Sunday, June 30, 2013

Boiling hot

It's hot in Southern California. Record highs are being recorded, from 109 in the Valley to 99 downtown.

Here in Topanga, our thermometer read 96 yesterday. So I would excuse you if you called me nuts to be putting up some plum jam today.

The tree's bounty has peaked. I picked 6 pounds of plums yesterday morning, and got up early today - Sunday - to make some jam.

It always seems to take longer to boil down on the stove than the recipe says.

Chutney ingredients
Batch two was a plum chutney - Here's the recipe:

4 cups chopped plums
1 cup minced onion
3/4 cup raisins
2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 orange, zested
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine in a saucepan and boil down until reduced and thickened, about 40 - 60 minutes. Process in a water bath for ten minutes.

Then, turn off the stove!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Knowledge is power

It's a good thing to know how to program an electronic sign.

We locked the doors for the last time this afternoon. Now it's on to the the next chapter.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Something nice

Just watch and listen. You'll like it.

This is Elis Regina singing "Águas de Março," or "Waters of March," a Brazilian bossa nova tune composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim, recorded in 1974.

The inspiration for "Águas de Março" comes from the weather of Brazil. March is typically the rainiest month, marked by sudden storms and heavy rains, strong winds. Both the lyrics and structure of the music emphasize a downward progression like water flooding the gutters, washing sticks, stones, bits of glass, and everything else down, and away. Flow with it.

The lyrics don't offer a story, they just present a collage, a conglomeration of images, ideas, and fragments that float past, carried by the current. The only unifying structure is that every line begins with "É" or "it is" in Portuguese. Here's a translation of the lyrics:

A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road,
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone

It's a sliver of glass,
It is life, it's the sun,
It is night, it is death,
It's a trap, it's a gun

The oak when it blooms,
A fox in the brush,
A knot in the wood,
The song of a thrush

The wood of the wind,
A cliff, a fall,
A scratch, a lump,
It is nothing at all

It's the wind blowing free,
It's the end of the slope,
It's a beam, it's a void,
It's a hunch, it's a hope

And the river bank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of the strain,
The joy in your heart

The foot, the ground,
The flesh and the bone,
The beat of the road,
A slingshot's stone

A fish, a flash,
A silvery glow,
A fight, a bet,
The range of a bow

The bed of the well,
The end of the line,
The dismay in the face,
It's a loss, it's a find

A spear, a spike,
A point, a nail,
A drip, a drop,
The end of the tale

A truckload of bricks
in the soft morning light,
The shot of a gun
in the dead of the night

A mile, a must,
A thrust, a bump,
It's a girl, it's a rhyme,
It's a cold, it's the mumps

The plan of the house,
The body in bed,
And the car that got stuck,
It's the mud, it's the mud

Afloat, adrift,
A flight, a wing,
A hawk, a quail,
The promise of spring

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
It's the joy in your heart

A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone

A snake, a stick,
It is John, it is Joe,
It's a thorn in your hand
and a cut in your toe

A point, a grain,
A bee, a bite,
A blink, a buzzard,
A sudden stroke of night

A pin, a needle,
A sting, a pain,
A snail, a riddle,
A wasp, a stain

A pass in the mountains,
A horse and a mule,
In the distance the shelves
rode three shadows of blue

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road,
The rest of a stump,
A lonesome road

A sliver of glass,
A life, the sun,
A knife, a death,
The end of the run

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of all strain,
It's the joy in your heart.

Go ahead. Listen to it ten or twenty times. I did.

A farewell

Click to "embiggen"
 Only the luckiest of people are given the opportunity to make a public farewell when a transition occurs. I am lucky.

Some 4 or so years ago, a colleague retired. He had, all by his ownself, started a newsletter, which had a good following, and which I admired greatly. So....when he left the office, I asked our boss if I could carry it on in his stead. She agreed, and I spent perhaps four months editing his newsletter while they were recruiting his replacement. 

It was a lot of work, but it was really rewarding for me. When the new person was hired, I helped to train her and when she took over she made the newsletter her own.

