Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Busy week!

It's been a busy week. Meetings all day, traffic jams, shopping. Tonight the wind has picked up and here in the canyons we're being told to expect gusts up to 40 mph. I've got the candles and matches handy, and all the flashlights have fresh batteries.

Meanwhile, enjoy this photo of a great neon sign in East Los Angeles.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Just stop!

Celebrating my youngest brothers' first birthday
I'm going to stake out an unpopular position here, but things have gotten out of hand and it's time for someone to take a stand. 

Today at work, I was called to a meeting in the conference room, and as I sat there, my colleagues came in bearing a giant cake topped with swirls of whipped cream, singing "Happy Birthday" to me.

Please just make it stop! I beg you!

In my office, birthdays are important. We post a monthly birthday list on the bulletin board. We surreptitiously circulate birthday cards for signatures - discretely hidden inside manila folders labeled "Confidential" - as if we didn't all recognize the folder when it goes around. People get together and whisper conspiratorially about who will get the cake and what kind of cake it will be. A collection is taken up.

And then, inevitably, the birthday person is called to an "important meeting" in the conference room, and - SURPRISE!

Honestly, I appreciate the thought. Really. It's just that I can't keep eating huge slabs of buttercream-iced cakes or giant triangles of meringue topped pie two or three times a month in the middle of the workday.

The week before Thanksgiving, four Marie Callendar pies - apple, chocolate, banana cream and cherry -  were brought in to celebrate the boss's birthday. I was hoping it was a co-celebration, for both of us, since our birthdays are only a few days apart. But no, today it was a lemon-raspberry cheesecake, just for me.

In recent years, the retirement of two long-time employees, and the inter-departmental transfer of another employee gave me hope that our long-established birthday custom would soon become obsolete. New hires wouldn't have the same expectations as the old guard. 

Yes, we managed to squelch the gift-giving - this had become a pointed display of co-worker popularity. We halted the escalation in party decor - paper printed tablecloths and matching plastic flatware and even fold-out tissuepaper tablescapes. The theatrically elaborate surprise ruses were no longer so complex. But the first birthday after the retirees were gone, the whispers began "What kind of dessert does X like?" 

So we are still bringing custom-iced, boxed sugary buttercream treats to work, and stuffing ourselves with fats and sugars.

Hello, people! I don't want chocolate buttercream at 2:00 in the afternoon when I really would rather be finishing up that email I'm writing to Risk Management about a client's insurance certificate - and doesn't that tell you how serious I am about this? I don't like Carrow's apple pies, with crust that tastes like cardboard and filling that comes from a can. Half of us are on a diet, anyway!

Frankly, it feels crappy to lie and say how pleased I am. It feels crappy to say, "only a sliver for me" - meaning I don't want any. It feels even more crappy to eat more than I want, just to make you feel I'm grateful. It feels crappy to feign enthusiasm about taking home a box of supermarket cake to "share with my family" and then throw it in the trash. 

I don't want a birthday cake at work! And I think there are other people who feel the same. 

But maybe I'm being churlish here. What's your take? What do you do at work to celebrate co-workers' birthdays? How do other people feel about it? Any suggestions how to change it?

Rose for winter

This is Hybrid tea "Julia's rose." It's growing in a large pot on my deck, and today it has 5 buds or blossoms on it.

It's an unusally colored rose - it's almost tan, because what would be a delicate peach is muted by a colder hue.

Here in bud it's closer to peach-pink, but as it opens and ages, its color changes.

Another bloom.

When "Julia's rose" is in full bloom, the flower opens to reveal the godlen stamens inside. It's a beautiful, subtle rose, perfect in November's slanting golden light.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Weird tech dreams

The Holy Grail
I think everyone has anxiety dreams, and they are usually about  being late, loss, escape, and other universal issues. I've experienced them all my life, but only recently I've noticed that my anxiety dreams have been evolving. They now embody modern technology.

Last night I dreamed that my boss instructed me to write an exam to be given to all our employees. Which I did, although I don't remember what the subject was.

Then, there was some confusion about how the exam would actually be adminstered. Would it be printed on paper, and people would write in their answers longhand? Would it be a computer-given test? Would I email the file of the test to the test administrators, or would I have to print off multiple paper copies of the test and bring them to the testing location to give to people? This was all very unclear, but, nonetheless, a matter of great consternation to me.

