Saturday, December 30, 2006

Private Drive - Friday 12/28/2006

We took a drive down one of the many private roads of Acton yesterday. I'd driven most of this road with my mom about a year ago, but the unpaved part was rough on my little Toyota and we didn't make it all the way through.

Hydra and I took the Tahoe and did just fine. We drove very slowly and waved at everyone we met so we wouldn't look like interlopers. There's quite an enclave of houses down this valley. Everything from a few gigantic mansions to one gigantic mess of a place with old heavy machinery and trailers and cars scattered all over about 5 acres surrounding a house.

One of the things I found interesting was that the deeper we got into the valley, the more houses posted No Trespassing signs.

One place had a dozen or so longhorns with their horns cut off and this little calf sort of caught my eye.

Really, there's nothing more to say!

And then we got home, and the sun was cutting across the hill behind our house. I love this. You can stand here in the late afternoon and watch the shadow creep up. I love to sit out here in the summer and witness the way we spin away from the sun.

See the moon up there in the upper right?

Sir Knight - Thursday 12/28/2006

Hydra pointed this out to me on our way down to Valencia to see a movie and run some errands.

This house was just built a few months ago, and see that? There's a suit of armor on the front porch.

Now that's unusual. Hydra thought I'd like it. Even better, while we paused there for a few seconds to get the shot, a biker guy in full leathers came out on the porch and looked down at us.

What? You think you can come to our quiet little town and put a suit of armor on your porch and people are not going to look? Isn't that kind of the point?

Or are there just too many other suits of armor inside, and this is spillover?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Wind - Wednesday 12/17/2006

Winds were startlingly high in Lancaster, CA on Wednesday. To the point where you had to lean into it a little just to stay upright.

This is a photo of the clouds that were being blown past the theater where we spent about half the day.

We saw Dreamgirls and Rocky Balboa yesterday. Early matinee, lunch and errands, late matinee. Oh sweet indulgence!

Both movies surprised me. I didn't realize there was so much story in Dreamgirls. And the music, though not very Motown, is used in a very interesting way. You don't really hear the songs they are singing, you hear the emotional content behind the songs and their reactions to what's going on between them. Pretty smart stuff. It got to the point where every time the amazing Jennifer Hudsdon opened her mouth to sing, I started to tear up.

If you have any affection at all for the Rocky movies, this is a great ending story for the character. This one and the first one are the best in the franchise, because they stay close to the character they don't have silly villians. I was very happily surprised. There were lines here and there that sounded so like the old Rocky, it was kind of like seeing an old friend again.

It also made me think about Stallone's contribution to film in general. Rocky was a very successful independant film five years before Sundance first launched. It probably had a lot to do with the rise of indies.

The first and last Rocky films are really about trying to reach your dreams and about self-respect for best efforts. They so captured a part of the U.S. pysche that effects from the movies recently became part of the Smithsonian's collection.

Okay, and here's the other connection between wind and Rocky, that I hadn't even thought about till I wrote this. Rocky III may have saved our lives. Hydra and I saw it together in Fort Wayne, IN. We liked it so much we stayed in the theater and saw it again. When we got back to the place we usually parked our car outside our apartment, a huge tree had fallen (due to a big wind storm) and taken out a powerline on its way down. It was very startling to see the tree where our little car would have been...but it was even more chilling when we got upstairs and found that the power had gone out at the exact time we would have arrived home if we hadn't stayed for the second showing.

Cue spooky music!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Old Things - Tuesday 12/26/2006

I find using old things very comforting. I'm not hugely into antiques, but I love the idea that this cup has graced other tables in other times. I gave a few very old things as gifts this year...a pretty silver spoon engraved with the year '04 (as in 1904), and a pretty porcelain ladle, amongst them.

The inventive and super-sneaky Hydra managed to smuggle this gorgeous teacup out of the antiques mall without my knowing it. I have a number of teacups, so I really can't justify buying another.

This one is truly unique to my "collection," because of the shape. I don't have any others with that slight curve inward at the top. Violets and Johnny-Jump-Ups are near and dear to my heart, since they dotted the back yard when I was a little kid. My sister made me violet leaf salads when I had a cold, because they were said to have helpful nutrients in them.

My writing practice usually starts with a cup of tea, as it did this morning, with this new cup to accompany me.