Fast forward to now, and my job duties began winding down in the face of closure. At the same time, the newsletter editor's duties were ramping up on a new project. I volunteered to take the newsletter over again, temporarily.

My last edition went out Wednesday. There are only a few elements of the newsletter that allow the editor some creative input - other than choosing which items to feature. But of the purely creative choices, one is the photo shown at the top. The other is the quote that appears under the title.

This is my farewell edition of the newsletter.  It's a collaboration between me and the next editor, who I helped train, again, just this week.

I got some nice comments from work colleagues about it today. It made me feel good. It's a goodbye to an historic institution You can read more about it here. We're closing the old girl down, and it's nice to see that people care.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Making a transition

I spent the day training for my new job. The person I am taking over for is retiring. She is an expert at the job - she pretty much created it, or at least, was present at the creation, some thirteen years ago. She knows all the nuances and subtleties about it.

When I first visited her office - which will soon be my office - I saw she had a framed print on the wall. It was a picture of a sunny beach, the ocean, and two Adirondack chairs, empty, facing the water. I remarked on it, and she said that whenever she felt stressed in the job, she'd take a moment and look at the print, imagining she was sitting in one of those chairs, and it would bring her back her sense of equilibrium.

Funny thing - coincidentally, [The Man I Love] recently hiked to the viewpoint at Tuna Canyon and sent me this photo.

I told my colleague that I would replace her framed print with this photo, framed. After all, she had established a great tradition that needs to be carried on.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Texas state Senator Wendy Davis. For all she did for women, in the state of Texas and in America.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Plum purty

With some good things, there's always going to be too much of it. That's the way it is if you have a backyard fruit tree.

We have an ancient red plum tree. It has been our regular habit to travel during the last days of June or the first weeks of July, so usually we miss harvesting its fruit - we urge the neighbors to help themselves. One year, our eccentric housecleaners, worse than the birds and raccoons, made off with every single fruit before our neighbors even had a crack at it.

This year we are staying home, and are able to enjoy a bumper crop.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Weekly Jack - Doggie play date

Friday evening, Jack and his friends Lola and Seamus had a play-date at Patty's house.

Here's Seamus. He's young and energetic.

Lola is a little more mature, and knows what she's doing. That's what Bull Terriers do.

Here the three of them are, waiting for treats from Patty. They all deserved them.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Today's lunch

A shrimp tostada, followed by

two tacos de pescado. At La Cevicheria, in Los Angeles' Byzantine-Latino Quarter.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Looking back, looking forward
Seven days until we shut down. The locksmith is here today, changing the locks in the building. I will get a new set of keys that I will hand over to someone else next Thursday.

I interviewed for a transfer position earlier this week and today I accepted the offer. I'll train next week and then officially transfer on July 1.  It's a demotion, but they offered me the highest pay grade for that position. And I keep my benefits and pension.

My new colleagues are very nice, and I have some opportunities for growth. I'm lucky, pay cut and all.

Life goes on. The biggest adjustment I'll have to make is that my new office opens very early in the morning. Yikes!

As for my current remaining colleagues, one man has been made an offer similar to mine. Three others are being interviewed tomorrow, for one or maybe two positions. That leaves another eight people who will be laid off after 6/30/2013.  Three of those are eligible for retirement, but for the others, I don't know what will happen. I wish them the best.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Arrividerci, Mr. Gandolfini

Farewell, James Gandolfini. A brilliant actor, someone who wasn't afraid to embody the character of a flawed man. He died today, too young at 51.

These credits, brilliant as they are for a TV show, resonate even more with me because that route, those vistas, are landscapes that are familiar to me. My family lived in suburban New Jersey in the 1970s, and my father commuted to "the city" - Manhattan - for many years. Later, when I graduated college, I, too commuted by bus and by train to Manhattan until I found a place to live in town. Those gritty views, those bridges and tunnel walls, those aluminum-siding houses - those are all part of a landscape I knew, that I saw whizz past the windows as I traveled.

Let's not forget the rest of Mr. Gandolfini's career - because he was a truly talented actor, and also someone who cared deeply about important causes. Despite his ability to inhabit Tony Soprano's world so completely, he leaves a serious resume behind him. Go gently into that good night, Mr. Gandolfini.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Nine more days before I lose my job. Duckbill platypuses (platypi?) need not apply.

