Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why add fool to the fire

If you ever want to hate your house, and I don’t know why you should but we all get strange cravings from time to time, just hire an inspector to look at one little thing. Like the face boards out front, or the drainage out back. Or the fireplace in the middle.

As for the last, I hired an outfit, one highly recommended by folks I trust, and A and C came by, sweet-smelling and handsome (oh yes, they were) at 8 a.m. (oh yes, they did).

“Nice,” said A, patting the brick monolith on the thigh. It looks solid.”

While C cleaned the fireplace, A climbed up on the roof. And that’s when things went south.

“Kar-een!” he said (A is German). “Kar-een! I must show you something.”

And he climbed down the ladder and played back some photos. “Who did this…this – what’s the word to describe the flashing around the chimney, I could say it in my own language …”

“Abomination?” I’m a walking App for the missing word or phrase, thanks to immigrant parents.

“Yes,” he smiled, impressed. “Exactly. Abomination. Let me tell you why we have a problem…”

Well, two things, here. First of all, on a yearly basis, I have some new roofer walk the house and tell me how every guy who ever nailed my shingles has been either an idiot or a scoundrel. I expect they’ve all been right about that.

Secondly, when it comes to almost any problem other than nouns and verbs, I don’t want the back story. I don’t want, for example, to hear all about the history of the Roman sewer system just because my bathtub won’t drain.

Similarly, I don’t want to feign interest in gunky spark plugs or my dental x-rays. I don’t want to look at my dog’s hookworms under a microscope. Why must these people continually parade the incidentals of their disgusting job in front of me, as if I didn’t have my own disgusting job to do. Just hang a dollar sign on the problem, is my motto, and I’ll take two aspirin and think about it in the morning.

But of course, no one cares what I want. For three hours today, it was nothing but, “Kar-een! Kar-een! Come here! I found something …” Of course, that last sentence never ended in “fabulous.”

The estimate to fix all these problems is … well, I don’t know how they say it in German or English, but the French have a word for it.

After they left, and as I was hanging a painting above the indoor structure which we will now refer to as the giant brick easel, it turns out A left the check behind. So twenty minutes later:

“Kar-een, it's me …”

And then, twenty minutes later, he came back again.

“Kar-een, I have a question …”

And then six hours later he delivered a 24-page pictorial of my naughty fireplace. Amazing service, really, from a company that requires a three-week wait for the initial appointment.

Anyway, A could have saved himself the fourth trip of the day. When many, many thousands of dollars stand between me and cozy, cold and bleak looks mighty appealing.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pretties for you

It's been a rough year for Santa, so apparently some of you are just going to have to learn to share. It's all about quality, not quantity.

Now let's see, how about we start with:

For PA.

For Susan Campisi, Brenda, and Musebootsi.

Three words: No Vet Bills.

For Mlle Gramaphone and Mr Earl

Now that they're both community activists, it's time somebody listened to them.

For Des, Petrea, Bec, and Katie

Why, it's practically like having your own personal sous chef.

More to come

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Let's see... and this card says...

From Santa to Margaret.

I talked to your secret Santa, the one who warms his moccasins at your tipi. He said he thought you might like the complete works of Jane Austen, first edition, delivered by Collin Firth personally.

"Oh, no no." I said. "A few lousy books and a washed up British actor for the mother of your children? The wife who just this week nursed you through a temperature of 98.68?"

So I sent him out shopping again, in spite of his 98.63 fever.

And what your Santa has for you under the tree,

is, as they say, the stuff dreams are made of.

Presents, for more of you, tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I'm kind of possessive about my hometown

Make that, fiercely possessive

And it's my plan

To get all up in the face

of those who fail to treat my wild and wooly place with the proper respect. More on Patch.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Willpower – Just say no

It has recently come to light that willpower isn’t a muscle after all; at least, not a muscle like the ab or the quad or that underachiever charged with governing the whole Louisiana Purchase known as the gluteous maximus.

Willpower doesn’t increase in strength with constant exercise. No, an entire day’s allotment of willpower is just a few pinches of fairy dust, dangerously depleted by the mere act of getting out of bed in the morning.

