Friday, August 31, 2012

Labor Day

Today kicks off Labor Day weekend, which means I plan on doing absolutely nothing.  Except: swimming, cooking, eating, grilling, baking, eating, running, rehearsing a play and... eating.

This weekend is perfect for chicken grilled with our home grown tomatoes and thyme.

Happy Labor Day!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Losing Lavender

“Summertime,” I said reclining on the outdoor lounger.
“Hmm,” Mr. Wonderful said from his garden chair.
“Look at our geraniums, the bird of paradise, the rosemary—” 
“Everything’s gorgeous and blooming!”
“Not the dead lavender.”

I first experienced lavender traveling through the South of France with Mr. Wonderful.  Together we witnessed the endless fields blanketing the region in a purple haze and lending the air a sweetly clean fragrance.  It was there that we fell in love… with lavender.  For our honeymoon we returned to the South of France to confirm our love… for lavender.  After spending those blissful weeks together we knew it would be a lifetime love affair…with lavender.

Lucky for us Southern California’s climate was similar to that of the South of France, minus the French snobs.  Instead we had Hollywood OMG wanna-bes.  Life's full of trade-offs. 

Horticulturalists call our SoCal region “Lavender and Lazy”, which comes from their planting recommendations: 1) You plant lavender; 2) You do nothing to it ever again.  Lazy is me!  What a fun garden plan!  Vive la lavande!  After we bought The House I ripped out a whole garden bed and replanted it with lavender—an entire bed of only lavender.  Just sniffing the air transported me back to our honeymoon where we fell madly in love…with lavender. 

The plants grew in the spring and thrived until June, which is exactly when we added one more lavender plant to the bed.  That lone plant came from the nursery with some brown stems on it.  Mr. Wonderful said the brown would go away with some watering.  By August the brown stems had overtaken the entire loner plant, and spread to six others transforming them into tumbleweed skeletons.  Worst of all was that the brown was creeping toward our remaining 10 healthy plants.

OMG.  I needed a fix.  Fast. 

Online I found websites dedicated to the plant, like, which had an active community of lavender lovers who posted hourly updates about their purple plants with Instagram photos.  When I explained my dead situation and how it was spreading, the site’s posters all said the same thing, “You’re watering too much.”

“Impossible”, I said under my breath then read on—

“Maine summers are moist—”  Maine?!  I stopped in my tracks.  Maine’s rainy climate is ideal for growing rocks, in fact some of the finest rocks in North America are grown there.  But not lavender.  Scouring the website I noticed that everyone posting on Lavenders-B-Us resided along the Atlantic coast where a “Summer” in Maine was like the wettest winter in Southern California.  And a “Winter” in Maine was a dark, cold, frightful nightmare.  There’s a reason Stephen King lived and wrote in Maine and not sunny southern California. 

After another Google search I found a California gardener’s website specifically for southern California lavender.  In answer to my problem every gluten-free person posting on that site said the same thing, “You’re watering too little.” 

“Impossible,” I said biting into my gluten-free hummus pita-wrap sandwich. 

“Southern California summers are hot—”  I know but they are the same type of dry, hot summers that have been happening in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years.  Watering too little?  When was the last time anyone read a story of Zeus or Hercules where they watered their lavender?  How about in The Iliad or The Odyssey—neither one mentioned watering lavender because lavender was ideally suited to the bone dry, hot summers Italy, Greece and Turkey have known since before Zeus, Homer or Jesus ever picked up a garden trowel.

Besides Mr. Wonderful and I used a drip hose on the lavender.  They got the water they needed. 

No, another problem was afflicting my lavender and the answer originated with one root.  The loner plant we brought home from the nursery had been tainted with a virus condition called “Wilt”, which was described as a “rapid wilting, browning and dying to lavender plants during the month of August.”  The only method to deal with Wilt was to remove the infected plants, the soil surrounding them and burn them.

Who said planting lavender was lazy?  Or gardening was fun?

This week I put on my gloves, gripped the shovel and removed the (now) 12 infected plants plus the surrounding soil.  Without them my lavender garden resembled a scorched volcano site; not the frolicking grounds of Greek gods, mythological heroes or French snobs. 

What I would give to see a French snob in my garden!

Not all love stories end happily.  I fell in love with lavender and… it broke my heart.  OMG.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Fun--Cat

Good thing we have a swimming pool otherwise Jackson would go thirsty.

 Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Addiction--Home Improvement

“After work I’m going to The Home Depot,” Mr. Wonderful said as I debated which shoes to wear to work.
“Didn’t you go there yesterday?” I said.
“I need drill bits.”
“Didn’t you buy drill bits there.  Yesterday?”
“I need some for the kitchen.”
“Didn’t you buy drill bits there. Yesterday.  For the kitchen?”
“I need more!”

