Friday, March 30, 2012

First of spring

Here's the first iris of spring!

These are Pacific Coast native iris blooming under coast live oaks in my front yard.

I love the veined petals with the streak of yellow - landing strips for pollinating insects.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Caught short

PCH at the end of Sunset Boulevard
Yesterday, for reasons of poor planning, forgetfulness and just plain boneheadedness, I found myself out in the world with nothing in my pocket but $7 dollars in cash. No cards, no checkbook, no nothing.

It was a full day - I had an eight-hour day at work, followed by my evening class, and wouldn't make it home until 9:30 pm.

Before work, I had an appointment at the doctor's office to give blood in preparation for a general check-up next month - so I got out of the house earlier than usual. Rushed, I forgot to pack a lunch, and due to the bloodwork, I had fasted since the previous evening.

So there I was, at the doctor's office. Hungry for breakfast; looking ahead for lunch and a quick dinner between work and class, when suddenly I realized I had only $7 dollars in cash.

What to do? Well, first was the parking meter. Lucky me - there was still 35 minutes of time on it when I pulled in. Thank you, kind soul whoever you are! I plugged another quarter in and had enough time for my appointment.

Lunch - I felt foolish,  knowing that back home in the fridge were some good Moroccan chicken leftovers, or cold cuts to make a sandwich. But those were eight miles behind me. What to do? The nearby supermarket had Lean Cuisine meals on sale for $2 each. OK - there's lunch, and I still have $5 - maybe enough for a falafel sandwich before class?

And then my car's Low Fuel light went on, about four miles from my office.

Do the math. My owner's manual says there's a reserve of about 1.7 gallons when the low fuel light goes on. If my car averages 27 miles per gallon in the city, this gives me about 46 miles. My commute is 10 miles one way. It's about 3 miles from my office to my college.

4 - miles from when the light went on to my office
3 - miles from my office to school
13 miles from school to my home.

20 miles to make it home. I could gas up the following morning, but I'd have to drive 6 miles back out of the canyon to the nearest gas station, which means if I want to use that $5 to buy myself some dinner, I'm betting on my car being able to go 26 miles before refueling.

But does my car really get that kind of mileage? What if I'm wrong about the amount of the reserve?  If I ran out of gas, it would probably be in the canyon, on a winding mountain road in the middle of nowhere. And doesn't it do bad things to your car to run out of gas?

So I put my remaining $5 in the gas-tank, and waited until I got home from class at 9:30 pm to think about dinner.

I'm fortunate. I have a good job, my husband has a good job. Postponing one dinner - forgoing fast food and waiting to eat home-cooked food, actually - is not a hard choice. My commute - despite the mountain road - is not as long as that of some of my co-workers and classmates. And I was caught short entirely due to my own foolishness and forgetfulness.

But spending just one day caught short brought home to me what a lot of people go through on a regular basis - even when they plan ahead and don't make mistakes.

Old sign at the same station - remember those days?
At one time in my life, I counted every penny until payday, and sometimes there were short days. In the 1970s, when I lived in New York, it made a difference in my weekly budget to take the PATH trains uptown, for $0.30, instead of the subway, for $0.50. Packing a lunch meant the difference between eating and going hungry - and often it had to be peanut butter instead of cold cuts.

When I was in class last night, a lingering cough made me think about getting a bottled water from the vending machine during break. But - oops! I had no money, so a sip from the drinking fountain had to do.

Some people practice these economies regularly even when they're not cut short - saving against future bad times. Me, I guess I've gotten a little complacent and forgot what it's like.

This was no big crisis for me - I was able to fill my car the next day, and I remembered to bring my lunch. Heck - I could have even gone out to lunch. But a lot of people are finding themselves short these days, with a bad economy and unemployment. Some folks have to skip meals to get by - or feed family members who need the nutrition more than they do. Running out of money for gas can be a real fear for some - and as prices rise, it gets worse.

