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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Festivity Abounds (Dec. 31, 2011)

It’s Dec. 31, and this blog piece is not only my last to be posted this year, it’s also the first I’ve posted all this month. Or in forty-one days, if you want to be exact. Oops. It’s been a really busy month.

December—busy? Un heard of, I know. There was the usual flurry of activity as Christmas approached, all the gift-getting and making, card designing and sending, holiday school activities, teacher gifts to give, a few family birthdays, two small painting jobs for me, and for good measure I threw in a major allergy attack and a sprained ankle. Since I wasn’t busy enough.

I fully intended to post a few of my favorite photos of decorations from the last month. The logical timing of this post would have been last week, as the Christmas count-down reached the pinnacle of merriment and anticipation. The sprained ankle five days before Christmas delayed a few things, blogging among them. Yes, you can blog while icing an ankle, but mostly I was busy hobbling around, revising my to do list, and hoping Santa’s elves would clean the house while the big guy unloaded toys. Santa disappeared up the chimney but the mess remained. Did the elves not receive my mess-related email flagged “URGENT”?

Needless to say, blogging about holiday decorations was put on the back burner until after Christmas. So here I am, in the last six hours of this year, finally posting three holiday decoration photos I want to share.

This photo above warrants mention because the tree is at least fifteen feet tall. Someone created the triangle-shaped frame and positioned hundreds of lights on it, topping it with a rotating star. In sheer size and effort, it deserves props. You can see it from afar, lighting the neighborhood like a welcoming beacon of the season.

This tree is near where we live and I’ve walked by it hundreds of times. The owners have a fun sense of humor, and I love that they’ve included lit-up flamingos in the scene. They hang large ornaments form this tree, and wrap its many branches in lights, even adding a disco ball after I took this photo. The idea of transforming the tree in your yard into a Christmas tree to share with the whole neighborhood brings home this season’s theme: giving to others. Even without the symbolic layer, it just looks cool!

My last selection is a late entry, one I discovered two days ago while driving home from a painting job. I was tired but once I saw this house, I had to stop to take a photo. It glowed from a block away. Almost every contour was edged in lights and the brightness struck me as a finale to the season as a whole. If you’ve ever sung Christmas carols in church, you may have noticed that the last verse is sung with extra gusto, with all the stops pulled out of the organ for extra sound. That’s what this house was. An exclamation point, a clear demonstration of someone’s enthusiasm and I dig their spirit.

In a few hours we will transition from 2011 to 2012. The Christmas season is on its way out, and as I observed today in a Target store, bikini season is almost here. (Yes, they literally had swimwear on display on the last day of December.) A new year is upon us, and we hope that with it comes new opportunity, a new chance, a fresh start. I’m still tired from the sprint that December was, but I’m excited to see what 2012 has in store for us. And world, get ready, because I have a few creative ideas of my own to unleash upon the universe!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fear No Maze (Nov. 20, 2011)

As paradoxical as it sounds, dead ends can open up a journey. When you’re wandering without a map, meandering for the sheer freedom of taking the least direct way, that’s when the adventure begins.

Four days ago I chose to walk in an older residential neighborhood wedged between the freeway and a canyon. It is comprised of fragments of streets, dead ends and angles that aren’t square-cornered. Lots of potential for discovery.

I’ll admit I did get lost a few times. Well, not truly lost. I knew the general direction in which I’d parked, and I knew that if I roamed the opposite way I’d reach a main road. So, not really lost. Just enough to be exciting. In a neighborhood marked by dead-ends, you really do end up searching every nook and cranny just to find a way out. I was the willing rat, and the cheese wasn’t even finding where I’d parked. The prize was seeing a neighborhood in detail, which you’ll never get through a window of a car going 35.

The only hitch in this excursion was that within the first dozen steps I realized I had to pee. It’s a woman thing. I’d used the potty a half hour before but when it comes to women’s bladders, a half hour is plenty of time for it to fill up again. My adventure was in a residential neighborhood devoid of parks with bathrooms or gas station potties. I decided to ignore my pesky bladder and walk on. The adventure would not be dampened by…uh…bladder issues. At least I hoped it wouldn’t be dampened! At times I jogged but mostly I walked. When I jogged I debated with myself whether jogging actually jostles the full bladder more than walking, making a full bladder feel even fuller. When I walked, I wondered if I should be jogging so as to reach a bathroom faster. A tough dilemma.

Under ordinary circumstances, those neighborhoods not laid out on a grid offer great potential for exploration, as you literally don’t know what is around the next rounded corner. I liked the randomness of my walk. Of course, my bladder was yelling at me with each passing block as I walked in circles, searching for the main road or my truck (either one a means to a bathroom). From above, my path probably looked like a tangled extension cord, knots inside of knots. I still enjoyed my journey but my bladder was fighting with the scenery for my attention.

I admired succulents and studied artistic fences made of metal and wood:

Funky fruit in someone’s front yards (Buddha’s hand):

Unusual eucalyptus tree with a bump on either side, like hips or hands:

A block of condos that looks like a Mondrian painting stretched on a three-dimensional frame:

I explored a serpentine street, wondering about who lived in the houses stacked up the hillsides. Funky country. Creative people.

Someone’s house had a curved purple wall. Love it when people use unexpected paint colors:

I laughed with glee upon discovering a front yard filled with dozens of topiary plants. Was I dreaming? Was I at Disneyland? It was one of the most fun front yards I’d ever seen:

My adventure had been such a success. I’d fulfilled my goal of discovering surprises on my expedition.

And yes, eventually I did pee.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The New Black? It's Pink! (Nov. 20, 2011)

Get your pink feather boas out. This weekend in San Diego is the Three-Day Suan G. Komen walk for a cure for breast cancer. I accidentally found myself on the walk route two days ago and I am so glad to have been a witness.

