Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dirty Harvey

Would never have thought of Clint Eastwood as Elwood P. Dowd, talking to imaginary creatures? And the invisible guy in the chair seemed to be holding his own in the argument.

Just sad. 

Crazy days and crazy nights

The last couple of days have been a little crazy. You'll excuse the light posting, I hope.

Work has become surprisingly complicated - we have a big project coming up in the next couple of weeks, but also, our offices are going to be disrupted by a maintenance project that requires us to move to temporary quarters next week.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to plot out my course for the transition that faces me in ten months.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's HOT

Agua fresca

It was 102 degrees Fahrenheit at our house this afternoon. I could use something cool.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Posted without comment

Brava, ladies!

You fill in the subtext.

Unbeanlievably delicious

What's your most hated vegetable?

Broccoli? - this maligned vegetable received extra scrutiny back in 1990 when President George H. W. Bush vowed that, as the most powerful man in the free world, he would no longer eat it.

Beets? Lots of people dislike beets. I myself never tasted a beet until adulthood, though now I love them. And beets are on the menu these days, in many a fine restaurant.

Brussels sprouts? Once hated, now a new trendy hit in restaurants, roasted with garlic and bacon.

Lima beans? Suffering succotash! I think it's high time for the rehabilitation of the lima bean, and I have just the recipe to do it.

Greek Style lima beans

1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans
1 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

 Put all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer, covered, over a low heat for 20 minutes. Serve.

I made some this evening to compliment a grilled pork tenderloin. I didn't have any parsley, but I had the leafy tops of some celery, so I chopped that up. I also tossed in some dried thyme, red pepper flakes, and some chopped onions.

Simple, isn't it? You cannot believe how good this is. There's a richness to it that surprises. You can add some variations - chopped mint leaves perhaps. Different herbs. A chopped tomato, or some chopped bell peppers of any color. You can toss with feta cheese, perhaps. Or use chicken broth instead of water, for even more flavor.

Of course, it's better with fresh shelled beans, but what's amazing about it is that it's great even with frozen beans. You can have a package in your freezer and use them any time you're at a loss for fresh veggies.

Vegetable rehabilitation! What's next?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Beach town

Manhattan Beach. Click to "embiggen"
 The broad curve of the coast of Los Angeles County, from Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, is blessed with broad sandy beaches and pleasant seas. Just south of Los Angeles International Airport, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach make up a trio of small cities that dot the coast, each with their municipal pier, shops, bars and restaurants, each prized for their surf and sand and mild weather.

Frankly - I've always had a hard time distinguishing one from the other. To remedy that, we took a trip to Manhattan Beach on a bright August Saturday, and get to know it better.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Need to know

Ladies room, Comet Tavern, Seattle
Do you use paper seat covers when you use public toilets?

In my adult life, I've used some pretty foul and sketchy toilets - particularly in my youth, in bars, in the louche quarters of lower Manhattan I frequented. Oh, and also in various aged and crumbling theatrical venues.

When I was 21, I worked in an office building in midtown Manhattan. My female office mates were an older lady who'd been working for the company for over 25 years, and a lady perhaps 10 years younger than the first, who'd only been working there for 10 years. The three of us shared a locked ladies room on the floor - sometimes female customers and clients used it, but it was mostly the three of us.

One winter day, I was in the stall, and Doris was at the sink. The custodian had left the window open, and it was cold. I said something foolish about how cold the seat was. With her hands in the stream of water, Doris froze. "You sit down?" she asked, incredulously.

I suddenly had a picture of Doris - then in her mid-fifties - for twenty-five years hovering over the seat in a bathroom she shared with two other people, her calf muscles flexed and trembling.

There's too many other things to worry about in life. I'm making a confession here - I don't use paper toilet seat covers. A quick wipe on the seat with a bit of toilet paper if there are some sprinkles there, but otherwise - I'm good. The way I figure, as long as the seat is dry and there is no discernible soilage, whatever's there is not going to penetrate my epidermis and immune system and infect me. If it's really bad, I'll go to another stall, or if it's the only option, I'll hover. But in a public toilet that appears to be regularly cleaned, I don't feel that squeamish.

But I can understand that maybe I came of age in an era before disposable toilet seat covers were regularly available. Maybe it is a norm for younger generations to use them.

I don't question other women's choices for hygiene. But what I want to know is - Why do some users of disposable toilet seat covers leave them on the seat for the next user to throw away? How can someone be so squeamish they must put a paper barrier between their butt and the plastic seat other people sit on, and yet be so inconsiderate they leave their used paper barrier for someone else to deal with?

