Thursday, May 31, 2012

Never too young

"You're never too young to dream BIG"

Street art on the parking garage at Santa Monica College. It's a nice greeting when you arrive to go to class, isn't it?

UPDATE: Although I rather cynically thought it was the College Art Department's homage to him - it appears this piece might actually be our old pal Banksy! See here, here and here. A similar piece appeared earlier this spring and was either destroyed or cut out and stolen. This one appeared recently - it wasn't here on Wednesday of last week.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

Less than a month

Le Palais Royal, Paris
 It's time to make "to-do" lists.

In less than a month, we're going on a journey. We fly from LAX to Paris, then change planes for Venice. We spend a week in Venice, then we'll take the train over the Alps to Paris, with a night's stop in Lausanne, and then a few days' stop in Dijon to visit our friend Nancy.

We'll be in Paris for a few more days, then we'll take the Chunnel to London and visit our son.

I've been preparing myself for this trip by reading lots of books - not just tour guides, but literature like Hemingway, Henry James, Donna Leon and M. F. K. Fisher. Even so, it has all felt rather unreal for me, until now - we're so close. It's a celebration of [The Man I Love] and my 25th wedding anniversary.

We've never been to Venice, but it's going to be my second trip to Paris, [The Man I Love]'s third. As for London, we've been several times.

We'd love to hear your tips and suggestions - what "do not miss" suggestions do you have for us?

Decoration Day

Sycamore Cove, Ventura County picnic spot
 Memorial Day in the United States began after the Civil War. It was originally called Decoration Day - a day to tend the graves of all the Union soldiers who'd died in that horrible war. But it became a day to remember all American war dead.

Sometimes, it takes a long time for a war to kill someone who has served.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


The first year we moved to this house, I bought four packages of sweet pea seeds and threw them into the garden soil. They grew and filled the garden with a tangle of multi-colored fragrant flowers.

And they came back year after year, as flowers faded to reveal fat seed-pods that dried, split and found a cozy home in the soil.

Gradually, I began to notice that each year's sweet pea crop was becoming more predominated by one color - a deep red-violet. Evolution - or devolution - had wiped out the more delicate strains of pale pink, cherry red or blue sweet peas, and left only this strong elemental variety - vigorous and strongly scented.

Observing the process of evolution through sweet peas is not a new idea - my high school science teacher taught us about Gregor Mendel, whose experiments with another pea species, pisum sativum, pioneered the modern theories of genetics.

It's been almost fifteen years since I threw those packages of seeds into my garden, and over the years the crop has diminished, due in part to Marcielo's diligent practices of winter garden cleaning. But here and there, a few remain, and twine up through the cistus or the rosemary, and give us the gift of their beauty and scent.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Let's get lost

Chet Baker
Deja Pseu's post about Bad Boys made me think about this bad boy, jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker. 

[The Man I Love] has been watching and listening to Chet Baker music and video recently, and I was reminded of when, early in our relationship, we watched the Bruce Weber documentary "Let's Get Lost" about this tragic yet compelling jazz musician.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Twining vines

Gardening is not just about putting flowers in garden beds. Gardening is multi-dimensional. Which is why after greedy gardeners think they've run out of space, they make some more space - up in the air.

Vines add another dimension to the garden - height. They clamber over arbors, up trellises, cling to walls and fences. They take up very little earth-space - just enough for their roots. You can build an arch over a pathway, or a pergola over a patio or deck - and cover it with blooms.

When we bought our house, the southwest-facing slope of our backyard was a baked, sere swath of dirt, where nothing grew. Double-blasted by the sun and the reflection off our windows, even weeds shriveled and died here.

One of our first house-guests was a colleague who knew a lot about how human beings adapt to natural habitats, and he said, "What you need here is a ramada!" With that always in mind, a few years later when we were able to create our garden, that's exactly what we built, with the help of other talented friends, craftsmen and garden designers. A level deck with a pergola and a graceful shade tree keep the blasting sun out of the house and offer a sheltered spot to sit and enjoy the garden. The pergola provided structure to support vines that could provide color and beauty throughout the year.

The most dramatic of these is the wisteria, which begins to bloom in early spring. By now, May, its blooms are over but its vigorous foliage keep the deck below cool and shady. And now, the next act begins.

