May 28, 2017

clouds with rooftop
April 2017, Glendale neighborhood

I did this piece (Watercolor and water soluable wax pastels on watercolor paper) near a friend’s house in Glendale as part of an Urban Sketchers LA Earth Day challenge (#PleinAirpril). We’ve had some really nice clouds in the Los Angeles area this spring, and I’ve been so thankful for the rain that’s dumped onto our parched landscape. So, when there was a break in the rain in early April I went for a walk in the Glendale hills. I noticed this collection of clouds behind a house with a terracotta roof on a favorite street. I sat down on my sheet of bubble wrap on the curb and set up my paints. I should say that I am obsessed with clouds and have done a number of landscapes with them in the background. In fact, I have been known to jump in the car and chase after clouds when there was a break in the rain on a number of occasions.

When I was thinking about the art I would post this week, I realized the overarching theme of this piece might really be about answering the question, What would you do at a moment’s notice? How would you handle a moment of serendipity? Would you drive around to look for a sky full of ever changing clouds, enjoy the perfect latte while reading an addicting book at a favorite coffee shop, or throw the dog and the boy in the station wagon on a hot afternoon in Paso Robles for a spontaneous and cool adventure at the beach in Cayucos?

I haven’t done any art at a dump, but I have enjoyed a number of spontaneous moments there, especially the dump in Grass Valley. I heard stories of my dad going to the dump when I was a baby in Lake Sherwood. I’m not sure why he went on a particular occasion, but I guess he came back with a hat for my mom and a scruffy little fur wrap for my aunt (who was living with us at the time). I never saw any of these treasures, but I sure heard about them from my mom. Usually, when that story came up she also remarked about the family of raccoons that lived under our house at the time. My mom probably threw away dad’s gifts—oh the irony.

But I do have many memories of going to the dump in Grass Valley years later. It was a pretty drive out there, past horse fields and a huge pond. And then the view of the mountains and trees as you drove in was breathtaking. (I guess most wouldn’t imagine describing the dump as that kind of “breathtaking.”) This isn’t very PC now, but 25 years ago you could go to that dump and drop off anything. So, my dad would take broken apartment-size refrigerators out there (my mom and dad had some rentals in town) and drop them off—literally drop them off. But I couldn’t understand why my brother enjoyed going with him so much until I went with them one day. Once we got there I was instructed to get out of the truck. I watched my brother back it up really close to the trash. Then my dad dropped down the tailgate and he pushed the frig as close to the edge of the tailgate as possible. Once my dad and I were out of the way my brother stomped on the gas hard and the frig flew up in the air and out of the truck. It nose-dived into the trash and bounced twice on the ground before stopping in a cloud of dust. Now, my dad wasn’t much of a giggler, but once my brother got behind the wheel their combined giggling began. And just like that it was over and the three of us were back in the truck heading home, planning the cool drinks we had earned for all that hard work. What a moment.

There were also nights we piled into the truck and went to the dump. We’d sit in camp chairs in the truck bed, eat popcorn and look at the stars. I never knew of anyone that took snacks to the dump—more great moments of serendipity with my dad, his truck and the dump. Once we took a rather fancy telescope out there, but we couldn’t get the truck very level and the stupid thing kept sliding around. We gave up, put it away and just focused on what we could see without it. Sometimes I miss my dad so much it hurts…

Note about my dad’s truck: God, my dad loved his truck. He had a little ditty he would talk-sing. It went something like, “I have a truck. It’s parked outside. I love my truck, let’s go for a ride.” He used to say he wanted to be buried in it. I had this mental picture of us digging a long deep hole you could drive into. We’d sit him up in the cab of that half-ton light green 1975 Ford truck and gently roll him in—master of his world. I imagined future generations would dig it up and it would be kind of like finding the terracotta army that was buried with the Chinese emperor.

Happy Birthday Kelly!

 

May 21, 2017

 

white-crown-sparrow-e1495322733271.jpg
White-crowned sparrow on ceanothus in Paso Robles Watercolor, Gouache, Colored pencil on cold pressed illo board

Who do you feed?

