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June 30, 2009

Dublin!

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Yes, that's the place. I didn't plan on going to Dublin, I actually had a flight booked in January to somewhere else and ended up having to cancel it at the last minute. So when I called the nice lady at the airlines to figure out what I could do with my unused ticket, maybe go somewhere in mid-June, I just left it up to the Gods Of Cheap Destinations. Take me where you will! The lowest priced destination available for that date was Dublin, so that is where the Gods sent me. And it seemed like a good spin of fate, Ireland is a country I've never visited and they speak the same language and I enjoy Lucky Charms. A lot.

So, I went there and it was lovely! I understand why so many people choose Ireland as a vacation destination (and I always forget how much simpler it is to travel where you speak the language) but I was surprised at how few actual Irish people I met in Dublin. I think I met three. Most everyone else who was working at the hotel or bar or restaurant wherever I went was Polish or Malaysian or Swiss, the room service guy was French, and even the tour guide for the open-air bus (just around the city center) was Polish. There was a recording in an Irish accent, though, for the tour portion. I guess the Polish fellow just drives the bus and takes the tickets. I've been practicing learning Polish for a while now (I have weird hobbies, people) so it was kind of fun -- although odd -- to be ordering wine in a bar or saying please and thank you in Polish while in Dublin, Ireland. But fun!

The first rule of thumb when going someplace new is try try as you might to book a hotel with a balcony:

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My hotel overlooked St. Stephen's Green and that's the beginning of Grafton Street to the left. Grafton Street is a pedestrianized shopping area, it reminded me a lot of Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, touristy and fun:

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I loved the flower stalls set up everywhere:

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And of course I did the tourist stuff, saw Trinity College, hit the highlights, all that stuff you can read about in Frommer's.

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The required James Joyce mention.

My favorite way to get a quick overview of a new city is by playing cheesy tourist on one of those hop-on, hop-off bus tours. And that's where I met the Polish driver and also got a great view of the city, mostly to myself! The top of the double-decker tour bus has two rows of covered seats near the very front and the rest is open-air seating, and with the sporadic rain that day I was the only one up on the top of the bus. It was fine and dry under the small plexiglass covering in the front row, but no one else joined me upstairs which was fine by me! I had fun being the total tourist and taking pictures of anything and everything.

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After that I hoofed it. Dublin itself is a really walkable city, you can get just about anywhere on foot and it felt much safer walking around by myself there than walking around alone in most parts of Los Angeles. Of course, as in any city I don't walk around with a hundred-dollar bill pinned to my butt while all alone at 4 a.m. in a dark alley, but normal precautions were more than enough to keep me safe in Dublin. I'm always surprised how much cautionary scary stuff you can read about traveling (internet forums: I am looking at you) but I've felt more scared for my life at the Wal-Mart in Panorama City than any of the overseas trips I've made alone. Just use your common sense, if you have any ... that's what my dad would say!

There's plenty of shopping, though I just went with a carry-on bag again, so I didn't do too much shopping. The city center is filled with a huge variety of places to eat and drink just about any time of the day or night. I'm discovering that sometimes the tricky part about traveling solo is eating meals alone, but Dublin was pretty easy. There are so many little bars that have good menus it just didn't pose a problem. Paris is like that, too, with all the street cafes you can just stop in anytime and get a little bite to eat and a glass of wine. I usually take a book with me or people-watch out the windows, but dinig alone is definitely easier for me in a more casual setting and Dublin had plenty to choose from.

Aside from taking the Dublin city hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus, the other ridiculously touristy thing I did while I was on vacation was to book a day-long bus tour of the Irish countryside. This was new for me -- I have never once taken a bonafide guided bus tour. (I don't think the hop-on-hop-off buses count. Do they?) Usually I prefer to drive around a new place to get a feel for it (and I think if you can drive in Los Angeles you can drive anywhere) but there was the little matter of the stick shift being on the left and driving on the wrong side of the road while also trying to find my way around. Alone. Yeah. I voted on bus tour.

