given generic envelopes to take home and decide later.  None have names, some have numbers, we're recycling to save trees and the budget.

At Keddem Congregation, we believe strongly that money should not be a factor in being part of our community, either when joining or when attending these or other services or activities.   But, the reality is we have expenses, for tonight and for the rest of the year.  I love this community and I want us to be able to keep offering these services.  Last year, in the spirit of Innovation, several of us challenged others to pledge one thousand dollars each, with the understanding that if we reached ten yeses, we would all make the donation.  I’m pleased to say that in the end, Keddem received seventeen such donations. (smattering of applause occurred.)  Hopefully, most of us can recommit at that level and that others will join us.  Meanwhile, we are asking those attending for a contribution of 500 dollars per household.  Since we are Compassionate, we know that many of you, like my father all those years ago, cannot stretch to that level.   If your budget does not allow that much, we will gratefully and graciously accept what you are able to give.

Thank you all for what you have done in the past for Keddem and for what you will do in the future for Keddem.  You are most welcome to continue to worship and build community with us here at Keddem Congregation. 

I wish you a gentle fast.  L’shanah tovah tichatemu.  May you and yours be sealed for a good year.

*  a lot of people actually did stop by for hugs on the way out, including some strangers!
The words in bold are the Keddem defining values.

© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Women Engineers: Change in the World

On June 19, I was the keynote speaker for the Society of Women Engineers - Santa Clara Valley (SWE-SCV) Member Appreciation and Scholarship Banquet.  It is the fourth time in 15 years that I've had that honor.  Below are my (slightly editied) prepared remarks; what I actually said is (as always) quite close but more humorous.  eah

Thank you Kathryn for that wonderful introduction.  And thank you also for all of the work you have done organizing the scholarship process and today’s event.

Congratulations to Erin and Joy (the scholarship recipients present).  You have your future ahead of you and we at SWE are thrilled to be playing a part in it.  I know there are SWE sections at both Santa Clara university and MIT.

US Dept of Labor tells us that a  nontraditional occupation for women is one in which women are 25 percent or less of total employment; these occupations span all major occupational areas. They tend to be well paying.  Examples: architects, computer programmers, computer software and hardware engineers, detectives, chefs, barbers, clergy, engineers, computer and office machine repairers, construction occupations including  inspectors, railroad conductors, truck drivers, fire fighters, aircraft pilots. 

What does it all mean?  Some are occupations perceived as needing more physical strength or like engineering have roots in the military; some girls don’t think of then as possibilities, most likely because they don’t  see role models.   On the good news front, jobs that were nontraditional for women in 1988 which were no longer nontraditional for women in 2008 include chemists; physicians; lawyers; athletes; postal service mail carriers; bailiffs, correctional officers, and jailers; and butchers. That last one fascinated me. 

What slightly surprised me, I rather expected (or hoped for) higher numbers, are  Computer Programmers, Network & computer system administrators and computer engineers - all in 21-22% range.  Industrial engineers 15%.  I’ve heard is said that critical mass in an occupation is around one quarter to one third for any group.  That’s where the impact of that “new” group is felt.  Notice we’re not quite there yet.

What the Dept of Labor doesn’t tell us, but people like Betty Reynolds and Jill Tietjen in their book Setting the Record Straight and  Sue Heinemann in her book Timelines of American Women’s History do tell  us is that women really have been engineers all along.  It’s just harder to find the documentation.  According to Betty and Jill (a friend of mine and a former SWE president), a woman named Tapput-Belatekallim was a chemical engineer and perfume maker in Babalon around 1200 BCE, so probably the first one.  There’s more but I’m going to jump forward many centuries to save time and get to my point. 

Sue documents the following women as having US Patents:
  • Mary Carpenter in 1870 for a sewing machine with an easy-to-thread needle
  • Jane Wells, 1872 a baby jumper to allow an infante “to dance, swing and turn itself in any direction”
  • Amanda Theodosia Jones, poet and spiritualist, 1873 (with co-patenter) a vacuum process to can food without first cooking it
  • Helen August Blanchard, also 1873, sewing machine improvements which were the forerunners of the zigzag machine
  • Mary Nolan, 1877 interlocking bricks made of pulverized glass and clay, called Nolanum.  I googled this one - impressed that she had named it after herself.  It turns out it was, among other things non-absorbant, fire-proof and “vermin free”.  It finished with a surface that didn’t require paint or wall paper.   I thought that was cool.
So, what do you see these inventions have in common? [some discussion here]
Post Industrial women applying their creativity, their engineering problem solving skills to change the world around the for the better.