I spent most of the night dreaming that I was searching for functioning computers to complete my task. In my dream I sought a computer to - 1) email the file to someone.  2) download the file onto my flash drive so that I could transport it. 3) Print the exam so I could bring paper copies to the test site. And I was thwarted at every turn.

In addition to this, there were other challenges - 1) the stairway leading to the computer lab had crumbled and I had to climb up the side of the building.  2) computers that had keyboards and hard drives but no monitors. 3) I was directed to a broken purple I-Mac (remember those?) in a child's bedroom that showed behind its shattered cranium the machine's internal workings, clicking and glowing infernally. 4) I could not remember how to work a mouse. 5) The flash drive flipped out of my fingers and disappeared in a weed-ridden field.

When I awoke, I was both disturbed by the usual anxious emotion - and intrigued that my psyche had updated itself to modern times.

Do you have anxiety dreams that have become transformed by modern technology?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Seeing stars

For someone who lives in Los Angeles, I don't actually see a lot of movie stars. I have what I like to call "celebrity dyslexia" - I am unable to recognize celebrities when I see them. I'll pass someone and think to myself, "that person looks a lot like [Fill in Star's Name here]." And only later will a companion say to me, "Wow, did you check out [Fill in Star's Name Here]!"

"Huh?" I'll say, and turn to look and of course the opportunity is gone.

But some celebrities are unmistakable. In 1997 when we moved here, I saw a bright Barbie-pink Corvette in the parking lot at the Hughes Supermarket in Pacific Palisades, and then a tiny but buxom blonde woman unfolded herself from the driver's seat and tottered on high heels to the store. Her license plate read "ANGELYNE."

Famous for being famous, Angelyne is a mystery. She seldom grants interviews, and never divulges personal information. Her means of support is unknown - in the 1980s she bought huge billboards to display her image all over the region - but it's unclear how she paid for them. Her billboards became a symbol of Los Angeles, and appeared in countless movies - although the woman herself appeared on film only in a few cameos. In the 2003 gubernatorial recall election, Angelyne ran for the office, finishing a distant 28th after winner Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

In recent years, photos of her pink-bedecked Malibu condo appeared on LA real estate blogs, up for short sale. Featured in the photos were her jacuzzi, with a plastic inflatable bath pillow (this photo, says the Real Estalker, "hint at an unspeakable loneliness we can't contemplate.") and a king-sized bed with molded plastic pink headboards.

If you Google Angelyne's image, you'll find that most sitings involve her car, parking lots, and Angelyne shopping at supermarkets, drugstores, Kinko's and coffee shops. Her official bio claims she was born in 1958, but her face looks far older.

Today, while in Calabasas at a shopping center called The Commons, I encountered Angelyne's car - somehow, since 1997 her personalized plates have been re-issued as "ANGELNN." She was behind the car, with the trunk open, while speaking to a fan - I could see her teased blonde and pink-tressed hair. As I can gather from Google, these days Angelyne sells memorabilia about herself from her car.

I chose not to take her photo, although I suppose she would probably not have minded - as long as I bought a T-shirt. Maybe next time.

See a gallery of 27 pictures of Angelyne at Calabasas Commons HERE.

Hollywood - what's in a name?

Toyon - Heteromeles arbutifolia - is also called the California holly.  It's an evergreen shrub, native to the chaparral and oak woodlands of the Santa Monica mountains, and grows all over my neighborhood

Its common name came because toyon's serrated evergreen leaves and brilliant red berries resembled Ilex aquafolium, the Christmas holly East-coast settlers of early California were familiar with. One story goes that an Ohio housewife named Daida Wilcox called the real estate development she and her husband sold "Hollywood," perhaps due to the profusion of toyon shrubs in the hills along the Caheunga Pass or perhaps just because she liked the name.

Toyon became so popular for Southern California Christmas decorations that laws prohibiting cutting the shrub were passed in the 1920s to protect it.

Here in Topanga, toyon grows everywhere, and volunteer seedlings spring up in my yard from berries dropped by birds or animals.

Toyon seedling in my front yard
The first year we moved to Los Angeles, before I got a job and I was able to spend days at home, I was in our Topanga back yard and watched as a flock of cedar waxwings inhabited a toyon bush and ate almost all the berries from it. Then they flew off together.

I never saw a cedar waxwing before that, and haven't seen one since. I'm actually not good at seeing birds - somehow my eyes or my brain aren't properly wired to distinguish them.