A beautiful June day

Here's what's in bloom in my garden today.  One of the easiest garden perennials, daylilies, or hemerocallis, make quite a showing in June. Golden yellow, with a brush of deeper pumpkin in the throat, this plant was here when we moved in 14 years ago, and probably have been there for longer than that.

It's nice to see persistence pay off.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


June 16 is Bloomsday - a commemoration and celebration of the life of author James Joyce. The novel Ulysses is set entirely on the day of June 16, 1904. In Dublin and in US cities, Bloomsday is observed by readings of the novel, visiting the settings of its scene, and even dressing up like Joyce's characters.

Like most people, I've tried to read Ulysses and failed. It's dense going. But if you want to try, you can read it online at the Gutenberg Project. Here's a Wikipedia page that gives a synopsis.

And for a mid-day Sunday, here's Leopold Bloom in a pub, having his lunch and daydreaming:

—Have you a cheese sandwich?
—Yes, sir.
Like a few olives too if they had them. Italian I prefer. Good glass of burgundy take away that. Lubricate. A nice salad, cool as a cucumber, Tom Kernan can dress. Puts gusto into it. Pure olive oil. Milly served me that cutlet with a sprig of parsley. Take one Spanish onion. God made food, the devil the cooks. Devilled crab.
—Wife well?
—Quite well, thanks... A cheese sandwich, then. Gorgonzola, have you?
—Yes, sir.
He smellsipped the cordial juice and, bidding his throat strongly to speed it, set his wineglass delicately down...

Mr Bloom ate his strips of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese. Sips of his wine soothed his palate. Not logwood that. Tastes fuller this weather with the chill off....

Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun's heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth below us bay sleeping: sky. No sound. The sky. The bay purple by the Lion's head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines faint brown in grass, buried cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub my hand under her nape, you'll toss me all.O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweetsour of her spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft warm sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her: eyes, her lips, her stretched neck beating, woman's breasts full in her blouse of nun's veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.

My! What a powerful spur to memory, just gorgonzola cheese and burgundy wine!

Here in Los Angeles, you can celebrate Bloomsday at the UCLA Hammer Museum. Enjoy your Bloomsday!

An encomium

 "Encomium" is a fancy word that means an expression of praise, and generally it's used to refer to those blurbs you see printed on paperback books or in ads - often from notable people like authors or artists or the taste-makers of today.

Of course, family members tend to be proud of their loved-ones' work, regardless of the quality, and [The Man I Love] is no exception.

I've mentioned Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold several times in this blog. Mr. Gold is the only food critic to have received the Pulitzer Prize. [The Man I Love] has been trying to arrange a speaking engagement, and in the course of their correspondence, he linked to my post about the wonderful Huntington Park paleteria we visited last month, Los Alpes. 

Mr. Gold's comment? "Formidable. She visited my beloved [Los] Alpes. I haven't been as often since that great tortas place around the corner closed, but sometimes I dream about their raisin paletas. "

Yesterday I was honored to meet Mr. Gold in person, and thank him for his kind words. I asked him for permission to use his comment as an encomium and...he said yes!

And so....don't miss the latest post at Doves Today, a blog that explores fun, food, life and Los Angeles, praised by Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Gold as "formidable."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Thematic Photographic - On the water

Carmi at the blog "Written, Inc." posts a photographic challenge each week at Thematic Photographic. This week, the theme is "On the water."

Though it's been a year since our visit, I will never forget Venice. Here, on the Grand Canal just beyond the Rialto Bridge, our vaporetto passes a traffic jam of gondolas.

When will I be able to return?

Thursday, June 13, 2013


It stood perhaps 200 feet high. Its trunk was huge, too big to put your arms around. Like other Eucalyptus globosa, or Tasmanian blue gum trees, its bark shredded off in ragged tatters, littering the ground beneath, falling on the road, and tangled in the utility wires.

Invasive, shading out native plants, and with so much highly flammable litter, resinous leaves, eucalyptus trees are undesirable in the Santa Monica Mountains.

