When a Danish Modern Minimalist tries to live with a Whimsical Collector (and they are the same person)

For Christmas, Bob gave me a book titled Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford.


The note attached said something like “it will all be okay”. I’ve been stressed out by what I perceive to be chaos and mess in our home. I have always prided myself on being a neat freak, with a tidy home and everything in its place. Apparently I have Benjamin Franklin to thank (or curse) for the saying.


As you may know if you ever read this blog, I not only work full time, but I am working on my Ph.D. full time as well. It’s hard to keep everything in its place when you have deadlines and timeclocks. And some of the things I try to keep in their places are alive: right now my extra bathroom is home to a beautiful momma cat and her 4 lively babies. I foster for the East Bay SPCA, plus we share our home with 3 resident rescue cats and Einstein, the ridiculously cute terrier saved from doggy death row.

Foster family Rosarita and her 4 little beans, Fava, Garbanzo, Lima and Lentil.
Einstein; just look at that messy face and try not to fall in love.


Trying to get everyone to sit still for a family Christmas photo proved impossible.


It’s hard to have a houseful of animal companions and not have a certain amount of mess and chaos. Is it a coincidence that one of my other gifts from Bob was the movie The Secret Life of Pets?


I adore Danish Modern furniture and home design. I see the clean wood lines and open spaces and think, “That’s where I want to be.” In my minimalist daydreams, I picture kitchens of big empty countertops and gleaming stainless steel.


And living spaces like Don Draper’s apartment on Mad Men or the Jetson’s sky pad.

Don Draper’s New York apartment on Mad Men.


If asked, I would say the kitchen I drool after is the set for the Eric Ripert show Avec Eric. It doesn’t hurt that Chef Ripert is drop-dead gorgeous, but that’s beside the point.


This picture of a minimalist home makes me swoon.

Think of all the reading and writing I could do in this clean, quiet space.
And the tidy meals we would eat in the dining area.

I think I’d sleep so well in this bedroom, but then I think “where are the dogs and cats?”


My favorite television character of all time is Mr. Monk, played by Tony Shaloub. I identified completely with his dislike of dirt and chaos. Other viewers might think he’s an exaggeration, but I can tell you he’s not.


But in reality, I don’t live this clean, ordered life, as much as I’d like to, or think I’d like to. And if I did move into one of these fabulous spaces, I’d probably start assembling one of my little collections of things and cluttering up the space, and bringing home all of the stray dogs and cats in the neighborhood, and loading the kitchen counters up with gadgets and appliances.

I think of the kitchens that look like they have produced not just good food but good times and family togetherness.

This looks like a kitchen where memories are made.
Julia Child’s kitchen. She lived a good life.

In my own experience, just recently one of the best times I’ve had was cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my friend Bev in her tiny San Francisco apartment kitchen. The crowd of 12 (15? I lost count) of us sat with our plates on her bed and floor and had a blast.


When I finally got my dream trip to Paris a few years ago, the kitchen in our apartment was eclectic country French something-or-other, and it was wonderful. (Note to my vegan friends: I wasn’t vegan yet then so please excuse the cheeses and butter and fish.)

When we went to Oslo a year later, our tiny cabin had a tiny kitchen and even though it was designed for someone 7′ tall, I loved putting together meals there.


My whimsical side has always loved the idea of living like the characters in one of my favorite childhood books, The Borrowers. I could fashion furniture out of thimbles and spools of thread and matchboxes and make my own whimsical clothes (a la Stevie Nicks) from scraps and wisps of fabrics.

The Borrowers, illustration by Emilia Dziubak.
Stevie Nicks

I love the idea of Hobbit Houses and tiny houses and Steampunk houses.


Every time I visit the Berkeley store Castle in the Air, I think I want to live there, with its puppet theaters and doll houses and troll villages.


So which is it, less is more or more is more?

less is more.png

In fashion, I admire Coco Chanel and her classic looks.



But I also want to be Stevie Nicks twirling around in my scarves and skirts.


Mae West said:


But should I take her as a role model? I bet she had a good time and didn’t worry about chaos.

The late fashion designer L’Wren Scott, whose work I only just discovered but find to be quite lovely, said:


Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 5.31.12 PM.png

I am confused! But that’s okay. 2017 is going to be the year that I embrace disorder and chaos. Tim Harford says it’s okay and will make me more creative and resilient.

messy back cover.JPG


After all, Einstein (the other one) was a pretty smart guy and he embraced chaos. So here I go, and I plan to enjoy the ride!


