Storm-ocalypse Now

Image of the Bay Area Storm, December 11, 2014.

Photo: Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle

The West Coast was hit by a winter storm this morning – the biggest in years: howling winds, flooded streets, downed trees and power outages. It was chaos in the Bay Area.

It’s not as if we weren’t warned. We’d been hearing about stormageddon for days – in plenty of time to fill sandbags, replace flashlight batteries, charge cell phones and stock up on food that doesn’t require cooking. Modern technology can help humans predict the weather with astonishing accuracy, yet when it comes to CONTROLLING nature’s wrath we’re no better off than the Donner party. That’s humbling, when you think about it.

Grand Teton National Park. Jackson, Wyoming.

Grand Teton National Park. Jackson, Wyoming.

I participated in two photo shoots for work this year – both of which were weather dependent. In September, I traveled to Jackson, Wyoming, where the goal was to capture mountains and fall foliage in the background of every shot. Photographers and production coordinators arrived two weeks in advance, scouting locations and tracking the progress of the Aspens’ changing colors.

Each golden leaf that fluttered to the ground sent a shiver down the scouts’ spines. But they couldn’t do a thing to stop them. Leaves gonna fall.

(Despite the angst, our shoot went great. The weather was exceptional and the photos are amazing, in case you were wondering.)

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2014

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

I also visited the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October, when breezy conditions and thunderstorms often kept the balloons grounded. (Lightening and propane used in hot air balloon burners do not mix!) We didn’t get all the shots we wanted but again… what can you do? Visitors took plenty of photos anyway, and chatted with balloon pilots and their crews. Kids chased each other all over the place. Everyone ate too many corn dogs and breakfast burritos… and smiled the whole time.

So while battling the effects of today’s storm, I found myself astounded by the level of grumpiness, frustration and impatience I encountered. I watched otherwise rational-looking people in meltdown because their plans were being disrupted. By weather. How dare… IT? DAMN WEATHER!

My apartment and office buildings both lost power, so a neighbor and I met for breakfast at a local café that inexplicably had electricity and Wi-Fi. Unfortunately what it DIDN’T have was spare outlets for plugging in laptops. As a remote workplace, its utility was therefore limited. No wonder we could get a table!

A woman entered the café with her husband and young daughter. She circled the interior of the place five or six times, getting more worked up with each pass. “I need an outlet. I have so much work to do,” she exclaimed. Meanwhile hubby stood in line to place their order, with a list of his wife’s special dietary needs as long as his arm. The kid sat alone, looking forlorn.

Admittedly, I don’t know the woman’s story. Perhaps she’s a scientist, thiiiiis close to discovering a vaccine against Ebola. (If so, I apologize. Get her a power source, STAT.) More likely, though, she’s a harried working mom in need of a little perspective. Could she not have seen the storm as a happy circumstance, and enjoyed a leisurely few hours with her family before rejoining the rat race? Would that have been so crazy? So destructive to her career?

What are the odds that, when she finally did log on, she found her email inbox nearly empty because every other local colleague had been in the same boat?

At lunchtime, my office was up and running so I braved the elements, carrying with me a sack of Christmas cards to mail. Most shops and office buildings were still without power and remained closed. I crossed my fingers that I’d find a post office that was open for business on my way home.

Indeed I did, and the line was short! I basked in my good fortune, until a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge got in line behind me. He had stopped first at a different downtown post office that was closed. He was incensed because other businesses in the area had power, and were open. Why not the post office? I told him the street had NOT had power when I walked past a few hours earlier. He did not like this, and glared at me.

He griped and groused until someone suggested he go to the front of the line. Fine with me. Maybe the others had a touch of the holiday spirit, but I just wanted him to shut the hell up. No luck. He continued to complain from the front of the line. Finally, I could hold back no longer.

“Well, I’m just happy I found an open post office so that I don’t have to carry these cards around in the rain anymore.”

He launched into a lecture about his long history of working for government organizations, and his deep experience with customer service. It was simply inexcusable, he explained, that the manager of the other branch had not posted a note on the door listing alternative locations.

I considered reminding him that the manager had probably been busy and harried by stormageddon. I also thought about pointing out that OUR branch had been open for less than one hour. What would have been the point of sending cold, wet customers here when it might have been closed too? Can you imagine how berserk this guy would have gone, in that situation?