Months ago I heard talk about the 3 day walk to be held in November. I’d heard about it from those who have walked and I knew it was an annual event that raises not only money but also spirit. However, at the time November seemed like a speck on the horizon. Somehow, once the school year started, September and October raced by in a blur of book reports and Halloween costumes. Furthermore, approaching fast is the hurry-scurry pace of November and December, packed with holidays and birthdays. So the three-day snuck up on me. Hubby and I decided to spend Friday morning morning walking near the beach and when we parked I saw pink pop-up tents dotting the grass by the sand. Busses. News vans and crews. People dressed in shades ranging from salmon to flamingo to watermelon. It was a sea of pink and the enthusiasm flowed.

I’m embarrassed that this important event was not really on my radar, but I have to be honest about that. On the other hand, my life is full of serendipitous discoveries (many of which you read about on this blog). What’s important is that I found myself in the middle of a pink tornado of energy and people bustling about, gathering momentum as they walk toward a goal everyone can agree on: curing breast cancer.

I think it was meant to be that I crashed this party. Without intending to, I’d dressed for the event. Under my shirt I was wearing a pink bra (is this too much information?), and I also wore my dark pink hoodie, and the pink laces that hold my walking shoes together. I wear bright pink laces every day! It’s my favorite color, so full of life and joy. On the ground I found a dark pink feather that had fallen from someone’s boa and I put it into my hair with a barrette. We waved and cheered for walkers, and although we hadn’t planned to be part of the wave of passion, we were part of it and it felt great.

Breast cancer (any cancer, really) is serious, and I don’t mean to make light of a health challenge that so many face. But that’s one reason I wanted to write this piece: the passion I saw today is so contagious. It’s inspiring.

Thousands of people turned out to walk, to show their support, to raise money for research. Some people are walking the full sixty miles and others are doing ten. There were regular stop areas where walkers could drink or eat, and where people cheered them on. Businesses along the walk route had pink balloons and posters out to show their support. Vans drove the route, with bras stretched across their surfaces and slogans like “Boobie Lift” adorning their windows, in case walkers needed help. Cars were decorated with pink pom-poms. Up-tempo music played. One woman had two curly pink ribbon tassels attached to the front of her shirt.

You don’t have to wear pink to show support for the cause, but it does inspire a team spirit. Some might find it wrong or flippant to wear pink tutus or accessories to a breast cancer walk. But I believe I know why people do. It makes a subject that is very serious and frightening a little easier to handle if people find a way to make it less intimidating. I don’t know what it’s like to face that diagnosis, or to fear for someone close to me who faces it. Some people might feel that the balloons and slogans make light of something heavy. But if people start talking about breast cancer more, start doing more self-exams, and want to participate in these events because there is a celebratory vibe, isn’t this the goal?

It was so heartening to see men on the route. There were older men on motorcycles (with bras stretched across the fronts!) and young guys, too. Maybe they were there in support of their moms and sisters, or because some men get breast cancer (although men comprise less than one percent of people who develop breast cancer). Either way, I loved the solidarity. It isn’t just a women’s issue. It affects people, lives, families, and it was great to see a few men on the route with all the women. One straight-laced, shirt-and-tie guy had a magenta boa on. A seventy-year-old was wearing boxers over his jeans, and the boxers had pink ribbons printed on them. I grinned and told him I liked his gusto. He grinned back, and I think he liked my gusto. Friday’s accidental involvement with the walk inspired me. I cheered on strangers, and they smiled back. People came together. There was no divisiveness. There was togetherness, a focus on a cure that would transform so many lives. It was incredible.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Glass of Hand Juice, Anyone? (Nov. 17, 2011)

Oh, how I love Google. (No, they are not paying me to endorse them. But if anyone has a connection with them, I am available to be their spokesperson! I am a big fan.)

This is what I love about the Internet and I suppose Google in specific, since I usually hunt for stuff on that site. I type in three words, and all my questions are answered.

A few hours ago I took one of my wandering walks through a neighborhood I know only slightly and was rewarded by seeing many things about which I want to blog (tomorrow?). I stopped to check out someone’s plants, and near their curb was a tree with a very strange fruit growing on it. Of course, I had my camera and snapped two photos. I knew it had to be citrus, as it had the dotted skin that characterizes this kind of fruit. But what was it? It looked like a jester’s hat, with pointy, curving antennae, or the long-fingered Grinch’s hand. I was fascinated.

When you’re unsure of what you’re looking at, it can be tough to research it online because after all, you don’t have its name. How would I describe it for Google, so that they could help me with a name? It’s a bit cumbersome to type in something like “fruit the color of yellow summer squash, with long pepper-shaped wiggly fingers.” With great restraint, I typed in a mere three words: “unusual citrus fruit.” BINGO! Not only did I get the name accompanying this wacky-looking food, I had its back story, too. May I introduce you to Buddha’s Hand:

I suppose there are various reactions you might be experiencing at this point:

1) You could be fascinated, eyes widened, wanting more info on this rare fruit.

2) You might be slightly interested but mostly wondering what’s on tv later.

3) This topic could be only marginally more appealing to you than waiting at the DMV for three hours.

4) You may be lamenting having spent two minutes of your life reading about the things that cause me to halt in my tracks, take photos, and spend my time researching and blogging about them. Of course, if you are in this last group you may not want to spend another second on my blog, as I always notice unusual things and wonder about them and subsequently share my wonderings with you!

