Thursday, May 31, 2012

Puke Green or Reptile Green?

All greens are not created equal.  Or are they?

Here’s the Puke Green color we discussed with the neighbors:

Here’s the Reptile Green our room was painted in when we first moved in.  The effect was achieved by applying a light green over a dark green with—wait for it!—a sponge:

The question is: Which is uglier? 

In small doses I think the Puke Green could work as an accent color; for example as pillows, picture frames or an ashtray in a non-smoking house.  

Meanwhile, Reptile Green--sponged on--never works.  Therefore I've decided: our formerly Reptile Green color is uglier!

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Balance of Green

“Hello!  We’re here!” A cheery, feminine voice called out from the driveway.
“Are we expecting anyone?” Mr. Wonderful said as we stood in dirt up to our knees in the back yard. 
“No,” I said pausing with the shovel.
“Then what are that woman and man doing in our kitchen?”

Indeed.  A blond woman and a graying man had entered the house and were standing in our kitchen.  Rarely have I reacted—or sprinted—so fast.

“Can I help you?”  I said rushing into the house hoisting the garden shovel, prepared to use it as a weapon.
“We’re the neighbors.  Next door.  On the other side of the fence,” the blond woman said smiling. 
“We’re Mary and Mike,” the graying-haired man said.
“Here’s a cake I bought.  I hope you like pistachios.” 
“Ohhh!  So nice to meet you,” I said smiling at them.  “And thank you.” 

Mr. Wonderful had circled around and through the house and now appeared behind them with his arms raised holding a hacksaw.
“No, Honey!” I cried out.  “These are the neighbors.  They brought us cake!”  Mr. Wonderful lowered the hacksaw and shook their hands. 

And what delightful neighbors!  They were a 50-something couple—Mary and Mike—who had two careers and three kids, and all of them lived next door. 

“We’ve been watching you young people do work on this house.  It needed a lot of work,” Mary said. 
“A whole lot of work,” Michael added.
“Thanks…?” I said setting the cake on the table.  “Actually most of the work we’ve done so far has been painting.”
“You’ve inspired us.  We’re going to paint our daughter’s room,” Mary said digging in her purse.   
“Is there any color you would recommend to paint a girl’s room?” Michael asked.
“I don’t know your daughter,” I said.  “But my only advice is don’t paint any room green.  When we moved in we had a green room that was so ugly it took three coats of paint to cover it up.  Let me say it was an enormous effort but the world is now rid of an ugly space.”
“Here’s what I want to paint her room,” Mary said fishing a paint card out of her purse. 

It was green.  Puke green.  As ugly as the green we’d first had on our walls.  

“What do you think?” Mike asked.
“If it makes her happy, that’s all... that matters,” I said.
“You’re right.  She's going to love it,” Mary said as she and Mike admired the green card smiling.  I exchanged a look with Mr. Wonderful. 
“Good save,” he mouthed to me.

Color is such a personal preference.  

That afternoon I developed a theory: in the world, there must be a balance of color.  If one green is removed, another green is added.  It keeps the sides of work-done and work-to-be-done equal.  All while keeping paint stores in business. 

The green room is dead!  Long live the green room!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

House Photos THEN and NOW

“Morning,” Harold said lifting hand weights in his front yard.
“Hi, Harold,” Mr. Wonderful and I said in unison going to our cars parked in the driveway.
“It’s going to be a scorcher today.”
“Yes,” I said getting into my car. 
“Yes,” Mr. Wonderful said getting into his car. 
“High double digits.  Close to a hun—”
“Harold, leave them be!” said his wife, Norma, as she burst out of their house and scurried down the front walk, her tight white curls bobbing in the morning's gentle breeze.  “Can’t you see they’re trying to get to work?”
“We always have time to say hi to our neighbors,” Mr. Wonderful said tossing her a smile.
“In that case, go get them.” 

Harold ducked into the house and returned with a couple photos. 
“Norma thought you’d like to see the house in the old days.”

The photos were black and white with a white border and four jagged edges. 
“These pictures must be 50 years old,” I said in awe.
“Try 60,” Norma said.  
"Actually, 59 years," Harold said.  Norma rolled her eyes.
“My parents took these pictures right after they built their house and moved in.”
“Wow,” I said touching them carefully.  “I’ll scan them and return them to you.”
“Keep them,” Norma said shrugging.  “It’s your house now.” 

