One Book a Week-22: “The Neuroscience of You”, Chantel Prat, Ph.D

The subtitle of this book is “How Every Brain Is Different and How to Understand Yours”. Prat explains in detail and with humor how every brain is different. Little quizzes and tests help readers explore their own brains. The results of most of the quizzes did not surprise me except possibly one. I do not think I am as extraverted as the test indicates. You can find some of the tests and quizzes on her website, CHANTELPRAT.COM–without reading the book.

Research details how brains differ and how this difference controls individual behavior. Two people faced with the same potentially threatening situation react differently because their brains differ. Although many of these differences are genetic, brain research also suggests that the ability to understand others and comprehend social cues is learned. For better or worse, brain research also reveals that people with brains that work in a similar way are more likely to spend time together. However, people can learn to understand others whose brains are quite different. She calls this mind modeling (reverse engineering the minds of others)–sort of like what is commonly called walking in another person’s shoes. Being able to “read” correctly another person’s nonverbal cues helps with this and it can be learned. So the next time you find someone behaving in what you consider an idiotic manner, try thinking this: they have a different brain shaped by their own unique genetics and experiences. This might help me at least come to some understanding of behavior and views I consider intolerable.

An Afternoon Stroll at The Huntington

Friday, I decided to look around at parts of The Huntington since I had not been there in a while. For one thing, I knew the roses would be in full bloom, and even though I had been there a number of times, I had never looked around the rose garden. They did not disappoint.

Find the bird among the roses.

The building is the newly reopened Tea Room.

This rose has perfume as part of its name and smells divine.

I left the rose area and strolled in the herb garden seen above. Then I found a new kind of artichoke, Opera Artichoke. See below.

Facing away from the rose garden I could see all the way to downtown Los Angeles.

This tree is labeled Naked Coral.

Then I strolled through the tropical garden area.

Fig trees.

After leaving the tropical area, I wandered around cactus and succulent gardens.

Trip to Lucky 5 Ranch, near Julian, CA

Yesterday I drove to this place about six miles south of Julian, CA, a small, touristy, mountain town east of San Diego. Owned by the Nature Conservancy, the ranch abuts Anza-Borrega Desert Park, but this area is not desert. On the way, I drove through at least four Indian Reservations on Highway 76. California has more Native American residents than any other state.

This is Lake Henshaw on Highway 76 on the way to Julian. It is so full now that tops of trees stick out of the water. People told me that last year it was more like a big puddle.

The three mile hike was not long but quite strenuous as we climbed approximately 800 – 1000 ft. in altitude on the hike.

Lots of wild flowers everywhere due to abundant rain this year. We had to find parts of the trail because it had not been used since before Covid and was overgrown.

Views of Lake Cuyamaca which we could see in the distance as we climbed up and down.

The manzanita are in full bloom and luxurious this year. There were other flower the names none of us knew.


We kept climbing up steep slopes higher and higher. The climb was more difficult because lots of loose, little rocks and gravel in many places.

Where we ate lunch at the top which is slightly over a mile high. There are these dead, bleached out branches everywhere, the result of a big fire in 2003 which killed a lot of plants and some of it has never recovered.

Lunch up high among the rocks.

A different type of yucca than grows everywhere in the many other places where I have previously lived.

On the way down from the top. Everything is still quite green here and there were storm clouds in the distance.

Some people call this California lilac. It grows everywhere here and is in full bloom glory.

Book a Week-21: “Boy, Snow, Bird”, Helen Oyeyemi

A unique and sometimes frightening story with a surprising ending, this is another tale of the lengths to which people of color will go to pass for white to gain the benefits of whiteness. For one New England family this has succeeded quite well by sending a too dark daughter back South to live with relatives and never allowing her to come to the town where the rest of the family lives. It fails when a too dark child is born and the parents keep her with them. It is also a tale of gender identity and how rape and abuse can destroy and deform and of resilience in the face of endless obstacles. This is not an ordinary novel.

Book a Week-20: “Sankofa”, Chibundu Onuzo

After her mother dies, Anna searches through her mother’s belongings and discovers a hidden diary written by the African father she never knew and about whom her white mother, who never married, told her nearly nothing. She travels to Scotland to have the diary authenticated by an expert, researches, and discovers her father had to return to Africa, became a revolutionary, and then president (or dictator, depending on the source) of a small African nation. She also learns that he is still alive.

Leaving behind a daughter and white husband from whom she is separated, Anna decides to travel to Africa to find her father. Treated unequally as a biracial child in England, in Africa she is seen as “obroni”, white. Thus, the book addresses issues of racial identity, family acceptance (she does find her father) and belonging, and tells a tale of the adventures of a middle-aged woman in search of self.