So for 25 euros I boarded a bus with a bunch of strangers (also a double-decker bus, but this time the whole top area is enclosed, too) and I wasn't sure how I felt about this whole thing -- being trapped in an enclosed space with strangers is my idea of hell -- but it went great! No one was weird or skeevy, the tour guide was actually Irish and he was very chatty and knowledgeable, and it was a great way to relax and see the countryside. We went down along the ocean, curving around the beach towns to the south and stopped at a beautiful place called Powercourt Castle. Everyone got plenty of time to walk around on their own and eat lunch and meander, then we all got back on the bus and drove back through the Wicklow Mountains.

Here's Dublin Bay:

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Look closely ... people are SWIMMING in there! It can't be over 50 degrees in that water. You crazy Irish!

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Pretty beachside park:

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Gorgeous Powerscourt Castle:

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The grounds:

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Required Artsy Fartsy picture:

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So that was fun and everything was very charming and pretty and since the tour guide was Irish, I met my first official Irish person. yay me. And I could keep posting pictures of that but I figure you can get most of the tourist highlights better in a guidebook than from me, to be honest. You see, I had a very specific view of Dublin in mind, a mission! Dah dah dumn!

My mission was yarn, plain and simple.

Irish knitting is legendary. Complicated cables, aran knits, hearty fisherman sweaters and delicate baby blankets. Irish knitting is known all over the world, even to people who have never picked up sticks and string. So I just assumed the whole city would be a playground for the yarn hungry.

Wow. I was kind of wrong about that.

I started my yarn crawl with what I had cobbled together on the internet, four shops in Dublin's city center, all within easy walking distance of my hotel. The first shop, Blarney's Woollen Mills on Nassau Street near Trinity College ended up being a bust. They had plenty of pretty knitted garments but no yarn or knitting supplies:

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I was a little disappointed, but on the north side of the river Liffey right across the Ha'penny bridge is the other Woollen Mills store, and this one has yarn:

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But not very much yarn:
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That shelf of yarn you see in the picture is the whole selection for the entire shop, and it's a fairly large sized-shop. They have buttons and sewing doodads and a selection of hand-knitted goods:

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The Woollen Mills is located just on the north side of the Ha'penny bridge, 41 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin

But the yarn selection was very small and most of it was chain market stuff that I can get here at home. I was starting to get a little disappointed. But the next stop was not just a yarn shop, it was also a little education about Irish Yarn.

Meet This Is Knit:

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This Is Knit is located on the First Floor of the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, South William Street, Dublin 2

This cute little yarn shop spans across a walkway in the Powerscourt Townhouse shopping center. And one of the nice ladies inside -- my second real Irish person! -- explained to me that the wool on the sheep in Ireland is too coarse to be used in handknitting. She said that Irish wool is either exported for other uses (rugs, maybe) or some farmers just burn it in the fields because it's so worthless. I was astonished. Because ... you know... Irish knitting! I just assumed it came from Irish sheep. And the friendly lady in the shop showed me the brand of yarns in the store that are spun and dyed and created in Ireland (but made with imported wool). They're very pretty Aran tweed colors, and I bought some skeins to take home for friends. More importantly, I felt like I had just learned some kind of knitting secret, like unmasking Zorro or something.

I don't know if the wool situation also explains why there are so few yarn shops in Ireland's capital city. Or at least from what I could find. Is knitting not a big hobby in cold, blustery Ireland like it is here in the hellishly hot San Fernando Valley in California? Because we have a yarn shop every four miles. Not that I am complaining mind you. I am just curious.

So my last stop on the yarn crawl was Hickey's, located on Henry Street, which is more of a JoAnn's type fabric shop but on the basement floor they did have a corner with some yarn in the back:

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(That guy in the doorway kept following me around the shop like I was about to steal something.)

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That was my mission for the afternoon, seeing the city from yarn shop to yarn shop. It was a good day in Dublin, mostly because I didn't buy very much and my luggage was still able to close and make the trip home. I was just very surprised, I guess I'd imagined that Ireland would be full of yarn shops and knitters and crazy cool varieties of homegrown yarn. Shocker! Maybe I just didn't stumble on the underground knitting scene or something. Maybe it's different in the countryside? Maybe in Ireland people prefer scrapbooking or origami or cake decorating as their hobby of choice? I have no idea. You Irish folks out there have to let me know what you think. While I was wandering around looking for the first Woolen Mills place, I asked a lady in the shop down the street if I was on the right road (I was) and she asked me what I was looking for.