My fears were confirmed.  Mr. Wonderful had an addiction of Going to The Home Depot. 

Before we moved into The House; before we bought The House; before the doctor pulled him from his mother’s womb, Mr. Wonderful was going to The Home Depot.  And Lowe’s and the Do-It Center, Orchard Supply Hardware, Anawalt Lumber, Koontz Hardware and every Mom and Pop’s Super Duper Home Improvement store in town.  If the joint smelled of cut lumber and its male employees wore aprons, Mr. Wonderful was there roaming the aisles, looking at plumbing displays and examining wood grains with a microscope.

I wasn’t using the term lightly.  I knew how serious this was.  The dictionary stated: “Addiction (noun): having a practice that is habit-forming, which gives so much pleasure to the habit-former that he forgets his wife and dreams of wearing his own orange apron.”  

It was true.  Mr. Wonderful was going to the home improvement store after work, on his lunch break, on Friday nights and staying there 'til the wee hours in the morning.  In his mind why waste time going to a club, eating dinner out or watching a movie on NetFlix?  When all he wanted to do was go to the HD and weigh the value of plastic tubing over copper.

And just like that I became a proverbial home improvement widow.  Before the proverb became my reality, I had to address his addiction or lose my husband to drill bits.  I ran to my computer and typed in “Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps”.  I adapted them to fit Mr. Wonderful’s situation, in advance I extend my apologies to

1) Mr. Wonderful admits he is powerless going to home improvement stores and buying materials for new projects.

2) He has come to believe that his wife is right.  Again.  Like always.

3) He must follow his wife’s advice exactly as SHE WISHES HIM TO FOLLOW IT.

4) BEFORE going to any home improvement stores, he will look in his tool shed to see if he already owns 14 Phillips screwdrivers.
5) He will take his wife to dinner and a comedy show.

6) He will tell his wife what a great lady she is.  (I swear she’ll really like this).

7) He will humbly ask for her forgiveness by giving her jewelry.  Rings are nice but anything sparkly will get his point across and make her very happy.

8, 9, 10) Repeat Step 7. 

11) He won’t complain when she buys another pair of shoes.  (This step has nothing to do with his addiction but it would make her life much easier.)

12) Having had a spiritual awakening because of these steps, he will carry this 12-Step message to others similarly afflicted.  And he will thank his wife for being such a great gal.

That night while organizing my shoe closet I broached his home improvement addiction and how he had to stop spending money on these House projects. 
“My addiction isn’t any worse than your shoe shopping.”
“I wear all of my shoes.”
“And I use all of my tools.”
“When did you last use that Channellock Crescent Swing Wrench thingy?”
He grabbed a shoe from my closet.  “When did you last wear this pair of hot pink pumps?”
“Three years ago with that pink dress I have with the—”  He raised his hands.
“Okay,” he said scratching his head.  “I’ll stop going to home improvement stores and buying stuff if you stop buying shoes.”

I raised my hands, scratched my head and had a spiritual awakening in the form of my own 12th Step:
12) I liked both our addictions just as they were.  And I’ll say “Thanks” to Mr. Wonderful for being such a great guy!  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Fun

If there's something I've learned in my 29 years--give or take--on this planet, it's the importance of perspective.

What appears to be a huge, scary monster...

On closer inspection, is just a small Praying Mantis insect.  

Our yard is home to several of them.  I try not to bother them because they eat the pesky insects like crickets, moths and other... Praying Mantises.  They are big into population control.  After the triple-digit heat wave this week, my garden needs all the help it can get.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lemon Pie--Photos

Baking is a process made of elements and formed with fire.  It’s an exact science that resembles a chemical experiment more than a Jackson Pollack painting.  Although if it were a work of art, it would be a glass vase forged in the heat—practical, three dimensional and beautiful.

Baking a lemon pie is like that.  Sort of.  Here’re some photos of the process.  First slice the lemons in half.

Grate the lemon peel and add it to the pie for added flavor.


Ta-da!  Paris on a plate.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just Desserts!

“Looks like you’re busy,” Mr. Wonderful said getting home late from work.
“I’m making dessert,” I said over the din of my blending Kitchen Aid mixer.
“That’s a good initiative.”
“It’s for tonight.”
“A very good initiative,” he smiled peering into the mixing bowl.
“I’m making lemon pie.”
“Uh, I’m not hungry.”

Our friendly neighbors, Charles and Stephen, had gifted us homegrown lemons from their mature Meyer lemon tree.  As the saying goes when life gives you two huge bags of lemons, you make lemonade; which I did for a week.  Twenty gallons of it.  I also squeezed quarter lemon wedges on all our dinner salmon, lunch mahi mahi and Pepperidge Farms’ Goldfish cracker snacks; I even made enough of my lemon shrimp pasta to feed an army of hungry animators.  And still I had lemons left over—a bag and a half.  So making lemon pie was next on the proverbial and actual plate.