Baja Trip-7: Tres Mujeres Winery

Originally started by three women–see the name, this woman is the only one of the three left as owner. She said she has been doing this for 20 years. The vineyards keep healthy without the use of toxic herbicides or pesticides. She says the breezes from the ocean help with keeping the vines healthy. She also has olive trees and gardens and a small restaurant–outside. The vegetables, flowers, etc. used in the restaurant are grown there. Below is the salad we had for lunch.

Lunch under the trees.

Wine tasting underground. What you notice when you drink all natural wines is that at the bottom of the bottle there is usually a residue.

The path in and out of the tasting room.

Buildings and fences made of local stone and flowers everywhere.

Stones, some quite large, show up everywhere in this part of Valle de Guadalupe. Some buildings, restaurants, other wineries, houses are build around the rocks with rocks as part of the architecture. I took the following photos from Tres Mujeres.

A lot of Valle de Guadalupe reminded me of parts of New Mexico and also the rocky hills around Temecula, California.

Not only are there over 100 vineyards in this valley but also endless olive groves. Locally pressed olive oil can also be purchased at many of the wineries. The other specialty is cheese. We stopped at one shop, the Cremeria Los Globos where they specialized in many cheeses filled with chipotle, black pepper, you name it. Honey is also produced locally and for sale at many wineries. For the most part, everything is all natural.

One Book a Week-19: “The Round House”, Louise Erdrich

Winner of the National Book Award in 2012, and narrated by the 12-13 year old son of a tribal judge and a professional, tribal woman, this novel details the story of a family nearly destroyed by the brutal attack on the boy’s mother. Even after the identity of the attacker is known, he is set free because she will not tell or cannot recall where the attack occurred, whether on tribal land or just outside its boundary. This leads to the boy’s determined quest to obtain justice for his mother. This page turner perfectly illustrates the continual problem of justice for indigenous women who are 2-3 times more likely to be raped (and often killed in the process) than white women and with no one ever charged.

Given the seriousness of the novel, it is surprisingly funny at times with the antics of teen boys and other characters, including some colorful and interesting older tribal members and an ex-Marine priest. The reader will also learn a lot about Ojibwa culture. Once you start, you have to keep going in hopes that somehow justice will prevail in the end.

Baja Trip-6: The Art of Beliz Iristay

The first place we visited after breakfast was the art gallery/studio and home of Beliz Iristay. Although she does other things, her main medium is ceramics. I had first seen her art on display at the Riverside Museum back in December and posted some of that art in a previous blog. Originally from Turkey, she is married to a Mexican artist. The two met while both were teaching in Istanbul. She has lived also in the US and her artwork has been displayed in many places in the US. She and her husband live in the Valle de Guadelupe near Ensenada, Mexico.

Here are a few of the pieces I photographed in her gallery in Mexico.

Following is work that was on display at the Riverside, CA Art Museum until last week. The first tells a bit about her and why she produces the type of art she creates. At her studio she repeatedly emphasized that she sees herself as creating feminist art that makes statements about the plight of women throughout the world. At her studio she was creating some large pieces for a new commissioned display that supports what she sees as her feminist goals.

She frequently uses traditional adobe bricks from Mexico made locally where she lives and then transforms them into various works of art often combining the Mexican and the Turkish cultures.

One Book a Week-18: “If An Egyptian Cannot Speak English”, Noor Naga

Identity politics remains at the heart of this unusual novel. Written in three parts, One portrays a “love” affair between an Egyptian American woman who has gone to Cairo to find her Egyptian self and an unemployed, revolution (as in Arab Spring) photographer who alternates between living in a rooftop shack and homelessness. Each vignette starts with a question and alternates between the voice of the woman and the man, expressing their viewpoints on life, love, and their situation. Part Two is the same except without the “headline” question. Part Three is a big surprise–a discussion, written as a play, a critique of the rest of the novel among the author, an instructor, and several “students”.

I loved this book in part because it enabled me to learn a lot about Egyptian cultures, but also because I found it thought provoking and intriguing.

Baja Trip-5: Wandering Around Ensenada

First, we went to the fish market where I saw fish I could not even begin to identify. Then we strolled along the wharf.

This mural portrays the matriarchs of the northern Baja area. each from a different indigenous tribe who lived there before others arrived.

Cruise ships dock here several times a week.

Built when alcohol and gambling were illegal in the United States, this was once a famous casino where the rich and famous came to gamble and drink. Now it belongs to the city and is used for weddings, retirement parties, etc.

Back in the 30s, the water came up to the edge of the casino property so people could come in their luxury yachts, dock, and walk right inside.

The original bar still exists and is well stocked. Here we heard the story of the invention of the margarita. Many claim to have invented it in various places in Mexico. It seems to trace back to a bartender who moved from place to place and brought the drink with him. Who knows?