But I remember that flock of cedar waxwings, each with a yellow band at the end of its tail, and how the brilliant red berries disappeared so quickly as they fed.

It's almost my birthday

The sky over Saddlepeak, Wednesday morning, 11/23/2011
 Hooray for me! Marking another year on earth.

I just wrote a submission to this site. It felt good!

Go visit and see if you can find me. Or, if you have the same issue, write your own post.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Abundance to give thanks for

 I'm so lucky to be able to visit the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmers' Market so frequently. It's just a short walk from where I work - a trip to the market during lunch break is a perfect way to clear my head and energize me.

Yesterday it was brimming over with abundance - and shoppers.

Flowers of all kinds
Brilliant colors

Exotic offerings, like this citron.

Even everyday vegetables look gorgeous.

Before you know it, it will be time for Christmas.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's a hard knock life

15 year old sweeper, Berkshire Cotton Mills, Adams, MA, July, 1916
Speaking at the Harvard Kennedy Business School last week, Newt Gingrich, Republican presidential hopeful said, "First of all, in child [labor] laws, which are truly stupid...Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they’d have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Illegal use of food product

Thanks to the internet, this guy will have his face and image go world-wide, showing him comitting an act of brutality.  Nice way to cap off your career in law enforcement, buddy!

Disturbing as the original incident was, the image of a militaristic officer spraying pepper at innocents has also gone world-wide as a satirical and inventive internet meme.

I am always amazed at the creativity of human beings.

Meanwhile, in the "you couldn't make this up" department, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly defends the action, declaring that pepper spray is "a food product, essentially!"  

I am equally amazed at the absurdity of human beings.


Some people I work with organized a get-together that reached out across many bureaucratic divides, all in the common interest of delicious desserts.

The First Annual Beach House Pie-Luck. At least I think it's the first. Maybe they've been doing it without me in the past?

Who cares? It's time for pie!

Berry cobbler, mincemeat tarts, pumpkin, apple, pear pie. Plus red velvet cake, pumpkin brownies and ooey-gooey butter cake!!  Me? I brought a nutty tart.

The problem with Pie-Luck, however, is that every individual brings a dish that can feed a dozen people! There was more pie than we could consume. Fortunately, there was a group of hungry guys around the place, who pitched in to help!

It was a great rehearsal for Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Delectable Antojitos

We had lunch this weekend in Highland Park at a little place on York Avenue called Antojitos Guerrero. Antojitos are Mexican street food for when you're hungry - the word antojo means "craving." The food is casual, fast, and cheap.

Antojitos Guerrero is housed in a tiny hillside storefront next to a neighborhood beauty salon. Inside, there's the kitchen, a counter, and a handful of tables. Out a metal screened door to the side, a covered area holds a few more booths, and in front of the cheerfully orange-painted storefront a few more tables with umbrellas grace the sidewalk. Although York Avenue has scores of tempting restaurants both grand and tiny, we chose Antojitos Guerrero because we had Jack with us and needed outdoor seating.

It was a blustery fall day - dark clouds in the northeast, but bright sun where we were, and a brisk chill breeze. We tied Jack up to the umbrella base, and he settled down beneath our table. I wondered if we'd have to order at the counter, but we were brought a menu by a smiling and welcoming waitress.

I was in the mood for ceviche, so I ordered a tostada with fish. I also ordered a huarache with carne asada. [The Man I Love] opted for a shrimp ceviche, and ordered costillas de puerco - pork ribs - in colorado chile sauce with strips of nopales cactus, served with rice and beans. I ordered a jamaica agua fresca, and he ordered a Mexican Coke.

Our drinks came first, with a basket of chips and two salsas. One was a bright, fresh green salsa, and the other a deep smooth red chile salsa.
Shrimp ceviche in the foreground, fish in the back
Our ceviches were served first - and I was amazed! I'm used to taco truck ceviche tostadas, with a thin layer of ceviche on a crisp tortilla that you crunch up while waiting for your burrito. These were lavish, overflowing, the tortillas piled high with chunks of fish, tomato, onion and cucumber, garnished with orange and lime and perfectly ripe slices of avocado.
Costillas de puerco
My huarache was good, but unremarkable. What was really a knockout was the costillas de puerco - I could smell the complex flavors of the salsa colorado across the table. These are short ribs - stewed together with nopales in a finger-staining brick-colored unctuous red chile sauce fragrant with spices. Best of all, it was served with a basket of handmade corn tortillas - tasty, chewy, and utterly delicious.