Peace and hugs.

Substitute teachers get no respect (a cooking video)

I decided to make a vegan cheesecake (“cheezcake”) a few days ago, inspired by having a big bowl of lemons and a new copy of the cookbook Vegan Under Pressure by Jill Nussinow.

When life gives you lemons, bake something! I also wanted to try doing a dessert in the Instant Pot. Problem was, I didn’t have a lot of the ingredients other than the lemons and the cashews, used as the basis for “cheeze” in vegan cheesecake. So I substituted. It mostly worked, although there was a stage where it wasn’t so pretty. Here is the video, bloopers and all! You’ll notice (or not) a wardrobe change near the end. I was in my pajamas and bathrobe by the time we actually ate the cheesecake.

Bon appetit!

Folding laundry naked while baking a cake (no, it’s not sexy)

Yes, I found myself the other day folding laundry in my underwear while keeping an eye on the birthday cake in the oven. I normally do not fold laundry in a state of undress. I was multitasking. And making a hash of it.


I didn’t manage to finish folding the laundry and I was cold (yes, I live in California, but we are having what passes for a cold spell here right now).


I was in a rush to get to the grocery store (not sure why, it was my day off).


The cake turned out raw in the middle. That hasn’t kept us from eating it; it still tasted good.

The point is that multitasking really doesn’t work. We women, especially, pride ourselves on our multitasking skills.


But in my case, I end up doing a half-assed job of the various things I am trying to do, feel stressed out while doing them, and don’t save any time.


As some of you may know, I am a fan of the Greater Good Science Center (see The Art and Science of Awe). Last year, I went to a talk and book signing by sociologist and Greater Good Science Fellow Christine Carter, Ph.D.


Dr. Carter is a wise woman.

Here is a link to her article How to Only Do Things You Actually Want to Do. Who wouldn’t want to follow that advice?!

She also teaches an online course, The Science of Finding Flow, through the Greater Good Science Center. I am going to sign up, but I will finish what I am doing first.



But apparently I didn’t listen well enough to Dr. Carter at the talk. (I was probably multitasking during her talk, reading e-mail or some such nonsense.) And I ended up folding laundry, in my underwear, in the cold, while underbaking the birthday cake.

There will always be more laundry to fold.


I love cooking, so why not bake the cake and enjoy the process?


So, let’s quit multitasking, slow down, and enjoy a cup of coffee in a real cup instead of that darned travel mug.


I always manage to dribble coffee down my shirt if I drink it while driving anyway.

coffee spill.jpg

At this moment, I am sort of multitasking: sitting in the foster cat room, playing with kittens, writing this, and drinking my coffee (in a real mug). But those are all things I love to do. I am not at all stressed out. And I think I am doing a pretty good job.


I found my flow.

The City of Oakland wins the battle, but I win the war (meow)

If you are one of my loyal readers (Hi Beth, Cathy, Ellen, and Bob), you might remember my call to arms over being issued a parking ticket on Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day when the meter was clearly marked that it was a meter holiday (see City of Oakland, You Suck! (Or, a Tale of a Valiant Fight against a Parking Ticket)).


I filed my appeal, and waited for the ridiculously slow snail-mail response.

I finally got the letter in the mail. Remember when going to the mailbox to get the mail was exciting? Those days are long gone.

When I was a kid…
…versus now.


Basically, the result of my so-called “administrative hearing” (how is it a hearing if I never got to speak?) is that I am being called a liar. M. Thornton, the Administrative Hearing Examiner, writes: “The pay station in the photograph does not match City of Oakland pay stations.”



WHAT?! Last I checked, Ultimate Grounds Coffee at 4225 Park Boulevard, Oakland (where I was at the time of the ticketing) was most firmly in the City of Oakland.




M.Thornton advised that I had until December 16 to file another appeal, which would cost $25. I already paid the $58 ticket. I don’t really care about the money. It’s the principle of the darned thing.




I enlisted my deputy, Bob. Armed with a mighty iPhone (and reinforcing our strength at Marzano restaurant, conveniently across the street from the alleged parking violation), we gathered our evidence.




As you can see, not only is the pay station still marked with the meter holiday label in question, it also is marked with the City of Oakland logo. What do you have to say now, M. Thornton?




I could smell victory in the air! Or maybe it was the coffee from Ultimate Grounds.


