Serendipity: Wish You Were Here

How’s this for serendipity: While visiting a vintage shop in San Jose, I stumbled across this postcard.

Mike Roberts iconic photograph of the San Francisco Bay Bridge

Postcard: Mike Roberts photograph of the iconic San Francisco Bay Bridge

The reverse side of postcard | Sunset, San Francisco Bay Bridge

To the average viewer, it’s unremarkable. The card is a reproduction of a photograph of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Photographer Mike Roberts photographed the bridge multiple times in order to capture this shot. He published the photo in September 1959, five days before I was born.

My family moved to the US in November 1966, and a year later my father painted this oil on canvas. Dad died in 1969.

My dad Eric Milner’s oil painting, painted in 1969, two years before he died

Stumbling across the postcard literally stopped me in my tracks. My heart did that strange flutter as I tried to make sense of the photo. I realized at that moment that a small piece of unknown history grazed my fingertips. The postcard photo had been my father’s muse. I never knew.

Returning home with my friend Kelly, we jumped online and looked up Roberts and his work. From there I discovered this book

book cover Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here: Mike Roberts | The Life and Times of America’s Postcard King | by Bob Roberts

Mike Roberts was working on a memoir when he died in 1989. According to his son, Bob:

…yellow Kodak boxes snoozed in my basement for twenty years. For reasons financial, literary, and personal it took twenty years to pull together the pieces of Wish You Were Here. The words and photos were rummaged from his early musings, classic transparencies, and drafts. The rest of the story springs from our family, his friends, media accounts, and those yellow boxes. Enjoy! – Bob Roberts, March 2015

A page from Robert’s book describing the photoshoot

Title page of Mike Roberts book purchased used online

Here’s one more bit of serendipity. While thumbing through my husband’s family photos, I came across this snapshot. Check out the art on the wall!

My husband Mike’s family gathered in front of a painting of the Bay Bridge, circa the 1960s | Mike is wearing the burgundy shirt, lower left

I’ve loved reading about Mike Roberts’ life and work. I appreciate his incredible artistry and his love of the humble postcard. Most of all, I’ll never tire of those serendipitous moments in time, when a daughter stumbles upon an old postcard, bringing forth a snapshot in time.

I wish you were here.


Convergence:  the act, condition, quality or fact of converging.

Cyclamen's near the Hyatt Hotel, San Francisco

Cyclamen’s near the Hyatt Hotel, San Francisco

It’s what came to mind when I clicked on Julia’s Blog, Defeat Despair last week.

In late December our family ventured to San Francisco in what could best be described as a bust.  Mike had the week off and wanted to go somewhere with our boys. We rode the train, then a trolley followed by a long walk, only to find a line wrapped around the building of the site we had come to see: the renovated Exploratorium.

It was a big let down, though not unexpected when you live in a large, metropolitan area.  Whatever you thought to do, it seems thousands of others had the same idea.

As we were leaving the City, we stopped in to see the holiday decorations on display at the Hyatt Regency, then exited into a courtyard filled with cyclamen.  I took several pictures before we headed home, and planned to blog about them the following week.


Cyclamen up close

San Francisco Cyclamen

San Francisco Cyclamen

When I clicked on Julia’s blog I felt that odd sense of deja vu.  Her post “Actually See” featured her cyclamen photo, taken a decade earlier in the same neighborhood of San Francisco.  Convergence.  Julia lives in another state.  We connected through a fellow blogger living in Canada.  Yet here she was posting cyclamens from 2004 that seem to mirror my own the week before.


Have you had a similar experience?

Millbrae: Train Tracks of my Youth

DSC00068I just read an uplifting post at Teddy and Tottie, a family enjoying themselves and the holidays.

Color me green with envy.  It’s not that I had a bad holiday.  To the contrary, I have two great sons, four adorable cats and a husband who is all you could ask for in a partner. I have extraordinary friends and a comfortable life.  I want for nothing.

Depression, however, colors things grey.  It tosses a blanket over the light and strips your energy.  It paints things with a lackluster brush.  We’re well acquainted, depression and me, but we’re not friends.  Regardless, it shows up each year and settles in for a while.

The triggers are all too familiar, but since I can’t change the past, cancel the holidays or renegotiate the date on my mother’s death certificate, I simply work at remaining aware and try to be kind to myself.

We headed to The City for a family outing this week on a train that travels through Millbrae.  When our train made the scheduled stop at the Millbrae station and without a hint of diplomacy, my old acquaintance took a seat in the invisible row of my past.  Depression cozied up to my cerebral cortex and made himself comfortable.

And so it goes.

I wrote the following piece in long-hand while riding the same train several years ago.  It flowed out of my pores and helps explain the sorrow.

If you suffer seasonal depression, my heart goes out to you.  Let’s continue together to toss that blanket aside once and for all.

Train Tracks of my Youth

Standing on the Millbrae platform of a train bound for San Jose, memories dribbled out of me like a wound that won’t quite heal. The longer I stood, the sadder I felt, heavy, burdened, questioning as I stared down the train tracks of my youth.