I encountered this today in a high-end restaurant. I had to clean up some other fastidious person's mess. What do you think? Discuss.

Friday, August 24, 2012


It's finished. The great floor refinishing is done. Look at that shine!

Before - water damage and scratches, January 2012
All that remains is for the furniture to be put back in place, tomorrow morning.

Eigh's handiwork - orange glop
As awful as the damage was,

 as disruptive as having the work done was, as much an unexpected expense it was, when it's all said and done, the floors are so beautiful I'm glad we did it.

We have what is known as a "pre-finished engineered hardwood floor." We had it put in back in 2003, over a plywood subfloor that had carpet in the living room and linoleum in the kitchen. Over the years, with elderly dogs, spilled water bowls and "accidents", and with baking sun and rain coming in from the clerestory windows, the floor had gotten pretty beat up. We considered having it refinished, but never got around to it. The final straw was our former housekeeper, Eigh, deciding to surprise us by refinishing it himself while we were traveling in Europe - without having either skill or knowledge how to do it.Or permission from us.

More of Eigh's handiwork
We had been so pleased by the firm that originally put in the floor that when the damage was done, we contacted them to help us. We discussed the options and decided to have the entire installation refinished. The price was steep, but surprisingly less than we'd thought. In any case, we couldn't live with it the way it was.

Before, January
 For anyone in southern California considering wood floor installation or refinishing, Mike Pillar & Sons is a great company. They've done a great job for us. We've spent almost a week with Francisco and Lorenzo working in our home, and they were incredibly dedicated craftsmen, trustworthy and respectful, taking care with our home and its furnishings. They really liked Jack, too!

Now - beautiful
Not only did they do a fantastic job, but our floor has a new beauty that, I think, transcends what it was before. The intricate grain of the maple veneer is more apparent now, and the color more clear and bright. Thank you, guys!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Window shopping in Venice

One of the pleasures of Venice, as in many sophisticated cities, is shopping. There are streets where one can find the finest designer fashions, and there are also streets where one can find the cheapest plastic souvenir crap. What I enjoyed the most were the little, out-of-the-way calles where modest little shops opened directly to the stream of passers-by.

Evenings out

Since Monday morning, Francisco and Lorenzo have been in our house, refinishing the floors in our kitchen and living room.  Mostly, [The Man I Love] has been staying home, while I go to the office. Each evening I come home, there's a new transformation.

The first day, they moved all our furniture out, and then shrouded all the kitchen cabinets and light fixtures in plastic. The second day they sanded the old finish off the floors with huge industrial sanding machines. The third day, they did the finer work, using hand-sanders to get the areas the big machine couldn't get. By yesterday evening, the floors were smooth and light new wood, ready for staining and polyurethane coating.

With our house a bit disrupted, [The Man I Love] and I have discovered a new evening routine. We can't sit in the living room and watch TV - so these last few evenings we've been sitting down on our lower deck. We can't cook or prepare food in the kitchen, so we've had carry-out.Thai on Tuesday night. Pizza last night.

We bring our laptops and I-pad down and read the news as the sky darkens. Another benefit is the coolness of the evening. During this heat wave, the house never really cools down, but outside at night it is pleasant.

Last night, as we sat, an immense owl flew low through the oaks and then sat on the rail of my neighbor's fence, rotating his head around. My photo doesn't do justice to him.

We're rediscovering the beauty and comfort of staying outside in the evening. What a pleasure.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thematic Photographic - From behind

Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. posts a weekly photo challenge. This week, the theme is "From Behind." Carmi writes: "We've been conditioned to take pictures from the front - think about it, when we pose, we stare straight at the camera - that we've virtually forgotten what goes on on the other side. For the coming week, I hope we'll walk around to the back and see what we can find."

What I've found is as close as my front door. It's always hard to take pictures of Jack when we go on our walks, because he's always out in front!

When we return from our walk, we have a ritual - he sits politely on the first landing of the walk to the house, and I slip his chain collar off his throat. Then he bounds down the walk and up the steps into the house!

Look at him fly!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A combo deal

The combination of three things is causing light posting this week.

1) We're getting the floors in our house refinished, which disrupts life big-time.

2) An upcoming project at work that requires a lot of back-and-forth communication and preparation for meetings. This, too, incidentally, in the wake of being told I'm losing my job in ten months, doesn't help.

3) Also at work - lots of key people being out on vacation and requested time off.

