Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Just another day

I got up this morning about ten minutes after Rohan left for work. Sleeping in was an option I seriously considered, but I wanted to spend one of my last days of unemployed freedom at the farm.

I had a cup of green tea while reading a chapter in "Lark and Termite" by Jayne Anne Phillips, a book checked out from the library and found through my research into banned books in America. Ate a bowl of muesli with pomegranate and soy milk. Got dressed, watched a bit of a lecture from given by Barbara Ehrenreich about positive thinking.

Chris picked me up and together with his three pit bulls, we went to the farm. We caught the goats and tied them up in the overgrown tomato field to eat, poop and be merry. We spent the next part of the morning weeding the lettuce, spinach, cabbage and broccoli and laying out drip line.

Once the lines were laid we planted more cauliflower starts. Wading through the fluffy tilled field was more like walking through snow than dirt. After we got a hundred or so plants in, Chad showed up. The three of us worked together planting about 800 plants: more cauliflower, more broccoli, more lettuce and a few squash. It's incredible how much food can be planted by only three people!

We finished the day off by picking some spinach and pulling up a few carrots, which will be part of tonight's dinner. Not an Incredible, Amazing, Wonderful day, but instead a quietly satisfying one.

Baby Broccoli

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by: Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

An Autumn's Afternoon in Chico

Featured Writer: Rohan Smith

Note from Editor
This month will feature a series of photo essays from my husband, Rohan, as he explores our new town. Today he takes us on a walk through the streets of Chico, California. I hope you enjoy Rohan's essay and tune in later in the month for more!

On a beautiful afternoon in our new neighbourhood Tabatha and I take our camera for a walk and observe the change of seasons as reflected in the...

giant trees of green...

streets of yellow...

skies of fire,

...and crimson.

We take a turn into Bidwell Park...

where some of the town's young practice their performance...

or read in the afternoon sun.

Our walk home takes us through neighbourhoods. . .

past beautiful old homes, like this one below built early last century.

And this one; Tab's old rental home. She shared the basement of this house with 3 other girls back in the booze and debauchery days of her late teen years.

And back home.

by: Rohan

What's the season like where you are? What's currently got you stoked? Share your comments by clicking the Comments link below.

The Editor

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Yesterday's Harvest

The smell of the rendering plant marks that we will soon be arriving at the farm. Luckily because of the road location from where we can smell the rotting, decomposing animals, it means the farm won't be stinking today.

As soon as the goats hear us pull up they start bleating to be fed. I hunt down the ax, chop down enough foliage to quiet them for an hour or two and then plan out the the rest of the morning.

While hundreds (literally) of broccoli and cauliflower plants have already been planted, there are still lots to go. Not to mention the lettuce that also need to go in. There aren't any fields completely ready to go yet, so Chris will spend the morning plowing and prepping more space.

Before he can go over the corn fields, the remaining corn needs to harvested and the drip lines and sprinklers pulled out. Looks like that's what I'll be up to.

While wandering through the corn I disturb field mice and sparrows who have been happily feasting. How can things so cute be so destructive? Ear after ear of corn I open has been nibbled bare. I hear the rustle of dried corn stalks blowing in the wind and crunching beneath my feet. I open an ear I've just tugged off the stalk. In it, and others like it, I find kernels colors I didn't know corn came in: brilliant reds and burgundies, iridescent blues, bright oranges streaked with reds and yellows.

If it's not the color of the corn surprising me, it's the extreme heat of a chili, the sweetness of a melon or the tomatoes that continue to be prolific well after their supposed season. Nature and all her bounty is incredible!

By midday the autumn sun is beating down on us. The corn's been harvested, the field stripped of its water lines and the tractor's over-heated. Time to call it a day.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lake Tahoe

The van's packed and we're ready to go. We've got the sleeping bags, wood for a fire, clothes to keep us warm and a full tank of petrol to get us there.

We take Hwy 70 through the crispy dry landscape of Yankee Hill and Parkhill. Last year's wildfires are evidenced by the spindly skeletons of trees and the attempting to recover brushes and bushes.

Soon the dry and dead give way to the lush and green. There's an obvious drop in the sweltering temperature as we leave Butte County and enter Plumas. Feather River follows the road, sometimes pooling into what looks like little lakes. Even with the lowered temperatures it's still cooking hot.

"This'd be a great place for a swim. And the road's paved," Rohan says, referring to our recent mis-adventure to Whiskey Flats.

