Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Blue Jay and the Peanut

This morning when I was working on the computer, I noticed some commotion on our patio. When I looked over I saw this Scrub Jay, in a smart blue suit, white shirt front, black mask and black leggings, an outfit appropriate for today (09/09/09) where someone told me you should be dressed to the nines, with a peanut.

He was so excited about his good fortune in finding this entire unshelled peanut he was hopping all over our lawn furniture. Yet, every time he put the peanut down, you could see his worried little bird head moving side to side, assessing the angles where a marauder might sneak up and steal his prize peanut away from him.

The morning was cool and our patio is covered with an open trellis with a lazy, bright pink, Santa Barbara Bougainville climbing over it - really a perfect place for a Scrub Jay to enjoy a breakfast peanut. But I never did see him enjoy it. He nervously flitted around for about 20 minutes and then flew away with the peanut in his beak.

I think there must be some Aesop moral here about enjoying what you have at the moment., unless of course he was a thief himself. Then the moral would be completely different.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Los Angeles Fire, View From Southwest Airplane, June 5, 2009

The Los Angeles fire from the sky. Whereas I am sure part of this is just clouds, I do think a lot of it is smoke. If you look towards the top of the picture, in the center you can see the heart of the fire. The fire is eerily beautiful from this height.

On Saturday, we flew up to San Francisco for a friend's daughter's wedding, which is when I took this picture. We almost didn't got because the fire looked like it was creeping up on us the day before.

It was a little weird going to a wedding where I had never met the bride before. I don't think I've ever been to a wedding where I didn't know someone in the wedding party. But, I guess that is probably not unusual if you go as someone's date. I think my husband met the bride once - however, we are close friends with the parents, Amy and Michael and it was very important for us to be there for them for this rite of passage.

The wedding was simply gorgeous, every detail from the floral arrangements to the seating cards. And the bride was stunning - I think weddings are more about the brides than the groom. I mean the groom walked down the aisle but before he was even at the front everyone was turned around to look at the bride. No one really cared about him.

It was definitely one of those weddings you see in Town & Country, ones that have the pastoral settings, beautiful people and gourmet food. Everything down to the bread was made from local artisans from organic ingredients. There was even a sign at the door that read "N&K ranch." Wonderful but from another world.

See! These are the newlyweds - Nina and Kent. Isn't that arrangement in front of them magnificent? Every arrangement had that same feel - full of gorgeous late summer and fall flowers, bursting from the sun with lazy sprigs of amaranth throughout. The mother of the bride, Amy, who has impeccable taste spent about half a year putting her personal touch on everything.

The menu read like a 5 star prix fixe dinner - especially if you're used to a tired piece of chicken with wilted salad forcing you to go to McDonalds on the way home.

Paradise and Cowtrack Farms Garden Greens with pears,
humboldt fog chevre and glazed pecans with Champagne Shallot vinaigrette.

Main Course (Family Style)
Rancho's Fresh Catch of the Day
Max's Bourbon Baby Back Ribs
Grilled Garden Herb Chicken

Lemon Thyme Roasted Potatoes
Seasonal Vegetables
Farro Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Arugula

Local Artisan Breads
Buttermilk Cornbread
Sweet Olema Butter

Wedding Cake
Little Sweets

The cake was a marble cake with a whip cream, light frothy frosting. And little sweets consisted of shortbread cookies shaped like stars with a white frosting, gourmet chocolate brownies, miniature lemon meringue pies with a raspberry on top, peanut butter cookies with a huge chocolate drop on top, miniature custard tarts with fresh strawberries. The wedding planners had to literally guard the desserts when they were brought out with the cake because the photo ops weren't done yet! People, including me were absolutely frothing trying to get at them.

The next day brunch was good too - they had little cream puffs in the shape of swans which were a big hit.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Los Angeles Fire, Helicopters, September 4, 2009

Helicopters at the reservoir loading up on water and fire retardant.

In the afternoon we went to the reservoir to watch the helicopters. There were two types of helicopters, red ones and orange ones. Our understanding was that there was a total of four but we didn't know how to tell them apart except for the color. The entire time we were watching, they never stopped or took a break. It must have been both exhilarating and exciting for the pilots and as exhausting as well.

What was really amazing was how they maneuvered these huge contraptions so gracefully. It was like watching ballet. I am not sure exactly why, but this process was completely mesmerizing. Pilot skills are really commendable. They would get their hoses into the red rings without missing each time. One of the red rings supplied water, and the other had fire retardant mixed in and was red.

Apparently, once the helicopter is full of water, the blades get a steeper angle because the load is heavier. Once this phenomena was pointed out you could see the difference but it was subtle.