It makes it hard to carve out the time to think and write. See ya later!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Santa Monica interlude

Palisades Park path
Even if it weren't part of the Greater Los Angeles area, the placid coastal city of Santa Monica would still be a tourist attraction. Walkable streets, lots of hotels, restaurants and shopping attract as much as the wide sandy beach and the carnival rides on the Pier. On a regular basis, the city seems full of tour buses and tourists, many of them international travelers. It's not unusual to hear groups speaking Japanese, or French, or German.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Disruptive week coming up

We've having some work done in the house next week, and I'm not sure how disruptive it will be to my posting.

I'll try to catch you up on things when I can.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thematic Photographic - Grey

Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. posts a weekly photo challenge. This week, the theme is "GREY."

As Carmi puts it, grey is more like the absence of color. "Or," as he says, "an in-between kind of color, as grey is one of those colors that always seems to be wavering between one optical state and another."

"Regarde le ciel" - look at the sky. A phrase spray-painted on the crosswalk of a busy boulevard in Paris.

Today I'm looking at the sky. Here at 8:00 in the morning, there's a cloud cover, but it's still warm, and promising to be hot in the afternoon. With this moisture in the air, it's going to be muggy.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Communication gap

Once, when I was a very young woman, I screwed up all my courage to go in and talk to an older, important person who was the gatekeeper to a career opportunity for me. Although we had met before I didn't know him well. However, I was friends with a young man who, in fact, was on the career path I sought - who, in fact, had suggested I speak with Mr. Big. Mr. Big was gruff and impatient even on a good day, so I wanted to find some common ground. I mentioned that I was friends with "Don," and that I hoped to be allowed to begin on the same path he was on.

A few days later I heard from Don. He was angry with me. Mr. Big told him that I had arrogantly demanded equity with Don, and that Mr. Big had been deeply offended by my sense of entitlement. Don was annoyed that I had miss-used his friendship.

I was so shocked it made me cry. What shocked me was not so much Mr. Big's unkindness, but the fact that Mr. Big had so totally misunderstood me. I thought I had been deferential. I thought I had been referring to Don as an example of someone I admired and aspired to follow. How could the words I said have been taken any other way?

And then even worse self-doubt - If I'd offended Mr. Big so deeply, how could I have left his presence thinking it had gone well? Was there some sign I'd missed? Was I just clueless?

It's been almost forty years since that moment, and yet on occasion, I've experienced - or witnessed - similar times where two people come away with totally opposite perceptions of the same conversation. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the "Rashamon effect" - named after the Japanese movie classic where four witnesses give four mutually contradictory acounts of the same crime.

My group is involved in a business negotiation, and it's beginning to look as though both parties came away from a meeting with two contradictory perceptions.

Have you experienced this in your personal or professional lives? How was it resolved?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thematic Photographic - Grey

Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. posts a weekly photo challenge. This week, the theme is "GREY."

As Carmi puts it, grey is more like the absence of color. "Or," as he says, "an in-between kind of color, as grey is one of those colors that always seems to be wavering between one optical state and another."

A cherub on the facade of the Chiesa San Stae in San Polo
 Here are a handful of Venetian Greys.

You think of Venice as a rosy city, but as a city made of ancient stone, there is a grey tone beneath the rosy plaster. Its baroque buildings are often faced with elaborate grey stone carvings, like the Chiesa di S. Eustachio, or in Venetian dialect, San Stae. Centuries of rain, dust, and soot have streaked and mottled the stone a darker grey, making it look as though the cherub's cheeks are damp with blackened tears.

Click all photos to "embiggen"
These traces of pollution mark even newer structures - newness is relative, however. This stone capital crowns a column at the 19th century Pescheria, or covered fish market. The capitals are carved with fishy themes, like this gape-mouthed fish, twisting its scaley sides among the broad leaves of water lilies.

In narrow calles and passages, shrines of the Virgin appear in corners and nooks, put there to ward off bandits and thieves.

Some passages feature other, more modern greys - like this row of brushed-steel pay phones, with their bright orange-red hardware.

Silver is simply grey with gleam, and here silvery sardines glimmer in the Pescheria.

Grey appears on the plate, too - the dark charcoal of squid-ink gnocchi. Smile in the mirror - your teeth are grey, too!

This enscribed drawing of a cow appears on the polished marble storefront of a butcher's shop near the Mercado Rialto.

One of the many resident cats of Venice gives us a grey that's softer and warmer than stone.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ten month timeline

Well, on Wednesday last week I learned my job will be eliminated as of June 30, 2013. There's ten months to go.
Since Wednesday, the office has continued to function. It's slow this summer. I contacted the benefits person in HR to set up a meeting to learn about my retirement options. I spent a half hour or so searching job sites. I dusted off my resume.