Every time you exercise willpower, you've weakened your ability to resist any other temptation that comes along. Use it, you lose it.

In the morning, should you pour milk rather than cream in your coffee, reach for the oatmeal instead of the doughnut, subject your teeth to a vigorous flossing, then by noon you'll be trading jello shots with the underemployed stockbroker you met at the gas station.

This revoluntary discovery in the realm of willpower explains a great many things, doesn’t it. Why, when you give up smoking, you can’t find the forest for pizza boxes. Or when you go cold turkey on online shopping, you find yourself staring at the bottom of a bottle of Mojito Premix.

Common wisdom seems to indicate (and here I’m talking about this week’s common wisdom, not that soiled, lipstickstained wisdom from a year ago), the only way to ensure you always have plenty of willpower in the hopper is to yield to the very first temptation and stay in bed.

Maybe one day the scientific community will come up with a way to trade willpower credits – borrow from the monk who drinks only water and lives on 900 calories a day, for example.

Until that time, don’t stop with one bear claw on Christmas morning. Then, when something serious comes along, like the chance to reconstruct a 30-year old childhood argument during Christmas dinner, you can smile to yourself and reach for the gravy.

Willpower – it’s not just for breakfast anymore.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What's This?

Hint -- over 120 years old, seen while on a second tour with Manny Rodriguez of Lincoln Heights. Thank you again, Manny. Father Tom was a highlight, as were the best short ribs EVAH cooked in red sauce with cactus slices at El Huarachito on Broadway.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pot Luck

How often can I show up at a holiday gathering with my baggy of Kandy Kane Jo-Jo’s, while others bring their loaf of homemade lemon bread, Angels on Horseback, beef on a skewer with a Dutch-Indo peanut sauce fondue?

I don’t know, pretty often I guess. At least this Christmas season and maybe the next, and then I might need to regroup.

Everyone always takes a Jo-Jo, whether they eat it or not. It’s the gesture that counts.

When I was growing up in one particular city, my best friend was part of a musical family. They all played piano, but one daughter also played flute, another guitar, violin, and so on. For whatever reason, which will always remain a mystery, this family surrounded me like a warm quilt. I was loved and petted, falling somewhere between an adopted sibling and a favorite cat.

The parents parented me, “How are you coming along,” they’d ask, about this and that. And then, “How are you coming along on the clarinet?”

“Good,” I lied. I was used to lying if it would show me a favorable light, and I don’t remember conscience ever waving a hanky to stop me. “My teacher says I have talent!” My teacher had never hinted at talent. I didn’t play, I honked.

“Of course you have talent,” the mother or father of this family would say. “You are a most gifted girl.”

It’s not that my own parents were cruel, they were just hard, hard on me. I think my parents thought I’d take a compliment too personally, or too much to heart, then stop trying to stretch beyond a compliment.

I wouldn’t get to spend the actual holiday with this family, the family of my best friend, though they always put forth the offer. In fact, when my own family moved to another state, they asked my parents if I could live with them, which of course was out of the question.

But anyway, this family and I spent tween holidays together; they were the pillow for my head.

Then, one night, they planned to have a great many guests, and asked that I bring my clarinet to accompany them all on a piece. Prokofiev? Chopin? That I don’t recall.

“You can do it, Karin,” they said. “E Natural, A, E, and F. We’ll give you the sign.”

“No,” in this instance, wasn’t in my vocabulary. Nor was the clarinet in my vocabulary, but still, I showed up on the appointed day, when the family played their instruments most beautifully. Every few measures or so, I came in to honk.

After the recital, my humiliation was so total,so truthfully total, it was practically liberating. I remember, so clearly, thinking, what the hell, now you know, now you know.

“Let me tell you,” said the mother that night. “You hit a rough patch or two, I won’t deny that. But you also played the prettiest E Natural I’ve ever heard. It brought tears to my eyes. Your teacher is right, you have talent.”

