Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

 Happy New Year dear readers! 
See you in 2012.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Feeding the People

Good-bye Gaffers & Sattler Oven
Good-bye 50-year-old sleek modern design, 
sans bells and whistles
Good-bye burnt cookies, perfect briskets, dry chickens, 
and one dripping experimental octopus concoction. 
Good-bye my lovely old oven, 
I will miss you more than you can imagine.

Reluctantly, I must say good-bye to my old wall oven this holiday season. Two appliance guys (I won't mention any names, but DO NOT use York Appliances, they are idiots!) broke it and it can't be fixed because it's so old. Looking for a new oven brings unwanted revelations: for one, gas ovens aren't made in this size anymore, and two, the new electrical ovens have push button components, not even real clocks or knobs. 

But who am I to complain? We are still eating, we are still cooking on our stovetop (which is also 50 years old), we still have food in the pantry, unlike a lot of people— unlike the 1.7 million that go hungry in Los Angeles County every year.

Looking out onto E. 41st Street from inside the Food Bank

Last week, I visited the LA Regional Food Bank to research a story, and the statistics are staggering:
•1 out of every 6 people in LA county experiences food insecurity (i.e., a missed meal at least once a week).
•The Food Bank distributes 62 million pounds of food yearly, reaching a million people. That's 700,000 meals on the table weekly. Although food distribution has increased 70% in the last 3 years, food acquisition bottomed out this year, causing some food pantries to run out of food or close their doors. 
•The Food Bank provides after-school and summer lunches to 2,200 children, bi-weekly fresh fruit and veggies to 3,100 and weekend backpacks full of food to 1,275.
•For every $1 donated, the Food Bank provides 4 meals.
•100 on staff and 24,000 volunteers yearly. These guys are amazing!

A warehouse full of food.

Volunteers pull food from warehouse shelves... 

...and sort donations into boxes for pick-up by various agencies.

I was lucky to have Carole Tremblay, LA Food Bank's chief development officer, show me around and talk about the Food Bank's recent efforts: new incentives for fresh fruits and veggies with less dependency on commodities, color coding to help people make healthier choices, raising funds for Backpack and summer lunch programs and staying steady in this economy. We sat down later and discussed politics versus putting food on the table (i.e. Wal-Mart funded the summer lunch program). Given the Food Bank's volume, food on the table wins out every time.

Carole Tremblay viewing less than perfect apples donated to the Food Bank

As I was ending my visit, I noticed a barren lot directly across the street, home to the former South Central Farm (also known as South Central Community Garden), at one time the biggest urban garden in the U.S. In 1994, the LA Regional Food Bank was granted a revocable permit to develop the land as a community garden. Through the hard labor (and love) of the community, the garden grew, but in 2006, owner Ralph Horowitz evicted farmers in a dramatic reversal, involving hundreds of community members, the Mayor, the City Council, lawyers, injunctions, protests and bitter fallout on both sides. Today, those 14 acres of land where a Garden of Eden once bloomed lie fallow. The irony alone could kill you.

As I drove away I thought about what Carole had said at the beginning of my visit: "People think that Christmas is our busiest time of year, but that's not the case. We don't really slow down—there's the same need every day of the year." 

Please support the LA Regional Food Bank.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Animals in the 'hood

My next door neighbor continues to feed the skunks and possums, there's chickens in these them hills, and strange reindeer have been spotted, but I'm thinking differently about wildlife these days. Instead of this highfalutin attitude of "undisturbed in nature," I say, "Welcome, all ye animals to the 'hood."

The regulars at Thea's

Old possum with skunk friend

Mt. Washington Chicken

This fine specimen was just sitting there, not moving a muscle...

I mean who am I to talk? I have rats for pets. 

The Rat's Nest would like to introduce its readers to its two newest members—Blu and Lily.

