Monday, February 23, 2009

Favorite Things "B" Ready

Want to be happy? Edit out more than a few minutes of the broadcast news. Fill in the comment section at the end of this post. Write down your favorite things which start with a "B". As your favorite things, people and memories come to mind, you will find yourself filled with gratitude. Which is a leap towards happiness.

I'll go first. This list is nowhere complete- but it is a good start to get your creative juices going.

Books- I cannot weigh which is of more important to my happiness- my garden or my library. But I can say what I am reading now. Betrothed by S.Y. Agnon. It is the first story in a set of the Nobel Prize Winner Library that sits on a shelf in the study.

Birds- When the movie Mary Poppins opened- my parents let me sit through 3 consecutive showings at the La Mirada Theater. "Feed the birds...." is still my mantra

Bees- As a child I was dreadfully afraid of them. Uncle Frank was bitten while riding a motorcycle. Terribly allergic- he turned blue and fell over. Almost died.

My husband's family gave me a different viewpoint about the buzzing. When my father-in-law, the late Kenneth A. Plunk was just 14, he left the farm in Oklahoma to live in Arizona. He heard a man who wanted to work hard could make a good living there. His first job was as a beekeeper.
He was a man who knew his honey- both the one he married and the amber liquid we buy in jars.

Butterflies- It was finally cool for enough days in a row that they weren't floating about the garden for three days. But they are back.

Beetles- the lady kind. They eat aphids- which I do not like at all.

Baskets- There is something special whenever a utilitarian object is elevated through art.

Baseball. When I was a little girl, JoAnn Turovsky's father would play catch with us. Watch the Dodgers on TV. Explain the greatness of Sandy Koufax. Because of my friend's father's influence- what I wanted most as a child was a mitt. My parent's said we couldn't afford one.

How special it was dating my husband to go to his much younger brother's baseball games. Eric Plunk went on to play MLB for something like one month shy of twenty years. More importantly, our sons would tell you, Eric, is one of the world's great uncles.

Billie- Eric's wife and Aunt Extraordinaire. They met while he was playing Minor League Baseball in Kentucky. Her mom owned a restaurant- she was a waitress- he was hungry. This photo of her (wearing my favorite color- blue) was taken one of the years she and her husband, Eric Plunk, hosted us in Maui at Thanksgiving time when Eric was one of the professionals in a Fantasy League.

Beach- I'm not a beach bunny. But when you have the right company- you can have wonderful memories. Our boys- the brothers Trevor (l) and Kenny (r) have always been best friends. Young moms out there- somedays forget "the list". It may get things like the laundry done on time. But looking back- you won't remember folding the way you will remember the places where you were tumbled by waves and had to deal with sand in the swimsuit.
Okay- Tag you are it. Send over names of your favorite things starting with the letter "B"

Used with permission, photos are by Gene Sasse, except the last two, which are part of my private collection.

JoAnn Turovsky grew up to be the principal harpist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, the Long Beach and Pasadena Symphonies, and is a member of the contemporary music ensemble XTET. She has been the professor of harp at the USC Thornton School for the past 25 years. She is also on the faculty of the Colburn School of Performing Arts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


“I look for inspiration from the main ingredients, not the exact proportions or techniques.”
Alice Waters
(Chez Panisse, Berkeley)

Cooking is a lot like love. You can read about it. You can read about it and do something with that knowledge. With a little patience, you develop a level of comfort so that what happens in the kitchen comes naturally.

Perhaps because I never ate it as a child, I find asparagus to be subtly sensual. Even though preparing it is simple, it isn’t something I prepare for just anyone.
The best thing to do with asparagus is as little as possible. Think of these slender members of the lily family as young ladies- better wholesome than spoiled by too much attention or adornment.

This is an excellent way to learn to love asparagus and learn to feel your way through the kitchen.

Which asparagus to use - the freshest- this is a vegetable which does not age gracefully. The finer stems tend to be more tender. Thicker ones will need their sides pared or eathing them can be like biting into a tree trunk. Look for spears with tightly braided tops.

If you can’t cook as soon as you and the stalks are in the kitchen- an inch of water holding a bunch like flowers in the vase is the most satisfactory way to hold them overnight in the refrigerator. Not in the coldest compartment- you don't want the water to freeze.