We're hungry though, so we keep driving. We've decided breakfast will be in Quincy, so we push on reading the road signs as we go: 35 miles to Quincy, 24 miles, ten miles and then we pull into town. The streets are lined with stores that have shop-fronts like something out of the 50s. They're clean, with large oaks and junipers to break the monotony of human construction.

We park behind the "old Courthouse", though it looks like it's been recently painted and is as clean as the rest of the town. Breakfast was at the Courthouse Cafe, a smallish place with more American flags lining the walls than seems strictly necessary.

As we climb in elevation out of Quincy the pines, firs and oaks, share space with the thin, white trunked and broad-leafed Quaking Aspens.

Our first view of the famed Lake Tahoe is shrouded by pine trees, but through them we catch glimpses of the deep, sparkly blue. Through the haze of late summer we can see the surrounding mountains.

We pull into the campground, find my parents who are camped next to our family friends, Dick and Di. After setting up camp quickly, we rush off to dinner with friends who have a condo directly lakeside. Fresh cherry tomato salad, pesto pasta, potato salad and green salad were on the menu. As we ate and drank topics around the table included backpacking at 60 years old, teaching in the 90's and mothers/mother-in-laws. The sun sank slowly behind the mountains.

The next morning after copious cups of tea, I went with my parents and Di to the casino. Lake Tahoe spans the California, where gambling is illegal, and Nevada, where gambling is encouraged, border. We hopped over the state line and lost too much money. Should've stayed in California. Rohan did more useful things with his time and went for a bike ride around the lake.

The next morning it was already time to pack up and head back down the road that brought us here. We're back in the life of weekend jaunts, but in area as beautiful as Northern California, these short trips are enough to sustain us.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Movie Premier in SF

If you're going to be in San Fran tonight (assuming there are still seats available), check out the Chu Brothers movie "The Recess Ends". It premieres at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. The doors open at 7pm. Entry is FREE, but you must RSVP to

Here's a sneak preview (film time 3 mins., 14 secs.)

The Recess Ends: Extended Trailer from B-Rilla on Vimeo. (Found this through David Miller's blog, senior editor at Matador)

For more previews of the movie, check out Vimeo's website.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A moment from "The Innocents Abroad"

I'm currently reading Mark Twain and this passage has had me laughing for days, so I thought I'd share it:

I never shall want another Turkish lunch. The cooking apparatus was in the little lunch room, near the bazaar, and it was all open to the street. The cook was slovenly, and so was the table, and it had not cloth on it. The fellow took a mass of sausage-meat and coated it round a wire and laid it on a charcoal fire to cook. When it was done, he laid it aside and a dog walked sadly in and nipped it. He smelt it first, and probably recognized the remains of a friend. the cook it away from him and laid it before us. Jack said, "I pass"- he plays euchre sometimes - and we all passed in turn. Then the cook baked a broad, flat, wheaten cake, greased it well with the sausage, and started towards us with it. It dropped in the dirt, and he picked it up and polished it on his breeches, and laid it before us. Jack said, "I pass." We all passed. He put some eggs in a frying pan, and stood pensively prying slabs of meat from between his teeth with a fork. Then he used the fork to turn the eggs with - and brought them along. Jack said, "Pass again." All followed suit. We did not know what to do, and so we ordered a new ration of sausage. The cook got out his wire, apportioned a proper amount of sausage-meat, spat on his hands and fell to work! This time, with one accord, we all passed out. We paid and left. That is all I learned about Turkish lunches. A Turkish lunch is good, no doubt, but it has its little drawbacks.

Have you experienced a meal like this on your travels? Leave your story in the comments area.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Crater Lake: A Photo Essay

Sunset as we arrive to Crater Lake National Park.

Our cabin the next morning.

The Klamath peoples' legend tells of two Chiefs, Llao of the Below World and Skell of the Above World, pitted in a battle which ended up in the destruction of Llao's home, Mt. Mazama. The battle was witnessed in the eruption of Mt. Mazama and the creation of Crater Lake.
(found on

The landscape is still recovering from the mighty explosion that happened 7,700 years ago. The trees are slowly but surely growing back and reclaiming the pumice desert.

One of the lake's residents.

Only just hanging on: both my niece and the tree.