Our family moved to Millbrae in 1968. My father succumbed to lung cancer a year later, victim to his habit of smoking hand-rolled, unfiltered Player cigarettes. He was 54. What should have been a temporary residence on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks became our home for 7 years.

After our father died, Mom found work in the City and rode those tracks north each day. We waited for her to come home at night, listening for the evening train. Having lost one parent, it suddenly seemed feasible that we could lose the other. The relief was palpable when she walked in the door. I remember the smell of her suede cape, her cool, soft cheek and the undeniable release of fear for another day.

We crossed those tracks daily to attend school, the not-so-subtle border between the slums of Millbrae and the mostly white, affluent hills of this small community. A boy named Dwight once caught up to me as I walked home alone on those tracks, charming and polite, he was tall, dark-skinned and interested in me, a potent combination at any age . But he was to appear a few weeks later at our bus stop, arms bleeding, flogged by his father for some unknown infraction. Confused and horrified, I felt very alone. Shortly thereafter his family moved.

We spent our summer on our side of the tracks playing kick the can and hanging out at an apartment pool reading discarded issues of Mad magazine. I was at home with our crowd on Garden Lane, the have-nots who didn’t need to explain. I played with a boy named Robert, our champion player, his friend Scott and my sister Sharon among others. There was a girl from Puerto Rico named Teresa who exuded sex appeal from every pore. She knew a lot more about boys then I did and got to kiss the one I had a crush on.

We survived those years dodging drugs and unwanted pregnancies and went on to graduate from college. But I would be lying if I said we made it through unscathed. For in that rough-and-tumble neighborhood on a street called Garden Lane I saw things that I still don’t really understand: the cries of a woman beaten by her boyfriend; the squawk of her parrot, also agitated and scared; the sight of a father beating his four-year old with a switch; and the cruelty of a boy exploding a frog with a firecracker before my devastated eyes.

Garden Lane was a place of loss and violence, pain and sorrow, first crushes and the dawning sexuality of a shy, freckle-faced girl. The train tracks remain but Garden Lane is gone, obliterated by tractors and wrecking balls to make way for a BART station in its place. Plowed under but not forgotten, it continues to parallel the train tracks of my youth.

Mid-Week Trifecta at the SF Flower Show

Wednesday, was opening day at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show.  It was also the first day of spring and a day out with good friends, the perfect, mid-week trifecta.

So…two out of three ain’t bad.

The mere mention of the word ‘spring’ puts a bounce in my step.  Seeing two girlfriends for a day of hang time was awesome as well.  It was the much-anticipated show that left me feeling a bit deflated.

The show changed venues over the years and seems to have decreased in size and spectacle, perhaps a sign of the times.

At the heart of the show are display gardens.  This year’s theme, Gardens Make the World Go Round, featured the ‘World’s Largest Rotating Succulent Globe.’  That was pretty cool, though not something the average gardener could reproduce out back.  It’s been entered into the Guinness Book of Records.

Rotating Succulent Glove

Rotating Succulent Glove, Designed by Robin Stockwell of Succulent Gardens

Beyond that, only two gardens caught my eye.  The first was ‘Thailand,’ a silver-medal winner designed by Bay Maples, featured below.  The second, ‘Mexico: Inside Out’ swept the awards.  More on that later in the week.

I spoke with designer Alan Hackler who, coincidentally, also lives in San Jose.  He’s passionate about re-purposing resources, and is known to stop at construction sites, to reclaim materials for use in client projects. Hackler’s show entry featured planter boxes made from old garage doors, reclaimed lumbar, a used pond liner and other reclaimed materials.  The ‘temple’ also features the window panels from former garage door.  Fun!  I loved the aesthetic and his enthusiasm for his art and craft.  The design was restful and inviting.

Alan Hackler, Bay Maples

Alan Hackler, Bay Maples

Thai Temple garden show

Thai Temple Garden

Temple built with reclaimed materials

Temple built with reclaimed materials

From the program:

Inspired by the Buddhist temples of Thailand, our garden is intended to evoke the tranquility and simplicity of an ancient meditation space. Ecological gardening techniques featured are salvaged and re-purposed materials, locally sourced materials, and water efficient plantings.

Thai garden water feature

Recycled pond liner, boxes made from old garage doors

The garden features only California native plants to demonstrate that water conscious, climate appropriate plants can be used to achieve nearly any garden theme or motif. All Redwood logs were sourced from two downed trees salvaged from the Santa Cruz hills. Another water-smart feature about our garden is the recirculating aquaponic vegetable beds. This is inspired by the flooded rice fields of Thailand.

thai garden edible garden

Thai Edible Garden

Bay Maples: Wild California Landscapes

The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show runs through Sunday, march 24th, 2013

After the Rain: Fresh and Fabulous

A couple of decent-sized storms moved through the area over the weekend, drenching communities up and down the state. I love being indoors listening to the rain and winds, but it was a bear for those who had to drive.  We were lucky to be home.  Several large trees went down in the storm, but I don’t think anyone was hurt.

