Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Yellow jackets? Wasps? Hornets?  We have not ever been exactly sure, but knew they were trouble.

The first encounter was a serious one.  The summer after we moved to Howard Street, Bing started tackling the wilderness outside that preceded any semblance of a yard.  He was clearing small trees, tenacious vines, and general underbrush on the east side of the house when from inside I heard him cry out and yell for help.  I just about collided with him as he told me to get a broom, waving his arms over his head surrounded by an angry buzzing cloud.  He unwittingly had stepped into a nest in the ground, setting them off, and had been stung multiple times before he could escape the swarm. 

Fortunately he did not have the allergies that I have to stings and bites, and some ice, Benadryl, and a phone call to a pest control company addressed the immediate problem.  But every summer we have had to be on the lookout for their nests and occasional intruder inside the house. 

This summer they have been on a building spree.  Nests have appeared seemingly overnight, even beyond the east side of the house.  One visitor to my front door nervously pointed out a nest overhead, crawling with emerging hazards.  Great. 

For several early Saturday mornings, I’ve been hauling out the tall ladder from the garage, and armed with a spray can of something surely carcinogenic, give brave shots at the nests by windows and doors, beating a hasty retreat.  Later, I haul the ladder out again to knock the hopefully-now-vacated nests down.  It’s been a process but I was hoping to have regained the upper hand and could move on to other yard projects.

As I was trimming the pyrus kawakami  tree by the front door recently, this discovery startled me.  Despite my distaste for and, well, I’ll admit it, fear of these guys, I had to hand it to them.  This nest was very intriguingly built, cantilevered on one thin twig.  I came inside, determined to figure out once and for all exactly what species this is.  Online I looked at different kinds of nests until I saw one that matched the honey-comb pattern.  Aha!  Paper wasps.

In the meantime, at  the office I’ve also been living in a virtual hornet’s nest.  Our new dean is transitioning in, and every appointment and conversation he is reported to have had is, in turn, reported upon and analyzed, re-reported and re-analyzed, again and again.  An enormous game of “telephone” is going on, with some of the players constantly swarming, jockeying for position and advantage.  No spray can exists for this, unfortunately.  Great.

Wasps at home, hornets at work.   I know, though, that both situations will settle down.  Any nests left undetected at this point will stand empty for the rest of the year, and whether I like the results or not, what my new reporting structure will be, will become known.  The new dean told me himself to keep doing what I’m doing, and I’ve got more than enough to do while this transition plays out.  My patience is running awfully thin, but having been through many a dean transition, I know that staying patient is the best course.   That, and staying out of the way of stinging, swarming creatures.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Last July when I attended my first board meeting of the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs in Chicago, I was able to accomplish my sightseeing goal of visiting Nauvoo.  As the add-on to this July’s Chicago trip, I was able to cross the next goal off my sightseeing list: Oak Park.

Oak Park is one of Chicago’s first suburbs, about a half-hour from the downtown Loop by subway.  It is where Frank Lloyd Wright started his career, interning at first with the architect Louis Sullivan, considered influential in his own right.  For the first 20 years of his career from 1889 to 1909, Wright lived and worked out of his home and studio of his own creation, now considered the birthplace of the architectural Prairie movement.

The Wright home and studio are to the Prairie movement as the Greene and Greene’s Gamble house here in Pasadena is to the Arts and Craft movement.  Wright designed every detail of his home and studio, from the murals painted on the walls to the fireplace tiles to the light fixtures to the furnishings.  He considered it his “architectural laboratory,” trying out design concepts which would become distinctive elements later in his career. 

Out of the many fascinating and beautiful features of the house and studio, I’d have to say my favorite one is this piece of furniture which is his own design in the living room.  He created it to display Japanese wood block prints, which he loved.  In my October 23, 2010 post, I mentioned that many of the prints in the Hiroshige exhibit I enjoyed at the Norton Simon Museum here in Pasadena were from Wright’s collection.  I was interested to see so many manifestations of Japanese art and architecture in his early work here.

Within blocks of his home and studio are other homes and structures he designed or renovated, the world’s largest collection of Wright designs.   An AGLSP colleague who is local to Chicago told me to be sure to visit the Unity Temple, considered one of his greatest works which isn’t on the Wright Foundation tour.  That was well worth its own side trip.  

But the entire town is a charming architectural playbook beyond just Wright’s work.   A great audio tour of this historic district points out many lovingly preserved examples: a Queen Anne is next to a Classical revival which is next to a Gothic.  I got to Oak Park to discover that it also is the home of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ernest Hemingway; who knew?  And I happened to be there on Hemingway’s birthday, which the volunteer guide at his birthplace home was excited about.  I was learning so much, I didn’t stop to eat until it was almost time to take the train back into town and make my way to O’Hare. 

