Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Easter Bunny is Here!

“You should put your bunny away at night,” my neighbor said retrieving the newspaper from his driveway.
“We don’t have a bunny, Harold,” I said fetching the paper from my driveway.
“He was in your yard.”
“We don’t have a bunny.”
“He’s white.”
“We don’t have a bunny!”
“Yeah… right.”

Harold held plenty of opinions that I didn’t espouse most famous among them were that: grass was the best garden plant; guns were great at repelling squirrels and the prettiest woman’s outfit was a poodle skirt and saddle shoes. But this bunny business was different because it didn’t deal with opinions but cold, hard facts. Fact: I lived in my house and I’d never seen a bunny in the yard. Fact: Harold was 86 years old so maybe his brain was playing tricks on him? Or maybe he’d dreamt of the bunny in our yard? Or maybe Harold was just plain blind. I needed a second opinion.

“Have you seen a bunny in our yard?” I asked Mr. Wonderful as I laid the newspaper on the table. Mr. Wonderful shook his head while biting into his egg salad sandwich.
“Harold says we had one in our yard.”
“He also says we’re idiots for killing our grass,” he said.
“That’s his opinion.”
“In his mind, it’s a fact that we’re idiots.”

Mr. Wonderful had a point about Harold. I went outside to look at my plants for any bunny nibble damage.
“Happy Saturday!” our neighbor Charles said grinning and waving. “Hey, your bunny is cute.”
“Charles, we don’t have a bunny,” I said.
“He was in your yard last night.”
“We don’t have a bunny.”
“He’s white.”
“We don’t have a bunny!”
“Take it easy,” he said backing into his house fast.

First Harold, now Charles?! This bunny business was sweeping the neighborhood! It was epidemic like the plague, the flu or lactose intolerance. I marched to the corner to clear my head. Passing by Jerry’s garden I caught the scent of roses in the air. I paused to smell his crimson blooms.
“Your bunny is real cute,” Jerry said popping up behind a rose bush wearing his San Francisco 49ers baseball cap.
“We don’t have a bunny!”
“I saw him in your yard last night,”
“We don’t have a bunny!”
"But I saw him--"
"There isn't a bunny," I said marching off to the park and leaving Jerry speechless. This walk around the neighborhood would calm my nerves and help settle the score. All of my closest neighbors said they’d seen “our” bunny. Were they playing some big joke on me? I checked the date, it wasn’t April Fool’s Day, but still I felt like a fool that all of our neighbors had seen a bunny in our yard and I hadn’t.

After several laps around the park I returned home just as our yard was cast in afternoon shadow. When suddenly right in front of our house, nibbling on my baby nasturtiums, I saw it: The bunny! It was white and so cute. But it didn’t belong to us. It belonged to Harold, Charles, Jerry and everyone who saw it because it was… our Easter Bunny.

Happy Easter! Wishing you joyful beginnings at this splendid time of year!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What to %$*& Plant?

“The lawn is almost dead,” Mr. Wonderful said holding out his wine glass.
“Yep,” I said pouring wine.
“You have a plan for what happens next?”
“You going to show me?”

Mr. Wonderful and I had done so many things together—buying a house, adopting a cat, dealing with never satisfied mother-in-laws—but this planting thing, I needed to do on my own. While the lawn gasped its last breaths of photosynthesis, I was busy plotting the next adventure—its replacement!

In theory I knew what I wanted to plant. In theory I knew it would be beautiful. In theory I had a plan: Wherever the turf had been I would replant with something that was: 1) Drought tolerant 2) Low maintenance and 3) Inexpensive. In other words: the Impossible Dream.

But what would I plant exactly? With all the horticultural options available, I needed to get some specific ideas. I started close to home by looking at the plants growing in my neighbors’ gardens. Of course! If a plant grew well in their yard, it would grow well in mine, too!

“Hey, Harold!” I called out to my 86 year-old neighbor as he rolled his garbage bin to the street. He waved back as if he were giving me a lazy karate chop. I bounded over to him. “Harold, in your garden what’s your favorite plant?”
Without a hint of irony he said: “My grass.” I scanned the dry dirt patch he called a lawn. This Gobi Desert was his favorite thing? He adjusted his baseball cap and continued, “You should have seen it five years ago. It was green, lush—”
“You men, alive?” Harold continued waxing poetic about how his lawn used to look but I wasn’t into “used-to plants” I needed now plants. Besides, I’d been killing my turf for weeks, there was no way I was going to replace it with more turf!