I'm grateful that Hydra supports my creative life and my silly fascination with tea and tea things.

Books! Tuesday 12/26/2006

Since Liz asked, and I was so weirdly thrilled at the idea of sharing the titles of my new books, here's another photo for today.

From bottom to top:

I Like You by Amy Sedaris, just for fun.

The Joy of Cooking because my dear mum saw how Dodger has torn up my beloved old copy and sent me a shiney new one.

Thirteen Moons
by Charles Frazier, because I loved Cold Mountain

Best American Short Stories 2006
, because it's traditional and I enjoy it

Best American Travel Writing 2006
because I am thinking about doing some of my own.

The Gun Seller
by Hugh Laurie because I'd mentioned I was way down on the holds list at the LAPL, given the author's newfound U.S. fame (I've known about him since his Fry & Laurie days, but did not know about this 1996 novel)

A Writer's Paris by Eric Maisel because we're going there this spring!

If you'd like to see what I read in 2006, it's all here.

Christmas Day - Monday 12/25/2006

What a good day! We opened Christmas presents from people in other states first thing, along with a couple of items from each other. Then trekked the 100+ miles to the cousins' house in OC--stopping on the way for coffee in Pasadena--and were greeted with this amazing proliferation of poinsettias!

For you folks in less fortunate climates, please note that the bush on the left is actually in the ground! The others came from Home Depot and were distributed amongst us as we left. Two of them are in front of our fireplace right now.

This Bird of Paradise unfolded rather spectacularly in the front yard. It was a bright sunny day in the upper seventies. Shutterbug, who's been here several times this year, was hoping to see this in bloom. Unfortunately, it has to be a virtual view. (It also rained every time she was here...not fair!)

Hydra, left to his own devices, brewed a pot of the coffee that was one of his gifts this year and found his own coffee mug. Isn't that a creamer?

Traffic was great going down and not bad coming back. Traffic is always part of the story in SoCal, unfortunately. We talked to friends and family on the phone during the day, ripped lots of wrapping paper, and shared lots of surprises.

Thanks to Hydra and my mom I have a big stack of books vying for my attention right now. One of which I was #267 on the LAPL holds list for the last time I checked!

Christmas Cards and Way Deep Thoughts - Sunday, 12/24/2006

I love putting up the Christmas cards we receive. This year Hydra and I wrapped the pantry door with gold paper as a background.

Neither of us is religious, but we both love Christmas.

Most cultures set aside days upon which to celebrate things that they deem spiritually or socially valuable. There are reasons why we tend to do these things around the same times of the year, because all our roots spring from the natural cycles of the earth.

We mark the season in which the sun begins to return to us because even in warmer climes, we are happier in the light. When the days begin to grow longer, it's a sign that the planet is still working correctly on its most basic levels.

For me, the season between winter solstice and the changing of the calendar year (in my part of the world) is a time for reflection, assessement and sustaining connections. I write to people I haven't written to in a year, but whom I still hold dear. I think about the things I hoped for in the past year, and take a look at how I rose to the challenges, or didn't. I look ahead to the coming year with hope, and renewed energy, and sometimes a little trepidation.

I hope everyone finds her or his time of the year to stop and look at what you're up to, and be sure to give yourself credit for what you have done that has provoked some thought or provided some joy.

Dance a little jig for the movement of the moon and stars. Do it when no one can see you.

It might just make you stupid happy, and that might be just what you need.

I See Dead Santas -- Saturday 12/23/2006

These inflated Christmas displays are pretty, but just wrong on so many levels. Most especially, when they are turned off during the day, which sort of tarnishes the magic (while at least granting a respite from the vacuum cleaner sound of the blower that inflates them).

Um, no honey, Santa's just-- resting his eyes.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Three Squashes and a Pomegranate - Saturday 12/23/2006

What can I say? I am endlessly fascinated with food.

Each of these squashes had cooking instruction stickers on them, and they were just 88 cents a pound at Food 4 Less. All pretty much the same recipe: cut in half, lay cut side down in a pan of water, and bake for a varying amount of time in a 350 degree oven. I hope they will taste a little different from each other.

The dilemma: try them all during the week, or save them and serve them as part of our vegetarian New Year's Eve dinner, for comparison sampling??