But trying to change Ebenezer’s outlook would have been like trying to stop the rain from falling. No point to it.

It’s still stormy outside, and I’m digging it. This is as close as San Francisco gets to wintry Christmas weather. My tree is lit, and the room is toasty. Cue the holiday DVD.

Nobody is gonna rain on MY parade.

 

Mountains and fall foliage around Jackson, Wyoming,

Wyoming

Go Dutch, or Go Home

A view of a canal in Utrecht, the Netherlands

Utrecht

I returned home from the Netherlands one week ago, suffering from mild food poisoning. The culprit: taramasalata, a Greek dip made of cod roe, bread crumbs or mashed potatoes, lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil. I’ve always loved the stuff slathered on crunchy French bread, and I usually binge on it when I’m overseas, where it’s much more widely available than in the United States. Oops.

Based on my 20-year aversion to gin, after one night of extreme intemperance at university, I suspect my love affair with taramasalata may be over. I have yet to even toe dip back into seafood since my return because just the smell of fish knocks me back a step.

So, on Thursday I will give thanks that the holiday is known as “turkey” – and not “flounder” – day.

Luckily, the second half of my trip involved nicer hotels (especially the Grand Hotel Karl V in Utrecht) and fewer hours on my feet than Amsterdam, so feeling a little crummy didn’t louse up my itinerary.

I decamped Amsterdam, and headed to The Hague by way of Leiden — home to the oldest university in the Netherlands (founded in 1575), and temporary refuge of the Pilgrims. Leiden is a beautiful, quiet town with canals, one windmill (my first) and an impressive collection of antiquities at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden – the national archaeological museum of the Netherlands.

The Hague was the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated destination of the trip. I stayed in the Noordeinde neighborhood – the royal palace was right around the corner – and shopped until I nearly dropped. The city offers a fine mix of upscale chain stores and high-end boutiques, all surrounded by cobble stones and centuries-old gable houses. Unfortunately it was here that I patronized Marks & Spencer, purveyor of the offending taramasalata – hereafter referred to as “the dip that shall not be named”.

Of course, I didn’t JUST shop and eat. I visited The Hague’s greatest gem, Mauritshuis – a tiny museum chock full of works by Dutch masters. (Tip: If you go, be sure to invest in the audio tour. It covers close to 50% of the artwork.)

I also toured the Museum de Gevangenpoort, a 15th century prison complete with a hostage room for debtors (this predates workhouses), a torture chamber with tiled walls to make post-interrogation clean up easier, and a “farewell” chamber where prisoners sentenced to death ate their final meals, and said goodbye to their loved ones. I got chills picturing the place after dark.

My final stop was the university town Utrecht, with a side trip to ‘s-Hertogenbosch (“Dem Bosch”) on my second-to-last day. Both towns have lovely old market squares, nice shops, a pretty canal or two and – in the case of Dem Bosch – a magnificent church. St. John’s Cathedral (Sint Jan) was a highlight of the trip.

One week later I am curled up in my comfy chair, watching football while sucking on my fifth Tums tablet of the day. It’s fun to reminisce with these photos.

It’s also good to be home.

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As an aside, the Dutch speak great English and therefore have an knack for clever English shop names. I think “Knit Happens” could be my favorite:

Dutch Treats

Row of canal houses in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It has become a tradition that I take my biggest vacation of the year around Veterans day in the United States (early-mid November). It’s an opportunity to enjoy chilly fall weather, without much risk of a freak snowstorm stranding me somewhere. The timing also means fewer tourists generally, and fewer school-age tourists specifically.

This year I chose the Netherlands as my destination. The start of my journey was not promising. A United Airlines drama nearly eighty-sixed the whole adventure.

At San Francisco International Airport I was informed that my frequent flyer ticket to Amsterdam was missing the Frankfurt-to-Amsterdam leg in the computer system. Two United agents who spoke terrible English discussed my plight in Chinese, while I stood by helplessly. Despite having an email confirmation on my iPhone showing an SFO-Frankfurt-Amsterdam reservation, the agents told me there was nothing they could do beyond checking my bag only as far as Frankfurt. I’d have to work out the rest by calling the MileagePlus 800 number.

