A Joyful Noise

I’d like to welcome today’s guest blogger, Adam Hall! Adam is the founder of Homes and Habitats, a U.S.-based international non-profit devoted to the reduction of certain risks associated with increasing urbanization in the developing world. He’s also a damn fine travel writer.

Full disclosure – he also happens to be my husband. I think he’s pretty awesome.

We’ve had a visitor in our yard for the past few years, one that has hopped into Adam’s heart. He wrote a few, sweet words about it and I thought I’d share.

A Joyful Noise

by Adam Hall

Backyard wildlife
Backyard wildlife

It is officially Spring. Of course that comes with being the vernal equinox, but for us there is another marker, one that is more present and constant through the next six months.

Ferdinand is back.

He first signaled his return with a few days of chirping and croaking from a yard or two away (backyard, that is), moving closer as each day passed. We worried when the neighbor behind us chopped down their lovely shade tree (what possesses someone to do that?) fearing Ferdie would be crushed or tossed out with the arboreal detritus. And for a day we wondered. The noise and commotion must have traumatized him into silence. But then his familiar voice again drifted in our windows, and now he was definitely in our yard.

Finally, last night, we spotted him on the side of the spa. Ferdie was much plumper than when last we saw him, his soft body flowing like a boule resting after its first turn. Evidently he’s been cheating on his hibernation diet. But he is in full voice, pining for the mate who will never arrive, and provides his comforting contrast to the crickets through the evenings.

This year Ferdie has also begun calling during the day, perhaps getting more desperate as he ages. Tree frogs only live about 4 years, and this will be his fourth with us, so time is running out for his search for love. We wish him well, and look forward to being lulled to sleep by his lustful calls during the coming warm months.

Ain't he a beauty?
Ain’t he a beauty?

An Afternoon at Descanso Gardens

Wow! I did not realize it until I logged in, but this is my 100th blog post. Happy anniversary to me! Having this outlet for my writing has been such a reward, and I want to thank each and every one of you who has come by over the last couple of years to say hi.

happy 100

Okay, that isn’t what I originally sat down to share with you, but in some ways it is related. Last August I started on the journey of The Artist’s Way. I’ve talked about that book ad nauseum on this blog, but it really was and has been rather life-changing. It renewed my creative spirit and ignited a fire in me to chip away at this writing thing, which is how I came to finally pay attention to this blog. It also reminded me that it is essential to take time to unwind and replenish my personal resources. In The Artist’s Way this is accomplished through weekly Artist’s Dates – two hours each week spent alone doing something completely for fun.

I’ve been neglecting those Artist Dates, and I can see the difference. I feel more depleted than I have in a few months, and the creative ideas are fewer and far between. I decided this weekend it was time to renew my commitment to those dates.

Normally, an Artist Date is done alone, but my husband looked like he could use an outing, too, so I decided this weekend to invite him along. One of the places I have always wanted to visit in Los Angeles, but haven’t, is Descanso Gardens. I’m an avid gardener, so it surprises me that after eight years I still haven’t bothered to make it over there. So this Saturday, we packed ourselves up in the car, fired up our pedometer apps, charged up the camera battery, and set out for this little urban oasis.


Descanso is Spanish for “place of rest”, and the name could not be more fitting. Located in La Canada Flintridge in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, Descanso Gardens covers 160 acres of both cultivated and natural gardens. The price of admission is an affordable $9/adult, but if you buy a membership for $70/year, admission is free. Which is a bargain, especially if you live across the street. Talk about easy motivation for a daily walk.

We tried to arrive on the early side, as we figured it would be busy on a Saturday in April. The parking lot was pretty well filled we when arrived at 11am, but we managed to find a spot easy enough (not so for those arriving when we left at 2:30pm).

Once inside visitors are given a map of the grounds, which turned out to be helpful. The gardens are surprisingly large, and many paths wind around the different areas – it would be easy to get turned around.

Dragonfly emerging from nymph stage in the lily pond
Dragonfly emerging from nymph stage in the lily pond

We began our walk in the Rose Garden. We stopped at a small, round pond containing water lilies where a guide was asking people to see if they could spot the resident frog. Instead of a frog, what we did spot was a dragonfly morphing from it’s nymph stage into adulthood – pretty cool! I had never given any thought to the life cycle of dragonflies, and this chance encounter led me to looking it up when we got home.

Water lilies in bloom
Water lilies in bloom

The Rose Garden is huge and April is the perfect time to experience it. I’m sure it’s a challenge to keep a cultivated garden like this looking nice during our serious drought, and the staff here do a good job with limited resources. There are endless varieties of roses in every shade, and it’s a popular spot for weddings and other events. In fact, they were setting up for a wedding when we strolled through.