The pomegranate is there for moral support and color-interest. Pomegranates: you burn about as many calories picking the juicy bits out as you take in by eating them.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pretty and Cold - Friday 12/22/2006

We both had the day off on Friday, so we went into Palmdale to finish up our gift shopping. It was low-pressure and fun. The wind was cold, but the sky was gorgeous as we headed into town on Sierra Highway.

On the way home, Hydra pointed this out to me! At this time of day--around 3pm--at this time of year, the sun illuminates the rocks at the Devil's Punchbowl and you can see them from Palmdale! I had no idea!

They are the lighter ridge just above the telephone pole. These are massive sedimentary rocks that have been pushed almost verticle in some places. It's a great place to hike, and one of the things that initially drew us to this area. We hike there at least once a year.

The Devil's Punchbowl Natural Area is an L.A. County park, located about 2 hours from downtown L.A. There's a terrific short (1 1/4 mile) hike down to the middle of the rocks, where a stream runs in the late winter and into spring. There's usually snow there during parts of the winter, too.

Gifties! - Thursday 12/21/2006

This is one of the cute little airplane chocolates that was in a gift tub from one of Hydra's friends at work. It was movie and aircraft themed, since they work in the aerospace industry and they know we like movies. A ceramic popcorn tub stuffed with popcorn, sodas, chocolates, etc. Another friend sent home a cute Santa candle and a bottle of wine.

We're set for watching White Christmas in style on Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Some Days Are More Interesting Than Others - Wednesday 12/20/2006

When I got to work this morning, I found this in the photocopy machine. It's a holiday greeting from my boss's almost 8-year-old daughter to her family. It started my work day with a big warm smile.

Thanks, Peachy, for letting me post your daughter's sentiments. I couldn't have said it better!

I'm actually glad that the first photo of the day had slipped my mind, or I might not have gotten this one. Do you know what this is?

Ween and I took lunch and DVDs to our pal, Scryblgrrl, who is under the weather these days. We had a great chat with her and her mom, the energetic and entertaining Ms. Boop. On the way out, Ween brought this to my attention.

We were all the way out on the street when I said, "You know, I'm not going to see anything better than that today!" So we went back and made Ms. Boop come down and open the security door for us.

This, my friends, is a mid-2oth Century remote door opener! Scryblgrrl demonstrates how you open and shut the door at the bottom of the stairs with this cool gadget. It's completely built into the wall.

Pretty clever. Also speaks of a time when you could comfortably leave the bottom door unlocked (there's a lockable door at the top of this private entrance stairway). Makes me wonder what other subtle marvels lurk around this old Hollywood neighborhood.

Currently Making Me Happy: Paul Simon - Tuesday 12/19/2006

My man, Paul! I had this on LP as a kid, and listened to it all through middle school and high school. I remember being in my room, thinking that what he inspired in me in parts of this album was melancholy. It was probably a kind of new word to me. It's still the perfect word.

Besides the hits on this ("Mother and Child Reunion" and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard"), I loved "Peace Like a River," and "Paranoia Blues." Listening to this CD over the past couple of days, I realize that I didn't understand the songs fully. But I kind of like the kid who connected with this music. The songs are even better than I realized.

Another Sunset - Monday 12/18/2006

I just wasn't quick enough to get the last of the bright shaft of light that was illuminating parts of the mountains just seconds earlier. Still, the sky was pretty.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - Sunday 12/17/2006

You probably can't see it, but this pine cone--from the tree in our front yard--has frost on it. It's been coooold here, for SoCal. We usually get down below freezing a few times up here at about 3,500 feet, but it's come early and often this year.

Frost on the strip of grass along the road leading out of our neighborhood. Hydra had more faith than I did that this photo would come out all right! Glad he did.

View from the viewpoint off the 14 North, just before Palmdale--about 10 miles from our house. I was trying to show the snow on the mountains beyond, but the aquaduct and reservoir in the foreground kind of stole their thunder, huh?

Below: Bird alert! Mltt! Avert your eyes!

Just liked the look of this starling on a shopping cart. There were a couple of others goofing around inside another cart, but the shot just didn't work out.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chocolate Joy - Saturday 12/15/2006

I think I showed great restraint by not immediately tucking into the Godiva chocolates I received, along with a Barnes & Noble gift gard, in the Secret Santa gift exchange on Friday.