How are you coping with the economy?  Do you manage your money more carefully nowadays? Do you pinch your pennies - whether through need or simply out of caution? Have you had to change your lifestyle to manage?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Meeting my Secret Boyfriend - at last!

Famed Blogger Mrs. G. has introduced the internet to the concept of a Secret Boyfriend - that is, one's unrequited love cherished only in one's fantasy life. A couple years ago, Mrs. G. asked her readers to write about their Secret Boyfriends, and you can read my post HERE and HERE.

Brian Stokes Mitchell
My Secret Boyfriend is Brian Stokes Mitchell, a talented singer and actor that I actually worked with, but never met face to face - because, as I wrote earlier:
Now here's the odd thing about it. Despite the fact that I worked maybe 50 shows with him, I've never met Stokes. He's never met me. Spotlight operators are the most unknown people in the company. By the time "places" are called, we're up in the ceiling where no one can see us. We can't come downstairs until the final bows are over and everyone's gone.
A few Sundays ago, thanks to my REAL Boyfriend, [The Man I Love], who pulled a few strings with some connections he has, I got to actually sit in a theatre seat and see my Secret Boyfriend perform.

And what a wonderful performance it was! It opened with this classic song:

That was followed by 90 minutes ranging from showtunes to classics to a little jazz. At one point, in recognition of the wonderful acoustics of the beautiful Eli and Edythe Broad Stage at Santa Monica College, the microphones were turned off, and he and the pianist performed "This Nearly Was Mine" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "South Pacific" - completely acoustically.

For a taste of what it sounded like, go watch this YouTube video. (sorry, it won't allow embedding).

After the show, we were invited to a small reception at a local restaurant, and I finally got to meet my Secret Boyfriend in person.

Which boyfriend is cuter?
 Stokes was very gracious, and generous with his time - spending a few moments with each person at the reception and allowing photos. What a class act! If he comes to your town - buy a ticket and see what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Birds of paradise

They don't look like birds to me.

The Strelitzia species are natives of South Africa. They were first introduced to Europeans in 1773, when they were imported to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. They're called Birds of Paradise after the pointy, beak-like spathe from which the flowers emerge. Strelitzia reginae, also called the Crane Flower, is the official flower of the City of Los Angeles.

They're durable, drought tolerant and almost impossible to kill. To me they don't look like birds, they look more like....velociraptors.....

Dinosaurs...cold blooded reptiles....growing right here in my garden....

Clever creatures.

What do you think?

Still struggling

I just can't shake this cold.  I'm still coughing, and my head is still stuffed up.

I took all the antibiotics prescribed for my ear infection, and I'm still feeling blocked, echoing, and achy.

Now my throat is feeling sore again.

What kind of superbug is this? And why won't it let me alone? Buy Kleenex stock.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rainy Sunday

It has been pouring down rain since 8:00 am this morning. When will it stop? I'm still in my pajamas.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


The apricot tree was already full-grown when we moved into our Topanga home. That first summer, it was like an unexpected gift to have a tree full of fruit.

And aren't fresh apricots the rarest pleasure of all fruits? No green-tinged fuzzy round grocery-store rock approaches the succulence and tart rush of flavor as a ripe apricot plucked from the tree.

As the years went by, no crop ever approached the bounty of that first summer. I've read that apricots grown in warm climates sometimes have a 2-year pattern - one year a good harvest, one year a poor one. But the real reason is probably simpler than that - fruit trees need expert pruning and training to maximize yields. We have been neglectful gardeners. Last year, the apricot had less than a dozen fruits.

But this spring the tree has surprised me. The blossoms are more abundant than they've been in years. Was it that this winter was more dry, more cold? Was it something we did? Is the tree giving one last burst of fertility as it ages?

We'll take it as a gift - the promise of summer fruit that counts.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"The talk"

"SunMoonDome" Adam Leventhal
 I just heard an interview on NPR this morning with a mother and her two sons. She spoke of how when her sons each became about twelve years old, she sat them down and had "the talk." with them.