 Blu is blue

Lily is shy

I haven't had pets for awhile, or been responsible for anything livelier than a house plant. I hope I'm up for the task. These rats are wild little things; I've got to keep an eye on them or they'll disappear down a hole or out the door. They're hard to hand or in a photograph:

But it's nice to have rats for the Rat's Nest again. They can always be counted on for some good laughs and bringing new life to this old blog. More to come. 

(P.S. In case you're wondering, Lily and Blu are kept in a cage, but they get out to play a few times a day...)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cole's Hill


Standing on the hill overlooking the top of the portico that houses Plymouth Rock, out past Plymouth Bay to the Atlantic Ocean, the body of water that brought to this land so much disease and destruction. In my mind I take a wide brush and wash it out: how wrong it seems, this little spot where all the tourists gather looking at a small rock that has "1620" engraved upon it and a cement patch holding it together. 

We're here in Plymouth the day after Thanksgiving, or I should say the day after the National Day of Mourning. The day of mourning began when local Wampanoag leader Frank James was silenced by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who deemed his speech about Native peoples too controversial. Since then, Thanksgiving day has been commemorated (according to the article I linked, and because we didn't see it so I don't know for sure) by mostly non-natives to remind us of the real story of the Pilgrims. This plaque on top of Cole's Hill explains...

 Massasoit standing on Cole's Hill 
looking out at a bewildering sight.

I have nothing against Thanksgiving; I look forward to it every year, but I can sympathize with this alternative sentiment; Native peoples sole purpose, it seems, was to lend a hand to those who came ashore; Pilgrims stepped on this hallowed ground and wiped the slate clean—tribes totally obliterated—and gave us their definitive version of history, a version most tourists visiting Plymouth still believe. 

Okay, now that that's aside, let me say we had a good time in Plymouth.

Tom and Maya standing at the Rock

Maya and Katrina taking in the sights

The next day in Providence, we walked out onto the old Gano Street Bridge, over the Providence River, a hangout for RISD and Brown students (and French professors). I was feeling full of thanksgiving for having my husband and kids and their friends around, being all together on this sunny day. The water and sky were an amazing shade of blue. The bridge, stuck in the permanent "up" position, was eerie in the way I remember old mechanical structures of my childhood; monuments to an earlier, more optimistic time (this bridge was part of a huge building project that included an underground tunnel that cut 5000 ft underground, built in 1908 for 2 million dollars). The tunnel is closed, but recently, college students pried the barriers open to find a skeleton of an old police car from an earlier riot and lots of vintage beer bottles. 

Here's some pix from our last day in Providence: (if you click on a pic it will display as a slide show).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On Subject

I often wonder if I could keep to one subject would my blog be better or better attended? It seems blogs that focus on one subject build an audience of interested followers, while amorphous blogs like mine pick up and drop off readers like a daladala—a Tanzanian form of public transportation—never stopping for passengers in the same place twice.

Not being able to stay on subject makes my husband weary. "Keep to one subject," he pleads. I promise I'll try, knowing it drives him crazy, but I secretly worry I won't be able to do it.

I thought of this the other day when I woke up. I looked out the window and saw a brilliant red alder tree in the morning light. 

I got so excited I began to photograph everything in sight that was red, thinking I could do this—I could do red.

Then I remembered Louise's bright red sunglasses and how they appeared as she stood on the Ernie Maxwell trail last weekend in Idyllwild.  
We'd gone up to Idyllwild for an overnight to check out the hiking trails, of which there are many. We had great hikes, good food, saw a lot of red-headed (red-bellied?) woodpeckers and came back to L.A. refreshed. I was going to write about it, but then I began to wonder, why had I never written about my road trip with my brother David? 

David had come out from St. Louis in September, the first time we'd seen each other in two years. We traveled up to wine country for a few days, tasted wine off Highway 46W, had a picnic and an ocean hike, but we also had some childish quarrels and a depressing talk about exiting this mortal plane like our father.

