Chicago, My Kind of Town, Part 1–Millennium Park

I finally made my first trip to Chicago (to the actual city, not to change planes at O’Hare Airport) weekend before last, and had a wonderful time! The amazing Robert Ward arranged for my air travel so I could meet him there and attend his performance with the National Brass Ensemble at the Chicago Symphony Center on September 20, 2015. More on that in a later post!

map CSC symphony-center-56 the concert performers

We stayed at the very lovely Palmer House Hotel (more on that in a later post, too). The ubiquitous selfie:

selfie Palmer

Since Bob was in rehearsals all day Saturday and Sunday morning, I went solo adventuring to Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Cultural Center. This part focuses on Millennium Park; there are several more Chicago posts to come!

My friend Debra sent the enigmatic message SEE THE BEAN. I had no idea what this meant; code for something sinister? But my other friend Google quickly got me sorted out on that, and I headed off to Millennium Park, just a short walk from the hotel and on my way to the Art Institute of Chicago. The park comprises 24 acres that cover the former rail yard and parking lot of the Illinois Central Railroad, and was established as a joint public/private partnership to celebrate the passage of the second millennium. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, attractions include the music pavilion (Pritzker Pavilion) designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the Crown Fountain designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, and Cloud Gate (aka The Bean), by artist Anish Kapoor. This sculpture, in the AT&T plaze area of the park, is made up of 168 welded stainless plates, highly polished with no visible seams. Given that it measures 33 x 66 x 42 feet and is extremely reflective, it is hard to miss!

Maps of Millennium Park:

Map 1 map Millennium Park Map

Pritzker Pavilion:

pritzker 1

Cloud Gate (The Bean):

bean 2 bean 1

The Crown Fountain, whose walls show an interchanging gallery of 1000 LED portraits of Chicago residents:

plensa 4 plensa 5

Also on display in the park are additional sculputes by Plensa on loan from the artist and Richard Gray Gallery; the exhibition is entitled 1004 Portraits, referring to the 1,000 of the Crown Fountain now complemented by an additional 4: the 39-foot tall resin and marble dust sculpture Look into My Dreams, Awilda that graces the entrance to the park:

plensa 6

And the 3 cast iron sculptures Paula, Laura, and Ines that are each 20 feet tall and to the east of the Crown Fountain:

Plensa 1 Plensa 2 plensa 3

There are also other displays through the park, such as this photographic display of the history of the park:

park history display park history display label

And as one would expect, there are the more traditional park features and views:

fountain view

I could have spent the whole day taking in the beauty of the park; it is remarkably well-kept, with beautiful lawns and flower beds. Coming from the drought-plagued dry, brown hills of California, it was indeed a sight for sore eyes. There seems to be a lot of Chicago civic pride in their jewel of a city park, right in the Loop and easily accessible to everyone. But the Art Institute of Chicago was beckoning!

Next up: Ferris Bueller Had it Right (the Art Institute of Chicago)

End of an Era

Today is our last day in the Bancroft Avenue building of the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive.





The staff is frantically packing and doing a lot of recycling, shredding, and what-the-heck-is-this-ing.

me in hat

(It’s a cap, a jaunty Pinocchio cap missing its feather.)

kid in hat

At the end of the day, we turn in our keys and head off into the Berkeley sunset. The offices at the new building at Center and Oxford Streets downtown aren’t quite ready for us, so it will be later next week before I can post The Beginning of a New Era. In the meantime, I will be working from an undisclosed off-site location (art storage warehouse).

It is bittersweet leaving this place. I have been here 10-1/2 years now (yikes), and never thought I’d still be working here when we finally moved. It’s been in the works for a long time! Moving an art collection and an entire university department are not easy feats. We started an inventory and packing of the art collection back in February. That has actually gone fairly well; the office packing, on the other hand, is, shall we say, bringing out the grump in even the sweetest of us.