If you are in the first group, stay turned for a little more info on this colorful food. Apparently Buddha's hand originally comes from China or Northeastern India. The fruit has a thick peel and therefore may have no flesh inside. If it does, it may be juiceless and/or seedless. Its skin can be used for zest and in China and Japan it is mostly used for scenting homes and clothing. In Buddhist temples the fruit is sometimes used as a religious offering, and it is preferable that the “fingers” be closed so as to resemble the act of praying. (Wow, that’s a lot of pressure on fruit!)

Part of me is just happy to have seen this food, so different-looking, almost as though it’s from another planet, or perhaps the creation of a fanciful artist like Dr. Seuss. Another part of me is shocked that I’ve never seen one before, in all my thirty-jhfinu years (excuse my cough). It’s not like they are stocked at my local grocery store, but how is it I’ve never seen one until now? Either way, perhaps this serendipitous sighting has opened my eyes to the possibilities of finding wacky foods adorning the front patios of homes everywhere. Maybe I’ll see them all the time now. If I see anything wacky and blog-worthy, don’t worry, you know you’ll see it here!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wanderlust (Nov. 13, 2011)

A few mornings ago I wandered, and it was wonder-filled. Apparently the fast pace I usually keep took a toll on me and some part of my brain knew I needed the freedom that wandering brings. It’s the antidote to a life filled with to do lists.

I was pulled toward a beachside neighborhood full of narrow walkways connecting the main drag to the beach. Because of this set-up, it has become a place that is ideal for walking. Perhaps the laid-back beachy environment makes it perfect for wandering rather than hurrying. Every hundred feet there is another walkway, flanked by tiny houses and apartments, opening up the adventure, offering walkers choice after choice, a new possibility with every turn.

One patio space was only five feet deep by seven feet wide but the gardener packed it with a lemon tree, tomato plants, a ficus tree, succulents and other plants. Bravo!

So many small spaces were transformed by plants:

I ended up wandering up and down these walkways, and also took side routes through alleys. Some people wouldn’t think that alleys make for great blogging material, but they clearly need to wander alleys more. I’m not saying it’s always scenic. You walk by trash cans, and even I must admit they aren’t necessarily the most exciting scenery. But alleys are home to a lot more than garbage cans. You just have to be open to it.

As I walked, I realized that I was collecting ideas for a blog piece. (I love it when the pieces find me, rather than my needing to rack my brain for material!) The secret life of alleys. I noticed how people had tucked gardens into the smallest, most humble places. Being obsessed with plants, this delighted me! I know I’m not the only person on earth who has discovered the magic of growing things. But sometimes I feel surprised delight when I notice how many other gardening enthusiasts there are out there.

This patio container garden is full of color and gusto:

I love walking through neighborhoods, seeing how home owners or renters personalize their space. Although the professionally-landscaped yards are pretty, my favorites are the gardens done by the residents. I’m a big Do It Yourselfer and I appreciate it when someone has taken their time, energy, and passion and planted something or decorated a space. They care so much about their plants and homes and you see it how they decorate them. The smaller yards are conducive to creativity, too. You are forced to be creative when space is limited.

My walk was amazing on various levels. Getting out, hearing the waves crash, and enjoying some solitary time felt healing. Wandering, with no rush, no agenda, no noise, and no restrictions also met a need I didn’t even realize I had that day. Third, discovering so many plants during my wander really boosted my mood. Plants are life. Plants give beauty. There’s something very satisfying about growing something, nurturing it and watching it develop. When you plant something, you give but also receive. Seeing pocket gardens dotted throughout my walk just lifted my spirit. The fact that people chose to fill small spaces shows that they find plants as meaningful as I do. It shows how much nurturing there is in the world. It’s satisfying for the gardener but also brightens the day of anyone who walks by. People who have no back yards get really creative about bringing color and life to an alley, or to whatever small area is their outdoor living space. There were many window boxes in the alleys, and even atop fences.

This border of succulents filled a small area between parking spaces and a house, and despite its being less than a foot wide, it packed a lot of punch:

One property had an amazing rock and succulent garden, filling a front yard measuring approximately nine by nine feet. Instead of the small size being a disappointment, the effect was that of a beautifully framed piece of art:

Maybe filling a small space actually makes for a more dynamic garden, as small spaces fill up quickly, giving a fuller effect, an abundant rather than minimalist look. A spot of color or any sign of something growing inspires me. One lone plant, growing despite a lack of space, water and light feels like a sign of optimism and perseverance. How can you not cheer on a plant growing from a tiny patch of earth in a narrow alley that doesn’t get much sun? It’s the underdog and yet it doesn’t know this. It simply wants to thrive and so it does. It doesn’t talk itself out of thriving. It doesn’t weigh the odds and decide they are too steep and why bother. Plants just persevere. Seeing plants grow and all the symbolism this included felt like encouragement in a week when I really needed it.

This tree is growing from a small piece of dirt and it gives life to a very blah alley:

This renter decided to go vertical with plants, using the staircase to house pepper plants:

Upon returning to the truck my mood was many times better than when I started wandering. I was inspired by people’s creativity despite lack of space. I was reminded that the most imaginative creations are often born from having to deal with obstacles or limitations. It was a fun wander, a plant-filled self-tour, beauty found in alleys, and wherever I looked I saw how people had chosen to personalize their spaces, had chosen to grown things, and had chosen to find a way to get what they needed, no matter how small the space available. A lot of people would find the space limitations daunting, but those people who decided to go for it inspired me. Instead of saying “Why bother?” they said “Why not?” and because those people were determined to have plants where they live, a whole neighborhood was brought to life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What's on your Plate? (Nov. 7, 2011)

What you have on your plate can speak volumes about you. I’m talking license plate, not dinner plate. (Although what’s on your dinner plate can say a lot about you, too!)

Personalized license plates. I see them every day. They can be fun. But sometimes annoying, if I’m being honest. Have you seen the kind that seems to make no sense to anyone but the owner? I wonder about these. If the message is so obscure that only one living soul will understand it, why spend the cash to buy personalized plates? Save yourself the fee and write the very important message only you understand on a post-it!

