Monday, August 22, 2016

To Be Happy at Home ~ Worthy Ambition

"To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour ends." 

~Samuel Johnson 
The Rambler, November 10, 1750 

Fresh butter's natural yellow
Real butter is a miracle of homekeeping.  3 minutes in the Breville Food Processor turns cream to culinary gold. The buttermilk squeezed out- good enough to serve company- and have them toast you for the discovery.  

Whipping up the latest batch, I thought of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). An Englishman, he was born in a time when the middle class was rising on both sides of the Atlantic. Suffering from ill-health the length of his life, he was acutely aware of the foolishness of wasting time.  His essays on the moral imperative to join profit and delight are beacons worth searching out.

Wisdom wears well. Johnson's quote at the top are still relevant and worthy  over 200 years after posted in a two-penny rag. 

Fast forward to today. It is flummoxing to ponder  why people aren't profoundly chastened by what they post on social media. All the rants and insults... thanks to technology, could outlive this generation. This generation may be remembered for contemptuous ill-manners, unrighteous indignation and no patience for either spelling or grammar. Can we share a group shudder?  

Which is why I write. In hopes to point even a few souls (including my own) to the gratitude for one more day. 

Fried Okra, Lydia-Style

 Okra was not in my Puerto Rican mother's cooking repertoire. Think she made it once, for I have vague memories of something akin to algae-colored slugs pretending to be a vegetable. 

Thank God this California girl married into a family with roots deep in states with long summers.  Oklahoma, Arkansas and Arizona.

They introduced me to one of the gifts of summer, fried Okra. The family- version was a bit gritty with cornmeal, so I changed it up a bit. In my version, pieces of the vegetable are tossed in a pancake-like batter before rolling in cornmeal. 

When the devil is in me, the battered bits to into a batch of hot bacon fat with chopped onion and chunks of ham. Otherwise, olive or other oil does suffice. At the very end,  freshly grated Parmesan cheese melts atop the hot mountain of Southern Hospitality. 

Poached eggs, Apple wood Smoked Bacon and a homemade turnover topped with whipped cream. 
I confess. I am guilty of binge watching the  The Great British Baking Show and swallowing whole Laura Bolton's delicious blog Fork Knife Swoon,

It struck this summer, this Epiphany. In this Age of Air Conditioning, it's okay to unleash worship from taste buds at the heart of the home, the kitchen range. The Sabbath brunch is nearly a service of celebration. The raspberry- lemon filled turnover, topped with freshly whipped cream was worth every calorie. Which certainly were gloriously ad infinitum.

Where we live is not just a house. It is a deeply personal retreat. We cocoon there, cuddling amongst reminders of what makes us happy. A bed so high, we sleep easily from oxygen deprivation; clinging to each other for fear if we fall off the edge, we'll break a hip. If we want to fight, we don't need to use fists- for there are lots of pillows.

As the bedroom is the first and last memory of the day, I think it the most important. I may dream of raising the ceiling, adding a balcony and improving the bathroom to more modern en-suite proportions. Still, there are elements I would keep if we were suddenly billionaires. No amount of money could ever change my heart. I was born a lover of country and romance. 

That means that we are slow to throw things out. It is better to rethink the purpose than to trash an object with cherished elements.

This nightstand was my passed- along childhood desk. My darling re-imagined it as his nightstand. On my side of the bed, is a similar desk from his childhood. Simply refinished, it serves double duty. First as my vanity- and bridge for the puppies to get in and out of bed on their own. 

Creativity solves waste. 
Inconveniences are opportunities disguised as problems. The downstairs bathroom light bar has been giving us fits. A shade broke. The fixture professionally rewired- but the bulbs kept pulling apart faster than my hair was falling out. Our best guess is that the modern light bulbs were ever so slightly different- causing the bulbs to overheat and sockets to pull apart.

Finding shades that matched both budget and taste wasn't happening when the great ah ha struck again. There were shades I bought on close-out for an outdoor project which never made it to the top of the list. Doggone if they weren't a perfect solution.  

