Skip to content

Barefoot Home Improvement, Episode One: Stair Painting

August 27, 2015

barefoot home improvement

Don’t need shoes for this either . . . although I had to be super-darn-careful while pulling out the poky strips that had held the (NASTY DUSTY!) carpet down for the last 27 years.

stairs without carpet

Once this crumbly orange padding stuff was gone, it was time to fill in (some of) the holes in the cheap plywood subfloor, sand away (see first photo), and then brush on two coats of primer.

filled and primered stairs

It got a little messy, trying to keep track of eight cans of paint (on sale for 99 cents each at the local Ace Hardware).

messy stair painting project

mixing brown and green floor paint

I chose eight colors (total paint cost: $8!) that reminded me of Orange County’s beautiful coastal sage scrub habitat: fading shades of sagebrush and willow (which I mixed a bit), the brown of end-of-summer buckwheat blossoms, a reddish reminder of poison oak (as well as the new growth of laurel sumac), dusty beige, the cheerful sun-glow of our asteraceae friends, and shades of mid-day (and mid-night) sky.

I had to go over each “stripe” twice to cover the stark white primer . . . which meant many many many hours of crouching and/or kneeling on the steps, trying not to mess up the adjacent wet paint. The paint job that inspired me to do this did not make use of straight lines, so that was a big relief . . . ’cause it’s darn near impossible (for me, anyway, and I just spent several days practicing) to paint a super straight line (which I guess is why the meticulous folks out there use masking tape; I’m not one of them).

painted stairs from pinterest

This is the Pinterest “model” I followed. Sort of . . .

Final step, times three: a thin layer of water-based “varnish” (which is REALLY difficult to keep from drips/runs/gooey messes: insert very sad face here).

final three coats

(And now: Sound trumpet fanfare . . . )

painted stairs

barefoot prints on painted stairs

“Dusty” footprints to lead the way up . . .

profile of Old Saddleback on painted stairs

And, in the photo above, a “hidden picture” . . . since I wasn’t going for straight lines anyway, I decided to include a little outline of our iconic eastern landmark, Old Saddleback (made up of two mile-high peaks, Santiago and Modjeska, poking out of the Santa Ana Mountains).

looking down at painted stairs

Everybody’s a critic: this is me admiring my work from above, whilst my helpful husband points out an especially egregious set of drips (that I will eventually fix . . . but I’ve had my share of stair-crouching the last five days. Time for a barefoot run!).

In the meantime, we’ve been using an eight-foot ladder to get upstairs for the last few days . . . it’s good to be old-but-agile (and not afraid of heights). Aside from ripping out the old carpet for me, and taking the first picture in this post, my husband has wisely kept out of the way, but I’m guessing he’ll be glad to be able to use the (NEWLY PAINTED! NO MORE 27-year-old CARPET!) stairs again.


Happy (Painted?) Trails . . .

Meteor Showers and Monsoon Wildflowers

August 22, 2015

barefoot at Joshua Tree National Park

It’s already been ten days, so who knows if they’re still in bloom, but earlier this month I headed for the desert to experience the Perseid meteor shower and was delighted by a carpet of yellow wildflowers at Joshua Tree National Park.

August wildflowers at Joshua Tree National Park

creosote in bloom at Joshua Tree National Park

carpet of yellow wildflowers at Joshua Tree National Park

Yellow wildflower carpet at Joshua Tree National Park

When I arrived in mid-afternoon, mid-week, the calm desert air was August-hot and the whole park seemed empty. “Hooray,” I thought. “This should be a lovely quiet night to watch falling stars in peace and quiet and did I mention I came out here for PEACE AND QUIET??!!”

It was not to be.

As soon as the day began to fade, people people people crawled seemingly out of nowhere (OK, they crawled out of their expensive SUVs) and began staking claims to the best rocks from which to view the upcoming show which must have been hyped by more than a few So Cal media outlets.

getting ready for the meteor shower

So, instead of night solitude and awe and isolated contemplation of streaking lights in the immense sky and my place in the universe . . . this:

headlights in the desert

The way my camp site was situated, I got a major dose of headlights as a constant parade of cars cruised the campground looking for a (non-existent) place to park.