When ready to cook- heat a good grade of extra virgin olive oil- just enough to cover the bottom of a largish frying pan.
Snap the bottoms off the stalks to rid of the woody bottoms. Roll the spears, a single layer at a time, gently rolling the stalks over, until their color starts to turndown a notch. Sprinkle with salt.
Now is time to make them sweat a little. You do this by splashing the pan with just enough chicken broth or white wine to make steam rise. When the spears are just beginning to wilt when lifted- quickly toss in a handful of pine nuts. One minute more or less over the fire- and you are done.
Taste the wholesomeness of such simply prepared asparagus. You can guild her with sauces or grated this and that. But for my money- she won’t be any more delicious.
Asparagus can be tricky to mate successfully with a wine. To create a complementary couple- try serving with a California Gew├╝rztraminer.

To your health- Salud!

Photograph by Gene Sasse. Used with permission.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Literature, Life and Politics

Wisdom stands the test of time. It is more important than intelligence or goodwill in forming good public policy.

With events in the halls of leadership in Washington and Sacramento, I wish the slogans the legislators pass by each day are emblazoned with the words


That should be the government equivalent of the doctor's oath to, "First do no harm."

We are badly in need of a national kumbaya moment. To get back to our best, most innocent selves, I would suggest President Obama and Congress all join in a national reading of any version of "The Sky is Falling."

In this fantasy moment, I picture the Congress of the United States sitting cross-legged on the floor listening to an elementary school librarian read the story outloud. We would be watching- like a televised national book club.

No one would be allowed to mention their political label- or anyone else's. If that takes duct tape on whoever drives you nuts when they open their mouth- the Sargent of Arms would have power- and the guts- to administer whatever means it takes to get individuals within the legislative class to shut-up and listen.

The story dates back to the Jakata Tales of ancient Indian Buddhist Folklore. Whichever version- Chicken Licken, Henny Penny or Chicken Little shout "The sky is falling." We would remember the importance courage. Recall the dire consequences to using rumours of imminent disaster- which can grow to historic proportions. Internalize the seriousness that if these rumors prove false- lack of respect is the result.

No government can lead well- no citizenry can prosper- without respect.

Once we graduate from THE SKY IS FALLING, every adult should sit down to their own copy of Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. There is in each of us, "the defiant power of the human spirit." That is something that cannot be legislated. It must spring from within. It is "just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself." Frankl offered as truth that man finds the possiblities within himself is not based on conditions- but on decisions he makes. When government usurps our individual need to stand up with dignity, we become spiritually impoverished.

Yes. This is post was spawned by the so-called economic stimulus plan. The newest sky-is-falling-boondoggle. While there is much to admired within it- taken as a whole- it doesn't even pass the "Truth in Labeling" standard. I cannot tell you how offensive it is to have a bunch of lawyers sign it without even pretending to read it Is that what they advised their clients? Is that what they learned in law school? Because if it is- then I don't know why there is more money going to higher education until the curriculum is revised. After all, it was not uneducated men who led us into this crisis. Quite the contrary.

A note to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass and Senate President pro tem Darrel Steinberg. Could you stop one moment and go across the hall. To the Republican side. I know that in a visual society, Republicans are not seen as a minority. But we are. All we ask is the same respect as any other minority. Don't patronize us and call us obstructionists to the press. That is not productive.

We understand that it is a painful time. Many of us have businesses that are struggling. If we are not struggling ourselves, we have friends, neighbors and family who are. However, we believe that until we learn to exercise with courage that most important word, "no" then we cannot get past the fiscal quagmire that we earned by not being more judicious in deliberations. Like it or not, we need to say "no" so the ecosytem of economic health can heal and continue on a road to good health.

I wrestled for a few days about posting this. Did it fit in the context of the mission of this blog?

The decision to free-flow and publish is based upon the fact that a good life is not narcisistic. It isn't only about one's own comfort. As Dennis Prager teaches- to have happiness, one must have a philosophy of life on which to center decisions.

Kellee Fritzal told me something in the early 1990's. I was a Parks and Recreation Commissioner. She was a staffer. I was concerned about how what I said was perceived by more entrenched government types. Kelly laughed. She told me my "charm" was that I was willing to say what everyone was thinking, but didn't have the nerve to say "outloud."