A parting glimpse.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bella and Tarra

(Video time, 2 mins. 44 seconds)
I just love this video. If an dog and an elephant can get along, two animals of different size, color, and species, why can't us humans figure out how to get along with each other? We're really not all that different from each other. Our ideas might differ, but we're all still human.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why I Moved Home

Friday night's here and I've got a date with an old friend, her daughter, my husband, a pitcher of micro-brew beer (or two) and a karaoke machine. Who could ask for anything more? The star of the show turns out to be my friend's three year old, Olivia, with her rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle" and "The ABCs Song". Three moments stand out as my favorites:
1) slow dancing with Olivia to "Tears in Heaven",
2) hearing Olivia tell her mom "You can't sing!" when Mom was trying to help her with the ABC's. Such independence! Definitely a girl after my own heart and
3) being asked to be Olivia's Godmother. I am so honored.
Overall, what a great night.

The next morning, bright and early, the alarm sounds. Ro and I drag ourselves out of bed, get packing, showered, fed and then on our way to Redding to meet my uncle. Only slightly later than we intended, we made it on the road after having a divine breakfast at my friends' cafe, Cafe Coda.

Two hours to Redding, another hour to the beginning of the dirt road, an hour on the dirt road, then a short but steeply uphill climb, and finally we have arrived. My uncle, his girlfriend, Rohan and I made it to our home for the night: the look-out at Hirz Mountain.
Upon arrival and after a hearty lunch, I appreciate all the effort it took to get here; it's a pretty isolated spot. The only noise is the sound of the wind whistling through the canyon and the occasional bird song. If we look one way we see Mt. Lassen and the other Mt. Shasta.
A lazy day followed. Lots of talking, reading, snacking and then it was dinner time. On the menu: garlic cheddar, fresh sourdough bread, heirloom tomato, shitake mushroom and garlic sauce, fresh pasta, roasted garlic and a bottle of California Zinfadel. Not bad for camping! A stunning sunset full of reds, oranges, pinks, purples and blues tops the day off nicely.

Too early for my taste the sun comes streaming in through the windows. Mind you, all the walls of the room are windows, so any hope I may have harbored for rolling over and blocking it out was useless. As I lay there, I watched the sunrise and the hummingbirds zip up to the feeder for their breakfast.

All too soon it's time to pack up and head back down to civilization. Weekend's like this are the reason I moved home: time with old friends, family and the gorgeous Northern Californian environment. Just writing this as a reminder for when the doubts creep in.

Decision Time

The alarm gently pulls me out of dreamland. Before I get up, I take stock of the day. It's raining, which means no selling fruit and veg at the stand. I could roll over and go back to sleep. But Rohan's up and the guilt of him going to work and me sleeping in gets me out of bed.

I wander out into my parent's kitchen and turn on the kettle. Ever since we returned to the States, we've been living in the house I grew up in. Battles with banks and bureaucracy have kept us from buying a house, so we're still here. My parents, Rohan and I have fallen into a comfortable routine of living together. It won't be this good forever, but for now it works.

I kiss Rohan goodbye and wish him a good day at work. With my cup of tea in hand, I sit down and discuss the world's problems with my mom. Heavy talk for first thing in the morning. Even from our divergent political views we can agree that things are stuffed. We've nearly solved some major issues, but she's gotta go get ready for work, so our waxing lyrical is stopped short.

Out of distractions, I head to my room to start writing. I briefly consider continuing to procrastinate and do some cleaning, but decide against it. Focus, Tabatha, focus!

I briefly glance at my email, find David Miller's blog, take a quick look at Twitter, Facebook, Matador Life and my Matador profile, accept a traveler request, review blog comments and realize I'm still procrastinating. I will do some writing today, I'm determined to concentrate! Today I will finish a chapter of my book and a MatadorU assignment. I will not waste my day searching endlessly for paid writing work while not actually doing any writing.

The decision to stop trying to find travel writing commissions from anybody and everybody is only a recent one. And it came about because of an email I received from an editor two weeks ago.

The day I got the fateful email started out much like today: I got up out of bed, made my tea and sat down in the front of the computer. When I opened the email from the editor, it was with a positive sense of expectation. Up to that point all of our interactions had been congenial.

I had to reread the email twice to believe what it said and one line in particular stood out: “I would hold off writing the [next] piece as at this time, for the level of writing that we are receiving we don't feel that it is worth the $14.” Not worth $14! The $14 isn’t worth the time, effort and agony it took to write these experiences. Truth be told, I didn’t really enjoy that style of writing.