I was, however, able to squeeze a little entertainment value out of the evening . . . since I had decided to spend the night tentless in the back of my truck, whenever I was roused from nightmare by the irritating rumble of a car engine idling a few feet away, I would raise up (maybe a bit dramatically, maybe not) from the truck bed and–usually, hopefully–startle the crud out of whoever it was who thought it was a good idea to park in my camp site for a while at 1 in the morning.

Yes, there were more than a few streaks of light to enjoy . . . some with glowing tails that lingered in the tangle of more permanent stars . . . but I was almost relieved when the sky began to lighten, bringing hope that the night of midnight giggling boulder scramblers was almost done.

morning at Joshua Tree National Park

ravens on rock at Joshua Tree National Park

Before I headed home, I did a bit of bouldering myself . . .  barefoot, of course. These monzogranitic rocks offered fantastic texture and (too much?) traction, but I think a whole day of scrambling without shoes might be more exfoliation than my feet could afford.

barefoot bouldering Joshua Tree National Park

On the way out of the park, I stopped to stroll the nature trail through the lush cholla garden . . .

cholla garden at Joshua Tree National Park

(Do I need to say it? OK I will:  . . . barefoot, of course.)

barefoot with cholla

Happy Desert Trails!


Safe and Fun Barefoot Camping, and Then . . .

August 8, 2015

California’s Big Sur in the summer: although I am a native Californian, I never camped there until last week. What a week!

We were blessed with amazing (and unusual for summer) weather: no fog banks hanging around all day and night, no brisk ocean breeze . . . instead, the air was warm and still with just enough clouds to make for spectacular sunsets. (And two days of big-spouting migrating whales to admire . . . some no farther out than the rocks off-shore in the photo below.)

(Photo by my daughter with her big professional camera.)

This lovely image was copied out of my professional- photographer-daughter’s FB feed.

For five days I went nowhere needing shoes: just walks around the campground and to the nearby beach and second-growth redwood forest.

This shot's for you, Brian :)

This shot’s for you, Brian! (Brian=fellow admirer of barefootprints)

bare feet and limekiln creek falls

Light and shadow at Limekiln Creek falls.

The next generation of barefooters . . .

The next generation of barefooters . . . here’s a happy nine-year-old eager to get her feet wet.

Who doesn't love to be barefoot at the beach?

Who doesn’t love to be barefoot at the beach? Even safety minded engineers lose their shoes when the Pacific Ocean calls.

lots of bare feet

Five of our six grandkids camped with us, going barefoot sometimes, wearing flip-flops or Softstar moccasins other times. I do my best not to pressure them to lose their shoes . . . which works fine until one of them gets a tiny (but painful!) splinter in the beach gravel. Sigh. Is that an “I-told-you-so” look from the parentals?

The (flushable! such luxury!) campground bathrooms were cleaned every day, so I had no problem going in shoeless. In fact, the only time I slipped my toes half-way into my thin Merrell Pipidae sandals was when we stopped for gasoline (the ground around gas stations seems especially yucky to me) and then, on our way south and home-bound, to have lunch at the Firestone restaurant in Cambria.

I just don’t like pushing the “where-can-I-go-bare” envelope, so I almost always slip on my sandals to go into eating establishments. We had parked across the kind-of-busy main street that runs through Cambria; hubster had already crossed and was in the restaurant. I rarely feel a need to use crosswalks (remnant rebel stuff from 1960s?), and so I began my first shod steps in five days with toes barely in my sandals, dashing across the main drag through tourist-haven Cambria.

Just that thin layer of sandal sole somehow convinced my brain that I had no need to look down where I was stepping (one of my main arguments against hiking boots: the more shoe on your foot, the less attention your brain gives to the trail–or, in this case, street).

It’s taking me a long time to build up to this . . . I’m usin’ all the tools of suspense I can muster . . . but it’s probably obvious where I’m going with this little story . . .


It felt almost slow motion–first there was the sensation of something catching my left sandal bottom under the ball of that foot. My upper body kept moving, however, in a light and leisurely arc that ended awkwardly when I felt my left knee and right hand hit the pavement.