So they cut it down. It took a crew, a massive crane, and three days to do it, but when it was over, there was nothing but a massive stump.

Ah, but eucalyptus trees are resilient. Just a few months later, I walked by and there, springing up green from the bare stump - life.

I touched the waxy, firm leaves, and the mentholated scent of eucalyptus filled the air.

Yes, it's a junk tree. But you have to admire its resilience.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Just a shot away

This is not what I usually write about. But I have not been able to stop thinking.

Last week, a horrific thing happened in the small beach city where I work.  A troubled young man shot and killed five people, including his father and brother, before he himself was killed by the police.

I think when these things happen, most people see it on the news and although it's terrible, it's across the country. It doesn't touch you.

But this one touched me. That's my college campus in those news photos - I'm starting a class there next Monday. I have colleagues who were hiding in an office nearby. That police dog patrolling the sidewalk as the students were rushed to safety? I know him and his handler.

Today I found out that my coworker, J_____, went to high school with a young woman who died. Her friend was shot in the head multiple times, and finally succumbed in the hospital this weekend. The young woman's father died at the scene.  I learned that he was another friend's uncle.

This weekend, while sitting on my back deck on a beautiful Sunday evening, we heard something that must have been a gunshot ring out in our canyon, and the echo fade away. The next day our Block Watch bounced emails from neighbor to neighbor. "Did you hear it?" "I heard it." "It was down by B____'s house." There were sounds another night, too. "I was asleep, but my husband heard it." 

We live in a rural area; maybe someone was shooting a coyote, maybe a deer? Was it a car backfire? A firecracker?

"I know a gunshot when I hear one," writes one neighbor.

"War, children. It's just a shot away," sings backup singer Merry Clayton, behind Mick Jagger in the Rolling Stones' most notorious song, "Gimme Shelter."

Oh, a storm is threat'ning
My very life today
If I don't get some shelter
Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away 

War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away 

Ooh, see the fire is sweepin' our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet, mad bull lost its way

War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

It was recorded in fall of 1969, just a short time before the Stones played at Altamont, and because of the violence that happened there, and the Maysles Brothers' film of that incident, the song resonates with a sinister forboding that it may not have originally deserved. Although in hindsight even the artists speak of it as apocalyptic, the product of the deep pessimism of the time, the riots and turmoil of the Vietnam War.

After Keith Richard's guitar solo, Clayton steps forward to sing, and her voice wails out. The sound is one of the fiercest and most despairing in all of rock and roll, chillingly presaging what was to come at Altamont.

Rape, murder!
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

Rape, murder!
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

In 1969, Greil Marcus wrote in The Rolling Stone magazine that "Gimme Shelter" is a song about fear. He writes, "It's a full-faced meeting with all the terror the mind can summon, moving fast and never breaking so that men and women have to beat that terror at the game's own pace."

This morning, today, Tuesday, another shooting happened in Santa Monica. Unrelated to last week's shooting, this one appears so far to be more typical of the crime that was more common here ten years ago - drugs, maybe gangs. Another friend of mine's son was hit by a bullet back then. He still deals with PTSD today.

J_____ visited her friend's family in the hospital on Saturday, as they waited for their daughter to pass. She and her father had been running errands together in his car when they were shot; she had texted her sister about laundry; her father left "I love you" on his wife's voice mail that morning - who knows? just because.

So quick, so close. So random. They didn't know their killer; he didn't know them. But in one moment, a whole family was devastated. You don't know when it's going to happen. Find shelter, children, because you don't know what's just a shot away.

Where are you parked?

It's a question we're asked to consider, in a group I'm involved with. "Where are you parked?" asks what's your status? Are you safe, secure, comfortable? Are you in a good place, off the road, garaged, sheltered?

Do you park beneath the trees, where birds poop on your hood and windshield?

Are you out in the open, so no one can hide near your car?

Have you pulled off the narrow pavement, precariously tipped, wheels just inches from the cliff?

Or are you stuck, mired in mud, wheels spinning and going nowhere?

Is someone else in your space?

Do you idle slowly among the rows, watching for back-up lights? Are you motionless, waiting, blocking all behind you, just to nab the best space? 

