The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”     ~  Roger Caras


“When I look into the eyes of an animal I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul.”     ~ A.D. Williams

January after the holidays and the dead of winter has settled in. Why do they call it the dead of winter? It seems to be alive and thriving. It’s not even on life support. Dead or not we’ve had a healthy amount of rainfall and there’s been a California chill in the air. It’s important to attach that note about California because what constitutes a chill here in the Bay Area is a balmy reprieve from the bite of a frigid nor’easter. To the hardy residents from the mountains to Maine we Californians are America’s weather wimps. Well someone has to fill that role so it might as well be us.  

All the rain has turned much of the yard into a swamp until Spring, meaning the dogs, my Lexi and my daughter’s Chloe, are under strict restriction from playing in the yard.  Chloe is older and is satisfied with a nice walk.  Lexi is still a pup and needs some serious energy burn. The dog park in nearby Martinez dries out in a few days and Lexi gets some much needed running and jumping in the short windows between dry or tolerably muddy and a downright bog.  Dog park days mean romps with her friends; the regular dogs who greet each other with the ritual butt sniffs (“Oh yeah, I recognize you. You’re cool”), wagging tails and excited twirls. On those days when they don’t get an excursion, cabin fever sets in. After a few straight days of rain the fever is runs high.

boots and lexi chase

At the dog park Lexi gives chase after Boots one of her Gordon Setter friends

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Mendocino is one of a string of quaint little seaside towns that dot California’s North Coast. Located a couple hours’ drive north of San Francisco, Mendocino was first settled by people from America’s northwest and as a result has something of a New England feel to it.

During the 19th century timber was king in Northern California. With the passing of the timber industry artists and craftspeople were drawn to the oceanside village. Today the town itself is a great place to shop, eat gourmet food and stay in a bed and breakfast.   If you’re a wine sipper its the place for you.  From November through April you can watch the gray whale migration.  AND it’s pretty darn dog friendly.

Just a short drive up the coast is the little town of Fort Bragg which in contrast to its artsy neighbor to the south has more of a rough hewn blue collar feel.  From Fort Bragg you can take a steam train ride through the redwoods on the Skunk Train.

So this week’s Friday Fotos celebrates our North Coast towns of Mendocino and Fort Bragg.

foggy sunrise

Early morning sun lights the mist that hugs the outlet of the Mendocino river into the Pacific Ocean

tree in the fog

A tree juts out of the morning mist over the nearby cliffs

mendocino beach

Mendocino from Big River Beach

mendocino through the grass

Village morning seen from the cliff’s edge over a field of golden grasses

blue ocean


Just inland from Mendocino are redwood forests with streams waterfalls and plenty of green.

waterfall in the sun

A waterfall sparkles in the forest filtered sun

leaves of green

Cora and I visited the area during the Fourth of July weekend and drove north to Fort Bragg for their annual salmon festival.  Yum. Lots of grilled salmon and sides.

salmon fest 1

cooking salmon

Tending to the barbecue

north sea 2

Fishing boats abound in the Fort Bragg Harbor. The North Sea has probably seen better days


The shaggy rocker Rod Stewart told us in song that “every picture tells a story.” There are a myriad of stories to be found in Lafayette Cemetery but the pictures only tell a part of the story, just enough to wet the appetite. So, unlike the last post about Lafayette Cemetery which was mostly photos, we’re going to throw in a little taste of history and a travel tip or two.

The Family Tomb of A. Brown

In the midst of a concrete gray city of the dead, its the green of The Family Tomb of A. Brown (below) that grabs your attention.  But taking in the whole, coaxes out the other colors in the scene; dark green trees, light green weeds breaking through the pavement, the occasional fern, the blue of the sky, and even the browns and coppers of dead leaves. And then you look at the angle, a solitary colored tomb at the corner of two long lanes of gray. I thought this corner view lent itself perfectly to a wide angle shot (10 mm).

Lafayette streetcorner

The Family Tomb of John Scheu

At first glance there’s really nothing in the photo below that distinguishes it. Every now and then I go through some of the thousands of photos I’ve taken and originally did nothing with and look to see if I’d missed something. A couple of years after our visit I came across this photo and wondered, why did I take this? And then I saw the dates of birth and death. Clearly during the mid – 19th century the Scheu family was ravaged. George died at 3 months; Catherine lived to see only her third birthday and Jacob passed away at 7 days.


