Saturday, July 31, 2010

Don’t Cry for Me El Cajon

“I used to think that everyone was just being funny but now I don't know. I mean, how can you tell? “
- Andy Warhol

Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters are fighting ethics charges (13 and 1, respectively); so I readily admit I’m not the only person who is worrying about things beyond my control. Wait. Ethics violations ARE within the control of the alleged violator! Unless we want to all agree that we are all victims of the vast conspiracies swirling around our collective ankles like we were wading through trash swirling around a plugged sewer. Why would we do that?

Since I live SoCal, I’m stressing about my horoscope that says I’ll be hit by a falling piano tomorrow. I’m also updating my dream journal - which reads more like a nightmare journal these days - and wondering what Noah would have said about global climate change if he wrote a column for

On the upside, I’ve just put some sweet peaches fresh from yesterday’s farmer’s market in a concoction of Jack, 10-year-old Portuguese port, and a splash of butterscotch liquor, together with a bit of grated ginger and sugar. (First cut a small cross on the bottom of each peach; then pour boiling water on them and let them sit about 2 minutes; then the peel comes neatly off without taking any of the fruit). The stuff has to sit and yummify for 3 months, so it should be ready for Thanksgiving and Xmas (if it lasts that long).

In other news, I’m trying to decide whether watching the 7-minute Toytanic video HERE is the second- or third- best 7 minutes of my life. Let’s just say this re-enactment has characters that are stuffed animals, it includes some profanity; and it is much quicker to sit through than James Cameron’s version. I think it also hits all the major plot twists Cameron does, so you don’t have to trade two un-recoverable hours of your life in order not to miss much of the actual story. Spoiler alert: the boat sinks.

I picked a few of my very own tomatoes spared by the rabbits. Tomorrow we roast! It occurs to me too late that the upside-down hanging planters simply give the rabbits better access to the fruit. If I put land mines below the tomatoes to deter the bunnies, my tomatoes would probably be tainted by a stew of C4 and exploded bunny parts anyway. So, when life hands us half-eaten, almost-ripe tomatoes, I suppose we could just agree to make lemon-drop martinis.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Distinguishing Hypocrisy from Piety

The Catholic Church recently equated ordination of women with pedophilia in the pantheon of evil. Oddly, while Il Papa seems to permit pedophilia with a nod and a wink, when it comes to ordaining women, it’s time to take a stand agaInst evil.

Despite being one of my favorite run-on sentences, Moliere said it better than I could in Tartuffe:

“No, I am not a revered doctor, brother; no, all the knowledge of this world has not found its abode in me. I have merely the science of discerning truth from falsehood. And as I know nothing in the world so noble and so beautiful as the holy fervour of genuine piety, so there is nothing, I think, so odious as the whitewashed outside of a specious zeal; as those downright imposters, those bigots whose sacrilegious and deceitful grimaces impose on others with impunity, and who trifle as they like with all that mankind holds sacred; those men who, wholly given to mercenary ends, trade upon godliness, and would purchase honour and reputation at the cost of hypocritical looks and affected groans; who, seized with strange ardour, make use of the next world to secure their fortune in this; who, with great affectation and many prayers, daily preach solitude and retirement while they themselves live at Court; who know how to reconcile their zeal with their vices; who are passionate, revengeful, faithless, full of deceit, and who, to work the destruction of a fellow-man, insolently cover their fierce resentment with the cause of Heaven. They are so much the more dangerous in that they, in their bitter wrath, use against us those weapons which men revere; and their anger, which everybody lauds, assassinates us with a consecrated weapon. There are too many such mean hypocrites in the world; but from them the truly pious are easy to distinguish.”

Click here to read Cleante’s entire speech here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bad News, Everyone

"Certainly it constitutes bad news when the people who agree with you are buggier than batshit."
— Philip K. Dick

I live in a place that can be charitably described as redneck adjacent. There is a camel that lives in a tiny suburban ranch a few blocks from my house, along with a few horses, the occasional goat and donkey. We have inexplicably named the camel Elizabeth, and we get worried if we don’t see her outside when we drive by. I have claimed to spot penguins in one corral, and once I’m pretty sure I saw a unicorn. Nobody in my circle of friends gives credence to my exotic animal sighting claims - particularly the unicorn, because I’m admittedly not a virgin.

