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Friday, April 27, 2012

Epi Lady (Apr. 27, 2012)

Hello, I am an Epi lady. No, not the electronic hair removal device that debuted in the late 1980s, promising to remove body hair effortlessly and painlessly. (According to one teen-ager I knew then, there was nothing painless about it. Have you ever accidentally caught your hair in a hair dryer? Nothing painless about that pull, either.) So back to the Epi Lady: me. My new self-appointed nickname refers to my interest in Epiphyllum plants. They came into my consciousness about a year ago. I bought a few cuttings at a sale, and was given a few cuttings by a neighbor. For nearly a year I’ve watched, watered and waited. And now the epi blossoms are here!

Let me stop for just a second and give a little info about Epiphyllum plants. They are also known as the orchid cactus. Their blooms are gorgeous and big, and their leaves have the hardy quality seen in orchid leaves and succulents. Epiphyllum is a genus of epiphytic succulents native to Central America. They have broad, flat leaves and large flowers, which often bloom for only one day.

A few years ago I noticed plants hanging outside houses in my neighborhood. Their  unusual leaves caught my eye because I’d never seen leaves like that: long and bright green, with a scalloped or zigzag edge. Fascinating! But what were they? Could they be related to the succulents I love so much? Their firm, rubbery look suggested they might be. But without a name for them, I didn’t know how to find out more about them.

Then one day, I passed a house a few blocks from mine. I saw ten or twelve of this curious plant hanging in pots from the eaves of the roof. I decided to write the owner a note, asking whether I could speak to him/her about the plants. Don called a day later and said that he’d gotten my note and he’d love to talk with me about epis. He was a friendly man, eager to talk about his favorite plant, and I was just as eager to learn. Behind his gate was a plant paradise! There were hundreds of epis in hanging pots, many different varieties, and the blossoms were various colors. Don’s collection is amazing in its size, its display and because of his passion. This hobby of his started years ago when he inherited someone else’s epis. What has become a major love of epis started inadvertently. And it grew and grew.

Don was kind enough to give me some cuttings from some of his plants. He had labels on most of them and at home, I hung them up in a semi-sunny, mostly shady area. Over the last 11+ months I watched the leaves grow, and new ones form, and I wondered if this would be the year. Don had warned me that epis take a year or two to produce a flower, so I was not banking on seeing any this year. But a few weeks ago two buds popped out of a leaf. The buds seemed to grow daily and I wondered when I’d see their flowers.

Today I was putting coffee grounds on my plants and I looked up and WOW! There were two huge pink blossoms on the epi labeled “Padre.” I was so surprised. Although I knew May and June were their blooming months, I didn’t know how big the buds would get before opening or exactly when this would happen. They’re so pretty and I’m so happy to have them bloom this first year. Tomorrow I’ll stop by Don’s to let him know and to thank him again.   

Most people like flowers, although I realize that not everyone wants to spend their free time gardening. But it’s one of my favorite hobbies. I feel a lot of happiness experiencing the growth and blooming of plants and flowers. You participate in their growth because you nurture them with water and light and coffee grounds and your time and energy. When they bloom under your care, it’s rewarding. They thank you for your care with a prize of colorful blooms. It’s a win-win.

I’ll sign off now. This Epi Lady wants to go smile at her epis…

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Snail's Approach (Apr. 26, 2012)

Snails were on my mind this morning as I walked. I saw nearly a hundred of them before I stopped counting. It had rained last night and they were out to explore. So was I.

Snails do not get the same attention other animals do. Their nickname isn’t “Man’s best friend,” or even “Woman’s garden companion.” In fact, it’s easy to forget about them entirely. This is especially true in Southern California where rain is scarce and snail sightings are few. I’ve blogged about them before. Many people see them purely as pests, but I find them intriguing. Their mobile homes make them different from so many creatures. They leave a twisty trail of slime as they go, a meandering series of loops and squiggles. I’ve often noticed how indirect their paths are. Today, the morning of the snails, I found myself walking down dead ends and back, wandering in circles, squares and lasso-shapes, creating a route as circuitous as the snails’ path. It was great.

