Category Archives: Inspiring Stuff

I’m a Konmari Konvert

Lately I’ve been telling hubs that I feel like the walls are starting to close in around me. That if I happen to be in one of our sheds in the backyard when a big earthquake hits, that I will be killed under the avalanche of stuff haphazardly stacked and stuffed in them. That I desperately want to get rid of some of our stuff.

Always looking out for evidence of synchronicity in my life (thanks to “The Artist’s Way”), I kept seeing references to Marie Kondo, the Konmari Method, and the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something, so I listened.

"The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up"
“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”

Holy crap, you guys, I’m a Konvert.

I really didn’t think that I had much stuff. I thought most of our stuff belonged to my husband. He has a poor visual memory so likes to hang on to stuff for the memories they elicit. In the last few years we’ve also inherited parts of collections once belonging to his now deceased parents.

It’s a lot of stuff to deal with.

But it wasn’t until I started to take a look at all my own personal stuff that I realized that I, too, have amassed quite a lot of stuff I don’t really need. And it was time to go through it and let some of it go.

I’ve been talking about creating space in my life for the things I really want. And this seemed like a concrete way to put that idea into motion. I could create physical space that would, in turn, create mental space that would then invite in some of those things I’ve been longing for. Less things to care for and think about means more time for writing and other creative pursuits.

I purchased the book on Amazon for a mere $10 and change, and on the day it came I read the entire thing in one sitting. All 200 pages. I have a tendency to go whole ass on things once my mind has clamped on to them.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Konmari Method, basically it boils down to this: go through all of your possessions quickly and intensely by category, taking in your hands each and every object. Decide what to keep based entirely on what sparks joy. Discard everything else.

Wow. Simple, but effective.

She recommends starting with clothes, since we have the least emotional attachment to them. I did all my clothes in one day, and easily discarded at least half of my wardrobe. Kondo then recommends taking everything that you are keeping and storing them vertically in your drawers, like this.

My newly-organized shirt drawer
My newly-organized shirt drawer

The process is a little more challenging with cats.

Konmari can be a little hard with cats.
Konmari can be a little hard with cats.

At first I didn’t think I’d like folding my clothes this way, but now I LOVE IT. I take more care with every item, and I can see everything at the same time. I love fun socks and have quite a collection, and now this sock drawer practically shouts joy at me every time I open it.

HAPPY SOCKS!!
HAPPY SOCKS!!

Some categories are harder than others.

Books were easy. I’ve moved around a lot and books are heavy and take up a lot of space. I was able to cull my collection so that it all fits easily in one bookcase. I’m discarding this entire tub. I mean, how many Spanish dictionaries does one need?

Goodbye heavy and never-read books!
Goodbye heavy and never-read books!

Papers were hard. Really, really hard and tedious. Kondo recommends discarding all papers. Obviously, there are things you need to keep, like insurance papers. But everything else should go. I spent 12 solid hours on my living room floor going through every piece of paper I owned. It doesn’t look like much, but it is once you take out every. Single. Piece.

So. Many. Papers. And a cat. I kept her. She sparks alot of joy.
So. Many. Papers. And a cat. I kept her. She sparks alot of joy.

By the end of the day, I had filled an entire blue recycle bin with shredded bank statements, credit card statements, and pretty much everything that was not essential to my daily life or that you have to keep for tax purposes.

Goodbye bad ju-ju papers!
Goodbye bad ju-ju papers!

It was a rough day, but I feel so much better for it. All my papers now easily fit in this small file cabinet.

My magnets spark joy. :-)
My magnets spark joy. :-)

Photos and keepsakes are also hard because they are emotionally charged and tedious. My old letters have been stored at my parents’ house until two years ago when I drove from Los Angeles to Indiana for Christmas and could thus transport them back in my car. My mom had actually organized all my old letters by sender and tied them each up into tidy little bundles – cards and letters from family through the years, old letters from my childhood penpal, all the letters my ex-husband sent me when I studied abroad in college. That is not easy stuff to go through, but I did and I lessened the weight of it considerably. Be prepared to feel all the feels when you do this.