Most lay-off take place in an accelerated timeline - you're gone on payday. You're gone tomorrow. You arrive at work and the gates are already locked. Mine is excruciatingly slow - ten months.
This gives me a lot of time.  So I have a lot of thinking to do. There are a lot of options:
  • Retire - I have 13 years in the system. I'm setting up a meeting to find out what this entails.
  • Transfer to another position within my organization. This would be out of my career area and perhaps even at a lower pay, but I would be able to continue my retirement and health benefits, and HR has pledged to give laid-off workers some preferential treatment.
  • Job hunt - look for another job in my career area. Re-enter the job market as a woman over 50.
  • Complete the ten months so I get all the payroll and retirement and benefits coming to me, and go on unemployment
  • Take some classes, get some new skills
  • Work for myself - freelance, take on short-term projects, start my own consulting business in my career area.
  • Take a low-pressure, low-responsiblity, low-stress job - not necessarily in my career area. Tend bar. Receptionist. Part-time office work. Work for another few years and then take my retirement.
  • Transform myself - do something completely new. Many of you have suggested I write. Does anyone know how you get paid to do that? 
For those of you who've gone through this yourself - what has your experience been? What did you learn from it?  Do you think it's better to have more time? Do you take the first job you're offered, or wait?
I appreciate your suggestions - you can give them in comments or email me at my profile. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012


My cup runneth over. With sake.
They say that 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra size.

The last time I was fitted for a bra was three years ago in Paris, in the venerable Bon Marche department store on the Left Bank. A brisk, nimble grey-haired woman in a black dress with a starched white collar snapped a tape measure around my chest. After almost an hour of frenzied trying, browsing, musing, consideration, snapping on and snapping off, I ended up with three lacy confections costing more than a five course meal with wine and a post-prandial cognac.

Two scoops of gelato in Venice
But that was three years ago. Elastic sags, delicate mesh and lace tear, colors fade. It was time to re-stock my lingerie drawer, but before spending a lot of money, I wanted to make sure of my size. So this afternoon I went to Nordstrom, at Santa Monica Place.

Here, my salesgirl was a perky, dimpled blonde who must have been no more than 25 years old. Even so, she assured me she'd been put through Nordstrom's training as a lingerie fitter. She ushered me into a fitting room, wrapped her tape measure around my chest just as efficiently as Madame had - and to my surprise, I learned that I was no longer a 36C. I am a 36DD.

That's right. DD. The little girl who was taunted in high school as being flat as a pancake, at age 57 now has DD cup bazongas! Yikes.

The salesgirl brought me some bras to try on, and I liked a model by the French lingerie maker Chantelle. I asked her for one in nude and one in black. I also chose a model by Wacoal in deep brown with tawny detail. I went out on the floor and browsed the displays, but soon it became apparent to me that, while 36C is an easy size to buy off the shelf, 36DD is not.Plus, bras with enough support for a DD cup are typically higher priced items than smaller cups. Alas, I waved goodbye to the delicate and colorful La Perlas and Simone Pereles, and stuck with what I had. Three bras, plus three pairs of undies - well, let's just say it's another five-course meal with wine and cognac again.

I had plenty of headroom on my Nordstrom account - I haven't used the card in so long I had to search for it in my desk drawer before heading out. So sticker shock be damned - I won't do this again for another three years!

A little stunned I wandered out of the store with my Nordstrom shopping bag looped over my wrist and into  the cool serenity of Ozumo, a Japanese restaurant on the rooftop Dining Deck. Clearly I needed some sustenance.

Spicy pork and miso ramen

Friday, August 10, 2012

Market economy

Vegetables in Venice's Rialto Market
What is it about markets that attracts us, no matter where we find them? My summer seems happily filled with the sight of luscious displays of fruit, vegetables, and other delicious things to eat - whether it's in Venice, Italy; the medieval French town of Beaune; Paris, London or here at home in Los Angeles.

110 in the Valley

We're having a heat wave here in Southern California.

Los Angeles is peculiar, weather-wise. As a city bifurcated by a mountain range, there can be more than a 10 degree difference between two neighborhoods, depending on how far from the coast you are.

Yesterday in Woodland Hills the temperature hit a record high of 110 for that date. Down on the beach, where I am, it was hot but less brutal. Even so, my office's west-facing window seems to glow with heat by about four in the afternoon.

Here in Topanga, Jack spends the day comfortably lying in an air-conditioned room. He's got the right idea.

