March 28, 2020

DG, day 7
Garden Vista at the Descanso Garden, day 7, 3/21 (Derwent colored pencil on Canson Mix Media paper)

Day 7, Saturday, 3/21

Last Saturday I went to the Descanso Gardens and walked among the tulips. I took pictures of tulips and lilacs, as well as a picture of a glen for gathering that might be a place for a leprechaun, and vistas from benches that might give me a respite from worry and wondering if I could imagine myself sitting there, staring off into the distance. The piece of art you are looking at here is exactly one of those spots. It’s where I would rather be sitting today instead of sitting inside at home. (It is also day 7 of my two week self-inflicted art at home challenge.) Of course I am not the only one at home today, it just feels like it. I imagine a caption for this one that could be very literal and has something of a cliche about it. That might go something like, “Looking off into the future and wondering what is ahead.” Or it might be, “How will my SoCal world change?” And finally, my favorite right now is, “It’s always darkest before the bottom falls out.”

Then I got to thinking about my literal interpretations and wishes for our lives and cliches seem like a kind of survival mechanism—the only way to try to make sense of things. I’m no philosopher, but I’ve always been interested in philosophy. (My dad was a big fan of Plato.) So, for all you geeks like me out there, here is a suggestion that might help. I recently watched a great Netflix movie called “Genius of the Ancient World.” It’s all about the lives and teachings of Buddha, Socrates and Confucius, and presented by the historian, Bettany Hughes. It was amazing! Check it out.

hummingbird, day 9
Front porch hummingbird, day 9 (ink and watercolor on watercolor paper)

Day 8, Sunday, 3/22 (art of pen and ink of hummingbird at the nectar feeder outside my kitchen window) 

Day 9, Monday, 3/23

So, this is part 2 of my Sunday sketch. The sky Sunday morning was really that amazing blue, and the puffy clouds really looked that white. In previous posts I have described the lovely birds outside my kitchen window. Doing this watercolor got me away from my imaginings of the Descanso Gardens and the world outside and brought me just outside my own window. I love the idea that the birds just come and go all around, unaware of COVID-19 and/or their own mortality. In fact, yesterday I very wisely texted something about birds to a dear friend. I said, “They don’t seem to notice, or care about, what’s going on. Of course they are the descendants of dinosaurs, so they are in way better shape than the rest of us.” Amen to livin’ like a bird.

Geranium, day 11
Front porch geranium, part 2, March 25, day 11 (Inktense pencil, sprayed with water, on Canson Mix Media paper)

Day 10, Tuesday, 3/24, Geranium on my front porch (Inktense pencil only)

Day 11, Wed, 3/25

Today was a mixed bag of being one California girl on a rainy day during self-quarantine. 

1. I called my nearby nursery yesterday and ordered some summer garden plants. This afternoon I received my order— three specific tomatoes (brandywine, early girl, and better boy) and two 6 packs of cucumbers (pickling and lemon). The plants were delivered to my door by a lovely lady from a company called Roadie. What a wonderful vision—something to put in the ground that will grow and provide vegetables later in the summer. (It’s nice to imagine a “later” that I want to live in…) The plants were also nice to see as they were my dad’s favorite tomatoes, and I remember planting those very varieties in many of our yearly vegetable gardens. 

2. I made beans for dinner.

3. As the sun was heading way to the west it was shining bright and all around there were dark clouds, but no rain. Then it began to rain and then hail—all the while the sun backlit the whole scene. I went outside and ran around with my umbrella. When I Iooked over my house towards the San Gabriel Mountains I saw a complete double rainbow. Wow!! What a wonderful water blessing for my new seedlings. And Happy Birthday mom!

Rusty in the garden, day 14
Rusty in the back garden, with garlic and dill in the background, part 2, March 28, day 14 (Ink and Inktense pencil, sprayed with water, on Canson Mix Media paper)

Day 12, Thursday, 3/26, (art sketch/pen and ink of monk’s hood)

Yup! You read that one correctly…Hoping to do a “full on botanical,” as requested by my son…

Day 13, Friday, 3/27 (pen and ink of Rusty, our neighborhood cat, in the back garden.)