What a treat to see a snapshot of our house from the past.  A picture does tell a thousand words about fashion, lifestyle and personal preference and how life has changed in the past 60 years.  Give or take a year.

Here’s a view of the pool from 1953.  The bricks around the pool are original.

Here’s a view of the pool in 2012.  A planter now lines the length of one side of the pool.

Here’s a view of the back of the house in 1953.  The doors look dark.

Here’s a view of the back of the house in 2012.  Our newly skinned palm trees add a Palm Springs flair.

All in all, I think the house has aged well!  I feel so fortunate to have these images of our house's history.  Thank you, Harold and Norma!

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Here are our Mexican Fan and Queen Palm trees BEFORE we had them trimmed:

DURING the trimming the professional tree trimmer wore a face mask to protect his mouth and nose from the dust and debris found in the dead, hanging palm fronds.

Even with the bucket truck, some trees were too tall to reach the top of.  So the trimmer put on shoe spikes and a harness and climbed the rest of the way up.  Seeing him so high up there made me dizzy!

Again a comparison:  The picture below is BEFORE trimming.

And the picture below is a few weeks AFTER trimming.  Without all the dead fronds you can actually see the trees.  And they are stunning!  

Nothing says "Los Angeles" more than palm trees.  And I love ours.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Palm Tree Friends

The bucket truck arrived at 7:00 AM, the hard-hatted workers 7:30 and by 9 AM the shredder was chewing up tree trunks and spitting them out in a whirlwind of wood chips and dust.

“Our neighbors are going to hate us!” Mr. Wonderful shouted over the machine’s buzz saw whir.
“We had to do it!” I shrugged.
“But on Sunday morning?”

He did have a point.  If I were the neighbors, I’d hate us.  Especially if I were Charles and Stephen because on a windy day their yard already received most of our dead palm fronds, plus they worked long hours and now their bedroom windows were just a few feet from the busy wood chipper.  Waking anyone—especially them—from precious weekend slumber with this incessant, high-pitched noise wasn’t the way to ingratiate ourselves with our neighbors.  But with both Mr. Wonderful and I working six-day weeks, Sunday was the only time we could oversee this massive job. 

The “job” was our front yard.  Or more appropriately, making our front yard look less like a FEMA-declared, tropical disaster zone.  Currently it was a collection of overgrown palms: including shaggy Mexican Fan Palms, each topping out at 70 feet high; and sloppy Queen Palms in various states of living, half-living and totally dead states.

To trim, chop and remove the dead arboreal debris, the bucket truck lifted and lowered—Beep!  Beep!  Beeping!—with every movement.  Chainsaws whirred and the shredder decimated tree parts spewing them on the street in what looked like a sand storm in the Sahara.  At 10 AM I spotted Charles, our bearded neighbor from across the street, and his pit bull.  Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Charles looked at the machines and hard-hatted workers charging about our yard like a famished ant colony at a summer picnic.

“I’m sorry, Charles,” I said backing away from his dog as it bared its teeth.  “Sorry for the noise and mess!”
“You planning the next invasion of Normandy?”
“Just trimming our trees to get rid of the dead palm fronds.”
Charles lifted his arms as if to strangle me.  Then he put his hands together and clapped, clapped and clapped.  “You’ve just endeared yourself to everyone on the block, not to mention improved all our property values.  Thank you!”

Other neighbors—Stephen, Harold and Harold’s wife, Norma, whom we’d never met—gathered on our driveway to watch the production.  They smiled, shook our hands and said;
“So glad you’re doing this.”
“Nice to meet you.  Welcome to the neighborhood.” 
“Here’s our contact information.  Call if you need anything.”

Rudely we’d taken away their Sunday morning and in return, they gave us their friendship.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How To Skin a Palm

Palm trees, like people, are created equal.  Every tropical and subtropical palm variety is green, luscious and beautiful.  What varies is the palm’s upkeep and grooming methods, which can run the gamut from: 1) Never doing anything to it; to 2) Fertilizing it once; to 3) Hacking back its unruly, overactive growing parts until it looks half-way decent.  Which is sort of how grooming works with people, too. 