Whaaaat? Do I look like a complete idiot, novice traveler to you??? Checking my bag just to Frankfurt, where I had a two-hour layover at best, while my hotel bookings were all in Amsterdam, would have been the DUMBEST MOVE EVER. The agents were quite insistent about checking my bag, but eventually conceded that the ticketing counter might be able to help me.

As far as I’m concerned, the United check in staff at the SFO international terminal are woefully inadequate and lacking in basic English language proficiency… except for one Gabriele Bugler — a no-nonsense lady (German, I think) who waited on hold with MileagePus for at least 30 minutes, while triaging several problems brought to her by other flummoxed United agents. She sorted it all out, no obsequious apologies but no excuse-making either.

Hey, United Airlines: Gabriele Bugler deserves an enormous raise. Give her one. Oh, and if you are going to push people toward your online reservation system, you might want to fix some pretty serious, glaring bugs.

Never mind, I’m now safely in Amsterdam which is so full of English speakers and beautiful architecture, I have deja vu moments of thinking I’m either in London, or French Canada.

My first stop yesterday, following a harrowing and very pricey taxi ride to my hotel, was the Anne Frank House  The line was 45 minutes long, but visitors are provided free Wi-Fi to help pass the time. Where in America can you get Wi-Fi while waiting in line outdoors?

No surprise, the museum was respectful, tasteful and moving. I reread Anne’s diary (the unsanitized version) before coming here, but despite her detailed description of the group’s living conditions I could not picture their accommodations. The size and the darkness of the rooms took my breath away.

I often joke about the tiny dimensions of my first Manhattan apartment; Anne’s mother, father and sister Margot shared a smaller space for more than two years without any respite. No office or school to escape to. No gym. No walks around the block. The room that Anne shared with her nemesis Fritz Pfeiffer was the size of my current closet in San Francisco.

The walls of Anne’s room still display a few photos she pasted from movie magazines, as well as a childhood photo of Queen Elizabeth. I’m sure the Queen knows this. I wonder if she’s ever seen it?  I imagine it would break her heart. It broke mine.

If you ever have a chance to visit the Anne Frank House, be sure to tour the entire museum — including the top floor, where documents around the deportation of the Frank family are on display. (Nazis kept meticulous records, it turns out.) Exerpts from Anne’s diary are there, too.

I waited in line for the museum behind a very nice couple from Sacramento. The wife made me laugh, though. When I told her this is my first trip to Amsterdam, she gravely informed me that smoking marijuana is legal here, and that there is a flourishing Red Light District.

REALLY? Hey, maybe I DO look like a total idiot, novice traveler. I mean, who on earth goes to Amsterdam knowing SO LITTLE about the city, that they are unaware of coffee houses and legalized prostitution?

As it turns out, the Red Light District is just behind my hotel. I didn’t realize this when I made my reservation, but tonight in search of a specific restaurant, I walked out the back door and saw lots of red neon lights. I’m kind of embarrassed by how long it took me to make the connection: red lights = red light district. I saw a few lingerie-clad women in window displays, but otherwise… the neighborhood was remarkably quiet. Maybe I needed to walk farther to see the real action. Or perhaps this is what happens on the Sabbath, in the birthplace of Calvinism?

imageEarlier today I visited the Rijks and Van Gogh museums. I also ate a Belgian waffle drizzled with chocolate that nearly brought me to tears, and frites slathered in joppisauce that were pretty darn amazing. Now nodding off to the hypnotic sounds of the BBC news.

More soon from the land of the gouda wheel…

UPDATE: My hotel was NOT in the Red Light District, after all. I had mistakenly thought that all of Amsterdam’s prostitution takes place in that neighborhood, but it does not. The day after I wrote this post, I stumbled into the real Red Light District, and said a little prayer of gratitude that I wasn’t staying there. Peaceful, it is not.

Stacks of gouda cheese wheels

It Rained On My Parade

Madison Bumgarner Fathead on display at the World Series victory parade in San Francisco, CA. October 31, 2014It’s been a while since my last blog post. A LONG while. I’ve been traveling more than normal, and I guess I just fell out of the blogging habit. It’s easy to do when your trips happen every few weeks, and involve weekend travel. Then your beloved baseball team makes it to the postseason. As a wildcard. And goes on the win it all, playing five nights out of seven for an entire month.

