Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sepia Saturday 280 : Reverses

The themes for Sepia Saturday 280 - include boys, girls and dances. The caption on the old vintage postcard reads "In Leap Year - The Ladies after a little wine and tobacco join the gentlemen in the drawing room". So another potential theme you could have is that of "reverses" - occasions when the usual arrangements are reversed. 

One option suggested for the theme for this week can be "reverses" - women encroaching in a traditionally male territory. My photo illustrates a single man in a sea of women. One of my dear old friends, Bill, joined all the ladies, former Lawry's co-workers, mostly former techies (product development, quality control, consumer services, sensory evaluation), for a potluck lunch a few weeks ago. Bill was our packaging engineer and figured out the how, what and where we should package the new products the rest of us were developing. I sepia-ized it for this special occasion. We didn't plan the photo; the hostesses' neighbor on his way to his car offered to take a group shot. We all rushed over to the stairs and "click" the shot was shot - one shot, all eyes open, all smiles. Bill ended up in the front and center spot, where he belongs (on that day at least). We had a wonderful time together; some of the people hadn't seen each other for over 25 years. It's amazing that we've all remained friends.

Here we are un-sepia-ized: 

Click on over to Sepia Saturday to see what others have done with this prompt.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sepia Saturday 279: Danger!

The theme for this week's Sepia Saturday relates to safety, danger, industry. I don't have photos of
hazards or industrial works but I do have some photos borrowed from the internet of events that occur around here and strike fear into us.

Arnold Genthe photo - 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. From Wikipedia

Aren't the weather girls pretty? Look at the long beautiful hair, the perfect make-up, the slinky dresses showing off all their curves. Eye candy. Well, that may be what you see.When those pretty girls come on screen with that map behind them and start talking about Santa Ana winds, they're often the harbingers of doom for us.

Where we live, disaster comes most often in the form of fire. Yeah, yeah, we get earthquakes and they're terrible, but we live with the fear of fire almost daily. I've posted the famous Arnold Genthe photo of San Francisco in 1906 when they got the double whammy of earthquake and fire.

Now that we've endured a four-year drought, the fire situation here is worse than ever. We live in an area where people have 5 acre or 10 acre lots and engage in minor agricultural pursuits; no concrete jungle. There's plenty of dry brush around and it goes up in seconds when the temperature rises, the fires start and the Santa Ana winds begin blowing.

About the Santa Ana winds from  Wikipedia.
The Santa Ana winds are a part of popular culture in Los Angeles: In Raymond Chandler's 1938 short story Red Wind (another name for the winds), the Santa Anas were described as "those hot dry [winds] that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. "On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen."

Do we pick up the carving knife and feel the edge when the wind blows? No...we have no time to think about murdering each other. We prepare to evacuate! I've done it three times since I've lived in San Diego County. We have boxes in our garage ready to fill if the evacuation phone call comes. I keep the old photos, important records and our pet carrier for the cats at the ready. At the same time that we're getting our paltry things together, people around us are making sure they're ready to evacuate horses, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep and all manner of animals.

Still life, after the fire.
Twice, in two different locations, the house beside me burned down. Once in Bend, Oregon and once in Glendale, California. Here in Fallbrook, we've had fires come too close for comfort. Two of my friends lost their homes in the last big Fallbrook fire, in 2007.

I didn't think I would be able to write anything this week, but RAIN today has kept me indoors. Yes, at last, when we thought the possibility of precipitation was over for the year. We've received almost 2 inches of rain - our avocado trees are sighing with relief and we're rejoicing.

For more thrills and danger, head over to Sepia Saturday.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Blog Entry #1000

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. ― Dorothy Parker

For some bloggers, 1000 blog posts is nothing but a walk in the park. For me, it's a major milestone.  I estimate I've coughed up about 600,000 words on this blog which is the length of three good sized novels. But blogging is nisn 't really writing...a novel is infinitely more difficult than just blabbing away as we bloggers do.