Day 14, Sat, 3/28 (Inktense pencil and water of Rusty the cat)

And this ends my 14 day self-inflicted art quarantine. I don’t know what kind of art will inspire me for my first April 2020 post. But I think this image is perfect for me right now—life somehow going on with the hope of a CA summer garden of vegetables. Take care and be safe!

March 21, 2020

DG, day 1
Sycamore tree and tulips, Day 1, 3/15/2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencil, watercolor crayons on watercolor paper)

This has certainly been an odd week for One SoCal Girl, as I am sure it’s been an unusual mid-March week for you as well. Lately it feels like I’ve been on a kind of roller coaster of thoughts and emotions. So, since I am to be home for the foreseeable future I decided to sketch and write a little something for the next couple weeks, starting last Sunday. 

Day 1, Sunday, 3/15/2020 

Ok, I am as ready as I will ever be with regards to staying inside/home indefinitely. But before I could actually say that without shivering uncontrollably or screaming out loud I decided I would need to fortify my soul with something beautiful. So, I went to the Descanso Gardens yesterday to walk among the tulips I have been so desperate to see. Not complaining, but it’s been a sort of wet March in SoCal and I wasn’t sure that would work. But when I woke up Saturday morning it wasn’t raining and I headed over there. (One of my sketching groups had actually planned an official visit that day to welcome spring at the Descanso. I think because of all the bad news it didn’t happen.) I noticed that Urban Sketchers challenged all of us to engage in an indoor virtual meeting with USk Milano—sketching what we could see just outside our windows at 11 in the morning. I was wandering the hills and dales of Descanso Gardens at that time, but I did see that an artist friend had done a sweet sketch of her cat looking in at her through her garden window.

Later Saturday evening I looked at all the pictures I took that morning, wondering which tulip landscape I would paint and write about for this first week. It was then I got the idea I should try to sketch or paint something every day I was inside. Creating art and/or writing on a daily basis is not such a novel thing for Urban Sketchers. There was a recent challenge to sketch at least 100 people from midnight, March 9 to midnight, March 13. But of course, being inside for days on end is pretty novel for sketchers and non-sketchers alike. 

DG, day 2
Tulips next to the train station, Day 2, 3/16/2020 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Day 2, Monday, 3/16/2020

Today I did another watercolor of tulips, as I needed to see something bright and colorful on this dark winter SoCal day. 

My son was visiting family in Santa Clara County and realized if he didn’t leave before midnight, he would be stuck there until who knows when. So, he whipped into action and bought 10 pounds of frozen skinless, boneless chicken breasts. On his way home that afternoon/evening he got stuck in the snow and had to stay in a motel overnight. He had a fridge in his room, but of course all the chicken defrosted. He brought it to me the next day and I began a plan of how to cook/save the chicken. 

Never one for wasting food I cooked all of it, making stock for soup. I added chicken, carrots, celery and rotini pasta for a pot of chicken soup. Some I chopped into pieces, making chicken salad with fresh apples, and a tiny bit of red onion. I pounded the rest into paillards. (If you don’t know about a paillards, check out the recipe below.) 

Chicken Paillards with Lemon-Butter Sauce (from MarthaStewart.com)

2 breast halves (pounded into 4 pallairds)

salt and pepper

1 to 2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

3 to 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1/4 cup minced shallots

3/4 cup of chicken stock

juice of one lemon

washed/clean spinach

Making the pallairds

For this recipe you will be making 4 pallairds. This means you will need two breast halves. 

  1. Cut the meat off the bone, if you have bone in chicken. Or just get two boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (Oh, I had a few of those…)
  2. Press your hand on the top of the first piece, and slice the meat horizontally, cutting it almost all the way through. Open it like a book.
  3. Place this piece of meat between a sheet of plastic wrap. Working from the center out, pound with the smooth side of a mallet until the meat is 1/2 to 1/4 inch thick. (I use a rolling pin.) Cut this flattened chicken into 2 pieces.
  4. Do the same for the other piece of breast meat.

The rest

Season the 4 pallairds on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter int a large skillet over medium heat until the butter melts, but is not burned. Add 2 paillards to the pan and cook the first side until it’s golden brown (about 2 minutes). Flip them and cook the other side the same way. Transfer the meat to an oven safe dish and place them in the oven at a low temperature. Do the same with the remaining paillards—putting all 4 in the oven to stay warm.