So here's to you Kellee Fritzal- wherever you may be. You gave me courage when I would just have assumed kept my mouth shut. Thank you.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Garden Booming Blog Day- February

Dateline Diamond Bar
USDA Zone 9B
Sunset Zone 20
Elevation 957 Feet above sea level
58 degrees F
Rain last week 3.5 inches.

The crest of the hillside to the east protects my garden from weather extremes. You may notice in the background of following images how quickly it has greened-up outside in just one week.

Another set of storms meanders this way. Good. We can use the rain.

The changing sky is part of the amazement of this garden. It teaches the enjoyment not just in having what we desire- but what we are graced with.

The orchid- hued tabebuia flowers held on to the bare tree branches through the rain- and even a little hail. Now the yellow version adds punch to the colorscape.

From the side yard looking forward from the "tangerine snack machine" - kumquats now tempt the salivation glands- the haze of tabebuia blossoms contrasing add visual sparkle.

The garden is alive with birds. There is nothing unusual to have a dozen goldfinch, scrub jay and dove couples dining at the feeders at the same time hummingbirds are dancing in the air. That is not all the feathered companions here- just the celebrities of the moment. The sparrows and others are more spectators than stars.

The Audubon Backyard bird count is on. I just wish the birdies would hold still and raise one wing....

Walk to the edge of the patio and see the color of the new foliage on the rose 'Betty Boop'. It is a real production to get her branches bare. She just does not want to get naked. Perhaps it is just in the imagination- a few hours after stripping off her flowers and old foliage- these coppery leaves clothe her arms.

Propped in the arms of the Betty Boop rose a gladiolus triumphantly rises to entertain while the rose blossoms are on intermission

On the edge of the lawn, the casual Rosa Mutabalis (the butterfly rose) allows her delicate flowers to nod in the breeze.

She is a favorite platform for the yellow finches to launch over to the the feeders from.

The geranium are starting to show the diversity of form and flower possible.

The lighter variation on this scented geranium leaf popped from the original out one year.

Lavender in the dead of winter.

Savlia 'Indigo Blue Spires'.

These are just a few of the floral guest appearances this garden "off-season". Some of the supporting cast not shown include fortnight lily, pineapple sage, euryops, bouganvilla, yellow clivia- strawberries.

My original goal with the garden was to have an abundance of color year-round. While I have achieved that with flowers, plan b is in place.

Today is Sunday. The Day of Rest. The Day to Reflect. Refresh. Give glory and gratitude. I bid you Peace and Happiness in generous portions. Preferably in your very own garden.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Ultimate in Romance

Get out the hanky. The following is one of the most moving passages ever written about love. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankel recounts his survival in WWII German Concentration Camps. It is a particularly brutal winter. He is underfed, undernourished; a doctor toiling in a prison gang line. In this circumstance where there was only peril and depravity- his appreciation of beauty and love was enhanced, not diminished.
“Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread beyond a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise."
"A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth- that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understand how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way- an honorable way- in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.”

The title of this blog A Very Good Life was chosen to keep doors to topics open. I hope you understand why this post was important on this day. When we pass from this life- all that is left is our soul- it is the responsibility of each of us to make our own a good one.

I wish you all love. Once true love writes its story on your heart- it can neither leave or be taken. Because love transforms the person it touches, great love will be carried with you everywhere, every day you live.

Happy Valentine’s Day! A GREAT big hug to everyone who sends me notes. Including those who ask me not o publish. To keep private. All comments are blessings: cherished and respected.

The rose is 'About Face'
All images on this post are by Alta Loma photographer Gene Sasse, used with permission.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Favorite Things- Beginning with A

Oprah publishes promotes her favorite things. The natural evolution has led to blogging diaries of favorite things. Some blog groups assign a letter. But I'm a Nike girl at heart. Just do it. Starting with the letter "A" .

Air travel. Book a window seat on a twilight flight from the east traveling west. You just might have time stand still as you are mesmerized by colors as stunning as the Aurora Borealis. You will feel that from this vantage point, God looks down on us. Even He must stop to marvel at the magnificence of His creation.
Apples. Raw. In salad. In pies.
If how you like your crisp apples is in apple pie- swirl a handful of dried cranberries into the filling- the berries plump-up while baking.