Not even a flesh wound . . .  but my daughter and grandsons came running out of the restaurant, having witnessed the whole frantic scamper and plummet, worried about granny’s physical well-being. Which was fine. My pride was moderately wounded, but I was able to blame it on the darn sandals, thus absolving myself from self-recrimination about lack of balance. I had, after all, just spent five days stepping lightly and lively over beach rocks and stream rocks and logs and log bridges . . . all with much joy, joy that was only brought into greater relief by the ridiculousness of taking a tumble on level pavement on a busy summer day in the picturesque Central Coast beach town of Cambria, CA.

Limekiln Creek waterfall

It seems that I can negotiate slippery log bridges, but not city streets.

Happy Summer Trails!

“How are you Mariposa Lily?” (reblogged from the “Califlora” blog)

July 22, 2015

I just came across this lovely blog by another Orange County native plant lover . . . and I was so excited to find my poem (which appears in the introduction to most-excellent botany guide “Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains“) republished here:  “How are you Mariposa Lily?” (a line from my poem . . . it feels so “official” to be quoted!) is the title of the blog post about these beautiful flowers.

Happy flower-filled trails!

Stunning (and rare!) intermediate mariposa lilies are a-bloom at the top of Barham Ridge.

Stunning (and rare!) intermediate mariposa lilies in May bloom at the top of Barham Ridge (between Irvine Park and Santiago Oaks).

Barefoot Running . . . Fantasy vs. Reality

July 21, 2015
barefoot running under oaks

Fact or fiction: I can run like this all day . . .

When I first began my barefoot wanderings, in January of 2010, my focus, goal, aim, hope, extremely wishful thinking . . . was that this latest experiment would be the key to solving the ongoing mystery of my lifelong running injuries (having tried all kinds of physical therapies, strengthening programs, rooster comb injections, acupuncture, massage, ART, ice, heat, icy-heat, and an assortment of support devices including bands, straps, sleeves, and $500 orthotics).

Not so much.

Every time I get to the point where I can run 60-90 minutes (on trails! up and down stuff!), my body busts out a new area of pain; lately, it’s been my right hip, so much so that for a few days last week even walking was unpleasant . . . and “nature hiking” has always been my activity of last resort to keep sane in busy Southern California.

Arrghh . . . that’s right . . . in spite of the cheery tone of this blog, running for the last couple of weeks/months has been an agonizingly futile attempt to string together a succession of a hundred yards of steps that are quicker than walking, but then. The. Pain.

The words of a physical therapist from many years ago come to mind, again and always: “What is your injury trying to tell you?”

When I first heard those words back in 2004, I was ticked. It seemed to me he was trying to politely say, “Just give up. The pain is not getting better, so quit running and live with it.”

So, of course, I found another PT, and kept trying to get back to running (always walking walking walking in the meantime).

Now, after some digging around on the internet (last month the doctor said it was my psoas, so I had to look that up), I’ve discovered ideas about pain and our bodies that have me completely re-thinking the question, “What is your injury trying to tell you?”

Of course I’ve been working on my running form all these years–running without shoes makes that critical–but now I’m going a bit deeper, and learning to listen to what my body might be trying to tell me about the places (present AND past) that hurt.

I’m deeply grateful to my “team” of wonder-working body workers, and am happy that a lifetime of fun running seems possible again . . . beginning with yesterday’s lovely, easy, hill-and-valley-ramble in Santiago Oaks Regional Park (85 degrees and humid at 6 pm . . . my favorite running weather!)

Will I ever accomplish my big dream of running all day? Maybe an off-road ultra-marathon?

I am learning all the time (working on my psoas ever day via “constructive rest”) but of course still have some work to do . . . especially now that I’ve discovered the field of “somatic archeology”; it looks like I have LOTS of listening ahead of me as I keep deciphering “what the pain is trying to tell me.”

In the meantime, happy trails, indeed!

At the end of yesterday's non-painful run: a happy splash through Santiago Creek . . .