Taking kitchen scraps out to the compost heap, my heart leaped. For in the compost heap, a salvia emerged. Just like in life. Expect, embrace surprise. Love the life you decided to live. 

Until we meet again, Thank YOU for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful- 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Garden Autobiography of What Really Matters ~ Dedicated to Allison Grace

There is a power to place when you allow where you live to embrace you.

'Amistad' Salvia, part of the Sunset Garden Collection, established in less than a season 
It is not so telling from whence forebears arrived. The framed certificates of recognition and diploma in my study are not nearly so important as that the plot of land my husband fell in love with because the surrounding chaparral  "smells like vacation."  The house was nearly incidental, except that it came with a 3 car garage. 

This place we live, sculpted the meaning of my existence. 

This geranium, one of several purchased from Greenwood  Daylily Gardens is a prolific horticultural 'brood mare'
Mine is not a designer's garden. It is a family garden which evolved, only partly by plan. It is an authentic reflection of who we were, and are ever becoming.  

Along the way, we learned mortal plans are held back by conscious thoughts.  What brought me to cherish this place was not the execution of plans. Deep connection was wrought from the vision and effort required to merge our personal visions of Eden, and make them real. 

There is a compelling collected energy born of hearts joining  hands with possibility.  Man is not inherently the enemy of the natural world. Fight or accept this- people are as much a part of nature as a smile is on a child's face.

A happy mistake- The orange tecoma- I didn't know it would grow to the size of the crepe myrtle- but our neighbors above prefer this view to our trash cans. 
The side yard which holds the line of  trash barrels is a happy place. It isn't just the color WOW of pink and orange- within the blossoms is a choir of birds cheerfully filling the morning airwaves until the sun leads them to siesta. The ambiance bids me to eagerly take out the trash. Really. 

My garden is not filled with things, so much as it overflows with loving memories. 

When my mother could no longer maintain her ode to the childhood jungle she crafted, her soul needed something of the garden to have with her in assisted living.  She never had a garden arch- so we re purposed this Charleston-style gateway into her headboard.  This made her happy.  

Early mornings,  as the inky-sky lightens behind the silhouette of dove, I feel her presence. Death did not separate her gardening heart from those she inspired. It lives on in the clippings, rhizomes and plants she passed on. 

I don't know that I have ever known a day here without bees.  This week they decided that  the signature abundant variety of  hospitality means they are welcome to raid this hummingbird feeder. 

Milkweed = Monarchs
Butterflies are the inner-child of the garden. Their calling, to pollinate the garden, is subliminal, subservient to joyful gymnastics. They dance. Flirt, Rest. Cocoon. Then reemerge to inspire us to carry on with our duties. With lightness, beauty and grace.

This post is dedicated to Allison Grace. My niece's life here was too brief. But while she was here, she taught everyone who knew her about making love THE priority.  

Linking to May Dreams Gardens GBBD (Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

Until we meet again, 


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

In Praise of Lawns, Bumper Crops and Notes from a Happy Summer

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time."
~ John Lubbock

A fave portrait of Reno
I believe politics should end at the lawn's edge. There are too many "thou shalt not" and not enough stirs of creativity. A lawn is not a necessity. It is a luxury. One we are willing to pay dearly for because it supports mental well-being in the way gravel never will. 

A real lawn lowers the ambient temperature. Something your toes know right away as they guide your path on a hot summer day to green over pavement. The bunnies hop on-up from the parched canyon to eat their greens (aka our lawn). The hummingbirds hover inches above the grass to grab protein snacks. 

This  is not to say gravel doesn't have its place: but I'm sure glad when our sons were learning to golf, the through-motion divots were carved through grass, not gravel. 

Newly planted Red Carpet Roses
Anthony Tesselaar Plants kindly sent some carpet roses to field test. What's hotter than a hell-strip? An elevated hell-strip, like in the hanging clay pots hung from the same post as our freshly-repainted mailbox. Not even succulents like summers in this location. Mother nature cranked up the temp into the devil- wants- his- climate- back range- and these freshly planted slips just said "bring it on."