I don’t think I’ve ever lied since. With held information, yes, but never lied. Except at certain times with certain men, where the relationship was so exclusive we closed the doors on all intruders, even truth. But that's something else altogether.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Oh, my wild sweet Hahamongna

To set the mood, scoot Mr. Haendel up to 5:50. (What? You find that excessively difficult? You can complain to the management, though they're generally out to lunch and unresponsive.)

Anyway, we're here to make a point. That LA County and the City of Pasadena are very busy these days turning this

Into that

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It Takes a Village

We can either approach a natural-born emergency as individuals or as a community.

There’s something redundant, inherently inefficient, when we all plan to meet a disaster wielding the same tools.

Some of us should be charged with stockpiling batteries, lanterns, generator, a pantry full of canned goods, water, and closets filled with extra blankies.

Then some of us should have a car full of gas, a case of wine in the trunk, and a list of addresses where we can find the aforementioned stockpile.

This can only work with true foresight, effort, and sensitivity. Remember: Not everyone likes Chardonnay.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Power and other failures

On Thursday last -- Altadena’s first full day without heat, light, telephone, internet -- I think we all expected power to return at any moment. Rather than wring my hands and fuss with the light switches, I decided to leave town. As they say, a watched pot never boils.

Driving down the tree-littered streets, we all seemed to be on our best behavior. Take, for instance, the out-of-service 4-way traffic signals. Everyone stopped and waited patiently, waving the other driver through.

“After you.”

“No, please, after you. I insist.”

I returned at 8 p.m. to a dark house. Apparently the pot hadn't really cared whether I watched it or not.

On the second day without heat, light, telephone, Internet, I, as well as other neighbors, found there were only three local activities at our disposal – raking leaves, asking if anyone had heard anything, and going toe-to-toe on indoor temperature. "Your house is 50 degrees? Why, that’s practically a sauna. My house is 38." "38 degrees? Paradise. Ours is..."

More on Patch.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Out West

Once upon a time, the Santa Ana winds were like the Indians in an old John Ford Western. 30 Indians would descend and surround a wagon train, whoop it up, then for no apparent reason, race up the hill and out of frame.

Time for pioneer ladies to wipe the dirt from a child's face and the menfolk to do the menfolk things -- fix a wagonwheel or something. Then you'd see 300 or 3000 Indians biding their time at the top of the ridge.

That was your father's Santa Ana -- a wind that would blow down the mountains, wreak some havok, then inhale mightily back up the San Gabriels, to sit for awhile, discuss evil deeds in deep voices, before the grand exhale.

If last week is any indication, the wind has moved beyond strategic battles; once it arrives, it won't leave; it won't stop to strike a pose, hold a powwow and rest the horses. It will just come down the hill. Down and down the hill, relentlessly.

No time for you to boil water and plenty of it, tether the cow, check your email.

Five days without heat, light, phone, communication.

And the Cavalry? We still have one, of sorts. It will swoop in to rescue the towns. Not in alphabetical order.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Most Beautiful Thing

No, not this.

This music

We heard music at the top of the hill and stayed til the end and walked home in the dark.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

At the Huntington

Horsetails against the Conservatory. Packing a concealed weapon -- Canon at ISO 800, white balance cloudy, and some other dial.

I think I've either captured an abstract, or the shower curtain I've always wanted.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Creature comforts

Contrary to popular opinion, dogs don’t really think we humans are the greatest thing since sliced bread or kibble pie. It’s not that dogs lie to us, exactly; it’s just, for some lovely reason, they like to make us happy.

And if that means implying, from time to time, that we’re funnier, prettier, wiser, and toss a better tennis ball than anyone else – they’re not above a fib or two.

As for cats, well, cats get a bad rap – you know, their reputation for aloofness and silent superiority. There's a cat from down the street who visits me now and then, and she talks endlessly. I pour out the food in exchange for some sparkling conversation. Sometimes we hang out and dish about the neighbors...

Intro to the GOOD STUFF -- More stories from the adoption front by some of our favorite bloggers. Take a look.

(The link works now. Sorry.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

We won't crop these tales

Some of our favorite bloggers have their dog and cat stories up on Patch today. And some other favorites will have their stories up tomorrow.

When I asked these folks to write a few words for the second annual animal rescue post, most came in with the message, "edit as needed." But taking anything out would have been a crime. So I lobbied to run it for two days.

