Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Trip to the Desert

It wouldn't be the New Year without a trip to Joshua Tree National Park. We used to go hiking there with the kids all the time, heck, they practically grew up in the desert, scrambling over rocks, scaling impossible heights, dining on powerbars while sitting on majestic thrones of giant boulders. For anyone who's ever been there, you know of what I speak: Joshua Tree has a special draw, a kind of energy I haven't found anywhere else in the world.

On the drive out with Tom, I felt lethargic, uninspired, but after breakfast at the Country Kitchen, the Cambodian-run place across from the West entrance, I immediately perked up. We parked at Keyes Ranch and hiked across that incredible expanse of flats and washes, with chollas, manzanitas and Joshua trees, towards Barker Dam, keeping an eye out for the bobcat we saw there once. I walked ahead and stopped, listening: there was absolute dead silence.... then, on the periphery of sound, a jet streaking across the sky, the 'whee whee' of a tanager, and in time, the crunching of Tom's footsteps up to me. I was wide awake and happy. And so— even if our kids aren't spending as much time with us as I'd like, at least they're happy, and here in the desert, we're happy too.

 Tom's ideal garden

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas Chickens!

Merry Christmas Chickens!

Merry Christmas Dogs!    

Merry Christmas Turtles!

Merry Christmas Hogs!

Merry Christmas Ratties!

 Merry Christmas Ravens!

Merry Christmas Baby Jayan!

Merry Christmas Husband and Daughter!

Merry Christmas Son!
And to Everyone

Merry Christmas
 a Happy New Decade!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cruising Highland Park

I thought I'd take this opportunity to give a pictorial tour around Highland Park, the community that sits to the north east below Mt. Washington —home of the notorious Avenues gang—in order to answer a question posed in an earlier post as to the whereabouts of the wicked looking Micky Mouse.

Micky is on the back wall of The Highland, the oldest movie theater in the area, at Figueroa and Ave. 56, on the south side of the street...

...across from a community garden called Milagro Allegro. The director Nicole Gatto and community members broke ground in February of this year.

Micky is part of a series of murals by various artists, in the alleys and parking lots off Figueroa. If you drive down the alley behind the theater and look to your left you'll find Micky.

Other murals can be found in a continuous row from Ave. 57 to Ave. 60 on both sides of the street.


This last mural is painted on the wall of Monte Vista Elementary, at Monte Vista and Ave. 54, a school in the middle of the 'hood, where children are trained to hit the ground on hearing gunfire from feuding gangs. The intrepid reporter Steve Lopez wrote that the children at the school have been caught in the middle of such madness "far too often." I believe though this is a mural of hope and endurance.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wasted Tears

On Wednesday, I was so anxious for my daughter to come home from college I kept bursting into tears, really just pent up emotions hoping everything would be okay. And, of course, it was. When I got home from work, there she was, curled under blankets sleeping on the couch. Thirty minutes later, she went out with friends. It's so wonderful having her home again!

Kids don't mean to make their parents cry, but they do. Recently, my friend told me she'd been crying over a problem concerning her daughter every night for weeks, even in her car, listening to sad music to cry some more. But then remarkably the situation resolved itself. She laughed at herself for the homemade drama but I couldn't stop thinking about all those wasted tears.

Which leads in a circuitous way to a story I've been meaning to tell about my brother David and I when we were kids.

On trips to Florida, my father would bring home painted turtles, no bigger than a silver dollar. We'd play with them for a few days and then they'd die. Afterward, David and I'd have an elaborate burial ceremony between our yard and the neighbors', where we'd place the deceased in a box and proceed solemnly from the driveway to a spot under the magnolia. But one time, as soon as we bent down to place the turtle in the ground, it started wriggling around... then stopped. We began again: we walked to the end of the line, crying and saying our prayers, and the damn thing started up again. We did this over and over until, finally, we buried it. It seems cruel now, but I can imagine my brother and I thinking as we made that long march: Why waste all those good tears?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Now for the Holidays

First night of Hanukkha/Chanukha/__________ (your spelling here).     

Zen Koan for today: If you're home alone with no kids around, does Chanukha make a sound? I'm pretty sure the answer is no. I lit the candles anyway, on my daughter's plastic preschool plate and thought of her faraway... but not for long. She's coming home next week, and my son the week after. I'm anxious/excited/thrilled for the holidays to begin; I'm ready to stop working, to cook for my kids again (I'll make latkes, promise), to complain ad naseum that I have no time to do anything. I really can't wait.