As I sit here thinking about that line and rereading it for the two-hundred and sixty-first time, my decision to stop seeking any and every commission is confirmed. I write for me first. And I don’t necessarily want to do it for a living. I want to teach for a living and write for enjoyment. If the writing pays, great. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too.

I sit here, at this desk over-looking oak, pine and cedar trees, and try to write the kind of stuff I like to read. What I like to read is not the best-kept secret, must-see, exotic, treasure trove, jewel of an oasis that typifies travel writing (words and phrases courtesy of: thetravelersnotebook). I want to read and write something different. As a result of that email I received two weeks ago, I was able to decide what I don’t want to write and therefore focus on what I do want to. Perhaps I should thank that editor for helping me put it in perspective.

Time to Stop Procrastinating

Hello?! Is there anybody still out there? I wouldn't be surprised if you have all abandoned me. I have been extremely slack about writing over the past few weeks. In part it's procrastination, but it's also the dread of facing the empty computer screen. . .

Today, a rainy day, means I can't go sell fruit and veg at the stand. It's time to stop avoiding writing and just get to it. I've got assignments for MatadorU coming out the wazoo. Stay tuned folks, later today there will be posts to read!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Saturday: A photo essay

Oh how we love our new van!

Let's take it to the river. . .

and go for a swim!

The moon's getting up, perhaps we should head home.

BUT the van won't start. . .

A friendly CHP officer shows up to lend a hand (look how dark it's gotten!).

Then 3 1/2 hours after we first contacted Triple AAA, our tow truck showed up. No thanks to Triple AAA though, they were fine to leave us stranded.
Thanks Sinclairs Towing for seeing us safely home!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

My 'Other' Blog

Okay, so I've signed up for MatadorU (Matador's travel writing school) and with that, I've been blogging on their site. So far I've written about why I like travel writing and our last night in Kathmandu where there was a riot just outside our hotel. If you're interested in reading more, click this link and read all about it!

Wally Herger and the Town Hall Meeting in Redding

The debate about public health care rages on in the US (the richest country in the world and still the number one reason for bankruptcy in the country is health care!!!). However, I do not write to declare my views on health care. To address the public's concern over health care folks from the Congress and Senate have been giving 'town hall' style meetings where people from the community can come ask questions and have their concerns addressed. My area is represented by Congressman Wally Herger.

At a meeting in Redding a man named Bert Stead stood up and called himself a "proud right wing terrorist". Now, I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon and condemn this man. Instead, I'm going to post the video and let you all make a decision for yourself. The video is just over two minutes long.

And for a bit more information, here's a news article from about the event.

What if the man proclaiming himself 'a proud right wing terrorist' had been of Middle-Eastern descent? Would the people have cheered then? Men have been tortured and held for years in Guantanamo Bay for being suspected of being terrorists, let alone loudly proclaiming they are. A few examples: Maher Arar, Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah and countless nameless others. Bert Stead is a white guy and so there's no ensuing investigation, no detention and nor should there be. But Congressman Herger should've corrected him and told him that use of the word terrorist, particularly in today's world, is unacceptable. If Herger failed to say that at the time, which he did, then after the fact he should apologize and attempt to correct his mistake. It's irresponsible on his part and I hope the people who vote for him take it as seriously as I do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Okay, this is really big

I have been published on and the response so far has been great! I'm absolutely thrilled with the response (see the comments at the end of the article)!

For those of you who don't know, the Matador Network is the website for travel writing: the world's largest independent travel mag with over 1.8 million views of their website a month. Anyone who has spoken to me in the last couple of months knows how much I've wanted to get published on Matador and now I have been! I am over the moon!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Playing for Change: Peace through Music

Playing for Change (PFC), an organization aimed at bringing the world together through music, has a documentary that premiers on PBS throughout the month of August.

From PFC:
'Playing for Change is a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music. The idea for this project arose from a common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. No matter whether people come from different geographic, political, economic, spiritual or ideological backgrounds, music has the universal power to transcend and unite us as one human race. And with this truth firmly fixed in our minds, we set out to share it with the world.'

The songs are moving, from Stany by Me to War/No More Trouble , the idea inspirational and the artists involved very talented.

Matador is giving away free cds, but you've got to be on Twitter.