This was an especially tedious and challenging evening. Do I know how to spend my Saturday nights or what?!
This was an especially tedious and challenging evening. Do I know how to spend my Saturday nights or what?!

Other keepsakes were hard, too, because my mom had so lovingly organized them into scrapbooks – things like old report cards or awards from elementary school, old playbills and drawings and who knows what else. I couldn’t really cull the collection without completely dismantling each book, so most of those stayed intact for the time being.

In the end, I ended up discarding about half of my possessions, easily enough to set up an entire new household. It’s a stunning visual to see it all piled up on my back patio.

Holy crap, look at all of it!!
Holy crap, look at all of it!!

I’m going to have a garage sale once the weather cools, because it seems a shame not to after doing all this work. I’ve even seemed to inspire hubs, who willingly went through all our kitchen gadgets with me and is parting with several (like that food dehydrator right there), and is planning to go through other things of his before our big sale.

I’m excited about the space this has created in my life, both physically and mentally, and how chaos has been tamed. I’m spending the month of September with a clearer mind so that I can complete the second rewrite of novel #1. I’m ready to start the outline for novel #2, which I want to begin writing in November, so there’s much work to be done.

Have you tried the Konmari Method? What do you think about it?

 

What Is It About Sunsets?

 

Well, I’m finally back home and settling in for a long stay after a spring and summer marked by frequent (excessive?) travel. The last hurrah of the travel season was a few days camping in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Wow. If you’ve never been, I’d highly recommend a visit.

There are several car-camping sites to choose from in each park, and we (my husband, brother and I) decided to try our luck in Sunset Campground, on the Kings Canyon/Sequoia border. It’s first-come, first-served (most in the park are), and we timed our arrival perfectly to score a site on the western edge – the ideal place to view the sunset.

We were not disappointed.

What is it about sunsets that seize your heart? No matter how many of them you bear witness to, each one is magical. And like an orgasm, each one is beautiful in its own way.

Some explode with color and light, a symphony bursts forth and blazes out in a matter of moments.

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Others build slowly, teasing you with their potential, but then quietly come and go, trying not to bother you too much with their presence. They are wonderful, nonetheless, in their unpretentious and subdued beauty.

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Not everything has to be a party.

It’s important to have variety. Each one can’t be a blowout or we would become desensitized. You can have too much of a good thing. It’s meant to be a treat, a dessert at the end of the day. But too much can make you fat. So you have a little mint tea instead, most nights.

But one evening the colors erupt into a cake-and-ice-cream dream. The spectacle rips open your heart and mind and you can’t help but be still while its radiance envelopes you, penetrates you, stirs you.

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Is that what it is about sunsets?

Or is it all the pretty colors? All day the sky is blue or gray or white, but for a few impossible minutes it turns orange, magenta, deep purple, golden yellow, heart-pumping red and a million colors in between before it all fades to black as quickly as it came. A feast for the eyes that nourishes the soul.

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What is it about sunsets?

The One Thing That Makes Travel Worth It

 

Travel can be a real pain in the ass.

First, there’s everything you have to do to prepare: get ahead on work, clean the house, pack, take care of the yard, arrange for house/pet sitters, alert your credit card companies, make sure you have all the proper paperwork like visas and copies of things like passports – and that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head.

Then, there’s the process of getting there. If you are traveling to the other side of the world it could take a couple of days. Your legs ache from 14-hour plane rides. You have a headache for three straight days. Your feet swell. You develop an unpleasant body odor, as does the guy sitting next to you. Your mouth starts to feel like a sewer.

Once you get there, you’re jet-lagged, you feel tired pretty much all the time from walking so much, your feet swell even more, your body sweats continuously in places that it has never sweat before. You worry you’re missing out on seeing something because you don’t have enough time, yet all you want to do is slow down so you can take it all in.

It’s stressful, and it makes you stinky. Well, it does that to me anyway. And sometimes shit happens like your luggage doesn’t arrive, you lose your credit card, or somebody gets really sick and you have to see a doctor who doesn’t speak English.