Sixty years ago, on May 27 to be precise, sixty women (and a few men allies) did the same by founding the Society of Women Engineers.  They saw the need for an organization that would be a community fostering  success in a male-dominated industry.  They  wanted a world where they could be contributing to their fullest, beyond the bounds set on those women of the 1870s.  Today, the Society of Women Engineers has over twenty thousand members from around the country and the world in a constantly increasing range of fields and in the business, academic and public sectors.  Those of you who were members should consider coming back.  Together we in SWE - ONE stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, TWO expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and THREE demonstrate the value of diversity.   I tend to simplify this mission statement to 1. Opportunity, 2. Outreach and 3. People. 

 Today, we’re here for outreach and to celebrate people.  In my years at SWE, I’ve met some wonderful women and yes, a few wonderful men.  Santa Clara Valley, uniquely wonderful in some ways is also very typical of most SWE sections.  We do Outreach with a passion.  Through thick and thin, we put on events for girls and young women like Wow! That’s Engineering and our award winning, model program, GetSET.   And no matter what, we find the funds to present scholarships as we are today.   Through all of this, we are encouraging more women to make positive change in the world.

About ten years ago, my close friend, Lisa Duncan called me up one day, totally excited.  "Esther, I think I’ve solved World Hunger!"   I was impressed and asked how.  She, like I, knew that women tend to be compassionate and as we’ve seen historically look to improve things around them.  Engineers have the technical savvy to solve big systems problems.   So, Lisa believed that with enough women engineers, a solution to world hunger could be found.  Not then, sadly not yet today but I keep hearing about ideas of better crops, better technology.

I want you all to take a moment.  Think about the challenges that you care about - what would you like to see a force of passionate, compassionate engineers put their creativity to?   I’ll let you think.  Anybody want to share? [Discussion included capping the BP oil leak, fresh water through desalinization and general cleaning up of the oceans.]
See just by doing this exercise, we can work stronger together.   And that’s another value that women bring to a team - in general, we work by sharing, our solutions are solid when we do it cross-functionally and by consensus.

OK, so we’re going to solve world hunger and fossil fuel shortages and oceanic pollution.

To do this, I want to encourage all of you to keep in front of you what you really care about.  We can so easily get side-tracked by interesting things or immediate needs like paying bills or caring for family.  It’s ok, we’re good multi-taskers.  But remember to hold tight to your true self - the one that got you here today.  That’s the one that will keep us moving forward.!   I hope you students have a fabulous summer, you SWE members can recharge yourselves, you lapsed members rejoin.   Come this fall, we will be making more change in the world!

© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thougths on .... Baseball

Note to followers - I'm noticing a pattern emerging of something odd happens in my life, I mull it over and then decide to write here.   Guess things were fairly manageable the last two months.  eah)

My life really does seem to be on some kind of cycle.  I won't go into all that now, just to mention the first two weeks of March are preoccupied with the Iditarod.  It runs 24-7 and I can follow it via a website that includes videos and gps tracking on the sleds.   Then there's a lull and now, it's Baseball!

Nick and I are big baseball fans.  We met in the summer of 1967 - the Red Sox Impossible Dream season.  We can separately and together tell you more than you want to know about the World Series that year.  The first time we watched Ken Burn's 9 part program (rumor has it he's going into extra innings - yay!), at Inning 8, John Chancellor asked, so why didn't they win?  Without hesitating, we both yelled at the TV, Bob Gibson.  

In 1969, we moved to northern california, four years here, four in Philly area and then back here.  Still Red Sox fans.   But the Sox only come out twice a year to play the A's.  Somewhere along the line, I went from hating the A's to loving them.  Periodically, I get bugged for liking two American League teams.  I used to have two grey cats.   I understand that black and white in photography can be beautiful; I know that the world exists in infinite tones of colors.  The same holds for politics, food, religion and sports.   We have team ranking in our household.   We don't quite agree on 2 and 3, so this is my flavor:
1.  Red Sox   2. Athletics  3. whoever is playing the Yankees  4.  whoever is playing the Angels.
I also like the Mariners and the Phillies (Ichiro is amazing and as I said, we lived in Philly for a while.)  