You’ll notice that people use the seven spaces in their license plates various ways. Some people use their plates to bring humor to the world (my favorite). Others reference their professions, hobbies, passions or pop culture. Personally, I think I’d find it hard to choose only one word or phrase to describe myself, so I settle for the random bunch of letters and numbers the DMV issued us! Seriously though, how can I sum up myself in only seven spaces? Do I reference my favorite hobbies, color, animal, my career? How do you boil a life down to seven spaces? Impossible! I’m not exactly known for being short-winded, so seven spaces is really inadequate. (Thank heavens for unlimited space in the blogosphere.) So for now, I’ll keep my thoughts off my actual license plate. Although I won’t keep my thoughts to myself. After all, I am blogging about them!

The inspiration for this blog piece came from a friend who had a few photos of funny license plates on his blog. What follows here is a collection of ten unusual license plates I’ve seen and photographed. (Yay, digital cameras!)

Shamu. This license plate is on a 1950s sedan. It’s black, and has the solid build and curvy contours you find on cars of that era as well as on killer whales. So clever!

Dreeman. I think he’s self-describing as a dreamer (but he’s not the only one), rather than a psychiatrist who analyzes dreams, but I may never know…

I’m 7T+. This is on a spunky red VW Beetle, parked at a local park where seniors have softball games. You go, girl! Your car looks peppy and I’d say you are, too.

I cook for you. This woman lives nearby and has a business delivering meals. Creative spelling (as someone else had already had the more typically-seen spelling of “cook” on her license plate). Not free advertising but a decent way to market to whomever is behind you at a red light!

Econ dr. I had to include this because my dad’s PhD is in Economics and it made me think of him. See, Dad? Other number addicts are out there!

I Love Kermie. Oh, a reference to a wonderful television program from my childhood, The Muppet Show. Major nostalgia. Must track down this driver and set up informal club for people with playful personalities.

Me Funky. Okay, since I do see myself as funky, this one spoke to me. On the other hand, a note of irony, as it was on a Lexus, and (forgive me for making gross generalizations) I didn’t associate funkiness with Lexusness. Had it been on a 1960s VW bus, yes. But either way, it was cute.

Oh Behave. This was on a Mini Cooper and gets points for the connection between Austin Powers (who was supposedly British) and the car, made in England. Extra points for phonetic spelling, because Austin says that phrase many times in his quirky accent.

I Love Los Lobos. (Los Lobos is Spanish for “the wolves,” and is a band that was formed in the mid-1970s.) If the name of your favorite music group can be fit onto your license plate, go for it. Although I wonder if this driver isn’t referencing the band but simply loves wolves. It’s possible. Wolves need love, too.

Rad Mom. This was in a restaurant filled with hundreds of custom license plates. But I exercised great restraint and took a photo of only one. Since I am a mom, I can say with conviction that many moms feel they never do enough. So I thought it was cool that the mom in question saw herself as rad and wasn’t afraid to give herself a pat on her rad back!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sweet Treat (Oct. 31, 2011)

A few months ago an idea popped into my mind: wouldn't a pineapple costume be fun?

Visually, I just thought it would be great. But even aside from their costume potential, I just like pineapples. They taste good, they are a cheerful yellow color and they symbolize welcome. What's not to like?

For some reason, I thought this costume could be whipped up in three hours. Well, it took fifteen or so. I was poked by wire mesh, stabbed by sewing needles, my shoulders are tense, and I can't sit in it. But honestly, it has been worth it. It's so fun to imagine something and then bring it to life. Plus, you know I love to make people smile and laugh, and I think I've brought a few extra smiles to people today. Good all around.

Whatever you do this Halloween, wherever you go and whichever costume you wear (or not), have a Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Decoration Madness! (Oct. 27, 2011)

You know I like festive stuff. I’m an artist. I like decorating and personalizing and laughing and signs of enthusiasm. So it’s no surprise that lately I’ve become obsessed with Halloween.

I’ve been busy, hitting the streets, searching for the most imaginative and spooky Halloween decorations around. There are plenty of people who share my Halloween gusto and decorate their houses to show their spirit. And special props go to people who manage to decorate their apartments for Halloween, as they are dealing with the challenge of decorating a third-floor window or a small balcony, and they also have limited storage space in which to stash decorations the other eleven months of the year.

Why do I dig this holiday so much? I like carving pumpkin faces, creating costumes and of course, CANDY! But what seals the deal is that there’s such variety in how people interpret this holiday. Costumes can be scary, funny, political, cute…there are many options. (Christmas decorations I love, too, but with that holiday there’s a bit of a formula for how to celebrate it.) With Halloween, anything goes! It has a playful vibe, and is just fun. It’s strictly optional and the people who bother to decorate for it or get together a costume—well, I just appreciate their passion! Here are a few of my favorite decorations:

Packing a lot of punch in a small apartment patio space. Kudos!

Recently we visited a legendary pumpkin patch tucked into the countryside about an hour from here. The patch itself is huge. The pumpkins are huge. Sometimes the crowds are huge. This time was our seventh annual visit and despite its being too hot (89 degrees!) we had fun.

Some people visit the patch in costume and one woman pulled a wagon with a familiar figure in back: Sponge Bob! Her two daughters were wearing outfits made almost entirely of crochet. Of course, I had to stop her and ask if she’d made them (yes) and would it be okay if I took a photo of Bob (yes again). It must have taken a long time to crochet a whole dress for her pre-teen daughter, dressed as Alice in Wonderland. Her younger daughter was dressed as Sponge Bob and the boxy figure in the wagon was the upper half of her costume. I wish I’d taken a close-up of the costume but you’ll get the idea. So cool!