You come home to three weeks of unopened mail, bills piling up, more jet lag, needy pets, a yard that looks like a jungle, a smelly house, and work that needs to be attended to immediately if not before.

It’s stressful. It sounds awful. Why do we do it?

When we returned from our latest trip to western and Eastern Europe, a friend asked me, “What was the most memorable moment of your trip?”

No one ever put it to me that way before. Usually I get asked, “What was your favorite place?” or “What was the best thing you ate?” But the most memorable moment?

I didn’t even have to think about it. I knew exactly what it was.

It was the moment we got off the metro in Rome and headed up the stairs toward the street. It was crowded and I could just see over the heads of the travelers in front of me to the outside. Ancient ruins, blue sky and white, puffy clouds teased me. I actually turned to my husband and warned him, “I’m going to freak out in about ten seconds when we get outside.”

We emerged from the metro station and there it was: the Colosseum. I took four years of Latin in high school. My favorite part, always, was learning about ancient Roman culture. I’ve seen countless photos of the Colosseum, the Forum, and a host of other archaeological wonders. But always on paper. Never in real life. My parents didn’t have the money to send me on the yearly trip to Rome with Latin Club. Visiting was always a dream.

My heart quickened. I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I wanted to turn to the people around me and shout, “Look! You guys! It’s the fucking COLOSSEUM! It’s RIGHT THERE! OhmygodOhmygodOhmygod!!!” and dance a crazy little jig while thrusting my hands in its direction.

Lucky for my husband I kept a lid on such outward signs of ecstasy. (Okay, maybe I danced and shouted a little bit). But we stood there for a good hour so we could stare at it in disbelief. I mean, it was right there in front of me. For real. In real life. Holy cow.

You guys! It's the COLOSSEUM!
You guys! It’s the COLOSSEUM!

So – that’s why I do it. I suffer through the general unpleasantness of foreign travel because of those moments. The ones that make your heart race and your mind explode. That give your enthusiasm and your spirit a big old kick in the pants. The ones that ignite your imagination and fill your well. It’s worth the swollen feet and smelly crotches and stinky armpits and weary legs and lost luggage and misplaced credit cards and all the preparation before and damage control after.

It’s worth it.

To have your heart burst open with the wonder of it all. To taste the magic of life, even for a brief moment. To feel connected to history and to feel a part of the world community. To have profound reverence for what has come before you and what will come after. To look around and realize how small your are, but how lucky you are. To be filled full up with gratitude.

What was your most memorable moment from your last trip?

You guys! It's a rainbow! In ROME!
You guys! It’s a rainbow! In ROME!

 

An Afternoon with the Dalai Lama

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Today marks the 80th birthday of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. Months ago I learned that he would be coming to Southern California to celebrate his birthday, and I jumped at the chance to score a couple of tickets to what they were touting as a “Global Compassion Summit.” I’ve long been a fan of the Dalai Lama’s, and the summit’s opening event promised to be a lively afternoon exploring how creativity and compassion walk hand in hand. Sign me up!

Pulling up to the Honda Center, I was surprised to see groups of protestors outside. Who protests a peace party? There was a group of Shugden Buddhists chanting “fake Dalai Lama” (apparently they follow him wherever he goes) and a smattering of Christians with large signs proclaiming that Jesus died for our sins.

One of the Christian protestors from the event.
One of the Christian protestors from the event.

Given that the Dalai Lama’s mission in life is to practice and teach compassion, I thought the best way to approach these protestors was with – you guessed it – compassion. Although I was a bit miffed by their presence, I tried to take a compassionate point of view to understand what might motivate them to stand outside with signs and speak out against the man who is arguably the most pro-peace person on the planet. I didn’t reach any conclusions – I’m mystified, really – but it’s food for thought.