It's not what you might first think of. It's not that they will soon be men and need to know about the changes in their bodies. It's not about how they relate to girls, or about safe sex  - although those things are important to talk about with young male children, too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dining Alone - A bite before class

It's been a very long time since I've lived the life of a college student. In my college days, I was a full-time student living in the dormitories - at least the first two years. I ate in the dining hall, but as I grew more used to the town, the lures of off-campus eateries and hash houses drew me and my friends away. Cheap, filling and fast food satisfies the cravings of caffeine-stoked and book-maddened students.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

St. Patrick's Rainbow

We spent a wonderful St. Patrick's Day evening at our neighbors' house, enjoying corned beef and cabbage and other delicious treats.

Smoked salmon and butter on Irish soda bread, meat pies with relish, Irish cheddar with porter - all made delicious hors d'ouevres for the main meal

The house was filled with children, food, pets and cheer.

The kids had more American-style treats

Henri the pig had to stay outside because he had muddy trotters and a muddy nose.

The weather this weekend was wild - a fierce morning storm gave way in the afternoon to blustery wind and sunny skies, but as evening came on, more rain whisked through.

At one point, a sudden hailstorm covered the outside deck with ice.

Later, the skies clouds parted and the sun came out - and a rainbow appeared.

The children ran up the driveway to the street to see it.

Hope you had a happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tasty treat for a stormy morning

There's a powerful storm raging outside this morning, in from the Arctic, with cold temperatures, high gusty winds and rain. We're warm and cozy inside, but every time the wind gusts, we look up and wonder if the lights will go out.

This is weather for a nice warm breakfast.

Sognsvann, Kringsja, Oslo, 1991
 In 1991 our family lived in Oslo, Norway for a winter. [The Man I Love] had accepted a visiting professor appointment at the University of Oslo, and Our Son and I joined him. One of the things I remember is a weekend after a long blizzard when the parks and woods around us were covered in a thick blanket of snow that attracted scores of skiers. And near the trails, there was a little wood shed, shuttered until this particular day, now open and selling freshly made waffles, to slake their post-ski hunger. The waffles were cooked in a heart-shaped iron, and served with lingonberry jam and sour cream, and they were delicious.

No Eggos they, those waffles seemed unattainable when we returned to the states. It wasn't until several years later than Our Son, coming home from a sleepover with a friend, requested home-made waffles. His friend's dad had made them for breakfast, he said, and he wanted us to try them.

I bought a cheap American-style waffle-maker, and for the next several weeks, I made fresh waffles for Sunday breakfast. Then, as kids do, Our Son's interest moved to something else, and the waffle iron ended up buried deep in a kitchen cabinet.

This morning, maybe it was the cold wind and the sense of warmth in the house that made me take it out again.

The waffles I made this morning were made with leftover cooked rice from some Thai take-out.

Rice Waffles

1 cup cooked rice
1 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 cup milk
1 egg, divided

Mix together the rice, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix together the milk, melted butter and egg yolk, and combine them with the dry ingredients.

Whip the egg white until it forms soft peaks. Fold the whipped egg white into the batter, and cook in a waffle iron according to the manufacturer directions.

My waffle iron works simply. With non-stick grids, you simply wipe it with a little oil (I sprayed Pam on a paper towel, and wiped the iron with it). Plug in the iron. The indicator light will go on. When it goes off, the iron is hot enough to spoon the batter in.

Steam comes out as the waffle cooks.
 Close the iron - the light will go on again. Wait for it go off again, and gently try to open it. If it sticks, wait a bit, and try again. The waffle should be browned and done.

If I hadn't known they were made with leftover rice, I couldn't have noticed anything different about these waffles, so I'll say it doesn't matter. They were light, and momentarily crispy - you had to eat them fresh before the steam made them soften. I think they could have used a touch of vanilla, sugar, or nutmeg for taste - or a pinch of ground cardamom, as Norwegians like them.

Skiing makes you hungry  -  Our Son and me, 1991
 In Norway they eat them with jam or berries and whipped cream. Here in the US we sweeten them with maple syrup. LA is famous for pairing waffles with fried chicken, at the famous chain of soul food restaurants, Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles.