This one is not too scary but gets points for cuteness:

This one also scores high because of the sheer number of decorations:

These home-owners always go all out for holidays:

These next two photos are from a nearby street where several of the neighbors go all out and create a very scary environment, complete with haunted house.

However you celebrate, have a very fun and spooky Halloween!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Even Gardens need Accessories (Oct. 2, 2011)

Despite my professed commitment to downsize the amount of stuff I own, I do allow myself to browse the occasional garage sale. If I'm looking for something in particular, I rationalize that this is different from going and just loading up on other people's castoffs and treading too close to the Hoarding Zone.

With that in mind, I headed to a garage sale recently and found what I really wanted: a table I could makeover to house part of my giant plant and succulent collection. I knew I would put the table near our front door and that it needed to be a fun color. Seriously, happy colors are free therapy. Finding something that worked felt like a victory (because you never know at garage sales), and after handing over my five dollars, I schlepped my new-old table home for its color consultation. Did I want to go pink or red? Not sure. I just knew I wanted a cheerful, bright color to pop against our cheerful, bright yellow house. Several coats of red later, voila! I have a cheerful, bright table and it gives me a boost every time I walk by it. Mission accomplished.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

One Hundred Trumpets, Please! (Oct. 1, 2011)

Drum roll, please. This is my one hundredth blog post.

I feel some duty to mark the occasion in a fitting way. But how? Now it feels like pressure to make this post extra interesting. Yikes.

I put off writing this piece for a few days so that I could post it on the first of October, the tenth month, as ten and one hundred share a special connection. Maybe I should have waited until the tenth day of the tenth month, because 10 x 10 = 100. But I can’t wait that long. I have a huge backlog of pieces to write and post.

In lieu of changing your life with this blog post Number One Hundred, I’ll just reminisce for a minute about these hundred posts. Nearly three years ago I started this blog with the goal of having a place to express myself. If I was the only one who read it, okay. If others found it amusing, great. I wasn’t seeking a following of thousands, just the freedom to write or post whatever I wanted. Maybe that is why a blog is so great: in life there are so many compromises, but with your own blog there are so many freedoms.

Why is one hundred (of anything) so significant? Since we were young children we have been aware that numbers have meaning and certain ones seem extra worthy of celebration. My great aunt Kay turned one hundred and one two months ago (and is still as sharp as a pin). Reaching her hundredth birthday was such an amazing accomplishment because it so rare. But reaching ninety-nine is rare, too. Why does our society like things in batches of one hundred? It comes up in our daily lives, with the dollar bill representing one hundred pennies. It also comes up in more unusual circumstances, like the celebration of a centennial. We use it in measurement: 100% is the top. There are acclaimed literary works and famous songs which use one hundred in their titles or lyrics. We celebrate kids’ one hundred days of school. We analyze the presidents first one hundred days in office. One hundred: it’s everywhere!

I went to Google to shed some light on why one hundred is so omnipresent, so much a part of our daily lives as well as a measurement for our goals. Not being into football, I didn’t realize that there are one hundred yards in an American football field (not including the end zone). I learned that one hundred is the sum of the first nine prime numbers (my dad, the mathematician, will love this reference!).

I guess I’ll sign off now. I have at least a hundred things to do before bed: a hundred things to pick up off the floor, hundreds of breaths to take and hundreds of snacks to make. Plus, there are at least another hundred things I need to blog about, so keep it here for the next batch!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Because it's Tuesday (Sept. 27, 2011)

Am I dressed up because I have an event to attend? No. So why the outfit? Because it Tuesday. Hey, polka dots are fun any day of the year. But the timing of this blog piece is no accident. I finished making this dress yesterday and thought I'd share my enthusiasm with the half-dozen people who read my stuff.

If you recall earlier posts from a few months ago, you know I finally dipped my toe into the world of sewing this summer. And it is awesome. Of course, sometimes it's not. I have been reduced to tears a few times, yes, because I so want to be good at it and sometimes the sewing machine doesn't understand what I want to do. But when the machine and I are able to work out our differences, it brings me a lot of joy.

Normal people use patterns to make dresses. But you know I have my own ideas about things. I conjured up this idea in my own cluttered brain, and it turned out pretty well. It's so fun for me to dream up an idea and turn it into reality/colorful wearable art. It's completely my creation and I dig it.

And yes, I do think bike riding in a dress and semi-high heels is a good idea!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Neighborhood (Sept. 22, 2011)


What does that word evoke for you?

Yesterday I found myself in a part of town I like, one filled with older houses and trees and a sense of community, and I pondered the concept of neighborhood. Sometimes, a neighborhood evolves not as a function of city planning but out of a hard-to-pinpoint, slow-developing something. I’m curious about what influences a neighborhood’s character. What is the connection between an area’s past and its current personality?

These days, planned communities are common. They have a cohesive feel, and oftentimes, Homes Owners’ Association rules and fees. The similarities among the houses and the landscaping contribute to that unified look. It does feel like a neighborhood, a collection of houses that goes together. On the other hand, individuality is limited by rules about which color your house can be, and whether you can drape towels over the balconies (I’ve heard this is a big no-no!).

But neighborhood goes far beyond how the surrounding buildings look. Is the neighborhood you choose to call home an extension of self, a reflection of who you are, or for some, who you want to become?

I felt a little nerdy checking the dictionary’s definition of “neighborhood,” but I often wonder if my interpretation of an idea matches its literal definition, or whether my feelings about a word have taken on a life of their own. Definitions include “region near” and “a section lived in by neighbors and usually having distinguishing characteristics.” Another source acknowledged two aspects of the word, its “specific geographic area (as well as its)…set of social networks.”