Rose Garden
Rose Garden
I've decided that fuchsia and yellow is my favorite color combo... These roses were unbelievable.
I’ve decided that fuchsia and yellow is my favorite color combo… These roses were unbelievable.
Crow's nest complete with barbed wire
Crow’s nest complete with barbed wire

We then wound our way around the lake, spotting birds and even stopping at the bird outlook to see the nests they have on display. Check out this crow’s nest – if you look carefully on the right you can see they even used bits of barbed wire! Crows are hard-core, man.

Duck, duck, goose... Birds love the lake. Check out all the species that have been spotted over the years.
Duck, duck, goose… Birds love the lake. Check out all the species that have been spotted over the years.
Mountain View outlook - stop and rest a spell.
Mountain View outlook – stop and rest a spell.

We circled the lake and enjoyed a stroll through the Oak Woodland and the California natives area. While the Rose Garden was quite busy, people were fewer on these paths. We stopped for a few moments’ rest at the Mountain View outlook. I can imagine sitting here watching the colors of the mountains and sky change with the setting sun while enjoying a nice glass of a California varietal Viognier. That would be, um, incredible.

Meadow of California natives
Meadow of California natives
Hummingbird Sage
Hummingbird Sage – I totally want this for my garden.

We then began our walk through the Oak Forest. Okay, I’m going to gush a little bit. I never really thought about or noticed oak trees until I moved to California. They are now, hands down, my favorite trees. My god, their size, their strength, their grandeur, their elegance, their grace – these trees are breathtaking! The fractal branch canopy is a feast for the eyes and one of my most favorite vistas in the world, I think. I could lie in a hammock and look at it all day.

Oak canopy
Oak canopy
Oak Canopy
Oak Canopy
Path through the Oak Forest.

IMG_1399-001We then came up on the Boddy House and Surt Haaga Gallery. This 12,000 square foot building is the former home of Manchester Boddy, who founded Descanso Gardens and sold the land and estate to Los Angeles County in 1953. The home was completely restored in 2007 and is a wonderful place to duck into on your tour. We particularly enjoyed the vertical gardens containing California native plants.


Boddy House Study
Boddy House Study
Boddy House Living Roo
Boddy House Living Room

Near the house is the Lilac Garden, and I was delighted that a few of the trees still had blooms. There must be at least 100 lilac plants here, and although it is near the end of the season, there were still a few bunches on the branches, and I spent a heavenly few minutes inhaling their fragrance. That smell will always remind me of Indiana and my mother, and the huge lilac bush in her front yard that was in bloom when school was ending for the year. It brings to mind field trips to Indiana Dunes, last day celebrations, and the imminent arrival of the lazy days of summer vacation.

Oh, lil
Oh, lilacs, I do love you so…

We then enjoyed the Japanese garden, which has lovely water features and a fun orange bridge.

Japanese Garden
Japanese Garden - almost mistake this bird for a statute it was so still.
Japanese Garden – almost mistook this bird for a statute it was so still.

On our way out I couldn’t resist the gift shop, which is full of all kinds of interesting garden paraphernalia including plants, planters, seeds, books, lotions, jams, prints, postcards – you name it.

All in all, we walked about 1.7 miles, took a couple hundred pictures, enjoyed endless gorgeous views, saw some wildlife, experienced our first dragonfly birth, got some fresh air and sun, and thoroughly enjoyed three hours of time we would have otherwise spent watching TV or cleaning the house. I’d say time well spent.

If you live in Los Angeles and haven’t had a chance to visit Descanso Gardens, I highly recommend it. Like the name suggests, it’s a great little place to rest and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. And for me, it was exactly what I needed to relax and recharge – a perfect daycation in the city!


The 100 Day Project

What could you do with 100 dyas?
What could you do with 100 days?

I’ve been hit with the doldrums lately, feeling a bit tired and used up. I know enough about myself to know that sometimes the best possible cure for my malaise is to dive into a new creative project. The universe aligned to make that happen rather suddenly, and the very night that I was searching for my next thing, a friend of mine on Facebook posted about The 100 Day Project. And it was starting the very next day – April 6.

The concept is simple – what can you do with 100 days?

There’s a TON of things I’d like to do with 100 days, which would include everything from writing a new short story every day to learning how to watercolor. The catch for me is that I’m going to be traveling for about six weeks during those 100 days, so whatever I do has to be portable. I decided not to focus on writing, since I already do a large amount of writing every day. I wanted to do something with my hands, and something that could help me through my current existential crisis.