"Too Darn Hot" - Cole Porter

"I'd like to call on my baby tonight
 and give my all to my baby tonight
I'd like to call on my baby tonight
and give my all to my baby tonight
but I can't play ball with my baby tonight
cause it's too darn hot
it's too darn hot"

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Flowers for sale at the Rialto Market in Venice
How many times in life do you experience a significant change? Marriage, the birth of a child, loss, divorce, sorrow - all these events are monumental. They cause individual people to truly change who they feel they are. Now you're a wife, a mother, a widow, a single person.

A minor change like losing your job shouldn't really make that much of a difference in your basic self.

And so it is. I've just learned this morning that I've lost my job.

Oh, wait. That's really not fair. That's over-dramatizing things. To be accurate - this morning I was officially told what I've been expecting for a while.

A loss of funding has changed the future of my organization, so that our operation will cease at the end of the current budget year, eliminating the jobs of all the current employees. Even if funding were to be restored, it wouldn't happen in time to justify the expense of keeping everyone on payroll.

My job is pretty cushy, pays well, and doesn't involve too much hard work. And, human nature being what it is, I bitched about it a lot.  I often wondered what else I could do with my time that would be more enjoyable, but of course, I never bothered to figure that out.

So now I will just have to do that.

It's an opportunity, don't you think?

Which of life's transitions have become transformations for you?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thematic photographic - pics taken with a smartphone

Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. posts a weekly photo challenge. This week, instead of posting photos on a theme, he encourages bloggers to post photos taken on a smartphone.

What do thousands of people use their smartphones for? Well, if you go by the example set on Yelp, they take pictures of their food!

Here's a picture of some yummy crostini taken on the patio of a wine bar in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Smartphones can do more than just take photos - this blog post was published using Blogger's I-phone ap!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tacos and tunes

Yesterday was the Second Annual Los Angeles Taco Festival in Boyle Heights.

Modest as festivals go, it isn't complicated. It's all about eating tacos, hanging out, and listening to music in Mariachi Plaza.

Ding Dong

Clock Tower at St. Mark's Square, Venice
I woke up this morning at 6:00 o'clock, got up, made coffee, had breakfast, and then, at 7:00 I took Jack for a walk, like I always do on weekdays, my mind occupied with what I would be dealing with later this morning at work.

Then I saw the Sunday Times in the driveway where the delivery man had tossed it.

Relax. It's Sunday.

Has  this ever happened to you?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Far bar

We're sitting here in a tiny courtyard in Little Tokyo in downtown LA. I'm trying out the Blogger ap on my phone.

Well, it seems to work.

One point perspective

South Kensington tube station, on the District Line, London. Click to "embiggen"
Objects that are far away get smaller, as their distance from the viewer increases. The horizon line, directly opposite the viewer's eye, represents objects infinitely far away.

All elements that are perpendicular to the viewing frame converge at a single point (a vanishing point) on the horizon.

Ancient artists - the Greeks, the Egyptians - were aware of this phenomenon, and many works of art from those era show attempts to depict a sense of depth in a two-dimensional work. Medieval and Byzantine artists also tinkered with these ideas - but in many works, the relative status of certain figures caused these spatial ideas to be applied inconsistently. When you have to draw saints or donors larger than ordinary people, you tend to get the proportions out of whack.

It wasn't until the Eleventh Century that somebody figured out the math of perspective. The Islamic scientist and mathemetician Alhazan - born Abu Ali Al-Hazan ibn Al-Hasan ibn Al-Haytham in the city of Basra in what is now Iraq - was a civil servant working in Cairo. He developed the modern science of optics, studied the anatomical function of the human eye, and is credited with being the first scientist to explain how rays of light work.

Expanding on the writings of Alhazan, Italian artists such as Lorenzo Ghiberti and Fillipo Brunelleschi developed the geometrical methods of drawing in perspective. 

As a theatre student in college, my design professors used to assign me the trick of turning a floor plan into a graphic rendering, by simply using the geometrical formulae of perspective drawing. Or - conversely - to take a Renaissance perspective drawing and turn it into a spatial floor plan.

A photo like this one makes my fingers itch for drafting pencil and a T-square, to see if I can do it again.

Pink Saturday - Paris pinks

Summer in Paris - time for the promotional sales of rose wine at the Nicolas wine stores!

A painted scene on a security shutter at a stall in the Marche des Puces, the Flea Market at Porte de Clignancourt.

Flowers at a nursery on the Ile de la Cite.

A pink bike, on a street on the Ile de Saint Louis. I like the grafitti on the sign, too!

Paris Pinks!