Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 82: Eric Greenhut's Buddha

My colleague and friend, Eric Greenhut, is the organizer of our Wednesday morning Plein Air Painters.  He patiently sends out announcements each week with instructions of where to meet to paint outside.  Occasionally when the weather is really inclement we meet indoors.  A few weeks ago we met in my home to paint.  Eric chose the subject of a piece of calligraphy on the wall flanked by a Kuan Yin statue and a Buddha mask.  I love his sense of composition and color.  Bravo, Eric, and thanks for sharing this image.  His website has many of his works on view.  Check it out.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 81: Genealogy

My wonderful husband has become an avid genealogist since he's been in retirement.  Like a modern Sherlock Holmes he finds the search for details about the past and how it all hangs together to be infinitely satisfying.  He has more than 21000 names in our family tree on  These two large charts were prepared for family reunions last year. The one on the bottom shows the Madson lineage and the one on the top of this photo shows the Phillips clan.  He is working now to prepare a tree to take to our Ryan family reunion in Virginia Beach the second week of July.  He makes me proud.  What a guy!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 80: After the Ham's Gone (A.T.H.G.)

After the Ham’s Gone

You might not know on first meeting that Gregory was gay, but if you hung out with him over a weekend it would not be long before his wry sense of humor and ability to see the joke in anything would be a tip off.  Not that his gayness was an obstacle in his life, save for it barring him from the Lutheran ministry.

In some ways he found a better calling as a psychotherapist.  His hazel eyes and strawberry hair gave him a boyish look.  During the last year of his life he became focused on preparing a book titled “Reflections on the Ox Herding Pictures.” It was a commentary on the famous Zen paintings depicting a boy and an ox.  The sequence is a parable about the struggle with the self on the path to enlightenment.  Unable to actually tame the bull, the boy learns to coexist with the ego.  Realization comes from reflection on Reality, in particular understanding how much we are receiving and how little one typically gives back.

Late in the spring of 1993 Gregory Willms died of complications from the AIDS virus.  His soul slipped away as the morning star rose over the Santa Rosa hospital where his body lay.  So many of Gregory’s friends had been lost to this blind sighted and unforgiving disease.  He talked of the countless wakes and parties attempting to “make a celebration” out of the grim reality that scores of men had been snatched in their prime from lives of utility or artistry.

It was impossible to live in the Bay Area without being touched (often continually) by this plague.  Gregory once remarked that his whole life outside of his therapy practice seemed to revolve around attending funerals and tribute parties.  Everyone seemed to know what to do, what to say and what to bring to the party.  Wine, elegant booze, homemade lasagna or other rich casseroles were safe bets.  And the highly adaptable ham was always a good choice since it could be fried to pair with eggs, sliced to throw on a pumpernickel sandwich for lunch or julienned to add to a salad or macaroni casserole for dinner.  The good ole Honey Baked Ham (which would set you back around $50) showed a level of respect that would be noted.

But the thing was, according to Gregory, the true issue or problem for friends, and friends of friends of those lost and those left behind, was “what to do after the ham’s gone.”  One of these 12 lb puppies could easily last three to four weeks before the bone got tossed into a pea or lentil soup pot.  If you recycled the best of the leftovers into the soup this could sustain a body for nearly another week before all remnants of the pig’s carcass was anywhere to be found in the kitchen.  So, for the sake of poetry lets agree that “after the ham’s gone” is likely a month from the time of the “celebration” (so oddly named, it strikes me) until the ham bone hits the compost.

Now the question before us is:  “What does one do, or what should one do for the bereaved after the ham’s gone?”

Gregory pointed out that most people had forgotten about the loss by then.  Most of us have moved on.  But the former lover may not have.  What can you do to help?  Another ham?  No.

I think “After the ham’s gone” represents that opportunity we all have not to forget or lose track of someone who has gone through a trauma, shock or loss.  It may be that “after the ham’s gone” is precisely when you need support, friendship, ideas, and invitations.

Is there someone in your life who may be hanging out A. T. H. G.  right now?  Think about it.

El Granada, CA

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 79: The Awkward Dinner Party

A long career as a teacher provides many benefits.  Chief among these is watching beloved students grow into amazing young men and women.  Lisa Rowland, pictured here with improv partner, Dave Dennison, is among those of whom I am most proud.  Lisa graduated from Stanford around six years ago close to my retirement year.  Since leaving Stanford she has distinguished herself as an actress, improviser and teacher of improvisation.  She is currently the Manager of Training Programs at the BATS School of Improv where she also shines as a member of the Company.  BATS is a premiere improvisation troupe and school of improv training.