As Harold rambled on about his lawn’s good ole days, I jumped in my car and headed to the ultimate plant idea factory—the nursery! The place was jam packed with seedlings in tiny containers and row after small potted row of annuals, perennials and semi-tropicals all watched over by millennial staff members with nose piercings and tattoos, like OMG. Every time I saw a new plant the ideas buzzed in my brain. I jotted down the plant’s needs, I drew plant sketches, I harassed the millennial clerk for the plant’s Genus and species—“It’s a plant, like, whatever”.  Like a starved honey bee I zipped from plant to plant gathering the nectar of ideas. Ideas! What joy! Then I tried to imagine these plants in my garden and I… blanked. Every affordable plant was too small and every big plant was too expensive. The Impossible Dream! Arghh!

Then I realized: It’s called a plant “nursery” not a “college”, “work station” or “corner office”. As lovely as all these plants were in their pretty little pots, I needed to see full-grown specimens to imagine them in my garden plan.

Back in my car I put the top down, cranked the music and took a road trip across Los Angeles. I drove to Beverly Hills, over the Hollywood Hills and through the Valley. I avoided the freeways and kept to residential streets where I had uninhibited views of adult flowers, mature shrubs and in the-prime-of-their-life trees. I gasped, I snapped photos, I was bowled over by the creative variety of Angeleno gardens. Oh, boy! Now I had ideas! Like this:

And this:

And this:

Armed with these photos I could show Mr. Wonderful my planting plans because a beautiful, drought tolerant garden was a Possible Dream.

Of course the %$*& garden wouldn’t be cheap but at least now it was possible!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Daruma and Books--March Read

Killing a lawn takes a long time. Lucky for me I had other things to keep me busy, like reading and complaining how long it takes to kill a lawn.

In March I read a couple books and kept my New Year's Resolution. Actually my New Year's Resolution was to read one book a month, so I'm ahead of the game--times three. Go me!

I started with Calvin Trillin's About Alice, which is a moving portrait about a man's love for his wife, written with humor and affection. Trillin has been a contributing writer to The New Yorker for, oh like 195 years, so he knows a plethora about writing, life and his dear wife Alice.

Here's the first line of the book:
"One condolence letter made me laugh."
What an opener--sad but funny! And his story delivered on both fronts--in spades. I'll be re-reading this book and discovering so many of his others for years to come.

Next I read Zen and the Art of Surfing by Greg Gutierrez. Call me crazy but oh, like 1,500 years ago, I don't think the monk, Daruma, had surfing in mind when he created Zen Buddhism. Although he should have. This collection of short stories treats those epiphany moments you have surfing, loving or just living. I'm not a surfer and this book did not make me want to learn how to surf instead it put me in the pipe of the wave and for the glorious moments of reading it I felt that I was a surfer already. That's good writing.

The last book I read this month was The Tin Horse by Janice Steinberg, a book I found at the Southern California Writer's Conference. The Tin Horse was inspired by a passage Steinberg read in the Raymond Chandler mystery, The Big Sleep:
"I shoved on back into the store, passed a partition and found a small dark woman reading a law book at a desk... She had the fine drawn face of an intelligent Jewess."

The Tin Horse fleshes out this Jewish woman by explaining how she came to be in Los Angeles circa 1941. This book is a rich, multi-generational character study about Boyle Heights, an Angeleno immigrant family and the tumultuous Jewish history of the 20th century. The writer has included Chandler's Phillip Marlowe--complete with tough guy talk, steaks and scotch--as well as a riveting mystery. The chapters about working in the film industry reveal that people have been trying to make it in this crazy place called Hollywood for, oh like a zillion years.

Which is still a shorter period of time than it takes to kill my lawn.

Wishing you all happy reading!

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Squirrel Villain

Batman had The Joker.
Superman had Lex Luthor.
And I had… The Squirrel.

In the world of comic books every great superhero had his villain. Not just any villain but a real bad guy who was his match in wits, strength and devilish plans. My life in California’s suburbs was imitating comic book art because I too had found the evil Yin to my heroic Yang and his name was… The Squirrel.

The Squirrel had thwarted me by eating apricots off my tree and decimating my internet connection with his fierce jaws. But he didn’t stop there.

In winter’s chill he scaled a palm tree and shredded the palm fronds causing them to rain down on my front walk like a biblical Egyptian plague or that weird scene in the film Magnolia with the falling frogs.

In summer’s heat he stole a massive steak tomato from my garden.

Now in spring I’d sprung a plan to be rid of The Squirrel forever. My plan had one step—it was so simple that it had to work! I removed all the fruit, vegetable and mineral elements from my front and back gardens and—as everyone knows—without food The Squirrel would move onto another garden to wreck havoc there.

Everyone on the planet knew this except Mr. Wonderful who spent Sunday outside chatting long distance to his college pal while eating walnuts. When he came across a walnut he didn’t like he tossed it on the patio where—Duh, duh—The Squirrel appeared, ate it and laughed.