"A yarn shop," I told her.
"What for?" she asked.
"Well... for knitting."
She looked at me crossways for a second. "Are you a knitter, then? I thought only old grannies did any knitting!"

Hrmph. I didn't count her in my tally of real Irish people I met. She was from... probably somewhere else. Probably.

So, in conclusion, it was a brief trip but a great one. I would definitely return to Ireland except I think I might try renting a car (yikes) and getting out of the city and seeing more of the beautiful countryside. I'd like to see these alleged sheep who have fur made of nettles and iron or whatever.

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Johnny's Irish cousin, I presume?


Posted by laurie at 5:42 PM

June 26, 2009

Let the madness in the music get to you, life ain't so bad at all if you live it off the wall

I do plan on getting around to blathering on and on about vacation but it's a little hard to ignore what's happening in the world, especially when Ventura Boulevard in Encino is a parking lot with Hayvenhurst closed down and people streaming up and down Hollywood Blvd. in sparkly gloves and carrying flowers.

I guess I have a selective rememory because when ever I think of Michael Jackson I think only of MJ in his early days. Still to this day "Off the Wall" is in my top ten albums of all time. When I was 12 I got this poster from a record shop in Lafayette, Louisiana and taped it carefully to the back of my bedroom door:

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All my friends had moved into the cool Thriller posters by then, but even at age 12 I guess I was stuck in the past and wanted to hang onto my MJ in his fuzzy yellow sweater vest. MJ was the soundtrack of junior high and the 1980s and I never followed any of the news about him as he grew more eccentric. Who knows what fame like that can do to someone? I just loved MJ, singing "Don't stop 'til you get enough" and moonwalking and remember when he did his solo in "We Are The World" and Diana Ross held his hand the whole time and we all really thought we could save the world by going to Record Barn and getting the 45 for all our friends that year for Christmas?

I'm not planning to camp out at the Jackson family's house in Encino or anything, but I'm also not going to complain about the traffic, at least not too much. I'm just going to think of that fuzzy yellow sweater Michael and listen to Off the Wall and think to myself, yeah, you got to leave the nine-to-five up on a shelf, and just enjoy yourself. Life ain't so bad at all.

Posted by laurie at 10:13 AM

June 25, 2009

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

I've been off gallavanting, this time to a place I've never visited before. I actually got back a few days ago but brought some kind of bug with me, I blame all those hours cooped up on a plane with coughing maniacs. I have completely lost my voice, which people at work are calling "a godsend," a term that apparently means "oh we miss your sweet voice so much."

Anyway, I have no voice and no energy and no mascara on, but I do have a picture or three:

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Tomorrow I'll tell you all about it. Oh, and there was yarn shopping, too!

Posted by laurie at 9:44 AM

June 18, 2009

Do not disturb! The Queen is resting.

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Posted by laurie at 1:18 PM

June 17, 2009

Today's Headlines

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Posted by laurie at 5:21 AM

June 16, 2009

Midway through the home stretch, the Topsy-Turvy begins to wilt.

First, here's Clarence eating his special squirrel food from a bowl:
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He is so cute. I love that I live in the wild outback of the Valley with our animal kingdom and free parking.

So, the Topsy-Turvy science experiment carries ever onward and downward. There are three of these planters on my back patio, one with a Roma tomato, one with a cherry tomato and one with a cucumber. You can kind of see the Roma tomato hanging limp and yellowish in the background here:

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The plant in the foreground there is the cherry tomato I have in a pot. Contrast it with the topsy-turvy cherry tomato. It's doing OK, but it's really spindly:

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The topsy-turvy cucumber is really looking sad and forlorn:

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One of the main problems with this planter is that all the water drains out every time you water it. So even if you water three times a day (which I definitely don't have time for) the water still doesn't stay in the planter. The only one I'm having moderate success with is the cherry tomato, and that is the planter where I used a bag of that special dirt that has little water-holding thingies mixed in. But the poor Roma tomato is limp and wilty, as is the spindly cucumber. Now that you've seen the upside-down cuke, look at the cucumber plant in the raised-bed garden:

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The cucumber is on the far right, thick and green and happy. It's from the same little pot of seedlings and I planted it on the same day. It gets the same amount of daylight and I water them on the same days but the difference is dramatic. Everything in the raised bed is so green and lush!