Japanese Maple

Japanese Maple

Maple leaves in the fountain

Maple leaves in the fountain

Winds and rain stripped the remaining leaves from our Chinese Pistache but the more sheltered Maple continues its colorful show.

The vegetable beds and the surrounding barrier look none the worse for wear.  In fact, the cauliflower crowns are forming.  They looks so cute at this stage.  Something’s been eating the outer leaves, though I couldn’t see any sign of the anonymous nibbler this morning. I’m hopeful that is the only damage.

Broccoli Plants

Broccoli Plants



It was disappointing to find so much standing water in the worm bin, and worried I drowned the lot of them.  Fortunately, the layer of straw gave them a place to go so all is well. I got out the drill and put several holes in the bottom and sides so this doesn’t happen again.

Otherwise, the garden survived the storm and looks refreshed.  Here is one last look:

Prettty and Pink

Pretty and Pink



Fruit Cocktail Tree

Fruit Cocktail Tree

Mystery Balloon Comes Down in the Storm

Mystery Balloon

It’s one of the laws of physics: what goes up, eventually comes down.  If only balloons could talk.

Autumunal Equinox: Love for all Seasons

Wedding day

Fall leaves, summer flowers, happy bride and groom

Summer officially turned to fall today (September 22nd). The autumnal equinox marks the time of year when day and night are of equal length. It’s also a personal milestone. I married the love of my life on the first day of autumn 17 years ago. Autumn landed on September 23rd that year, but no matter.  Symbolically, the days feel like one and the same.

We both share a love of the outdoors, so exchanging vows on the grounds of the elegant Wente Brothers Winery was perfect. When I walked down the “aisle,” it was actually a grassy courtyard.  We held hands and declared our love beneath a flower-laden arch. I still have a small pressed flower from my tossed bouquet.

After one night in San Francisco we honeymooned along the Mendocino coast. We hiked local beaches, rode the Skunk Train amid redwoods and toured a botanical garden hugging the coast.

Nature is a great equalizer. Seasons change, life ebbs and flows. The majesty of the earth brings a uniting force to bear.  As the autumnal equinox ushers in shorter days and longer nights, I’m grateful for the love in my life; grateful for my love in all seasons.

Mendocino Coast

Home along the Mendocino Coast

wild hens Mendocino

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens


Mr. Wonderful in Magnificent Mendocino

Miniland Wonders: Bonsai meets Legos

Can’t you just see the job description:  ‘Lego builders wanted, must play well with others.  Patience and math skills a plus.’

Without further ado, today’s blog is brought to you in pictures. All of the models are built from Legos.   The trees and flowers are real but pruned to scale:

San Francisco, California

New England

New England meets Bonsai

Star Wars Episode IV: Tatooine

Las Vegas, Nevada

Historic Ferndale, California
(This one’s for you, Bonnie)

Not pictured: Washington, DC, New Orleans, New York and Southern California. There is also a Star Wars Miniland, featuring scenes from all six episodes.

Blending The Two
A. Bison
B. Golden Goose
C. Elephant near succulents
D. Bison close-up
E. Dragon tail

What’s Growing at LEGOLAND

Native Wildlife
(That lizard tried to impress me with push ups)

The Heart of LEGOLAND and a Dash in the Splash

LEGOLAND’s® heart lies toward the center of the park, known as Mini-land USA. Meticulously detailed Lego models recreate, on a miniature scale, monuments, neighborhoods and landmarks. Mini-land brims with recreations of  New Orleans during Mardi Gras, the White House, complete with marching band on the lawn, Las Vegas and downtown San Francisco to name a few.   It’s amazing to see the creativity on display. Each scene captures the essence of the original, using lights, sound and movement, such as a cable car going up and down the hill in San Francisco or a fire crew rescuing a cat from a tree.  Mini-land is full of charm, appealing to all ages.  In recent years they’ve added a Star Wars series, with displays from various Star Wars movies. In addition to the fixed models, buildings are surrounded by miniaturized landscaping.

If you look closely at the photo below, the trees are actually small plants, pruned and shaped to look like pines and spruce.  The red barn and green house are built entirely from Lego bricks.  They stand about eight inches tall.

Three years ago, LEGOLAND added a water park and a small aquarium. The current Sea Life Aquarium exhibit featuring crabs and other crustaceans.  The tanks were breathtaking, with an eye toward beautiful design and sea life preservation.  It’s small and intimate, a nice way to start the day.

We spent the rest of the day at the Water Park.  Cameras safely locked away, we donned bathing suits and floated anonymously on individual rafts along the Build-a-Raft-River. The water was warm and relaxing.  We shook things up by careening down the Orange Rush in a family raft.  My son talked us into a turn on the water roller coaster, a ride culminating with a steep plunge into a wall of water.  To say we were soaked is an understatement.

Trivia for the day: LEGO started in Denmark in 1932. LEGO comes from the word “Leg Godt” which means “play well.”