Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween night

Click to "embiggen"
 We went to join in the Novenario Processions for Dia de Los Muertos at El Pueblo de Los Angeles at Olvera Street. Each night, between October 25 and November 2, family members lead a procession through the street in celebration of their loved one's lives.

More to come.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday evening

It's Sunday evening, and I'm sitting out on my deck looking at the western sky.

Tomorrow I've requested the day off, and although I've been immersed in planning tomorrow's activities - some sightseeing with an old friend who's coming to town - it's only just this evening that I truly comprehend that I don't have to get up and go to work tomorrow morning.

What a relief, to be able to wake up, laze around in my pajamas, and ease into the day. I'll be able to take a longer walk with Jack. I can run errands. I can miss rush-hour traffic. I can see my neighborhood during weekday, daytime hours.

I've only been working a 9 to 5 schedule for ten years. Before that, for the past 25 years of my working life, I worked a varied schedule. The only regularity came while working a theatrical run - 8 shows a week, two matinees - Tuesday through Sunday nights and weekends. And rigid though it was, that was a schedule that allowed you to grocery shop during the day, bank during off hours, and wash your car without fighting the crowds.

When not on a show, I was at the whim of the dispatcher. I could work a twelve hour day, or I could go without work for a week. I lived to hear the phone ring. When I got a call, it was a joy - I had work! - so I never felt less than happy anticipation the night before going to work.

Working when they need you means you actually have work to perform, but being in a salaried position taught me for the first time about the tediousness of showing up daily. Although some days are fast-paced and urgent, requiring missed lunches and extra hours, other days are grindingly slow. And even when you've been assigned a task, sometimes it's a pointless task - researching a report that will never be read or preparing for a meeting that's subsequently cancelled. You know when Sunday night comes around that Monday morning will dawn, and you're going to be in the same chair in front of the same desk, staring at the same monitor and hearing the same phone ring.

 I'm grateful I have a steady job, because I have security. I've also been given the opportunity to learn new skills - if you're on salary and there's a vacancy or a need, you'll be asked to fill it. However, I think even the most rewarding job can have its boring moments, its periods of dull resignation. The trade-off is being shackled to a regular schedule. So at the end of each weekend, I always feel a sense of disappointment. Vacation's over. Back to work in the morning.

But this evening it hit me while I watched the sun slowly go down and the sky change - I've taken tomorrow off.

It's silly to be delighted by such a thing, and it's also a fleeting pleasure. I've only postponed the resignation to Tuesday morning.

But it was still lovely to watch the sun go down on Sunday without anticipating work the next day.

What's your work schedule like? Is it varied, unpredictable? Or regular? Are your days shaped by the clock, or free-form? How do you feel about it?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pink Saturday - Cool beans

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

A visit to the farmers market yielded some cool pink sights, perfect for Pink Saturday.

These are Tongue of Fire shelling beans on sale at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market. The pods are brilliantly streaked with magenta, and the beans inside are mottled with pink themselves.

They were on sale alongside other shelling beans, including French flageolet beans, red Italian beans, and a variety called Tigers Eye.

Shelling beans are meant to mature on the vine and remove from the shell for cooking. You can dry beans and they will keep for a long time, to be cooked later.  But you can also cook them fresh. I thought they were so pretty that I bought a selection of them.
Red Italian beans
Here you can see the red Italian beans peeking out of the shell. They say you should let the beans dry slightly on the vine before picking them for shelling, and these Italian bean pods were papery and starting to shrink.

Tigers Eye beans in the shell
Brought home and shelled, a bag of beans yielded enough for a bowl with a pretty variety of colors. Tongue of Fire were pale waxy greenish-white, with faint pinkish markings on some. The Tigers Eye were stunning - creamy white with maroon and even purple swirls. The red Italian beans were the prettiest shade of rose madder, with a darker eye. 
Red Italian beans
The Tongue of Fire and Tigers Eye pods were still a bit fresh. They probably could have stayed on the vine a little longer, and I think the markings on the beans intensify as they mature.

