I'm Alicia Bien. Mr. Wonderful (aka my husband) and I are first time homeowners
California. Here are some of our adventures fixing up a house while living in it, parenting a baby,
coping with neighbors, and negotiating life in the married lane. Thanks for stopping by my sunny, funny blog!
This weekend I took a vacation from the writer's life and escaped to the Southern California Writer's Conference in San Diego, which is a total misnomer because I didn't see a thing of San Diego. The entire weekend I was holed up in a hotel with single-minded, wide-eyed, sleepless writers; none of whom minded my lack of business cards or loud laugh because they were too consumed talking about writers, rights and writing. It. Was. Heaven!
Some highlights included seeing my friend and mystery writer Gayle Carline. She likes to laugh so there's no mystery why I like her.
Hearing science fiction writer David Brin give an inspiring--and funny--keynote speech. News flash: Science fiction writers can be smart and funny. Double threat!
Buying books! After hearing Janice Steinberg speak of her process I'm looking forward to reading her novel The Tin Horse. It was inspired by Raymond Chandler's detective novel The Big Sleep with Philip Marlowe, which is an excellent pedigree for fiction. I also met Mary Vensel White, author of The Qualities of Wood. If her book is half a good as she is nice it's going to be a thrill to read. I can't wait to crack it open!
Meeting new friends--sweet children's book author Sheri Fink;
The final highlight; hanging with old friends Dale and Gayle Carline.
It was a dynamic, mind-opening, glorious weekend! It was so stimulating to be among all those writers I felt like I could write a book, screenplay and a 14 volume poetry collection in iambic pentameter--all before lunch.
However in its aftermath, the hardest part is sitting alone--again--and writing--again. I know, I know, this is the writer's life I signed up for. I look at the blinking cursor on my white computer screen. Despite my best efforts, the screen remains blank.
To all you romantics out there who love an unrequited someone, love a Significant Other or just love Love, here's wishing you a very Happy Valentine's Day!
And to all you heartless, non-romantics out there, I say just wait, because when you least expect finding love, it'll jolt you like a quadruple espresso, hit you like a ton of bricks, turn your world topsy turvy like a washing machine, make you--
You get my point. So enjoy your heart before you give it away freely to someone you love.
“How about homemade pizza for dinner?” I said to Mr.
Wonderful during a sunny breakfast.
“Where?” he said spreading Nutella
on his toast.
“In our home. I'm making the
His mouth said “ambitious” but his look said “you're
certifiably crazy”. I’d show him! Little did he know that my middle name was
Mozzarella and I had a plan. It entailed making the pizza dough by hand and
baking it in our open-hearth kitchen fireplace, aka my Magic Pizza Oven.
Before noon I started with the most important part: miming
how to throw rounds of pizza dough in the air.Uno, due, tre Toss! Mama
mia! I got good at miming how to toss
pizzas, mind you not really tossing pizzas just pretending to toss them.
Sufficiently skilled at this, I moved on to the heat of the matter.
The kitchen fireplace had a gas starter, which meant it
would be easy to build the fire. Plus we still had ½ a cord of wood in the
woodpile to feed the pizza baking flames. Mama mia! I was ready to go!
With the sun high in the sky I looked at my recipe’s cooking instructions.
For best results it stated I needed to get the heat of my pizza oven anywhere
from 600 to 800 degrees F. I double-checked the numbers. Yep, the thing had to
be hot enough to solder metal, melt magnesium or destroy the Death Star. But
how was I going to get a wood-burning fireplace, without a door—in my
kitchen?!—up to those hellish temperatures without melting my face off?!
After lunch I re-evaluated my pizza plan and gazed at my Electrolux gas
oven. My beloved, gorgeous gas range + oven; of course! Why
build a pizza oven when I already had an oven? I danced across the room to the
oven’s control panel, which stated it could bake up to 550 degrees but no
higher. Pizza maldita! My homemade pizza
making was doomed. As I cursed in Italiano and beat my chest in anguish I remembered an article in the LA Times newspaper about using your home oven to mimic a pizza oven.
I retrieved the clipped recipe and discovered that you could convert your oven to a pizza oven by adding heat absorbing bricks that would increase the temperatures anywhere from 600 to 800 degrees F. Magnifico!