The only problem was, I had to now actually find a time to go in person to Alameda County Superior Court. I work full time. And I am a full-time student. And it was coming up on the end of the semester with 4 major papers due. But I had plenty of time, so I said to myself.

So I procrastinated. I worked. I wrote papers (or procrastinated about writing papers). And all of the sudden it was December 15th! Argh! What’s a warrior princess to do?



Then I got the email from the East Bay SPCA. A mother cat with 1-week old babies needed a foster home. Could I take them? And pick them up during my last two-hour window of time to file my appeal of the ticket on December 16 before I had to be at work? Of course I could. Kittens! Hello! Kittens will always trump parking tickets.

The scales of justice will always favor kittens in my book.


I heeded the wise words of Goethe.



And I did what would the best thing not just for the kittens, but for my peace of mind.


Yes, this looks exactly like me. Really.


Meet Rosarita and her little beans. All are healthy and doing well.


I hope when the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future visit M. “Ebenezer Scrooge” Thornton, they scare the wits out of him/her.

How I picture M.Thornton.
Scrooge visited by the Ghosts. He became a nice man after this.

I’ll leave you with the words of Tiny Tim.


Oops, wrong Tiny Tim.

Even you, M. Thornton.

On Desolation Row (or, just shoot me before I have to go to another staff meeting)


You’ve been to that meeting. You know. THAT meeting. The one where someone is standing at the front of the too hot/too cold/overcrowded/uncomfortable room reading a PowerPoint to the audience of zombies.


You’ve made your shopping list. You’ve doodled so much you are out of ink or an empty millimeter of blank paper. You might have drifted off and checked that you’re not drooling. You wish you’d paid attention to that guy who told you how to sleep with your eyes open. You drank the Kool-Aid, I mean coffee, from the brown box of Peet’s coffee. (Note to leaders: The Coffee won’t make us love you or the meeting but please keep having it brought to the meetings anyway.) You’ve collected all of the words on your Buzzword Bingo card.

And some almond milk would be awesome, thanks.


Even though you are a peaceful and compassionate person, you’ve devised some horrific endings for the person up front droning on at that PowerPoint. Or for yourself.


If this were an episode of The Office, it would be funny.


But this is real life, and you have better things to do with your precious time on this planet. As you are finally released and stumble into the hallway, you and your colleagues all whisper to each other about what a waste of time that was as NOTHING EVER CHANGES anyway.


There is hope! Meetings can be seriously fun and productive. Just ask the people who practice Liberating Structures. I went to a 2-day workshop, the Bay Area Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop, held in Reidenbach Hall at the First Congregational Church of Oakland.

Dr. Reidenbach, seventh pastor of the First Congregational Church of Oakland.

It was my first exposure to Liberating Structures (LS), but I had heard of one of the structures, Open Space Technology, and liked the sound of it so I thought, why not?

Plus I am at the end of another semester in my doctoral program, taking an awesome class in Humanistic Foundations of Organizational Development (see Life is Our Classroom). This seemed to fit right in, empowering groups to determine their purpose and direction.

Your intrepid reporter, Day 1.

LS co-developers Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz were there, joined by Fisher Qua. They don’t call themselves facilitators, so I will just call them Keith, Henri, and Fisher. Everyone was using the American pronunciation Henry but I prefer the French:



So as not to be the person reading the PowerPoint, I am not going to go through the 2 days structure by structure as we learned about and practiced them. If you are really interested, check out Keith and Henri’s book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation.


Instead, I’ll highlight a few of my favorites. My absolute favorite was the Mad Tea Party, which isn’t on the LS matchmaker menu yet, but is a “structure in development”.

Our Mad Tea was subtitled A Nod to Bob Dylan; our open sentences we completed in rapid fire succession in our revolving circles of tea party pairs were based on the lyrics to Bob Dylan songs.

Well, thanks to a certain ex-husband, I know a lot more about Bob Dylan and lyrics to Bob Dylan songs than you might think. So that made it even more fun. I felt like I was in on a joke, which doesn’t happen very often. I kept waiting for the open sentence to be something like:

“Little red wagon, little red bike, I ain’t no monkey but I know____”. (From Buckets of Rain, Blood on the Tracks album, 1975).



Some of the ones we were given included:

“All I really want to do is___”

“I’m all tangled up in___”

“If I gotta serve somebody, I’m gonna serve___”

“Beyond the horizon I see___”

It was all very rapid moving, which got my energy up. I am seriously an introvert. Most of those in the room who identified as introverts said they did not enjoy this activity. As a true introvert, I didn’t speak up about my experience, but I had a blast! I think the reason I liked it was I didn’t have to spend more than about 60 seconds with any one person; no small talk, just finish the sentence, move on down the circle. Maybe if I ever end up single again I’ll try speed dating!


I did love Open Space Technology. The key is having enough people in the group who are willing to put their topics up in the Marketplace. We did 4 rounds, ranging from 30 to 60 minutes. For each round, I had about 6 sessions to choose from.


The four I picked were:

-Bringing Art and Movement in LIberating Structures

-Liberating Structures in the Classroom

-Surfing Sideways (meaning when things don’t go the way you think they will)

-LS at Your Worst, or LS with Yourself (for personal and family challenges)

You can tell it’s a seriously fun time when everyone leaves their notebooks, coffee, and sometimes even their phones at their chairs to jump in hands on, brain fully engaged.


Me being me, a bonus of this expedition was exploring the old church during lunch and breaks. I don’t go to church, but there’s something cool about church buildings, especially old, musty ones.

I managed to sneak into the church kitchen (not hard, the door was wide open just off Reidenbach Hall). I want to cook there! (Vegan spaghetti dinner for 100, no problem!)

I also got to reconnect with Saybrook University colleague Jim Best, a local host for the Bay Area LIberating Structures group. He ran a Shift and Share session on using LS in virtual sessions, a reality of life.

There were times I felt a bit out of my element, but all of the other participants were warm and welcoming and eager to share and listen. The big question now for me: how do the people who need to be immersed in LS, the Michael Scotts and the PowerPoint readers, get there?

On a serious note, I’d like to end by pointing out that the church is collecting donations of items for the surviving victims and families of the Ghost Ship fire. Please find a way to help. Look for a reputable disaster relief fund or group and do what you can.


Peace and hugs.

Under Pressure

Actually, this isn’t going to be about David Bowie or Queen, as much as I loved Freddie Mercury. Now I have the song Under Pressure stuck in my head (see Is there a cure for earworms?Or, Help! I Need Somebody…); thank you very much. Hoisted by my own petard!

No, this is about my new pressure cooker! I finally bought an Instant Pot after reading about them on Facebook page for Instant Pot Vegan Recipes.


I first became interested after going to a holiday cooking demonstration at the Oakland offices of the PETA Foundation last year. I am not going to comment one way or the other about PETA here; this is about food! Let’s come together around the table. Or the Instant Pot.

The presenter was JL Fields, and you can follow her at JL Goes Vegan. She is funny and informative and PRACTICAL about food and vegan cooking.

But it took me a year to convince myself to buy the Instant Pot. Now that I have it, I need to make a point of using it, which means learning HOW to use it. I got the cookbook:


I am a bit afraid of pressure cookers; back in the day they were dangerous, and I had a bad experience with one. I know so many people with a mother or grandmother with a near-death pressure cooking story.



I decided to start with something easy. I am not much of a breakfast person (beyond coffee), but Bob likes to start his day with traditional Western breakfast foods. I had a day off and was avoiding my academic duties (I love writing, but sometimes…), so I made oatmeal for breakfast!

Granted, oatmeal isn’t that hard to make in any case. But the pressure cooker was calling me, it sounded quick and easy, and one benefit of pressure cooking is you set it and walk away. Oatmeal on the stove can get messy if left unattended.


In my new capacity as wannabe Vegan Food Network Star (see Can I Vegan That? (My first cooking video!), I ended up making a video of the project. I have no pride; I am in my pajamas with bed hair. Hey, it’s real life. I spend a lot of my day off in pajamas! And you might notice near the end of the video that I have sweater fuzz on my chin. That is not a chin hair! I have a habit of wearing my shabby old gray cardigan over my bathrobe on cold mornings (see Tim Gunn and Ruby Dee walk into a bar…). You might not think it’s pretty, but I think it’s warm and comforting, like a bowl of oatmeal.

The oatmeal was pretty good. In hindsight, I would have added more liquid (2-1/2 cups to 1 cup of oats instead of 2:1), and maybe cooked it at 4 minutes pressure instead of 5. But it was a learning experience, and I am more comfortable using the Instant Pot now. Heck, Bob cooked dinner in it last night. The lure of using a new gadget was stronger than his dislike of cooking!

Happy viewing! I’d love your (vegan) pressure cooking tips!


Bon appetit!