As much as I enjoyed last year’s visit, the heat and pace really did me in, and it took me a couple of weeks to recover upon my return.  I took it as a measure of how much my energy and stamina have improved and normalized that I could be so hardy with all this activity in the heat and humidity this trip.

While in Oak Park, I discovered that my urban and landscape planning hero, Frederick Law Olmsted, created the nearby village of Riverside, with its collection of iconic American architecture considered “storybook.”   Riverside, here I come, my next sightseeing goal when I’m back in Chicago for next July’s board meeting. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012

In honor of Bastille Day, I supported the French economy by buying a Le Creuset cast-iron oven.

A couple of weeks ago for a four-family potluck, Jane brought two loaves of bread she made in her Le Creuset oven.  The bread was delicious and beautiful.  By the end of the evening, having thoroughly admired the artisanal quality of what Jane kept insisting was the easiest thing in the world to make, Erika, Ladell, and I were hooked.  We each decided we needed a Le Creuset oven of our own and this recipe.

Somehow I had missed the craze started by a Mark Bittman New York Times article a handful of years ago.  Akemi had been telling me about it since she had this bread in Boston made by a college friend of hers, but I hadn’t been convinced to spring for this pricey, heavy-duty casserole dish until I had had this first-hand experience.  Akemi and I seized some summer Saturday time today to do something we rarely do, which is to hike over to our nearest outlet mall in LA.  There we scored the oven size as Jane recommended for a considerably less-pricey price.  Early happy birthday to me, I guess.

I found this photo online, just to give you an idea of what we are shooting for.  We will start the dough and give you a report. 

Et voila!  Joyeux Quatorze Juillet!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday, July 9, 2012

“Laguna” is a magical word in our family.  For almost 40 years of Julys, we have been coming to my parents' time share unit in Laguna Beach, across the street from Heisler Park and its practically-private cove below. 

My parents would move in for the week, rice cooker and all, with our good friends Sam and Evelyn next door.  Us kids would shuttle in from the Peralta Hills home base until we all became working stiffs and our Laguna time compressed to a precious weekend. 

Our routine has solidified into a tradition not to be tampered with.  I like to get down there early enough to climb around the rocks and tide pools sweatshirt-clad in the dense morning cloud cover, to walk down to Main Beach and back, and to read a book by the surf.  By the time the sun comes out and my brothers and their families have arrived, it’s lunchtime, the first of many meals we take seriously. 

At some point in the afternoon, a portion of Evelyn’s kids and grandkids also have arrived, and various subsets mix and mingle to go bodysurfing, return to the beach for sandcastle construction, or head straight for the pool.  Later in the afternoon, Akemi and I dry off for stroll into town.  We mostly just window shop, but have been known to have succumbed to a treasure or two over the years. 

No matter what we are doing, we return to the clubhouse promptly at 4 pm for popcorn made in a movie theatre-style machine.  It was here in Laguna that Evelyn introduced us to Hawaiian-style “hurricane popcorn” with senbei tossed with furikake.  My dad, Sam, and Evelyn would break out the gin and tonics and more people than could fit into the little kitchen would start tackling the production of dinner for the hordes.

Our menu pretty much never varies: teriyaki chicken or beef, potato-macaroni salad, Chinese chicken salad, corn on the cob, watermelon and/or fresh pineapple and mangos, inari sushi (what other families call “footballs” but what my family calls “kangaroo pockets”), and tsukemono.  This meal means summer on a plate more to me than any other meal.  Dessert was a birthday cake in the combined honor of Sam, Bing, and my brother John.  And it all tastes even better because we’re on the patio in the sunset with the sea breeze.

As if we hadn’t eaten enough the night before, we would count on my dad taking us all out to breakfast at The Cottage across the street on Sunday morning.  And then we’d repeat the fun-in-the-sun routine all over again for another day before reluctantly returning to our respective homes late at night.  

I am remembering in my mind’s-eye helping my dad as he manned the barbeque, Bing encouraging Akemi to swim in the pool, Sam humming Hawaiian melodies.  I am remembering the first time when each of the spouses-to-be made their Laguna debut; if one of us wanted to bring a “friend” to Laguna, it meant it was serious.  I am remembering many good friends who have joined us there for the day or for dinner.

This year, Evelyn’s daughter Laura, John, and I had our own short huddle by the barbeque, wondering if this was our mothers’ last relatively independent year down here and whether they’d be able to manage staying down here by themselves in another year.  As Laura trailed off, “We’ve been doing this for so many years. . . ,” the magic flickering around the inevitable we each felt.  

Even though it’s not the same without Bing, my dad, and Sam, somehow there’s still been magic enough that we can have a special time each year, adding another layer to the happy memories and setting up the anticipation for the next July.