Recently Lisa and her friend, Dave Dennison formed an improvisational theater company to present a long form improv format that they created.  It's called the "Awkward Dinner Party" and the the setup is that Lisa and Dave are a couple.  Each performance features a guest actor/improviser (last night it was the talented Tim Orr of "Three for All" another outstanding Improv Company).  The guest actor and his partner/spouse are invited to dinner.  In all cases only one member of the invited couple shows up. This is the full extent of the "setup" or preparation.  Everything that happens is completely improvised.   The story develops as everyone adjusts to this news and plays out the evening.  Lisa and Dave's persona changes each performance based on suggestions from the audience before each show.  Last night's performance had them playing Lucinda and Franklin as a couple with a longing to move to the Yukon and trap animals.

The performances were masterful last night.  The audience has a hard time believing that a show as polished as this one was could possibly be improvised. It was, I can testify.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that the performance was accompanied by the gifted Mr. J. Raoul Brody, musician extraordinaire, on the keyboard.  On Saturday night Mr. Daniel Walling (another brilliant Stanford graduate) will handle the keyboard.

The thing I absolutely LOVE about Lisa's improvisational acting is that she brings her own human values onto the stage and develops characters who have moral integrity.  Last night Lucinda begged her guest not to leave his wife when he threatened to do so late in the evening after lots of drinks.  Lisa is a dazzling improviser and a gifted actress.  I recommend seeing these entertaining players the next time they offer a weekend of shows.  Sign up for their mailing list to find out when.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 78: Our knife drawer

Among the "everyday things" that I admire are these tools in my knife drawer in the kitchen.  I've been collecting these knives for four decades.  And my capable and helpful husband keeps them sharp.  A truly well sharpened knife is a wondrous thing.  Chopping vegetables becomes a happy adventure.  The knife at the bottom of the photo with a paper sheathe belonged to Ron's father, Correll Madson.  After his death the children gathered to distribute his personal effects.  I love having a kitchen knife that belonged to him.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 77: Filoli- a chance to paint or photograph

Once a month the Filoi gardens are open after hours so that painters and photographers may set up easels and tripods to capture the beauty of this carefully tended estate.  Ron with his camera and I with my watercolors came out on Thursday afternoon.  Voila some of our results.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 76: A Stitch in time . . .

Few things delight an author more than to have their books mentioned by their readers.  Today I woke up to a Google alert for this marvelous website:  "Plays With Needles"   The blogger, Susan Elliott, does really lovely work.  I want to thank her for spreading the word.  May all of your improvisations be filled with beauty.  Happy summer, Susan.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 75: My favorite moment of the day


My wonderful husband, Ron, has a ritual that begins each morning.  Our cat, Bodhi, follows him into our large, walk-in closet for his morning grooming.  The long haired Himalayan just loves being groomed.  Was he a show cat in a precious life?  The cat purrs and Ron whispers kind, fatherly things to his furry child.  There is something so sweet about this daily event.  This morning I decided to video 20 seconds of the ritual.  As my "everyday thing" for today I share it with you. It's a post on my YouTube.  Click below to see him in action.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 74: Kids: Don't you love em?

The kid in the middle making a face is my beloved nephew, Ryan Dunlavey.  He has the brightness of a star and the joy of Christmas in his eyes.  Just love that young man.  I especially love the contrast with the faces of the other children.  Hooray, Ryan, you rock. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 73: The Secret of Happiness is to be Thankful

The comedian, Louis C. K. nails the problem.  "Everything is amazing right now,  and nobody is happy."  The solution: gratitude. 
Enjoy this YouTube clip: 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 72: The Improviser's Way

The Improviser’s Way involves:
 Less procrastinating . . . more action
 Less complaining . . . more thanking
 Less planning . . . more execution
 Less ruminating/thinking . . . more problem solving
 Less “special-ness”. . . more ordinariness
 Less seriousness . . . more fun
 Less fantasy . . . more reality
 Less competition . . . more cooperation
 Less caution . . . more mistakes
 Less talking . . . more doing
 Less preparation . . . more doing it NOW
 Less originality . . .  more obviousness
 Less “Me” . . .  more “YOU”

fish logo by 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 71: Pesto Potatoes

This recipe is wonderful.  Ron and I are Pesto junkies.  We eat pesto on everything.  It's easy, if you have a blender or a food processor to make up a batch of pesto from fresh basil which is just now coming into the farmer's markets in bounty. Or buy readymade pesto in your deli case.  This recipe pairs it with roasted potatoes.  