Yellow Fever

Pictures are just a quick reveal of the whole story. I looked up some details of the green Family Tomb of A. Brown (top photo in this post) and found that a marker on the side of the structure tells a similar story to that of the Scheu family.

Catherine Brown died on July 7, 1858 at age 16. Theresa Brown, age 10 died 16 days later. F. W. Stach died in 1868 at the young age of 28. Below his name is the sad memorial, “Sleep dearest husband in peace. We will come to thee to join eternal happiness.”

What might have caused so many deaths at such a young age? Granted, child mortality was much higher in the 19th century but there was one other contributing factor to the high mortality among the young (and those of all ages) in New Orleans – yellow fever.  Between 1817 and 1905, New Orleans was ravaged by yellow fever; a marauding reaper that snatched 41.000 lives. While I found no evidence that yellow fever took the lives of the Scheus and Browns it isn’t out of the realm of possibility. In 1858, when the Brown girls perished yellow jack as it was called took 4845 lives.

Theodore Sweeney (with edits)

In a rather dark and gloomy section of the cemetery with a cracking brick wall to its rear sits the grave site of T. Sweeney, who was born in 1873 and died in 1910. His given name was Theodore and on the day we visited his site the stone urns flanking his grave site were lit with the colors of bright bouquets.


The disrepair of the wall and the gloomy location lent itself to some edits.

Sweeney gloomy

Above – Removing the color enhances the gloomy features while below a simulation of cross processing gives the scene a ghostly blue aura. 

Sweeney cross process

Time and Nature will eventually have their way

Below – The ferns and weeds infiltrating a grave site gives the eerie impression of nature repossessing the grounds that man can only borrow. 

Anastasia 2

Daniel Haberstich was born in Switzerland in 1810. He is interred with his wife Anastasia who emigrated from Alsace. A walk through Lafayette Cemetery reveals that New Orleans was indeed a city of immigrants. Many of the names reflect an influx of Germans, Irish and Italians.

Below – Some of the departed are only remembered by the remnants of a cross and a mention of being someone’s “Darling sister.” 

Darling sister

Society for the Relief of Destitute Orphan Boys

The one single monument that touched us the most was the one erected for the Society for the Relief of Destitute Orphan Boys.  The society was established in 1824 and given the epidemics that plagued the area it probably did a sadly thriving business. During the 19th century the society took in only white Protestant boys.  The organization still survives today as an integrated institution known as the Waldo Burton Memorial Home. Occasionally a visitor will leave a toy on the little shelf at the front of the tomb where the cross sits.  Usable toys are collected by members and brought to the home.

Destitute boys

I had an aunt and uncle who planned many of their vacations around their favorite hobby – golf. Their travel plans usually included some research into the local golf links and their luggage almost always included their clubs. When I was a kid I found that strange. You go on vacation to see and do things, not play golf, I thought.  Enter photography, my hobby and I gained some understanding of my aunt and uncle.

When Cora and I visited Lafayette Cemetery I went there primarily with a photographic goal in mind.  Not that its a bad thing but in my overriding zeal for selecting the ideal shots I neglected the fascinating history and the fact that these monuments represent real lives and real stories. I came away with what I thought were some good shots but I left behind an understanding of the place and the stories behind those photos.

What did I miss? I missed the Koenig Tomb, which was never used but has been left open allowing visitors to see the inside of one of these structures.  I didn’t recognize the famous Jefferson Fire Company No. 22 Tomb nor did I see the resting place of Judge John Howard Ferguson, the judge in the famous Plessy versus Ferguson case that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, establishing the concept of separate but equal. I didn’t realize the impact of a nearly century long epidemic of yellow fever. I’m a history buff yet I didn’t take the care to recognize the many epitaphs that commemorate the Civil War dead residing there, many of them describing the place where they perished.

Did you know that the Vampire Lestat has his home in Lafayette Cemetery #1?  Well, he doesn’t really, but the Karstendiek Tomb served as the inspiration for Lestat’s tomb in the film An Interview with the Vampire.

Part of the point of all of this is that it is well worth either hiring a good guide or doing some extensive research in advance of your visit here.  These sites are a view into the history and society of a fascinating time and place in America. From the photographer’s point of view by all means take advantage of this singular opportunity but take the time to understand what you’re shooting so that you can later compliment your photos with the stories behind them. Its a lesson that I hope I’ve learned.