I was pleased to see how easy it was to set up the waffle iron, make the batter, cook the waffles and clean up and put it all away again. They were even easier to make than pancakes! Why don't I make these more often?

What are your weekend breakfast specialties?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Gloomy day

It's a gloomy day here in Southern California. We're awaiting a storm blowing in from the north. The fog has been thick this morning - here's what it looks like right now outside my kitchen window - the fog has completely obscured the other side of the canyon.

I'm home with my cold. I'm trying to monitor by email various workplace crises that come up - a German reality show location filming and a visit by the French consul. (am I making these details up or are they real? Take a guess.)

The leaves of the jacaranda tree off the kitchen deck always turn yellow in spring, and they fall off before the new growth begins. The wisteria, now in full bloom, twines through the jacaranda, the purple blossoms a portend of blossoms to come, as the jacaranda bursts into its own purple blooms in June.

Oh - I think I did OK on the French test.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Click to "embiggen"
Someone I know played hooky from work on Monday and sent me this photo from high atop Point Dume. It was awfully nice to sit in my cubicle and open this up from my email, imagining myself up there looking out over the Pacific.

I'm not playing hooky at all, I'm at work with a lousy cold, weird goggle-eyed glasses, and (now, I think) an ear infection. I just attended a meeting where we pored over lots of detailed figures on spreadsheets, I smell strongly of Ricola, and I'm barely hanging on, here. In two hours I have my French mid-term exam.

I may need to stay home tomorrow, but what a waste. It's so much more fun to play hooky when you're not sick, isn't it?

Computer junkie

 Yesterday something - a bit of grit, maybe - got in my eye and all day long my eye was irritated. I wear contact lenses and I am near blind without correction, so I endured the pain throughout the day, then took out my contacts at home.

I do have eyeglasses, The only problem is that my eyeglass prescription is old - it dates from a couple years ago. With them, I can see perfectly well to walk around the house and do errands, but I cannot see the computer screen while wearing eyeglasses.

If I take my eyeglasses off and bring my nose within six inches of the screen, I can make out the text.

Even easier, I can read email on my I-phone if I take off my glasses and bring the screen up to my face - the enlarged text makes it easy.

Third, I can see the letters on the screen if I keep my eyeglasses on and put a pair of reading glasses ("cheaters") on top of them. You can imagine how stylish this looks.

I have always worn glasses.
Ridiculous, isn't it? I must be totally addicted.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mes Devoirs

More French homework! I got an "A" on my second pop quiz, but this Wednesday is our first real exam!

Reading chair at Shakespeare et Companie, in Paris

The reason I'm not blogging is that I'm hitting the books!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Morning coffee

Today is beautiful, sunny, and clear. I'm having a cup of coffee on the deck, reading a book. The air is sweet with the scent of wisteria and lemon blossoms.

Click to "embiggen"
And this is the view from my chair. I never get tired of it. The amazing geologic folds of the earth, the heaved and angled layers of rock, the huge flat slabs upthrust like teeth from the hills. The soft gray-green chaparral and oaken forest. The vertical rills marking landslides, gullies where rainfall and storm waters drain off the mountain. That white house I've never visited in person, with its meadow and tree-lined avenue. The tile roofs of other houses hidden among the trees.

It's a beautiful Saturday morning in Topanga. How's it where you are?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Worth it? Or not?

These days I'm not much of an antique-shopper or yard-sale devotee, although twenty years ago I was so committed to thrifting that most of our household furniture was purchased used and refurbished by me.

Now, at my age, the idea of kneeling on newspapers in the driveway, stripping old varnish with steel wool and gooey, corrosive paint stripper just doesn't say "fun" to me anymore.

Even so, sometimes I get a fresh reminder of the thrill of the hunt.

Heywood Wakefield M154A side chair

Yesterday, while driving through the San Fernando Valley, I spotted something on the side of the road, made a quick round-the-block detour and went to investigate.