While some people are aghast at women wearing fur coats, I'm more likely to be angered at the cost of furry- freeloaders who disagree that their "fair share" of crops should be capped at around 30%.  

With topography more similar to where mountain goats climb than an Iowa field, the space appropriate for a food-garden is constrained. With the goal to load baskets with more ripened crops for our kitchen, the math requires the production per plant to climb like a jet fighter off a flight deck. Enter the fine folks at Greenview Lawn and Garden Products, purveyors of Natural Start Tomato, Vegetable and Herb Plant food.  As a member of GWA- The Association for Garden Communicators- the Pennsylvania company querried for interest to sample. 

Yahoo! Squash. Cucumber. An assortment of tomatoes and peppers. Enough abundance to  not just share with the local critters, my gasoline bill is significantly reduced because fresh produce is a quick walk out the back door. 

In our neck of the chaparral, Armstrong Garden Centers carries Greenview products. While the fertilizer can also be ordered off the Internet- I do enjoy the temptation and inspiration which comes from visiting a real nursery, don't you? 

At the end of the day, Tahoe and Reno somehow fit into the blanket- basket. Inspire us to put our feet up. Count our blessings. 

Does this cabinet look familiar? Back in the 1980's, when a television's girth matched a refrigerator's, there was a hole where there are now two extra drawers. Honey did a GREAT job remodeling the furniture to current needs. Matching the wood color of the new drawers to originals- I am in awe of my husband's endless talents. Now the television screen floats above the cabinet, making it less likely for one of us to block the view of an important play.

One morning, guess who appeared floating on the screen above the cabinet? Kenny. Our youngest son was in a fishing tournament covered by Angler Chronicals. He's shaken up the market with Bass Knuckles Clothing.  Every item that can be made in the USA, is. The story of the company's birth and success is a story for another day. 

Tahoe and Reno say good night. 

Until we meet again, Thank You for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful 


Friday, July 8, 2016

A Time to Grieve ~Thoughts in the Aftermath of Dallas Sniper Attack

There are two races of men in this world- the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.' 

~Victor Frankel

The 5 stages of grief are suffered through  in no particular order. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Overnight, I've skipped through most steps, clung to others. Acceptance is the booger of the group. I don't know how to accept  this nation's self-segregating on webs of weaponized words. 

Cream cheese pie topped with glazed strawberries.
It was a fortuitous night to have on hand all the ingredients for the creamiest cheese pie in the world. Lots of cinnamon in the Graham cracker crust. The basic stove-top vanilla pudding filling- the milk  is replaced with 2/3 half and half, 1/3 cream and a cube of softened cream cheese. But that such divinity would be enough. Strawberries under a lemony glaze.... It won't cure what is wrong- but lovingly prepared food filled with happy memory associations is a balm on wounds. 

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze. Painted in a different era of climate change 
I foresee much suffering before our nation- ship turns around.  I couldn't go to sleep last night until I heard sanity.... 

"United we Stand. Divided we Fall." President Lincoln would not be happy with politics today.
Dallas Mayor Rawlings spoke of the heartbreak in losing the peace officers. “To say that our police officers put their lives on the line every day is no hyperbole, it is a reality.... We as a city, we as a country, must come together, lock arms and heal the wounds that we all feel from time to time. Words matter. Leadership matters.”

“They would step in harm’s way for each other,” Rawlings told CNN, speaking of the police officers. “The one man who was shot in the leg, he was so distressed, not for his wound but because he saw some of his squad go down around him.” If that doesn't break your heart- it was already gone from your body.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's statement.  “In times like these we must remember ― and emphasize ― the importance of uniting as Americans. ”

The Tower of Babel by Peter Bruegel, the Elder
God split up the Babylonians. Took away the common language which bound them as one people. It seems that work is being done now without consulting His direction.