The very fact that the word includes “neighbor” means something, too. Yes, a neighbor is someone who lives near you. But the terms “neighborhood” seems to have an affectionate undertone. It implies a connection to the place, a sense of belonging.

This leads me to ponder further. Do we want to live near people we think are like us? For some, yes, although others seek diversity in where they want to live. When I was twenty-three I moved to a more urban neighborhood and I loved how unpretentious it was. There were laundromats on the corners, not fancy car dealerships. There was a higher crime rate but I felt safe and never had trouble there.

For the last eight years I’ve lived in an area of rather modest, mostly 1-story homes. There are things I like about my neighborhood as well as a few things I dislike, but the pros outweigh the cons. I like that it’s not pretentious. People are hard-working. Most of my neighbors cut their own grass and wash their own cars by choice. They aren’t too self-important to hang their own holiday lights. They lend things to neighbors. They meet at the park to talk with other parents or dog-owners. It’s not a place where your nearest neighbors (if you even know them) are far away. This isn’t an area where a team of gardeners manicures your acres, servants walk your dogs, and you lounge around managing your stock portfolio. This neighborhood is anchored in the real world. It’s a place where people care about their houses, do certain home repair themselves, plant their own gardens and then share tomatoes with their neighbors. People meet in the street and chit-chat. We make friends at nearby garage sales, and buy drinks from kids’ lemonade stands. I’m comfortable here and that’s important to me. Maybe some of my neighbors aren’t as fond of this area as I am. Maybe they aren’t here by choice. But there are those of us who love the normalcy, the lack of pretention. We are neither in competition with the Joneses nor are we afraid of who lives nearby. We are part of something. We care about the area. We want safety without showiness. For me, a down-to-earth neighborhood is not a consolation prize. It is the reward.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11 (Sept. 11, 2011)

Today I woke up and in some ways it was like any other day in Southern California. The sun came out after a while. I took a morning walk, washed dishes, cleaned up many messes, made phone calls. Normal stuff.

In many ways, though, today can never be just another day. It’s 9-11, and that date always will mean something to us. I grappled with the idea of doing something in remembrance of this day. Did I need to do something public? I wasn’t sure. I don’t believe that you have to participate in a public remembrance in order to recognize the significance of this date. You can remember privately, if that’s how you work.

On tv there was footage of people at the brand-new fountains at Ground Zero in Manhattan, where the names of those who died are etched into stone. The fountains pour into the ground, the void, as they call it because of the void left by their deaths. It was very moving. There was footage of people reading their family members’ names: moms, brothers, uncles. An almost ten-year-old boy read his father’s name. He never got to meet his dad, but he thanked him for the gift of life.

I put our big flag up outside, and then put up ten more: six medium ones and four tiny ones I’d made before July 4th. I wore a red t-shirt and put little two flags on the stroller before I set out for a walk. The footage from Manhattan and Washington, DC had impacted me. With my flags and clothing I was participating in a public way, and I felt good about the outward expression of what I was on my mind today. I decided to go to one of the local commemorations.

I went to the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier. I wasn’t sure what the event would involve but I wanted to show my respect. Nearly 3,000 people participated, which is a good-sized crowd in my book. I like the symbolism of this number’s nearly matching the number of people who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Names of those who died were read, followed by a bell’s toll. It was sobering to hear the names. The statistics are one thing. But it becomes so much more real when you hear victims’ names.

Various people spoke, including Mayor Jerry Sanders. Former military members gave brief speeches. Three planes flew overhead in a missing man formation. Some people were dressed in patriotic colors. There were girl- and boy-scout troops there, with their patch-covered vests. Many members of the military as well as police and fire fighters were there in dress uniform. A giant flag suspended from two fire engine’s aerial ladders moved in the breeze, the bright sun making its colors especially vibrant. Our flag is much more than a bunch of fabric. I know that, but I really felt it today.

I felt good about going today, making the time to show my appreciation for the freedoms we have here. The tone at the commemoration was that of respect and gratitude and I was glad to be there to express my appreciation for those who served us ten years ago, as well as today.

9-11. It’s a sad day and it always will be. But it was a day of pride and unity, too.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Power Restored (Sept. 9, 2011)

Yesterday’s eleven-hour power failure had me thinking about time in a different way. I thought about the passing hours every time I looked at a battery-powered clock and wondered when the electricity would be restored. Most days I have too little time. The clock races. Yesterday it trudged.

I never feel I have enough time. One could consider the power failure a gift of time, but I didn’t see it that way. When I say I need more free time, I’m talking about time that I choose to use as I please, where, when and how I want to spend it. When a power failure occurs, it’s not according to your timing preference. When there’s no electricity, there’s no possibility of using your newly “free” time to catch up on emails, download and label photos you’ve been intending to get to, or do many of the things on the to do list. Even if we don’t need electricity for every human activity, we need light to do lots of our daily chores (I wasn’t in the mood to see if I could separate clean laundry by candlelight).

Haven’t I yearned for a less frantic pace? Yes! But I wanted it on my own terms. I want to option out of things, not have things optioned away from me, without my choosing! When I’m in a waiting room, I don’t consider it found time, as I sit while the clock ticks, ticks, ticks. Who considers it gifted time in the endless DMV line? When I have the option to do a million things, I never have enough time. Yet when I suddenly have unexpected time due to a power failure, I want the option to do what I want. You can have one or the other, but not both. More time or more choice. An inverse relationship. But I want it all!

We’re so lucky to have conveniences like electricity. Of course, I am among those who get so used to having it, that when it’s suddenly snatched away with no warning, I feel the loss acutely. It doesn’t feel like a convenient luxury when you’re used to using it dozens of times a day. It feels as essential as oxygen or water!

At 2:22am the power came back on. It woke me up, and I gleaned a little extra delight in the timing. The symmetry of 2-2-2 seemed symbolic of a prize, like a perfect match on a slot machine. Jackpot! And when you feel the loss of electricity, having it restored really is a prize. I’m never very excited about electricity unless I’ve sat in the dark, awaiting its return.

With the return of electricity comes the return of my own power. I can choose to turn on lights, tv, microwave, oven or anything else when I want to. Or not. I can decide how to spend my time, rather than waiting to be granted choice again. Power restored, indeed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Closing the Book (Aug. 14, 2011)

Inching toward noon on Sunday. I didn’t plan to be parked at the computer, about to mourn the loss of the bookstore. But here I am. I’m sure I’m not the first person to put fingers to keyboard on this subject, but it hit home for me today so here I am.

I was out and decided to swing by a bookstore I hadn’t been inside in at least a year. I needed bribery material for a child who whose hair soon will be detangled and cut, and who won’t be happy about it.

After parking, I marched inside, bee lined for the front desk and asked a clerk why there was a huge sign out front. Why were they going out of business? Was it because of low-priced online competition that rhymes with “glamazon?” She said there were a lot of theories about why.

As I wandered off to find bribery material, I felt sad. True, I hadn’t been in this store in ages. Although I love reading, I frequent libraries more often than book stores. And I’m among the masses that flock to the discounted online sites, so I can hardly point fingers and accuse others of not going to book stores. I get that the online stores can discount more than the brick-and-mortar stores because they don’t have the same rent, utilities, and personnel costs. (I really get this, because I worked at a book store years ago. Here was how we answered the phone, each and every time: “Thank you for calling Crown Book Stores, where we have the lowest book store prices guaranteed. This is Sarah. How may I help you?” (Gasping, I’d pause to replenish my lungs with air.) We did have low prices because the company paid minimum wage, and considered thirty-six hours per week part-time, therefore skirting paying health coverage! So I really do get that running a book-selling business costs money!) But I’m still sad to see this store close.

Since I was a child, I’ve loved to read. When I babysat a lot as a 12-to-15-year-old, I spent a lot of my earnings at the local book store. I have great memories of these special places. If you love to read, going to book stores and libraries is like kids’ being dropped into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Amazing! There are dazzling sights and colors everywhere you look. There’s something you want to get your hands on at every turn. It’s a wonderland, a feast for the eyes and the mind. You can learn. You can be entertained. You can reload on ideas for creative projects. It’s relaxing and stimulating all at the same time.

At the check-out counter I paid for my three books (one is the earliest Christmas present I’ve ever bought, and needs to be hidden for the next four months. Of course, there’s always the danger that I will have hidden it from myself, too, or that come December, I will have forgotten it entirely. Note to self: write reminder and location onto the calendar in hieroglyphics only I can decipher.)

The clerk and I commiserated about the closing, and she said she thinks that part of the problem is that people come in and treat it like a library, sitting in cozy chairs and reading for hours, and not buying. I’ve done that, too, so I won’t finger-point. But I’m still sad. The world changes, I know. But it can be hard to watch it happen. At best, it’s sometimes a mixed bag. And when it involves something that is meaningful to you, it’s extra hard. I hope the little bookstores are able to make it. I guess I need to be part of the movement of keeping it local, buying from stores I want to see survive.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Super-Duper Markets (Aug. 5, 2011)

"They’re doing WHAT to the old Safeway?”I screeched. Dad hadn’t realized that this would upset me. “They’re renovating it, giving it a facelift,” he’d said a moment before. He was referring to a store near where I grew up. Although it wasn’t the one we frequented the most, I still feel some nostalgia and regret that its original look is being altered Even though I don’t live there anymore, it still bugs me. No one asked me if they could change things from my childhood! It’s a smaller store, especially as compared with the giant stores that are the standard now. It had the familiar Safeway front and gull wing roofline, the glass frontage and lava rock. This was called the “Marina Style,” named for the prototype store on Marina Boulevard in San Francisco. In the mid-1960s Safeways took on this new look, and being that I’m a child of the 1970s, the original look was still in place when my young brain was studying the world. This is very similar to what they looked like:

There must be people out there who don’t care to join in our chit-chat about supermarkets and their symbolism. They would rather pluck their eyelashes one by one than ponder this subject. That’s ok. But if you think about it, food is one of the things that every living creature needs, so if there is one subject that unites us, it could be this one.

For many of us, a trip to the supermarket may be among our earliest memories, if not for its glamour but due to the frequency of our visits. I recall going to two Safeways as a very tiny child in the late 70s, when Safeways still boasted their original 1960s style. I may have been only three or four. Was it the height of the building that made an impression on me? The interior ceiling was so tall. Was it the promise that we’d bring yummy things home? Was it the fun of being lifted into the child-seat of the shopping cart? I still remember the narrow aisles, stocked high with dozens of varieties of whatever you needed. I recall the formica on the check-out stands. I remember the circular, rotating area where you’d load your groceries (it carried your groceries around the circle to the cashier). This predated the one-way black conveyer belt. Another Safeway I remember is now a drugstore, but I recall walking through it, looking up at huge tables of apples (there seemed to be thousands of them atop a metal stand shaped like a pool table, the stand tapering down to a smaller footprint at the base). Why is this so significant to me? Does it connect to some basic urge amongst women to gather? Were my gathering instincts being shaped even at age four?

These days what I appreciate at the super market is completely different than what I liked as a child. Now a harried mom, I’m glad to be in any building that feels different from my house and all its unfinished chores! Here is an informal checklist of how supermarkets are different from my house:

Supermarket floors are spotless. Mine are spotted. At supermarkets there are no milk spills, dirty socks, disgarded clothing items, thrown raisins, dust bunnies, capless markers, or unidentified substances on their floors. (If something is spilled at the store, it’s not left for me to discover and clean up! At least three employees swoop out of nowhere and are on it before the last drop hits the linoleum. Amazing!)