Our vantage point proved popular. And we were quickly joined by other residents including this little girl, her mom and grandmother. She told me to be cautious of the deer flies if I went out hiking and that the deer flies like your elbows. The grandmother theorized it was because deer had bony legs, they liked similar bony parts on humans.

When the helicopters departed, you could see a little spray drop out of the hoses. This was very "cool" and interesting to me each time it happened. If it wasn't so impossibly hot and humid, I could have watched all day. The orange helicopter on top had just loaded up with fire retardant. You can see the faint red over spray if you look closely. Sadly, I had a really cool video but lost if accidentally when I transferred everything online. Next time, bringing the Flip.

Los Angeles Fire, Monrovia, September 4, 2009

From our balcony in the morning. The window you see
on the left hand side is where I sit typing.

This is what we woke up to. The fire is obviously far away but it's still really disturbing. It looked like a volcano erupting and more so as the day went on.

This is a close up of the house on the top of the hill. You can partially see the "M", which stands for...Monrovia. On Monrovia High School foot ball games, it gets all lit up. Interestingly, the lady of the house is also a crazy cat lady. A few years ago, she left us a note complimenting us on Fox's grail design and asked for our contractor - promising not to use our design. But we told her we would be flattered if she used it...and she did! Flattery does get you everywhere.

Here is a view behind our house later in the day. As you can see, it is garbage day! Everything north of our street was used as the arbitrary dividing line between possible evacuation or not. (Wendy - Google Earth actually has the wrong house for us.)

Later in the day you can see the cloud gets more billowy as it blows out. This is picture going up our street.

Around 4pm when I took the picture above, we got another reverse 911 telling us that the smoke we were seeing were from the backfires. I am sure the fire department got inundated with stressed out Monrovians all day.

I can't imagine how the people whose houses were close to or actually burned down. When you think about it, houses really are complete tinderboxes. It makes me want to throw out every piece of paper I have.

At this point the fire is about 25% contained - so it's no longer the nightmarish angry force it once was. Sadly I think, in about 2 weeks, despite the havoc it wreaked, most people who aren't impacted or inconvenienced by the fire will move on to something else. Since it's Los Angeles, it will probably be something really, really important.

Another apocalyptic view of the fire east of where we live.

This is my favorite picture I took today.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Los Angeles Forest Fire - Sept 1, 2009

I took this shot coming from the Home Depot.
This is very close to our home.

It is so smoky today. Smoky, hot and miserable. It's hard to breathe and because the air quality is so bad, I constantly have a headache. Everyone is suffering from allergies. Maybe it's time to buy Benadryl stock. Of course, my air conditioner in my office decided to break down too. So just sweltering in here.

Last night, at 2am, we got a reverse 911 call to let us know we'd be hearing helicopters and possibly trucks. They were going to start clearing brush behind our neighborhood and digging trenches. Apparently all the poor fireman now have Poison Oak from digging trenches. I believe when Poison Oak burns, it releases it's noxious toxins in the air so there is no getting away from it. (It's like that Australian tree, Maleleuca that they introduced in Florida, which has taken over. If you do anything that stresses it, fire, cutting or spraying it releases more seeds. Sometimes I wish I were that resilient.) So imagine, battling this raging fire, not really being able to shower, sleeping in some camp - not in your own comfy bed and top that whole experience off by having Poison Oak.

I fell asleep but Fox hasn't slept in days. When we woke up it was snowing ashes.

Ashes on Fox's Car

As the fire made it's way to Mt Wilson, a public statement was made about the safety of Monrovia. All the statement made reference to was "their strategy." Not very confidence building, fueled later on when the bordering city, Bradbury got evacuated. But the fire does seem to have moved in another direction at the moment.

Los Angeles Forest Fire - August 31, 2009

What's shocking about the fire, is the sheer magnitude. You can drive along the freeway for 30 minutes and there is constantly fire outside your window. Apparently, this is the worst recorded fire in California since 1895.

Here is a view from the ABC/Disney building (by Michael Graves). Doesn't the cloud in the center look like it's sticking out it's tongue at you?

There are all sorts of hot spots created from the fire. It seems when one gets under control, the another one appears. This one was just billowing and pumping huge plumes of smoke.

As the sun set you could see this eerie red glow from behind the mountain ranges and when it got darker, you would see these huge flare ups. Flare ups that were easily as tall as 3 - 4 telephone poles. What would happen is that the fire would rage into a valley - and since a fire is all about consumption - it would just devour all the fuel - brush/trees and all the oxygen supplied by the Chimney effect. Until you see it, it is unbelievable how quickly a fire can completely overtake and destroy an entire valley. It is just so fast. It's "whoosh" and then the fire moves on.

It is so hot here. I can't imagine what it is like for the firefighters.