Row of tombs

Above – A row of tombs in photographed in their natural color.  Below – Edited later into a spectral monochrome to give it a ghostly feel. 

Row of tombs B and W




duck soup; noun

  1. something that is easy to do or accomplish: Fixing the car will be duck soup for anyone with the right tool

Duck Soup – A 1933 film starring the Marx Brothers in which Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale. An hour and 8 minutes of nonstop puns.  If you’re familiar with the movie then chances are you’re either an old movie buff or you’re just plain old. Unfortunately I’m the latter.

Duck Soup – A new Friday Fotos starring – ducks of course. And for your added comedic pleasure and a chance to roll your eyes over corny humor, I’ve interspersed some puns from the movie.

Pinole Creek Wetlands

The next town over from average no-town (because we don’t have a downtown) Hercules where I live, is Pinole where there’s a recreation path that follows Pinole Creek to San Pablo Bay and acres of wetlands.  A hike on that path can be just ducky.

Brown duck 2

Rufus T. Firefly: Not that I care, but where is your husband?

Mrs. Teasdale: Why, he’s dead.

Rufus T. Firefly: I bet he’s just using that as an excuse.

Mrs. Teasdale: I was with him to the very end.

Rufus T. Firefly: No wonder he passed away.

Mrs. Teasdale: I held him in my arms and kissed him.

Rufus T. Firefly: Oh, I see, then it was murder.

Single duck

Cabinet Member: We need to take up the tax.

Rufus T. Firefly: I’d like to take up the carpet.

Cabinet Member: I still insist we take up the tax.

Rufus T. Firefly: He’s right – you’ve gotta take up the tacks before you can take up the carpet.

2 swimming

Going for a late morning swim

Rufus T. Firefly:  I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought, I’d rather dance with the cows till you come home.


brown duck shore 2 with edits

If you have an itch you scratch …. errr, bite.

Rufus T. Firefly:  Oh, uh, I suppose you would think me a sentimental old fluff, but, uh, would you mind giving me lock of your hair?

Mrs. Teasdale:  A lock of my hair? Wh-why, I had no idea.

Rufus T. Firefly: I’m letting you off easy: I was going to ask for the whole wig.

brown duck peeking

Peek a boo

Rufus T. Firefly: Oh, I’m sick of messages from the front. Don’t we ever get a message from the side? – What is it?

Bob Roland: General Smith reports a gas attack. He wants to know what to do.

Rufus T. Firefly: Tell him to take a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda and a half a glass of water.

sillouette 2

This wasn’t what I intended. I’d hoped to get more light on the ducks but daylight was waning and so I ended up with silhouettes of the ducks against a reflection of the sky and some clouds. In the end I like the effect.


And finally, below, the Duck Soup piece de resistance. When I heard this pun I laughed so hard and so long I thought I was going to wet my pants (which depending on your point of view is either a good or bad reflection on yours truly).

[Firefly and Mrs. Teasdale hear music coming from downstairs]

Mrs. Teasdale: What’s that?

Rufus T. Firefly: Sounds to me like mice.

Mrs. Teasdale: Mice? Mice don’t play music.

Rufus T. Firefly: No? How about the old maestro?

Go forth and have a great weekend but make sure you have your ducks in a row.


Welcome to my first recipe post in the category Hot (or cold) Outta the Kitchen. We’ll see how this goes. If it doesn’t end well then this will be the first recipe post and the last recipe post.