At the end of yesterday’s non-painful run: a happy splash through Santiago Creek . . . no, I can’t run all day yet, but I continue to be grateful for the times I can run at all . . .

Life and death on July’s dusty trails

July 11, 2015

deer print and barefoot pring

The trails around Irvine Regional Park are prime for barefoot hiking/running right now, and the fine dust also creates excellent critter-records . . . here is tangible evidence of the bounding deer who was out of sight in two big bounds as I traveled through the delectable “Willows” network of trails this morning.

bunny on trail scratching nose

Unlike the jumpy deer, this bunny was so unperturbed by my presence that he stopped to do a bit of itching before racing me down the trail.

hummingbird at rest

Another critter that allowed me to gaze for a while: this lovely hummer high in a willow, who seemed to have no urgency to go about her humming life. Instead, she sat and sat and sat while I craned my neck to watch and watch and watch . . . hoping to learn something. I think I did:

The Unhummer

See how the hummingbird rests–

unhidden, no need

to be garden-busy,

no need to be other than

a branch tip, allowing

the wind its way, ignoring

another hummer’s whirling frenzy,

free to sit

at the willow tip

for as long as it takes

to appreciate her own

pleasant heart music.

dessicated wood rat under oak

One last gift of the trail from this morning’s wander: a dessicated wood rat under an ancient oak. Dropped by whom? When? Why?

What a fierce final scowl . . . what delicate, bone-bare feet . . . .

Shoeless Backpacking at Grand Canyon . . . A Hot Time, For Sure!

June 30, 2015

What a blessing . . . to shoelessly descend the North Kaibab Trail at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon!

barefoot silhouette grand canyon

What made the experience even better was that I had just finished a career-pinnacle moment: leading my first multi-day creative writing workshop! (Thank you Grand Canyon Field Institute for making this possible . . . and I can’t wait till June 17-19, 2016, when I will be facilitating a similar GCFI adventure.)

nature writing at Grand Canyon

!! I don’t usually use so many of these !! but !! it was that kind of week!!

My interior-tent-view of the Eureka brand "!" each morning.

My interior-tent-view of the Eureka brand “!” each morning.

We spent four days wandering the trails of the North Rim, stopping often to admire the wildflowers and creatures who make their home here.

white columbine at the North Rim

butterfly at North Rim

Penstemon North Rim

Fungi North Rim

lizard along the North Kaibab Trail

Lupine fields North Rim

When the workshop was over, I said “farewell” to my fellow writers, loaded up my pack with the bare minimum of gear, and took off down the North Kaibab Trail to spend one last night . . . below the rim . . . at Cottonwood Campground.


With temperatures way over 100 degrees F in the inner canyon, I didn’t need much: just a light foam pad, a silk sleeping bag liner, and a bit of no-cooking-needed food. (Somehow I managed to come up with enough other stuff to get my pack up to 16 pounds. Water? The book I ended up not reading?)

This next photo shows the most essential piece of gear I own for hot-weather hiking: My awesome Golite Chrome Dome umbrella. (Or brolly, as the Brit thru-hiker Keith Foskett calls it.)

Resting at Roaring Springs pump-house residence

When the temps are life-threateningly hot, hikers need to “get over” any ideas about needing to look cool (figuratively, not literally), and just get their brolly on. I know I would not have chosen to hike into the summer-super-heated canyon in the middle of the day (note to hikers thinking about doing this . . . make sure you start at 4 am, not 8 am like I did . . . but I wanted to say “goodbye” to my writing peeps . . . ) without my moveable shadow.

bare feet and Redwall Bridge

Here I am at the bottom of the notorious switchbacks that begin after the Supai Tunnel. As the photo illustrates, the shade stops here at the Redwall Bridge.