So, this morning was my last morning parking in the stinky Underhill parking garage (stairwell = urinal);

Underhill 1

taking a shortcut through the College Avenue student housing complex between Channing and Durant, with it’s pretty dogwood trees and occasional stray cats;

dogwood 1 dogwood 2 Unit 1 sign

approaching the building from the loading dock entrance;

Durant view 2 2625

seeing the old building next door slated for demolition; I thought it would come down before we moved, but no such luck!

the pit 2

And picking up my keys on the loading dock, which is now a “freecycling” trade area as people empty out their spaces.


My route to the Registrars office takes me through the almost emptied out administrative offices on the second floor:

2nd floor supplies areashredding

past our preparators’ workshop, looking deserted:

the shop

and down the hallway where the work-study student schedule is looking a little off, somehow.


The gates are locked, the museum store is packed up.

locked gate store

We will no longer be in our own office when we move, but on an open floor. It’s going to be an adjustment. Here in the old building, I was able to barricade myself behind file cabinets in our office, which was down a hallway on the public level so other than fielding requests by visitors looking for the restrooms, we were pretty much left alone. Now with the last minute packing, I am really barricaded in for the day!

my barrier my space

For now, I’ve got my coffee, most of my things are packed, and I don’t have to shut down the computer until later this afternoon. So, until next week!

Next up: I am going to backtrack and write some posts about my recent trip to Chicago. It was awesome!

Kitten Chronicles, 4 weeks old!

As I was sitting on the floor beside the kittens’ “nursery” (big cardboard box) this morning, in my pajamas, late for work, taking yet more cell phone pictures, I realized they are 4 weeks old today! They are getting very active and starting to try to tunnel out of the box. There is a little door I can cut out of it when it’s time, and they can run around the kitten-proofed bathroom. But I think I’ll give momma Mouse a few more days to be able to have a space of her own (a room of her own, a la Virginia Wolff?). They are going into the shelter vet today for their first vaccinations; I hope it’s not too traumatic. Today’s post will be mostly pictures.

Good morning, and happy birthday to us! (Top to bottom: Sugar Glider, Ferret, Ratticus, and Chinchilla.)

from above

Momma Mouse taking a lap break.


Never fear, little ones, Mom is here!

moms here

Sugar Glider, “Look at me, momma!”

look at me mom

Sugar Glider, everybody’s buddy:

Sugar Glider

Ferret, feisty girl:


Ratticus, the instigator:


And last but not least, sweet little Chinchilla:

Chinchilla curled up

I am going to Chicago this weekend, but they will be in the fine and capable hands of trusted family amenable to housesitting surrounded by animal friends.


The Best Montclair Book Club

It was a year ago this month that the Best Montclair Book Club had its first meeting. None of us had ever met. Judy started things off on the NextDoor app, looking for book club recommendations, to which several of us replied for her to let us know when she found one in our area. I forget who suggested we form our own club, but we did! Now that a year has gone by, our number has thinned a bit (but we would welcome more, hint hint). We have read 11 books (we took July off as everyone was traveling), but a few of us met at the movies to see Inside Out, which we thoroughly enjoyed. While I think I have a physical resemblance to Sadness, and sometimes an attitudinal one, I really try to be more like Joy (only if Joy was a little bit shy and bookish).


Draw glasses on my picture, you’ll see.

Sadness sad me 2

Here is our year in books! (opinions expressed are solely those of the blogger, not the group.)

  1. We started off with Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, the story of the real life Grimké sisters told in tandem with that of slave Hetty.


The metaphor of wings and learning to fly applies to spirited Hetty in her search for freedom and to the Grimké sisters, Sarah in particular, as they forge their way against oppression as women and abolitionists. The interweaving of the women’s stories is an effective tool in illustrating how oppression works at all levels, some blatant and some quite subtle. On a side note, Sarah Grimké describes her sister Angelina as quite a beauty. Here are their portraits that you can find online. Not so sure about that.