There are almost 300 species of clematis in the world, and when British gardeners got ahold of them in the mid 19th century, they bred them and crossed them and introduced hundreds of varieties. The flowers are often large and showy - I remember as a child poring over the Wayside Gardens catalog admiring the huge, flat, starry blossoms of clematis with names like "Nelly Moser", "Mrs. Cholmondely", "Duchess of Edinburgh" and "Comtesse de Bouchard."

Thought many lust after clematis, for some reason gardeners hesitate to grow them. A devastating fungus called "clematis wilt" can wipe out a promising plant in an instant - and who wants to take on that heartache? Plus, recommendations for pruning clematis are complicated and present a challenge that puts off beginning gardeners.

For pruning purposes, experts divide clematis into three types of plants, and you'll see them labeled as "A", "B" or "C." The "A"s bloom early, on last season's wood. You cut the flowering stems back right away after flowering, so they can grow next year's growth, but you leave the old growth alone.  The "B"s bloom in June on shoots that grow from old growth, so you prune these carefully in February and March, in order to stimulate the flowering shoots.  The "C"s bloom completely on new growth, so these are the simplest - whack the whole plant down to three feet or so in late winter, and let it grow in the spring.

I have to confess I have lost track of which type my clematis is. When I bought it, I thought I was buying "Etoile Violette," but since it's a tender bi-color lavender instead of deep violet, it's clearly not what I thought.

Its delicate flowers spangle the leaves of a purple-leaved grapevine that twines up the pergola and into the branches of the jacaranda tree. The tree's showy purple flowers come in late June, and then when autumn comes, the grape leaves flame rich scarlet. Containers on the deck provide summer color, with a white David Austin rose called "Winchester Catherdral" and pink zonal geraniums.

It all sounds very well put together, doesn't it? Except I am a lazy, neglectful gardener, and I haven't done any pruning, and very little maintenance and care.

But isn't that the beauty of it? If it can look like this in my garden, just think what it can look like in yours!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Baby mountain lions photo from Wikipedia
This morning I was driving into work, and I saw three helicopters hovering, stationary, over the downtown Santa Monica area.

According to the radio, a mountain lion is trapped in a courtyard of a commercial building in the 1200 block of Second Street.

Fish and Game are on the scene to tranquilize it and transport it back to the mountains. It's a young lion, probably an adolescent. Just coming into town to hang out on the Promenade, I guess. Maybe going to the Apple Store?

They killed it. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Music in the library

Imagine - a high brick wall covered with creeping fig entirely surrounds the property, which takes up an entire block in the West Adams district of Los Angeles.

This neighborhood is one of Los Angeles' oldest, with many of the buildings dating from between 1880 and 1925, It was once the home of LA's wealthiest founding fathers, and after the Supreme Court struck down segregationist covenants, it became the home of LA's wealthy and prominent African American community.

Construction of the 10 freeway cut through the neighborhood, destroying many fine homes, and the neighborhood declined in the '60s and '70s. But today it's coming back as preservationists, USC academics, and others discover neglected beauties among the mix of shabby Craftsman bungalows, pillared mansions, and stucco'd apartment houses. 

But in this block on the north side of West Adams Boulevard, between Gramercy and Cimarron, there's another Los Angeles treasure to discover.

Solar eclipse

We interrupt the previous post to bring you a hot breaking news story.

Something has taken a bite out of the sun.

We made a camera obscura with a pin and two pieces of paper.

The sun is getting even smaller.

It was certainly clear in the pinhole camera image.  But then I saw it a different way.

I walked out into the yard and looked at the side of the house.

The sun was filtered through the leaves of the trees.

It was like eclipse art.

 Hundred of little images of the crescent of the sun.

Jack thinks it's pretty cool, he's not worried.

Friday, May 18, 2012

She liked trees

Our native coast live oaks drop acorns that sprout and develop into amazingly strong seedlings.Once they get established they are really hard to uproot. They survive brush fire and drought and flood and earthquake, and endure throughout any human troubles. When they mature, their branches spread out and embrace all that fall within their shade.

My friend Laurie passed on tonight at 9:00 pm. I'm planting a coast live oak in her name.