One of the most sensuous sights is a man biting into a whole big apple. It's like he is Adam and you are Eve.
Artichokes and Asparagus. Men tell me that a woman biting into the fleshy leaf of asparagus dipped in butter makes them think they are Adam to your Eve.

Arizona. Horseback riding and golf. The Grand Canyon. Winter baseball. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Make this a double "AA" for Arizona author Scott Calhoun. This is the cover of his latest book. Go to his website for ordering information and to find out about his little inn at the base of the Rincon Mountains- ZonaGardens .

Artists- Meet landscape water colorist Kevin Davidson of Orange. Visiting his website is like taking a morning off- going back in time -and coming back completely refreshed. Anything that artistically compelling on the Internet- be prepared for the emotional impact in person. It is always stronger.

Anka Sepulveda - My warm-weather loving niece- who loves Puerto Rico, but has made her home with husband Chester Wills in Portland, Oregon.

Aprons- Remember Sambo's Restaurants? Home of the 10 cent cup of coffee? I pushed pancakes for them to earn money to invest in a higher education. Never think because a job is humble, that it isn't worthwhile. When you literally serve others- it never leaves you that to serve others brings happiness. Happiness is a two way-street.

What are some of your favorite things which begin with the letter A?
All but but the last two images in this posting are by Gene Sasse and used with permission-

Scott Calhoun's love of the Sonoran desert can be researched at his website
The Desert Botanical Garden website just might open the universe as to what a garden can be. See it at http://
Kevin Davidson's plein air paintings of the California landscape and early architectural gems can be perused at

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ordinary Things

"It never rains in California

But girl, don't they warn ya.

When it pours, man it pours."

Albert Hammond wrote in 1972, lyrics perfect for weekends like the one which was and week which will be.

When it rains, it is as close to time standing still as we come to in Southern California. What to do? Enjoy the colors of the clouds, the landscape. Find a books to curl up in in front of the fire with.

Reading Nicholas Sparks novels is a guilty pleasure. They read like an oil color painting of towns near the Carolina coast. The people walking through the scenes are so real, you can hear their southern accents. They live in places with broad porches and mostly good neighbors. The protagonists love with Gone with the Wind intensity. What they eat, is tasted through the page. The family dogs bark and are part of the storyline. Just as a single recipe can make a cookbook worth the purchase, there is always a good take-away line in Nicholas Sparks novel which ring like chimes in the storm outside my study window. Like this-

"...she was struck by the simple truth that sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people. " Beth- in Nicholas Sparks novel The Lucky One
How true.
Our neighbor to the north, Sandy Price offered me a package of Friendship Bread Starter the previous week. Who does not get carried away by the scent of bread rising in the oven? Thank you Sandy! I thought of how special you and your family are ever day I kept that starter going.
For dinner- with the rain- there was no way I was sending my husband outside to man the barbecue. There was a movie to watch, so I wasn't keen to fuss in the kitchen. This is the pop-it- in- and- forget- it Pork Loin Roast which became our late taco dinner.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
Drain 2 Cans Ortega Fire Roasted Diced Green Chiles-
Add with the chiles in a small bowl
2 tsp Lawry's Seasoned Pepper
1 pkg taco seasoning
2 Tbsp chili powder (if you are afraid of all this chili- you can skip the powder)
2 tsp to 1 tbsp minced garlic
oregano- the leaves pulled clean from 5 stems (1 tbsp fresh if you must measure)
1-1/2 tsp gray salt- (it really is better- but in this imperfect world, sea salt is a fine substitute)
Stir together thoroughly to make a paste which you smoosh onto the whole outside of a washed
4 pound pork shoulder roast.
Wrap the roast tightly in foil- the juices will saturate the roast as it simmers in its own juices in a covered casserole dish in the oven. Set the buzzer for 3/12 to 4 hours- you know your own oven best. Then go away until the buzzer says it is ready to pull the juicy roast apart with two forks.