2.  The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón (translated by Lucia Graves)


I love this book. I had read it once before and was very happy to read it again. I think the general feeling of the group was that it was “dark”, which it is. Zafón creates a moody, spooky atmosphere in post-war Barcelona. There are stories within stories, twists and turns, and the wonderfully labyrinthian Cemetery of Lost Books. The evil and twisted Inspector Fumero will have you cringing. If there is ever a deal to make a movie out of this, I want to know!

3. The Greatest Gift, Philip Van Doren Stern

This was our holiday reading pick, and it being a short story made it that much more of a gift of time! This is the story that the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life was based on.


The story itself is quite short but the publication includes an afterword written by the author’s daughter describing how he couldn’t find a publisher for the story, so he printed 200 copies himself and sent them as Christmas cards in 1943. The story was embellished for the 1946 film, which was made after RKO Pictures bought the rights to make a film starring Cary Grant. The rights were eventually sold to Frank Capra’s production company. Though the final credits don’t mention her name, Dorothy Parker was one of the many writers who worked on the screenplay.

itsawonderfullife-email dorothy-parker-1411-t-600x600-rw

4.  We started out 2015 with Robin Black’s Life Drawing.


Unfortunately, I was sick the night of our club meeting so I don’t know how the rest of the group felt about the book! I quite enjoyed it. It’s not a happy book, by any means, as it revolves around marital infidelity. There is also some suspense, and an underlying story of artist Gus (Augusta) and her struggles with a painting of young WWI soldiers she works on throughout the story, having found some compelling photographs inside the walls of the old country house she shares with her husband Owen. It was a perfect read for being sick at home with a cup of tea and a cat in my lap.

5. Next up, a little change of pace with The Rosie Project, the debut novel by Australian writer and information systems consultant Graeme Simsion, who has since published a second book, The Rosie Effect.


I found the book to be charming and lighthearted, but there are some real issues about Asperger’s Syndrome and family relationships in genetics professor Don Tillman’s search for the theoretically perfect wife. There is a movie in the works; Jennifer Lawrence is supposedly set to play Rosie, and last I hear, director Richard Linklater was a possibility.

jennifer-lawrence link

6. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

I absolutely adore Anne Tyler and have read every one of her books, so maybe I am a little biased on this one! Other members of the group lamented that “nothing happens” but I find it to be a lovely reflection on love and family and disappointment and the importance of home.

Spool tyler

The usual Anne Tyler elements are all there: multi generations of the same middle-class family; the slightly ditzy mother Abby; the grown children with mid-life problems; the black sheep son Denny; the illusion of ordinary happiness. Dysfunctional families in literature can become clichéd, yet I always find Tyler’s characters to be engaging and sad and heartwarming all at the same time.

7. Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

This was my pick, partly because it’s not very long and partly because it had been sitting on my bedside table for a long time and I decided it was a good way to get me to finally read it. I don’t know what took me so long, because I love hearing Neil Gaiman talk and I love hearing his stories read on NPR Selected Shorts. If you can find a recording of Jane Curtin reading “Chivalry” please take the time to listen.

o-OCEAN-AT-THE-END-OF-THE-LANE-facebook Neil-Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane can be described as many things: fantasy, allegory, ghost story, a reflection on the disconnect between childhood and adulthood. It’s a very visual read, and brings up those childhood feelings of warmth and comfort as well as fear and anxiety. Another one I’d love to see as a film.

8. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Book 1 in the Neapolitan Novels)


This one reminded me a bit of Margaret Atwood’s Cats Eye in its story of two girlhood friends and the nature of friendship.


I enjoyed the book, but I am not convinced I will go on to read books 2 and 3 in the series. Some in the group loved it; I was not quite there. I put Cat’s Eye in my then Top Ten when I read it a few years ago, so I’d pick Margaret Atwood over Elena Ferrante (sorry).

9. Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train_ A Novel - Paula Hawkins

Wow. Talk about a thriller! I was sucked in and couldn’t put it down. There are the inevitable comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, with unreliable narrators and “girl” in the title.


But it’s definitely its own book with lots of red herrings and characters who make you crazy. If you are looking for a thrilling page-turner, this is it! No one complained that nothings happens in this one.

10.  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


I posted how much I loved this book when I was reading it this summer in Norway. I can’t say enough. It is so beautifully written that it can be painful at times to read as Marie-Laure and Werner are separately and then together unalterably changed by World War II. There’s a creepy, Lord of the Flies quality to Werner’s time in training for the Hitler Youth, and an insight into the poverty and desperation that got him there. This is in my current Top Ten. A must read.

11. Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder


Disclaimer: I only just started this one and am going to have to scramble to finish it for the club meeting in 2 days. This is also not the type of book that I am typically drawn to, but part of belonging to a book club is to try new things and get out of my comfort zone a little. What I am learning: high finance is ruthless, watch your back, and I made the right choice going into the arts and not business.

Just today, a suggestion was made that our next book be Jonathan Franzen’s novel Purity. I did not love The Corrections, but I did like Freedom. I find Jonathan Franzen to be a very interesting person in interviews and am ready to jump into this one.

Purity Corrections Freedom Franzen

If you live in the vicinity of Montclair in Oakland, California or in the East Bay and don’t mind making your way to Montclair, and want to join us, you can find us on GoodReads. If you love books and talking about books (and pets, most of us have pets so when we meet at our various houses the dogs and cats tend to be a part of things too), then look us up: The Best Montclair Book Club!


Eating vegan in the East Bay

I’ve been a vegetarian on and off since I was 15; the last time I ate meat was in 1995. After seeing the movie Babe, that was it for me eating animals!


On April 4, 2015, I attended the Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley. I am not even sure how I knew about the conference. It might have been something I saw in connection with my explorations into the subjects of compassion and humane education. It was a life changing moment for me. As a vegetarian, I consumed dairy, convinced I couldn’t live without milk in my coffee or cheese on my plate. After having my eyes opened to the reality of the dairy industry, I quickly learned that I could live without those things. There are also great vegan alternatives (I actually like soy milk) and new vegan cheese makers putting out delicious nut-based cheeses.


I avoid Whole Foods Market, and Berkeley Bowl is too crowded and chaotic for my claustrophobic tastes. It is impossible to  park at the local Trader Joe’s. But little Village Market near where I live has a fair amount of vegan selections considering the size of the store.

Village Market staticmap

Here are some examples of the tempting treats I found last trip there: the most beautiful chocolates I’ve ever seen, made by Moonstruck, a vegan cheese spread from The Cultured Kitchen that must be good because they were sold out of all 3 flavors, and ice cream sandwiches (yes, ice cream sandwiches) from Green Girl Bakeshop.

chocolate cheeze ice cream

If you are in Berkeley slogging through traffic on University Avenue, stop by Animal Place’s Vegan Republic at number 1624, the vegan grocery run to benefit the animals at the sanctuary. You get yummy groceries and help the rescue animals at the same time; it’s a win-win!


Eating out can be more of a challenge, but I am discovering a whole world of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, or restaurants that offer vegan options, as well as groups of excited vegans who want to share their discoveries. I have been to a couple of dinners now through the Meet Up group Berkeley Vegan Dinner Meet Up ( There are also the groups Oakland Vegan Cooking Classes and Events ( and Bay Area Vegan Food Lovers (

Meet Up logo

I have been to two meet ups now, one to Cafe Romanat (Ethiopian; 462 Santa Clara Avenue, Oakland) and one to Taste of the Himalayas (1700 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley). Neither restaurant is vegan/vegetarian, but they offer vegan options and both restaurants were very accommodating to our group. In Ethiopian dining, of which I have done very little, the fun part is scooping up the various dishes using injera, the sour flat bread made from teff flour, and bypassing the use of forks.