What’s a barefooter to do? Put on some hiking sandals (my old faithful Merrell Pipidae Wraps) and keep on trekkin’ . . . and trekkin’ . . . until seven miles down the trail, Cottonwood Campground comes into view, along with its easy access to a dunking spot in Bright Angel Creek. At 1 pm on an excruciatingly toasty afternoon, plopping in the creek fully clothed seemed like the most logical thing to do.

taking a dunk in Bright Angel Creek

This refreshing dip was all I needed to get me energized to hike another mile-plus into the Canyon . . . to Ribbon Falls, where one can hike behind the waterfall at a place sacred to many people, but obviously not to the two shirtless young men who were passed out in the red dust next to suspicious-looking containers of some kind of (whiskey-ish?) liquid. I thought for a nano-second about photographing them (waterfall-desecration-shaming?) but turned my attention to the falling water instead.

behind Ribbon Falls

Unable to linger with knuckleheads so close by, I headed back down the rocky steps to find a more private dipping pool . . . which I thought I did, but I guess I did not realize the extent of the crazy maze of trails through boulders and brush that provide way too many ways through the small canyon (habitat fragmentation, anyone?).

So there I was, doing my own version of “passed out by falling water with few clothes on” . . . when all of a sudden I heard AND felt bodies dropping to the ground inches from my head. Yep. My dead-end spot next to a boulder was, actually, part of someone’s boulder-strewn path down canyon. (I could almost hear Coyote’s laughter as my anticipation of some kind of intensely-meaningful-experience-of-deep-insight at this ancient sacred place turned, instead, to a bit of embarrassment (go back and re-read what’s in bold) in front of rock-hopping strangers.

Then the thunder began, and as I looked up and realized the extent of the dark clouds building on the rim above the waterfall, I figured it might be intensely meaningful to get to a safer place just in case the summer monsoons had arrived. (They hadn’t. Oh well.)

All the inner canyon was in shade, though, thanks to the gray cloud cover, so I thought I’d leave my sandals off and hike the 1.4 miles back to Cottonwood barefoot. Holy heat wave, Batman! The ground was still too hot to touch, with hand or foot, so I got shod up and slowly (feeling like a wrinkly desert tortoise conserving energy) made my way back to camp.

After a gorgeous starry night, filled with the sounds and sights of creek-whisper, cricket-song, shooting stars, ants on my tummy, and bat wings inches from my face, I woke up when I smelled cigarette smoke (I had some really quiet but fiercely chain-smoking neighbors across the mesquite hedge in the next site) and figured the earlier the better to beat the heat on the way up and up (and out).

Dawn lights the sky early in these parts, soI never needed a headlamp, even though I was on the trail by 4:30 am.

prickly pear on north kaibab trail

barefoot backpacking on the North Kaibab Trail

Ahhh . . . the hike up . . . seven miles of barefoot fun with all kinds of ancient rocks greeting my toes with friendly massages the whole way.

barefoot on the North Kaibab Trail

Once or twice the trailside springs and seeps added a bit of muddy relief.

springs/seeps along the North Kaibab trail

Then . . . one reaches the Supai Tunnel (named after the rock formation that got blasted through to create it).

supai tunnel

It is a transition of magnitude, for all kinds of reasons, not the least being the fact that mules are not allowed below this point.

Which, to turn that thought around, means they ARE allowed above the tunnel, and the multiple mule trains a day grind the ancient sea-floor rocks to the finest, most delicate, superbly delightful, just plain poofy . . . dust.

(Dust which magically turns me feet the color of the canyon.)

red dust of north kaibab trail

Along with dust-manufacturing, the mules also create . . .

mule poo on the North Kaibab trailP

. . .  prodigious piles o’ poo.

The flies are happy about that, and have opened several five-star resorts in the summer-long cesspools of mule piss.

(Use your own olafactory imagination to provide a hint of the scent.)

barefoot print on the North Kaibab

(This photo is for one of my blog followers, who likes photos of barefoot prints, the providing of which I am happy to do.)

Rim-to-rim hikers always pose by the sign, below, for “documentation” of their exploits; while I had only hiked 8.4 miles into the Canyon (as far as Ribbon Falls), I posed by the trailhead sign anyway.

barefoot at the North kaibab trailhead

A flyer was taped to the sign . . . something about an “Excessive Heat Warning.”


Uh, yeah . . . no one in their right mind should venture down into the Canyon when it’s this hot.

barefoot on the North Kaibab Trail

Maybe I was in my left mind?

I can’t wait to do it again . . .


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45 other followers