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 70 Meyer Lemons

The first plant we put in the ground when we built our home in El Granada was a Meyer Lemon tree.  It was in a five gallon container and a it was a 24 inch plant.  Today, fourteen years later the tree is close to 18 feet tall and produces hundreds of lemons every month.  I've learned to make meyer lemon curd, meyer lemon marmalade and of course, meyer lemon cake.  They look especially lovely in a blue bowl.  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 69: Plein Aire Wednesday Cypress Cove, Half Moon Bay

Wednesday mornings the Half Moon Bay Plein Air Painters Group meets somewhere along the coastside for a three hour painting session.  We encourage each other and offer suggestions at the end of each session.  Often we go off to lunch together at a local restaurant.  Today our location was at Cypress Cove, just south of the town of HMB.  We had glorious weather and the sky was a clear blue.  The top photograph shows my subject.  Picture 2 shows the process and the bottom image shows the finished painting.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 68: The beauty of ordinary things

Ron took this photograph of a stack of chicken wire spools near a toolshed at Tassajara. It is beautiful don't you think?  One of the virtues of photography is that it invites you to see your new eyes.  I am fascinated by this picture.  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 67 Thanks to P, G and E

Our house is surrounded by several giant cypress trees.  We noticed that a large branch had broken off and was hanging perilously 40 feet from the ground just above some high tension wires.  We called P, G and E and they came out in a timely fashion with their monster truck with its bucket that allows a man to be hoisted high in the air to do tree work.  They carefully detached the dead branch and lowered it to the street today.  Then they used their chipper to take away the debris.  They cleaned up the site really well, too.  I was impressed by the courtesy and skill of the guys who did the work, and I appreciate that this company really cares about our safely.  Cheers for P, G and E!  Nice work, gentleman.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 66 The Rognlie Tree

The tree pictured here is a Mountain Ash, also known as a Rogn tree.  This variety had its origin in Europe and was plentiful in Norway.  My husband's father's family came from a small farm near Mosvik, Norway.  The land where the farm stood was on a hill, or "lee".  The farm got the name:  Rognlie   or  Rogn + lee  "hill where there are Mt.Ash trees".  (Pronounced WRONG-LEE).  Ron has been looking for this tree for quite some time.  At last we found one which was shipped from the Pacific northwest where Ron was born.  He planted the tree in our yard yesterday.  Welcome, Mr. Rognlie Tree!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 65: Living at the beach . . .

On a sunny gorgeous day the world beats a path to where we live.  I'm afraid this isn't a very clear shot of the masses out for fun, but as I gazed down the beach it looked a lot like Coney Island today.  Thousands of folks from "over the hill" (San Mateo) or "up the coast" (San Francisco) descend to enjoy the free beaches along the coastline.  It was in the high 60's with no wind and clear sun . . . what could be more perfect. Ron and I took a lovely walk along the beach today.  Here's a painting I did of the Romeo Pier a few weeks ago. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 64 Lunch with Dr. Kellen Glinder

In 1991 I formed a group at Stanford known as the Stanford Improvisers (SImps).  The original 16 members of that group bonded in a special way during their Stanford years.  I have kept track of most of this group during the past twenty years, gone to many weddings, celebrated the birth of their children and watched with delight on Facebook as they have sung their triumphs and shared their challenges.   On Friday I had lunch with Dr. Kellen Glinder who was one of this elite bunch.  Kellen is currently  a Pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.  He is a beloved physician who thrives on the quality of his patient care.  He knows how to talk to children.  

It makes me very proud to see his accomplishments.  He carries on the spirit of improvisation in his work today.  I found an instructive video which he made on "how to use an asthma inhaler spacer."  Bravo, Kellen.  

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 63 Herbed Corn Bread

I am hard pressed to think of anything that smells better than bread when it just comes out of the oven or out of the bread-maker.  
This is my current favorite: Herbed Corn Bread.  It's not a "cornbread" but rather a yeast rising bread that includes a half cup of coarse cornmeal.  
Here is the recipe: (designed for a bread making machine, but can be done in the normal way, too)
(wets into machine first)
1 cup milk (or evaporated milk, or half and half)
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup  coarse cornmeal or I use polenta
1/2 teasp marjoram
1/2 teasp powered ginger
1 1/2  teasp celery seed
1 1/2  teasp dried sage
2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon dry yeast

Dump it all in your breadmaker.  I do a double mix by turning the machine onto the "cake" setting which just mixes everything.  After 12 min I stop this setting and the bread is mixed a first time.  Then I turn the machine to the Whole Wheat normal setting and let it cook as long as it takes.  My machine is 3 hrs 40min total.  This is a heavenly, light but dense in texture savory bread.  Wonderful toasted.  Enjoy.  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 62: Tragedy in the waters near Gaza

Pamela Olsen, a former student of mine and member of the Stanford Improvisers in the late1990's has been living in the Palestinian territories.  She has written a book, Fast Times in Palestine which tells her story as an American visiting there without any particular political point of view (at the beginning). She then shares how this neutrality changes as she witnesses everyday life in the Gaza strip.  Currently back from the Middle East and living in New York she has been writing about her experience during recent events.  She writes a thoughtful blog.  