It is not healthy to be in a perpetual state of hurt of anger. Not for people. Not for nations. May these sad days speedily turn to compost that some good crops may come from withering sadness.

Thank you for your time. Take some time this weekend to do something to make the world more beautiful. 


Thursday, June 16, 2016

After Orlando ~ Savor Life ~ with Village Nurseries and in the Kitchen

"LIFE is a mosaic of pleasure and pain- grief an interval between two moments of joy. Peace is the interlude between two wars. You have no rose without a thorn; the diligent picker will avoid the pricks and gather the flower. There is no bee without the sting: cleverness consists in gathering the honey nevertheless." 
~ Sri Sathya Sai Baba

 Caryopteris Blue Balloon® is a bee magnet

After Orlando.  Two words overflowing with the 5 stages of grief.  Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.  Emotions wildly swinging for attention. A clash of who is where in the healing process. A thunderous clash between those with an agenda to use events to promote colliding agendas.
The choice is to heal of not.
Choose to savor life. 
Default to gracious outreach.

If only intense tragedies could be sailed over, with the grace of fine horses leaping over over hurdles in a single direction laid across a course certain. Instead,we push through sloggy ground, hoping to arrive on the side where there is healing, the cracks in our broken hearts expanded because tragedy was used to grow greater love.
Bee visiting African Blue Basil in my garden
 Bees took me awhile to appreciate. When I was a wee child, my favorite Uncle Frank got stung while riding a motorcycle. He nearly died. But he didn't. Then there was when the preschool age  son scrambled into the kikitchen, tears streaming down his face, proclaiming. "All I did was pet it. And the bee bit me." He didn't die, either. (But he did stop petting bees).


Strolling through the Pollinator Passageway at the Village Nurseries Miramar Horticultural Encounter,  I was drawn to  experience a garden scene that was anything but a still life. Bees, birds and butterflies danced about, largely ignoring  the people from the land of giants (which must be how they see us). They were happy. For they were in a garden. Surrounded by beauty. All their needs provided. 

It was the blue flower( pictured at top) that caught my attention. It was a plant dedicated to bees wanting to go out clubbing. Nicholas Staddon, Pantsman extraordinaire, favors us with information "The plant the bee is dining on is on is Caryopteris Blue Balloon®. The common name is Blue  Mist Spiraea. She is part of the Monrovia exclusive collection with Village Nurseries.Without doubt, its a winning plant for every pollinator in the garden."                                                                                                          

Village Nurseries doesn't just sell plants. Their mantra might be "Seek. Create. Share." Which is what they did, not only on Encounter Days, but by posting illustrated plant lists online

While I am drawn to high color and untamed flowers, all beauty is worthy. While the highly architectural and monochromatic vignette might not be my cup of tea- I have no beef with those who prefer its serenity. 

All gardens are worthy of respect. May we learn to grow what we love, and be less hateful to those who choose to walk in gardens that are not authentic to us- if they  soothe the souls of the keepers of the garden, we should shout halleluja to live when diversity is celebrated. 

The kitchen hearth is a place where comfort is created.Where love-offerings are served from carefully crafted meals.  

Francis Ford Coppola's Directors Cabernet Sauvignon  awakened dormant taste buds. My notes read:  'Color- Inky garnet. Good legs. Flavors- spicy, dried cherries, pepper and clove... Satisfaction in a glass.' 

We're not big drinkers. The first time we enjoyed this varietelle, after dinner the bottle was corked and set aside. 6 weeks later we had the most luscious red wine vinegar.  I can't wait to pour in a capful the next time caramelized onions are served. Such is the power of good ingredients- it propels the imagination with anticipation of of creative use. 

Bless the people of Orlando. Even as you suffer, an act of war committed within the city boasting one of the happiest places on Earth, you show us your nobility. We owe it to you to learn the only purpose of tragedy is to face the fragility of life. The end can come swiftly. Without warning. Without fairness. Until then, we should savor every moment. 