There, in the grass of the parking strip, with a neon-orange "YARD SALE" sign, was a Heywood Wakefield "Dog Biscuit" dining set - a drop-leaf table, two side chairs and two arm chairs. In the yard behind an entire home's worth of furnishings were displayed, but all I cared about was the dining room set.

The chairs were in pretty good shape - a little dirty, in need of a good cleaning. The upholstery was a kind of yellow chenille with metallic flecks.

Price? I asked the guy presiding over the sale.

$2000 for four chairs and a table.  "A guy offered me $1500 earlier and said he'd be back later if I didn't get $2000 for 'em," he said, in an attempt - I assume - to get me to offer $1600.

Ah. Although our dining room chair situation is not ideal, and I'd love to have a set of four Heywood Wakefield "Dog Biscuit" chairs, $1600 isn't in my budget.

Mid-century modern vintage furniture is quite hot these days, especially in L.A. So it's probably a pretty good price for the value. But no. I had to walk away, though with a touch of regret.

Heywood Wakefield M154C arm chair

I grew up with those chairs - my parents' first dining room set was exactly that table and six, not four, chairs. I think the upholstery was a kind of soft dull green chenille. Later, in the 60's, we bought what my childhood self thought was a nicer dining room set, in a kind of "Mediterranean" style with a large buffet.

But, oh, my adult self appreciates the sleek stylishness of those "Dog Biscuit" chairs. What happened to them?

After the Mediterranean dining room, the Heywood Wakefields ended up consigned to the basement, to the hobby table, or as desk chairs in childrens' rooms. When Brother 3 married and started a family, Mom and Dad donated the set to him, where they were treated just as most people treat hand-me-downs, and they are no more.

A lost chance to relive my childhood, right?

Actually, if I really really want Heywood Wakefield "Dog Biscuit" chairs, I'm in luck. The Heywood Wakefield Company still makes them. The company was bought out by another firm, and the new owner recognized the potential of these iconic Mid-Century styles. Today, you can buy new "Dog Biscuit" chairs, for around $400 - just a little more than asking price for the yard sale set I walked away from. They're still made of solid Northern Yellow Birch, with a hand-rubbed finish. There's an assortment of fabrics for upholstery.

So if I'd had $1600 burning a hole in my pocket, I could have walked away with a vintage set of chairs I'd have to clean, refinish and re-upholster - or I could order new ones with fabric of my choice.

What do you think? Is there a value in the vintage pieces that outweighs the new? Or would you go for the new pieces?

What's your talent for thrifting?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Did you know?

It's International Women's Day today.

Women's organizations and governments around the world have observed International Women's Day annually on 8 March, to honor women's contributions and remind us of the need to keep working to ensure that women's equality is maintained in all aspects of life.

With the current assault on women's reproductive rights coming from U.S. politicians, we are reminded to stop being complacent and assume the fight has already been won. It continues.

And yes, the day is associated with the labor movement, feminism, and socialism. So what?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What season is it?

Sunday morning I woke up to the scent of flowers in the air. It was sunny, warm, beautiful. The entire world seemed perfumed.

It was probably because our wisteria vine has begun to bloom. It sprawls over the top of our shade structure, and you can see it from the second floor windows. Fat lavender blooms are burgeoning all over it. Wisteria is not a plant for the timid. Ours is perhaps 8 years old now, and it wraps a stranglehold around the shade structure's pillars, waving tendrils reach out and entwine porch railings and chair backs, and the fat, dark oval seeds burst from its green pods and then emerge as seedlings in the lawn.

Still - the scent of spring-blooming wisteria is heady.

That was Sunday. Today is Tuesday - last night the fog on Pacific Coast Highway was so thick as I drove home from my night class that it was hard to see more than a few car lengths ahead. This morning the world is shrouded in mist, and I hear on the radio that an Arctic storm may bring snow to the Grapevine - a highway north of Los Angeles.

Plus ca change, as they say in France.

Still, the wisteria blooms. You can't stop it. Nothing stops wisteria, as gardeners well know.