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Monday, October 8, 2018

Take Me out to the Parkway….


August: on a sunny San Diego Saturday I’m not at the beach, the bay or the salon. I’m covered in dirt, shoveling soil at home. It’s 81 degrees. Sweat is dripping down my front, my back, my face. I’m the essence of glamour.

No one is forcing me to toil like this on a weekend. This choice is mine. The parkway strip between the street and the sidewalk desperately needs a makeover and so 81 degrees or not, I’m moving dirt, getting blisters, waving at neighbors, and sweating. I love it.

This makeover is mostly about decreasing the number of weeds in the parkway strip in front of our house. We have been here fifteen years, and for a lot of that time, certain projects simply had to wait. I have three kids to keep alive. But the kiddos are more self-sufficient now, and this summer I decided that the Natural Look (aka weed patch) had reached its expiration date. This is a chance to give a new look to the front of our house. My requirements: it must be low maintenance, visually interesting, and budget friendly.


Removing the weeds is easier said than done. They’re hearty and stubborn and they’ve dug in their heels. It is taking a lot of shovel work to dislodge them. They are the cockroaches of the plant world—hard to eliminate and they like to crop up in unexpected places, even when you think you got them all.

Here is a photo of the parkway strip before the makeover:



It has some personality, with the pops of blue and my succulents. But the weeds are not part of the look I want. Yet how do you get rid of them? Weed cloth was under all the weeds in front, and still, weeds grew. So I’m digging up all the weeds, and I will pour concrete pavers in the front. I’m going to reposition the blue planters I created a year ago and use plants I already have. Concrete for the pavers is inexpensive and I am reusing our river rock. Frugal and Fabulous is the theme.








September: several times during this project I have questioned my own sanity. I love challenging myself, but where is the line between a healthy challenge and self-torture? It’s blurry. At times progress feels slow. But I can see the progress, and this feels satisfying. When you have young kids, there are so many chores that never seem to be completed. (See: laundry, cooking and dish-washing.) The moment you finish certain chores, they start piling up again. So seeing the progress in Operation Dirt is encouraging. Also, I’m getting a great workout for my back, arms, shoulders and legs. I’m doing it all myself, which feels good. Or crazy. It alternates.




Here are the stats:

·         1,740 pounds of dry concrete mix is what I used. (The weight once I added water? Heavy.)

·         43 feet by 4 feet is the size of the parkway strip.

·         36 pavers is how many I created.

·         $18 dollars is what I spent on mosaic pieces and stained glass. (I smashed them into  slivers, so I got a lot of bang for my buck).

·        101 bricks were used (free from Craigslist!).


·         Gallons of sweat rolling off my body? Countless.









Late September: I have been mixing and shoveling hundreds of pounds of concrete. I’m feeling pretty fierce! But my forearms feel like they have been trampled by a gorilla. Still, I’m making progress and the weeds are gone.


Some days I look at my project and feel like Sisyphus, rolling the boulder up a hill only to have it crash down. Will I ever be finished? Other days I look at my work and feel self-conscious about my mistakes. And on certain days I like how it all looks, and I am proud that I gave it a try. Stepping out of my comfort zone is helping me to grow.






In the grand scheme of things, this project is not super important. Being a good mom and a decent person are much more important to me than how the parkway strip looks. But I see this strip many times each day and giving it a makeover is giving me a lift. (And blisters.) Making it look better is worth my effort. My neighbors’ gardens give me a boost, so if something colorful in our yard also gives our neighbors a boost, it’s a win-win.

And isn’t that how life is? Oftentimes it’s the small things that give a lot of satisfaction…. 





Thursday, October 4, 2018

Scottish Bowling




Twenty one years ago, this blog post planted its roots. In September 1997 I moved into an apartment in North Park, and for two years I drove by an iconic building almost daily. I’ve only been in it twice, but this week I finished a painting of this fascinating place. It’s the Scottish Rite Center in Mission Valley, and it’s enormous. Among other things, it has a 10,000 square foot ballroom for trade shows.

If you’re bored, stay tuned. This building had a different function in the 50s. It was A. Happening. Spot.

The center is right by Interstate 8 and the Texas Street offramp, which was my exit. That freeway, that offramp and certain San Diego landmarks have a really special place in my heart. My apartment wasn’t anything glamorous (think peeling linoleum), but the first place you live on your own—the first place you choose, where you’re the queen of the castle—those are powerful memories.  


But back to the building. It was built in 1957 as a bowling alley with 55 lanes and a lounge with a live band. In 1965 it became the Scottish Rite Center. This is how the building looked originally, when it was Bowlero. I love its style and personality.

A vintage advertisement from when The Scottish Rite Center was Bowlero (1957-1965).

I wish I could go back in time for a night to experience the fun of this place in the late 1950s.

But let’s get back to why I painted the building. I love design from the 50s and 60s. This building is a classic example of midcentury-modern architecture, with its dramatic peaked roof, and angled steel support beams. It also has a butterfly roof, which was a popular design feature in the 1950s. The 50s were the days of car culture, and roadside architecture from those days was created to catch the eye of drivers cruising around town. Motels, restaurants, bowling alleys and car washes featured giant signs with pointed arrows, neon, soaring roofs, or dramatic steel canopies—or all of these at once—to attract potential customers. The center’s huge, covered walkway was not designed to protect people from the annual few inches of rain San Diego received. No, at least in California, architecture was more about grabbing attention rather than providing shelter from the elements. Many buildings from the 50s no longer exist here, so when I find one that still has its original flair, I want to capture its style in a painting.



I began painting this building in early August, on a day when temperatures were in the 80s. While paint dried on my paper, sweat slid down my back. Hey, we artists suffer for our work. 



That August morning I set up shop in the back of my car. Tailgaiting a la Sarah. By coincidence--not planning--I had a few binder clamps and a towel in the back of my car, so I set up a sun shade by clamping the towel to the open rear hatch. It was my portable studio, and I appreciated the shade. First, I drew in the major lines of the building in pencil, using a ruler. I don’t always use a ruler when painting but I wanted to capture the sharp midcentury angles. 

Underpainting in orange.

Next, I did a layer of orange underpainting. Most of it would be covered but I left a little bit peeking through here and there, just for added interest and contrast.  

Here is how the building looks these days.

The painting turned out okay but I didn’t feel like it captured how cool the building is. So I came back recently to try again. I still got sweaty but it was cooler than when I painted here in August. I’m happier with the second version (below).









After I painted, I walked up the hill behind the building. The photo below shows the Scottish Rite Center from above. You can see that the main part of the (huge) building is a modified Quonset hut, which was a popular design, post-WWII. 

From the hill above. This place is enormous....

And so, more than two decades after first noticing this eye-catching building, I have painted it. That’s satisfying. Many people might not choose to paint on a hot morning, standing on asphalt, a few feet from a noisy freeway. But for me, it was awesome. The freeway sounds became a peaceful hum of background noise. The sweat reminded me that doing something meaningful has its cost—and that it’s worth it. I completed a painting I like, and studied some cool architecture. Sweaty mission accomplished. The center may not house bowling lanes anymore, but I feel like I bowled a strike.