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 61 Yellow Roses

These lovely yellow roses were a gift from BATS Improv on Monday night.  I had the fun of teaching a short improv warmup for their yearly membership meeting.  BATS Improv is the premier school and group offering ongoing classes and performances in the art of improvisation.  Brilliant teachers and performers.  I recommend their shows and classes.  Take a friend to an improv performance soon.  Next year will the the 25th anniversary of this amazing organization.  Kudos to BATS  (Bay Area TheaterSports).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 60: Election Day

Today is the Gubernatorial Primary Election day.   Ron and I are volunteering to work at the polls all day.  It's a long day.  We have to be at the polls at 6:00am and work until 8:00pm.  We hope everyone takes advantage of this human right in the USA.  Be sure to VOTE!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 59 Rob Baedeker's Playhouse

Rob Baedeker's delightful article is published in SFGATE.  I am fortunate as a teacher to stay in contact with students who played in my classes twenty years ago.  Thanks to the wonders of Facebook I am able to peek in at the lives of these students.  I am grateful to Rob for kindly mentioning my book, Improv Wisdom.  He has clearly learned the lesson of seeing the gifts.  

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Day 58 Ron's Tassajara Photos

Lovely to be home and back to our Saturday Farmer's Market in Half Moon Bay.  I spent today organizing some of the photos that Ron made at Tassajara.  I posted 77 of them to my Flickr account. See these lovely photos click here for my Flickr url.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Day 57: Tassajara Reflections

A week at Tassajara brings many pleasures and a few surprises.  One surprise was a rash of spider bites that descended during the night.  Never did I lay eyes on those critters, however.   Ron spent his days in an engaging workshop with the famous photographer,  Peter Cunningham.  I spent my days reading, writing, painting and listening to the sounds of the water moving in the creek.  Lush bird sounds were everywhere, too.  

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 56: Driving home from Tassajara

When Ron and I do road trips we listen to books on CD's.  Our Sedona trip was accompanied by the amazing story of Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.  On this drive home from the Carmel Valley we are listening to the sequel Stones Into Schools.  If you are looking for inspiration about how one life can make a difference, do yourself a favor and read or listen to these inspiring books.  

Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute are responsible for building  hundreds of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, primarily serving women in this underdeveloped part of the world.  This NGO is doing impressive work.  I recommend it. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day 55: Self Portrait

This week as I am at Tassajara I am turning my attention to drawing and painting faces.  As you can see from this first attempt at a self portrait, I'm not yet very skillful at the task. It is more of a cartoon.  I've bought a book which promises to teach me how to draw faces.   I'll share my progress later on this blog.  

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 54: Hanging Out in the Unknown

Pema Chödrön’s book, Practicing Peace in Times of War, (2007) advises her readers that instead of trying to get away from the uncomfortable feeling we have with the unknown that we develop an aptitude for what she likes to call 'positive groundlessness, or positive insecurity.' “We need to develop an appetite for groundlessness; we need to get curious about it and be willing to pause and hang out for a while in that space of insecurity,” she counsels.
This seemingly abstract dictum is precisely what improvisation teaches: how to live vibrantly in a field of flux, an office of uncertainly, even an apartment of landmines. We cannot let this not knowing paralyze us. We need to stay in motion, in action during this groundlessness.

We do not know or need to know what comes next. We create it. And we have a choice in how we enter the present.  Much has been written about mindfulness, or waking up to the “present moment.”  Dr. David K. Reynolds once quipped: “What other moment is there?”  

I'm a great believer in making friends with groundlessness.  

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day 53: Improv Wisdom goes to Japan

My friends all know that I think of my book, Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up (Bell Tower, 2005) as if it was my daughter in the world.  She is now five years old and has had some expansive experiences.  Last summer she was translated into both Korean and German and published in those countries.  The cover of the book took on a new look in both cases: 

I received an email today from my publisher, Random House, informing me that the rights to the book had just been sold to a distinguished publishing house in Japan, and that the book will be translated and released in Japanese within eighteen months.  This delights me heartily because many of the stories in the book derive from experiences I had in Japan.  I've always dreamed that the book might take a journey to that beautiful country.  I shall look forward to someday posting the Japanese cover art.