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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!