Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Wisdom of the Ant

Go the ant... watch her ways and get wisdom."
Proverbs 6:6

The plains of Wyoming appear desolate. Unless you look closely.

Trevor was looking for a place with enough bars. No- not the type that serve beverages which lead to wearing lampshades on the head. Bars- as in phone reception.

So city boy son hiked to a hill and dialed.

Soon it was *!!@ OUCH, %@!!!.

The hill in the land "Where Antelope Play" was an ant hill. Not little ants wanting to help clean up the cherry pie filling left on the plate after a picnic. These were red ants, big as the scorpions known to trek across our carpet, their game to see how high and how fast a middle aged woman can leap when startled.

Ants know how to fight. When to fight. When to let go. They are selfless warriors for the common good.

Study ants, and learn what wisdom they can impart as they busy by. Professional athletes in team sports will tell you; there is nothing better than winning- but you have to accept loss as part of the profession. Aging athletes are revered when they take their skills and transition away from the limelight. Coaches will tell you when the game is over, shake hands. Review the tapes to learn. Another day will bring another competition. Not the same chance to win. A separate opportunity at glory.

Man is more than an ant. Ants don't have egos. Don't have to take criticism.

Success for people requires more than the recipe of instinct, intelligence and circumstance. In all professions- including politics- contenders must be coachable or they fall away, victims of their own pride.

Image by Trevor Plunk

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Happiness Haven

Uninhibited. Flamboyant. Gregarious. The Western Tiger Swallowtail is a welcome guest.
Seen sipping nectar from the ubiquitous agapanthus, the butterfly does not require exotic plants to to be happy in the home garden.

In nature: swallowtails surf air streams, coursing from ridge lines into riparian canyons. Happiness for the butterfly grows on trees. Literally. Suburban landscapes offering munchies for the caterpillars - birch, citrus, sycamore and willows-green leaves are tasty temptation for this youthful stage of life. Having found abundant food, they will cocoon. Let them rest to emerge to a nectar-filled floral banquet; a bit of water to hydrate-they will consider your garden their haven.

The only question will be: who is happier. You? Or the butterfly?

Images by Gene Sasse. Used with permission.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Going Native

Striking. Close up, stunning enough that the portrait of twin Matilija Poppy flowers snuggling makes California Gardener's Guide, Volume II an object of desire.Is a shrub worth having a love affair with? Matilija can be difficult to find. Needs her space. Insists on sunbathing. Will leave you if you don't do things her way. And absolutely worth the patience it takes for her to take over her own care.
Imagine this scene without the the shrub in the distance? A space visitor might describe it as looking like bushels of ostrich eggs served sunny side up on the ends of skewers whose leaves were not stripped before displaying.

A neighbor higher up our hill was shocked: our "outback" view is "better "than his. It isn't. It is simply the illusion created by the California Native posing at the property line. It gives the landscape a focal point for the eye to travel to, then beyond.

No room for the shrub? Already own Nan Sterman's book- an extra copy in the trunk? Feed your fix for this summertime fashionista with a set of Portmeirion style placemats by Jason.

Matilija Poppy is a super-sized shrub native to our chaparral. Also known as Romneya coulteri, ask your favorite nursery when they will have some in stock. Plan on planting in fall or winter for best chance of success.

The placemats are found at DB Home Mart, 21076 Golden Springs Drive, Diamond Bar, CA (between Market World and JoAnn Fabrics)

Nan Sterman's classic reference book, California Gardener's Guide, Vol II is available through your favorite bookseller.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Steward

When the Earth yawned awake at 5:40 AM, she faced the sun, bowing at a precise 23.5 degrees. She will hold that pose of respect until 8:06 PM. The summer solstice is announced. The longest day of the year. Lots of sunlight to look around. Refresh by puttering.

Cleaning along the herb path, the tangle of lemon grass near where the rosemary stands guard annoyed the "good order" gene . Until I stopped to tidy it. Only then did I notice the treasure it held:

this baby bird. Almost mature enough to fly off.

The magic of nature is that it lifts our spirits when we slow down.

Discovering the nest reminded how foolish it is to be annoyed with minor dishevelment. Real life is more beautiful than perfect order. See how frail the bird is? Yet it is born equipped to fly free. Its destiny is not to live solely within the nest. The journey will not be without risk; yet it should be taken.

Perfection is elusive. Life is grand. Don't plow through everything. Study your environment. When you find what makes your life good: be a good steward. Let it change you as much as you change it. That is the fulcrum of a very good life.

Sunrise and sunset times by zip code can be found at

Friday, June 18, 2010

Better than a Sex Manual

Some things about birds and bees we can figure out on our own. Other things- like what is the name of that enchantress at the bird feeder, we need help with. Use a standard field guide, and we are going to be flipping through pages long after Miss Scrub Jay has flown away.

Three cheers! Heydey Books has published the book perfect to ID the species of bird which has us mesmerized- Sheila Kee's Backyard Birds of the Inland Empire. This is THE bird manual we have craved. The one not organized with Dewey Decimal complexity. The birds are organized by like a well arranged closet. By color. By size. By season.