Borealis and Denali almost were named Scutaro (Marco) and Swisher (Nick).  Both were traded from the A's before the kittens were born.  Black day when Nick S ended up with the Yankees.  But love the sight of Scutaro in a Red Sox.uniform. 

Hopefully, people who keep harassing me (yeah, happened yesterday) about this dual allegiance will read this and stop.  Yeah, I know, you never reach the people you want to reach with such messages.  so it goes.

Meanwhile why baseball?  Why cats?  What, you say??  Seriously, in both, there are long periods of calm followed by brief moments of absolute excitement!   Never know when the snoozing cats will decide to play steeplechase over you and around the house.   Nothing like that crack of ball on bat and a home run.  

The last year or so, I've become a fan of the TNT show Leverage.   It's kind of a Mission Impossible or A-Team meets Robin Hood.  The fact that it's based in Boston is a side-plus.  In this past season's finale, the crew needs a baseball team as part of the con.  Elliot (Christian Kane, previously Lindsey on Angel, a completely different role) is the extraction expert, ie "hitter"  ( the others are hacker, grifter, thief, mastermind) has to become a catcher with a AA team.  He's protesting that he doesn't like any sport where you can't score on defense.  And then he's in a game, and then he gets a walk-off hit.  (That means, he gets a runner in to score and win the game, in the bottom of the ninth inning.)   The leader Nate (Tim Hutton) says to the rest of the crew - good news/bad news:  the con is working; we've lost Elliot until the playoffs.

See, that's the allure of baseball.  It happened in the season opener Red Sox/Yankees on Sunday; it happened last night A's/Mariners.    Someday, I'd love to have a baseball film festival - The Natural, A League of Their Own, Bull Durham (hmm, just got Thelma and Louise!), Field of Dreams.   Might have to throw in Remember the Titans (different sport, same heart and Denzel.)

And now I look at the time and think, if I try, I can prepare for tonight's meeting and watch the first hour of the last Red Sox - Yankees game before leaving!  Go Red Sox!


© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Sunday, February 28, 2010

"why has every well I've drilled gone dry?"

I am just now home from a weekend in Stockton attending a Society of Women Engineer's conference.   It's a 90-105 min drive depending on traffic.  Two things happened this weekend which came together to me on the drive back.

I am fortunate in my life to have many young women who are very dear to me.  I know most of them through Girl Scouts - as members of the legendary Troop 757, or as aides at Peninsula Day Camp or because I was their Gold Award adviser.   When one of them reaches out to me, I respond as fast as I can.  One is currently a student at the University of California San Diego (UCSD).  You may have heard that there was an incident that brought up questions of racial understanding.   My friend called because she's been in a group which has always been able to talk about things and suddenly they are polarized.  She is confused and disappointed.  She is wonderful and wants to deal directly with this situation.  We talked a while about why people react so strongly, about race and even about gender.   She had some ideas and I made some suggestions.   I'm forcing my very tired self to write this entry for her.

Today is Purim, the Jewish Holiday that celebrates the Jews escaping a death sentence in Persia.  It's one of my favorites partly because it's subtitle is the "Festival of Esther."  She was a queen who saved her people and I always relate to that.  But I missed our congregation's Purim Spiel because I was at the conference.   I recently learned that there is a major SWE meeting being scheduled for Sept 18.  Upon hearing the date, I whipped out my calendar and found it was Yom Kippur.

At our business meeting this morning, I brought up this conflict.  I found as I spoke I was getting more impassioned.  I said that SWE is organization that has diversity in its mission and was quite upset by this conflict and that nobody checked or addressed it.  I explained it is the holiest day of the Jewish year.  The event coordinator pointed out that the weekend was chosen because of a large event that the committee felt would attract people.   There were some comments along the lines of "there are only so many weekends"  and Kwanzaa was tossed out as an example.   I asked would they schedule on Easter and was told that a partner organization actually had.  The discussion then evolved into one about the attraction of the external event, why people attend this particular SWE event and how changes in our organizational structure had removed the primary reason that began this event.   