My blog is more a diary than anything else and in "The New Diary," the blog is described as a cultural phenomenon rather than a system of writing. I learned in this book that diaries were originally kept by "witches" attempting to preserve pagan wisdom which probably accounts for the taboo of silence and secrecy associated with them in Western tradition. It explains why they were and continue to be locked and why it was considered a terrible breach of decency to read someone else's. If a witch's diary was discovered, not only might the book be burned, but it's writer might be burned as well. Blogs are the polar opposite of diaries in this respect. Bloggers are not seeking anonymity - no, no, no! Nothing pleases a blogger more than a high number of views and best of all, a comment or two.

Sometimes There areAt times I can sit and write pages effortlessly; most of the time, I struggle. I began Guacamole Gulch in 2007 after my sister died when there was a hole in my heart and in my life. As I began writing family stories, and sharing them with friendswhich I formerly discussed with Eilleen, and eventually scanned and added our old family pictures, I enjoyed working on the blog more and more. Blogs come "alive" in a way when you develop  acquire an audience. Once breathing, they have a way of making make you feel guilty if you leave them unattended for too long ignore them - like the plant, Audrey2, in "Little Shop of Horrors." Mine sobs, "Feed me" if I neglect it for too long.

I try to feed wholesome  material to the blog which I find interesting, but at times it wants to be fed junk. I indulge it once in a while. By junk, I mean contrived stuff to write written just for the sake of sustaining momentum. not something I'm really interested in.  The worst one I wrote was on the subject of Morph Suits and it turned out to be my most viewed entry. As H. L. Mencken said brilliantly, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the bad taste of the American public."

I've learned something about writing every day. I cannot resist buying writer's guides and references. because even though I'm long in the tooth, you're never too old to learn something. From most, I've learned at least one useful thing. The best of all the guidesis still remains, "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White - 90 pages of the essentials. I have the third edition.

I'm trying my best to omit needless words and to express myself concisely. After all, Vigorous writing is concise. Strunk and White advises the writer to avoid fancy words. That means I have to stop using words like somnifacient (soporific), nesiote (living on a island), grobian (lout), scobiform (like sawdust). It means I have to pack up my father's copy of Jarrold's Dictionary of Difficult Words. It is a pleasure nevertheless to browse through these marvelous words that are all but extinct in today's language.

Blogs tend to breezy by nature, but I feel like a phony when I try using this style. Sorry, I'll never be authentically breezy. Whenever I try this, I actually blush. From Strunk and White: "Do not write in a breezy manner. The breezy style is often the style of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that pops into his or her head is of general interest..." From another guide I realized how cliche-ridden my writing was and my speech. Believe it or not, I can hardly get through a conversation without saying, "gilding the lily" at least once.  Let's face it, with blogging, the temptation to use the "easy expression" is great. 

Some of my writing has lost some spontaneity at times since I began, because I'm now inhibited super-sensitive toby grammar and other details. Although I recently purchased a subscription to Grammerly which is quite helpful - although Strunk and White, my Bible disagrees with Grammerly in many instances. SW alleges, "Only the writer whose ear is reliable is in a position to use bad grammar deliberately; only she knows for sure when a colloquialism is better than formal phrasing; only she is able to sustain her work at the level of good taste. So, cock your ear." Strunk and White are all for splitting infinitives when it sounds good; for ending sentences with a preposition when it works.

The "Said" book is useful. I don't write conversation often, but when I do, I can usually improve the sound and flow by incorporating something from this little handbook. The phrases themselves are stimulating and bring to mind many scenes: "Go to Hell," she said with furious hauteur flouncing out the door. Maybe I'll try to write a short story incorporating all this anger.......

After reading the below advice, I routinely attempt a 50% cut. 

Sometimes my blog has been 100% unnecessary material and the triage is ugly. 

I've enjoyed reading fellow bloggers and have learned plenty from my friends Nancy and Barbara and Robert (on the verge of 1,000,000 hits) and the Sepians and the other handful of bloggers I read regularly. If I had all the time and money available in the world, I'd attend one of the many a blogger convention and hopefully pick up more tips. and have some fun. 
Here's the pitch material from the 2015 New Media convention in Las Vegas. On second thought, I'm not doing this to "stand out" (in a field of 181 million competitors - what folly would that be?) or to monetize so I might not benefit from such an event. What I'd like to achieve is a blog that consistently interests me and the people I like and want to interest. 