This morning’s walk was in a neighborhood I’m intrigued by, but don’t know very well (this is an excellent combination—it guarantees discovery and delight). This is the same area I wrote about five months ago, a maze of a neighborhood, where I first saw a Buddha’s Hand tree. Nothing about this neighborhood is uniform, which I like. It’s a mix of older homes from the 1920s, newer condos, stately mansions and funky, modest one-bedroom cottages. The streets stop at canyons, they continue up steep hills, they twist, turn and confound. I like the sections with smaller houses the best. People have been inventive with their smaller lots, tucking gardens into irregularly-shaped margins. Unlike preplanned communities, there are a lot of plant varieties in this neighborhood. People have created their own gardens, mixing succulents with lilies, bamboo with hibiscus. Individuality comes out here. It’s more playful than other neighborhoods. At one house three pink plastic flamingoes peek through a wrought-iron gate. I wasn’t surprised to see a ‘60s Volkswagen bus. On a front porch someone has turned an old-fashioned porcelain bathtub into a veggie garden.

I walked up one canyon, thinking it led to a street I liked. It turned out not to be the street I expected, but I loved the surprise. Houses are tucked into the cliffs. It’s like a hideout, with the steep canyon walls keeping its secret. Firey orange Nasturtium tumble across the ground. Eucalyptus leaves whisper overhead. The houses are spaced irregularly, and the land wasn’t leveled to one flat plain. The canyon’s contours remain, and the inhabitants seem happy to submit to nature’s bumps rather than eliminate them. Fuchsia Bougainvillea arcs over purple Mexican sage bobbing in the breeze. It’s not ultra-manicured and the wildness of it makes you feel like you’re in the country, not a quarter-mile from the freeway.

Some of the streets have a little of the flavor of LA’s Topanga Canyon, which still has its 60s hippie vibe. In Topanga, every building seems to be a tree house, set on a hill amongst Oaks. It feels remote, with houses half-hidden. Every street is curvy, with surprises around each bend. Wind chimes sway, nature prevails, and you’ll see more birds than people. There are streams, boulders, horses, and trees, trees, trees.

Toward the end of today’s walk I found my favorite street. It really is a funky mix, which I dig. It’s a serpentine road with houses seemingly built into the hillsides. One house is wedge-shaped. Some are 1920s wooden cottages. There are triplexes, small Spanish revivals, and a few apartment buildings. Potted plants march up the edge of narrow staircases disappearing under a canopy of vines. You round a hairpin bend and a cascade of red geraniums surprises you. There aren’t sidewalks on my favorite street but that doesn’t dissuade someone like me. At one corner I saw two slightly broken pieces of furniture left outside the front fence. Immediately I knew I could make a plant holder out of what I saw, and I hoped it would still be there when I returned with the truck. (It was! I grabbed it and I will blog about its makeover in a week or two. But there are a million things to do before then so it will have to wait.)

Do canyons attract people like me, who don’t want square corners? Are canyons intriguing to those of us who are open to odd-shaped lots and houses with creative dimensions and solutions? Canyons are not conducive to a planned-out format on level ground, with rectangular lots. I like that canyons have older trees, and that their edges are softened by groundcover or plants that have been there a while. Canyons have more shadows. More surprises.

I explored, happy not to know exactly what was around each bend. Honestly, I don’t think my wander was inspired by the snails’ winding journeys, but I like the coincidental timing. Maybe snails have it right: you see things you wouldn’t have if you’d kept on a straight course. The world is more interesting when you take a less direct path.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cars + Puppets = Carpets??! (April 23, 2012)

Parking lots are treasure troves of fun surprises. You’ve always suspected this, I’m sure. Doesn’t everyone equate parking lots with major excitement? Of course.

Today’s discovery involved a 1950s Studebaker. I love the contrast in this scene: it’s a gray morning. The parking lot is nearly empty. A lady pushes a grocery cart filled with napkins, milk and goldfish crackers toward her parking spot. Suddenly she sees a shiny blue car with sparkling
chrome trim, parked near her car. The surprise! The contrast between the mundane (napkins and milk) and the unusual (a beautifully-restored vintage car). It made my Monday. I fished my battered camera out of my purse and started taking photos. I’ve seen a number of classic cars in this very parking lot over the years. I think this is because in my neighborhood people tend to
own their houses for decades and a number of them have vintage cars parked in the garage or driveway, which they restore as a hobby. But you never know when you’ll see an older car and so it’s a treat to find one, especially parked near you, as though the car was waiting to surprise you.