Until we meet again, Thank You for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful 


Monday, May 30, 2016

Thoughts on Memorial Day 2016

Rejoice! The blessings that shower this nation were not given to any faction, but to the whole of its people. 

Both my parents served in the Navy during WWII
If my mother were alive, she would have liked her memorial service. It was held in our garden, the flag presented under the lacy shade of the  Persian silk tree. It began its life as the seedling offspring of a tree in her garden.

Born and educated in Puerto Rico, she was the child of the jungle. My father's first name being George- that make me Lydia, the daughter of George- of- the- Jungle. 

My parents were studies in contrasts. Mom was a liberal Democrat. Dad was a conservative Republican. They enthusiastically shared  passionate opposition. But their biggest fight wasn't over politics. It was about when my dad helped "trim" the bougainvillea- to within an inch of its life.  

A clumping bamboo- Borinda angustissima. Image by Monrovia

What they did agree on, was that the United States is the greatest country on earth. Ever. They believed military service was virtuous. 

They did not share the same belief in God's existence. Yet they agreed that bamboo, stripped of its leaves, make fine flagpoles. Every year, before Memorial Day, a new pole was cut from the expanding backyard jungle. Frugal, in the nature of children of The Great Depression, my parents hung the same 48 star cotton flag from a homemade bamboo flag pole, until long after 2 more states joined the union.

If you haven't looked at bamboo lately, it's time to put aside prejudices.Take a second look. Great oxygenators- new varieties are less inclined to attempt a hostile take-over than the Vietnam war-era varieties which were endlessly attemptint escape from my parents' backyard. 

Ethel's Garden is dedicated to my mother's vision of Paradise
While both my parents were gardeners, after the Battle of the Bouganvillea, truce required a division of labor. The treaty required my father to tend the dibles, while my mother focused on blooms,birds and butterflies. ence, when the transom window of my shed was dedicated, it was to my mother. Ethel. 

Memorial Day will begin here with a candle lit. 

I shall pray that the sanctity of Memorial Day will be honored by a day free from gratuitous insults volleyed between fellow citizens. 

I shall offer a prayer to those I know who are under stress, and pray they know some measure of peace and tranquility in knowing 

    When life is hard- pressure is how Diamonds are formed.

     When depression rains down- understand that the tears of heaven quench the forests.

     Whatever life brings- embrace that you are alive. Thank God for that. 

Until we meet again, Thank You for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

For the Love of Roses~ Huntington Off-Hours ~ Wedding Carrot Cake

Is there anything more romantic than a view framed by roses?

In the companionship of roses, my body may sway, but my soul holds still. A rose doesn't need to ask anything of me. I give to its garden willingly, for  I am flush with love. In Paul's first letter to the Corinthian Congregation (vs. 4-8), the Apostle describes what a great rose garden teaches, simply through its presence

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

Tom Carruth is THE rosarian for the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Gardens Rose Collection. Before "retiring" to the Huntington, his illustrious career for Weeks Roses included creating more than 100 rose bybrids to beautify gardens and interiors. In just 14 years, 11 of his "progeny " were chosen as All-America  Rose Selections (AARS), an achievment  not matched by any other living hybridizer. 

'Cinco de Mayo' is one of  Tom's AARS winning roses.
In 2009, photographer Gene Sasse requested copy for 'Cinco de Mayo'. I wrote

Cinco de Mayo ™ stands out with the confidence of a woman who knows who she is and t afraid to show-off. This floribunda flaunts its flirty fiesta flowers. The colors of its petals swirl like the clouds of a thunderstorm at sunset. Russet reds, mellow lavenders: they layer and mingle like the colors of sunset on the Mexican Riviera just as brightness succumbs to seductive darkness. This is a rose which is the floral equivalent of Salma Hayek."