Christmas Celebration - Friday 12/15/2006

I missed yesterday's Christmas lunch, but my coworkers generously decided to wait until Friday afternoon to exchange our Secret Santa gifts. We also exchanged cards, which I hung across the entrance to my half of the office I share with One-L, on some garland.

Festive, if slightly out of focus.

No. There was no egg nog involved in this loss of focus.


Becoming - Thursday 12/14/2006

Thursday was also the day that my writing group celebrated the birthday of the Elegant E. A day of dichotomies.

I wanted to post this image because I feel kind of excited about having created it. I took the photo and played with it in Photoshop, and the color-faded background color was a fortuitous Inkjet accident. I thought a great deal about the project Elegant E is working on right now, and about her, when I put this together. (The image is not of the E.)

This image went on the cover of a hardbound notebook like the ones I've been writing in for the past ten-plus years.

The Days Just Go On Being Beautiful - Thursday 12/14/2006

This plant, for instance, keeps on catching the sunlight outside Aunt Muriel's patio door, even though she's no longer here to enjoy it.

Today was the memorial. It was really lovely to have a glimpse of the friends and traditions that Aunt Muriel cherished. Hydra gave a truly lovely eulogy in which he mentioned that wherever she was, she always carried home with her. Then he sang, "Who Will Watch the Home Place?" by Kate Long and I tried to harmonize, but it was very emotional. The family asked me to write a memorial poem, so I did, and I read it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Roses in Bottles - Wednesday 12/13/2006

I brought these miniature roses in from the little tree out front on Sunday. They still look pretty good, I think.

They're in little medicine bottles I bought in a second hand place in Lone Pine. The guy I bought them from said that they were dug up around the foundation of a an old house up there.

I like having old stuff around.

Make Mine a Double - Tuesday 11/12/2006

...espresso, that is.

Bob's was closed for the morning, so I headed for the Starbucks next door. I don't often drink coffee, but when I do, I really enjoy it.

I adore espresso with a little sugar and a little cream. It reminds me of cafes in Europe. I like the cups, the dark flavor, the aroma.

It's good to shake up the routine a bit every now and again.

Schitzo Radio - Monday 12/11/2006

Okay, I know that schitzo has nothing to do with mulilple personalities in the new DSM, but you know what I'm saying when I use the word.

I love NPR, but listening to it as my little Echo and I wind through the mountains on the way to and from work can be a bit surreal. I have three options for NPR (KCRW at 89.9 or 88.1 and KPCC at 89.3), which would be really wonderful if any of them were available uninterrupted by static or other stations.

89.9 just fizzes in and out. 88.1 is overlapped by KKJZ, a jazz station out of Cal State Long Beach. This has caused me to miss a couple of cell phone calls as I attributed the muffled beat of my be-boppin’ ring tone to a jazz encroachment.

89.3, on the other hand, is overridden by a Christian station whose preachers seem particularly vehement about social ills. Imagine concentrating on a wonderful Terri Gross interview or an All Things Considered arts profile only to be told that you had darn well better repent right this instant.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lions in Winter - Sunday 12/10/2006

The family circled the wagons at our house on Sunday.

After brunch, we went and peeked through the fences at Shambala, Tippi Hedron's lion rescue operation, which is about 5 miles from our house. Hydra and I haven't visited the place for a tour yet, but we've stopped by several times to look in. Usually, the lions and tigers are down in the bottom of the little valley. These guys were just about 15 feet from us.

The real highlight was when one of these big males started roaring. I captured some bad video but good audio. You can hear it on YouTube. [EDIT: Okay, not yet, but I'm working on it.]
We also drove up Aliso Canyon road, toward the snow. It was 41 degrees up there. Too cold for our thin SoCal blood!