And yes indeed, there is an actual recipe in this post but you have to work your way through the back story because any recipe worth its salt or any of the other ingredients should have a story to give it those extra notes of flavor.
Jack; what can I say about Jack? Howabout, Jack was one of the lights of the office; easy going, gregarious, a great sense of humor and never down, at least not that anyone could ever tell. Jack was the kind of person that every office needs. The one who lets you forget that you’re at work, speeds up the clock and binds the rabble together into a team.
Jack was a coworker of mine many, many years ago, and we’re talking 1980’s. I guess that he lasted a year or two with the company, a supplier of industrial equipment, and then he moved with his wife to her home country of Japan. I’ve searched for Jack through social media with no luck. We kept in touch for a brief time with postcards and letters and then the tie broke.
Jack had something of a kooky streak. An inside sales guy with a different approach. Being in supply I just listened with one ear and giggled as Jack plied his own singular offbeat trade. I’m not sure management was always comfortable with this chatty and eccentric salesman. From what I could tell, the customers seemed to love him.
Paul (no not this Paulie), the general manager was a young dweeby guy who finagled his management position through the time honored (?) route of cronyism. Straight out of college he found himself in the deep end of the corporate pool trying to hold his head above the waters that often had him slipping beneath the surface when sales figures took a dive. And so he pushed hard on the sales staff to come up with innovative ways to keep our customers engaged. Enter Jack and the recipes.
Jack, chin resting between thumb and forefinger put his unconventional mind to work and conjured up his grand strategy. “You want innovation, I’ll give you innovation.” And so he added recipes to his sales pitch, the first one being for guacamole. Because what says industrial equipment like a recipe for a Mexican dip? Right?
And so he typed, yes typed because there were no computers or word processors in our office in those bygone days, a recipe and then made scores of photocopies and then hand cut them down to size to mail and or fax to customers.
I can’t recall how that went over with Paul but the rest of us thought it was great; more in terms of amusement than as a viable sales tool. I also can’t recall how many different recipes Jack actually launched form the building but the one I am certain of is Jack’s Barbary Coast Guacamole. I’m certain of it because I have an original copy of Jacks Guac in my possession – a first edition if you will. Thirty something years old and stained by avocado and other ingredients it’s become something of a cherished document, sort of like having an original copy of the Constitution. Okay that was hyperbole.
I pulled out the recipe the other day to make guacamole for a party we had. It was, as it usually is, a big hit. I multiplied the recipe by three to be sure that we had plenty and before many of the guests arrived all that was left was just enough to stain the the edge of a chip. It’s good stuff. As we prepared for the party I took a sample to make sure it was just right and proclaimed to anyone who would listen that “My guacamole is so good that they call it holy moly.”
No response
“Tough crowd.” I said.
My daughter who was busy baking desserts offered, “I just thought I’d let that one pass.” Later on she approached me, “The guacamole is really good.”

“Yeah, holy moly,” I responded.

She rolled her eyes, turned on her heels and walked away shaking her head.
My grandson Jackson, whose finicky tastes puts a cat to shame, said “That’s the best guacamole ever.”
Wherever you are Jack my former colleague you’re still making ‘em smile.
So here for everyone to enjoy is Jack’s Barbary Coast Guacamole exactly as it appears on my stained copy. (With a few of my own changes in italics). Continue reading

“Ewwwww,” that’s morbid.” That was the reaction of a friend of mine when I told her that during our trip to New Orleans we visited the Lafayette Cemetery.

“Why would you want to go to a cemetery?”  Why indeed. First of all they’re unique for the fact that since New Orleans is built below sea level underground burial is a non starter so the deceased are entombed in raised chambers. Secondly, they are historic sites and major tourist attractions. Lafayette Cemetery opened for it’s melancholy business in 1833, before the city of Lafayette became a part of New Orleans. Known as cities of the dead, the cemeteries are laid out in a grid plan with “streets” or “lanes” that run at right angles forming city blocks of buildings just like many typical cities. Only these cities house the deceased. 

IMG_5853 edited

One of the “streets” of Lafayette Cemetery

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“You will be haunted,” resumed the Ghost, “by Three Spirits.”  ~ A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Gumbo is on the menu for Christmas Eve this year but that really has little or nothing to do with this post. It’s the panetonne that’s important.  How are panetonne and gumbo related? Well, not at all. I’m talking about the store display. Okay, I’ll get to it. While I was at the store shopping for ingredients for the gumbo, there in prominent display near the front of the store was a stack of those distinctive trapezoidal boxes that could contain only one thing – panetonne.  I guess you could call panetonne a sort of brioche dotted with candied fruits and raisins with its roots in Milan but if there’s someone out there with a better description then please fire away.  I could never properly describe it to my childhood friends besides to inform then that panetonne was one of the most delicious of holiday treats.

Near the store display of panetonne was another, this one stacked with other cakes and sweets from Italy. It seems that Italy is now a Christmas sensation – as it should be. Italy is mom’s mother country and it gave my family, to this day although now diminished, many holiday traditions and memories. For instance there was il pacco.   Continue reading

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