One year, I unexpectedly fed about 50 white-crowned sparrows. Early in the winter of 2000 I trimmed branches from my fruit trees and placed them on my backyard deck. A few days later I was getting ready to take that huge pile of twigs as green waste to the dump. I noticed what seemed like a million little birds with white stripes on their heads hopping in and out of the branches. I was stunned with the sight and all the chirping and birdsong. So, I got out my Audubon bird book and identified them as white-crowned sparrows. And if you Google the birdsong of the white-crowned sparrow you can hear what they sound like. Pretty cool. Don’t know why I decided to feed them. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t sure how I was going to stuff all those branches in the back of my Mercury station wagon (as it had been raining). Maybe I was looking for a reason not to go the dump. But that wouldn’t have been the reason at all because I really loved (and love) going to the dump. I probably thought they needed me and just wanted to see what would happen. I put out little pie tins of birdseed and my son and I watched them all winter and spring. They ate a lot of seed and pooped a lot on my deck. I had to frequently empty the food dishes of water when it rained or the seed would get moldy and/or sprout. Yeah, it was a big mess out there! But I loved feeding and tending those birds and I happily contributed to the mess on my deck all winter/spring long. Then one May day, as quickly as they had come, they were gone. And my summer finches and mockingbirds were not interested in that funky pile of waste. So I scraped off the deck and found a guy with a truck to take the giant bird nest and me (of course) to the dump. I was kind of sad to see that pile that had been so lively go away!

Thinking about those long ago birds got me thinking about how important it is that we feed the people, or things, we care about. Of course we feed ourselves (hopefully with mostly healthy food and drink) and we feed our children. Then we teach our children to feed themselves (hopefully with mostly healthy foods) and we teach them to feed the birds. (I work as a speech and language pathologist at a couple schools in LA and every morning food from the district is wheeled into each and every classroom. The kids eat breakfast together each and every morning during the week.)

And so we continue to feed those we care about and feed the homeless guy hanging around a trashcan at a Starbuck’s a cup of coffee and slice of banana bread, or buy a man who is sitting outside a grocery story a tuna sandwich. Or maybe we plant an extra row of tomatoes, cucumbers or squash and take the surplus to a food bank to feed a hungry family. One way or another we all gotta eat, right? So why not share good food with the people and birds around us? Wasn’t there a scene in the old Mary Poppins movie where the little boy chooses to spend his tuppence for birdseed instead of putting it in the bank? That’s what I’m talking about, remembering to feed the people and birds around us. Sometimes all it takes is tuppence.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Dan!

Note about this art: When my son was young I wrote and illustrated stories for our local “Central Coast Parent” magazine. This art went with a story about taking care of winter birds by way of introducing children (and their parents) to the idea of becoming fledgling ornithologists. My son’s 22 now and I’m not sure he remembers any of this, but he seems to be very impressed with the hummingbirds that congregate (sometimes 5 or 6 swarming around) at the feeder I have on the balcony of my LA apartment. It is pretty impressive to watch them hover around the feeder of nectar with a lovely orange photochemical sunset in the background. No, really! Why doesn’t anyone like that color?

May 14, 2017

Descanso8
Rose Garden, Descanso Garden Watercolor on watercolor paper

Back to 2017! I did this watercolor in the rose garden of the Descanso Garden over my spring break. I go to the Descanso Garden to paint, sketch and hike every chance I get. There are benches galore to sit in, with many gorgeous views of roses and other flowering plants, as well as a Spanish style fountain, garden structures and a shallow creek surrounded by small boulders. In fact, I am going on my second year of being a “family” member of the Descanso Garden. So, I can take a friend to the garden too.

Over the years I have been a member of a number of groups/organizations here in California. Right now I am part of an LA urban sketchers group, as well as a Freehand Sketching group. I also currently support a local NPR radio station and listen to that station almost exclusively when I am in my car. Funny to imagine that I would belong to any group. You see, I was raised by a rather introverted engineer dad that made sure my brothers and I were exposed to the Marx Brothers when we were very young. My dad thought Groucho the funniest, and frequently quoted his lines from “Duck Soup,” “Day at the Races,” “Night at the Opera,” and “Coconuts.” My dad would really grin when Groucho and Margaret Dumont had a scene together. But one of his favorite Groucho quotes was, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” My dad was pretty adamant about not being part of any club or organization. And he thought organized religion the worst kind of group to belong to because he said that humans had done so many awful things to each other in the name of religion.

But my mom was a joiner. She belonged to the PTA, was a room mom for each of us, Girl Scout leader, a volunteer for several women’s groups (Village House and Garden Ming Quong Service League in Los Gatos and Montalvo Art Center in Saratoga) and a supporter of public television (KQED, San Francisco) her whole life. When we were kids we were allowed to watch only programs on KQED. I remember shows like “Friendly the Giant,” and John Gnagy art lessons. My mom sent away for a set of John Gnagy felt geometric shapes for us to play with. She also sent in a drawing my brother had done and Mr. Gnagy showed the art on TV, and my brother got another set of felt shapes sent to him through the mail. KQED also had a wonderful program that matched music with moving marbles, spinning pinwheels etc in a kind of Rube Goldberg style. During a pledge drive my mom got a couple sweatshirts with pictures of the classical composers Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms on the front. I remember both my parents wearing those sweatshirts. So, maybe my dad really did want to join a group that would have him as a member. I wonder what Groucho would have thought of that. It’s funny to imagine him in his customary blackened eye brows and mustache, wearing a grey sweatshirt with JS Bach on the front. Come to think of it Margaret Dumont had a striking resemblance to JS Bach. So, maybe it makes perfect sense!

Recipe from my mother’s Village House and Garden Cookbook (1976):

Artichoke Nibbles

2 jars (6 oz. each) marinated artichoke hearts

1 small onion, finely diced

4 eggs

¼ cup fine breadcrumbs

¼ tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

2 tsp fresh oregano

½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated (2 cups)

2 Tbsp parley, minced

Drain the marinade from 1 jar of artichokes and save the liquid in a small bowl. Drain the other jar of artichokes and discard that liquid. Chop all artichoke hearts into smaller pieces. Combine artichoke hearts, onions, breadcrumbs, and cheese in a large bowl.

Add the 4 eggs to the bowl of marinade. Beat the eggs and marinade together. Add the herbs, salt and pepper. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and combine.

Turn the mixture into a lightly greased 8 by 8 inch baking pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes or until it is set when touched lightly. Let cool in the pan, then cut into 1 inch squares. Serve it hot or cold.

Happy Mother’s Day mom!

May 7, 2017

poppies
CA Poppies from El Chorro Regional Park, San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden featuring plants from the Mediterranean region, California, Chile, South Africa and Australia (Watercolor and colored pencil on cold press illustration board) This piece of art was originally published in the 4/22/01 Central Living section of the SLO Tribune.

Eschscholzia californica! I usually embarrass myself when I try to say this, especially when speaking with my horticulturally savvy friends. California poppies! Much better, and so much easier to say! The California poppy is such a perky and amazing looking state flower. And poppies are orange, a color that most people don’t really like. I mean, I don’t think I have ever had someone tell me it was their favorite color. Most people I know like to eat orange food like oranges and carrots, but it’s not because of the color. Poppies look quite delicate up close—the petals are really very thin, but they are pretty sturdy. And if you can get them to reseed they will pop up every spring in glorious and ever expanding profusion.

California poppies are probably one of my favorite wildflowers and I think every gardener in California should have a patch somewhere in the garden. Poppies are easy to care for as long as you don’t water or tend them. Of course once they are done blooming, they look like a bunch of dead weeds. But there is a great reason to have an untended weedy part of your garden. This is where the good bugs for your garden can hang out, away from pesticides and gardens that are too tidy. So, sprinkle some wild flower seeds in the winter and see what happens in early spring. (Of course getting them to reseed can be a bit of a trick, but keep trying). When I worked for Addison Wesley, in Menlo Park, some years ago I threw out lupine seeds at the front of one of the buildings. It was fun to see those amazing purple flowers pop up among the weeds that spring. I don’t know if there are any there today, but it is always a possibility.

When I was a girl there were rules about our state flower in the golden state. You weren’t supposed to pick them. Of course, as a girl, I wondered who was going to find out if you did. Were there poppy police hiding in the huge drifts of bright orange flowers in the hills of Los Altos? Even without the threat of fine or imprisonment it doesn’t make sense to pick them because once you break off a stem they almost immediately begin to wilt—even if you immediately put them in water. Don’t tell anyone that I know this to be true from personal experience. And whatever you do, don’t put lupines in water! They don’t wilt like poppies, but they give off quite a stink. Don’t know of any law about picking lupines, but be warned if you do!

Once, when my mom and I were driving north on 5 we came to magnificent fields of poppies and lupines on either side of the highway at the Grapevine. My mom and I guessed that an airplane had dropped tons of wildflower seeds on the hills and we were lucky enough to pass through at the height of their glory. I don’t know if that actually happened, but my mom and I were in the moment and so enchanted with the color–we were sure that’s exactly what had happened. There used to be scenic highway “poppy” signs along Highway 1 and 101. I haven’t seen one for a long time. I Googled the CA flower sign just a minute ago and saw one for sale on eBay for a lot of money. I don’t even know what that means. Not sure I really care about or miss those signs, but I would miss seeing the real thing if they didn’t occasionally cover a huge field or mountainside, or pop up between the cracks of an old untended sidewalk.