CafeRomanat_signSQ staticmap (1) injera_basket stacks_image_147

At Taste of the Himalayas, the 8 of us sampled several vegan dishes, including the pakora, samosas,and  momo (dumplings) for appetizers, and my favorite of the vegetable dishes, bhindi tarkari, a spicy okra dish. If you think okra is gross and slimy, you haven’t eaten it prepared the right way!

taste-karma Taste map Taste 2

A new friend recently invited me to meet her for Sunday brunch at Two Mammas Vegan Kitchen (370 E. 12th Street, Suite 1D, Oakland). I drove up to the address and wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but inside was a warm, cheerful, welcoming spot with some of the best brunch food, vegan or not, I’ve had in a long time. I can’t wait to try their lunch menu. And the magic words–bottomless cup of coffee!

Two Mammas Two map TM food

When the renowned vegan fine-dining Millennium closed in its San Francisco location after twenty years, I was really sad never to have made it there. Even though I hadn’t eaten there, I have their cookbook proudly displayed on my cookbook shelves. Lo and behold, they reopened in Oakland, 5912 College Avenue in Rockridge to be specific, so now  I can go whenever finances permit.

Mill cookbook Millenium Mill map Mill 2

I don’t drink, so I can’t speak to the wine bar side of the operation, but Encuentro (550 2nd Street, Jack London Square, Oakland), which started as a “cafe and wine bar”, is now a full-fledged restaurant highlighting vegetarian and vegan food. The space is beautiful; nice for a date or to relax and hang out with friends. Jack London Square continues in its growth as a food destination!

encuentro-outside-sm (1) Enc map salad-01 dessert

On the more casual side, and home to what I hear is an amazing vegan milkshake, is Saturn Cafe in Berkeley (2175 Allston Way). They offer a mix of vegan and vegetarian “diner” style food (burgers, fries, shakes) in a retro atmosphere between downtown Berkeley and the UC Berkeley campus. Sometimes you just need a (vegan) burger and fries.

Saturn logo-transparent Saturn map Saturn burger Saturn milkshake

If Japanese food is more your style, you can get that too. In North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto (1686 Shattuck) is Cha-Ya. Noodle bowls, sushi–you want them, you can have them! It’s small and it can be hard to get a table at lunch, but be patient. You’ll leave happy!

Cha-Ya staticmap Sushi

Herbivore: The Earthly Grill has 3 locations in the Bay Area, 1 in Berkeley (2451 Shattuck Avenue). The menu has almost too many “comfort food” options for someone like me who has trouble making decisions! Soups, wraps, sandwiches, salads, pasta, nachos plus a breakfast menu–something for everyone.

Herbivore outside staticmap  Herbivore nachos

There are some places I haven’t made it to yet: Cinnaholic, Sanctuary Bistro, and Cafe Gratitude in Oakland; Souley Vegan and Pepples Donuts in Oakland.

Cinnaholic logo cafegratitudefront Sanctuary logo Pepples logo Souley Vegan

If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments. I’m always happy to add a new spot to my must-try list. As James Beard said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” Sharing good food around a table is a wonderful way to connect with friends and loved ones. And there is so much more to eat as a vegan than hummus and tofu!

Kitten Chronicles, part 3

First, an update on Abracadabra, my first foster after a 17-year absence from the fostering world. When I was at the shelter last Saturday she hadn’t been adopted. There were so many kittens to choose from and she just kept getting overlooked. I was taking it personally, which is silly of course. But when I went in for my volunteer shift today I got the good news that she went home with her new “dad” yesterday. He wanted a playful and adventurous kitten, and he got one! Have a great life together!


Mouse and her bablies are doing great. She’s such a sweet cat and a good mother. She likes some love and attention too, and moms deserve that.