Last week, I'd been thinking of David when I came across an old photo album lying open in my office. There were pictures of our father, looking ridiculously young, stationed at Ashford General Hospital in West Virginia during the second war.

My father as a young Quartermaster 
(check out the sign)

After completing training, our father was sent to India, as punishment, according to him, for complaining about a superior officer. While there, he contracted malaria and spent most of his time recovering in an Indian hospital. He hated everything about India— the poverty, the filth, the poor beggars asking for handouts. He was bitter of his time in service; it didn't help that his younger brother rose to minor fame, as a Lieutenant leading a troop of Africa-Americans across North Africa.

I sat down in my office and looked at the photos he'd brought back from overseas.... and my god! What treasures. Did he take these? If so he was some kind of photographic genius. More likely, they were a set he'd picked up somewhere in a tourist shop. Alas, it's too late to ask; here are a few:


The caption reads: 
"While Sid was stationed in India he took in some of the sights."

My brother is a photographer, my son and husband are photographers and I've studied photography. Could my father have been one too? And could the malaria he contracted in India have been responsible for his erratic behavior during his life and the cause of his downward spiral at the end? All questions to ponder about his life and death....

But, boy, have I gotten off subject! 

At least I tried.

My brother David

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fall with Friends

Pumpkin patch along CA Highway 1

That's a lot of pumpkins, but we're not in Kansas anymore, we're outside of Santa Cruz, where they grow them big and plentiful. My friend Sally had her eye on this Cinderella and came away with a wheelbarrow of produce under $20. 

Sally is my oldest friend from Louisville, where our parents were friends before we were born, in another world of friendly sidewalks and running home from playing hard when you heard your name being called. We spent Passovers and Thanksgivings together for most of our childhood, and then traveled on "The Road Trip" across country in the seventies, from Louisville to Redwood City, after I dropped out of college and she'd graduated in three-years. She stayed on in California; I returned fifteen years later. Here's Sally today, as bright and buoyant as her name:

Sally in her garden

I was visiting for the weekend, and on Sunday, Sally and her husband Beem took me to "three-mile," a secluded beach along CA Highway 1 outside of Santa Cruz; Beem's been surfing there on a regular basis for 15 years, just him and the friendly sea lions, seals, mama and baby sea otters, and other stray mammals (surfers).

 Heading to three-mile through brussel sprout fields

Three-mile beach

Living in L.A. makes one (or I should say, me...) forget that there's an ocean in California, one that's easily accessible if you take the time to see it: the beauty on this day was unsurpassable, the sensual, warm air, blue sky, mediterranean-like sea. The sea lions were chillin' while Beem took on some gentle waves, and Sally and I hung on the beach.

It doesn't matter how long Sally and I've been apart, we pick up where we last left off. And isn't that the case with old friends? You don't miss a beat. You fall into that same effortless rhythm—being with someone who's known you as a child, seen you through all your blunders and dead-end runs, witnessed the unspeakable of your family history, and yet, seen you emerge, chrysalis like, on the other end. There's nothing like an old friend.


Then there are friends who know little about your childhood but like you anyway. 

On this trip I drove halfway up the coast, to Monterey, with Carla and Julie, friends for....does 10-15 years count for newer, old friends? We stopped on the way to eat at Artisan, a sustainable, local, eatery in Paso Robles.

 Julie and Carla tasting a flight of wines at Artisan.

My husband avoids places with one name. I should have known. At Artisan the atmosphere was cold, the service poor and the servings stingy, but what really pissed us off was they didn't include a biscotti with the espresso. What the heck?? Isn't that de-rigueur at a one-word restaurant? That evening, when we got to Carmel we ate at the incredible Casanova (highly recommend, even though it goes against Tom's theory) and were pleased to see that extra bit of pleasure with our coffee.

The next day I said good-bye and headed north, while my friends remained to have another day along the California coast.

Looking out over Monterey Bay towards Santa Cruz.