So, the Lakeside rodeo, or at least a rodeo is coming up. One prominent sign hangs from a crane next door to a Burger King, because apparently the demographic that goes to rodeos pays attention to signs hanging from cranes while eating their burgers and fries. This is either a brilliantly targeted marketing strategy, or a cheap way to get around a county ordinance requiring signs to have permits. Unfortunately, I believe there is discrimination involved in this particular rodeo. Sadly, I doubt that there is time for me to file a lawsuit on behalf of all the girls who might want to attend.

Since we were driving around the neighborhood, we decided to stop at the local space ship cult headquarters. This sign is in their parking lot: good news, everyone. You have to google Unarius Academy of Science to get the real goods on these wackjobs, but what Unarius is selling is at least as cringeworthy as the nearby Creation and Earth History Museum in Santee – literally across the tracks from the Lakeside rodeo. The Creation Museum website says: “Biblical – Accurate - Certain” which just about says it all, with the possible exception of actual scientific research findings to back up their claims.

While we do not permit fluoride in our water here, apparently this measure has not sufficed to protect our children from exposure to local freakiness. I would say that the collective intellectual output of these institutions is informed neither by education nor reflection. But then again, perhaps I’m being too hard on the rodeo bulls.

Meanwhile, I have tomatoes! So, I’ve got that going for me. That, and the unicorn.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Look! A squirrel!

“But I see that my mind is asleep.
If it stays wide awake from this moment on, we would soon reach the truth, which may even now surround us with its weeping angels!...
- If it had been wide awake until this moment, I would have never given in to degenerate instincts, long ago!...
- If it had always been wide awake, I would be floating in wisdom!...”
Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891) The Impossible

This morning, it’s more like I’m floating in a swamp of distractions that substitute for thought. I feel I have the attention span of a dragonfly on crack. It’s too hot outside to even attempt to play in the backyard. I am no longer acclimated to the muggy hot climate I grew up in. The heat - maybe. The humidity - not at my advanced age and current sumo-fighting weight.

I am in my post-dollhouse-construction funk. The Wisteria House is almost done. The inside is completely done. The lights have already begun to spiral into darkness, as the crap Cir-kit lights and copper strip wiring succumb to entropy, poor design and a level of quality control rivaled by a swarm of screaming squirrels who were up all night drinking Jack and eating candy. The lights on the basement floor on the door don’t work, and probably can’t be fixed short of removing wallpaper and/or re-wiring. The 4th floor hall light I constructed from an Art Nouveau greeting card, framed and wired with lights behind each flower is also not working. This may be more easily troubleshot (I may have just coined a neologism!) and more easily fixed, but I can’t muster the enthusiasm or the attention today.

Instead, as the doll house lights begin to go out one by one, I think I can hear weeping angels over the sound of my profanity.

Tech Support Guy bought me this shell dollhouse back at the turn of the century. The outside was painted pink and encrusted with lime green Victorian gingerbread trim. I decided to avoid the cliché of Victorian décor in favor of Art Nouveau - particularly the French style, which flourished from about the 1890s to about 1910, when overtaken by déclassé Art Deco and the Great War. I got stuck for several years trying to create a wood tile floor on the second (main) floor). Geometry was not one of my stronger skills: my math skills – once rivaling those of a room of monkeys writing War and Peace in cursive - have degenerated along with the rest of my baser instincts.

When I finally finished the floor by abandoning the pattern and kluging the tiles in a place now covered by an area rug, I managed to wake up and resume my Sisyphean attempts to electrify the dollhouse.

Faulty electricity, and more particularly, the abysmal products available for dollhouses made mostly by a company called Cir-Kit, have relentlessly hounded my steps and complicated my wiring like an ever worsening case of a hobo with tuberculosis left untreated by antibiotics. Both the hobo and Cir-Kit wiring will ultimately die alone in the dark. Just when you think you’ve managed to get the lights in stable and working order, a passing squirrel, an earthquake, or even a mild sigh of satisfaction, will cause them to tremble and go dark. To be fair, the electrical lights sold under the Miniature House brand are equally worthless: both probably made by the same demented manufacturer.