All the tomato plants have baby green tomatoes on them but the ones in the pots are doing the best this year, I'm getting pretty excited. I may get a red tomato yet!

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The cornfield and pumpkin patch is luscious, too, even though something large has been sitting on the plants every few days. I don't know what it is and I don't want to know. Raccoon, big opossum, neighborhood cats, hooligans, what have you, it's something that sits on the plants and breaks the leaves and eats the baby pumpkins. But it doesn't even bother me. Every time I look outside I start laughing. I just love the look of this part of my yard, it's so funny me growing corn in my backyard!

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My potted herbs and plants are my favorites, though. I love container gardening the best. Last winter I thought my Kentucky mint died, it was bare down to the sticks and it has made quite a revival:

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It's a strong mint that's perfect for drinks like mint juleps, mojitos and especially mint water. I love mint water -- you just crush some fresh leaves in the bottom of a pitcher and add water over them. Refrigerate it until it's ice cold and it's more refreshing than plain water or even iced tea!

I also planted some peppermint and a bunch of other herbs in a little patch of dirt near my back gate that used to be covered in nothing. It's the most recent addition to my backyard farm. I know the peppermint will take over eventually, but I don't mind. I love peppermint tea, it's my favorite.

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Above: peppermint, oregano, basil (lettuce leaf basil, globe basil and purple ruffles), chervil, chives, summer savory, thyme, Russian tarragon. Chervil! Who knew! It's so lacy and beautiful, it's on the right kind of midway up the picture.

And the patty pan squash I planted in a big pot is doing great:

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You'll notice that in all these pictures of my backyard there are pots of gigantic overgrown aloe vera plants. I bought one little tiny 4-inch potted aloe from Target about ten years ago and it has turned into a farm. I can't kill an aloe to save my life and I have some that are almost five feet tall, it's nuts. I need to divide them up into new planters but they just keep growing faster than I can tend to them. Next time I have a party I might make everyone take a giant overgrown aloe home with them.

Finally, the pepper plant is even bigger and more menacing than ever, promising me loads of fire-hot peppers all summer long:

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And that is how my garden grows!


Posted by laurie at 10:13 AM

June 12, 2009

Talking 'bout a revolution. But only after my tea or coffee.

June! I like it though, the days have been overcast in the mornings with our only real weather, June Gloom. So my garden is still alive even though I have been too busy to admire it each morning and too neglectful to water with any regularity.

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The first three times I read this sticker on the car in front of me, I thought it said "Tweezers Suck" and I was surprised, because tweezers are so necessary and good. Then I realized my error. Also, could my windshield be any more dirty and crusty? For a place with no weather my car gets dirty with remarkable speed.

This morning on the bus a woman in the seat behind me talked on her phone dramatically and loudly during the entire commute. I had on my Queen Dorksalot over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones and I could still hear her really well. She was speaking in some other language, not English or Spanish, so I couldn't understand her which made it easier to ignore, it was just a long string of bleeshadosheevi, mokhuuucluuuveri noshee! with the occasional "OK" and "anyway" thrown in. But at least two men on the bus seemed to understand her, because they would turn in surprise from time to time and look back at her and frown. Other people did the shame-on-you move, which consists of a full turn in the seat, slowly, with a pointed look to determine who is talking on the phone, letting the offending person see them noticing their behavior. Then the offended party will turn around and repeat the move a few more times. It never works, by the way. The offending party just keeps on doing whatever it is you find offensive.

The commuter bus isn't like a local, it only stops a few times and then it gets on the freeway for a long stretch, and delivers its riders to a few stops on the other side of the city. It's usually full of working stiffs like me, and everyone is generally quiet but especially so in the mornings. One person talking loudly on a bus full of quiet strangers is so much more annoying than seventeen people all talking to each other on the bus. I wasn't personally outraged, especially since I couldn't make out many words and I just turned my ipod up louder. But I was amazed that anyone could be so enthusiastic about talking that early in the morning. I don't think I have ever had a whole conversation with anyone at seven in the morning.