Not only is the book a joy to use- it avoided the popular culture temptation to name it something like "Birding for Idiots". Don't you hate those titles?

My copy found me at the Border's Books in Chino Hills.

This title is available through the publisher at

Scrub Jay photo by Gene Sasse. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Differences Matter

Not all these roses are on the market. Or ever will be. It's a perk of the profession: These arrived humbly held in the peanut canister. Crystal dressing would not have made them more beautiful. They spent the week on the dining table. Entertaining; beautifying. Living; dying.
Roses are like ideas. The first impression is how they look. Obviously different: all with merit.

The downsides were not so easy to discern. That happens past infatuation.

The second layer of impression is scent. That first inhale- the mind only breathes the whole bouquet as one note: rose.

Inhale. Exhale. Pay attention. What all smelled the same at the start, the nose learns not every rose smells the same. The yellow rose- 'White Licorice'- is named for her candy tinted scent.

Time and attention allow differences to unveil themselves. The results are that some roses will remain standing tall while others wither.

Roses are like ideas. Some hold their beauty better.

White licorice rose is available at

Thursday, June 10, 2010

BEST Tamale Casserole

The tamale casserole that historic cookbook collector Edda Gahm brought to mom's memorial won the contest for "First Pan Licked Clean. " The basic recipe for Tamale Casserole goes like this:

1lb. Ground Beef
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 chopped onion
2 8 0z cans tomato sauce
1 can creamed corn
1 c corn meal
1 c milk
2 eggs beaten
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 T Chili Powder

Brown ground beef, with onion and garlic. Add all other ingredients and mix. Pour into casserole or Pyrex of choice. Bake at 350 degrees until browned on top.

Like many a GOOD recipe- it is well traveled. It came to Edda from her sister, Gloria Whitley of Washington State, from a Mississippi regional cookbook compiled by the Telephone Pioneers of America, Chapter 36 of Mississippi. Bells Best. Reprinted nearly 30 times- these are a couple covers found on

Of course, the difference between good and great are the tinkering with the details. Having made it several times, Edda says, "It seems to get tastier as I add things to it."

With just a tad of coaxing - this is the rendition Edda made for mom's memorial. It makes way more than standard 13 x 9 Pyrex- As Edda noted. "This makes enough to feed an army." And our guests that day will guarantee- it is good enough the army will lick the pan clean.

couple of pounds or so ground sirloin
6 cloves minced garlic
3 Texas sweet onions, chopped
2 cans tomato sauce (8 ox)
2 cans Ro*tel (Southwest seasoned tomato sauce)
2 cans creamed corn
2 c. plus cornmeal
2 c plus milk
4 lg eggs beaten
1 can sliced olives
1 7 oz. can diced green Ortega chilies
3 T mild taco seasoning mix
Milwaukee Iron Seasoning* 3 c. or more of Sargento Artisan Shredded Mexican Cheese

Edda's notes:

Fry ground. beef on low: the onion and garlic soften and melt into the meat. Add Lawry's garlic salt and Milwaukee Iron with freshly ground pepper. Low fat content of meat doesn't require draining.

Beat the eggs- add them to milk before mixing.

This is comfort food, first. For mental health, not cardiovascular health. Use real lard to grease the pans. If you're making this big a batch- plan on using a dutch oven over 5 qts.

When mixing- start with ground beef mixture- add ingredients in the order listed. The cheese- stir some in- but save enough to generously sprinkle over the top.

Have a bit of patience. Let the cornmeal have some time to absorb some of milk and flavors mingle. Before and after cooking.

The casserole will cook faster in the 13" x 9" pans. If you go full-sized batch- allow for longer baking time.

It also needs to sit a few minutes before serving. This dish is excellent reheated.

On the side- serve a couple of fresh salsas on the mild and one hot. Then everyone can adjust the zippy factor to their individual taste tolerance.

*Milwaukee Iron Seasoning is a Southwestern run created to commemorate Harley-Davidson's 95th Anniversary. It can be purchased through

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Road Map Recipe - Summer Pasta

What Merlin is to magic, Debbi Rezvani is to cooking ; a master at stirring ingredients that make your tummy want to shout, "WOW!" when she is done.

While Debbi is known to whip up complicated gourmet meals of multiple courses, some of her best creations are three steppers:

1. Open the pantry.

2. What is in there.

3. Voila!

One of the most requested recipes from mom's memorial was for Debbi's pasta salad. It was not a surprise when she answered the request with what I call "road map" instructions

"Like most good things, there is no recipe...Lots of chicken, cut up; pasta, hard boiled eggs, pickles, onions, olives, mayo."

It is oldest son "Reza's favorite and as soon as the weather gets a little warm, we have it for dinner many nights."

Salt and seasoned pepper unsaid. A sea of good dinners glimmer ahead. Substitutions swam in my head- tuna for chicken. Scallions for the onion. Colors fly- sweet red bell pepper for red, Italian parsley for green. Side dishes synchronize for lazy evenings ahead- ripe melon, Caesar salad. Lemonade.

When you are "In the Mood" for summer pasta, what do you like? Send us your road map. Please.

Images by Gene Sasse. Used with Permission.

The buxom red tea rose is aptly named "In the Mood". She is the love child of R. City of San Francisco and R. Olympiad - a pair brought together by horticultural matchmaker Tom Carruth of Weeks Roses.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Like TV, the Internet can be a distraction. Used wisely, it is a catalog of connection.

The first person notified outside the family my mother died was Bob Huff. He E-mailed back right away, "Let me know if there is anything I can do. "

I sent the time and date of the memorial service. Asked if he would do the honor of speaking a few words on mothers and motherhood.

Being a CA State Senator and it being the Memorial Day Holiday, Bob had places where more voters would have seen him. But Bob chose to be with my family.

One of the quotes Bob chose to read were words our first President, George Washington, used to describe the importance of his own mother to him:

"All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her."

Our regular pastor would be in Japan. I didn't want a substitute who had no personal connection to my mother.

What to do?

An E-mail from Roger McClain tapped open long dormant factoids from slumber. He and Gerry were colleagues who became friends. He met my mother while she was staying with us. A retired US Air Force Colonel, he and his wife, Karen, coordinate the Senior Adult Ministries for Glenkirk Presbyterian Church in Glendora. This made Roger the PERFECT chaplain.

Roger accepted. His skills provided a safety net of knowing all the bases were covered in the order they should be. Indeed, the full military honors was not confirmed until the day before. Without Roger taking charge, I didn't know where in the service the 21 gun salute takes place.

There is comfort- and yes, joy- knowing that from where Mom looked down from heaven- she had to feel the care with which her service was prepared.

How details are executed at such times tell the story. The choice of cremation, if not accompanied by rituals of substance can mean the family is throwing away the deceased. No more than a good riddance.

Not so with mama. This summer, when her ashes are spread, she is being set free. To be with the mother, the daughter and the grandchild who were taken too young.

I don't know how such reunions take place in the next life. But I believe God has a plan for how we'll connect. Whatever it is; I trust He has a plan finer than I can imagine.

Top photo; California Senator Robert S. Huff

Image of Mary Ball Washington, mother of George Washington by Robert Edge Pine

With military- front left, Roger McClain. Facing forward, center, Gerald W. Plunk- aka my "darling"

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Living On

Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life. ~Albert Einstein

Nephew Manny Chavez introduces his son, Alexander. Manny used to play "ride the cow" on my back. I can't wait to show his son the picture of his dad with the HUGE sombrero when we went to Mexico. Or to tell his son how much love his father put into the music for Mom's Memorial. Everything from "Ave Maria" to "Cielito Lindo" the "ay, ay, ay" song mom sang out whenever her daughters needed to be quiet.
Much of mi familia (L-R) Kenneth Plunk, Vicki Chavez, Anka Sepulveda, Me (in blue), Gina Chavez, Manny Chavez with Alexander and Trevor Plunk.

Gerry turned these mini-urns for family members.

The main wood is a plank of the maple table where family court in my parent's dining room was held. For forty years, the Early American table was witness to every important family gathering. On its thick surface is where we set our elbows and said our prayers; where my dad carved the turkey on Thanksgiving (my husband and Gina's ex always placed side bets on how long before the ever-present cigarette in my dad's mouth would drop its first ash). It is where my then boyfriend asked my dad's permission to become my husband.

The table moved to assisted living; heard every word my mom and I shared in privacy. It was a companion trusted with our secrets.

Top photo of my garden by Gene Sasse.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Honors In the Garden

3 PM, May 30th. Shots from the honor guard pierce the still quiet of the bright blue sky.

The plaintive call of the bugler explains without words to unattending neighbors why shots rang out on this Sunday

"Lord of our lives, our hope in death, we cannot listen to Taps without our souls
stirring. Its plaintive notes are a prayer in music--of hope, of peace, of grief, of
rest... Prepare us too, Lord, for our final bugle call when you summon us home!
When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and death will be no more." *

Mom's ashes will be flown to Puerto Rico; there was no casket to drape. Instead, the United States flag was opened then carefully folded in the ritual specific to this nation.

Before presentation to closest kin the flat was folded into the shape of a tri-cornered hat, as was worn by colonial soldiers during the nation's battle for Independence. With respectful cadence, the red and white stripes are folded before being wrapped into the star filled blue field; signifying how the light of day vanishes into the darkness of night.

The honors to my mother, who served this nation by providing care to wounded warriors or world War II were provided by young Marines ( and one Navy man) through the Pico Rivera headquartered Battery N, 5th Battalion, 14th Marines, 4th Mar Div.
So began the structure to the ceremony needed to give a proper goodbye to my mother.

I honestly did not know this part could be pulled off. A garden memorial does not fit within the boxes to check on any federal Internet form. Wanting and deserving these honors was likely not enough.

The family is very greatful to have Field Representative Pat Fabio of Congressman Gary Miller's office in assisting my mother.

*From the invocation delivered by Chaplain (Colonel) Edward Brogan (USAF, Ret.) at the Taps Exhibit Opening Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, 28 May 1999

More information on the US Flag Folding Ritual found at