Perhaps a visit to the farmer’s market later this afternoon will revive my attention and help me reach some version of the truth. If not the truth of dollhouse electrical wiring, then perhaps the wisdom of roasting tomatoes. This time, if I manage to avoid writing monkeys, screaming squirrels and other passing distractions, I think I’ll use more garlic and go with thyme instead of basil. Next, who knows? World domination?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


"When error is irreparable, repentance is useless."
- Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Summer is here. The weather went from our lovely, seemingly endless mild spring to summer yesterday. It took about ten minutes. One minute they were fine; the next minute my sunflowers lost all enthusiasm and wilted, their heads nodding in despair. While a little water cheered them up, it didn’t inspire me to tend to the other projects in the back yard. Pictured here are not my sunflowers but some mammoth sunflowers in the Veggie Garden.

Back home, I have finally found a place for my nameless succulent with the lovely nebari. Here it is near the pond, but not so near that night hunters like skunks and possums will knock it into the water when they come to drink, perchance to hunt. Tech Support Guy has recently installed several new electronic surveillance to protect the koi while the water lilies recover their recent re-potting and grow back to give them some cover. We have a motion-activated light that, imho, simply provides better visibility for night fishing by predators. But the theory is that it will get our attention inside the house, and we can then step outside and aim the super-soaker which is water laced with a little ammonia – at the invaders.

We also have a motion activated radio turned to a talk radio station that spouts sermons all about the coming apocalypse and demanding repentance. The radio sits just outside our bedroom door leading to the patio where the birdseed is kept in critter-proof containers. The radio doesn’t stop the possums from knocking the birdseed containers around the patio in attempts to break in, but it does alert us so we can chase them away.

It turns out that the motion-activated radio is particularly effective in waking me in the middle of the night. When visitors approach the birdseed containers, the radio turns on for about a minute. There is nothing like sudden shouted threats of fire and brimstone to brighten the dark night of my soul. Who actually listens to this stuff?

Also pond-adjacent is a simple red pelargonium, with its defiant flower, standing like a sentry next to the stone bridge. I pride myself that every pelargonium in my yard is borrowed: some from cuttings donated by friends; some clipped from the roadside of gardens on summer evening auto trips around the neighborhood. Such trips to liberate cuttings don’t count as stealing in my eyes. Some of the plants now in flower in my yard are no longer extant in the locations where I originally cut them, so my specimens effectively saved these particular plants from extinction.

Later last night - after a brief nighttime propagation trip - the radio (or maybe Jesus, directly) spoke to me. Fortunately for the salvation of my soul, I am hearing impaired. Without my hearing aid, all I heard were muttered exhortations that gradually devolved into incoherence as I returned to my dreams. Such distractions don’t awaken guilt in my deaf heart, for I sleep the sleep of the just. I’m afraid that I am with Gibbon on the utility of repentance, particularly when such urgings awaken me from a peaceful sound sleep.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Roasted Tomato Sauce

"Many women have been born who found for themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant actions; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity, perhaps a tragic failure which found no sacred spot and sank unswept into oblivion."
George Elliot, Middlemarch

My daughter and I worked out this recipe to make the most wonderful tomato sauce. So, I've got that going for me.

5 lbs tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
6 cloves of garlic (more to taste)
1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
sea salt and pepper to taste

I use only the best organic ingredients.Toss ingredients in a bowl to coat with oil and vinegar. Spread in a single layer in roasting pan. The secret to getting a sweet sauce is to roast at 250F for at least 4 hours, until the ingredients caramelize.

Cool and put through food mill, medium grater. For this recipe, I started with 5 lbs 2.8 oz of tomato/onion/garlic and ended up with just over 4 cups or 16 ounces of sauce.

Heat and top homemade pizza or pasta.

This recipe may not constitute a constant unfolding of far-resonant actions, but the taste evokes a certain spiritual grandeur, particularly when used to top a pizza using homemade pizza dough. So, notwithstanding the relative meanness of opportunity I may have experienced, this sauce may be all that stands between me and a life of tragic failure that will sink into oblivion.

To can, put in sterile jars. Ball Blue Book says leave ½” at top of tomato jars, but I left a bit more room and managed to almost fill five 8-ounce jars. Boil in canning pot 35 minutes.

Herbs: if using thyme or oregano, chop fresh herbs and toss and roast with tomatoes. If using basil, I put a few whole leaves on top of sauce before sealing jars to boil.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Hard Beset

“Now let no charitable hope
Confuse my mind with images
Of eagle and of antelope:
I am in nature none of these.

