Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lonely octopus

She's a pretty girl, California-born. She likes to hang out near the beach, on the amusement piers where the action is. A natural swimmer and athletic, she likes to test her limits. She's got a good sense of humor, natural curiosity, and she doesn't like to be alone.

Remember what it's like to be a lonely teenager. Somedays it seems like no one appreciates you. You feel cooped up, penned in. You feel twitchy by yourself, just hanging around in your room, nothing to do. Maybe rearrange things, move things around.

You just wish someone was paying attention.

This lonely octopus is a Two-spotted Octopus, or Octopus bimaculoides, at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. Wednesday night she got bored and indulged in some typical teenage acting-out, trashed her room, messed up the house.

I sure hope they don't ground her.

Photo credit: Top photo from Heal the Bay's Flickr site. Go see the whole slideshow. Bottom photo of the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium's octopus, in the public domain, from Wikipedia.

Pink Saturday - Jasmine

Pink Saturday - Beverly, at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire your creativity!

Here in Southern California we are fortunate that we can grow jasmine. This is Jasminium polyanathum, also known as Pink Jasmine and Winter Jasmine. Its pink buds open into small white fragrant flowers in February.

I grow a jasmine vine on the wooden structure that screens my trash cans up by the curb. I figure having a fragrant plant helps disguise the garbage both visually and - well - in an olfactory way.

This plant is in bloom on a fence among the shops and cafes along Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, CA. It foams and burgeons over the fence, reaching out its fragrant tendrils to passersby.

In colder zones, you can grow pink jasmine as an indoor potted plant - it works well as a hanging basket - in a cool room, where it will get some night-time chill.

This is not the only Jasmine you can grow. The genus Jasminium has over 200 species of fragrant vines and shrubs.

Jasminium sambac, commonly named Arabian Jasmine, is the jasmine used to make jasmine tea. It has broad evergreen leaves, and there is a double-flowered version called "Duke of Tuscany" that is widely cultivated. Arabian Jasmine is the national flower of the Philippines.

In addition to the number of Jasmine species, there are also many fragrant plants of other genuses that have the common name of Jasmine - Trachelospermum is called Star Jasmine and is frequently grown as an outdoor ornamental in moderate climates.

Night-blooming Jasmine is really the genus Cestrum, native to Central America, India andMexico.

Even the fragrant shrubby plant we know as Gardenia - Gardenia jasminoides - is often called "Cape Jasmine" in certain parts of the country, particularly the South.

If you're a Jasmine lover, and you want to try a few species for your own gardens or homes, Logee's Tropical Plants is a wonderful mail-order nursery with a wide selection. Even if you're not in the market for Jasmines, their website and catalogs are good reading.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thematic Photographic - Winter

"Winter is nature's way of saying, 'Up yours.'" - Robert Byrne

This is Venice Beach, in January, with the fog obscuring the ocean, and a damp chill in the air. There aren't many people visiting the vendors on Ocean Front Walk, and you can hear the sharp impacts, slaps, and clatter as the skateboards flip and turn and crack against the concrete of the park benches and pavement south of where the old Pavilion used to be.

This skater has come in from the cold wind at the beach, to the shelter of the old cast-iron colonnades by Big Daddy's food shack.

Blood oranges

Blood oranges are in the market now. These oranges, a little smaller than the typical orange, have a tinge of rosy blush on the skin. When you cut them open, the flesh is crimson, or sometimes mottled with deep red. The color is from the pigment anthocyanin, the same pigment that give blackberries, cherries, and purple grapes their deep, finger-staining color.

Blood oranges were originally cultivated in Spain and Italy. The three best known varieties are the Moro, the Tarocco, and the Sanguinello. The Moro variety was discovered in Sicily around the beginning of the 19th century. The Tarocco is said to be the best selling orange variety in Italy. The Sangiunello was discovered in Spain in 1929. There are dozens of other varieties, but these three are the most commonly grown types found in the U.S.