Regarding a previous post about seasons, or lack thereof: Mea culpa. I was wrong!

We do have seasons. It's cold as heck in L.A. (abnormally wet, i.e. it's raining like crazy). We even had our first snowfall a few days ago, covering the tops of the San Gabriel Mts (here overlooking Highland Park) and beyond, in Big Bear.

                                 But nothing like Rhode Island!

   And for more proof: trees have lost their leaves.

From my meditation bench in Oct.                       

From my meditation bench in Dec.

Still, we have freaky flowers like these blooming: don't they know it's winter?


Let the Holidays begin!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Channeling Cynthia

Three years ago, almost to the day, I attended a Supreme Court hearing in Washington, DC, lining up at 3:30 a.m. on the coldest day of the year!

Afterward, I had lunch with my new friend Cynthia Dailard, a senior policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank devoted to women's health issues. We'd met earlier in L.A. and liked each other instantly; we'd been emailing back and forth ever since.

We had a great lunch and when we said good-bye I hugged her, and then for no reason, I hugged her again. A few weeks later our family went overseas and when we got back in January, I had a voicemail telling me Cynthia had died of cardiac arrest, caused by a previously undetected heart defect. She was 38, and left behind two small children and her husband of 14 years. To add to the tragedy she died the day before Christmas, Dec. 24, 2006.

As the holidays approach, she's been on my mind a lot.

She'd emailed me about a piece in The New Yorker called, "The Swamp Nurse," by Katerine Boo. Cynthia had covered the same material in a policy review showing how home nurse visits were instrumental in preventing subsequent pregnancies among poor teen moms. She'd put together an amazing array of evidence as to the importance of funding such projects, over the $176 million spent annually on abstinence-only education through the Bush administration. But she felt her piece "paled in comparison" to Boo's, whom she called an incredible writer. At lunch she'd quizzed me about my writing, how I'd started, what I was doing, how one makes it as a freelancer.  She talked about branching out beyond writing policy papers, into something more creative. I didn't exactly come right out and tell her I wasn't making it, although I did tell her it was difficult; but I encouraged her to try because she seemed so darn excited about the possibilities.

When she died Senators Olympia Snowe and Hillary Clinton submitted a Congressional Resolution honoring her work as a women's health advocate.

Their resolution can by found on the Cynthia Dailard memorial website.

It's hard not to read/hear/talk about the health care bill without thinking of Cynthia, knowing she'd be front and center, writing about the importance of decent coverage for everyone, especially, young and poor women. Today the Senate announced they're dropping the kind of equitable public option we'd all prayed for, in lieu of increasing national coverage in the health insurance market. Huh? I'm sorry Cynthia's not here to shed some of her brilliant light on the subject.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rubbernecking in South L.A.

Okay, I'm no genius, but I did foresee a money making opportunity that I'm sorry now I didn't rush into production while there was still time. Unfortunately, no proof exists that I actually thought this thing up except for the 'reject file' of my blog, an entry titled, " Moms and Pops of Invention" about hard times and entrepreneurial jobs.

Here's what I proposed:
"Crime scene tourist guide. The industrious people of Mumbai have set up shop, guiding tourists around Colaba, site of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel terrorist attacks that occurred last year. Be the first on your block to open your own home travel agency, taking tourists around Highland Park and areas beyond to show them scenes of gang crimes."

And then came yesterday's front page headline in the Los Angeles Times:  "The 'hood as a tourist attraction." Whoa!

The article informs us that a group of civic activists will be offering bus tours to some of the grittier parts of the city including, "decayed public housing, sites of deadly shootouts and streets ravaged by racial unrest."

I can't believe they stole my idea!
They're calling it "L.A. Gang Tours." The operation has a social justice, or I should say, injustice component to it, no doubt, as the organizers want to show how the economic engine has detoured around the poor and black/brown people of this city, to which no one can argue.

But I can't help but snicker when I read that Terry Jensen, one of the backers, thinks this is the next big destination tour that will draw people to L.A. Jensen is owner of the Seattle based Duninger Corp., an engineering and real estate investment firm, and inventor of "Jakpak" the jacket that turns into a tent, useful if you're homeless ....or going camping.

There's something a little cynical about making money while touring sites like the South Central bus stop where, "five children and three adults were shot in gang crossfire last year." I was just kidding when i was thinking up new jobs. The word that comes to mind for this, which ironically I taught to my class last week, is rubbernecking.