Keep an eye on PFC's website

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My Best Sunset Shots

Napa Valley, USA

Koh Chang, Thailand

Gopte, Nepal

Kudle Beach, India

Hervey Bay, Australia

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rebuttal: 'Aussie blokes make the worst husband, study says'

The Courier Mail posted a story today citing a study saying that Aussie blokes make the worst husbands. Australia ranked as the least egalitarian society out of 12 developed nations. According the story, Aussie men are less likely to help with chores and child care (traditionally seen as women's work).

I have to say from my experience, Aussies make great husbands. My own is a good example, though certainly not the only one. He's tidier than I am and (I hate to admit this, especially in writing that can and will be used against me) probably does more housework than I do. Perhaps it balances out when considered against the fact that I might cook a few more meals, but we both do more of what we care about: him, a clean house, me, good food. I have observed stacks of other Aussie men of our generation that do their best to have egalitarian relationships. I'm thinking in particular about a couple who are good friends of mine, her: Kiwi, him: Aussie, that seem to share life's duties quite evenly. I've never once seen him shy away from a dirty diaper, bath time, the dishes or cooking a meal.

The article recommends a husband from Scandinavia, Great Britain or the US. I prefer to keep my Aussie man, thank you very much.

What do you all think? Americans? Aussies?

Teeming with Life: Half Moon Bay

As the radio blares KGO Talk Radio, I wonder if I'm going to be able to make it through another hour in the car. My step-dad and mom sit up the front, him driving, her knitting. Beside me sits my 15 year old niece who actually manages to look more distressed by this experience than myself. It wouldn't be so bad except the constant right-wing dribble issuing forth from the speakers, punctuated by ads selling things that no one actually needs.

The further we get inland, the crummier the weather turns. By the time we reach Half Moon Bay the weather has shifted from warm and sunny to downright cold and grey. At least we've arrived.

We grab from the car the provisions we'll need to camp out at our neighbor's second house for the weekend. Once we've settled in, argued over who will take which room and watched half an hour of 'America's Funniest Home Videos' (is this really the best we've got America???), we all don our flip-flops and head to the beach. No one bothered to bring swimmers, this is Northern California and none of us hold any illusions about the chance of a dip in the ocean.

On the walk to the beach I spot some passion fruit flowers. On such a grey day, they're a welcome spot of color.

I know we are nearing the beach not only by my eyes, but my nose also gives it away. The tangy cool air given off by the beaches of north-west coast America is a smell I didn't even know I'd been missing until this moment. I pause, close my eyes and just savor the aroma.

Out of habit once I hit the sand I kick off my flip-flops, despite the chilly temperature and pebbly sand. Somehow this doesn't compare to the soft, white sands of Thailand or Australia. That said, what is that I see just down the way? Lounging on the rocks are a mother and baby sea lion. They allow us to get so close. For half an hour I watch, spellbound by the baby: his sleek, brown body and facial expressions are captivating. And those eyes!

Once the damp cold settles into my bones and the mist has covered my camera lense, I reluctantly head back to the weekend's home.

The next day we make our way to a beach lined with tide pools. My mom used to visit these when she was a kid. She remarks how happy she is to see them still intact all these years later. They are positively teeming with life: sticky sea anemones with small pebbles stuck to their outsides; sea bushes in dusty rose; deep red starfish cling tightly to rocks; seaweed that ranges from scaly, squat and green to long, thin and red; white, segmented coral that resembles delicate bones; muscles growing from every spare crevice; and hermit crabs crawling over and amongst it all.

Today the sun shone for a couple so the sand is warmer. The sun has done nothing to soften it up though, sharp bits of seashell crushed by rolling waves stab my recently pumiced tootsies. Ouch! Inexplicably there are long-stemmed yellow roses randomly strewn about the beach. Perhaps there was a wedding a here yesterday.

Further down the beach, there's a little rocky island, about hundred feet off shore. "Oooo, oooo!" my niece shouts, indicating the rocky outcrop we'd all but overlooked. Amongst the grey skeys, sea and mist, the harbor seals aren't easy to spot, but they're definitely there and look as if they're really enjoying this weather. Crazy sea animals.
I'd forgotten how much life cold water holds within it. I've spent the last five years living in Australia where much of what's alive in the water, you don't want to know about (sharks, jellyfish, blue bottles). It's a surprising treat that while the water is too cold for this little monkey to swim in, a day at the beach is still a lovely experience.