The season for blood oranges is November through May. Some varieties are earlier, some later. I started seeing blood oranges in my market around the beginning of February. Even though they are a bit of an extravagance, I like them so much I get them while they're available.

The flavor is a little bit different than a regular orange. It's tart, but with a berry-like sweetness. I usually juice a couple of Valencia oranges along with my blood oranges for my breakfast juice, to stretch my supply. The resulting juice is such a pretty color, it's a cheerful way to start the day.

Blood orange juice is also pretty enough to make a nice cocktail when you come home after a hard day.


Blood oranges can be easily grown in Southern California, and it's only pure laziness that prevents me from going to a nursery and bringing home a tree of my own, to grow in a pot. Maybe I'll change that, this weekend - so I can enjoy my own blood oranges next year.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thematic Photographic - Winter

Every Wednesday, Carmi posts the week's theme for Thematic Photographic. For the next seven days, bloggers post photos that echo that theme. This week's theme is: Winter.

"There's a certain Slant of light, Winter Afternoons --" - Emily Dickinson

This photo of Seattle's Elliott Bay, with the cranes on Harbor Island was taken as the pale afternoon sun sinks low in the west, in early December, several years ago. The light on the buildings in the foreground is part setting sun, part reflected light from the windows of city high-rises that loom over the bay.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thematic Photographic - Winter

Every Wednesday, Carmi posts the week's theme for Thematic Photographic. For the next seven days, bloggers post photos that echo that theme. This week's theme is: Winter.

Well, here in Southern California, we don't have
snowdrifts or glittering ice or frost on the window. Our winters are mild, even warm. You can go to the beach here in the middle of January. People wear tank-tops and shorts in December. We have palm trees, not snow-swathed boughs.

When our winters are stormy, we get rain, and here in the Santa Monica Mountains, rain runs downhill and carries a lot of things with it. Our winter sights are more like this:

Photo/Damian Dovarganes

This boulder came down on our road and our powerlines during the winter storms of 2006. The Department of Transportation couldn't figure out how to move it. They hired a demolition company to blow it up. It took three tries!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Sandiegomomma challenges us to WRITE with PROMPTuesday.

Today's prompt: "write a character sketch of someone you love (child, partner, pet, mentor, etc.). Detail this person, let us see him or her through your description. Maybe you want to “show” your loved one through action and movement, or perhaps you are viewing him or her in repose. Either way, get down to brass tacks and give us the one you love through your writing."

S. and me, before the twins arrived.

I am the oldest child in my family. I have three brothers. Brother S. was born after me, and the two of us shared toddlerhood, toys, rides to day-camp. We both vied for our Daddy's attention. And we shared dismay and consternation when my mother brought home G. and B. - Twin boys, eclipsing us in our parents' eyes.

The twins. Not sure who's who.

As the oldest, I pretty much had my say about how things went. I could boss them around when I wanted to, and hide in my room when I wanted to. S. and B. tacitly acknowledged my authority, but G. - ah, G. defied me. We interacted like oil and water, oil and vinegar, never mixing, always remaining in a suspended emulsion that, uneasily, often broke down as one fluid sought to rise above or engulf the other.

As kids, we knew exactly how to annoy each other. I smacked him down, but he popped back up again and again. He sassed and danced in like a wasp, stinging and flying away. I called him names, I called him FAT - he wasn't, but he was just a bit huskier than his twin and S. and I were skinny as rails. He had a nickname for me that still causes me to cringe if I hear it. We knew exactly what hurt, so finely tuned were our antennae toward one another.

This is B. on the left and G. on the right. I think. It's hard to tell them apart in this picture.

As we grew up, my brothers all grew bigger than me. I still retained the air of authority, but only because they granted it to me - like any aging, weakened monarch, I accepted my role as Older Sister and didn't overstep, and my brothers respected me for it. A few spats here and there to spice things up, but we had wisely achieved detente.

Smarts run in my family. Sometimes the gene manifests itself in intellectual brilliance - that's my Mom, Dad, and S. and B. Sometimes it's just Smarty Pants. That's me and G.