Today’s find was especially fun and timely because we’ve been watching The Muppet Movie (from 1979) a lot lately. In case it’s been decades since you’ve seen it, I’ll remind you that in the film, Fozzie the Bear drives Kermit the Frog to Hollywood in a 1951 bullet-nosed Studebaker
Commander. Just yesterday this movie was on and so the Studebaker was still on my mind today. Imagine my glee at discovering that a car very similar to the one in the movie was parked near mine today. I took photos from lots of angles and oooh and ahhhed to myself.
Here's the Muppets' Studebaker before its makeover:

Here it is after the band Electric Mayhem gives it a colorful paint job:
Here’s the Studebaker I saw today:

This shows a close-up of what seems like an original rim. My photo of the side of the car shows newer rims on the driver’s left side and older rims on the right:

Once I got home and Googled the car in the Muppet Movie I discovered a few differences. Today’s car had a split windshield and four doors, whereas Fozzie’s has no split windshield and is a two-door model. But still! One does not see this model every day. It was in terrific shape and I
had such fun looking at it.

I looked online for photos of Studebakers and discovered a few things: there is a Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. Might put that on Bucket List. Who knows? There are whole websites dedicated to Muppets fans. (This seems reasonable to me as the Muppets are so funny and appeal to nearly everyone, but I’d never actually looked for all-Muppet websites before.) There are also great photos of cakes and cupcakes honoring the loveable creatures. My favorite photo shows the creations of two sisters who own Cupcake Occasions in Suffolk, England. They made a collection of Muppet cupcakes that are adorable and really capture the individual looks of some of our favorite Muppets:
Lessons we can learn from today’s discoveries? Enjoy the happy surprises you find. Take delight in the small joys, like photos of Muppet Cupcakes. Dread not Mondays. They may hold unexpected gifts.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Seek and you Shall Find (But it Might not be What you were Seeking!) Apr. 14, 2012

Swap meets are a mad, crazy fiesta for the senses. Today the wind thrashed through our hair and clothes, blowing wrappers away before I could catch them. The smells of barbeque tangled with the scent of incense. The air in one row was warm enough to prompt jacket-removal, but the next aisle brought cold air and jacket-retrieval. Background noise was a mix of kids’ voices, vendors’ deal-making, oldies music and airplanes overhead. Textures were different in every stall: embossed leather, bumpy grapefruits, cold metal jewelry and plastic toys. The wind blew through bamboo chimes and caused bobble-headed toys to nod emphatically.

It’s great for people watching, too. The customers are as varied as the products sold. There are people of all ethnicities and ages. Some are there just to wander, and others leave with an arc full of necessities. The stall with vintage toys may butt up against the one with new sunglasses.
Discount shoes are neighbors to antique tools, fresh fruit, old car parts and new t-shirts (5 for $10). It’s an eclectic mix. The only predictable element is its unpredictability.

Today I learned a lesson about predicting what I would find at the meet. I learned not to expect what I’d found last time. Today’s excursion was prompted by frogs. A year ago I’d bought some small ceramic frogs at this very swap meet, and I’d incorporated them into my tile mosaic art
pieces. They made a charming accent. I was ready for more frogs, and I even remembered the area of the swamp meet where I’d found them last year.

That’s where my trouble began. There’s some force in the universe at work, I’m afraid. If you go to a swap meet with a specific agenda, it’s likely you’ll be disappointed. The very make up of swap meets is a mixed assortment and the ingredients change from week to week. That is part of the
fun: stumbling across something intriguing. Of course, the downside is that you can’t always get what you got last time, and today I was reminded of that lesson.

My first stop left me frogless but I persevered. After all, it had been a year or more since I’d bought those frogs. Maybe I was fuzzy on which stall sold them. Subsequent aisles also left me frogless, and laps around the other aisles also did not yield frogs. It was a little annoying but it was fun at the same time. Wandering is therapeutic. You open yourself to possibilities when you take the time to meander. At one stall, I found some vintage rick rack for $1, and an aisle over I bought a gorgeous plant (it’s a gift so I won’t show photos of it until after it’s been given.). I’ve never seen a plant like this and I’m fascinated by its coloration.