“You’re making three pies?” Mr. Wonderful said. “That’s a waste of your dessert making time.” 
“Lemon pie makes me think of that Paris café with the amazing tarte au citron where I sat, ate and watched the Left Bank world go by.”
“Paris isn’t about lemons. It’s about chocolate.”
“My Paris is about lemons.”
“Let me know when you upgrade to chocolate,” he said grabbing a bar of 72% dark chocolate and promptly left the kitchen.

To be honest I knew Mr. Wonderful was… a chocoholic.  A day didn’t go by when he did not consume chocolate in some form—milk, dark or white.  Every morning he ate more Nutella than a family of 10, combined.  To make matters worse, he was a chocolate snob preferring Ghiradelli, Swiss and above all, Belgian chocolate.  Belgians were a modest people who had mastered the art of chocolate making.  In fact making and consuming high quality chocolate was the Belgians’ way of dealing with life’s joys and disappointments, which was a philosophy Mr. Wonderful thoroughly understood.  To him a dessert needed to contain chocolate or it wasn’t dessert.  It was a side dish.

Therefore I had to find someone else to share my lemon pies with.  With three pies cooling on the pie rack, I hurried outside just as Harold was hoisting the stars and stripes on the flagpole 

“Hello, Harold!  Thanks you for all your neighborly advice,” I said.
“What do you want now?” he said with caution.
“Nothing.  I just wanted to give you a pie… as a way to thank you for everything.”
“It’s a lemon pie—”
“Not for me.”
“Maybe your wife, Norma, wants a piece?  I made it myself.”
“From scratch?”
“Yes,” I smiled, “the crust and everything.”
“No can do,” he said turning back to his house.

To be fair I knew Harold didn’t have… a sweet tooth.  Maybe back in the day he did but since becoming an octogenarian he was too busy power walking, lifting weights and giving me grief to enjoy anything as sweet as dessert.  I had to admit that it bruised my feelings that neither my husband nor my neighbor wanted my pies because I had made them myself; rolled out the dough; creamed the butter, sugar and lemons; and baked them in my own oven.  The result was three beautiful pies.  And no one wanted any?  What happened to all the pie eaters of the world?  Where was Kobayashi, the World Champion Eater, when my baking ego needed him?

I had to find someone to give a lemon pie to.  Sufficiently cooled, I grabbed one and ducked across the street to Charles and Stephen’s.  As Charles pulled his new jeep into the driveway I jumped out from behind the fence with a pie in my hand.

“Ahh!” he screamed.  “You scared me.”
“I wanted to thank you for all the lemons you gave us.  So I made a pie of thanks,” I said with a grin.
“How nice,” Charles said regaining his composure.  “What kind of pie?”
“A lemon pie.  Made with your lemons.”
“I’m tired of eating our lemons.”
I felt the smile fade from my face.  He must have seen it fade too because he scratched his beard and relented. 
“I’m sick of lemons but Stephen still likes them.  I’ll take it for him.”

I recovered my smile, proudly handed him the pie and retreated to our side of the street.  For the next seven days I ate a huge amount of lemon pie all on my own.  With each delicious bite I imagined myself at that café in Paris listening to accordion music, drinking coffee and flirting with my imaginary waiter en francais.  I loved every moment of my lemon-flavored Paris.  Then and there I decided never again to make pie for anyone else but me. 

My French reverie was broken by the ringing doorbell.  I opened the door to find Charles and Stephen clutching my pie pan—clean and empty.  Their enthusiastic words spilled over each other.
“Thank you for the pie!  It was delicious—”
“I’d never eaten lemon pie before—I loved it!” 
“I bet you made the crust from scratch.  It was amazing!” 
“It was like being in Paris!”
“It was better than being in Paris!”

Indeed.  Sharing good food and good times with real neighbors topped flirting with imaginary French waiters any day.  Vivez tarte au citron!  Vivez les voisins!  Vivez my Valley neighborhood! 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cats and Houseguests—Open Doors

“I need to do laundry,” said my cousin’s 23 year-old kid and our current houseguest.
“You can use our washer and dryer,” I said pouring dry kibble into the cat’s food bowl.
“I need the… stuff,” Matt said with a yawn.
“Detergent?  You can use ours.”
“And the white… things.”
“Bounce sheets?  You can use ours.”
“And the…”
“What else?”
“Can you just… wash it for me?”

I loved having guests visit because they brought a “thank you” bottle of wine, interesting travel stories and an offer to clean up the dishes after I cooked them a homemade dinner.  Or they used to bring these things.  Now they brought dirty laundry.