Once inside the atmosphere was far more convivial, with all kinds of people in attendance – monks in wheelchairs, Sikhs, Tibetans in traditional dress and lots of middle-aged Southern California women in tunics and yoga pants (myself included). There were vendors selling Tibetan wares, and I availed myself of some prayer beads and a Tibetan travel amulet. I’m trying to shed my western, consumerist attitude of “I’m outside of my house, I need to buy something,” but I’m not always successful. At least the prayers beads can help me meditate on that.

What unfolded over the next couple of hours can only be described as an amusing and bizarre mish mash of celebrities and Nobel laureates coming to the stage one by one to wish His Holiness a happy birthday. There are celebrities I associate with Buddhism – Richard Gere comes to mind – and then there were the celebrities that actually came to the event – M.C. Hammer, Randy Jackson, Josh Radnor, Julia Ormond, Cody Simpson and George Lopez, who told jokes about Donald Trump. What? So weird. Everybody was a little bit awkward, but the Dalai Lama seemed amused by it all so what the hell, right? Wilmer Valderrama encouraged us to introduce ourselves to the people sitting beside us (I met a nice man named Corey) and at one point a woman in the balcony screamed “turn down the air conditioning, we’re freezing in here!”

Ann Curry hosted the event, and all I could think about was why did she get fired from the Today show? She’s classy and awesome, and she was rocking a casual menswear outfit that rivaled anything you might see Ellen Degeneres wear. In fact, everyone on stage was dressed rather casually (except for the politicians), which I think is a testament to the fact that the Dalai Lama puts everyone at ease and encourages people to drop the pretense. The whole event had a casual air, like we were all really just invited to a gigantic birthday, complete with gigantic cake.

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His Holiness talked a bit about compassion while enjoying a slice of cake, and reminded us all that the purpose of life is to be happy. That worry without action is irrelevant, and he invited us to look at life from a wider perspective.

I can’t say I learned anything I didn’t already know yesterday, but I smiled a whole lot. Being in a room with 18,000 people all focused on the idea of compassion and spreading loving kindness is pretty awesome and powerful. I needed a nap afterwards; I was all full up with the milk of human kindness.

Whether you are a Buddhist, a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist – really, no matter what your religious beliefs are – I encourage you to listen to the words of this kind and wise man. He really believes we can change the world with compassion, and that the journey begins inside the self. Yes, he is a “simple Buddhist monk” as he calls himself, but really he is just teaching a religion of kindness. I can’t imagine a more worthy cause, and I’m grateful to have spent an afternoon in his grace.

Happy Birthday, Your Holiness, may we all give you a birthday gift of practicing compassion with each other, and may we celebrate with you for many years to come!

Big Dreams Welcome Here

 

 “If you don’t have a dream, how can you have a dream come true?” –Jiminy Cricket

It hit me the other day – I’m 40. Okay, it’s been hitting me every day, but you know what I mean.

It’s time to go big or go home.

No more small time dreams for me, friends. No more tailoring my visions of the future into something that seems attainable. No more living life on a small scale.

It’s go time.

I’m dreaming big, now. I got big dreams, and I am putting plans into motion and working towards those dreams, day by day. It’s baby steps, but enough baby steps eventually equal the distance of one giant leap.

I decided to create tangible evidence of my big dream pursuits. Something that says, “Hey! Big Dream! Over here!” So I made a gigantic dreamcatcher, one big enough to capture some of the biggest dreams out there, and I put it on my front door.

Welcome, big dreams! Come on in! Can I offer you a coffee or a glass of wine?
Welcome, big dreams! Come on in! Can I offer you a coffee or a glass of wine?

(I have a very tolerant and supportive husband.)

I cannot tell you how much fun I had making this. I have a tendency to hoard crafting supplies or bits of this and that to be upcycled at a later date. This project (with some additional treasures found at the Long Beach Center For Creative Reuse) was made with all that artful detritus.

I think it fairly screams, “Big dreams welcome here!”

Want to make your own dreamcatcher? Here’s a great tutorial from The Journey Junkie.

Go ahead, I dare. I dare you to dream big. Because what greater joy is there in life besides having that big dream come true?