A little excitement in the neighborhood

Last week I was driving to work, minding my own business, and when I drove past the parking lot of our nearby park, I was surprised to see  it was full of very official-looking vehicles. Just before I passed the driveway, a white pick-up truck pulled out in front of me, and in I could see half a dozen guys wearing camouflage fatigues and carrying guns.

Whoa. What was this? The truck had an official seal on the side, like the highway patrol or maybe the state park.

The guys were sitting in the back of the pick-up truck, too. My mind flashed to the time my neighbor, who is a landscaper, picked the kids' carpool up from the bus-stop in her pick-up truck for the half-mile trip to our street. She got stopped by a park ranger and was scolded for transporting kids unsecured in her truck.

The truck made the left turn onto the boulevard before me, and  - because I was going that way - I followed. They were ahead of me all through town until halfway down the mountain, then they pulled over to the side.

I passed them and continued on to work, wondering. What was going on? National Guard training? A film shoot? Probably a movie location shoot, I thought.

Nope. As it turns out, here's the story, from the LA Times:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Working my ass off

 Wouldn't you think if I was working my ass off I'd actually lose some weight?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

That bright land

click to "embiggen"

"I am a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world of woe
Yet there's no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright land to which I go
I'm going there to see my father
I'm going there no more to roam
I'm only going over Jordan
I'm only going over home"
                          - American traditional song

News comes that my friend Laurie is getting weaker and has lost some motor control. Her husband says she drifts in and out of responsiveness. He's not sure how much longer she'll stay.

I am so grateful I was able to visit her and spend some time talking with her. The beauty of those spring days will always hold in my memories of her.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Plant a rainbow

A friend in Seattle wants advice planting irises in her yard, and I thought I might pass along some ideas.

There are some 300 species of iris that grow all over the temperate world. While some irises grow from bulbs, most typically are rhizomes - actually the stem of the plant, growing underground, branching out and dividing as they grow. Since a broken-off piece of rhizome sends up growth for a new plant, this makes irises really easy to propagate and share.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Inspired invention - starting young

Take a few minutes to watch this video about a very creative little boy.

Caine Monroy is nine years old. He spent his summer vacation with his dad at his dad's auto parts store in East Los Angeles, and while there, he created his very own arcade of games, working with cardboard boxes and toys.

He didn't have many customers, but one day a filmmaker wandered into the shop and met Caine. He shared the news with his friends, and now Caine's Arcade is an inspiration to other inventive kids.

Caine's Arcade was installed as part of Unique LA, a consumer exhibit show featuring local artisans that takes place this weekend at the California Market Center in downtown Los Angeles.

I stopped by to see Caine's Arcade. I purchased a Fun Pass ($2 good for 500 plays) and played the basketball game. I'm not very good at it, but I made a basket eventually!

Here's Caine himself, concentrating on a camera while presiding over the enterprise.

The games are very intricate and challenging.
There were lots of customers playing Caine's games at his arcade.

What started as a game has turned into an effort to raise funding for Caine's future college tuition. The intial goal was $25,000, but now foundation has raised over $250,000 - and now the Caine's Arcade Foundation supports opportunities for other innovative kids.

What a great affirmation for a 9 year old boy's creative spirit!

UPDATE - We might not have learned about Caine's Arcade if someone hadn't noticed it, and nurtured it. Think about it - when have you seen a work of imagination and creativity? Have you helped it grow? How about the next time?

Happy Mother's Day!

In downtown Los Angeles' wholesale flower district
Have a wonderful Mother's Day! Do something nice for your mom!

Click photo to "embiggen."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Market flowers

I had to go to class this Wednesday night, so all I could bring back from the Santa Monica Farmers' Market were these photos. The powerful scent of these tuberose drew me to the florist's stall.

Sweet William is not scented, but, oh, so pretty!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fire on the Mountain

People who live in the Santa Monica Mountains and other rural areas of Southern California are always alert during fire season - which happens to be almost 12 months a year.

This afternoon sitting at my desk in balmy Santa Monica, two blocks from the beach and ten miles from home, a chance encounter set my alarm system in motion.

A colleague had a meeting with someone who was running late. They were coming from Topanga, they said, and they were running late because there's a fire.