To cook shelling beans, boil them in lightly salted water for 25 or 30 minutes and then drain. You can toss in a handful of parsley and a smashed clove of garlic; if you have a sprig of thyme that might be nice, too. They are great tossed with vinaigrette and parsley and served in a salad with chopped fresh tomatoes. You can also toss them with tomatoes in pasta.

When cooked, alas, the pretty markings were gone. The Tigers Eye beans are large and tan, while the Tongue of Fire beans are kind of grey-green. The red Italian beans turn a pretty lavender.

They taste delicious - beany yet creamy and tender. Now I can't wait till next Wednesday to try another variety!

Pink beans for a Pink Saturday.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween ghouls

There's a Halloween party at our neighbors down the hill from our house. They have a couple young daughters, and each morning on my walk I see more decorations - scarecrows, hay bales, spooky signs - go up in the yard.

We've been invited but we've begged off, being old and exhausted, and interested in the ball game. As the darkness comes on, we hear the sounds of shrieks and howls outside, and go out on the porch to take a look.

Our next door neighbors with their kids are hiking down through our driveway easement to the party below. They are elaborately costumed, and waving flashlights around. There's a little boy dressed like the Spectre of Death with a silver cardboard scepter. There are witches. Ghouls and goblins. Horrible creatures. Even Mimes!

Willa, an angelic little five-year-old, waves her horrible accoutrements at me as I stand on the porch watching, and pipes cheerfully and proudly to me, "There's blood on my hands, Aunt Snow!"

"There's a lot of people in this world with blood on their hands," I tell her, "but none of them are as sweet as you!"

Blog Roll update

I've been quietly editing my blog-roll over the months, but I wanted to make sure readers know about a new addition today - Jen on the Edge. She's a fabulous writer, and a generous and inspiring member of the blogging community. If you're a blogger, or thinking of starting a blog, she's supportive, full of ideas, and fun to read. Go read her right now!

I've reluctantly removed a few links to blogs that I enjoyed but that sadly are no longer being updated. When you guys start up again, give me a shout.

There are also some names on my blogroll that, I admit, I no longer visit - not for any specific reason, really, but I no longer follow them. But because these bloggers are still working, writing, leading busy lives and happily blogging away, I think I'll leave their names. You can visit them, and maybe if you like what you read, you can draw me back to them.

Fear of Frying

I've been told I'm a pretty good cook. I like to challenge myself with complicated recipes and techniques, and I sometimes even succeed! But there's one thing I can't do.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

What more will it take?

photo: Jay Finneburgh/.Reuters
Tuesday night, Iraq war veteran Scott Olson was critically wounded when he was hit in the head by a projectile shot by Oakland Police as they evicted the Occupy Oakland protesters from their encampment.

Police then fired teargas at members of the group as they came to Olson's aid. Olson was hospitalized with a fractured skull and brain swelling.

The photograph of the injured man being carried by his friends tugged a visual memory that finally came clear.

Thematic Photographic - Metallica

Carmi at Written, Inc., posts a photographic challenge each week called Thematic Photographic - this week's theme is "Metallica." If it's made of metal, please take a picture and share it.

What is it?  This is a close-up of a piece of public art, in Santa Monica, an ugly and graceless sculpture called "Chain Reaction." A pile of huge chain links forms the shape of a mushroom cloud, on the lawn before the County Courthouse. It is a warning against the horrors of nuclear war.

I am sympathetic with the concept; unimpressed with the execution.

Whenever I see it, I think of the ghost of Jacob Marley in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." 

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; and of my own free will I wore it.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Each Tuesday, Deb at San Diego Momma posts a writing prompt. Read, let your creative mind wander, and then write! Post in her comments, or post a link to your own blog.

Plein-air painting by William Wendt
Today, Deb wants a list! A Top Five list. Go to her site and check out the ideas.  Then pick a list and post your Top Five:

Here's mine - Top Five Things you want to do in your life
1) Learn to paint with watercolor, acrylic, or oil on canvas. I've always wanted to be able to pick up a brush and capture the light and color that I see before me. I'd especially love to learn how to do plein-air painting.

2) Speak French - really speak it. I chickened out when we went to France two summers back, and though I could read French, I stumbled in my touristy English. I want to take a language immersion course, and really speak French.

3) Visit Venice, Italy - I long to see this romantic and mysterious city. Plus, I'm jealous of my kid, who got there before I did.

4) Learn to surf - each morning I drive past people in wetsuits on the waves, and wish I could pull the car over and join them.

5) Publish a real book - it would be my dream come true.

OK everyone - how about your Top Five? Check out Deb's PROMPTuesday!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tonight's sunset

Lots of pink contrails in the sky

Ghormeh Sabzi is not pretty

Now that its autumn it's nice to have hearty stews in our cooking repertory to keep bones warm. During a dark and chilly winter I once spent in Oslo, Norway, I discovered just such a stew.

Yet my discovery was not some tradition of Norwegian cusine - it was Persian, or Iranian. This story shows how global we've become. [The Man I Love] went to the University of Oslo for a semester to teach African music. Our son - then three years old - and I went with.  We lived in university housing. Six suites shared a common kitchen. Our kitchen mates were Ghanaian, Bangladeshi, American, Danish and Iranian.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thematic Photographic - Edible

Carmi at Written, Inc., posts a photographic challenge each week called Thematic Photographic - this week's theme is "Edible."  Carmi says: "Let's celebrate all things edible. If we put it in our mouth, let's shoot and share it. Then eat it. Because I'm hungry, and I'm pretty sure you are, too."

Well, here's the question - is it or isn't it?

And the answer is yes, but maybe no. This is the tree fungus called Sulfer Shelf, otherwise Laetiporus gilbertsonii or Laetiporus sulfereus.  It's also called "chicken of the forest" because it's so highly prized and tasty. Only....

Some people have bad gastrointestinal reactions to these fungi when grown on eucalyptus trees. And this one - across the street from my house - is growing on eucalyptus. Why the reaction? I'm not sure. They won't kill you but they might make you sick. Am I taking a chance? Probably not.

They sure are pretty, though.

UPDATE: I have to post a caveat - don't eat wild mushrooms you see in the woods unless they have been identified by an expert. But you know that already, don't you?

Jack exploded

Jack's autumn blow is in  His undercoat is blowing off him in tufts. His coat looks as frowsy and mottled as an old bum's rags.

On the road, on the deck, on the front porch and in the upstairs hall, clumps of dog hair collect and drift.

Enter Luke, our traveling dog groomer, to the rescue!  Jack seems to love his spa treatment.

It's pretty impressive how much fur Jack sheds. The last time Luke groomed him, though he cleaned up as much of the loose fur as he could, some clumps remained to blow about my neighbors driveway.

Remnants of Jack
Our neighbor's five year old son asked his dad what happened - "looks like Jack exploded," said his dad.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Presented for your enjoyment

 Sign spotted in Griffith Park.


Deer scat, I think
This evening when I took Jack for a walk, we were heading back to the house when I saw one of my neighbor's SUV stop on the road. We came up upon him, and he leaned out the window. "There's a coyote down there," he said, gesturing to the ravine. "Be careful."

As I looked past the rear of his car, I saw the coyote come up onto the road, and trot in the other direction, then turn and slink down a driveway.
Dog track or coyote track?
My driveway. We walked past and down the block away before circling back and checking that he'd continued in his downhill migration through our property.

Another morning we walked up the bend past our new neighbor's brand new gate and fence. There's been  some discussion about this fence - nothing says Happy Halloween better than a locked-down automatic gate.

But though some neighbors are concerned that fences block wildlife pathways through our mountains, that clearly wasn't the case with a coyote that ran just 20 or so feet in front of me and Jack. He paused, looked over his shoulder at us, and slithered under the fence in the gap right next to the smiling jack-o-lantern.

I wasn't quick enough to catch him with my camera, but he was close enough to see the glitter of his eyes.
More scat
[The Man I Love] tends to encounter animals while in the car. Last month he actually hit a coyote that ran out in front of his car.

Beyond coyotes - one morning my husband was leaving for work and there on the road in front of his car was a bobcat, sitting on the blacktop like a very large housecat. It turned at the sight of his car and ran into the ravine.

Our gardens are browsed by mule deer, who eat my potted coleus down to the roots, and it's not uncommon to see their scat - little collections of dark pellets - on the road. Coyote scat is common too - and often contains furry or calcified remains of their prey. Bunnies scamper across the road and duck into the brush when Jack and I take our walk. Chattering squirrels chase each other up tree trunks.

In the day, hawks cry and wheel, and flocks of feral parrots perch on electric wires. During the night, we hear owls call from the oaks, and there's some night bird I can't identify that goes "Awp!"

Living on the boundary of the wild is always interesting.

Pink Saturday - Butterfly flower

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

My garden is in a somewhat tatty state, as summer has gone but the autumn rains haven't yet begun in earnest. But some plants are still going strong - perhaps even revitalized by the moist ocean air - LA's so called "marine layer" - that we wake up to most mornings.

This pretty, simple little flower is Gaura Lindheimeri "Siskyou Pink", and if you're not growing it in your garden, you should run right out now and get some.

A native of Texas and Louisiana, Gaura is a perennial with insignificant leaves, and an informal bushy habit. The flowers are just an inch or so in size, and with four petals and long curving stamens, they resemble tiny butterflies - an illusion further supported as they dance in the breeze on wiry, curving stems.

The species version has white flowers sometimes tipped in pink, and plantsmen have selected and bred cultivars for deeper pink shades, even reddish foliage. The closed buds and stems are more deeply colored,  and the whole effect in the garden is beautiful. "Siskyou Pink" was developed by Siskyou Rare Plant Nursery in Oregon, and there are other cultivars out there that are even more red.

You can grow Gaura in the back of your flower beds or in the middle to twine through other plants. Or you can put it in the front - as its wiry stems and tiny flowers work to enhance other flowers - like a lady's veiled hat enhances a beautiful face. They're perfect for an informal cottage garden, and make great cut flowers in a vase, too.

Gaura loves heat, is drought tolerant, and almost impossible to kill. You can grow it from seed, and it divides easily, too.

If you don't like its somewhat dull botanical name, you can call it by its common folk names of Butterfly Flower or Bee Blossom. But whatever you do - get some. It's perfect for your Pink Saturday bouquet!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dining Alone - Sustainable virtue at the lunch counter

Lately I've been eating lunch at my desk, or walking for take-out with a co-worker, but sometimes I just want to get out by myself. That's exactly what I did this week.

At the lunch rush, single diners are encouraged to sit at the counter or bar instead of occupying the valuable real estate of a table. This being Santa Monica, the lunch counter was part of a large new natural healthy food restaurant on the ground floor of a newly opened trendy urban mall.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Time suck

I want you to know that I was referred to this website by a prominent scholar at one of the country's most prestigious research universities.


Hmmm....This is what those guys spend their time at?

Don't you get lost there, it's addictive!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I've returned to the wonderful and creative writing exercise presented by San Diego Momma - PrompTuesdays. These have spurred my creativity, and have been a lot of fun at the same time.
Each Tuesday, she posts a writing prompt. Participants play by the following rules:
  • You must write your entry in 10 minutes. This encourages top-of-mind, primal thinking before the ego and judgmental brain kicks in. Just set a timer, make your kid count to 600 slowly, whatever. It’s an honor system. And I trust you.
  • Keep to 150 words or less (I always run over a bit!)
  • Post on your blog or in her comments so everyone can read it.
  • Have fun!
 So for this week’s PROMPT, A song - Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne." Let the music marinate a bit, and then write starting out with this sentence - "I hadn't seen him since high school."

It might as well be spring

People think we don't have seasons in southern California, but we really do - although it's subtle. Summer in the Santa Monica Mountains is dry and sere. Our hillsides turn brown. Some of our deciduous trees, like the Mexican elderberry, drop their leaves after they fruit in July - they look dead by September.