My cousin’s kid was staying with us while he looked for an apartment in Los Angeles. Before owning a home Mr. Wonderful and I had rented an apartment in L.A.  When we’d first moved to America’s second largest city, the rental unit market was as tight as my belt after the ice cream diet I tried for one month.  But still we’d found an apartment in just two days.  Now with the downturn in the economy, there were so many available rentals that landlords were selling them at lemonade stand prices.  “Two Bedroom, 2 Bath palatial apartment with pool for just 25 cents”.  So I thought: no problem, Matt will find an apartment fast.  A week, at the most.  

Silly me.

As the days blended into weeks Matt stayed in the spare bedroom where his dirty laundry pile grew to something that even he couldn’t ignore.  His choices were: go buy 150 more pairs of underwear at Target.  Or do laundry.  It took him another week to decide on the latter, which is when he asked me to do his laundry.  But I didn’t want to give this young man a fish, I wanted to teach him how to fish.  Or at least show him the difference between a colored load and whites. So I marched him out to the laundry room—located in our adjacent guesthouse—and taught him how to operate the machines.  Then Mr. wonderful and I left for work.

When I got home that night I noticed several things: Matt was wearing clean clothes, he had more black concert t-shirts than a Rolling Stone groupie, he was still camped out on the sofa, he was still surfing the internet and the backdoor was wide open.  What I didn’t notice was our cat.

“Where’s Jackson?” I said pulling vegetables out of the refrigerator.
“I don’t know,” Matt shrugged.  “Hey, what’re you making for dinner?”  I stopped while reaching for the carrots. 
“What matters is: where’s our cat?”
“Haven’t seen him since...  Hey, when did I move in here?”

I choked on my tongue.  Is that what he thinks?  He’s moved in with us?  I didn’t sign up for a third roommate.  And if that’s the case he should be paying room and board.  This new information was so shocking, so disturbing, so wrong but I couldn’t allot one single brain cell to consider it.  No, I needed all ten of my brain cells to find my cat.

I darted from room to room.  I looked under the sofas, under the beds, under the floorboards.  No Jackson.  I called his name.  I rushed outside.  I checked the pool for a drowned feline.  All I found in the pool was a beach ball Matt must have used hours earlier.

I sprinted to the guesthouse and noticed its doors were wide open.  Inside the laundry room door was wide open as were the doors to the washer and dryer.  Everything was o-p-e-n and e-m-p-t-y.  Jackson was nowhere to be found.

“Matt, Jackson must have gotten out because you didn’t close any of the doors when you finished with the laundry.”
“You didn’t tell me to close doors.”
What?!  It took all the power of my few brain cells not to yell: “It’s common sense to leave things how you found them!  Just close the doors!” 

Instead I shut my mouth and searched the front yard.  I met Mr. Wonderful in the driveway and together we looked under cars, up trees and asked with the neighbors.  No one had seen him.  Now in the pitch dark night, we wouldn’t be able to see him even if we tripped over him.  

Inside I made a vegetable stir fry but couldn’t eat it.  I felt too sick to my stomach.  Matt felt bad, too, but he still ate.

Oh, Jackson, our shy kitty cat had left us.  But why?  Why did he run away?  Didn’t he like living with us?  I felt like I’d let Jackson down by leaving the doors open and encouraging him to run away.  But on second thought maybe Jackson didn’t want to be with us and when he saw the open house doors he bolted because he wanted his freedom more than he wanted to be with us in our home.  Which made me feel even worse.  Not even a six year-old adopted cat wanted my love.

I crawled into bed sad and exhausted. 

The next day I threw myself into work.  I even logged overtime to occupy my brain with something besides not being wanted by a cat.  After 12 hours I plodded to my car and arrived home late.  Looking out into the backyard I saw Mr. Wonderful walking from the dark guesthouse toward the light of our living room.  In his arms I saw a black and white fur ball.  A very scared fur ball.

“Jackson!"  I shrieked frightening him even more.  “Where did you find him?”
“In the guesthouse’s bathtub.”  Mr. Wonderful said putting Jackson on the floor.  Jackson rubbed up against Mr. Wonderful’s leg then against mine.  He weaved himself in between the two of us, back and forth, forth and back.  Deep in his throat he even purred.  Wherever he’d gone, he didn’t like it.  He’d tried living on his own for 24 hours and he found that life was better with us; with people who loved him. 

Which is how it must have been for Matt, too.  He’d graduated from his Midwest college, left his parents, traveled cross country and before he finally moved on to live all on his own in the big city of Hollywood he wanted to linger a little longer with people who cared about him. 

That night I hugged Jackson, I hugged Mr. Wonderful and I even hugged Matt.  Then with everyone in our house who should have been there that night, we ate dinner.  Together.  And it was good.