 Did you pull up to the red curb, motor running, because you're just going to run in real quick and be right out again?

Does the gravel pop beneath your tires as you pull in, signal your arrival, so the kids and dogs all pile shouting out the door greeting you, "She's home!"

Did you feed the meter?

Is the chit from the last place you parked trapped beneath your wiper, fluttering before your eyes through the glass, but you can't dislodge it?

Some people don't care where they park; they pull in fast off the road, take the first open spot, then walk with purpose to their destination.

Others back skillfully into their spot, facing forward, so they can make a quick getaway when they need to.

At work, I park in a private lot, wave a keycard magic wand to open the gate, but when I leave it's one-way out, don't back up into the spikes, severe damage may result.

On the way home, I pull over on the shoulder, stop and smell the ocean for a little while. The beach drops away from the road, below on the sand, the sound of whizzing traffic quiets. Then when I'm ready, I'm back up on the shoulder, behind the wheel, watching in the mirror for a break in the cars to pull out fast, get up to speed and join them.

Where are you parked?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Riches of summer

Apricots and pluots at the Calabasas Farmers' Market.

Our apricot tree here in Topanga is tardier than these farmers' trees, and our fruits are still little hard green nuggets among the leaves. But, if we can beat the raccoons and birds to them, we'll have a harvest this year.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Geezer Gals on the town

My friend Patty sometimes likes to call herself a "geezer" since she's a person older than 55. She's got a great "old lady" voice she uses to confound telemarketers, posing as a dotty old dear ready to chat endlessly with the nice young man who calls her up to sell her home contracting services, daring him to hang up on her. 

Although I often forget my age, and feel a sudden slap-in-the-face sense of WTF when someone treats me like the more-than-middle-aged lady I am, I am beginning to appreciate the license that geezerhood lends.  Old ladies can say any damn thing they want to and get away with it - and some people even admire it!

Patty and I were going to a movie, and wanted a drink and some light eats before the curtain. Just two blocks from the theatre is a trendy bar that calls itself a rooftop bistro. Perfect for two geezer girls to try out a night on the town.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Night sight

The marquee of the Los Angeles Theatre at night.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Thematic Photographic - Concretely

Carmi at the blog "Written, Inc." posts a photographic challenge each week at Thematic Photographic. This week, the theme is "Concretely."

What is concrete, anyway? This versatile building material can be used in so many ways, it's a kind of chameleon or shape-shifter - it can be heavy, solid, hard and weighty but in other hands it can be something else entirely.

Here in the Mid-Century Modern facade of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, a wall of concrete blocks transcends its own mass and becomes airy, transparent, and brings light to the upper floor.

This feature is called out in landmark documents for the building as a "brise-soleil," French for "sun-breaker." What a wonderful name that is for an architectural feature.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Fluid situation

Tile mural on a wall in Mexico City
 It is now less than 30 days before my job comes to an end. And indeed, I received my official lay-off notice last week. According to civil service rules, I am assured that, were they to decide to re-hire my classification - which is entirely unique and only applies to the operation of the enterprise that they have decided to shut down - I will head the list.

I am experiencing a whole roller coaster of emotions. I'm sad that our operation is being shut down. I'm hurt and ashamed that I have been unable to find another job. I'm resentful that certain colleagues have been "saved" while I haven't been (although I actually understand the bureaucratic reasons those saves were possible). I'm angry at how Human Resources' promises to help have not been followed through.

I'm also relieved at the prospect of not having to work. While at the same time, feeling guilty about being relieved. But also depressed and fearful at the thought that my chances at re-employment are remote.

I'm optimistic about what I can do in the future - classes, hobbies, volunteer opportunities. Maybe I'll find a new chapter. Maybe I'll write that novel. Or travel column. Or start that business.

Recently, I learned that a potential opportunity may exist for a transfer. It's a demotion transfer - I'd be taking a significant pay cut. But it would be continued full-time employment, with benefits, and continued participation in the retirement system.

Today, I got an email asking if I'd be interested in interviewing for it.

Well, of course I will.

The wave of conflicting emotions are beginning to wash over me, but I have to wait, and just see what happens.