Supermarkets shelves are nicely organized. Mine are a jumble of whatever can fit and (hopefully) not fall down.

Supermarkets play upbeat music. The sounds echoing in my house are “Gimme that! It’s mine! I hate you! (Followed by sounds of kids hitting each other and often, crying.)

For some, going to the store is a chore. For me, it’s almost a vacation!

The original look of those Safeways just brings me back to the innocent wonder I had as a four-year-old. My own four-year-old likes to go to the store. She’s picked up on the idea that supermarkets are a place filled with solutions. She’s vaguely aware of money, but still has that innocence one should have at four. Out of milk? She has the answer: “Let’s go to the store!” It’s a shiny place of bounty. People greet you, pack up your stuff, wish you a good day. And since she’s not paying the credit card balance (!), it’s a completely good experience for her.

Recently I stumbled upon a smaller store I’d forgotten about, as I no longer live in that neighborhood. It’s an IGA, formerly a Safeway, and despite a change in ownership you can see its original design features:

I’ll be back with another ode to supermarkets of old on another day. There are Piggly Wigglys to discuss, after all. For now I’ll leave you with sparkling visions of Safeways dancing in your heads.

Now where’s my shopping list?

Long Live the Quonset Hut (Aug. 5, 2011)

Does that name evoke any images? I’d never heard of them until I started college, when I first stepped inside one for an art class. I remember it clearly. The structure really fascinated me. Curved walls and ceilings are so surprising if you’ve always lived in square-cornered buildings.

(This photo shows one of the Quonsets that UCSD aquired when it took over the land from
Camp Matthews. It's not my photo but this is exactly what they looked like more than twenty-five years later, when I started school there.)

(This is also not my photo but this is what it looked like in the Quonsets where we had art classes.)

Their funkiness really fit with what art students do: forgoing traditional approaches in favor of something less confining. The lack of sharp angles in the huts fit perfectly with what I was experiencing, not only in my art classes but as a brand new college student: new ideas, new freedoms as well as new hurdles. Our intro art classes were very conceptual. We contemplated what art could be. It was air. It was an idea. It was a moment. It was the tangle of voices chanting different things at precisely 10:32am. It was limitless, not bound by rigid rules. Like the Quonset hut itself, art bent where you expected things to be solid.

That useful tool known as Google is helping with my Quonset Hut questions. It turns out UCSD was born on land that was formerly a marine base. In 1967 UC La Jolla (as it was originally known before becoming UC San Diego) acquired the 1,000-acre Camp Matthews. The Quonset Huts remained on university land for more than twenty-five years. While I was there they were all removed to allow for the construction of a fancy-shmancy, huge new building. Although I recognize that it makes sense to put a multi-story building in the footprint of a formerly 1-story building, I felt sad about it. New isn’t always better. Older things have value, too. The quirkiness of these buildings fit with the rustic feel UCSD had twenty years ago. Now it’s much more cutting-edge and polished, which is a mixed thing for me.

Quonset Huts were named after the site of their first manufacture, Quonset Point, Rhode Island. They were lightweight prefabricated structures made of galvanized iron and semicircular arched ribs. They did not require skilled labor to be put together and could be shipped anywhere in the world. The first Quonset hut measured sixteen feet by thirty feet. Apparently the military did not make the original Quonset Huts after 1959, although similar, larger structures have been created since.

When I drive around San Diego I sometimes see a Quonset Hut. Next time I spot one I need to get out and really look at it. One houses a roller skating rink! Some of the local Quonset Huts may be new (it’s hard to tell when you’re driving by, and the basic design has not changed in fifty years so how am I to know if it’s original or simply using the original shape?) The new ones don’t interest me. They are too big, too modern. I like the humble, small ones that are only marginally taller than a person standing, ones with a back story. Online there are many, many photos of Quonset Huts, and buildings inspired by them. There are new homes that borrow from the Quonset’s curves. But for me they are akin to the newer Volkswagen Beetles: cute in their own way but too modern-looking for my taste. I need chrome. I need 50s curves. I’ll take funky charm over speed or modern touches any day.

(This is another photo I got online, showing the interior of a Quonset Hut owned by a woman named Rose, in Kodiak, Alaska.)

(How fun is this photo? A woman and her granddaughter transformed the outside of a Quonset, making a cookie-cutter prefab building into simply fab!)

In rural areas I’ve seen structures that resemble Quonset huts: plastic-covered half-pipe structures, under which are growing things. They are called high tunnels, high hoops or hoop houses, temporary structures that extend the growing season.

Apparently there is a huge number of Quonset Huts in Alaska. Is this because their curved roof made sense in a snowy climate? Or is it because a state like Alaska is not as populated as others, and less vulnerable to bulldozing of old structures in order to make way for housing developments? I’m sure Quonset Huts can be found in quite a few (or all?) states, but rural areas seem to have more of them.

I’m borrowing a book from the library this weekend, Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age, by Chris Chiei, and I’m sure I’ll be back to blog more about Quonsets once I’ve flipped through it. It may seem funny to some that I’m so excited about these structures. My friend Ed finds them far more functional than fabulous. But their unpretentious ways appeal to me. I’m sure it has something to do with this, too: when I discovered them I was also discovering who I was as a young adult. It’s easy to feel nostalgic about that sense of wonder that comes upon you when you’re uncovering so many new ideas, new places, new experiences. I was a shiny new college student, and I found some magic in something older, something dusty and to some, outdated. But I say you can find magic anywhere, if you’re open to finding it in unexpected places.