Yesterday a coworker found me at the kitchen sink in the galley, I had just gotten to work and I was washing out my coffee mug. I hadn't had tea and I don't think I had spoken to another living soul since waking. I was still in the space between sleeping and functional. And my coworker started asking me all sorts of work-related questions about a project she's working on and I stared at her blankly and watched her mouth move and then I said, "Tea."

So it's hard for me to imagine myself chatting with vigor and speed on my cellphone so early in the morning. I guess I could do it if I had stayed up the night before, but then it wouldn't be morning, it would be more day.

The talking woman exited on my same bus stop. Right as our stop neared she hung up and got off the bus and then as soon as she was on the sidewalk she opened up her cell, dialed, and started talking again. I don't know how she determined that it was OK to talk for the whole bus ride, and OK to talk while walking along the sidewalk but she had to hang up to get off the bus. Funny.

Posted by laurie at 8:57 AM

June 5, 2009

Friday

Los Angeles is in shock, we're not used to rain in June. People keep asking each other in bewilderment, "What's happening? Why? Why?"

We're so cute, with our shock and awe that water comes from the sky anytime after February. (My garden will be happier than I was, it didn't have to commute downtown in the rain.)

Today I had my new favorite breakfast. Thick, creamy nonfat Greek yogurt with a pile of fresh blueberries. And tea, to offset the rain and unseasonable chill (sixty degrees! In June! What have we done to anger the sun gods?)

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Have a great weekend!

Posted by laurie at 11:03 AM

June 4, 2009

My urban farm is full of green. Have I accidentally stepped in someone else's yard?

Every morning I go outside to my backyard -- I think it is my backyard, although it looks so different -- and I marvel at the green stuff growing everywhere. It's not mold, or algae, it's actual real live plants and not many of them are weeds. Some of the growing green things are intentionally planted and most are not only still alive, a feat in itself, but some are actually thriving. In my backyard! Will wonders never cease? Have I turned a corner? Is my life changing? Will I run into George Clooney at the market soon? Will my hair refuse to frizz? Will I one day find myself in the kitchen making something that requires more than two ingredients and the smoke alarm will stay silent? Will my panties stay elasticized for more than three months? Will they simultaneously refuse to ride up uncomfortably?

We can only speculate.

Before I brag dramatically show you my cornfield/pumpkin patch, let me first remind you of its ghetto glory merely ONE MONTH ago:

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Now behold the insane wonder that is my cornfield and pumpkin patch today:

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Do I mind that I will likely not harvest a single ear of corn nor a solitary pumpkin? No, not at all. There mere existence of these growing things is astonishing and reward enough in its own. Ah, if only dating were so simple.

And my dad's little heirloom chili plants -- remember the ones that he started as tiny seeds after planting each one individually and I tried to keep them alive and for the past two years they've done so-so...? Well this is the kitchen garden a month ago:

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And this is it now:

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LORD HAVE MERCY ON MY TASTEBUDS! That is one big ol' pepper plant! It is now four feet tall and already has its first blooms, which is record:

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Blooming pepper plant!

The biggest surprise, though, is the Great Tomato Situation. So far I have spent about $75 on tomatoes and tomato soil and topsy turvyness and cages and fertilizer and younameit. Every year I do this and by late June I end up with a dried pile of twigs at the bottom of a tomato cage, which is not that great of a ROI. This year I think something in my karma has changed, somehow, somewhere, because I walked outside this morning and discovered these little green pearls:

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That's right, folks. My $75 has purchased some baby cherry tomatoes in a lovely shade of spring green! Now we hold our collective breaths and wait and wonder if this will be the the year that I finally grow a single red tomato.

And then George Clooney and I will send ya'll our wedding invitations. And my panties won't ride up or fall dawn. Life is good!

Posted by laurie at 11:12 AM

June 2, 2009

Upside-down and squashy!