Did you know there are more than 181 million blogs around the world?* So, how do you stand out when there’s so much competition out there? Well, to succeed in any industry, you have to know the latest information, tools, and resources so you can make your mark. We’ve assembled experts from the blogging community who are prepared to share their best tips for creating better content, growing your audience and distribution, and monetizing your blog. Whether you’re just starting out, looking to take your blog to the next level, or are in search of some quality networking, joining the blogging community at NMX will offer the solutions you need.
The writing that has most inspired me lately has been M.K. Fisher (my infatuation with her has continued for some forty years), Stephen King whose book "On writing: A Memoir of the Craft" I've found incredibly useful and Anne Patchett's advice in "This is the story of a Happy Marriage." Last but not least, "Granta - the magazine of new writing." My husband introduced me to this quarterly and when it arrives, we fight over it. Back I go to the "Said" book to assist in writing about our Granta fights..."Did I see you hiding the new Granta?" she asked in a hoarse and furious voice. "Yes," he snapped with savage impatience.  

Granta - latest issue
Malcolm Gladwell opines you have to must do something 10,000 times before you get good at it. If I apply this guide to my blog, and increase my blogging at the writing rate of 150 entries per year, I'll be good at blogging by 2075. I'll also be 132 years old. The numbers ain't aren't in my favor. 

“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book — something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.”

LA Philharmonic Concert

JH center for the
The first movement of the Brahms piano concerto was over; Bronfman, the vigorous pianist, had mopped his forehead and taken a breath; his hands were poised over the piano to start the second movement. You'd take Bronfman for a construction worker before you'd guess he's a concert pianist. He's a big bear of a man. Dudamel raised his baton. All the musicians were poised to go when a door opened on the side of the hall and a man entered, ticket in hand. He began to walk across the front of the hall, right across the front row when he tripped. Anybody who hadn't noticed his entrance before certainly did after his near fall. He composed himself and continued to walk briskly to his $400.00 (I'm guessing at this) seat which was directly front and center. His seat was right at Bronfman's feet. As he sat down, he looked up sheepishly at the pianist, who smiled ever so slightly and gave him a nod. Everyone in the hall laughed - it was a fine, warm moment. Dudamel raised his baton and they went at the remainder of the concerto with gusto. 

The rest of the program was splendid; there wasn't so much as a cough from the audience throughout the performance despite the full house. I'd never heard the Ricecar before and was bit underwhelmed. The Bach orchestral suite was lovely and I heard a continuo for the first time. Like a harpsichord, it sounds a bit tinkly but adds a fluttery quality to the orchestra. Best of all was the Toccato and Fugue played by the full symphony orchestra. We'd heard it before many times played on the organ, which, of course, is fabulous. The full orchestra version, arranged by Stokowski, was mind-blowing. The last 16 bars or so, the strings are sawing, full out, as fast as they can go. I swear I saw smoke, but it was probably flying rosin. A great performance and such a joy to watch Dudamel holding everything together. 

As we expected, the audience for an 11:00 a.m. performance was mature, but not decrepit. The majority looked between 50 - 70. One poor soul got caught in the escalator somehow and as we descended we saw him being attended to by paramedics. His walker was beside him...he must have gotten caught in the mechanism somehow. He didn't look very good, bleeding from the head. His wife or caretaker was lying beside him...God knows what happened to her. Shades of the future. When you're fragile and in a walker with imperfect eye sight and hearing, you can get slightly off balance, miss a few beats and even an escalator has potential for danger. 

Getting in and out of the parking area went smoothly. They have enough attendants on hand to keep everyone rolling in the right direction. Rain was starting to fall and the freeway was getting more and more snarled by the minute. We made it to Arcadia by 2:30 and found our way to Din Tai Fung. 

How to Cook a Wolf

Me, my big sister Eilleen, Lorraine Vopnfjord

"There's a whining at the threshold,
There's a scratching at the floor.
To work! To work! In Heaven's name!
The wolf is at the door!"
- C.P. Gilman

Me, Marilyn Holland and Len Vopnfjord in the backyard waiting for the wolf to cook.

