Wednesday, July 30, 2008

All Shook Up

The theme song yesterday was Elvis singing, "All Shook Up"

The epicenter of the Chino Hills earthquake is just over one hill and one dale from my little Eden.

My husband was upstairs starting to shave and I was downstairs in my study when the earth threw its tantrum. It seemed as though the house joined the earth by throwing things at us...The pictures missed me… The lamps missed me…The puppies jumped in my lap and huddled. My husband was about to put the razor to his face when he got introduced to my toiletries as the medicine cabinet started hurling its contents at him.

We were okay. The only thing that went out was phone service. We pay for four lines and none of them worked.

While my husband ran to check on the neighbors, I proceeded to get ready “just in case”. We have emergency water supplies and such in a cabinet outside, so this was more of an exercise in minimizing breakage. My car was moved out of the garage in case another tremor were to either empty the attic or render the door unusable. Breakable items not already laying face down on the floor already- that’s where it went. The major exception was that if it required a ladder to take down- forget it. For 72 hours- I assume the place I least want to be is where my feet aren’t firmly on the ground.

We were very lucky. The grocery stores nearby had their shelves emptied and quite a clean up ahead of them. There are houses with roof tiles loosened. A few blocks from here I understand there was damage to homeowner utility lines. A few collections may have been seriously hurt, but I haven’t heard of anyone seriously injured, so there are lots of things to say thank you to God for in the aftermath.

I wish I had a better telephoto lens. In the canyon behind my home are some old trees where the larger birds disappear in to. The earthquake shook the old leaves and dried stems of vines to the ground. The structure of the limbs is now visible. I watched the hawks sitting on their throne, waiting for the bunnies and other wildlife that comprise their diet to emerge. I would so love to share that moment with you on film, as nature showed me grace in the disaster's aftermath, but my little lens doesn’t do the sight justice. But your imagination will.

So instead, I will leave you with Lydia’s list to prepare for an emergency. Always kiss your loved ones when you part for the day- there are no guarantees that life will be the same at the end of the day as it was at the beginning. Don’t run your gas tank until empty- you may not be able to fill up to get home or get away. Keep the barbecue maintained and with back up fuel on hand in case it becomes your main kitchen appliance if you can’t get back inside your home. Keep enough cash that if the banks are closed- you aren’t worried about imminent poverty when disaster strikes. Keep your sense of humor. But most of all- keep your faith.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Restoring a Sense of Wonder

“God make me receptive and aware; restore me to my capacity for wonder. ”

Children of an alcoholic learn to expect disappointment. Joy is not a natural emotion for us. Fear is. Apprehension is. A compulsive drive for perfection is a way many children of alcoholics deal with life. If we are only perfect enough, our homes perfect enough, then we will be rewarded with some measure of peace. Wrong.

Serenity is only achieved when we live as little children. With a sense of expectation and wonder. I remember being six years old and my dad driving our family on one of the original highways, Interstate 5, south through Orange County. Driving past orange groves and strawberry fields- seeing the mighty mountain in the distance: the Matterhorn at Disneyland. I thought it was the tallest mountain in the world. Now, one can barely spot the faux Matterhorn from the freeway. It is hidden from view by the buildings that have sprung around it.

But there is a garden that I sometimes go to for a short hike when I want to have my sense of childlike wonder restored- the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden.

This 33 acres of parkland includes opportunities for hiking, grand vistas and learning close up beauty in water wise plantings. But best of all, enjoying the Kids Adventure Garden will bring out the childlike capacity for wonder in even the most jaded adult.

The Garden is located in the heart of Thousand Oaks, adjacent to the Conejo Community Park(Hendrix Ave. at Dover Ave). For more infomation go to

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Shedista

Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.
Albert Einstein

It was the Velveteen Rabbit of sheds. Loved, worn, and tattered: the stuffing falling out. That was before Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways triggered my imagination out of hibernation.
The shed was built by my husband and our sons at the beginning of what turned out to be an uncertain decade. There was a lot of tumult in my husband’s industry: we really weren’t certain we would be able to stay in the home where we raised our family. The tentativeness of that time was left behind in the form of half-done or never started pieces for projects. By the time I read Debra Prinzing’s Stylish Sheds, the brick floor could not be seen because of all the boxes stacked upon it.

Einstein was wrong about imagination being everything. Without action it is nothing. So I set about clearing the space so there would be room for the imagination to spread out. Spoiled paints took up valuable space with no value in saving- gone. Duplicate supplies were consolidated. Emptied of evidence of how much indecision I had allowed, this jewel box sized building stood ready to be scrubbed, repainted and reborn.

The shed project isn’t quite finished. But enough is done to share how much FUN it can be to put the past behind and look into the future. I am now and forever more a Shedista.

The inspiration piece turned out to be an old pine double bed set to be piled in to a dumpster. With a little elbow grease, leftover plywood, a minimum of tools and four cans of spray paint- we now have a colonial day bed for our doggies to snuggle in.