I jumped in my car and raced to Hollywood’s brickyard to buy
said bricks. I purchased eight unglazed clay bricks (six split, two straight)
then back in my car, with the sun shining and the top down, I felt like a
superhero that had saved the day’s plan of homemade pizza for dinner. Bravo me! Dramatically I inched home in rush hour traffic.
The last item I needed for a complete home oven conversion to restaurant pizza oven was a pizza stone to bake the pie on. A pizza stone, especially designed to bake the crust from the center of the pie out, was crucial to good tasting pizza. I stopped at several stores but struck out in the stone department. Dios mio!
As the moon rose over the horizon I got online and ordered a pizza stone. I got the fastest shipping possible but would still have to wait over 24 hours for my supplies to arrive. In addition I had to find something else to eat tonight. When Mr. Wonderful came home I greeted him with cold egg salad sandwiches.
“What happened to homemade pizza for dinner?”
“I was too—
I hate it when he’s right. But next week, we’ll have homemade pizza for dinner! Mama mia!
When you're waiting for your lawn to die there's a plethora of things to do, like going out to eat, seeing a movie or reading a book.
This weekend I did all three. The bonus was some of these were New Year's Resolutions of mine. It's February and I still remember I made resolutions! Yippee!
Mr. Wonderful and I spent the morning together (which was one of my resolutions--Yippee!). We went out for brunch at TART Restaurant at the Farmer's Daughter Hotel. It's not only odd to see blond oak furniture and red checkered napkins in glam Hollywood but it's refreshingly welcome. And my salad was delicious.
Mr. Wonderful and I saw Steven Soderbergh's new film Side Effects (this was not a resolution, but should have been. I have NO problem seeing movies during the year. In 2014 I could make watching movies one of my resolutions. Hmmm... food for thought). What a thrilling, puzzle of a film Side Effects was. Steven Soderbergh has been saying for some time now that he wants to retire. But I, for one, hope he doesn't until he's made 200 more films like this. I don't want to give anything away about his latest effort, a well made whodunit, except this: If you love Alfred Hitchcock films, you'll enjoy Side Effects. Don't read about the film, just go see it!
This weekend the sun and clouds have been fighting it out with moments or brilliant sunshine or precipitation-heavy, ashen clouds. The indecisive weather made it the perfect day to read a book for the second month of the year (and keep another New Year's Resolution--Yippee!). In January I read Little Bee, in February I read The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.
The book begins strong and carries that energy all the way through. The opening lines are:
"When I was fifteen, I got hepatitis. It started in the fall and lasted until spring."
Wow. What a simple way to start a complex story about a young man who falls in love with an older woman but learns about her past deeds and then questions himself and his love for her. The Reader won numerous awards and was even selected for Oprah's Book of the Month Club. I see why. If you love a compelling story, have ever questioned if you really knew someone or if you enjoy reading sexy books, do yourself a favor and read The Reader!
With winter warming into spring I needed to forget the black
plastic covering my front yard, so I went someplace else to find beauty.
Namely, my back yard.
Currently our evergreen Camellia japonica plant is blooming and not just a flower here or
there but explosions of blooms like a Bicentennial fireworks display on the Fourth of
July.Our camellia is the “Debutante”
variety whose pink flower resembles the shape and petal display of a
peony.Camellias are called the
“rose of winter” because in mild southern climates--like the beach, the desert or my back yard--they bloom from October to February. Ours has been pumping out pink blooms since before Halloween.
Originally camellias came from eastern and southern China where they have been cultivated for thousands of years and are recognized as the flower of the
Chinese New Year--and fireworks. Ah-ha! There's a theme here!I've read that in Chinese
culture the white camellia represents loveliness and the red camellia represents
wealth.I have a pink camellia, which I guess means
it’s sort of okay to look at and smack dab in the middle class.
Doing some research in the Sunset Western Garden Book I discovered that the Camellia japonica growing in my backyard is a Japanese species that
was found in the Philippines in the 17th century and came to the U.S. in the early 20th century. The "Debutante" variety was developed by Gustav Gerbing's Nursery on Amelia Island, Florida. His friends called him "Gus".
The woman who built our house was coo-coo for camellias and planted several varieties including this Debutante.At 10 feet tall
the Debutante is by far the tallest, oldest and most beautiful of the camellias we have.
Looking at it makes me forget... uh... whatever it was I wanted to forget.