Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lacebark elms

My office window looks out on a park's picnic area, a quiet shaded place in a grove of trees. It's a tranquil place, and it's nice during the work day to stop, turn away from the computer monitor and look at the park and the trees.

The trees are Ulmus parvilfolia, common name Chinese elm; but they're also sometimes called lacebark elms, which is, I think, a nicer name, and refers to the pretty mottled cinnamon and grey mottled texture of the bark.

Click to "embiggen"
One of the reasons I like to look out the window is to see the way the sun plays through the elms' leaves. Lacebark elms have slender, graceful branches that twine sinuously, making a wide canopy over the picnic area, and their leaves are small, pointed ovals that grow in clusters on delicate branches, slightly weeping so they dangle almost like fringe overhead.

I read that they color red, purple or gold in the fall, but this is Southern California, and even though it's almost November, the trees out my window are still leafed green, although when the sun filters through them, it turns a lovely greeny-gold that glows beyond the brown branches.

Beyond the picnic area, the smooth grass knolls of the park also glow green with sunlight. This tranquil scene changes as the day goes on and the sun turns overhead.

Morning trees
In the morning, the park is quiet. There may be a mower or tractor on the lawns, and here under the elms there's often an exercise or T'ai Chi class taking place - I like these second the best, because the instructor's boom box plays soothing Chinese music, all plinking lute strings and reedy flutes. The sun is low but bright in the sky over the parking lot, and its rays filter through the delicate leaves into my window to splash my office walls.

The playground goes into action mid-morning, kids running and squealing. Little boys on little bikes zoom by on the paths. Nannies roll strollers by. Later in the afternoon, older kids come to the park after school, and skateboard on the concrete walkways and sometimes on the wheelchair ramp that goes up to our office door. Basketballs thunk and ring as instructors teach the pee-wee classes how to dribble.

By evening the sun has made its arc overhead, and the light comes in from the west now, throwing long shadows from the trees' trunks. It's warmer gold in the evening.  There's something wonderful about being able to watch the full cycle of the day, as it revolves around the slender trunk of a tree.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Don't got no brains anyhow!"

It's L.A. history, and it's as goofy and Hollywood-tinged as only L.A. history can be. The restaurant now called Billingsley's Steak House has been in this tiny wedge of property on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles since 1946, when restaurateur Glenn Billingsley opened the place as the Golden Bull.

Glenn's wife, Barbara, was an actress working in TV. She played June Cleaver, the mom in "Leave it to Beaver," and with her pearls and high heels cemented the image of a '50s sitcom mom in the kitchen.

She was an L.A. native, moving to New York to work in the theatre, but returning home to work for MGM and marry her restaurateur husband - although they divorced soon after opening the restaurant. In 1974, Glenn sold the West L.A. place to their sons, Glenn Jr and Drew, who remodeled it and changed its name to Billingsley's.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Just desserts

I just heard from Human Resources how I did on the test I took last week. As I expected, due to my colossal dumb mistake, I didn't make the cut.

Is it better to fail because you did something dumb, than it is to fail because you actually didn't know the material well enough? Or is it worse to know you could have aced it except you did something stupid? You tell me. I need some kinda fiction to make me feel better.

Can I have a margarita now?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Walk in the Park

"Weather Field No. 1" - sculpture by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle

Santa Monica has a new park! What was once a flat parking lot is now a graceful rambling walkway that takes you from City Hall to the Pier and Palisades Park bluffs.

Designed by the same firm that designed the wonderful High Line park in Manhattan, Tongva Park is crafted as a flowing arroyo, with water features that begin at an almost-formal fountain at the square named for former mayor Ken Genser, in front of City Hall, then organically take you on a journey to the sea.

The plash of fountains temper the loud traffic sounds, and the undulating topography carved by hills and sloping pathways provide sheltered space in the heart of the city.

There's a colorful and fun kids' play area, a grassy meadow for gathering, and secluded picnic tables, beneath mature trees that the city salvaged from street-scape renovations - removing overgrown street-trees from city sidewalks and replanting them here in the park. The large healthy trees add an instant sense of timeless majesty to the new space.

Plantings of California native plants are drought-tolerant and provide a subtle beauty.

Among the park's most striking features are the elevated viewing platforms that rise high over Ocean Avenue, giving a view onto the Pacific Ocean and the Pier, surrounded by rounded, net-like organic forms - nests, perhaps, or cages, or swirling space-ships that enclose and shelter, while they frame the vista.

Click any photo to "embiggen"
Come here to watch, and listen, and enjoy the view. It's a calm interlude in the middle of the city.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Only in LA

Driving up Pacific Coast Highway, we were thrilled to see a classic vintage convertible driven by an elegant couple, cruising along in traffic. I waved as we passed, and was rewarded with an answering wave.