Add the shallots to the frying pan, with butter and/or oil as needed. Stir the shallots often until they are golden brown (about 1 minute). Add the lemon juice and chicken stock (a little white wine instead of the lemon juice is nice to add as well) to the pan. Deglaze the pan by scraping brown bits of chicken from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Simmer until the sauce reduces by half (about 3 minutes). Gradually stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter until it has just melted. Season to taste.

Martha doesn’t say to put the cooked paillards back into the sauce. I do because it keeps the meat warm. Put the meat and a generous amount of sauce on a small helping of cleaned raw spinach. The sauce is tangy and hot, and when poured over the spinach, it wilts just a bit. Maybe make some biscuits for dunking?

Day 3, Tuesday, 3/17/2020 (Sketch of a glen at the Descanso)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Day 4, Wednesday, 3/18/2020 (Art of woven cherry trees at the Descanso)

I didn’t add the art for today either. But if you want an idea of what it looks like, look at my February 1, 2020 post where you will see the same woven trees. But for this one the cherry trees, just coming into bloom, are the star of the piece.

Kind of a sad Descanso day really as the Descanso Gardens will be closing tomorrow, 3/19 and will remain closed until further notice. Glad I have so many images I can conjure up to take me there in my imagination when I wish. I am all the more thankful that I wandered around there last Saturday. See you again soon, my treasured place.

Day 5, Thursday, 3/19/2020 (Art of close up of lilac blossoms on gray toned paper)

Today’s art looked rather uninspired as I did it in a hurry—trying to adhere to my self exiled challenge of doing one piece of art a day. I had grand plans to spend more time on this one, imaging the amazing smell of the lilacs last Saturday. But I wound up spending most of the morning and afternoon participating in a live video webcast about Breathing, Digestion and Swallowing. Bet you wish you’d done the same…no, huh? Better luck tomorrow…

DG, day 6
Pot of tulips at Descanso Gardens entrance, Day 6, 3/20/2020 (watercolors, Inktense pencils and watercolor crayons)

Happy first day of spring! Here are some more tulips that were at the front entrance last week. 

I plan to do a Day 7 sketch later today. I think I have just the perfect garden vista in mind. Hope you are staying safe and away. Stay tuned…

March 14, 2020

geese, color at NS
Pair of Canadian geese at the Norton Simon Museum, March 6, 2020 (graphite, ink and Inktense pencil on Mix Media paper)

It is my usual to go the Norton Simon the first Friday evening of the month. I go there to hang out with other sketchers, and of course because it’s free from 5 to 8. But I actually go there for more than just artistic companionship and free admission, I absolutely love sketching in the back garden every imaginable time of the year. Imagine it’s after 5pm in the evening and the sun has turned the almost dusk sky a beautiful shade of crystal blue. I quickly wander about for a few moments, as I know the sunlight is waning. I watch the changing colors on the sculptures, pond and plants. I check to see what has come into bloom, what is coming along and what has faded with the season. And since this is SoCal, there really aren’t many evenings you can’t stroll out there. Then I quickly find a spot to sketch, roll out out my bubble wrap, sit down and go to work before it gets too dark to see. For me it’s fun to mark monthly time in this intimate garden as the CA light changes, year in and year out. The sound of tire whine at that time of day pulses around me. If you look at a map of the museum you will see that the entire facility is almost a complete triangle set adrift with Colorado Blvd at the base, the 134 at an angle up from the base and the 210 almost completes the next side of the triangle. I imagine the pulsing sounds of going home from work traffic on these busy roads to be the sound of ocean waves. You may laugh all you like, but settling into this LA evening freeway commute frame of mind always works for me. Just another day for one SoCal girl. And based on today’s art you have probably noticed that when I was there last Friday (March 6) I spotted a couple Canadian geese on the grass beside the pond. This is pretty amazing as I think that I have now seen this same pair in this same spot almost every spring since 2017. Now, I cannot be absolutely sure they are the very same ones, but after I have told you my goose story, you may be inclined to follow my logical conclusion that they are one and the same. 

In my July 22, 2017 I wrote of a pair of Canadian geese that I had seen earlier in the back garden of the NS. My first encounter with them occurred the evening of Friday, March 3, 2017. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t at least try to sketch them, but they were sitting on the roof of the building and pretty elusive to prying eyes. I remember that you could only occasionally see a neck reaching up or a fluffy goose bottom move around up there. But if you stayed out there long enough you could hear them. Fast forward to the next first Friday and we are now at April 7, 2017. They had made a nest at the edge of the pond and someone at the Norton Simon had put up a temporary fence to physically keep people away from the nest and the birds. I remember thinking that I should have sketched this scene, but didn’t think much of the temporary orange plastic fence surrounding the birds. My “goose nesting” timeline has a spring (2018) that I forgot to look for them. But I assume they were there because the following spring I saw them again. This time I did try to sketch them. (See April 20, 2019 post) The art wasn’t much to see as they were pretty hidden up there on the roof, but you could hear them all over the garden.

Last first Friday I spotted them again and this time they were in full view just next to the water. But this time they weren’t sequestered behind a tacky orange plastic fence. Instead, they were surrounded by a tacky “keep off the grass” fence around the whole pond. And of course the always officious NS guards were patrolling the pathways back there, verbally reminding people to keep off the grass. I noticed the fence a couple months ago and I asked one of the guards why it was there. He said that he had been told that someone had gotten too close to the water and fallen in. So, now the lawn area is off limits to humans, but these geese can waddle freely all around, and they’re pretty oblivious to all of us staring at them. There must be something great about this spot as this is at least their 4 year anniversary together at the Norton Simon pond. And just to add to my story I asked SIRI if Canadian geese mated for life and she said: “According to animaldiversity.org, Often remaining paired for life, Canada geese are monogamous.” Are you convinced yet that these two are the same ones I have seen a number of times back there? I’m convinced. 

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy watching birds. I like to see flotillas of mallards in the NS pond, in any of the ponds at the Descanso Gardens and even in the various ponds at Golden Gate Park—I have even seen swans swimming there. I like watching small groups of Morro Rock pelicans fly in formation so close to the surface of the ocean that they look like they might just fall in. Of course they are doing that because they are looking for fish to eat and will later come back to a given spot and dive head first into the water with a great splash. I also like watching pairs of eagles circle high in the sky about this time of year all over CA. And of course who wouldn’t enjoy bands of loudly squawking wild parrots as they awkwardly fly from tree to tree most SoCal summer evenings? I try to attract birds to my yard with seed and nectar feeders just outside my kitchen window. I enjoy watching them come and go, feeding their babies as they feed. (Thursday, March 12: It’s 5:30pm and I am looking out my window at the rain and finches eating at the seed feeder. I just saw an adult finch feeding his or her baby finch.)

I just finished reading a pretty remarkable novel (“Bird Summons,” by Leila Aboulela) where a hoopoe features prominently. What is a hoopoe you say? Look it up online. It almost looks like an imaginary bird, with its long curved beak, fantastically patterned plumage and bright colors, but it’s real and can be found in Africa (including Madagascar) and Eurasia. In “Bird Summons,” the hoopoe visits 3 women hiking in the hills of Scotland. You may already be getting the idea that this book is a bit of fantasy, right? And you’d be right. I just looked up online again and it seems that the hoopoe features prominently in the mythologies of Greek, Arabic, Persian and Egyptian cultures. So, it does make sense for this story. Check it out.

I don’t have any grand and nonsensical connections to be made with my interest in birds and the fact that I just finished reading “Bird Summons.” But my mind took me to a place where I wondered if the COVID-19 had maybe come from birds. So, I looked that up online as well. As it turns out scientists believe that it originated with bats. Ok, that ends my “so called” bird connections. 

My final thoughts this week are kind of consumed with COVID-19. Maybe that’s true for you as well. No matter how I try to pretend it’s California business as usual, it’s not. LAUSD has closed all schools, so I will be home for the next two weeks. My final thoughts are with all of us. And for now I’m not feeling like just One CA Girl, but maybe just One Girl of the World. Stay safe. 

March 7, 2020

reflection of tree2
Reflection of a tree on a pond at the Descanso Gardens, March 1, 2020 (Fude fountain pen, watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Last Sunday I was certain there would be huge drifts of tulips in bloom at the Descanso Gardens. I had planned to get there soon after they opened at 9 because I was certain that would be too early for most other lovers of tulips to arrive. I wanted to sit and paint where ever I liked and have the flowers all to myself. When I woke up that morning, it was all but raining. I decided I would still go early, but I would just take pictures of the flowers and then do the art in my dry and cozy kitchen. When I got there I saw mostly green leaves and stems in the tulip beds, which meant they weren’t ready for me or the rest of the soon to be arriving tulip lovers. I was probably a week early. I decided to wander about and enjoy the bit of misty rain. I came to this pond and there I saw an amazing reflection of a tree in the relatively calm surface of the water. As it turns out this is the same tree that I have sat under numerous times to get out of the sun in the summer. It is also the same tree and pond that I sat near when I painted the stained glass house they had for the Enchanted Lights (December 7, 2019). For that one I was under the tree on the opposite side of the pond. 

Even though I didn’t see what I was hoping when I got there I found myself reflecting on whether or not I should try to render such a stark and wintery tree. I often find myself at the Descanso with some kind of idea of where I want to go and what I want to do, and then I wind up in the rose garden—painting something there. Oh, don’t think I didn’t wander through that garden before this moment to take a look. But it was kind of sprinkling as a walked around the flowerless roses and I just kept going, right out of there. Once I got to this spot I was overcome with the idea of a literal reflection of something in water as well as other kinds of reflections we sometimes consider that are much more abstract, subjective and/or personal. I had recently finished watching the Netflix version of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” authored by Lemony Snicket. And the penultimate story, “The Penultimate Peril,” popped into my head. There are those of you who might not have considered these stories, but my son and I had read together all 13 books when he was young. And we had so enjoyed all of the stories that I not only viewed “The Bad Beginning,” but I watched every book turned movie all the way through to the end, or “The End.” There is a wonderful, yet perilously reflective element in the 12th, or penultimate, book. It’s a giant pond that perfectly reflects the entire facade of the Hotel Denouement—the setting for this unfortunate event. And the hotel is organized according to the Dewey Decimal System. (If you want to find out how and why the Hotel Denouement is set up like a library you should read the book, I think.) But the importance of this exterior pond to all the characters inside the hotel cannot be overstated. But you will immediately get the ultimate importance of it because all the signs and numbers on the actual building are written backwards and from right to left so you have to look into the pond to correctly read all the letters, words and numbers written on the hotel. (Have I peeked your curiosity yet?)

So, I decided that a fitting acknowledgement of all the noble and not so noble characters inside the Hotel Denouement might be presented here. And this is based on MY personal reflections that can sometimes make me smile and/or keep me up at night. Some of what I have listed here may seem to be on the serious side and some things are just funny and fanciful. Hopefully, when you have seen what I have recently reflected on you will come up with your own list. Here goes…

Upon reflection I have decided the following:

  • Seeing the movie is rarely as good as reading the book.
  • It’s OK to change your mind about doing something unless you’ve made a promise to a child.
  • One shouldn’t expect promised “life-like” hair.
  • I can no longer fit either foot in a size 6 and half shoe, or a 7 for that matter.
  • Having a second helping of Belgian waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream is never a good idea.
  • Also, consuming too much of a good thing is rarely a good idea, especially when consuming Trader Joe’s dried Turkish apricots.
  • A triple shot latte is no substitute for getting enough sleep.
  • No one wants advice.
  • And no one wants criticism either, even when it’s “constructive criticism.”
  • How many different passwords and/or PIN numbers can I be expected to remember? And which user name and password goes with which account?
  • Sometimes saying you’re sorry isn’t enough, unless you are under 5 or over 80.
  • If you come across something that’s wet and it’s not yours, don’t touch it.
  • Nude isn’t a color. 
  • Not all weeds are bad.
  • There are an infinite number of things better left unsaid.
  • It’s important to have a library card and support your local library.
  • And don’t complain if you didn’t vote.