Not too many families can boast multiple PhD.'s - my family of six has three.

But I only managed to skip, coast and bumble my way through a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre. G. dropped out of college, and didn't get his degree until much later in life. He worked in bike shops and industrial plants. I scuffled in Off-Broadway theatres in New York, and then became a union worker in Seattle. In my family, G. and I were the slackers, the blue-collar workers, the bums. The ones who liked to drink a little too much, the ones who had the crazy friends, the wild stories. The ones with big dogs, broke-down cars, the ones Dad slipped twenties to, the ones who barely got out of trouble by the skin of our teeth.

Of all of us, G. and I are most like Dad. I was Daddy's little girl, his first child; I could do no wrong in his eyes even while he and I argued and shouted at one another during my teenage years. And when G. settled down from his wild, wild ways, he followed a path more closely modeled after Dad's life than any of us. He married and raised a family; he became a businessman and a manager, like Dad.

I have no idea what's happening in this picture. G. is about 21. Dad is quite obviously playing to the camera.

When I see my brother G. today, even though he and brother B. are identical twins, it's G. that reminds me of our Dad. His expression, his posture, his sense of humor - yes, even the occasional sour cynicism Dad indulged in - the set of his jaw. The way he tells jokes. The pride he take in his own kids.

As for me, I visited a relative I hadn't seen in several decades, shortly after my Dad had passed away. When she opened the door to greet me, she gasped. "Why, g," she said. "You surely favor your father!"

Now, when I look in the mirror, I see my Dad looking back at me. And when I look at my brother G., I see him too. We are the most like Dad - funny, irreverent, cynical, irritable, quick to anger, quick to forgive - maddening, without a doubt, to those who love us.

This autumn, G. and I shared a road trip, traveling with our Mom to her new home. And although road trips tend to strengthen bonds between people, I think the one we already shared was pretty strong.

B., S., g., and G. I'm about 17, so B. & G. are 13

And don't you bug me about this, or I'm telling Mom.

Thematic Photographic - Busted

Every Wednesday, Carmi posts the week's theme for Thematic Photographic. For the next seven days, bloggers post photos that echo that theme. This week's theme is: Busted.

"I had a friend named Ramblin Bob
He used to steal gamble and rob
He thought he was the smartest guy around
Well I found out last Monday that Bob got locked up Sunday
They've got him in the jailhouse way downtown

He's in the jailhouse now
He's in the jailhouse now
Well, I told him once or twice to stop playin cards and shootin dice
He's in the jailhouse now"
There are lots of slang terms for jail. I've always loved the phrase "Crowbar Hotel."

But there's also the Joint, the Pokey, the Calaboose, the Jug, the Pen, the Slammer, the Hoosegow...

But as far as I'm concerned, it just means BUSTED.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fodder topic - My favorite movie

OK - here we go! Sandiegomomma has a crazy, mixed-up plan for testing our writers' talents! Participants are to write about a topic assigned to them by the person commenting AFTER them! It's like a writing game of Twister!

Amanda at The Mom Crowd gives me this assignment: "In the spirit of the Oscars this evening, write about your most favorite movie and why you love it. "

I have to confess, I'm not much of a movie-goer, and while I have seen "Slumdog Millionaire" and loved it, I haven't seen most of this year's contenders. When I try to think of my favorite movie, it's like trying to think of a favorite book - there are too many good ones to choose just one.

But there is one movie that I've seen over and over again that still draws me into the living room if I hear it playing on TV, and I always end up settling down to watch it all the way through. It's "Galaxy Quest" - not a masterpiece, not an epic, not a star-studded blockbuster - just a funny little movie, a spoof, a flash in the pan.

It's really kind of an entertainment-industry "in-joke" - a story about television actors who find themselves both trapped and redeemed by their show-business success.