I've been reading and writing about writing and trying to improve my own style. The other day, I was reading one of the best food writers ever, M.F.K. Fisher. Thumbing through the pages of "How to Cook a Wolf", I looked at the frontispiece and was surprised and delighted to see this inscription below. I thought I was handling my own copy of the book, but this one belonged to my mother, Jill. Lorraine was our neighbor, daughter of Axel, my mother's long-term boyfriend and father of Len, my childhood pal. 

Occasionally, Len as a young boy ate dinner with us. My mother used to tell fondly the story of Len's reply to her inquiry on one occasion of what he'd like to eat. "Wolf," he replied. We should have known then that Len would go on to make a big impact whatever he said and did.

When he wasn't eating wolf, Len sang whenever he could. One year, I car pooled to the university with Len and two other boys on our street. We sang on our way to school and often on our way home.One of the two other boys in the car pool was Ross Maddin whose little brother Guy went on to become one of Canada's most celebrated film makers and artists. I didn't know Guy but Len told me about his I film, "My Winnipeg" which won high critical acclaim. It's very unusual and very good. The scene below of horses frozen in the river will give you an idea of the quirkiness of the film.

When Len met Karen his wife, they communicated by song and have spent their lives singing together and to each other. I don't think I've ever known a couple so in love and for so long. Both of their sons had or have musical careers.
Len and Karen 

Son Lindy currently on tour
Lindy Vopnfjord
Len, Karen, Lindy singing together at the Icelandic Festival. True Vikings. 

My mother Jill, Axel - Lorraine and Len's father

The wolf in Fisher's book is a metaphor for the scarcities during the depression and World War II. Her book is about living as decently as possible with the miseries of war. Who knew when it was going to end? Prophetically, she states, "The case for peace is feeble." 

She goes on, "War is a beastly business, it is true, but one proof that we are human is our ability to learn, even from it, how better to exist." She wrote a revised edition in 1951 by which time we were in the grips of the Cold war. She says "We need not worry, temporarily at least, about basic cupboards for blackouts...while at the same time we try not to think, even superficially, about what and when and how and where to nourish survivors of the next kind of bomb." By the time she wrote this, we were in 4th grade, ducking under our seats during air raid drills. My Dad was the neighborhood Air Raid warden...he had a helmet, an arm band and miscellaneous other materials in a box in the basement. I'd go through it from time to time looking at the scary stuff. 
The shortages were at their worst in 1942, the year I was born. I remember the coffee rationing and my mother putting the glass percolator in the center of the dining room table. We sat around looking at it and everyone got a small portion - my sister and I had a tablespoon in our milk. Later that year, sugar,butter and other dairy products were in short supply followed by rationing of gasoline, clothing, alcohol and even maple syrup.

My mother cut our 1/4 pound per week butter allotment into smaller pieces which she doled out - I guess if she hadn't controlled us, we would have eaten it all at once and then complained mightily about the loss. She always controlled my Dad's whiskey bottles. He got the agreed upon ration each night, no more and no less. There was a lesson in restraint learned from all the rationing. She was a great saver of food, money and time; a model of self-control. 

Din Tai Fung

At last we made it to Din Tai Fung, world famous dumpling restaurant, located in a strip mall in Arcadia. From all accounts, there's usually a line out the door, but I guess our timing was good. We were able to place our order immediately and were out the door after a twenty-minute wait. They were extremely gracious to us, giving us tea while we waited and chatting us up lest we got too restless. We ordered three sets of dumplings, ten of each: Pork (steamed pork dumplings or Xiao Long Bao known as XLB), pork and vegetable, green melon and shrimp. The XLB are the flagship product.

I read that each XLB consists of 5 grams of dough, 16 grams of filling. From their website: "After a minimum of three years of training, the chefs section them out by hand with no need for weighing...but they do anyway — there are a dozen gram scales in the kitchen solely for this purpose. Using a small rolling pin, they roll, pull and stretch while rotating at 90-degree intervals until the skin is flat and round.

They roll out one skin every 3 seconds - 20 per minute. They have to go fast as the orders are streaming in. The to-go desk behind the counter was loaded with their signature black, white and red bags filled with dumplings and the door never stopped swinging open and shut as people came to pick up their orders.