I took to Pinterest, as one does when one is seeking creative inspiration. I did a search for DIY projects, small art projects and the like. I thought about sketching hands for 100 days, but that sounded tedious. I thought about taking self portraits for 100 days, but that’s just really selfies these days and I already probably post a selfie a day.

Then I ran across some information about mind maps.

I’d considered delving into mind maps a few months ago, as a way to brainstorm blog post ideas. I saw some fantastically creative mind maps on Pinterest and created a board if you care to check them out.

Don’t know what a mind map is? You can read all about them here.

The next morning I went to Continental Art Supply here in Reseda (a fantastic art store if you happen to live in the San Fernando Valley) and picked up a sketch book. I figured I’d tote some colored pencils with me on our travels, which I already have. I also, on a whim, picked up some oil pastels, which I have never worked with and had me intrigued. Why not try a new medium while I’m at it?

I’m two days in, and this is what I’ve created thus far:

Day 1 - Mind mapping The 100 Day Project
Day 1 – Mind mapping The 100 Day Project
Day 2 - Mind Mapping Boredom
Day 2 – Mind Mapping Boredom

You can follow along on Instagram with the hashtag #The100DayProject. Or better yet, you can join in! It is not too late to jump into this boat with the rest of us.

What could you do with 100 days?

How To Make Vagina Cupcakes

You probably already know that every year I perform in a charity production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, and every year I make a few dozen vagina cupcakes to sell in the lobby before the show. Because who doesn’t want to eat a vagina cupcake, amiright?

Hell, my cupcakes even appeared in the first edition of Karen Alpert’s book “I Heart My Little A-Holes.” (I say first edition, because when HarperCollins picked it up for publication, they cut my chapter, saying it was too risque. Vagina motherfuckers.)

My pussycakes are in a book!
My pussycakes are in a book!

But I can hear you out there, thinking to yourself, “If only I knew how to make these myself at home. They’d be terrific at the school band bake sale!”

So as part of my contribution to mankind, I thought it was about time I clued everyone in on how to make these at home. It’s pretty easy, you guys! Just follow these simple steps I’ve outlined below. And if you want to see how I learned, then check out Chaos Bakery’s video “How To Make a Vagina Cupcake” on YouTube.

For real, there’s videos out there about this.

Step 1 – Have a reason to make vagina cupcakes, such as you’re doing The Vagina Monologues (duh), you want to make a graphic impression at a baby shower, or you want to explain anatomy in a relatable way to a high school biology class.

Step 2 – Bake cupcakes. I did mine from a box. Because, honestly, noone really even notices the flavor when they are biting into an anatomically correct vagina cupcake. I added a little food coloring to give them a more “fleshy” appearance.


Step 3 – Frost lightly. Again, I added a little food coloring to aid in the flesh-coloring. Add more or less to make it the flesh color you desire. We all know there are an infinite number of flesh colors out there.


Step 4 – Make some fondant (you can do this ahead of time). Here is the recipe I used. It’s pretty easy to make your own, I would discourage buying it pre-made because it’s kind of gross.

Step 5 – Fashion the outer lips (the labia majora if scientific terms turn you on) with your fondant. I cut out circles of fondant using a glass and cut each circle in half. Then you fold up the straight side a little bit to make the lips. The frosting on the top of the cupcake holds the fondant in place.

Feed me, Seymour!
Feed me, Seymour!

Step 6 – Add a clitoris. You can use fondant, as Chaos Bakery does, or get creative. This year, I used strawberry-flavored tic-tacs and Starburst jelly beans because it’s Easter. Why not?

They look excited...
They look excited…

Step 7 – Fashion the inner lips (labia minora) with little scraps of fondant. Mine are kind of wild and crazy. Make ’em long, make ’em short, whatever. They come in all sizes.


 Step 8 – Spread a little frosting around the outside. You will now attach the “pubic hair” to that. I used toasted coconut, chocolate sprinkles, and gold sugar and pressed it into the frosting. Shake off the excess. Or go without!

Don't get the hair stuck in your teeth.
Don’t get the hair stuck in your teeth.

Step 9 – The final step is to use a little food coloring to color the inner lips to give them dimension. I used red gel and purple gel food coloring, depending on the color of the cupcake.


Voila! There you have it. Vagina cupcakes you can make at home. Here are some pictures of all the different kinds I made – a total of 60. So many vaginas, so little time!





And here is the video from Chaos Bakery. Chef Bev does an excellent job walking you through all the steps.