I sprang into action - if you can call websurfing "action". The California Highway Patrol website, the community emergency volunteer site, newsradio small announcement of fire was all I found.

[The Man I Love] happened to be home, so I called him. My call, relaying something I heard from a chance encounter, was the first he'd heard of it - although he'd heard the sirens. Then he went out on the deck and saw the smoke billowing from the ridge across the boulevard from us. The helicopters were already there, dumping retardant on the fire. While we talked, my mind automatically started listing the items he should take as he evacuated, in order of importance. I'm sure he was doing the same.

As it turned out, it was a car fire up on the ridge, and was put out quickly. Even so, it was a lesson how quickly disaster can happen, how quickly you have to move, and also how lucky we are for such great fire-fighting support.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Where are we?

Look at this photo. Where do you think we are? In the subways of London, Paris, New York?

Walk around, go out through the turnstiles, and head up to the street.

Street scene - it could be a major metropolitan city. Chicago? San Francisco?

It's L.A. Many people don't know Los Angeles has a subway. This is the 7th Street Metro Center, the central location in the heart of downtown, where the Red, Blue, Purple Lines meet, as well as the brand new Expo Line.

We took a ride on the Expo Line this past weekend. It's operating from 7th Street Metro Center to La Cienega and Jefferson Boulevard. The Expo Line will eventually go all the way to Santa Monica in 2016, traveling on the old right-of-way of the Santa Monica Air Line. The last time public transit ran on the line was 1953.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Above it all

The breakwater at Marina Del Rey where Ballona Creek enters the sea
I've never gotten over the child-like wonder I felt the first time I flew in an airplane and saw the life-size houses, cars, and buildings of real life through the plane window, getting smaller and smaller, like toys, as we rose higher and higher into the air.

The Malibu coast
If I can, I will always try to get a window seat when I fly - although for some twenty-odd years as a parent, I had to cede that over to my son.
Harbor Island and the docks in Seattle
On my recent trip to Seattle, the weather was fantastic and I was able to see some magnificent views of the California coast as we lifted off, and of Seattle as we landed.

Here, we're looking right down into the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field and the Seahawks' new stadium.

Click all photos to "embiggen."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bayside treasure

Chez Jay's low concrete block building has squatted in a parking lot off Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, just onshore from the Pier, since 1959. Although it's dark inside, the top half of the dutch door that serves as its entrance is always open, and in the evening the western sun off the Pacific beams inside to send slanting bars of light through the the dim interior.

A bar with twelve barstools, a clutch of 4-top tables, and a handful of vinyl upholstered booths crowd the narrow restaurant, which sports red-checkered tablecloths, a tangled skein of Christmas lights, quasi nautical decor and red-striped awnings that - if you know Chez Jay, you realize - are made of canvas salvaged from old hot-air balloons. The floor is littered with peanut shells and sawdust, the beer is cold and the martinis are perfect.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

In praise of foliage

A path through the Northwest Perennial Alliance border
This post is for Heather, who joined me for a walk through the Bellevue Botanical Garden. It was a grey but beautiful Northwest day - the kind of day that mixes grey clouds with bursts of sunshine; raindrops that spangle your windshield, but are gone after the first pass of the wipers.

This magnificent park was once the property of a couple who enjoyed growing rhododendrons and other plants. In 1984 their property was deeded to the City of Bellevue to be a public park. A group of gardening enthusiasts promoted the creation of a botanical garden. I learned of the garden in the early '90s when the Northwest Perennial Alliance - my hometown garden society - designed and maintained the vast perennial border that crowns an east-facing slope at the edge of the huge lawn.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beware of Tigers

Ever find something like this when you drive into your employee parking lot at work? I truly have no idea who put this here and why, but it's worth paying attention to.

Beware, beware! There are wild things in here!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Taking care

This afternoon, I got an email that very obviously wasn't for me - it was a one-line rant from someone in our large bureaucracy complaining about his boss.

Oops! I've never done that, but boy, I could imagine how he felt, wondering who that went out to. I emailed him back and said, "I don't think you wanted to send that to me. Don't worry, it never happened. Hang in there."

Has this ever happened to you - in either role? What would you do?

In a world with a lot of stress, we've got to look out for one another, I think.