Mom 4 Mom 1 Mom 2

The little ones are growing and moving around the nursery a lot more, and I can hear them mewing from other parts of the house as their voices gain strength.

4 in a box

Here is 15 day old Sugar Glider:


Ferrett (I know it should be Ferret with one “t” but I didn’t do the names):




And last, but not least, Ratticus:


Meanwhile, the resident pets don’t seem particularly impressed!

IMG_6715 IMG_4851 Einstein

It’s all a great distraction and tool for procrastination from studying over this 3-day weekend. I have what I need to do laid out like a battle plan. Tomorrow I go forth!

IMG_5507 IMG_5506

Kitten Chronicles, age 13 days

A quick check in on Mouse and her 4 adorable babies, now 13 days old. Momma is eating A LOT, which is good. One of the little ones, I think it was Ferrett (the one the shelter refers to as a Torbie; not as orange as her ginger brother Sugar Glider but more sable colored that the other two) that gave me a little baby hiss when I picked her up. A feisty girl!

Momma Mouse wants to know why I keep taking pictures of her babies!IMG_6900

Returning to School in My 50s, or, Perfecting the Art of Procrastination

Preface: I should be writing an assignment on peer reviewed journals and open access publishing, but this is more fun. I fell asleep doing my school reading on the couch last night, and I hoped I’d wake up full of academic insight but instead I woke up thinking, I’ll do a blog post on going back to school!

For those of you who know me personally, I’ve always been a bit of a neat freak. My television hero for many years was Mr. Monk, played in the best persnickety way by Tony Shaloub.


Towels had to hung a certain way, the bed made just so every morning, laundry folded while it was still warm, never a dish left in the kitchen sink. News flash: between working full time, going to school full time, volunteering at the East Bay SPCA, and having a bathroom full of foster kittens, I don’t have time to be Mr. Monk anymore!

good morning

My favorite appliance used to be the television set in the den; now it’s the coffee machine in the kitchen.

television coffee

I still watch television, but I am choosier about what I watch. Chopped and Ted Allen, I love you, but what else can you put in a mystery box that I haven’t seen already? And Rick Castle, I think I’m done with you and Kate Beckett. When you disappeared for 3 months on the way to your wedding–that was jumping the proverbial shark for me.

Chopped Castle

As Heidi Klum says, one day you’re in, one day you’re out. Heidi, you and Tim Gunn are in. I can’t give up Project Runway. And Gordon Ramsay, you might be as mean as they come, but I am addicted to you. Plus you added Christina Tosi to the MasterChef host crew, and a woman who kicks ass in the pastry kitchen is right up my alley.


The home cooks will need to create an elevated dish using peanut butter and jelly.

I got so involved in getting my study area organized Saturday night that I completely FORGOT that I had a ticket to the Hall and Oates concert at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. Daryl and John, I have not outgrown you, I just have a very busy life right now. I’ll be there next time!

Hall and Oates The_Greek_Theatre_Berkeley_Sign Greek

I used to take the time to put in my contacts and make sure I looked nice before I left home in the morning. Now, as long as I am wearing clothes and have coffee, who cares?

looking good today

If there were books left piled in the kitchen (rarely), they were about food and cooking. Now there is always a pile of reading, nothing to do with food or cooking either one! And the stack of books by the bed is going to get dusty before I get to them.

cookbooks texts papers bedside

Unheard of just a month ago, there are two loads of laundry that have been waiting days for folding. And my poor refrigerator is going to starve. For a fledgling vegan, I don’t have many fruits or vegetables on hand! But the pets have food, more important.

laundry refrigerator

So, why am I doing this whole school thing at this point in my life? Because it’s the most excited I’ve felt about anything in a long time. I finally found something, Humane Education through Saybrook University, that I am passionate about and maybe it will turn into a way that I can make a little bit of difference in the world. I feel inspired and fulfilled, feelings I don’t really get at work these days but feelings that I think we all deserve to have. And now on to that assignment on open access publishing…