“Squirrels can’t laugh,” Mr. Wonderful said.
“You don’t know The Squirrel,” I said chasing it out of our garden. “Now that you’re feeding it I’ll never conquer my villain.”
“Excuse me?” he said but I didn’t have time to explain.

This morning before breakfast I saw that The Squirrel was back. Seated in the same area of the patio waiting for a walnut handout from Mr. Wonderful. Typical. But I wasn’t the only one who saw the rodent. Jackson crept across the kitchen then slipping through the open sliding glass door he met The Squirrel head on. The Squirrel freaked! I saw the panic in his beady eyes! Jackson chased it to the property line and watched it race up the camellia tree and collapse on the fence

Have you ever seen a Squirrel have a heart attack? Today I did. And it was beautiful.

For 30 minutes Jackson crouched at the base of the camellia tree keeping watch. Once The Squirrel recovered from his massive coronary failure he crawled onto the roof and scampered away, all the while Jackson watched every step.

Jackson, my Jackson! How proud I was of him! Fighting The Squirrel was a fulltime job but finally I had help. Jackson the Cat was now my sidekick—my Robin, my Lois Lane, my hero.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Once a Killer...

As my mother used to say: "Once a killer, always a killer."
Or did Michael Connelly say that?

Ever since I began murdering my lawn, death had permeated my sunny California life. It started innocently enough: I was just a girl who desired to save water, the planet and my sanity by creating a drought-tolerant garden; so I suffocated my front yard's turf.  Murder struck again when I stomped out the life of a black widow spider (it was either her or me). Murder spread en masse when I over-watered my potted succulents before a rainstorm thereby wiping out generations of Hen and Chicks. It was horrible.

Although the last murder was a total accident (I swear), I had to admit that killing was getting easier. It was as if the 19th century's Wild West code of kill or be killed was alive and well in the 21st century's City of the Angels. However instead of packing a gun, I wrecked destruction with black plastic, a watering can and my fingers. It was horrible.

Then I noticed dozens of green blades shooting up all over my garden beds. I was thrilled to find something living in my death and destruction zone and felt that perhaps my murdering streak was over. Perhaps the horror was finally over.

On closer inspection I realized these green shoots were growing under our nine palm trees. I pulled on one and it separated from the rich garden soil with a balled seed at its base.

It was a palm tree seedling. Our huge Mexican Fan Palms were self seeding--everywhere! What good was killing my turf if it was being replaced by an army of palm seedlings that would grow in to 65 foot tall trees? Those fresh young blades were horrible and had to go!

Nope, my murdering spree was far from over, as John Paul Jones used to say, "I have not yet begun to fight!" 

Or did Minnie Mouse say that?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What to Do on St. Patrick's Day!

I love St. Patrick's Day: the green, the beer, the whiff of spring in the air!

If you need ideas on what to do in Los Angeles for this unofficial holiday, check out my Yahoo tips here!  T'anks!

Erin go Bragh!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pizza Oven Pride--Photos!

After baking homemade pizzas in my pizza oven I've taken some pictures to illustrate the classic children's rhyming song:

Paddy cake, paddy cake, pizza-pie man.
Bake me a thin crust margarita 'za as fast as you can
Roll it,

Pad it with tomato and spinach toppings,
And mark it with cheese,

And put it in the oven for Mr. Wonderful and me!

Bon Appetit!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pizza Oven Pizzaz

“We’re having homemade pizza tonight,” I announced to Mr. Wonderful as we slid into our respective cars.
“I can’t hear you,” he said behind the car window.
He pointed to his ears, shrugged and drove off to work.

I didn’t resent him for doubting me. We’d been down this road before without any success. Okay, with complete and utter failure. But this time I was prepared!
The ceramic bricks were loaded in my oven; Check!
The pizza stone was delivered; Check!
The toppings were bought; Check!

The last thing was making the pizza dough.  Mama mia! This would be a snap!

I added the yeast, water and olive oil to the flour and kneaded it; back and forth on the floured countertop. I pounded it, slapped it, beat it. I made it suffer for the frustrations of my previous homemade pizza making. I kneaded that lump of dough so long my fingers wore down, the countertop evaporated and hell froze over. I let the dough rise, rolled it out and, covered it in toppings.  Just as I slid the ‘za into the 550 degree + oven, Mr. Wonderful walked in the front door.

“What’s that smell?” he said sniffing the air like a hungry cheetah.
“Homemade pizza,”
“It’s delicious,”
“I made the pizza.”
“I heard you,” he said smiling.