I’ve never been the gal who could pull an all-nighter, sleep for 12 minutes, then roll out of bed looking fresh and beautiful without a lick of make-up.  I’ve always needed lots of sleep, vitamins and a daily, six-hour beauty regimen with expensive creams, sprays and high-impact cardio exercise to look presentable enough not to scare small children. 

Unfortunately I bought a yard full of palms just like me—they have costly, time-consuming, labor-intensive grooming needs.  Darn it.

Why couldn’t we have Desert Palm (Washingtonia filifera) trees?  These medium-sized trees, native to California and the southwest, line the streets of Palm Springs giving that oasis town a stately air.  They also require minimal upkeep since the dead palm leaves, or palm “fronds”, are left hanging on the tree where they form a grass skirt.  And as everyone knows, anything in a grass skirt is beautiful. 

Nope, in our small front yard we had a dozen palms of the Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta) and Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) varieties and all of them—every single one—needed to be skinned.  Palm “skinning” is the costliest trimming technique that removes every five-foot long, dead palm frond once it hangs flush with the trunk; in effect, cutting off its “grass skirt”.  But in the case of our tall palm trees, the grass skirt never made the tree a thing of beauty, it made it look like a giant man in drag. 

But I digress.  Back to skinning: the palm frond is cut off at its base, right next to the trunk, which leaves the trunk with a smooth appearance reminiscent of the gray “skin” of an elephant.  I’m not sure if this is where the “skinning” term came from but I’m sticking with it.

If Mr. Wonderful and I decided not to skin our Mexican Fan and Queen palms, then we would continue to find a dozen five-foot long, dead palm fronds littering our front yard, driveway and street every time the wind blew, which was more than annoying.  Picking up dead palm fronds is difficult because each one is lined with rows of sharp teeth, and being five feet long, each one needs to be sawed in half just so I can fit them into the green yard-waste recyclable bin.

But our palms were equal opportunity frond polluters.  After any slight breeze, five-foot long, dead brown palm fronds would blow into our neighbors’ yards, too.  Since no neighbor, except Harold, had spoken to us since we’d moved in, we thought there might be a connection between them disliking our palms and disliking us.

Therefore for the good of ourselves and to promote neighborly love, it was a no brainer.  We had to get our trees skinned even though we’d be fleeced in the expensive process. 

The things you do for neighborly love.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Palm Tree Mystery

“Don't chop the palm trees down!” Harold bellowed from his front yard as the third tree specialist of the week drove off.
“We’re having them trimmed.”
“Just get on the roof and do it yourself.  That’s what I did,” he said hoisting an American flag on its pole.
I scanned his deserted front yard.  "Harold you don’t have any palm trees to trim.”
“I trimmed yours, from your roof.”

Now I was new to suburban living in Los Angeles but this struck me as weird.  Yes, Harold was our nosy next-door neighbor and a retired engineer but no amount of nosiness or engineering, control-freak behavior could explain why he would have trimmed our trees before we moved in.

Unless of course: 1) He cared about our neighborhood’s neat esthetic.  2) He was concerned about his own property’s value being brought down by a vacant home’s sloppy garden.  Or 3) He was a crazy thrill seeker.

“Harold, what do you mean you trimmed our trees?”
“I climbed on the roof and used a pole trimmer to cut the leaves off the Queen Palms,” he said pointing to two brown trunks along the front walk.  “Although maybe I trimmed them too much because they look… dead.”
“They’re definitely dead.  But why did you trim our trees?”  
“She wanted me to.”
“She?  Your wife?”
“My mother-in-law.  She loved palms and she made me trim them—”
“Wait,” I gasped.  “These palms—and our house—they belonged to your mother-in-law?”
“And father-in-law.  They built the house in the 1950s.  He tolerated palms but she adored them because they were so California—”
“What!  Your in-laws built and lived in our house and you lived next door to them?”
“For 30 years,” he said scratching his forehead.  “Why else would I be trimming the trees in your yard?  I’m not a crazy thrill seeker, for Pete’s sake.”
“No,” I shook my head.  “Of course not.” 

What a revelation!   Harold knew—and was related—to the people who built our house.  Which made him an oral historian of the development and establishment of our house and the lives of the people who’d lived in it.  This piece of information explained so much about him and his strong, nosy interest in us and our home.  It gave me a new appreciation for him.  It made me want to hear his stories about the house, the trees, his in-laws and family.

