Monday, December 31, 2012

Les Misérables

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” 
-Victor Hugo, Author of Les Misérables

Click to view full size image

Move over Lawrence of Arabia. For 50 years you've been the benchmark by which all other movies are measured in my mind. You have now have company: "Les Mis".

This is a take a full box- of- tissue- with- you  movie.  Besides being gorgeously filmed, exquisitely scored, greatly cast and filled with little moments that grab the viewer away from the Epic film, this is a movie of great moral clarity. Who isn't hungry for that these days?


This photo of  Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman is from Yahoo movie review. If you are a fan of little factoids, click here and be happy.


Samantha Marks (as Eponine) and Eddie Redmayne (as Marius) are nothing short of astounding.  Their vocalizations alone are reason to buy the soundtrack.

 The only thing which the movie could have used- an intermission. It's not like you can hit the rewind button when nature calls. Which in a theater with the thermostat felt like it was stuck at 27 degrees- putting off that moment until after the film was over was -well- distracting towards the end.

Which is a good reason to purchase the DVD the day it comes out. I will.
*the bottom photo is from the  movie website.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hallelujah- Free Hugs from Sondrio, Italy

Two of God's Great Gifts are music and hugs. Through happiness and hardship, they are best shared.

Lara Fabian. I never heard of her before Judy Duvall forwarded the You Tube Video above.  Miss Fabian's voice... what a wonderful discovery to end the year. 

Ashley Fetters wrote in The Atlantic on the history of how a little known piece simmered in obscurity -only to mature as a bridge between pop and traditional culture. Leonard Cohen said of his lyrics. "There are moments when we can ... reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that's what I mean by 'Hallelujah.'"   Just in case you want to sing along...

"Hallelujah" lyrics by Leonard Cohen. 

I've heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well, really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Wisdom- Beauty as Necessity

"...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent of praiseworthy- think about such things."
Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Merry Christmas. How everything sparkles. 

 Every piece of china and crystal hand-washed and polished. The Christmas decorations rotated in for this brief season.  Usually every room here is decked as the living and dining room, but as with many American families, this is no ordinary year.

This year's holiday is as reverent as it is celebratory.  As much as it is wanted, this time with friends and family is needed.

Newsflash. It is important to note- the world didn't end when the news channels were turned off  in favor of holiday music.  A wise man, Dr. Dan Buffington, advised me during the first Operation Desert Storm; when the world gets scary, turn off the news. Compulsive obsesssion over what we can't control is not healthy.

Humans need beauty. 1800 lights on a single tree almost makes the decorations superfluous. Unless they are personal.  

The angel playing a violin symbolizes the heavenly gift of music. Even Mozart after he was deaf created patterns with music to stir souls hundreds of years after his pasing. If you've lost faith in miracles- think of how unlikely that is.

One of our son's once mentioned that we have the only tree he knew of "decorated in hunting and fishing." These ornaments are reminders of how important wildlife has been to our lives. Long after our last family trip together, these inanimate ornaments hold time still. They are reminders of how important our interaction with the natural world is to who we are today.

The caroler ornament. The year Bob Huff (now our Senator) played piano at my cookie swap, it was the party favor. That was also the year the postman delivered a lovely Christmas Card from some family named Huffington. First names- Arianna and Michael. Never heard of them.

Now these ladies, I not only know-we keep in touch. Every day. ( L-R) Me, Judy Duvall, Edda Gahm and Trisha Bowler. Sue Maxwell lives in Oregon, so she has a valid excuse for not making our Daily Drivel Dames annual luncheon at the Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton):- .
Beauty doesn't have to be expensive or complicated. The photo above is simply a halved out orange filled with vegetable oil, the center gizmo left intact and lit with the same little blow torch used to caramelize the sugar on top of creme brulee. Woudn't it make a lovely night light on a party night?

Stories and Pictures copyright protected by Lydia Plunk

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tragedy ~ The Last Dinner on the Titanic through Sandy Hook

 The Last Dinner on the Titanic is more than a review of the great tragedy of the Edwardian Age. More than the collection of recipes and menus of the different classes aboard the doomed ship, Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley created a beautifully illustrated morality tale. A sample-

"When all the lifeboats had departed, more than half of the Titanic's passengers and crew remained on the ship. One of those was the chief baker. Charles Joughin, who had passed a most eventful night. When first awakened by the impact, he had immediately organized a party of bakers to provision of the lifeboats with any bread they could find. Then he had helped load the boats and even bullied reluctant passengers into leaving the sinking ship... When all the boats were away, Joughin began throwing wooden chairs overboard for use as life rafts...

Passengers crowded to the stern as the bow sank... as the stern lurched and twisted and stood up almost on end. Calmly, almost nonchalantly, he stepped over the starboard rail and began climbing the side of the ship until he stood on the upended stern. He cinched in his lifebelt  as the ship began its plunge, steeped calmly into the water and swam gently away."

He survived several hour in the icy water. Presumably because copious whiskey- drinking acted as anti-freeze. Using the illustration of God as the Potter, we should be comforted in knowing even the most flawed vessel among us has the potential to rise to the occasion.

It was fortunate to have this book on the top of the reading list as our nation is united in mourning for the little children slain at  Sandy Hook Elementary School. We understand the pain  the old testament heroine recorded in Jeremiah 31:15 where

"Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”

 We are not alone in this madness. In the 2004 Beslan Massacre in Russia, 334 people perished:186 of them children.  In 2011,  in Norway 77 people were slain, mostly youth at a summer camp.

In the days to follow, once we are clear of the unreliability of breaking news, we will begin to tackle the many elements to break the trend in the US, where Fox News reported 13 mass killings were perpetrated in the United States this year alone. That statistic is alarming and "why" needs to be addressed in order to move on to "what" should be done.

The temptation will be to use the incident to move already existing and competing agendas.  To my way of thinking- in an age of expanding technology- all laws should be periodically reviewed for both effectiveness and current application. 

Gun laws-  There are painful statistics to deal with. There are those adamant that stricter controls are needed. Why should it be easier in some states to buy a gun than it is to adopt a pet?  Others will point out that every household in a very safe country- Switzerland- gun ownership in the home is compulsory.

Mental Health- There are some things of the human condition that pass all understanding. To deal with this, we are going to have to revisit legitimate privacy concerns.

Cultural Desensitisation. The effect of incessant and violent realism in games, music, literature and all media on psyche of young children deserves serious inspection and revelation.  The value of how free speech should be will be a contentious subject.

Journalism. Criminals and perpetrators of evil are encouraged by reinforcing the desire to be famous over the desire to be good. The free press may not be anxious to expand beyond self-regulation.

Not everything that should be done can be done by the government. Only we, as  individuals, can give a hug. Only people can choose to make what might unknowingly be our last words to a loved one be positive.

Christmas is a US Federal holiday. But only people of faith can make the season holy. I pray that anyone who happens here do just that in remembrance  of all the children who ever died younger than whatever you are.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving ~ What We Love About America

"Best of all is it to preserve everything in a pure, still heart, and let there be for every pulse a thanksgiving, and for every breath a song." 
-Konrad von Gesner

Plaque celebrating America on display in Jackson, Wyoming 

When I was fortunate enough to meet my husband on his International travels, my favorite question of people who visited the United States, was what impressions did they take back? 

The vastness of our land, the diversity of our people ~

Our friendliness. Our natural aversion to class distinctions. 

The changing of the seasons in Wyoming. The coldness of autumn's breath turns the leaves bright  while the angels  flocked the pine trees up higher in the mountains.

The greatness of this nation I shall always believe is inscribed in the coinage of the realm 

"In God We Trust"

What was the answer here when a child asked, "Are we there yet?"
 Before it was planes, trains and automobiles- immigrants crossed this continent-wide nation by  horseback and wagon.  When those failed, it was a very, very long walk. 

Sunshine breaking through in Idaho 
Modern transportation makes it easy to take for granted how fortunate we are to live at this very moment. 

Just traveling through my native Los Angeles County is equivalent to driving through a land  equal in acreage to the combined are of the states of Rhode Island and Delaware. The county's population is greater than 42 states in the Union. If it stood alone as a nation, our economy is the world's 8th largest.  

In addition, a normal year finds me mucking about gardens in nearby counties- San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura.

The last quarter I was also blessed to travel the states of Colorado, Arizona ,Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Arizona. 

It is good to travel. It is even better to be back home in Diamond Bar, California.

God painted parts of Utah in Technicolor 

Folders are stuffed with stories to query editors for interest. Hoping to find my stocking filled with that most wonderful three letter word in a four letter sentence. 
"Yes- You are hired."

So much to do. But as Stephen R Covey wrote, "First things First. " 

It was about this time last year a medical professional in the  hospital room of a loved one shared his belief that "Life is a miracle." 

The beauty of the desert exemplifies of what he spoke. In nature's vastness, so much has to go right for the miracle of a butterfly to come across an oasis with food, water, nesting and shelter.  For God's grace, He deserves credit for the biggest backyard habitat ever. Our planet. 

It is tempting to give into being overwhelmed with so much stacked about me. Yet handling it all is as easy as the title to the Stephen R Covey book, putting "First things First. " 

And so I say goodbye. Not forever. Just long enough to express my gratitude to the Lord on high in the tradition of my faith, as a Christian. Spend quality time with family. Renovate the office. Re-write a mission statement. Then back to the race which is the writer's life. 

All images and words on this post are copyright protected by Lydia Plunk

Monday, November 19, 2012

God, Government and Shopping in Jackson, Woming

There is a reason to believe in God rather than government. God can turn things on a dime while bureaucracies generally turn with all the grace and speed of the Titanic. 

Life is like the weather. You can count on change. Sometimes extreme. One day I am in Tucson craving the shallow shade offered by the reincarnation of an old mission wall.   

Barely home long enough to rotate the clothing in suitcases for something more appropriate to wear to Jackson, Wyoming.  

Remember the Glass Gem Corn in Tucson?  Look what I found in Jackson

The custom beaded necklace is priced for practical shoppers
You can't eat this- but you can wear it):- This luxurious custom creation is one of jewelry designer Michele LaBounta's extraordinarily beautiful pieces which she retails exclusively through the Wort Corner shop, Lila Lou's. 

Along with the unofficial store greeter Scamp, proprietress Kathy Sandford has packed this small shop floor to ceiling with a potpourri of visually stimulating items to entice browsers off the sidewalk and into the store. Her assortment of stock is eclectic, the appeal definitely feminine. 

A direct descendant of the one of the founding families of Jackson, Kathy understands the appeal of Jackson. People aren't drawn to Jackson because it is new. It is not. Rather, it is the beautiful. As is everything in her store. 

Lila Lou's at Wort's Corner 
125 West Pearl
PO Box 1693
Jackson, Wyoming 83001

At this moment a contingent of United States Marines are being deployed to Israel. Please pray for their  mission to be successful and for their safe return.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

37 Years of being Married to an Engineer- Advice to Young Couples

If you can't read the inscription, click on the photo. Taken at the Cheyenne, Wyoming Botanic Gardens, ol' Ralph Waldo's bequeathed us with good advice on what it takes for any venture, including marriage, to be successful.   

Never miss a chance to laugh

November 8, 1975. Gerry and I married. In the church where I was baptized and confirmed, we pledged for richer or poorer; in sickness and in health.  

That "piece of paper" the certificate- Don't underestimate its power. 
Our courtship was short. No way was I getting a hunky brainiac outdoorsman who wrote poetry and laughed at my jokes get away. I lassoed him up before he had a chance to object. Or have a chance to find out my myriad of phobias and insecurities.
The date was cemented when it turned out our first choice was the opening of pheasant season. For many years, our anniversary consisted of hunting trips with my in-laws, later our children and dogs in tow, up to Bakersfield with shotguns and dog crates.

The only formal dress I every saw my mother wear was to my wedding. 
 We proceeded into years for which, the longer I look back, the more honored I am to be his wife.

Who is this man I married? On top of being a devoted husband and wonderful father, he is the hardest working, most honest man I have ever known.  Gerry has this unwavering sense of responsibility. The customer, the company, his colleagues- everyone else comes first. It doesn't matter who makes the call or if it comes in at 6 pm on a Friday night.  Engineering is not merely his job. It is his calling.

From the age of 9, Gerry knew he wanted to be an engineer. If  you ever wondered  what an engineer at their core is- the good ones are that special breed of person whose  curiosity is endless. Despite his brilliance- or perhaps because of it- he can’t read a clock when it is time to eat dinner. Or go to bed. Not when his imagination is queuing up what is needed to turn an idea into something real.

His parents were of modest means. His father kept bees, joined the Air Force and became a welder mechanic after his service to this country was complete. His mother was born on an Indian Reservation during a rainstorm in Arizona. Her life was dedicated to her Christian faith, her husband and their family.  

The oldest of 3 children, Gerry worked his way through college.  Along the way to his dream he picked beans, worked shifts at a smelting company. As long as it was honest work, it was never too hard or dirty.

When faced with a decision, Gerry never takes the easy way out. He seeks to do what is right. He never cheats. He gives full credit to others. Whatever the personal toll, he is a man on a mission to see every battle through to success. 

The greatest gift Gerry ever gave me is courage. His unwavering fidelity is the stuff of Hollywood movies. If I have succeeded more than failed in any area of my life- he deserves the credit. I could never have lived so rich a life without him leading the way. 

Next year the dogs will need to be on the floor. I plan on holding babies. 
37 years. Each jets away faster than the last. My best advice on what it takes for an enduring marriage 

 Marry someone you not just love, but admire. Even if children aren't a part of your future- many women's questions of character are melted into this question- is he the kind of man you would want to be the father to your children? Be there for each other when the tough times come.  Life isn't always fair. However, when you can keep God at the center, you will  feel blessings you never imagined.  Promise. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Brunch with the Birds- Glass Gem Corn

" Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, 
life is  a broken-winged bird that cannot fly." 
~ Langston Hughes 
American Poet, 1902- 1967

The Westin La Paloma hostess graciously accommodated my desire  to share the magic of brunch without my lens intruding on the privacy of the other diners by opening the quiet side of the dining patio. 

The little birdies birds hover over left over crumbs on the tray drive staff batty - but really, don't you find their bold innocence charming?  

My waistline never missed the little bit of egg soaked English muffin set on the water feature's ledge.  

There is magic created whenever we commune with nature. Near our patio is a fountain. I feel inspired to set near it a platform where we might literally break bread with our feathered neighbors. 

Un-retouched Glass Gem Corn image courtesy of Native Seeds SEARCH

It is my prayer to make it to the top of the waiting list at Native Seeds SEARCH  for the beautiful Glass Gm corn. The un-retouched photo, borrowed from their web site  has created quite a waiting list ahead of me. 

Last week was my 37th Anniversary. I would like you to know something of him, for my life would not be all that is has been without Gerry's love, fidelity, sacrifice and companionship. But I don't want this story of a uniquely American man lost among other details. So if God and the computer are willing, I will post my homage to a very good man tomorrow. And if there is only one post of mine you ever read- let it be this next story. 

God bless you all for coming by.  

Words and Images, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted by Lydia Plunk. All rights reserved.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tucson GWA Symposium VI - Scott Calhoun's Tucson

Scott Calhoun plucked this image of a girl clad in a cactus swimsuit off the Internet for his presentation The Hot Garden: An Introduction to Southwest Horticulture. A 4th generation Arizonan, his family came to Tucson during the days of the Mormon Brigade. Eating roasted agave heads and watermelon at Christmas seemed good enough reasons to settle in Arizona. The raw natural beauty, a reason to stay.

Scott's presentation on the challenges of the bi-national dessert was full of love and good humor. As the owner of ZonaGardens, the desert infuses his soul with its spirit. Even though he wasn't on the same garden tour schedule as mine, his kindly voice seemed to whisper lessons about what I was seeing. Starting with the bigness of skies and openness of landscapes.  

There is a special beauty to plants that do not let the harshness of the climate be a death knell as witnessed by the magenta plumes of this Amaranth.  This plant has thrived since ancient times, sharing with us its special gifts of nourishing seeds and rich dye to color our garments.

Zinnias. Proof that simplicity can be as beautiful as the exotic. Clusters of flowers call in the pollinators.  

Yet, to be alone with a single bloom is just as enchanting. 

Its been a bit crazy since I got home- I need to send thank yous to the gracious gardeners who let us garden geeks traipse through their gardens. Above- the ingenuity in re-purposing discarded solar tubes to grow celery in the desert deserves a medal. 

A retired civil engineer and his artist wife opened their rather spectacular grounds to GWA. The rebar replica of a Saguaro cactus with a wren perched upon the arm, a charming ode to the landscape.  

Next to water, shade is a most valuable commodity. 

A birdhouse signals the homeowners are good neighbors. 

The snake is not real. The sense of humor is. 

The good natured frog tempted a kiss from a garden writer. 

Gardening in California, I grew up to be cautious about pots in the garden.  They tend to provide hiding places for snakes, scorpions and all sorts of not-so-fun gardening companions to play hide and seek with me. Seeing so many pots in Tucson- I needed Scott's lecture to lead me to a greater understanding of why their omnipresence in home gardens. 

The local soil varies between granite and caliche clay- nearly impenetrable compacted layers of soil and salt. To plant a 1 gallon plant in the soil in gardens he installs, Scott employs a jackhammer with a shovel- like attachment

The satisfied smile emerging from the garden shed seems a good place to end this post. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tucson V- GWA Symposium- Botanical Gardens - What Makes an American Garden

The votes were tabulated by Readers Digest in 2005.  Americans elected The Tucson Botanical Gardens the  "The Best Secret Garden in America." Fueled by breakfast burritos courtesy of Fiskars,  I took a stroll with my fellow garden communicators through the 5 acre oasis in central Tucson with the objective to learn what captures the American gardening public's heart. What is it about this garden to which we instinctively relate.

Monarch Butterfly
Perhaps it is the American desire for freedom that drives the enchantment with butterflies. Or our love to root for the underdog. What appears more frail than a nectaring butterfly? What more inhospitable climate than the great Sonoran Desert? Leave it to the ingenuity of gardeners to understand how to create desire in wandering butterflies to settle down where we can enjoy them. 

Want butterflies? Plant flowers. Let them dance to the rhythm of seasonal breezes.  

Americans don't like to take ourselves too seriously. Jessica Reinhardt was a good sport about posing with the Monarch wings so that I don't have to show you how silly I look wearing them):- .

The shade of a pomegranate tree fills the role of the apple tree in warmer climates. 
We take the fruits of our labor seriously. Better known for our persistence,  our optimism equips us with the patience it takes to tend a sapling as it struggles to  reach its full potential as a factory of fruit and shade. 

We are naturally inquisitive. Since the Europeans got lost and ended up on our North American shores, we are a nation of explorers. I don't know what this cactus is, but its a happy discovery. So exotic- I have just the spot if California Cactus can source for me. 

We believe in the power of boldness. Such as the pomegranate- red wall embracing the water wall.  

We are a nation of contrasts. As a people, we are as cohesive as the background tile on the water wall. Yet because we embrace individuality, even when it seems this means we are celebrating fruits and nuts as literally as the relief tiles, we are not dull.  

'Bone Trooper" by Jana Imblum

We are a nation of immigrants, proud of our individual cultural roots. To celebrate the Mexican-American celebration of the Dia de los Muertos, the gardens sent out a call to local artists to create  life-sized dancing skeletons. 

'Quetzally Hernandez Corondo' dressed to dance with other dearly departed, by Camila Catrina.

As a continent wide nation, we are blessed to have pockets of artistic regionalism. Ceramic artist  Nina Borgia- Aberle is just one of the practitioners in the vibrant Tucson arts community.  

We are a nation built on the imagination of our people. Chris Kennedy Bubany celebrates everyday life through her decorative ceramic garden scene. 

Whatever our differences, when we walk through a garden, we are a nation of friends.

Whatever our family's stature in its country of origin, like this firethorn,  'Pyracantha coccinea' , in America, because this nation is exceptional, we have the potential to rise to barely imaginable heights . 

May God Bless the USA, all her gardeners and gardeners to be.