I left without the ceramic frogs I’d hoped to find but it was not a futile experience. The swap meet is where you may stumble across a treasure. The serendipity of it is why you go. If you absolutely had to buy a specific thing that day, you’d go to a retailer. Am I a little disappointed to have left frogless? Sure. But I’ll take the trade-off. The adventure is worth it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Explaining the Self-Explanatory (April 10, 2012)

Euphemisms are so…funny. We all use them, me included. There are certain words each of us would prefer not to utter. Maybe we’re trying to be tactful or maybe it’s more about our own squeamishness. We won’t waste time arguing about which words are safe for public consumption.

But can we agree that euphemisms for certain words are just unnecessary? (Perhaps we won’t agree on this, but it’s my blog so I’ll take the stage on this issue at hand.) Today I spotted a container attached to a light pole, and even though I have no dog, I stopped to read the instructions. Perhaps I was drawn to read them because it seemed odd to me that instructions were necessary for the proper use of doggie bags. (And I’m not talking about the container you take home from a restaurant.) The photo above shows the front of the container.
What really got me going were the instructions on the side. Sometimes instructions are visuals only, so that if a visitor sees the sign and does not understand English, the message is still understood. This was not the case today. The instructions are in English and are accompanied by
a visual, but the whole reason for my blogging about this is below:

What if a non English-speaking visitor reads this sign and cannot figure out to which “nuisance” the sign refers? The visitor consults the pocket English dictionary s/he has tucked into an enormous pant pocket and feels more confused than ever. The visitor wonders how to capture pain, pests or trouble (all synonyms for “nuisance”) in a bag. How does one capture pain? Which pests need capturing? Bees? Telemarketers? How can trouble fit (willingly) into a small plastic bag? The visitor will return home bewildered by American traditions and language. Friends from home will ask about the trip to California and the answer will involve a confused ramble about trouble bags.
Sometimes the euphemistic replacement word is so sterilized that it causes you to think more and more about the word deemed unfit to say. Whereas if the original word had been used, everyone would forget about it shortly thereafter, and it would be completely unblogworthy.
So why is “poop” such a taboo word, according to the makers of these Nuisance Bags? Why can’t the instructions use that word? And really, do we actually need instruction on how to pick up nuisances, poop or ground-level trash of any sort? Anyone old enough to do it will know not to grab the nuisance with a bare hand. Do we need a movement to bring back real words? Anyone with me?!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Honey, I Shrunk the Customers (April 1, 2012)

Do you know programmatic architecture? You do, even if you don’t know the name. It refers to the type of design in which the building references the products sold within.

As you know, I dig fun and funny stuff. I am not one to need a flashy car or the most ornate finishes. So architecture that is playful, colorful and unpretentious is right up my alley. The items depicted below are all much larger than in real life, and a change in scale always makes for fun.
This is true whether you’re peering into the miniature world of dollhouses, or walking into or up to a food item twenty times its actual size. You feel as though you’ve stepped into the Rick Moranis movie in which he shrinks his kids and they sleep in tiny Lego pieces lost in the grass of their back yard. This playing with scale really gets my imagination going.

In the 1940s programmatic architecture was popular in America. Car culture was beginning and the trend was to build eye-catching, self-advertising buildings to lure customers out of their cars and into businesses, with their wallets in hand, of course! Although some people apparently found this kind of design low-brow, I can’t read enough about buildings of this era. If it’s kitsch (not necessarily an insult, I say!), so be it. Pop culture is a part of our lives. Why not have fun with it? Life needs color and humor.

Below are a few examples of programmatic architecture that I find delightful. If you want to see more buildings in unusual shapes, there are many photos available online.

Tail o’ the Pup was a hotdog stand located in LA at La Cienega and Beverly boulevards. It was built in 1946 and remained in its original location until the mid-1980s, when it was moved nearby. In 2005 the pup was moved into storage but the owners have plans to bring it back to the hungry public somwehere in LA. The city has declared it a cultural landmark:
In the 1930s in Wathena, KS, a giant apple was built to house a restaurant and dance hall. It burned down in the 1940s. The building was painted red and its chimney was shaped like a stem. While the shape does not represent exactly what was sold inside, it was eye-catching and entertaining and patrons were drawn to it:

A lemonade stand we saw at a fair a few years back deserves mention:
This truck does not fit my category of unusually-shaped buildings but I can’t resist including it. Its design clearly references its product and it is really cute:
A house that has been featured in online articles (as well as in books) about unusual dwellings is the Shoe House, built in the late 1940s near Hallam, PA. It has 1500 square feet of living space on various levels (after all, a shoe is not flat). The current owners clearly are very fond of their home, its appeal and its history. Inside, there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of shoe-themed gifts they’ve received over the years. While the building was not created as a shoe store, it was the brainchild of a man who owned shoe stores, MN Haines. He thought it would be a creative way to
advertise his business, and he even allowed people to stay in it for free. The dimensions are not typical of most detached houses: it is 48 feet long, 17 feet at its widest part and 25 feet high. The cozy feel of it might be too claustrophobic for some people but like tree houses or sloped attic walls, its small size is part of its charm:

These creations make me smile. Although the trend in restaurants seems to be building bigger places where the menu is pricier, I wish that more of these small, lighthearted buildings still existed. I’m on a roll with writing about fun buildings, so sit back and I’ll do my best to entertain.

I’ll have the Giant Pineapple, with the Door on the Side. Hold the parsley. (April 1, 2012. But this is no April Fool's joke. I love this stuff!)

Have you heard about a giant pineapple, rising fifty feet into the sky? It’s on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, on a pineapple plantation. I discovered it online a few months ago when I was looking for programmatic architecture (buildings whose shape references what is sold inside). Up popped this cheerful pineapple, and my excitement began. I do like pineapples (I made my own pineapple costume last Halloween, as you may recall), but my fascination with this pineapple building went beyond my own fondness for the prickly yellow ovals.

Buildings that surprise us are simply awesome. Most buildings are concerned with being level and plumb, and I understand that whole stability detail. But think about how many buildings you’ve seen in your life. Hundreds of thousands? How many of them involve square corners, some variation on a box? Almost every single one. That’s why it’s so startling and thrilling to see a building created with a completely different approach.

This pineapple building flouts tradition in its lack of square corners, which I appreciate (remember my blog about the Quonset hut?). But it also appeals to me because it is playful, as I am, and most buildings aren’t designed with that quality in mind. Most buildings strive to be elegant or serious or functional. Playfulness is not a main design ideal. I say we need more buildings that are fun as well as functional. Life isn’t just about function. There needs to be
enjoyment along the way.

I’m brought back to the books and tv shows I loved as a child. Smurfs lived in curvy mushroom houses. Bears lived in trees converted into houses, complete with front doors. Winnie the Pooh’s friends all lived in houses carved into the trunks of trees. Richard Scarry’s books were populated by animals driving cars shaped like pickles, apples and eggs.

I spent a lot of happy childhood hours immersed in a creative universe in which function and square corners were not the dictating elements. No wonder I’m not fazed by buildings of unusual shapes—I’m mesmerized by them! (And who penned the memo that we outgrow a need to be amused? Most kids’ books and movies involve a suspension of reality to some degree. That’s why they’re fun. Talking frogs? Bears in dresses, driving pickle cars? No wonder kids laugh so much more than adults do. We need to reintroduce silliness to most adults. If adults laughed more, I think we’d have a happier world. I’m not saying that all grown-up problems can be solved with apple-shaped cars. But laughter is healing and grown-ups need some fun, too.)

There are too many fanciful buildings to discuss in one blog piece. I’ll break it into bite-sized pieces and we’ll have a few chats about fun architecture. All this talk is making me yearn to add a fun, curvy room to the front of our house: maybe a pineapple! Hubby is great with tools and could frame it up, I could cover the whole thing with mosaic and sew vintagy-looking curtains (with pineapple fabric) for it. Hubby is pretty tolerant of my wacky ideas, but this might be a bit much for him. Must persuade him somehow. I can see it now. Directions to our house would be so easy: take the freeway to the second exit, go south, and look for the giant fruit out front!

The Artists and the Eggs (April 1, 2012)

We dyed eggs a few days ago, using colors from a kit that transforms eggs into gorgeous pieces of art. The marbling and speckling effects come from a combination of oil and water in each dye color, because oil and water have a turbulent relationship. I was so charmed by the results that I took thirty or so photos. With great restraint I am posting only three of them here. Aren’t they pretty?