Every other year, like clockwork, my October is ocupado, thanks to the San Francisco Giants.

I’ll blog about my recent travel – which involved plenty of photography – shortly. But for now, I’m still basking in the post World Series parade glow.

The parade route wasn’t as crowded as in 2010 or 2012 – hopefully because it rained all morning, and not because we Bay Area folks are taking World Series wins for granted. Whatever the explanation, I managed to position myself in the first row against barricades on Market Street… where I stood waiting for the players’ floats for 4.5 hours, without water (except for what was soaking my hair and shoes), to avoid the need for a restroom run. Under no circumstances was I relinquishing my ideal photo-taking spot.

Totally. Worth. It.

Cell Phones and Buses: This Is Where I Get Off

Man talks on his cell phone on a bus, while other passengers glare at him.I’ve written in the past about cell phone etiquette, and my belief that the evolution of social norms (and fear of the stink eye from others) have helped stem the tide of loud, intrusive, one-sided conversations in restaurants, elevators and other public places where less information about your neighbor is definitely more. Yet even now, not everyone has gotten the memo.

Early last week, I commuted home from work on a packed San Francisco MUNI bus. I had a seat because I boarded at the first stop, but when a bus is delayed by more than 30 minutes on a weeknight, even the lucky seated few feel penned in like veal.

The guy standing next to me — my face and his bait n’ tackle separated by only a few inches of air and a thin layer of khaki — was chatting VERY LOUDLY on his cell phone. Let’s just say this fellow had a face made for radio… but not a voice. And he had positively no social filter.

He started off explaining that he was still quite ill after a full course of antibiotics – EXACTLY what other passengers on a crowded bus want to hear, am I right? If things didn’t improve by the end of the week, he planned to go back for something stronger. He never disclosed exactly what was wrong with him, but I had enough details to be thoroughly creeped out.

(Why oh why did I stop carrying hand sanitizer in my briefcase, I wondered?)

It gets better. The patient began to discuss another physical problem he had posted about on Facebook:

Yes, well my friends told me that if I ever want to get back into the online dating scene, I should take down that post since my Facebook privacy settings are public. I really didn’t agree, but I followed their advice anyway.

I am not sure which was less shocking – that this guy is single, or that he posts sensitive, personal information on Facebook for anyone to read. Privacy settings? Privacy is for wimps, that much was clear.

He kept going:

Well, I had to have surgery so they could CUT it out. It was very big. Like a very large…. wart, essentially. I say “cut”, but they really had to GRIND it out.

And then — just like that — he was gone. I never even found out how many stitches he got, or what kind of ointment he was using. And while I know plenty about his physical infirmities, I don’t even know his name.

As he exited the bus, I couldn’t help but notice how other riders cleared an unusually wide path for him. Like me, they no doubt washed their hands with the vigor and precision of an ER surgeon as soon as they got home.

Ah, the joys of public transportation. In the words of Kermit the Frog… It’s not easy being green.

McIlroy and Fowler: Out In the Open

Rory McIlroy on practice day one, US Open 2012. The Olympic Club, San Francisco CA.

Rory

Since CNN delivered a British an Open Championship spoiler via text alert at about 11 a.m., I figure there’s nothing stopping me from writing a quick blog post about two of my favorite professional golfers — Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler — while the tournament is still being televised in the U.S.

Rory won at Royal Liverpool, and Rickie ended the day tied for 2nd place with Sergio Garcia.

I remain a wee bit skeptical about Rory after he called off his wedding to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki in May, just a few days after the invitations were mailed. Seriously, he couldn’t have decided he “wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails” any sooner? The results speak for themselves, though: ever since rejoining the ranks of single folk, his level of play has been phenomenal, suggesting something (probably his head) just wasn’t right.

Besides, rumor has it that Wozniacki was prohibited from wearing high heels while dating McIlroy because she is two inches taller than he is. (She’s been tweeting photos of herself this week, wearing stilettos for the first time “in three years”.)  No man is worth that kind of sacrifice.

Wozniacki won a WTA tournament in Istanbul today. Rory is the newest Open champion.  He is 25 years old, she is just 24. Perhaps they both have emerged from their relationship as winners.  At a minimum, seems like they dodged a bullet.