 

 

Getting Outside My Comfort Zone

 

Forgive my recent absence, friends. I have just returned from a rather epic adventure, and while I had assumed I would be having all these amazing experiences and feel dazzlingly creative and spend a whole bunch of time writing while I was away, I found the opposite to be true. I spent most of the time just trying to absorb the experiences I was having, let alone to feel creatively inspired by them. I was happy just to be up and awake and energized enough to walk another ten miles that day. Each day I fell into bed utterly exhausted and each morning it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed and do it all again. Forget about morning pages or mind maps or blog posts or even journaling about what happened each day. Just having the wherewithal to keep going felt like a triumph.

Don’t get me wrong; I had a fabulous time. I am epically grateful. Hubs and I spend three weeks roaming around Western and Eastern Europe. I celebrated my 40th birthday. We went to a friend’s wedding in Bulgaria. We made new friends in Turkey and Greece and chatted with fellow travelers in Rome. We saw ruins, we browsed museums, we ate plate after plate after plate of new and delicious food. We drank ourselves silly on raki and rakia and wine. We dipped our toes in the Black Sea and rode busses and trains and boats and planes and cars. We made the most of our precious time away from our daily routines in Los Angeles.

It was exhausting.

I have discovered, as a creative person, that it is not merely the experience itself that fuels my creative life. It is the time and space to absorb the lessons of the experience, to process my thoughts and feelings about it, to figure out the take-aways and to discover the absurdities and the funny moments. To see how it has changed me, for the better and for the worse.

I did learn that I need to lose about 20 pounds because the extra weight makes my feet swell in a very uncomfortable way.

I did learn I still don’t much care for lamb or mushrooms or anything anise-flavored.

I did learn that I have a great affinity for the cats of the world (okay, I knew that one already, it was just reinforced).

Beyond those easy things, there is much more to uncover, and I will share those thoughts and experiences in the coming days. I know that getting outside my comfort zone, no matter how exhausting it is, is one of the most important elements of personal growth. But I think it’s going to take a little time in my comfort zone to unearth that wisdom.

Until then, here are some cat pictures from my travels.

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It’s Okay to be Fearful

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This meme about Georgia O’Keeffe has been making the rounds on social media over the last couple of days. Having recently learned that O’Keeffe suffered a nervous breakdown in her mid-40s and had to be hospitalized for two months makes it all the more poignant to me.

Like most people, I experience fear and anxiety on a daily basis. It’s become part of the background noise of who I am.

But I remember so very distinctly the first time it occurred to me that I could still do something even though I was afraid. That I didn’t have to avoid the thing that was causing me fear.

I was standing in the kitchenette of my efficiency apartment in Highland Park, NJ, at the end of my second year of grad school. I was in the middle of a divorce. I had no money, and no idea what to do with myself over the summer since I no longer had a home to go to. I couldn’t stay in the New Brunswick area. I knew I would die of loneliness and depression if I did that. I had an invitation to join two friends who were going to put on a show in Boston. It was no pay, no housing, no nothing. We would have to find an apartment to sublet and I would have to find a day job – all to be able to afford to do the show.

I stood there in my tiny kitchen, washing dishes, staring at the brown, particle-board doors of the cheap cabinets over the sink, thinking about how scared I was. The fear was an angry knot in my stomach. My world was falling apart and I was terrified to make it worse. I wanted to go to Boston, but I was so scared it was debilitating; I could not make a decision about it.

And then I had one of those moments, as if God himself tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention and whispered something into my ear. I realized that just because I was scared didn’t mean I couldn’t do it. I think I was waiting for the moment when the fear dissipated to make a decision about what to do next. But I finally realized that isn’t how life works. The life you build is in many cases built in spite of the fear you feel. You – I – feel fear and decide to plow forward anyway. I realized that I could be scared to go to Boston but go to Boston anyway.

I went to Boston.