Hope you drop by.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Before you spake

Just wait until I dress these babies up in the proper quote.

I'm toying with two I found when I googled 'Wall' and 'Shakespeare': "Simply choose your wall sticker and Shakespeare quote color." and

"Our pre-designed vinyl walls have the words of Adlai Stevenson and Shakespeare in a guest washroom."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An interview with photo pro Ibarionex Perello

Taking photos at a holiday gathering is like cooking a holiday meal – without proper preparation, the end result may prove uncomfortable for all involved.

The digital age has made photography both easier and harder, better and worse than it was before. Better, because now we just snap, print and publish. Worse, because now we just snap, print, and publish. Today, it’s way too easy to publish photos – photos that look over-exposed, under-exposed. And photos that those near and dear, friends and family, might find less than flattering.

Post in haste, repent at leisure.

The digital photography phenomenon has other quagmires ...

More on Patch

[I took IP's photo class this weekend, and it made all the difference. But you'll just have to trust me on this while I practice.]

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Manny's Lincoln Heights

This is Manny Rodriguez. Other than the first six years of his life spent in Mexico, Lincoln Heights (or at least that same zip code) has always been his home. He's a community activist, preservationist, and talented raconteur.

His childhood was spent in a one room apartment, here, on the second floor.

“And by one room," he said, "I don’t mean one bedroom, one living room, one dining room; I mean, one room.” And the one room was on one floor that his family shared with 12 other people.

"As embarrassed as I was to let my friends know where I lived, I realize we were relatively happy there. Everyone looked after everyone else. We celebrated holidays together, and would set up a huge table for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had a good childhood."

It was the early 70’s. He learned English by watching cartoons (if I'm not mistaken, he called it the Bullwinkle Academy), and attended local school. Well, sometimes he attended school. And sometimes he went to a Dodger game. The stadium was and still is within walking distance.

After school and on weekends, he and his buddies explored old railroad stations and junk yards. For pocket money, they stole ice cream bars off the truck at the nearby Swiss Miss dairy and sold them to families picnicking at the park.

Manny and his friends played baseball at a field near the railroad tracks, the same field where teenagers, members of the Eastlake Gang, played handball. Though interaction was minimal, the gangsters made sure the boys weren’t bothered.

The men who camped by the railroad tracks (“We called them hoboes"), also watched them play. "When they were sober, they'd give us pointers, as in -- ‘Hey, that’s not the way to catch a ball. Here, let me show you.’”

Like the gangsters, the hoboes kept a protective eye on “their boys,” and chased out anyone who might be trouble.

Manny stayed in Lincoln Heights through high school and college. He married a girl from Lincoln Heights and now they have a son and a daughter, and a house in the hills of Montecito Heights. (His children live a very structured, protected life. It's hard when you have a dad who knows all the tricks, because that means you get away with nothing.)

Though now in a private high school, Manny's daughter attended the local Sacred Heart Elementary School, as had her mother before her. Manny has a friend from childhood who is dying of ALS. The friend commissioned this mural as a legacy to his community and his wife and children. It's on the wall at the Sacred Heart playground. Throughout, it tells two histories --one public, one personal. That's the man and his family at the mural's heart.

Going back and forth to work, I must have driven through Lincoln heights 3,000 times of more.

And I’d notice things – intriguing, mysterious, beautiful, messy, and ugly things -- but not with undivided attention. Whatever I saw was in direct competition with the car radio, phone, pager, and my own eternal internal dialog. I never stopped because, for reasons I can no longer fathom, it seemed vitally important that I rush to meet the stress waiting for me on the other side.

"What's the story behind the park at the base of the Broadway Bridge?" I'd wonder, driving past. Then a month later, "What's the story with the park at the base of the Broadway Bridge," too distracted to just stop the car and settle this question once and for all.

Manny saw one of my posts on Lincoln Heights recently and sent an email.

"If you want a tour, let me know. I love to show off my community."

So yes, I said. Yes.

He's giving me a second tour in December. I figure I should have at least another 2,999 questions left to ask.