The people who ran the place were friendly and welcoming. They brought a bowl of water for Jack. While we enjoyed our meal, we listened to the ranchero music from the restaurant's stereo and the chatter from the ladies in the beauty parlor next door.  Skateboarding kids flew past. So did SUVs with booming sound systems.

Jack got a few tasty bites, too!
 We counted ourselves lucky to have stumbled upon a great find. The servings were so abundant we took them home for dinner, and we also ordered another half-dozen tortillas.

L.A. is full of hidden treasures. I bet your hometown is too. Explore them!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Return to Chicken Boy

We spent some time in Highland Park today.

You are too much for me, Chicken Boy...... I wish I knew how to quit you!

Pink Saturday - a shared garden

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

Even on a grey November day, the Community Garden on Main Street in Santa Monica touched with bright colors. Gardeners were tidying their small plots and planting winter crops. The gate was open, and the sign said the public was welcome to view the gardens, so in I went.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Respect and reward

Downtown Santa Monica
I know a woman who works in a Santa Monica office. Santa Monica has been jokingly called "the home of the homeless" by comic Harry Shearer, because of the city's policies for homeless people - described by some as compassionate, others as enabling.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thematic Photographic - Classic

Carmi at Written, Inc., posts a photographic challenge each week called Thematic Photographic. This week, Thematic Photographic celebrates all things CLASSIC.

"Classic" is the word we often use to refer to art and architecture - but it also can refer to artists or works considered excellent, especially those of enduring significance.

 It's a treat when you experience a classic musical performance. We were recently invited to an appearance at an LA jazz club. The featured act was a well known married musical couple - she sings, he plays the trumpet. They recently released a studio album - ten years since their previous one -  and are performing together on tour.

This was an intimate performance at a small club. For us, it was a rare chance to see a real class act up close.

They sang songs you'd know from their repertory - you'd sing along with them if you heard them. They also sang arrangements of other great classic standards and new arrangements of soon-to-be-classic songs that might surprise you. Each artist's talent was showcased, and then at other moments, they came together to share the same microphone for duets, embracing while they sang.

Full disclosure - I first heard these two performers in 1969 or thereabouts, when their bands - her band opened for his band - played Cincinnati Gardens - a giant echoing old basketball arena. It was actually the first major concert I ever saw. My dad took me and a young friend to it. I barely remember that concert now, but perhaps it influenced me in my choice to make a life in the entertainment industry. How amazing, after all these years, to see these artists, and to hear them again up close.

So many years later, they're still making musical magic together. The lasting love and endurance of their relationship was palpable in the room. It was a pleasure to be there to share it.

A classic act, indeed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Colors of the season

The November sun slants low, and its light is golden. Here in the garden, a huge specimen of Salvia leucantha, also called Mexican bush sage, or sometimes "wooly sage" - is in lush, brilliant bloom.

The flowers are rich violet, and touched with fuzz. Hummingbirds love it. In cold areas it dies back in winter, but here in my Topanga garden, I have to cut it back.

National Bundt Cake Day

November 15, 2011 is National Bundt Cake Day - designated by the Food Librarian as a day to celebrate the virtues of Bundt cakes - lots of delicious cake, very little icing, and a time to use those clever tube cake-pans we have cluttering up our cupboards.

Today I dug my silicone Bundt cake pan out of an obscure cupboard, cleaned it up with hot soapy water, and make a delicious cake based on a Martha Stewart recipe for zucchini cake.

I came up short in the zucchini department, so I completed the required 2.5 cups of grated vegetable with carrots. This gave my cake a moist texture and a colorful crumb. Flavored with cinnamon, cardamom and lemon rind, my Bundt cake was finished with a glaze made of tangerine juice and confectioners' sugar.

Bundt cake recipes include a lot of butter and eggs - mine had a stick-and-a-half of butter - so they are rich and moist. They are easy and quick to make. You can't go wrong with Bundt cake. As the song goes - "I like Big Bundts and I cannot lie!"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thematic Photographic - Classic

Carmi at Written, Inc., posts a photographic challenge each week called Thematic Photographic. This week, Thematic Photographic celebrates all things CLASSIC.