Now, Boston was not a piece of cake. It was, in truth, a really stressful and sad summer. Well, everything about it except the play we did. The play was marvelous and funny and poignant and a little bit sad. I spent the summer working with some remarkable creative people. I played a character I would never otherwise play. That part was glorious. Working in the Accounts Payable division of the Cell Biology department at Harvard Medical School during the day while living in a basement apartment on The Fenway was fucking awful. Waking up to the sound of hooligans and ne’er-do-wells puking right outside my bedroom window was unpleasant. Having my car towed sucked, and getting flipped off every time I tried to drive was also not my cup of tea. Boston was not particularly warm or welcoming to me that summer. But it wasn’t Boston’s job to be. It was my job to acknowledge that I feel fear and to go ahead and do the thing anyway. For all the pain and trouble that summer, I’m still glad I went. Who knows what the alternative would have been, and I may not have made it through the summer had I chosen to do or go anywhere else.

What do you fear that you will do anyway?

 

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.

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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
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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.

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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!

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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!

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

IN VAG WE TRUST! GO FORTH AND MAKE VAGINA CUPCAKES, YOU VAGINA WARRIORS, YOU!

Art Healing Trauma

In case any of you have missed my barrage of messages, entreaties and marketing blitzes, I am appearing in a charity production of The Vagina Monologues on March 28th in Santa Monica, CA. This is the fifth consecutive year that we’ve produced the show to support efforts to end violence against women. Information and tickets can be found here.

The Vagina Monologues - March 28th
The Vagina Monologues – March 28th

The local charity that receives the proceeds from our show is a Venice, CA-based organization called A Window Between Worlds. These wonderful folks sponsor programs that use art to help people who have experienced trauma. Their methods have met with such success over the years that they have recently expanded their mission. Where once they worked exclusively with women and girls, they are now extending their reach to include boys and men, veterans and their families, and the mental health field.

Table filled with art supplies at A Window Between Worlds
Table filled with art supplies at A Window Between Worlds

Every year, AWBW invites our cast to their headquarters so we can see firsthand what they do. Every year, this is one of the highlights of the whole experience for me. Each day I become more attuned to how creativity is an integral part of who I am and how exercising my creativity makes me feel better and helps me to process all that stuff that goes on inside me. It’s a way to explore, to meditate and to heal. If I may be frank, these workshops are fucking awesome.

One of my favorite exercises is when we each take one portion of a drawing of a tree. We decorate our little square in whatever way moves us. Then all the squares are put back together, revealing one multi-dimensional image. It’s a perfect way to illustrate how we are all different, yet we can all come together to create something beautiful.

Before & After
Before & After

AWBW has this fantastic art room that is stocked floor to ceiling with every kind of art supply imaginable – paint, paint brushes, glue, glitter, pipe cleaners, paper, crayons, markers, colored pencils, bits of this and that. It’s exciting to be in and around all this great stuff and fun to explore all these different ways to express ourselves.

Muppet Shrinky Dinks!
Muppet Shrinky Dinks!

Remember Shrinky Dinks? Those fun plastic thingies from our childhood that you put in the oven and they magically shrink?

 

 

 

 

 

Vagina Shrinky Dinks!
Vagina Shrinky Dinks!

Yeah – we make vagina Shrinky Dinks every year and it is AWESOME.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year our cast made also made a vagina painting together. All of us gathered around this canvas and made what we think looks like a pretty good Art Deco version of a pussy. What do you think?

Art Deco Vagina
Art Deco Vagina

I know I can speak for our entire cast when I say that this workshop is a fun night for us, and makes us appreciate even more what AWBW is doing for survivors out there. They are addressing a problem with a unique and creative solution, and their efforts are making a difference in communities across America, helping to break the silence surrounding violence.

You can help support AWBW AND have a fun night out by coming to see the show! If you aren’t in LA and would like to help, you can also purchase a ticket on behalf of a survivor. Just head over to the event page, click on “contact organizer” and leave a note saying your ticket is for a survivor.  It will allow a woman who might not normally be able to afford to come to the show an opportunity to experience a night of empowerment, community and joy.

IN VAG WE TRUST! Paint on, Vagina Warriors!