The cast of the Star-Trek-like TV show "Galaxy Quest," unable to transcend their most famous roles, find themselves whisked away from the tedium of appearing at fan conventions by the strangest group of fans imaginable - beings from another planet. The alien Thermians, unable to comprehend the idea of fiction or lying, believe that the broadcasts they've intercepted are true documentation, and plead for the show's cast to help them battle an enemy. The spaceship has been re-created, modeled in every detail after the ship carefully observed onscreen.

The crew's real-life adventures are dictated by the conventions of show-biz, which include diabolical machinery inside the ship, useful only for creating suspense in a show episode; regurgitating cliched lines that become solutions to real problems; conventional TV trickery that actually works to fool the bad guys. One character's fate seems to be dictated by his type-cast role until he is saved by being re-concepted.

In one brilliantly funny twist, the actors seek technical advice from a group of teenage boys, nerdy fans of the show who are experts on the mechanics of the spaceship - interrupted only when one kid's mom insists he take out the recycling.

Along the way, bitter has-beens find internal heroism and resolve, an inter-species romance shows that love knows no boundaries, and - oh, yeah - our heroes save the universe.

I gave the video of this movie to my parents the Christmas before my Dad passed away. I remembered watching Star-Trek with him as a kid. He had a fine appreciation of parody, and I thought this would tickle him. I never got a chance to ask him if he enjoyed it, or even saw it - he came down with pneumonia and died about a month after Christmas.

There are a lot of things that make me feel sad about losing my Dad, but whenever I see "Galaxy Quest" I think of him without the slightest bit of sorrow - I just think of how much fun it would be to sit in the living room and watch it together, how funny he would have found it.

Thematic Photographic - Busted

Every Wednesday, Carmi posts the week's theme for Thematic Photographic. For the next seven days, bloggers post photos that echo that theme. This week's theme is: Busted.

"My bills are all due and the baby needs shoes and I'm busted
Cotton is down to a quarter a pound, but I'm busted
I got a cow that went dry and a hen that won't lay
A big stack of bills that gets bigger each day
The county's gonna haul my belongings away cause I'm busted."
- Ray Charles, 1963
This abandoned gas station and store is in Angelina County in east Texas. Busted.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


The economy is in crisis. This is a time of anxiety and worry for many people. It's made us mind what we spend money on. Window-shopping has replaced actual shopping; no longer do I impulsively buy something I like in a shop - I usually put it back on the rack and walk away.

It's a paradox, isn't it? Our economy can't recover unless people spend money, but we're all keeping our pocketbooks zipped shut because we're worried about the economy.

That's why it's fun whenever you DO find something that you feel good about spending money on. I recently found a little item to buy that was virtually guilt-free.

There was a basket on the sidewalk in front of a little store on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Little books of lined paper, leather-bound in pretty colors beckoned. Designed like an address book, with little alphabetized tabs, the book allows the owner to jot down notes or list items for reference.

Only this book listed categories of things that make you happy.

What's better than a device to help remind you of things that make you happy? A nice book to keep in your handbag. Or a nice gift to amuse and delight someone you love. But in this economy, what price does one pay for a Happiness Tracking Tool?

A sign on the basket said:

Acceptance IS the first key to Happines! It's certainly worth three dollars!

I found these books at DaisyArts in Venice, CA. If you're in town, go visit.

Topanga Tiki

In Maori mythology, "Tiki" is a word that refers to the first human on earth. The word also appears in other Polynesian islands, with variations. In Tahiti, the first man was called "Ti'i." The first woman was "Hine."

"Tiki" also refers to the large human-like carvings that appeared in the Polynesian islands, including the large stone carvings in Easter Island.

In 1934, a fellow named Earnest opened a bar in Hollywood called Don's Beachcomber Bar. He served rum-based drinks, and food that was based on Chinese restaurant food, but with a special decorative flair. His restaurants were so popular that franchise "Don the Beachcomber" joints sprang up all over the country. In San Francisco, a competitor opened a place called Trader Vic's. Both Don and Vic claim to have invented the Mai-Tai - a cocktail made with rum and mixed fruit juices.

Restaurants were decorated like tropical islands, and carved wooden Tiki figures were prominently featured. You could buy special cocktails served in mugs shaped like Tiki figures - and buy the mug to take home. Perhaps WWII veterans from the South Pacific enjoyed this reminder of exotica after they came home, or maybe it was the excitement of Hawaii being a new state - in any case, Polynesian style was extremely popular during the 1950s and 1960s.

There are still a few Tiki joints in the Los Angeles area. Here's a list - I have to explore them, and will report back to this blog. Trader Vic's, at the Beverly Hilton, closed a little while ago when the hotel closed for remodeling. It is supposed to come back this spring, in downtown L.A. near the L.A. Live complex.

Even if you can't go to an exotic Tiki bar, sometimes you find Tiki in the most unexpected places.

Like Topanga. I was just driving around, exploring a road I hadn't been on before, and I suddenly found myself in a tropical jungle, with a lyrical waterfall right out of Bali Hai. There were tropical decorations galore! Someone up on Observation Drive has a great sense of humor!

A creek draining winter rains from the Santa Monica mountains is planted with tropical plants that thrive in the sheltered nook of the steep and tumbled rocks. Palms and cycads and bromeliads arch their fronds and flowers over a stepped waterfall.

Carved wooden Tiki figures guard either side of the carport. They look a little crazier than most Tiki-bar figures - but then, that's Topanga!

The natural stone outcroppings of our mountains are enhanced with the face of a mysterious earth figure - a stone Tiki indeed!

He looks a little jaded, if you ask me. Welcome to Topanga, a magical tropic paradise in the most cynical city in the world!

Can I get a Mai-Tai and a Pu-pu Platter? Oh, and is there valet parking?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thematic Photographic - Busted

I'm late to the party, but I just discovered Carmi's Thematic Photographic, at his blog Written, Inc. Every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., he posts the theme for the week, and for the next seven days, participants explore the theme in photography. Here are the basics:
  • Every Wednesday evening, at precisely 7 o'clock Eastern, I post a new Thematic Photographic entry.
  • Each entry has a unique theme. This week's is...busted.
  • You post a similarly themed image over on your blog.
  • You paste a link to your entry in a comment here.
  • If you've already posted something that fits (on a blog, Facebook, MySpace, wherever) simply post the link to the existing entry. Old or new, all photos are welcome.
  • You may post as many photos or links as you wish. For the next week, I'll be supporting this theme with a related picture/posting each day. I encourage you to do the same. This is all about sharing, so feel free to share to your heart's content!
  • Please share this link with friends, too, and encourage them to join in. The more, the merrier.
This week, the theme is: Busted. For the next seven days, we'll be looking at things that are broken, run down, worn out or in otherwise sad condition. Obsolescence has so many stories, and I look forward to seeing what stories your photos will be able to tell over the next week.

This is the remains of the Redland Drive-In Theatre, on Route 59 in East Texas. As you drive up Route 59 you see a lot of roadside stands that are closed, a lot of abandoned houses and stores; you see a lot of signs and billboards blown over by Hurricane Ike that haven't been fixed.

The Redland Drive-In is a little different. It's been closed since I started coming here, way back in the early 1990s. It's well and truly, completely BUSTED.

Pink Saturday - Smart Pink!

Pink Saturday - Beverly, at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Valentine's Day is the perfect occasion to let the color pink inspire your creativity!

Well, ever since the time I rented a bright lemon-yellow Smart Car while my car was in the shop, I've kept an eye out for these great little cars. You see them around a lot in my part of L.A. - there's a little black one that lives in Topanga, and another blue one I see on my morning commute. I had a blast driving mine, and even [The Man I Love] had fun when he spent a day with it. When you drive one, everyone seems to look at you and smile.

The other evening I pulled into the parking lot of my local supermarket and what did I see but a cute little PINK Smart Car!

How cute is that?? The car was custom-painted to advertise a business called Just Perfect Event Planning.

I was so delighted to see this pink little car that I decided to devote a Pink Saturday post to it - and to the clever young women who found a Just Perfect way to advertise their business!

If you live in Los Angeles, go visit their site. I bet they throw a great party! What do you think?

UPDATE: because two people asked about the safety of Smart Cars, here's a link to some information. Smart Cars have a very good safety record, because of their unique construction. The body of the car is a steel cage that encloses the passenger compartment, and the front of the car is a "crumple zone" designed to absorb impact. The engine is in the back of the car, so it can't be pushed into the passenger compartment in an accident. Of course - any small car will be the loser in a contest with a huge SUV or truck, but Smart Cars seem to hold up as good or better than other small cars.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Spring sun

After almost two weeks of rain and storms, we're having a bit of welcome spring sun. Take a moment at lunchtime. Go sit outside. Enjoy the sun.

These comfy Adirondack chairs and benches are displayed on the sidewalk in front of Tumbleweed & Dandelion, a home furnishings and interior design shop, on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, CA. You can find new and vintage items, linens, lamps and furniture. It's a lovely place to browse and imagine leaning back among the pillows with your face lifted toward the spring sun.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hearts of glass

It's amazing what you'll find if you explore a city on foot.

I was walking down Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, CA. It's a diagonal stretch between Venice Boulevard and Main Street, lined with small bungalows and quirky modern structures, housing an eclectic mix of cafes, thrift stores, galleries, architects' offices, bars and boutiques. On this street you can buy a $600 handbag, herbal medicine to cleanse your colon, a vintage surfboard, a pair of used jeans, a pint of whiskey, frozen yogurt, a piece of architectural salvage, or a delicate French macaron.

You can meet all kinds of people here, too. During a Sunday afternoon stroll, I spoke with a grizzled old antique dealer, a young man walking a tiny black pug puppy, a young Japanese woman working at a T-shirt shop, a clothing and fabric designer, and a tall elegant grey-haired woman boutique proprietor. I eavesdropped on the conversations of two Brooklyn-accented older couples, sightseeing along the boulevard. I smiled at two razor-thin pierced and tattooed lovers, twining their limbs around one another while peering into the window of a home-decor store, and I side-stepped the baggage-hauling homeless woman, shouting angrily at a clerk ejecting her from a jewelry store.

But sometimes you don't need to buy anything, or eat anything or even talk to anyone. Sometimes you just see something that just makes you smile.

What first caught my eye were an array of bright colors in the grass behind a chain-link fence. It made me turn and look at the rest of the space. A vacant lot between two buildings was filled with glittery things, burgeoning plants, and strange objects.

There's a sign that says "Robin's Sculpture Garden." This is the outdoor gallery of artist Robin Murez. If you visit her site, you can see the sculptures and objects on display here, and you can also see photos of public art installations Robin has done in a variety of locations. Her sculpture garden is also a performance venue for musicians and poets and performance artists.

Poke around at her site. There are unexpected links and bits of art to discover. There's a stairway to nowhere - or is it a pedestal for a winged goddess? There are mosaic spheres, glass and bronze blades of grass, bronze figurines and sculptures that glow at night. I didn't see these pieces when I first visited her Sculpture Garden - but I think they're there, on the wall to the south. I'm going to go back and see if I can find them.

When I first discovered the garden, I didn't know anything about Robin Murez. I just knew I'd stumbled upon a crazy little haven of wonders on a street of stores. I like the authenticity of this kind of art. The way it's there for you to take or leave as you like, without explanation. The way you can't take it all in on first viewing - you have to go back and discover more each time.

And I like the way it's out there, just behind the fence, underneath the open sky with the grass and the trees and the concrete block walls. Somehow, seeing a dandelion bloom among the sculptures makes it seem alive to me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

First words

In my family, the story goes that my first words were "Booful flowers." Beautiful flowers.

According to the story, I spoke them in the front yard of my family's first house in Pennsylvania. I'm sure it was the petunias that caught my eye.

I liked to play in the yard, and my parents let me play as much as I liked without worrying about getting my rooster-print sundress muddy. It made me pretty confident, and comfortable with bugs, dirt, worms, water, and leafy things.

I remember the first time I learned a flower's name. We lived in a suburban small town west of Philadelphia. Behind our house there was a small patch of woods that I was allowed to venture a few steps into.

There were evergreen shrubs with pretty, intricate pink clusters of flowers, and my mother taught me their name - Mountain Laurel.

Kalmia latifolia photo by Alan S. Heilman, University Tennessee Herbarium, from US Forest Service

When we moved to Illinois, our house was one of a half dozen or so built in a newly planned subdivision built on farmland in the Fox River Valley. Our house was surrounded by woods and fields. I was given a small field guide to wildflowers, and looked for flowers like Wake-Robin Trilliums, Mayapples, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

Each spring the floor of the woods was carpeted with clusters of Spring Beauty, or Claytonia virginica.

My mother grew hybrid tea roses - the ones I remember well are Peace, Tropicana, Queen Elizabeth, and Sterling Silver. One summer she used a mulch of cocoa-bean hulls - I can still remember the smell of hot chocolate in the sun. She also grew annuals like snapdragons, sweet alyssum, and pinks.

I am not sure how old I was when I started looking at the Wayside Gardens catalog my mother got in the mail. They were large, expensive-looking volumes, carefully bound, with colored photos and elaborate descriptions. I still remember plants that fascinated me - Corylus contorta, or "Harry Lauder's Walking Stick" hazel - Butterfly bushes and Franklinia trees. These plants are still offered in Wayside's catalog today.

Wayside printed the plants' common names alongside their botanical names. After a time, the botanical names were just as easy for me to remember as the common names.

I've noticed that I have acquired a peculiar talent. I always name the plants I see. Wherever I am, if I see a plant, some part of my brain marks its name. This quirk is always just teetering on the edge between consciousness and subconsciousness; I can be walking down the street with a friend, having a conversation, and as we pass the planter-boxes of the Wells Fargo Bank or the hedge-rimmed library, a little voice in my brain is rattling away, "Buxus sempervirens, agave, that purple lantana you see everywhere, rose - is it "Iceberg?" - a nice dwarf nandina, that variegated daphne, ipomoea, anigozanthus - and oh what a pretty daylily!"

Name the flowers. I've done it since I learned to talk.

Is that weird? Does anyone else do this, too?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


It's PROMPTuesday again. Sandiegomomma's weekly writing inspiration. Today's prompt:

Start a story with the sentence, “It was a dark and stormy night.

Here are the rules:
  • Try to write your entry in 10 minutes. This encourages top-of-mind, primal thinking before the ego and judgmental brain kick in. Just set a timer, make your kid count to 600 slowly, whatever. It’s an honor system. And I trust you.
  • Aim for 250 words or less.
  • Please have fun. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Together, let’s rediscover the simple joy in the writing process.

It was a dark and stormy night. Rebecca called Light cue 56A, and Frank could hear the dimmers buzz under the music as the front-of-house lights rode the curtain up for Act II, casting a blue glow onto the set of the haunted castle, and the corps de ballet posing onstage. He stared at the cue light, double set of red golf-ball-sized light bulbs, dangling from the lighting pipe overhead and clipped to the offstage edge of the velour drape.

"Standby, Light Cue 57 and Thunder Effect," she said, poising her finger on the button to turn off the stage right cue light.

"And 57 - Go!" Rebecca flipped the toggle switch off at the same time. The strobe light mounted just inside the downstage portals flashed a millisecond later, and Frank, standing upstage right, saw the cue light go out and he shook the wooden handle attached to the thundersheet, issuing a shuddering roar from the floppy sheet of galvanized steel.

"Stop! Stop! Stop!!"

The music abruptly stopped. The wraith-like dancers, their arms gracefully raised above them, broke their pose and slumped their shoulders.

"Can we go back?" The voice came over the head-set and then through the PA system so everyone in the theatre could hear. "Sorry, ladies. We need to go over that transition again. It was late! Rebecca, call the curtain up on measure 6, dah DAH, dum da dum Duummmmm!"

"And can we have more thunder?" said the choreographer from the auditorium, and the Voice of God repeated the request - "We need really loud thunder, back there. Really loud."

It was now 9:30 p.m. They had tech'ed Act I last night, and had gone over notes this evening before starting Act II at 7:00 p.m. How had they spent an hour and a half, to be still working through the Act opening?

Frank shifted his shoulders to work out a kink, and let the thundersheet settle back into place. It was hung from a pipe attached to the backstage wall; a thin galvanized sheet of steel about 3 feet wide and six feet long, its bottom edge clamped into a handle made of two-by-four stock. A stencil marking it property of the ballet company was painted on the steel, along with the stencil of the union insignia. Someone had written "Eugenia's Thunder Thighs" on it in black magic marker - Eugenia was the ballet's artistic director, and Frank was not sure whether she had seen this legend or not. She was a scrawny old bird with a beak of a nose, and she often smoked cigarettes out on the loading dock with the rest of the guys during a break in rehearsal.

He watched two of the dancers roll their eyes at each other. In the wings, the male lead propped his leg up on the back of the lighting boom, stretching his hamstring. Over on the flyrail, Cookie called out, "Heads up, curtain coming in!" and he and Jeb slowly brought the main drape down until the hem touched the groundcloth.

Rebecca flicked the switches and Frank's red cue lights came back on. "Standby, please," said Rebecca. "We're in Light Cue 56. Warning, Light Cue 56A, Curtain up, Light Cue 57, Thunder Effect and Light Cue 58. Standby. Are you cued up again on the music, Joe?"

"Yeah, we're ready."

The music poured from the onstage monitors, and the company went through the sequence again. When the red cue light flicked off, Frank flapped the thundersheet again.

"Stop! Stop! Stop!!!" the music ground to a halt. The Voice of God said, "Louder! Let's hear it again."

Frank flapped it again. "You call that loud? I want it really loud!"

Again. "I want it as loud as you can do it! I want you to BE the thunder!"

Now Cookie and Jeb were cracking up with laughter over on the flyrail. Frank's ears burned. He grabbed the handle with both hands and shook it for all he was worth, and kept on shaking it till his ears rang.

"That's IT! I want you to do it like that every time," said the director. "Let's go back to the beginning."

Frank looked at the thundersheet. Its wooden handle was smooth and darkened from years of other stagehands' palms gripping it. Graffitti listed names, productions, and years. "Jerry B., Nutcracker '96. Jensen 1978.

Be the thunder. He saw the twinkle in Cookie's eye, and wondered just how humiliating the jokes would get. Shit. Thunder Thighs. He guessed it couldn't get worse than that.

His light came back on and the music started again. He gripped the handle. He owned the damn thing now.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rainy day cookies

Brrrrr....! After my ill-fated trip out into the rain, we hunkered down in the house to shelter from the "Storm of the Century."

So I made some oatmeal cookies. I used the recipe on the back of the McCann's Irish Oatmeal box - halved, because I didn't have that much shortening. It calls for pecans, and I had walnuts; it also called for raisins and I had only a small handful of golden raisins, have to improvise.

I love my silpat matt for cookie baking. I only have one, so I used parchment paper on another cookie sheet - both the silpat and the parchment worked great - no greasing!

I made the cookies kind of small, so I ended up with a lot of little cookies instead of fewer big cookies, but that's OK for me. Please disregard the bottle of pinot noir - that's leftover from last night's dinner. I promise I don't hit the bottle while making oatmeal cookies!

That's the vase of flowers [The Man I Love] gave me for Valentine's Day - three days after he had it delivered to my office, it's still pretty. Tulips have staying power!

Nothing's better on a cold gloomy day than fresh-baked cookies. And a glass of milk.