Just a quick update on the upside-down gardening... my cherry tomato plant does not look like the plant in the commercial! It's gotten long and leggy and eventually I suspect it will begin to reach ground and try to walk off:

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But it is green and healthy and happy and even has some yellow flowers. Who knows, I may see a real, actual red tomato this year after all. It would be a first!

My cucumber is doing REALLY well, considering this is the largest cucumber plant I have ever managed to grow to date and it has two little blossoms on it:

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And the yellow summer squash in the raised bed garden are taking over the world! Honestly, I do not understand why a single organic yellow crookneck squash costs $2.00 in the grocery store when they're so prolific and crazy easy to grow. If I can have a squash overload with one single plant, imagine the payload if I were a farmer! Wait... perhaps I have missed my true calling... a squash farmer! [edited to add: Please resist the urge to share your icky squash bug stories and/or squash horror stories, call me crazy but I prefer to live in ignorant squash bliss...]

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This morning I counted six little squashii. The largest one might be ready to pick by the end of the week. My zucchini plants got a very late start, I didn't plant them until last weekend and they're still very small so I hope they manage to get settled in before the weather turns hot. We've been so lucky this season so far, it's been overcast and cool almost every day, with sun in the afternoons. Usually by now my plants start to wither and die but this year we have a good dose of June Gloom and I hope it sticks around for the rest of the month. In the mornings I walk outside and just stare at my plants like a crazy person. I can't believe how much happiness my little garden brings me.

Once again I forgot to take pictures of my chili plant that has taken over the kitchen garden and is threatening to start its own country. And you'll never believe the size of my corn and pumpkin patch. It's already exceeded my every expectation. Well, tomorrow is another day!

Posted by laurie at 10:48 AM

June 1, 2009

How do they know which house to come to? How?

On Saturday I discovered a teensy little furry baby opossum on my back patio. He was scared, as you can imagine, and he was clearly injured. It looked like he was missing a back foot, and he was cowering in the corner by the garden hose and the potted lemon tree and looking hungry and sad. And he was obviously a very smart little opossum because he knew exactly which house to come to in the neighborhood for love and attention and food.

Much to my parents' dismay, I have always been someone who takes in strays. And while I have been better in the past few years about no longer taking in strays of the human variety, I have yet to meet an animal I didn't love or want to take home or find a home or make well and happy. I had no earthly idea what to do with a baby opossum who was injured and all alone but I did the best I could, at least for the night. My vet was closed already and I had no one to call in the opossum knowledge department.

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He had a little heated pad under his towel, there, and some kibble (which is probably not ideal but for one night was better than nothing) and some water and I have no idea if they use litter boxes but I made him one all the same.

The next morning I phoned my vet who immediately gave me the number to the California Wildlife Center. My vet assured me that these folks do everything they can to try to rehab and re-release an animal rather than euthanize. So I called them up and they said they would take him and Mr. No-Name Possum (because if you name it you keep it) and I drove to Malibu Canyon -- me in the driver's seat, opossum in a cozy box -- and the nice folks at the CWC took him in no questions asked. They didn't even charge for their services, they're a non-profit. The work these folks are doing is phenomenal, they take all kinds of injured and orphaned wildlife and help them heal and grow and then move back into the wild. As you can imagine my checkbook practically leaped out of my handbag to donate. I can't think of better ways to give money than to people who help the most defenseless of us all.

In fact! If you yourself are just sitting around today looking for somewhere to give a little donation of your own, might I recommend the California Wildlife Center? Take a look at their website, read a little about them, and if you have any to give here is their donations page with links to paypal. (They're a 501(3)(C) so your donation is tax-deductible, too.) I know these are tough times for a lot of folks economically. But just seeing what those folks were doing (they even had a little sea lion they were rehabilitating, and some orphaned fawns and all kinds of birds) just made me feel so grateful they're doing that work. And every little bit helps.

I was telling my mom about the opossum and the people who took him in at the California Wildlife Center and she said, "Doesn't it make you happier just knowing a place like that exists? It makes me feel better about the world, somehow." and I know exactly what she means. Like the world can't be all bad if there's a place for the little injured baby opossums.

Posted by laurie at 3:37 PM