Pulled fresh from the pizza oven we devoured a whole pizza. Yes, I'd kneaded my frustrations away and yes, he started listening to me. It was a good day.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

March in L.A.

Think you know Los Angeles? Here's a Pop Quiz to find out!

You can tell it's March in L.A. because:
1) The sun is shining.
2) There ISN'T a Hollywood awards show.
3) California poppies are blooming.

1) WRONG. The sun shines throughout the year, therefore it's not unique to March.
2) WRONG. The Humane Society hands out its Genesis Awards on March 23 to animal-oriented movies and TV shows.
3) CORRECT! California poppies are blooming. Or at least the one in my yard is!

Last winter I planted Eschscholzia californica from seeds purchased from the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants. This spring fringe-leafed poppy plants have sprouted en masse.

One of the highlights of Los Angeles is seeing entire fields and hillsides blanketed in these golden wildflowers. A great place to see them at their most impressive is at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. However due to minimal rainfall this winter, Antelope Valley's poppies will only reach full bloom in late April or early May.

Until then I'll enjoy the ones blooming in my yard!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Kitchen Love

“Do you need more cabinets here?” Mr. Wonderful said loitering in the kitchen.
“No,” I said unloading the dishwasher.
“Do you need more light?”
“More space?”
“Well I do.”

Mr. Wonderful was interested in my room? How odd.

During escrow for the House both of us had signed the bank’s papers in blood, sweat and multiple fears. Both of us had pledged that both of us would pay the mortgage every month for the next 380 years or both of us would be booted to the curb by David Beckham. But a funny thing happened on moving day—the House didn’t belong to both of us—it got divvied up between us. Mr. Wonderful claimed the office, work room, living room, spare bedroom and entire guesthouse while I got the run-down kitchen. Life was not fair.

In the first weeks of living in the House every night after dinner I would linger in the dingy kitchen while he retreated to the airy spare bedroom, the bright living room or went roller blading in the spacious guesthouse.

With disinfectant, buckets of paint and countless trips to The Home Depot I banished the kitchen’s offensive faded colors, grimy walls and dead lizard, thereby making my only room in the House my favorite room in the House.

I was smitten with kitchen love.

I was not alone. Mr. Wonderful knew a good thing when he saw it. It started small. Most indiscretions usually did. After several years of marriage the shine could rub off even the happiest of relationships and when that happened women and men acted out. Like every member of my fairer sex I coped by shopping. Meanwhile Mr. Wonderful took the path of all masculine brutes: he started spending time with… something else.  Which was oh, so far from wonderful.

While I was purchasing skirts, jeans and pants, he was playing with piecrust dough. While I was buying cowboy boots, he was canoodling with the Cuisinart. While I was buying knick knacks, he was buying gifts for her—for my creation, my best friend,  my kitchen! He started with extra drawers then graduated to massage oils for her wood counters. He took better care of her than his car.

He was smitten with kitchen love.

In the evenings I lingered in the kitchen and so did he. Seated on the opposite side of the table he scanned the internet for ideas to improve her, to make her more appealing, to make her more beautiful. He was so focused on this goal he no longer wanted to eat in, eat out or roller blade anywhere. Everything he did was now about her and for her. The happy conjugal life we’d shared was as present as last summer’s ice cream cone. I’d been warned fixing up a house while living in it put severe stressors on a marriage but I didn’t realize a single room could be total home wrecker. OMG Maybe my husband would leave me for… my kitchen. Was there a support group for that?  

Mad with kitchen love he drew up so many plans for her he released them in a multi-volume kitchen repair book series with corresponding iPhone app and Tumblr video site. 

“I’ll put in recessed lighting here,” he said showing me book seven of his 16-volume set.
“The kitchen doesn’t need it.”
“I’ll install more cabinets here.”
“I don’t need—”
“And more counter tops here and here.”
“No one needs this!” Couldn’t he see his indiscretions? His misplaced affection? “It’s all about her all day, every day, 24-7!” I said stamping my new cowboy-booted foot in frustration.
He kinked an eyebrow, “Who are you talking about?”
“The kitchen, you’re leaving me for my kitchen!” He asked me to elaborate about my fears and after I did, he pulled me close reassuring me that he was not in love with a space but his married, human partner, although she possessed an overactive imagination and gave human characteristics to inhuman places. We made up. Life was fair.

“All these kitchen improvements,” he said kindly, “I’m doing them for us.” My heart melted, my reason returned. 
“Can we improve the kitchen--together?”
A grin spread across his face. “I’d like that.”

In the end our kitchen love reminded us we were smitten with each other.

I sat beside him at the table where we both discussed the plans for our kitchen’s second remodel. We were on the same page again. Ahhh, life was wonderful.