The chest at the foot of the bed was a close out at a discount store. It set the color-way for accessories as the project evolved. It lacked a latch- which I selected from the stock at our local hardware store. Instead of storing blankets- this under $25 bargain holds micro- tubing for repairs and additions to our drip watering system.
The mattress was a cushion bought end of season. The bed skirt and pillow cases were cut from a rectangular tablecloth. The pillow sham was created from two place mats sewn together and stuffed with a travel pillow.
Now that my puppies have a plush place to plop on while I putter about on projects nearby, I can get to putting action to the coming attractions in this journey called life.

Shopping Credits-

Paint and Hardware from Ken's Ace Hardware, Diamond Bar
Chest from Ross Department Store

Placemats for pillow sham from Bed, Bath and Beyond.
"Petal Pushing" Tablecloth and trash can from Barbara Cheatley's, Claremont, California.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Reflections from a foggy morning

This blog entry will be a capella writing. Without the embellishment of photographs. A solo effort of words to carry the thoughts. To paint thoughts in words without pictures for a writer is very much as an artist restraining the working palette to black and white. I could sort through my collection of photographs to accompany these words. But the simplicity of the words on their own, this time seems right.

Have you ever awoken on a foggy morning to hear sounds carried from further away? Yesterday I could hear the train through the dew like it was down the street. There isn’t a rail within miles of here.

Do you ever think of what a miracle these softly drab mornings are that prelude the harsh heat? They are nature’s equivalent of the plain woman whose beauty unfolds quietly to those who pay attention. It is easy to appreciate the chamber of commerce bright blue sky days. It is easy to be enthralled by apparent physical beauty. But gifts are not just in what we see. It is in what we experience. The gift of fog is that by slowing the unveiling of the day, we are offered the opportunity of a fresh perspective of the everyday.

Beauty is more than visual. It is a fortunate person who understands that beauty is available to every sense God gave us, and appreciates this. Have you ever noticed how moist air is delicious? It is easier to breathe, filling the energy reservoir with vitality. When the lungs are filled in rolling deep breaths, it is easy to dream with childlike pleasure. Dry skin feels young and elastic.

The cawing of the jays and the tattling of the hummingbirds begins the morning symphony. The orioles do not need to herald their arrival. You can’t miss the bright yellow flash as they glide silently towards the feeders. In the August mid-morning warming, you can hear hear the dove arrive like the summer tourists they are. Their soft coo joins with the cackle of established local residents. The swallows get up late: probably with the insects in the afternoon heat.

The rest of the assortment includes some little dears known as tits. I understand some of them are great tits- which is why I can never join the Audubon Society. I could no more keep a straight face hearing that name than when the menu board in Hertfordshire included on the dessert menu something called a “Spotted Dick”. I did find the recipe for that cake in a book called Great Recipes of Britain. It is a very short book. Thank goodness for the French Revolution when all the employers of the chefs were being deposed of so Britain got some good food for a short while: or that book would have its growth stunted to a pamphlet.

These words were originally sent to one of those dear friends who cross our paths but a few times in this life. The kind you thank God for, you pray their well-being without being asked to, and when things aren't going well- you trust they pray for you, too.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why Garden?

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God's handwriting.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life’s meaning is written in the beauty of a canyon wall. It is heard in the voice of a chirping sparrow. It is felt in the soft coolness of a lawn, laying on your back on a hot summer day. God’s love is tasted in the warm sweetness of a peach picked fresh from a tree in the backyard.
There is a natural order to living that transcends all linguistic borders.
It is a law of nature that as your skill grows in any activity, your love for it grows. That love will drive your skill to levels you dare not dream. So it is in sports. So it is in love. So it is with language. And so it is with gardening.
First we observe. Read God’s handwriting on the landscape. Diamond Bar is a magnificent setting of intrinsic beauty inlaid in the bosomy hills of eastern Los Angeles County. In the distance, the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains display creation’s full majesty. The Puente –Chino hillsides reflect back the sun’s golden sheen in shades of undulating amber, while holding us in snug safety from urban ills.

The emerald green of our golf course and thousands of mature trees offer visual respite from the searing summer sun. Our gardens are the individual gemstones which we choose to reflect our values.
Then we engage. It doesn’t matter so much how one starts to garden as it is that one begins. What we write with seed, stone and sod is horticultural penmanship. Our gardens are an international language needing no translation. Our neighbors will read our thoughts, so write the story with authenticity. Love the mountains- plant a pine tree. Are you a romantic at heart- plant roses.
Love to entertain- fill in blank spots with herbs, Nothing will improve your cooking so much or so easily as using fresh herbs.
Cross the bridge from garden to table. The ubiquitous society garlic- the little lavender flowers make a lovely replacement for garlic on garlic toast. Michael Chiarello- of Food Network fame and founder of NapaStyle- recently shared how he would love more people to include lemon verbena in our home gardens.
Lemon verbena is a wispy tender perennial bush with fingerling leaves packing a lemony scent. Michael loves how the leaves make a dish more memorable by brightening the flavor. Poultry, fish, vegetable, tea infusions and dressings can all benefit.
With high energy prices and concerns about food safety, planting fruit, vegetables and herbs is not just visually rewarding, it is cost-wise and health wise.
Until next month, I wish literally, you enjoy good taste from your garden.