“Harold, you want to come over for a cup of coffee and chat about the house’s early days?”  He looked at me with surprise.  
“Why talk about the past?  I’ve got too much to do now,” he said straightening his baseball cap and climbing into the car.  Before he drove off he put the window down and called out.  “She’d be glad you’re not cutting her trees down.”  

I was glad, too.  In a world of disposable things, these trees—his mother-in-law’s palms—stood as a testament to the power and beauty of Los Angeles both yesterday and today.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Front Yard aka The Disaster Zone

“We’ll start at the top and go down.”
“But they’re 70 feet high,” I said.
“We’ll use spikes.”
I shook my head.  “No one’s nailing my stuff.” 

I was speaking to the third tree specialist of the week to get a quote to trim our yard’s overgrown palm trees.  Trimming palms is one of the most expensive and dangerous jobs in a California garden; dangerous for the trimmer and the tree.  Traditionally tree maintenance companies employ men who wear a harness and spiked shoes to literally scale up and down the tree using machetes to cut off the brown skirt of dead palm leaves or “fronds”.  The shoe spikes puncture the trunk to give the trimmer a foothold on the tree.  Unfortunately even with the harness the spiked shoes system is not foolproof for the man and accidents have happened.

Neither are spikes ideal for the tree.  Once a palm trunk is punctured by a spiked shoe, it never heals. The hole remains and every time spiked shoes are used to climb the tree, more holes are created making the tree look like it has a case of reverse chicken pox or worse, horrible acne scars.  Several years ago Los Angeles officials noticed palm trees citywide were dying en masse.  Eventually they traced the high arboreal death rate to several factors including spiked shoes.  Spikes that had been used to trim a diseased tree were then used on healthy palms, which spread the infection.  

That night over dinner I explained my palm findings to Mr. Wonderful. 

“It sounds expensive,” he said sliding into a chair.
“Safety is more important than money.  And it seems safer for everyone not to use spikes to trim our 11 palms.” 
“But then how do they trim a 70 foot palm tree?”
“With a bucket truck,” I said.  “Which they’ll drive onto the front yard.”
“What about our lawn?”
“It’s just for a couple hours,” I said handing him a plate of hot pasta. 
“Two hours?”
“Uh, ten.”
"That'll ruin it--" I set a bowl of steaming hot pasta on the table.  He turned his attention back to the palms.  "We're going to have to reseed the whole lawn--" I set a bowl of shrimp and lemon pasta sauce next to his plate and dished him up a helping.  "It'll be..."  I grabbed a wedge of hard Parmesan-Reggiano.
"Grated cheese?"
He nodded.  His palm tree questioning would have continued but he was hungry and he loves my shrimp and lemon pasta.  
"Delicious," he said spinning the pasta around his fork.  "So… what were we talking about?"

Unlike the palm trees, the way to work with Mr. Wonderful was to start with his belly and go up to his heart and head.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"A Cat in the House"

Jackson was a very sad cat.  As the days passed with him in our home he slept a lot, never purred and refused to be picked up.  Every morning he woke me at 5:30 with his insistent meows begging for breakfast.  As I opened the pantry door to get his food, he’d rub up against my leg, thrilled at the thought of being fed.  I'm sure this was the highlight of his day. 

By 7:30 AM he was curled up behind the bedroom door alone, sleeping again.  He was a very sad cat.  I thought about his life before he came to us: 1) Locked out of a house when he was just a kitten; 2) Rescued by a big-hearted woman, Peggy, who brought him home and adopted him; 3) Abandoned by her when she got sick with cancer, went to the hospital and passed away.  He never had the chance to say good-bye. 4) Then living alone for months in her empty condo.

I found a poem by a female Polish poet called  “A Cat in the House”

Die—you can’t do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
In an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here,
But nothing is the same.
Nothing has been moved,
But there’s more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

--Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012)

Being left alone in a house must be miserable for a pet, especially when every day his surrogate mother never returns home.  Jackson’s grief over losing Peggy was something he needed to work through and I wanted to help. 

The next day after I fed him he slunk back behind the door to sleep.  I followed and sat on the floor next to him.  I stroked his coat with my hand; softly petting him.  He turned away from me.  When I continued to pet him he rotated his head back to me, his eyes filled with hesitation.  I gently pet him on his head, under his neck, across his back, over and over.  Then deep in his throat, my finger felt movement.  

I felt him purr.