Then, we pulled up to the light at Entrada, and realized that the couple in the classic car was being filmed by a cameraman in an SUV driving behind.

"What kind of car is that?" I yelled out the window. The cameraman told me but I can't remember the name of the car. What I do remember is that he said, "We're shooting a music video!"

Then the light changed and we pulled out.

We watched as the vehicle with the camera maneuvered ahead of us to get a good shot. Then traffic opened up, and the car changed lanes. "Beautiful!" shouted [The Man I Love] as we passed them, and the woman in the passenger seat waved to us again. Then we left them behind and headed up our own canyon road.

Can anyone tell me what this beautiful sleek vintage car is?

Friday, October 18, 2013

On beyond Zuma

Today was a perfectly beautiful day, clear and sunny but not too hot. A perfect beach day, and the perfect day for tide-pooling, since low tide came at 3:49 pm.

North of the popular surfing and swimming beach at Zuma in Malibu, El Matador is a hidden beach because of its tricky access, a precipitous hike down a steep bluff and then some rickety stairs.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Today I took a civil service exam for a promotional recruitment list. It was a multiple choice test, where you fill in the bubbles with a number two pencil.

I took the afternoon off for the test, and just before I left my office, one of my colleagues and I did one of those surprise face-offs in the hallway - she was walking by fast and I was coming out - and I stopped short and....twisted my bum knee. Just by the trick of getting a little off balance.

I limped to my car and drove to the testing location, stopping on the way for a quick hamburger at the drive-thru.

Sitting in the parking lot I proceeded to dribble ketchup on my shirt.

I hobbled into the testing room, showed my photo ID, picked up the test booklet, two pencils, the testing form, and two pieces of scratch paper. The monitor stopped me and made me give back one piece of scratch paper.

I obediently sat and waited without opening my test booklet while they gave the instructions. They told us to turn off our cell phones, so I held down the little button on the top until the screen went dark.

The first 20 or so questions were math-based. Review a sample quarterly report, choose which values to put in the blank cells. Analyze the data to determine the percentage of the variables. When I have to do this under pressure without a calculator or Excel, I am reduced to the same paralysis that gripped me in the seventh grade. Even with scratch paper.

Then questions about functions of spreadsheets - formulas, formatting, and locating cells. I'm pretty good at that, but in a funny way I'm almost TOO good at it. I am so practiced at using the mouse to perform quick tasks that I no longer think about what I do. So choosing a multiple choice answer that describes the proper terms of each step was actually weird. What tool bar is the format number icon on? When I open a new spreadsheet, are there already worksheets visible, or do they only become visible after I right-click and add new? I don't remember!

Then I got bogged down into some really wretched problems about Human Resources policy, compensations and pay rates. If a Ditch-Digger being paid at Step Two of the classified rate gets night shift differential which for his class is 10%, is it true or false that a Ditch-Digger can be paid more than a Truck Mechanic? If a classified employee under bargaining unit C files a second appeal in the grievance procedure, what are the maximum number of days from the initial filing of the grievance before he gets a ruling?

Then my phone rang, inside my purse, on the floor beneath my chair.

I instinctively grabbed for my purse, but realized that the instructions specified we were not to access any other materials. The monitors pursed their lips and shook their heads, while the little marimba rattled away to its final plink.

It was hard to get my mind back around figuring which step a supervisor classifed as P-12 should be compensated at.

The monitor said, "Thirty minutes remaining."

I flipped to the back of the booklet. 91 questions. Hmm. I was at 68. I skipped the remaining HR questions and went into the next section, writing. That was easy!. I blazed through to finish at question 91, and then went back to the questions I'd skipped.

"Two minutes remaining."

I double checked a math answer I'd been uneasy about, corrected it. Checked my bubbles to make sure they were all proper. Checked my erasures.  I picked up my test materials, went to the head of the room and turned everything in.

As I headed into the hallway bathroom, I heard the monitor announce, "Put down your pencils."

In the ladies room, another person emerged from the stall. "How'd you do?" I asked.

"Wow," she said. "I didn't realize that kind of stuff would be on the test. And it was so long. 100 questions."

100 questions?

I have a bum knee, ketchup on my shirt, the monitors hate me, and I missed 9 questions.

Another Topanga morning

"The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere."

                                                    - John Muir

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thematic Photographic - Streetscapes

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

Blogging friend ifthethunderdon'tgetya reminds me that "Streetscapes" is Carmi's theme for this week. So here are some streetscapes from my weekend.