Image courtesy of Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
Last spring, Pacific Horticulture published my article The Huntington Rose Garden~ Restoring a Gilded Beauty. Within the text, Tom shared his secret formula for show-stopping roses in a climate that seldom lets them rest. Each spring, new growth gets a kick-start with an application of granular Scott’s Natural Lawn Food. Now on a watering schedule reduced by 60 percent, the plants thirst is quenched in the early morning. What the plants do appreciate is a periodic foliar feeding. Tom recommends a “cocktail” he learned visiting Sacramento gardens under the care of T.J. David: a nutritious brew of Grow More Jump Start Plant Tonic and Seaweed Extract spiked with dissolvable mycorrhiza and nitrogen." 

'Flower Girl' rose spills from faux baux tree trunk
 There are no people in the pictures of one of the most popular gardens in the world. That is because, as a press-pass carrying journalist, security lets me through on days closed to the public. These photos are "behind the scenes" peaks at some of what we can learn to bring home to our home gardens.

Cimbing rose 'Golden Sun' climbs the trellis without over-powering it. 

Roses require respite to gather strength. Tom has interspersed bulbs as companions to delight visitors  during the winter break. Think of their role as like the opening act at a major concert. 

Our part of Southern California rarely has snow. But the blonde meadow registers a similar visual aura of easiness.

 The architectural majesty of these plants is set off by the negative space offered between specimens. 

The aptly named 'Celebration Garden' is a tapestry of color. The minimalistic linear water feature straddles modern and traditional, with grace. 

Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt' overflows the edges of a large urn.  It serves as a sentry to one of many seating areas.

Think diversity. Intensely planteds waths of color offer visual rhythm, discourages weeds and encourages pollinators. 

Always choose plants with significance. The first time I noticed hesperaloe parviflora  (Red Yucca) was on assignment for a cover story on the home of an anonymous billionaire in Sedona. I see this nearly carefree plant- and my heart skips a beat. I have some 'brakelights' variety just waiting for my garden helper's wrist to climb the back canyon where they will enchant from the distance.

In the parking lot  are stands of blooming Romneya Coulteri,( Matalija poppy).  A California native, the outsized flower, oft compared to fried ostrich eggs in appearace, when it is in bloom, it commands attention.

Two very lovely young women, one from San Diego, the other from Los Angeles had planned a day at the gardens. It is something hard for us in mild climates to imagine gardens not being open 24/7.  (I did the same thing in England. I showed up at the Gardens of the Rose one week before 10,000 roses were to burst in to bloom.) 

Image by Gene Sasse, who introduced me to Tom Carruth
For all Tom has done for me- his generous spirit - in my first baking adventure in ever so long, I took him a carrot cake from a family recipe. It really is GOOD. 

Carrot Wedding Cake

From Collection of Lydia Plunk
Makes Three 9” Cake Layers
Butter and flour (or use Parchment paper) Cake Pans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2 Cups Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 ½ tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
2 tsp Cinnamon
½ tsp Nutmeg
2 Cups Sugar
Sift dry ingredients thoroughly.
Set aside.

1 ½ Cups Vegetable Oil
4 eggs
2 Cups Grated Carrots
8 Ounces Crushed Pineapple
½ Cups chopped Walnuts
Emulsify vegetable oil and eggs.
Mix in carrots, pineapple, and if desired, walnuts.
Make a well in dry ingredients.
Pour well blended wet ingredients into dry- gently turning until well blended.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Let cool for 10 minutes longer, then turn out.
When thoroughly cool, frost.
Cream Cheese Frosting
½ Cup Butter, softened
8 Ounces Cream Cheese, softened
2 tsp Vanilla
Cream together
1 Box Powdered Sugar, sifted
Whip into cream cheese until fluffy
Half and Half (Small amount)
If necessary for a lighter consistency, add a Tblsp at a time

 My "Secrets"- Freshly ground spices are amazing. Use glazed walnuts instead of regular (throw more on side if you think not enough is just right).  If available, use fresh pineapple instead of canned. Golden raisins are sublime addition when adding walnuts to batter.

Until we meet again, Thank You for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful