Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Too Close to Home

You may have heard this story about a home that exploded on Christmas Eve due to a gas leak. And when I say "exploded," I don't mean there was an explosion; I mean blasted out of existence, blown to smithereens (whatever a "smithereen" is.)

One man was killed and others were seriously injured, including a Pacific Gas & Electric worker . A number of neighborhood residents had reported smelling gas but the gas company did not respond immediately and then did not evacuate the neighborhood.

I'm posting it here because the destroyed home is just around the corner from my parents' house. Fortunately, they weren't home at the time because they were visiting me.

Authorities are still investigating but it could have happened anywhere, to anyone. The people in the house were just spending their Christmas Eve together, preparing for the holiday as many of us were. Then, it was all gone in a flash. Literally.

It could have been my parents' house. Heck, it could have been my house. It could have been your house.

We can't dwell on why it happened to those people and not to any of us. We can only count our blessings and take no moment for granted.

Perhaps this incident should inform our resolutions for 2009?

Top 5 Totally Uncool Things About My 'hood - The Final in a Series

#1 – Tagging

Why do they do this?

Is it for the same reason Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson release a personal porn tape? Do they need the notoriety?

Or is it the same reason dogs do their business on trees? Are they just marking territory?

And what’s with this tag?

Who are the 90026 Blax? Does that refer to African-Americans living in the 90026 zip code? Or the stage crew of an Echo Park theatre company?

If the latter, maybe I know the taggers. If the former, then I think it's a frame-up. There aren’t many black people living in the 90026, certainly not enough to form a gang. The few I’ve seen were definitely not the type of people who spray paint walls.

Degrees of tagging vary – from this most egregious example . . .

. . . to this girly example, done in pink chalk.

This girl (I’m only guessing it was done by a girl) spread her message down my street and around the corner. One bit of this graffito appeared on my neighbor’s retaining wall, which I washed off with soap and water. Another appeared on the wall of the 7-11 around the corner. That one I left in place.

This is a more aggressive example at the 7-11:

This one I don't get. Surely, there's no glory in tagging a 7-11.

It’s getting better though. Tags used to appear on my retaining wall on a regular basis. K and I would paint them out as soon as we could. Sometimes, a couple of days would pass before we could get to it, but we did our best to get to them as soon as possible. We’ve noticed that the taggers seldom target us anymore. It still happens once in a while, but rarely.

I don’t know who does the tagging. My guess is that in my own 'hood most of it is not the work of organized gangs. I think it’s just kids who like to paint stuff. I caught a pair of boys in the act one afternoon. In the middle of the day, they decided to defile the big white wall on the house down the street. I yelled at them; they kind of scoffed at me but they stopped their vandalism and went on their way. The next week, a woman in another neighborhood was shot and killed for stopping some taggers in action. But that was a totally different 'hood.

Like littering, tagging is an act committed by those who feel they have no investment in the community and no responsibility toward the neighborhood. But tagging is a much more aggressive act, a much more conscious act. Littering is simply laziness, negligence. It is done without thinking, without premeditation. Tagging is always intentional, always premeditated.

School boys aside, maybe taggers tag because they do have an investment. Maybe it’s just an investment that the dominant culture doesn’t recognize.

But from our side of the fence, it’s such a stupid act isn’t it? It’s really the human equivalent of marking territory. What if I went around putting my tag on other people’s houses?

How totally uncool would that be?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Kitten Wants to Wish You a Very Meow-y Christmas!

. . . but she's a little shy . . .

. . . so she asked some friends to help:

The Jingle Cats - White Christmas - The funniest movie is here. Find it

Happy, Catty Christmas to you and all your kittens!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

There, it's settled then!

This is the time for all of us to celebrate the birth of our savior, whoever he may be:

Chanukah Vs. Christmas - The best free videos are right here

Happy Kwanzaa!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bizet to Tchaikovsky

For when you have a spare 5 and 1/2 minutes for a cute story and some great music:

Santa Taking The A Train - Click here for more blooper videos

You should always spare 5 or 6 minutes for great music.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fa La La La George

It's been a long political season:

Deck The Halls - For more funny movies, click here

Deck the halls, indeed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Four Hari Krishnas

The more observant may have observed lately that I've been posting less often than before. My only excuse is that I simply don't feel like it. I have no better reason than that but it's my reality and I'm sticking to it.

But I don't want to be too Grinch-y at this time of year so instead of thinking of something to write when I don't feel like it, I'm just going to post holiday videos that I find and I hope you enjoy them.

This one brings an Indian slant to our multi-cultural holiday.

12 Days of Christmas - Funny blooper videos are here

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

#2 - Top 5 Totally Uncool Things About My Neighborhood


I’ll not likely confess it to their faces but my parents managed to teach me at least two things – 1) be kind to animals and 2) don’t litter.

Other than quick and easy access to Slurpees® the other upside to living just around the corner from a 7-11 is that as late as 7:35 I can run out for a Lotto ticket in time for the 7:45 draw.

The downside is the constant collection of debris from any fool who happens to finish his Slurpee® or chili dog or push-up pop in the time it takes to reach our house. The wrappings are left on our retaining wall

and on the sidewalk or gutter.

The worst is when they think they can hide their offense by tucking their trash into my plantings.

Who raised these pigs? (no offence to our swine friends is intended.)

Never in my life have I left a piece of trash where it didn’t belong. How much effort is there in either spotting a waste bin or simply carrying it to your final destination?

Let’s not do the math but I remember Lady Bird Johnson’s "Keep America Beautiful" campaign. You know, I think it did some good. It taught me that it wasn’t just my parents who held anti-litter beliefs. The campaign created a cultural awareness that a) America is beautiful and b) each of us is responsible for keeping it that way.

If I wear my bleeding heart liberal cap then I can look into the likely causes of littering – feelings of disenfranchisement and inattentive upbringing. If the first, I’m pretty sure the litterbugs are not homeowners. They feel no sense of investment and are not particularly concerned with the fact that while they are wandering the streets, enjoying their repast from 7-11, I am spending a huge chunk of my day either at work or commuting to/from work and I have little free time to clean up after them.

And so, they blight their own neighborhoods, making the upwardly mobile less likely to buy in, thwarting gentrification.

Not everyone is pro-gentrification and many are actively anti-. But everyone who owns a home is pro-increasing the resale value of his or her home. I don’t plan on selling my house any time soon but there are a few For Sale signs up in my neighborhood. I don’t want those houses on the market indefinitely and I certainly don’t want potential good neighbors discouraged because they see a bunch of food wrappers tucked into hedges. I want new neighbors who will make the effort to take care of their new homes. I want the kind of neighbors who don’t want to live in a neighborhood littered with trash.

I’m not saying I’m pro-gentrification but I don’t want this neighborhood to revert to the gang-y ghetto it was a few years ago.

But if the litterbugs are not invested in the community, then there is no incentive for them to keep the neighborhood moving upward. In fact, there is the disincentive of rising rents. But I don’t believe that the litterbugs are thinking it out this far. I do believe that they don’t think they owe me anything. They don’t believe they have a responsibility to me or to their own neighborhood. I’m sure they don’t even realize the power they have – that they themselves contribute to urban blight. They don’t realize that they have the power to live in a better neighborhood simply by not making it a worse neighborhood.

And there is the conundrum. They, the litterbugs, are not truly disenfranchised; not at all without power. They have power. The have as much power as any of us and they wield it all the time. They just don’t know it.

Lady Bird, where are you? Teach us your lessons again.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Home Value Dropping? That Could Be the Least of Your Worries

Upside down on your mortgage? Can't get that home equity line of credit to finish the rumpus room? Adult kiddies forced to move back in with you? Apparently, the housing crisis isn't the homeowner's only nightmare. According to FOX News, we now have to worry about the possibility of vampires "living right here, among us."

If you haven't the time or inclination to watch the five minute video, allow me to summarize. This Hannity guy gives a little background on vampire lore followed by interviews with a couple of characters who claim to be vampires. They claim their kind come from all walks of life and live in every environment. Some of them even live in (gasp!) suburbs! And some of them dress just like you and me. Since I wear black almost exclusively, it's not big news that they dress like me. What really surprises me is that they dress like you.

Oh, and they don't always feed on blood. One of the interviewees just "feeds on energy." Must be like a vampire Atkins thing.

I discovered this story on Yahoo just before leaving work this evening. A colleague came in to say goodnight. I mentioned the story to him.

"Oh, I know a vampire," he says matter-of-factly.


"Yes. He had his teeth filed into fangs."

"Must be tough at job interviews."

"He's on a reality show now."

Then who am I to judge? He's on a show. I'm not. I spend a lot of time thinking about shows. I think about shows I want to be on. I think about shows I would want to watch. The problem must be my unnaturally natural teeth.

But I digress into self-absorption. Here's the real problem. How is this news? Let us not ponder too long how anything on FOX News is news. But let us just wonder for a moment that considering all the world faces, be it worldwide terrorism, waves of unemployment or the collapse of capitalism as we know it, FOX chooses to report on vampire poseurs.

And while we're at it, what kind of society are we when we have a vampire subculture? Can't we just leave it at armies of Trekkies holding conventions? Haven't we been sufficiently damaged by theatre geeks in bodices and puffy shirts spouting bad Shakespeare at Renaissance Pleasure Faires year after year after year? Aren't midnight showings of Rocky Horror Picture Show enough?

But maybe it speaks well of us. Maybe a country that has the luxury of middle-class subcultures of decadence can't be totally sunken in despair.

But just in case we're not talking about a group of adults fixated on an adolescent fantasy, keep the garlic close at hand and maybe a good, sharp stake at the ready.

You never know. Maybe FOX finally reported some news.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Finally! A Useful Invention

A package came in the mail today. It was from my sister, J. In celebration of our new wood floors, she sent me a gift I can actually use - Slipper Genie™! They're slippers with microfiber chenille soles. At last, I can clean my floors as I walk through the house. No trip to the fridge will be wasted (only waisted). No need to feel guilty that my evenings are not spent housecleaning.

The packaging says they fit sizes 6 to 9. That's quite a range.

The microfiber chenille on these babies is soft, soft, soft! Too bad it doesn't line both sides of the sole.

The package comes with a list of warnings. They include "Do not slide or run." Ok. "Do not use on carpet." Got it. And "Do not use if your balance is not stable." Not a problem. I believe I previously mentioned my excellent sense of balance. I'm surprised they didn't also list "Do not use while intoxicated." They do mention that the slippers "are not a toy." I guess that means I won't be engaging them in any home puppet theatre action. That's an unfortunate loss.

I'm now going to walk around the house for a while. Out of the way, dust bunnies!

Thanks, J!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I'm sorry! It's all my fault!

Your line at the supermarket today was moving along just fine - then I got into it. So even though you might have been 3 or 4 people ahead of me, the moment I chose that line it stopped moving for you. Maybe the lady at the head of the line paid with a check and had to do the math before moving on. Or maybe the coupon clipper had a bunch of coupons that didn't quite match the items in his cart. Or maybe the cash register ran out of tape and the checker had to call for a replacement roll.

Whatever happened, I take full responsibility. It would have happened in any line I selected. I'm talented that way.

But if I did bring your grocery shopping to a grinding halt today, you have at least one thing to be grateful for this Thanksgiving - that you were buying your own groceries. You weren't at a food bank. You weren't dependent on the remnants of a generous farmer's harvest. You are not doing without.

I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We’re ba-a-a-ck!

Perhaps you’ve noticed that it’s been quiet on The Hill. We’ve been on vacation. Friends who are working in London for a few months invited us to stay for a visit. Who are we to turn down the offer of free accommodations in London?

Unfortunately, I cannot yet regale you with pictures of our trip because photos were taken using an ancient medium called Film. I’m hoping to have pics back soon.

The trip home covered 5,000 + miles in 11 hours. This was followed by a rush-hour drive to Glendale to pick up the cat where she was boarded. That trip covered 27 miles in 2 ½ hours. Yes, yes, yes, it’s good to be home.

* * *

Post script: We returned to find that we have no Internet access in the house, so who knows when I will next post. Good to be home indeed.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sage Advice

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful." That's not me talking. That's the Mexican Sage in front of my house. I planted it about 4 years ago because it attracts hummingbirds. It grew. And grew and grew and grew. Out of control. But the hummingbirds like to sip from the flowers so who am I to complain?

But for all of this year, it didn't blossom at all, just grew taller with a lot of stalky leaves. So back in September, I decided I'd had enough of the leggy, overgrown plant and decided to trim it all back to the ground. Except I'd done some other trimming earlier in the day and when I'd only done about a third of the sage, I ran out of space in the yard waste bin. So I thought I'd finish up the next week.

By next week, the remaining plants were in full bloom. And the hummingbirds were feasting. Now what?

I'm not exactly in touch with Nature. I guess this plant blooms in the fall. Oops. So anyway, now I have a yard that is fronted with plants that are huge and over bearing on one end and low to the ground on the other end.

I've posted plenty of complaints about my neighborhood's less than felicitous features. It's now my turn to confess that my neighbors must think of me as the dorky homeowner with the annoying plants. "What doesn't she trim that thing back?" "Why did she trim some of them and not the others?" "When is she going to fix up her yard?"

But what about the hummingbirds? I can't deprive them now.

I guess we all have our reasons for why our homes are less than perfect. A lot of those reasons are perfectly logical but not always apparent.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Day of the Dead - Parte Dos

On All Souls Day, K and I decided on a late afternoon visit to Olvera Street to check out the Day of the Dead action.

We took in the music and traditional dancing but I'm really there for the variety and creativity of the ofrendas installed in the plaza.

Olvera Street is a tourist destination and traditional observances in Mexico are becoming more touristy, but still, Dia de los Muertos is a sacred obligation in the culture. Therefore, as a tourist, respect is always in order. Keeping in mind that ofrendas represent real people, real lives and real death I just want to share the following:

Muertos woven from straw

Muerto piƱata

Fruit and Cactus - Mexican Yin and Yang

somebody enjoyed their Bud Light

Serenading Muertos

'til Death do us part.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That's how the light gets in.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Let's Sing a Song of Cheer Again

So long sad times
Go long bad times
We are rid of you at last

Howdy gay times
Cloudy gray times
You are now a thing of the past

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let's sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again

Altogether shout it now
There's no one
Who can doubt it now
So let's tell the world about it now
Happy days are here again

Your cares and troubles are gone
There'll be no more from now on
From now on ...

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So, Let's sing a song of cheer again

Happy times
Happy nights
Happy days
Are here again!

Music and Lyrics by J. Yellen and M. Ager

Go! Do it! It's too important not to . . .

Frightening image thanks to www.frighteningprospect.com

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

I love Day of the Dead. It may be my most favorite holiday - more than Christmas, more than Easter, more even than President's Day.

Like Groundhog Day, it's one of those days that marks an approximate half way point between an equinox and a solstice. In Mexican tradition, Day of the Dead is when the boundary separating the living from the dead is most thin. It is the day to communicate with those who have gone before.

In 2005, K and I had the privilege of accompanying my parents to Oaxaca, Mexico to visit with my mom's side of the family for Dia de los Muertos.

There are three main components to the celebration there. The first is the baking of bread. The second is the building of the ofrendas. The third, but most important, is visiting the cemetery.

The bread is baked into shapes of things found in nature - deer and rabbits and also saints and skulls. The bread is later distributed to visitors and also placed on the ofrendas.

The bread we baked. Black beans are used for the eyes.

My uncle shows off his deer prior to baking.

The ofrendas are like altars that are built in the home. They are decorated with colored paper, flowers, fruit and candles and sugar skulls. Then, favorite items of the deceased are placed there. Typical items are chocolate, Coca Cola and cigarettes. Personally, if I were packing supplies for the Underworld, I'd want Diet Peach Snapple, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and some nice olives, maybe kalamata. But that's just me.

The ofrenda in my aunt and uncle's home.

The final step is the trip to the cemetery. What struck me the day of our visit to the cemetery was how colorful it all was but also how the ritual really kept alive the memory of those who passed. Each and every year, there is a ritualized reason to keep alive the memory of someone who may not be personally remembered by anyone still living, but whose life and history is maintained by the stories that are gathered and collected at this yearly ritual. Even those in graves with markings faded beyond legibility are remembered and celebrated.

At the cemetery

My mom, looking fab with flowers and Ray-Bans

My mom and my aunt in remembrance

I'm sprinkling holy water here.
You can always tell the Americans by their sunglasses.

Musicians are hired to serenade the deceased.

Day of the Dead is finding its way into US culture as well. There are annual observances at various sites in Los Angeles - some more traditional than others.

That is what the United States really is, isn't it? It's a blending of cultures, taking the best of others, mixing it up with what we think of as our own and making into a new reflection of us.

American Muertos

Spend a little time today thinking of those you've known who have gone before. Think of something about them that makes you laugh or smile. Maybe you can set out something that would please them: a bit of chocolate, a bottle of beer, a pinch of cat nip.

With each passing day, we are all closer to them than we like to think.

American Muertos is used with permission of the artist, Tony de Carlo. (See more of Tony's work at http://www.tonydecarlo.com/.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Kitten Wants to Wish You Happy Halloween!

She's apologizes for being a bit blurry . . .

. . . but she must have gotten into the cider.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rube Tube

This post will be less about American Dream #1 - owning one's own home, than about American Dream #2, having one's own television show.

Remember back in the good old days when conservatives with out-sized personalities made a career for themselves in show business first before going into politics? Think Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono and that Law & Order guy.

These days, it seems to be done in reverse. They go into politics as a springboard for their entertainment ambitions.

I wasn't the least bit surprised when it was announced that Mike Huckabee would be joining Fox News. I thought he was a natural (and actually, from the beginning I suspected his candidacy was really about his show biz ambitions.)

But then there was this article in Thursday's Hollywood Reporter:

Sarah Palin: Future Media Star

If you don't want to read the whole thing, let's just say it's about how to best mold a show business career for Sarah Palin in the likely event that she doesn't get the job of waiting to take over the reins of the most influential nation on the planet.

Something tells me this is what she's been waiting for all her life. She said she never had a moment's hesitation before accepting the invitation to become the running mate. No hesitation at all? Not even a little? But now it makes sense. Why would she hesitate? She never seriously believed her team could win. The way she's veering from the headliner's message, it looks like she's really in this for herself and the promise of a long and happy career on Fox.

Is it just me or does it seem that the neo-cons are plotting world domination via cable TV?

On the Incompatibility of Hammers and Nails

I confess. I am useless.

I swear, I am not a girly-girl, yet I do not like working on the house. I DO like having long nails.

Not this long:

But long enough.

You see, I have so few talents in this world. In fact, they are so few I can enumerate them in toto here:

1. I can stand on one leg for a seriously long time. In fact, I challenge anyone to a balancing competition (yet, I cannot bear ladders or walking around on the roof.)

2. I can spot dog droppings on a sidewalk from a freakishly long way away. While I cannot read a city map to navigate, I am nonetheless a useful traveling companion when sightseeing in European cities. The truth is, I cannot even fold a map, European or otherwise. But I can steer clear of droppings from dogs of all nationalities.

3. I can grow really long fingernails. I also grow thick and healthy hair. I guess I have a talent for anything involving keratin.

Upon leaving the nail salon the other day, I thought, “well, now I can’t get anything done today.” That meant no gardening, no serious cleaning, not much of anything that would threaten the fresh finish on my fingernails.

So, while I may be a well-balanced, luxuriously groomed and uniquely useful traveling companion, I am utterly useless at helping remodel a house.

The application of unnatural color to ones fingernails and toenails is a curious thing. I don’t know how long it’s been in fashion but I’m guessing it’s an invention of the 20th century. But this artifice renders a woman completely useless. At first, I was tempted to think of this in terms of being a gender issue, like foot-binding, in which a physical trait is altered for the sake of beauty, to the detriment of the woman's ability to fully function. However, the comparison falls apart when you consider the crippling effects of foot binding vs. chipped nail polish.

In reality, this is a class issue. Painting one’s nails is a way of announcing, “I don’t have to work.” Literally, “I don’t have to lift a finger.”

Thinking recently of our contemporary disdain for work I realized that there is a long history of disrespect for those who work.

In earlier times, European courtiers wore pale white makeup as a way of distinguishing themselves from the working classes that toiled in the fields. If you had white skin, it meant you had the luxury of staying out of the sun. But the makeup contained lead, which ended up poisoning the courtiers.

In contemporary society, we go to tanning salons as a way of distinguishing ourselves from the working classes that toil in offices under fluorescent lights. If you have tan skin, it means you have the luxury of spending time on the beach or sporting outdoors. But he tanning beds emit UV rays, which ends up giving us skin cancers.

Those who work are never respected; leisure class indolence becomes fatal fashion.

When the revolution comes, I just hope I don't break a nail.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Floor Man Returns

The floors are finally done! Well, mostly. The Floor Man started on Tuesday of last week and finished on Friday. He has to return to do the the stairs. Finally, after walking around on plywood for the past eleven months, we have beautiful hardwood floors. Finally, after spending the first five years of our residence here walking on Listerine green carpet in the living room, parquet-effected vinyl in the dining room, pink and white embossed vinyl in the kitchen and Pepto-Bismol pink carpet on the backstairs, we have a unified home. Finally, exactly six years and one week after moving into the nightmare fixer-upper, it is all coming together and I can really see the end.

It started in the dining room because it has the longest stretch, from the front of the house, all the way to the end.

Side by side with the area that had been covered by adhesive for vinyl tile

The floor of the library is done!

It all went smoothly and wasn't nearly as dusty or messy as we’d anticipated. Obviously, as you can see in the line below the paneling here, the living room floor is still not level.

I just hope this doesn’t affect my Jenga game. I love Jenga. I wish Jenga were an Olympic event. If they have to, they can cut Greco-Roman wrestling to make way for Jenga. But I digress.

Ok, now onto the other project – the paneling. The house next door, our sort-of sister-house still has her original board-and-batten paneling with plate rail. It’s painted white but it’s in good shape. When K removed the crappy 60’s paneling that covered drywall that covered the original plaster, we could see the outlines of where our plate rail had been. Long, long gone.

So we’re replacing the paneling. K’s already mounted the oak panels.

They’ll be framed in by simple battens of 1x4s and 1x6s stained. The window frames need staining too. So that’s the next challenge, selecting the stain.

Here are the sample options:

We considered matching them to the mahogany pocket doors.

It turns out that we have the choice between too dark or too light, too brown and too red. Who knew Goldilocks had it so rough?

But what about the floor color? The floors are “Golden Oak.” We didn’t want the floors to be mahogany. That’s a lot of dark for a lot of small rooms. Mmm. We originally wanted to get the stain on the walls before the flooring went in - thinking that we would receive the floorboards and have a chance to compare to the stain sample before the work started. But because the delivery of the floorboards was so delayed, there was no time.

Soooo – Dark Walnut? Red Mahogany? Golden Oak to match the floors but serious contrast to the doors? Decisions. Decisions. The winner may be Dark Walnut. I think that's the one on the right in the picture above. It's a little warmer and without as much drama. I'm seldom opposed to drama but I think the browner will complement the furniture better. We do have furniture, not just the deck chairs as some might believe.

On Saturday, the Floor Man will tackleth the staircase.

I just want this all done so I can get back to Jenga.