Watching The Secret Life of Bees with my husband was sweeter than watching alone. Perhaps it was because our extended family is richly diverse- Perhaps because once-upon-a- time, his late father was a beekeeper, the movie resonated with us. No matter- it is excellent. Even more so with the last Presidential election. To have clear evidence this year that this nation has forged fast-forward on improving racial relations in one generation. Whatever you think of President Barack Obama- it is wonderful to have affirmed that a person will not be turned down for something that really is immaterial - the pigmentation of skin. Like the 4 minute mile- an extraordinary boundary no longer exists. That is good. For snack- the light sweet bread spread with real butter and honey- perfect with the theme of the movie.
It was long past dark before we could sit down to the tacos. The corn tortilla shells crisp from frying in the morning's rendered bacon fat, extended with corn oil. Little bowls were filled with goodies to stuff the tacos with. One held shredded iceberg lettuce with cilantro and green onion. Another olive slices. One with finely diced Queso Fresco cheese. One with chopped tomato. And a bowl of salsa.

There was nothing extraordinary in this rainy weekend. Except it was extraordinary in how right being home, picking herbs from the garden to cook with for dinner, watching a movie with the man who married me 33 years ago, felt.
Does rain bring out the inner homebody in everyone? What "ordinary" things do you like to do that feel extraordinary?

Cilantro and oregano do well in this region. Why get in the car to drive to the store to buy some, when for about the cost of one handful, you can grow it in your own garden whenever the mood strikes? Same for green onion.

The movie The Secret Life of Bees is based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd- available through fine booksellers everywhere.
As are the many books of Nicholas Sparks.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Looking Up

How fortunate to have gardened in one place for twenty years.

To have our neighbor, Dennis McCreary, plant a tree which now provides shade for this Magnolia x soulangeana. It struggled so the first decade in full sun. Now see her in all her glory. Like a child who struggled through adversity in early years- but with love and care- reaches her potential.

Southern California's un-winter triggered this early bloom.
The pink tabebuia (below) is a treasure from the spring plant sale at the Los Angeles Arboretum. During her formative years, "Tabby" that had me worried because she didn't bloom the first year like her "little sister"- the yellow flowering version- did. But not giving up paid off. Dennis was the gentleman when I told him she needed more sun or would need to be cut down. He allowed the tree on his side of the property line to be sacrificed. "Tabby" doesn't usually bud out until Easter time. But with the unseasonably warm weather: the trees are a bit schizophrenic about what to do when.

This week my nose was down in the dirt. Scrambling in case spring's grand entrance continued its mad race to summer. Not just dealing with vegetation. Bricks needing to be reset after the gophers had so much fun tunneling in the soft sand. Emptying birdbaths for their annual scrubbing. Problem-solving electrical shorts and cleaning the pump filters. Laying out shredded redwood bark on the bare dirt to keep down the weeds and gussy up the flower beds.

Then the rain fell steady this afternoon. Time has stopped in the garden. I have my fingers crossed that the bloom won't be totally knocked down before there is a chance to capture how utterly gorgeous it is when the branches are filled with chorus lines of gold finches or the ever-present hummers.

Yes- things are looking up this spring. Two weeks ago, the Disneyland rose at right was a collection of barren sticks. Now it is in full leaf with buds beginning to break open.

Like gardens everywhere, this Eden needs water. Not just now. In the future. The Owens Valley supplies Metropolitan Water District, which supplies the other water agencies. This area also purchases water from Northern California and the Colorado River. Local aquifers are pumped, but this region's underground supply is frequently polluted and in need of cleaning up.

A reliable source informs that the cost of importing water is roughly $250 per acre foot. Desalinization is about $1500 to do saltwater. Sewage is easier and cheaper to clean with reverse osmosis. But there is an unconfirmed rumor that near Del Mar, one firm believes because electrical grid infrastructure is already in place, they can slash the cost of desalinization closer to $800/acre foot.

Our water needs should not just be born by those who live elsewhere. It would be helpful to have a local reservoir, where runoff could be efficiently and safely stored. It is time to look up from the crisis of the day and put together all the considerations that would need to happen for a reservoir to be wisely built . Near here. Such as the one found on the Hills for Everyone website on property owned by the City of Industry.

THE spring plant sale at the Arboretum is now known as the LA Garden Show. This year's event is May 1-3. Link to info at

The pink tabebuia is aka 'Pink Trumpet Tree' - probably t. heterophylla because it is tall and slender. but it could be T. impetiginosa as that is more frequently carried at the arboretum plant sale.