I dug into my photo archive from the 2012 US Open for shots of McIlroy and super-nice-guy Fowler.  Aside from being very down-to-earth and gracious with fans, Rickie is a blast to follow around the course because there are always a few very young boys there who idolize him, and dress up in head-to-toe Puma gear. (Orange on Sundays, of course.) Adorable.

Well played, fellows!

 

LeBron James: He Likes Us! He Really Likes Us!

LeBron James Nike "We Are All Witnesses" billboard hanging from a building in Cleveland, Ohio

Four years ago
We were sucker punched, so
You can understand why I’ve been skeptical.
My hometown was spurned
Our allegiances turned
And our hero was yanked from his pedestal.

His burning ambition
Lay behind “The Decision”
To join forces with Bosh, and with Wade.
Fans shouted obscenities
And burned him in effigy
Any time the Cavs and Heat played.

But feelings evolved
And Cleveland resolved
To lure King James back in free agency.
They flattered, they fawned
They slept on his lawn
Would he come home, or turn us down gracefully?

Never say never
Knock me down with a feather
The optimists were not mistaken.
Chock full of forgiveness
And ready to WITNESS
This time fans have not been forsaken.

A conclusion forgone:
We’ll win with LeBron
And great things are going to happen!
The Q will sell out
And there’s really no doubt
That the Cavs will be NBA champions.

Come home LeBron billboard in NorthEast Ohio, 2014.

Seattle: Right As Rain

IMG_1140_edited-1Last week I made a quick trip to Seattle, one of my favorite US cities. Since then, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked, “How was the weather?”  Seattle weather gets a bad rap. It can be soggy, but it seldom rains buckets for days on end. In my experience, the daily “norm” is periods of sunshine interspersed with fast-moving showers. Nonplussed Seattle-ites don’t even bother opening their umbrellas most of the time. They remind me of the Scottish in this way – maybe it’s why I am such a fan of the Emerald City.

That said, it’s very humid most of the time so any day can become a very bad hair day.

On my trip, I visited the Seattle Art Museum (SAM, to you). I hung out at Olympic Sculpture Park and Woodland Park Zoo, and caught a Seattle Mariners/Cleveland Indians game at Safeco Field – my first time in a domed baseball stadium.  It drizzled a few times during the game, but the roof stayed open.

Locals who attend Mariners games are so NICE. (Listen up, Oakland A’s fans.)  Actually, everyone in Seattle is polite and über-affable, perhaps due to their proximity to Canada.  And Safeco Field has some interesting amenities I’m more accustomed to seeing at a county fair.  Well played!

Family Tree Hugging: Unearthing My Civil War Roots

Cavalry orderly, Rappahannock Station, Virginia. (Painting by Edwin Forbes)

Cavalry orderly, Rappahannock Station, Virginia. (Painting by Edwin Forbes)

As I’ve mentioned, I am a bit of a genealogy buff. I was a history major in college, and my just-to-get-me-out-of-the-house occupation, should I hit it big in the Powerball lottery, would be genealogist.

I’ve been researching my family background since 2010. It is extremely time consuming, but also incredibly interesting because neither side of my family has much in the way of lore. No fancy trees illustrated on parchment and displayed under glass for my people. Pre-2010, my most entertaining family fact was that both sides can claim a (hard-drinking) ancestor who fell under a streetcar and lost his leg.

So you can understand why I might want to dig deeper in search of a connection to someone a little more… grand. Or failing that, someone notorious in a “wasn’t-the-X-century-quaint” kind of way. So far, I’ve unearthed no pilgrims, presidents or international playboys, which is disappointing — but then again I’ve discovered no Nazis or slave owners either.

My primary tools for research are Ancestry.com and Google, and I recently added Fold3 to the mix. Owned by Ancestry, Fold3 focuses almost exclusively on military documents. If your family arrived in the U.S. anytime before the Civil War, it’s a goldmine. I signed up on Memorial Day 2014. It seemed fitting.

(Fold3 costs about $80 per year, after a seven-day free trial, but I waited for a special deal for Ancestry.com subscribers and paid half that.)

My first discovery was a set of muster rolls for my paternal third great-grandfather, Albert Jackson White (c. 1829 – 1885). I’d never heard of the White branch of my family before I started my research, and thanks to Fold3 I now know that Albert fought on the wrong side of history – enlisting in Company D of the 151st Virginia Confederate Militia (later the 17th Virginia Cavalry) on August 21, 1861. He was promoted from private to second lieutenant on May 1, 1863, and was taken prisoner at Nineveh, Virginia the following year. Albert was released on June 17, 1865 after swearing allegiance to the United States. (I have a digital copy of his signed oath.)

At the time of his release, Albert was described as standing 5’9”, and having a “sallow” complexion (common coloring among POWs, I suspect) and blue eyes.

My research has also helped shed new light on the maternal branches of my family tree. Today I uncovered information on another third great-grandfather: Jones McCutcheon. (Great name, right?) I have not yet found proof of his military service, but there’s a document dated September 21, 1861 – one month after Albert J. White signed on to fight for the Confederacy – in which Jones pledged allegiance to the Union, and the “Government of Virginia” (a.k.a. West Virginia).

So, the Civil War didn’t just pit brother against brother. It was also third great-grandfather vs. third great-grandfather.

Harper Minner Arrest DocsBut wait, there’s more. What Civil War family legacy would be complete without a deserter? Allow me to present yet another 3x great-grandfather, Harper Minner. His is another fine family name that would be perfect for my firstborn (who would have to be a foundling on my doorstep, at this point). Too bad Harper Minner is shaping up to be quite a scoundrel…

Harper enlisted in the 2nd West Virginia Cavalry in March 1864 – not exactly an AJ White-style eager beaver. The fact that he chose the right team doesn’t really add up to much since, according to the May 1864 muster roll, he quickly fell ill and was sent to a hospital in Charleston. (Could this be the Civil War era equivalent of a LeBron James flop?)

By July, Harper had been transferred to a hospital in Gallipolis, Ohio, where he remained… until an apparently miraculous recovery late in 1864 enabled him to desert.

A man named John Sheafer received a $30 bounty for arresting Harper in Kanawha, West Virginia on December 18, 1864. Harper was court martialed in January 1865, but released a few months later thanks to Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation 124, offering pardon to deserters. Records suggest he may have been charged the cost of his arrest ($39.85), although there’s no record of his payment.

Say what you will about deserters; their questionable choices mean treasure troves of documents, pulled together by the military in order to prosecute them. For this I say… thank you, Grandpa Harper.

I’m stepping away from genealogy for a few weeks, what with some travel plans and the World Cup going on. Plus, my brain is feeling overloaded with… facts.  But I’ll be back, as long as there are both auspicious blood lines and notorious ne’er-do-wells still to be discovered.

 

 

Sweet Talk

Woman's feet on a bathroom scale.A few weeks ago, nearly everyone in my office was cleansing. All around me, colleagues detoxing from sugar, caffeine, gluten, fat – you name it – belched $10 kale juice, while I drank Diet Coke and scarfed down all manner of “bad” carbs. At home, I consumed too much wine and snacks, slept badly and skipped the gym.

I’m not sure what got into me, but I had taken a pronounced detour from the detoxers, and my “thin” clothes that I’d worked so hard to fit into last year, had become a pretty tight squeeze.

Then I hit the trifecta. Or did I enter the Bermuda triangle? Not sure, I suppose time will tell.

First, I read The Shift: How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life, by Tory Johnson. The book received mixed reviews, but I’d heard it was a fast read so…

Tory’s story begins on the day she is “invited” to breakfast with a senior executive at ABC, where she is a weekly contributor at Good Morning America. Tory knows what’s coming: She’s about to be told to get thin – or else. Because she is the primary breadwinner for her family, she decides to finally get serious about food issues she’s struggled with since childhood. The Shift tracks her one-year weight loss journey.

I’d be fibbing if I said I enjoyed the book overall. For starters, it is a chronological account that resembles a monthly journal. That’s a writing style I don’t care for to begin with, plus let’s face it: Diets (the non-fad ones, anyway) are monotonous as they stretch over months and months. That’s why diets are so hard, they are relentless! Who wants to read about one, blow-by-blow?

Also, Tory can be a little cheesy, like when she waxes romantic about how losing weight improved her sex life with her husband. It’s enough to make a Harlequin romance writer roll her eyes. On this topic I say, less is more.

That said, the book is unique in that it makes no promises, and offers no gimmicks. In Chapter 11, Tory acknowledges “the delusion of a quick and easy fix… There is no instant gratification, just hard work and patience.” This is not the message most folks who buy diet books want to receive, so I applaud her for not pulling punches.

Even if the writing is not inspired, The Shift is unique in that its focus is mostly on what’s going on in Tory’s head, rather than the physiology of weight loss, or tricks and shortcuts to losing 50 pounds in an absurdly brief period of time. If you have ever struggled with your weight, you might recognize some of her patterns – which she sheds, one by one.

Food for me, now, is fuel. It does not have to be amazing, entertaining or exciting. Each meal does not have to be like a trip to the county fair or a fantasy segment of Top Chef. I’ve had enough “Wow!” meals to last a lifetime. I want a different set of “wows” now.

How many times have we heard a friend (or ourselves) promise they’ll start a diet tomorrow, because tonight’s meal (with extra bread, butter, wine and dessert) is “special”? Tory Johnson may not be in line for a Pulitzer, but she’s a pretty good truth teller.

80% of products in US grocery stores are spiked with added sugar.  1/3 of Americans will have diabetes by 2050.

Photo: UCSF

If The Shift provided food for thought, it was just an appetizer. I followed it up with the movie Fed Up, a stinging indictment of the food industry lobby, and government agencies such as the US Department of Agriculture, for their contribution to America’s obesity epidemic. As with The Shift, the information provided in Fed Up is not all new. Most of us know by now that sugar – in all its sneaky forms – is unhealthy. It’s been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. But there were still a few gob-smack moments for me.

I felt sick as loving, well-meaning parents featured in the film fed their families “low fat” processed foods, loaded with sodium and sugar to make them taste good. It was heartbreaking to watch their obese children sob in confusion, because they were getting heavier despite making what they thought were good food choices. The kids believed the advertisements for reduced fat products, and blamed themselves for their lack of weight loss success.

I was also struck by a rather obvious question posed by producers: Have you ever wondered why food labels list the recommended daily allowance of all kinds of ingredients, except sugar? (Um, no. Sadly, I never even wondered.) The fact is, most processed, packaged foods contain more than the recommended daily amount — six teaspoons for me. Telling consumers this might interfere with consumption, so the food industry lobby has opposed such transparency.

So today I embarked on the 10-day Fed Up sugar-free challenge, applying greater scrutiny to food labeling than I ever have before – and it’s already super freaking hard! Day one’s excruciating a-ha moment: Even plain Greek yogurt has sugar. In some cases, a lot of it. My favorite brand is Athena, which has eight grams of sugar. That’s one third my target maximum for a NORMAL day.

I’m a diehard (or hardboiled?) egg lover, but I am not sure I can eat eggs for breakfast for the next 10 days. Face Greek yogurt has just four grams of sugar per serving (one sixth of my recommended daily amount) and there’s some in my fridge…

Oh yeah, this thing will be hard.

Part three of my trifecta: for the past two days San Francisco bus and subway drivers have held a “sick out”, leaving passengers waiting up to one hour for a ride to work. I sometimes walk home in the summer, but have always steadfastly refused to consider walking TO work. (I’ll get too sweaty! My hair will go nuts in the fog! I have too much to carry! I’m wearing the wrong shoes!)

View of downtown San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and the Transamerica Buildin, from Broadway at Jones Street.

View of downtown San Francisco from Broadway at Jones Street.

This week, I’ve had no choice but to walk, and of course it’s been fine. I show up at work with more energy, and according to my Jawbone Up the round trip pushes me past my daily goal of 10,000 steps, even if I’m a total slug for the remaining 22 hours of the day. Commuting on foot also offers stunning reminders of my good fortune, to live in such a beautiful city.

I can’t promise I’ll walk to and from work every day, once MUNI drivers go back to work. But my new goal is to walk at least one direction.

Sometimes we are inspired to change. At other times, change is thrust upon us. Right now, I’ve got a little bit of both going on – and I’m trying to grab on with both hands.

Seriously, though. Can anyone recommend a sugar-free Greek yogurt? Does such a thing even exist? (FYI, I draw the line at buying my own cow. Or goat.)