Note about fires and wildflowers in California: Strange as it may seem, wildflowers can be a reminder of the fires we have here. Before my son was born there was a huge fire in the Oakland hills. Homes burned to the ground and that fire blackened the hills on either side of Highway 24. But by the following spring huge batches of orange blanketed much of that ground, especially around Grizzly Peak Road on the way to Tilden Park. I don’t know if the heat of the fire helped the poppy seeds germinate (like it can with other wildflower species), but the sight of bright orange clusters of flowers next to the blackened soil was so sharp it almost hurt my eyes to look at it.

April 30, 2017

Empire Mine
Rock wall with red roses at the Empire Mine, Grass Valley, Spring 2004 (watercolor and colored pencil on cold press illustration board)

Water in California

Spring is an amazing, and all too brief, season in California. Since we get our rains in the winter, not in the summer or really any other time of the year, the greening up of our hills dotted with oaks turns brown pretty quickly by the end of April. And there are spectacular wild flower displays in early spring that cover our deserts and woodland areas, but you have to look fast because those blossoms disappear all too soon. (I understand that the wildflower display this year in Anza Borrego was intense because of the year’s intense winter rains. Some of the desert areas that bloomed hadn’t had rain for 10 to 20 years.)

Water is such a precious commodity here and so many people share it (and tragically waste it) for so many reasons—agriculture, drinking and washing, recreation and gardening. Oops, did I say recreation and gardening? Well, yeah, I said gardening. Sometimes winter rains fall on California’s wildflower seeds, with unintended colorfully beautiful consequences. And sometimes people intentionally direct water onto plants that flower, with intended colorful beauty. So it is with these roses that grow up and over the walls of the Bourn Cottage garden at the Empire Mine in Grass Valley. They are watered and tended with great care, but really serve no practical purpose at the mine or in any other garden for that matter unless you are a bee or other kind of pollinator. Viticulturists traditionally plant roses at the end of rows of grapes. And I understand that the reason they do this is to watch the roses for disease. If there’s insect damage on the beautiful roses, they would look to take care of the “grape” cash crop that was in the rows behind it. Kind of sad to look on a rose bush as a harbinger of disaster instead of enjoying it in all its colorful, robust, scented and thorny glory. Nothing worse than looking at a rose’s shiny new green leaves covered in powdery mildew, big black spots, large round holes and/or stems and leaves covered with aphids.

There is a lot of water under the ground in Grass Valley, especially under these red climbing beauties at the Empire Mine. The 367 miles of tunnel (5 square miles) of the mine is completely filled with water. When the original Cornish tin miners came to Grass Valley in the mid 19th century to dig for gold, they had to run pumps continuously to keep the water out. The Bourn family, who owned and operated the mine in the early 1900’s, made millions of dollars from their gold mine. They weren’t particularly interested in the water in the mine tunnels of the Empire Mine (other than to keep pumping it out), but they did have a definite connection nearby. Mr. Bourn was president of The Spring Valley Water Company near San Mateo. And the Spring Valley Water Company supplied water to the city of San Francisco. Crazy, huh?

I bet every community and/or county in California has a crazy story about getting water to people and places in the state, past and present. The history of getting fresh water to people in early Los Angeles is pretty crazy and water is still on people’s minds around here. But now people look to keep their swimming pools filled with fresh water and some seem to be obsessed with watering huge green lawns all summer. It’s pretty crazy to watch the water in an in ground pool slosh from side to side like a mini tsunami during an earthquake.

Note about our gold mine: One day my son discovered a 5 foot in diameter hole about a foot under the soil beside a large camellia shrub next to the side porch of our 1863 house in Grass Valley. Soon, my dad, my son and I were staring down into what seemed like a bottomless black pit. And as my dad lowered the 100-foot extension cord (with light attached) straight down, the three of us were quiet in thought. My dad told me later that he thought this might be a coyote hole (a deep shaft, similar to a hole for a well) that someone had dug trying to reach an existing mine tunnel. (There is an Empire Mine tunnel under the Safeway grocery store that’s a couple hundred yards from that very spot.) So, once the light touched the bottom (75 feet down), he was looking for little bags of gold. My son did not remain quiet very long, after all he was the one who found the huge perfectly cylindrical hole and was very excited. But he was really disappointed that we didn’t have an 80-foot ladder so he could get down there and have the coolest fort ever. As for me, I wasn’t thinking about gold. I was thankful we didn’t have an 80-foot ladder and wondered why no one hadn’t stepped down into that coyote/rabbit hole and vanished, literally. It seems there can be small blessings to be found in other’s disappointments. (Happy Birthday dad–April 25, 1928–miss you)