“I was, being human, born alone;
I am, being woman, hard beset;
I live by squeezing from a stone
The little nourishment I get.

“In masks outrageous and austere
The years go by in single file;
But none has merited my fear,
And none has quite escaped my smile”.
- Elinor Wylie

Three large koi survive in the now crystal clear pond. They are not used to being so exposed to eagle-eyed predators like the great heron or gophers with opposable thumbs fishing in the night. We had to put an old piece of plastic latticework into the pond to give them another place to hide. You can clearly see two in this picture. The silver/white one with black fishscale pattern is Becky. The third fish is visible at the bottom of the picture: his tail is all that is visible from above the rock.

But for close to twenty years, they have survived predations, weather, neglect and other hardships nature has thrown at them. I believe they will survive my spring pond cleaning.

We harvested a giant sunflower from the veggie garden this morning. Ms. Smarty Plants is keeping it with a few other flower heads as a demonstration when she leads school tours through The Water Conservation Garden.

Nature doesn’t waste a thing, although I doubt that hungry birds or foraging bunnies in the garden will harvest these particular seeds. Instead, gangs of elementary school children will learn that what I see as a beautiful geometric work of art is nature’s gift of nourishment for wildlife.

These days, I feel more like the spiky thistle. My aches and pains are harder to ignore after a morning in the garden. The artichoke flower pictured here is from wild roadside artichokes that offer little meat for people, so we decided to let them go to seed and attract pollinators for our tomatoes. Adapted to virtually no water while they grow, the artichoke/thistles are thriving in our irrigated garden.

Gardening as I age is a lesson in humility. I am not so adaptive as the thistle. But so far, no garden challenge has merited my fear and many still provide me with a smile.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Spring Cleaning Memories

" Memory is continually created, a story told and retold, using jigsaw pieces of experience. It's utterly unreliable in some ways, because who can say whether the feeling or emotion that seems to belong to the recollection actually belongs to it rather than being available from the general store of likely emotions we have learned? Memory is not false in the sense that it is willfully bad, but it is excitingly corrupt in its inclination to make a proper story of the past." Jenny Diski

I put on the extra large waders and ventured into the pond yesterday, which turned out to jog the jigsaw memories on the card table of my mind. You can see how shallow the pond is – barely rcovering my knees.

This excursion into the pond recalled memories of other chapters the story of love and loss in our backyard pond. Koi need at least 4 feet of depth to survive predatory attacks from great heron, gophers and skunks. Let's just say my knees are way less than 4 feet deep. Since the last midnight massacre a few years back, we have lost all our sparkling golden and white friends, some of them 20+ years old.

But despite the death of most of the fauna, the flora survived. Hardy pink water lilies, toad lilies, some lovely tall pond plant with fragrant short-lived purple spikes of flower, and a free floating grass mat so thick that small songbirds could miraculously walk around on it. Since we no longer stock the pond or visit our long lost koi, plants dine on the layer of excitingly corrupt muck at the bottom. The plants have overrun the pond like Godzilla rampaging a tiny black and white model of Tokyo.

I waded unarmed into a Mekong delta jungle of the pond’s thriving water-plant habitat. There was much more below the water that didn’t meet the eye, providing a metaphor for the under-water oil plumes overtaking the Gulf. Outgrowing pots, the water plants settled in the 5-year-old decomposing muck on the bottom. The primordial ooze forms with fallen leaves and pine needles a few surprisingly large branches, decomposing plant matter, fish feces, and several various and heavy stones – once stacked to give cover and long since having collapsed in rubble

And the smell. I plunged up to my arms into the muck, with each splash anointing myself in this eau d’ mud. I can think of nothing so excitingly corrupt as that smell of old pond muck, slurping and draining on the side of a muddy pond and beginning to dry out. I could still smell it my hands this morning, despite a very long and very olfactory product-laden shower last night.

I wouldn't know an “excitingly corrupt” inclinations to re-write history if it bit my hand; but I do remember that yesterday was pretty corrupt.

On second thought this morning, I'm thinking that there are a lot worse ways to be corrupt than exciting. Riding the sled of life down the increasingly slippery slope, I submit that delightfully exciting is a lovely kind of corrupt to become. Moreover, I don’t care whether I’m newly learning it, or whether I'm just trying to remember today's story. What matters is that I’m already halfway to becoming excitingly corrupt myself.