This is a reprint of my 2008 July column "From Lydia's Garden" which appears monthly in the longest running publication where I live, Diamond Bar, California . The Windmill article was originally run with a sidebar including pertinent information. The photos were not published with the printed article.
Thank you to editor Mina Ynzunza for her continued support and encouragement.
Thank you to photographer Gene Sasse for permission to use the top photo of Slot Canyon. Thank YOU for reading.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

On the Importance of Travel

Traveling is important- not only does traveling alone make you confront realities of life but it also forces you to learn to relate to other people. - Dennis Prager

Travel expands the mind. It is interactive. It takes us away from our safe environment of everyday.
My daughter-in-law, Leslie Butler Plunk, loves to combine community service with her travel. As a high school student in Fullerton, then as a college student at Azusa Pacific University, then a dental student and now DDS working on her pediatric specialty at Loma Linda University, Leslie has always enjoyed taking health supplies to disadvantaged corners of the world. This year, her mom, the incomparable Lisa Butler of Fullerton, got to join her daughter on a medical mission trip to Ecuador. Before coming home, they took a couple days of R&R on Galapagos.
Imagine the shared adventure of snorkeling among the giant turtles.
And get a load of the bird's feet. The birds- blue footed boobies- look like sea gulls who grew blue flippers.

Part of Leslie's wisdom is that she doesn't rush through life. She stops to enjoy what a wonderful world the Lord has created. Whenever you have a chance to combine pleasure with business- do it. You will never regret the memories.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Sky Was Falling

Yesterday, the sky fell. A car caught fire, sparking the dry brush off the 57 freeway near the mouth of Tonner Canyon. One minute I am walking into Albertson's with a short list. The sky was brilliant blue. The air was filled with the familiar summer scents of sage, coyote bush and eucalyptus. Walking out a few minutes later, the sky is ashen, falling like burnt snowflakes, leaving a pallid gray coating on everything outside. The unmistakable smell of smoke-spewing fire choked the lungs.

The quickness of fire is why brush clearance is a serious ritual in Southern California. It is why in suburban outskirts we “clear the brush” ahead of summer.

Brea firefighters were first on the scene. The winds were gentle- but headed towards Diamond Bar . There were no chances taken. Los Angeles County firefighters soon joined in. Not just local personnel, but companies from across the county. The Los Angeles County Sheriff took posts to prevent people from wandering in too close to the fire. CHP escorted traffic on the freeway safely through the pass. Except for the fire and smoke, it almost appeared to be an exercise, because it was just so orderly.

In a neighborhood just a half mile from the fire, Diamond Bar City Councilman Steve Tye watched trucks move in ground crews and helicopters do water-drops with residents. His presence was appreciated. He wasn't a politician campaigning. He was there to observe and to lend a hand should it become necessary.

From our vantage point, the flames could not be seen. It reminded me of real battlefield conditions. Yes, there is fire. But the enemy is as much the smoke.
For all the lack of coordination between agencies reported on the news, it was reassuring to watch agencies from the state of California, Diamond Bar, both Los Angeles and Orange Counties working together seamlessly. The fire, which started at the edge of thousands of acres of open space was miraculously contained to around 20 mostly parched grass-covered acres. True, the fire burned through the meadow where we drive by to watch cattle graze. However, if the understory beneath the oak forest on the hillsides had caught fire and the breeze had grown to wind- the damage could have exponentially escalated, decimating thousands of acres of valuable riparian woodland.

But most importantly, not one home or one human life was lost to fire because of the quick action on the part of our wonderful public safety workers. Thank you, guys!

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Miracle That is This Nation

"A miracle is not the suspension of natural law, but the operation of a higher law."

Robert J. Strand

Independence Day is a perfect day to reflect on the miracle that is the United States of America. The cornerstones of this nation were formed by words of philosophers who spoke other languages and who were themselves centuries dead. Opposition to creating this nation was great. It was both foreign and domestic.

This nation was not just the coming together of ideas in peace and harmony between Crown and Colonies. The price for freedom could not be negotiated. It required not just financial sacrifice. To become a nation required payment in mangled bodies and blood.

Odds were great the endeavor would fail. Still, he people of Colonial America chose to endure the hardship of war, understanding they called it and the consequences upon themselves.

Do you ever wonder why the documents of our founding fathers are replete with words of the Almighty God? Perhaps it is because they believed that it required His hand, first to form our beloved Nation, and then to rule it wisely.

They even knew to give thanks for hardship. It was a brutally cold a winter it was when George Washington crossed the Delaware- see the chunks of ice churning in the river in the photo dramatization by Emanuel Leutz above. Bad weather helped them defeat the Hessians, hence win the Revolutionary War.

Thank you to Sue Maxwell of Oregon for sharing the pictures her dogs, Maggie and Yukon. Someday I hope to meet the three of you!

Take a moment between grilling and fireworks to jog over to this darling display by artist Jacquie Lawson. Watch to the end to see what she does with a bouquet made up of all our state flowers!