It's clearly fall, because it's cooler, the evenings are darker, and the ocean fog is back, roaring up the canyon like pumped from a hose. But the first noticeable sign of season change is the fall sprouting of annual winter grasses. Unlike colder climates, where the grass waits till spring, here after the first fall rain, the hills begin to clothe themselves in soft green tender grass.

Jack was so delighted to see the fresh green blades of grass he delicately nibbled at them on our morning walk.

Another clear sign of autumn is Jack shedding his summer coat - which we'll have to deal with soon!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Housekeeping Chronicles - Flotsam & Jetsam

I'm beginning to comprehend the fact that Eigh, the male half of our Housecleaning Team, does not have an aesthetic eye. He's unable to distinguish things of inherent value from things that are simply of utility value. It explains a lot about some of the things he does.

For example, the night after Ouef and Eigh had cleaned our house one week, I noticed that the bedsheet seemed to have a kind of panel sewn onto it. I wondered why I'd never noticed this feature before. Finally, after some thought, I recognized it as a patch - something that has not been an element of my life for so long I almost forgot the word for it. Someone - Eigh, no doubt - had patched our bedsheet.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bloggity blog blog

I've been writing on this blog since April, 2008. I've met a lot of great people - both virtually and in person - and I'm having fun. But I realize that traffic on my blog is pretty light, and - truth be told - lately I've been feeling less than inspired.

I recently enjoyed a weekend activity at Mrs. G's blog Derfwad Manor where she gives her followers the chance to brag a little, and link to posts they're particularly proud of.

The result, for me was a lost morning, spent reading everything that was linked! And sometimes delving deeper into the blogs I visited. Not that I regret it one bit!

Pink Saturday - Beach and sky

Pink Saturday - Beverly, at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you.
click all images to "embiggen"
It was one of those "pull over the car!" moments. I was driving home along Pacific Coast Highway, and the sky was unbelievably beautiful.

I turned into the little road near an historic Mediterranean-style building and parked at the curb.

Old postcard showing the bridge circa 1935
This building is part of a 1920s era real estate development called Castellammare, and like its namesake in Italy, it's a picturesque seaside enclave. Here a handful of original homes cling to the hillside along with newer, more modern neighbors. The development included stairways and cliff-side walkways, and an arched bridge that spanned the old Roosevelt Highway, which is now called Pacific Coast Highway. The building here is the only commercial property in Castellammare; it held retail spaces including a cafe that later became notorious for its involvement in the unsolved death of movie star Thelma Todd.

I locked the car and took my camera, and walked back to the foot of the steps leading to the bridge. Here the hillside has crumbled, and reddish dried mud from October rains crusted the steps. Overgrown oleander shrubs billow over the wall. Near the first landing, I suddenly smelled the sharp pong of urine, and realized that the sheltered landing had become a camp for a homeless man. "Hello," I said, and continued up the steps, trying to avoid treading on his blankets.

Across the bridge, I faced the ocean. Though the sun had just set, the sky was bright with twilight, tinged with a tender and delicate pink, and the water shone with reflection. Down on the sand, a couple waded in the waves. Even the wet sand reflected the pinkness of the sky. Far out on the water, a lone figure on a paddleboard poled across a sheet of silver.

The pink sky was deeper at the horizon, then darkened to lavender.
I crossed back to the other side on the bridge. At the top of the stairs, I said "excuse me" so not to surprise the homeless man, smoking his cigarette. I wished otherwise, but I had nothing to give him, since I'd left the car without knowing he was there. Even so, "Good night," he said to me as I passed and continued down, leaving him in the shelter of the oleanders, beneath the pink sky.

It was such a beautiful sky.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

White out beach

I went down to the beach again today, and brought my camera. I think I messed up the settings. But here's the photos I got.

White-out beach!

Here's another.

Crazy, huh?

I didn't try for this effect, but you can really feel the noon sun blazing in your eyes, can't you?

I played with this one a bit. What do you think?

Here's a photo with corrected settings. Click all to "embiggen/"