"Classic" is the word we often use to refer to ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture - or art and architecture derived from ancient Greek and Roman ideas and forms.

Throughout the history of European and American culture, artists and architects have gone back to the well of classicism for inspiration. Whether it's Bernini in 17th Century Italy, Thomas Jefferson when designing his Monticello, or the French of Napoleon's era, dressing in flowing drapery and wearing laurel wreaths in their hair - there's always something to inspire us about Greek and Roman arts.

Here in Pacific Palisades is a museum of ancient Greek and Roman art - the Getty Villa. Many people think the large golden stone villa on the hill overlooking Pacific Coast Highway is the Getty Villa, but no - it's a private home built for a wool merchant in the 1920s.

Its facade is marked with pairs of Ionic columns, Palladian windows, and statuary.

Though striking "classic" poses, the naked ladies standing on posts at gateways and on balustrades seem a little more inhibited and modest than the goddesses Aphrodite or Hera. Perhaps their models were young girls of their era, flocking to Hollywood from more staid hometowns, looking for fame and fortune in the movie business.

Now here they stand - forever looking out at the horizon, forever offering vessels of stone to the sea and sky.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Marathon in high heels

This has been a marathon weekend - on the social front.

Disney Hall, interior
Two nights out - dinners, followed by events, followed by receptions. Steam-table food, cheap wine, the focus on talking and socializing kept us hungry and thirsty - meaning drive-thru fast food on the way home. Taco Bell or Mickey-D's - what's your pick? Or do you have energy for a meal at a real restaurant?

Disney Hall exterior, at night
On the plus side, excellent music and performances - and some surprising star appearances. Oh, yes, I was certainly glad I was there!

On the downside - tired feet!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Going native

Leaves of Quercus lobata, the Valley oak.
 Although I have a true interest in gardening native plants of the Santa Monica Mountains, sometimes it take a little extra push to motivate me to do something about it.

That extra push was my friend and neighbor Patty, who invited me to join her for a trip to the Theodore Payne Foundation Nursery, located in Sunland in the San Fernando Valley.

Though the beauty of native plants is best appreciated in the spring, when the Payne Foundation's Native Plant Garden Tour allows the public to view dozens of private gardens, the best time for planting natives is during Southern California's drizzly fall and rainy winter.

Calliandra, or "fairy duster"
Patty drove us out to Sunland, through dreary streets of cinder block auto body repair shops and warehouses, and turned off on a little canyon road through the Verdugo Mountains. The homes, behind concrete block walls and fences, were rural and horsey. We pulled into a gravel parking lot near the Foundation's offices, and walked up a gravel road to the nursery.

The plants are categorized by their type - trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials, ground cover. The informative labels tell you the plant's requirements, eventual size, and what its attractions are - does it attract butterflies? Does it feed birds? Is it fragrant or showy, or provide fall color?
Pentstemon spectabilis
Around the nursery, garden beds with mature plants were helpfully labelled, so you could see what a mature specimen of that tiny shoot would grow into.

Patty had planned for this trip, and had brought her reference books so we could learn even more about the plants we chose. I operated more recklessly, succumbing to Plant Lust, scooping up sisyrinchiums here and Fremontodendrons there, calculating in my mind where I could plant them.

Manzanita grown in a clay container
 How can you choose between one manzanita cultivar with blue-green foliage and cinnamon-brown bark, and an equally beautiful manzanita cultivar with gracefully weeping branches and flowers blushed a delicate rose? Ground-cover ceonathus with deep blue flowers, or ceonathus "Diamond Heights," with variegated foliage?

"We're going to need another cart"
Answer? get them all!

Of course, this requires rigorous editing prior to check-out, an agonizing contemplation. Are three irises too many? Should I put exchange the gallon-size coral bells for the less expensive, four-inch pot? Should I really risk buying a Fremontodendron now, or wait until I really know where to plant it and come back?

Hyptis "Silver Lining"
As we towed our cart through the gravelled paths, a fine drizzle soon strengthened to rain. Delicious herby scents filled the air, and you could hear birds in the wilder reaches of the garden.

Soon, the chill and damp slaked our greed for plants, and we trekked back to the warmth of the office, where even more temptation awaited - the assorted drawers and packets of wild flower seeds.

I'm so grateful to Patty for getting me out and motivating me to think about gardening.

My loot
Wow. What I am going to do with all these now?