 On North Figueroa, in Highland Park, cool painted taco truck.

one great sign

Click any photo to "embiggen." Especially Chicken Boy!
and our old friend Chicken Boy!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Walk among worlds

The Fowler Museum at UCLA is having its 50th birthday celebration, and along with some spectacular exhibitions from its collection, it is hosting this amazing art installation, "Walk Among Worlds" by Máximo González -  Thousands of inflatable beach-ball globes appear to float up the walls of the Fowler’s courtyard and billow out the top, spilling out through the apertures of the tower, and cascading down the sides of the building.

Yeah. Fun!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thematic Photograph - Feeling reflective

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

This blue heron wades in the shallow water of the Fox River in Geneva, Illinois, keeping an eye out for a meal.

Though the river flows more quickly in mid-stream, here in the shallows it's as still and reflective as a mirror. I watched him for a long time. He barely moved, just stretched out his neck, intently peering, a couple of times.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Night vista

Click to "embiggen"
The intersection of Lincoln and Venice Boulevards, on a rainy October night, with dark clouds overhanging. Brrr! It's cold again. I need to wear socks now. And a scarf. Winter's coming.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Off the beaten menu

A tamarindo margarita
Not too long ago, I visited the Talpa, an old and venerable Mexican restaurant on L.A.'s westside, expecting a rather ho-hum boring lunch with the usual platter of beans-and-rice, sauce and orange cheese-covered combo-plate, and  - perhaps it was the influence of my impulsively ordered tamarindo margarita. At the last minute I ordered something unexpected.

Posole is a rich, chile-infused soup or stew made with hominy, dried corn that has been prepared with an ancient process called nixtamalization, or soaking in an alkali solution. This process has deep cultural roots, going back to pre-Columbian Meso-America. It plumps the kernels up, makes them more easily ground into meal, and allows their nutrients to be more accessible to our human guts. It's the nutritional basis of Meso-American life.

This bowl was fragrant with herbs, rich with big chunks of stewed pork, and redolent of red chile, tingeing the pork fat that lingered on its surface a deep orange that rimmed the sides of the white china bowl.

Posole is served with an assortment of garnishes  -  limes to squeeze into the soup, chopped white onion, chunks of radish and shredded cabbage. A little dish of dried oregano and hot chiles.

Instead of a platter of gut-stuffing rice and beans, melted cheese and sauce, that would have sent me drowsing off the afternoon, I spent $8 on a "cup" portion of posole, which, with two warm corn tortillas, was enough to completely satisfy my appetite.

The other benefit of an off-the-beaten-path choice is that I experienced something unexpectedly delicious and authentic, something that went beyond the ordinary, something that surprised me. It raised my opinion of a previously nondescript ordinary restaurant. The Talpa is not just a typical Mexican joint, after all.

It just goes to show you, don't always get your usual. What other hidden treasures are there out there for you?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fishy business

Mexican red snapper
Quality Seafood has been by the marina on the Redondo Beach Pier since 1953, according to their website. Tucked underneath the walkways of the International Boardwalk, looking out on the boat basin, it's a rambling series of counters, deli cases, live tanks and reefer display trays stocked with the most amazing variety of seafood.

Topanga dawn

The sun rising over the eastern slope of the canyon colors the clouds of the sky above the western slope.

And now, a few minutes later, the sun touches the hills themselves.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Art world footwear update

Remember when I reported from a Los Angeles arts organization gala about how quirky and cool the shoes were?

A year later, new trends seem to have developed.

Fashion always evolves, I guess.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Thematic Photographic - Multiples

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

Rows of pickles
I really like to photograph arrays of things - so "multiples" is a good theme for me. Here are photos of multiple items arrayed at a Farmer's Market - the Sunday French Market in downtown Geneva, Illinois. What better place to see multiples than a market display of abundance!

Gourds and pumpkins for fall decorating.

Rows of vintage Nancy Drew books, at the used bookseller.

Bright and beautiful bell peppers in a rainbow of color.

More bottled beauty - salsas and relishes.

America from the air

A window seat on a flight when skies are clear give you an amazing look at America from the air.

Click to "embiggen"
Here over Kansas, the circles of irrigated crops made by center-pivot irrigation systems make a beautiful abstract pattern, almost like a pieced quilt.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pretty little town

Geneva house built of local limestone, dated 1855
Geneva, Illinois is a pretty little town.  Like its neighbor to the south, Batavia, and its neighbor to the north, St. Charles, it grew up on the banks of the Fox River, using the power of the flowing river to drive the engines of industry.

While Batavia made windmills and other agricultural machinery, Geneva in turn processed the products of agriculture. A creamery was one of the first industries; Geneva mills also processed flax, made sugar from corn, and milled grain for flour.

Hashing it out

Homemade corned beef hash and two eggs over easy, at the Geneva Diner.