Wee Blue Notebook - Saturday 12/9/2006

My mom sent me this little notebook that I carried around when I was 14 and 15. I had regular big notebooks I was journaling in, but this was for flashes of inspiration.
It's pretty embarrassing, how seriously I took myself. It's interesting to see how into the natural world I was then, as now. Can't stop myself writing about it.
That, and love poems to my unrequieted first love. Now, I'm pretty sure he was gay, but I'm not sure whether he ever came out. I know he got married after college. I hope he's found a way to be happy, because he was a really good guy.
It was amazing, looking at this after all these years. In some instances, I could remember exactly where I was when I wrote the words. My nicest little insight came while riding the team bus with the players and cheerleaders to a basketball game. I was there as a reporter for the school paper. I had a moment of feeling isolated, looking at my reflection in the dark window, and then noticing one of the best players staring out his own window, probably feeling pretty much the same thing.
When I read him some of the lines, laughing, Hydra said I was being too hard on my younger self. I guess you have to write all the trite out of your system in order to get to the more interesting stuff.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Finding Ways to Say Goodbye - Friday 12/8/2006

I'd be willing to bet that Aunt Muriel had this mischevious look in her eye at some point during each of her 95 years. Did she just recite one of those Cockney hand-me-down rhymes she learned as a kid?

This photo was taken last Christmas. She's wearing the crown that came out of her Christmas cracker.

Aunt Muriel passed away very early Friday morning, in her sleep.

She had a great sense of humor and uncommon common sense. She was a voracious reader and a wonderful storyteller and conversationalist. She was an LPN. She took care of her sister and both brothers in their last days.

I will always feel grateful to have known her, and to have felt her love. Lucky to have gotten her in the bargain when I married Hydra.

We spent part of the morning in this park with family. The memorial will be next week.

We'll all miss Aunt Grandma sharply for a long, long time.

Tea Kettle - Thursday 12/7/2006

Today I felt well enough to get up and make some tea. This is progress.

Thanks in no small part, I am sure, to the Thai hot and sour soup Hydra picked up on the way home last night.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

My Pillow, My Friend - Wednesday 12/6/2006

Ugh. Spent the whole day in bed. Some kind of weird cold. Puffy eyes, dizzy, very sleepy.

Magical Mystery Tour - Tuesday 12/5/2006

Tammy took me for a mystery hike. She thought I'd like this place, and I did. We went looking for a hot springs that she'd seen Huell Howser do a story on in California's Gold, a wonderful local travel show. We couldn't find it. Neither could the six women we talked to at The Trails Cafe later.

View of the Griffith Observatory from the trail we were on. You can hike up to the observatory from this side, but we didn't go that far.

Part of the menu at the Trails Cafe, which looks like a hamburger shack and has only picnic tables around it. The tomato tart was fabulous. Like, "I have to go back" fabulous. You know, we'll also give finding the spring another shot.

A picturesque basket of lemons behind the cafe. It was a great break. We were gone from work for about an hour and a half, but it felt like three.

Modeling Woes - Monday 12/4/2006

Is it just me, or does Luna seem a little embarrassed?

A Mighty Wind - Sunday 12/3/2006

It's been so windy for the past few days! Gusts up to 70 miles per hour, they said.

There's no good way to show the wind. It sure does scrub the sky clean.

It sure does bring a lot of branches down from the willow tree. Hydra gathered them up and put them in the garbage.

Night Music - Saturday 12/2/2006

Before he began to play, Chet told us that he'd dreamed of visiting Greece when he was a child in New York City in the 1930s. But it was so expensive and so far away, he never thought he'd make it. Well, he did make it in 1975, and he stood in front of the Acropolis, just as he'd always hoped he would. And he played us some tunes from the land of his parents' birth. He's a good man and an amzing player, and I suppose all of envisioned the day he was remembering.

Hydra and I recently resigned from the board of the acoustic music club that brings people like Chet, and us, and many many others together. We'd done it for a few years, and helped to deal with a big censorship issue that came up a couple of years ago. But then I found myself very uncomfortable with some of the political songs Hydra likes to do. Like I didn't want him to upset people and we were on the board and that made a difference. So we quit the board, but not the club. And I will stop with the nervous behavior and not make Hydra feel like he shouldn't do whatever songs he wants. It still makes me nervous to do something that might make people not like him or us, but that's my personal issue.

I'm not proud of wanting to conform. I just like the mostly apolitical nature of these gatherings, and I would rather not hear American love it or leave it songs. The price for that might just be not doing songs from the other end of the political spectrum. The problem came when songs about peace were labeled anti-war and there was some talk of banning them.

Hydra did a Steve Earle song about peace in Jerusalem on Saturday night, and it was beautful and I was proud of him. At least three men, including Chet, came over and shook his hand and complimented the song.

It's often hard for me to remember to not try to be likable to everyone. Hydra sets a good example of being true to one's convictions.