Eventually, it was agreed to do a survey.  The coordinator was most appropriately upset because all of her hard work was potentially being wasted.  I tried to apologize for causing her stress.  BUT, I was still upset.  Not for the first time in the past year, I questioned why I give so much of my time, energy and yes money, to supporting this organization.   Don't get me wrong, I love SWE, I really love a lot of the women I know.  There are many who, when they reach out, I respond rapidly.  But these "small" things add up.

Driving home alone, I started analyzing my responses.   I realize I do not feel anger that they scheduled on Yom Kippur, as I would have years ago.  Instead, I feel alone and marginalized.  When I first learned about the conflict, I contacted a diversity advocate friend of another ethnicity and asked "are there so few Jews in SWE that we don't matter?"  I was not the only Jew in the room and the other of whom I'm aware was quite supportive.   But nobody, nobody else acknowledged that this was anything except my problem.   Nobody said, "I'm sorry this situation has arisen" or "we didn't know the importance" or even "you have a point."  The conversation went rather rapidly into (a more comfortable?) discussion of the value of the external attraction and the event itself.  Quite frankly, I left disappointed at the lack of sensitivity - in an organization that has in its mission statement "the value of diversity."  

And then, I had an "aha".  This is probably what is affecting the dialogue at UCSD.  Those who are the "other" are upset about an incident that showed lack of sensitivity.  They are having a hard time moving on to dialogue because nobody has said (or they haven't heard) "you have a point."  I gave my young friend advice that was along those lines but not quite so direct.  I need to call her back.

Now, if you're still reading, you might be wondering about the title of this post.  When I drive more than an hour by myself, I have certain road trip CDs that I play.  One of my favorite singers, who still performs, whom I still love, is a folksinger/song writer from New England in the sixties, Tom Rush.  This weekend I was playing the double CD of Merrimack County and Ladies Love Outlaws.  About the point I crossed the Altamont Pass (with the HP1000 controlled windmills!) and I was torn between coming straight home and pulling over to take pictures, Tom and I started singing Guy Clark's song, Desperados Waiting for a Train.   It's an ode to a man who befriended a boy and how one grew old as the other grew up.  "He's a drifter, a driller of oil wells,  He's an old school man of the world"  At seventy, the older man wonders, "Lord, why has every well I've drilled gone dry?"  The full song reminds me of the death of my father two years ago at 90 and I tear up.  But today, after this morning's meeting, at sixty-two myself, I wondered if my metaphorically drilled wells were going dry and yes, sleep deprived, disappointed and missing home, I cried.

It's a couple of hours later.  I've hugged my husband and my cats and had lunch.  Shortly, I'm heading out to a baby shower given by two more of those dear young women for a third of them.  I realize still have some wells flowing. 


© 2010 Esther A. Heller

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Knowing what to do?

 I was going to paste this on my Facebook status but it's a little more complex than that.  My husband Nick and I were just out walking off the pink sourdough chocolate chip valentine pancakes.

We met a young woman named Brenda, goes by Bree.  She asked us for money to buy crayons and coloring books that she'd promised some kids.  Apparently, there's a homeless shelter nearby.

The last couple of months, I've been tripping over coloring books that the Oklahoma SWE section had made as outreach activities.   Years ago, my friend Cathy at the time working for HR at Oracle, had copied them for our section to use.   We probably used half of them.  Did I mention I've been tripping over them.

I said "I have some engineering focused coloring books."  Bree got quite excited.  She walked back to our house with us - yes, I know, there's a risk but she got so excited about coloring books.  I did nicely ask her to wait outside since we didn't know her and she was sweet about that. We threw in a couple of boxes of crayons that Nick used to use for orienteering controls and other Girl Scout activities.

Oh, and yesterday, I'd opened the last box of Thin Mints in the freezer.  We gave her the unopened slug [that's a technical term for the sealed roll] put it all in a GS tote bag.  She hugged us and went off talking about how God was making this a great Valentine's day.

So, right thing?  Wrong thing?  Felt right to me.

                                     Happy Valentine's Day!

© 2010 Esther A. Heller