Each dumpling is crimped with 18 pleats. Remember there's only 5 grams of dough to work with...each pleat has to weigh .275 of a gram...paper, paper thin. It's the thin skin that makes a
huge difference in the flavor of the dumpling. They literally melt in your mouth. On line I've read that the dumplings can be plucked out of hot soup with chopsticks and not fall apart or puncture...well I'm not that skilled and I punctured plenty using chopsticks. I changed to a spoon because eating the whole dumpling with the right amount of skin to filling is the way to enjoy the magic of the perfect dumpling. 

Din Tai Fung was on the New York Times list of the 10 best restaurants in the world in 1993. In 2009 the first Hong Kong location received a Michelin star followed in 2010 with a Michelin star for the second branch.  No small feat for a humble dumpling shop. 

Richard and I admired the characters and design of the to-go bags. He explained to me that the character on the bag is the "din" character and it sort of resembles a pot. The T-shaped mark on the left means metal and so the character means cooking cauldron.

Tai means peace and Fung means abundance. I thought the character was crudely drawn - Richard said, "Oh no, that's beautiful calligraphy!" The brush strokes are very sophisticated. They've put the first character on the bags, the Tai character appears on the dumpling boxes and the abundance character, Fung, on the soup bowls. The plastic spoons are black, the vinegar packets bright red. It's a very pleasant aesthetic experience to unpack it all and enjoy each little work of art.

Din Tai Fung isn't cheap...the dumplings were 7 and 8 dollars for each ten pieces. Soup was 7 dollars for about a cupful. The price doesn't seem to be a barrier at all to their customer base. I'd say about 80% of the people in the restaurant while we were there were Asian. 

In the same shopping center is a wonderful bakery - JJ Bakery. I walked in looking for our favorite egg tarts. A batch was just coming out of the oven and we had to hang around waiting for them to cool. I asked the woman in charge to give them to me hot. She insisted they would "sweat" too much in any package. 

While waiting we admired all the beautiful decoration work and enjoyed the familiar smells of a bakery....dough, yeast, fermentation aromas, bread and cake. It brought back memories of working at Van de Kamp's and hitting that wall of wonderful aroma every morning when I walked in the door. Even the sound of carts rolling over tile brings back little snippets of memory. After the tarts cooled, we bought a loaf of brioche and got out of there before bakery insanity struck and we bought too much. 

Turns out this is a chain with 7 locations: City of Industry, Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Arcadia, Irvine, Torrance and Chino. 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Sepia Saturday # 278: Margaret's mother blew her top!

Here are the suggestions for this week's Sepia Saturday: Our theme image for Sepia Saturday 278 - post your posts on or around Saturday 9th May and add a link to the list below - is a little old and tired. It comes from the Flickr Commons archives of the Romanian photographer, Costica Acsinte. I thought it would provide a suitable prompt to remind us of those old and tired images in our collections. Images that are past their best or in need of a little care and attention. You might want to share images that have faded, images that have disintegrated or even images that have been restored. Or, as always, you can ignore the theme and just share any old image you want.

Margaret in her CGIT uniform, Margaret's mother - bald with sunglasses, and the pastor, oblivious to the mystery.

It was the summer of 1954 and a fine warm day. Margaret's mother and many of our parents had come to CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training) camp for the Sunday visit. My friends and I were all attending the camp. Like the rest of the parents, Margaret's mom was dressed up and wearing a hat for the small church service the pastor conducted. After the service, my father took the pastor's photo. Margaret and her mother were captured in the background. 

In this developed photo, Margaret's mother's hat AND HER HAIR had vanished. Not only does she appear to be hatless, she looks bald! Examining the scene with a magnifying glass, I can see smudgy things and odd patches of light in the lattice fence behind her. Could that be her hat and her hair? Everything else in the photo seems to be in place - Margaret's hair is in place on her head; the pastor's hair is on his head. What kind of photographic hiccup might cause such a specific boo-boo to occur? I can remember my father and I looking at this shot over and over again hoping something would suddenly strike us and explain the situation. The best we could guess, it was some kind of double exposure where the second exposure just happened to eliminate both hat and hair. Any better ideas?

For more old, tired and sometimes mysterious photos and their stories, visit Sepia Saturday.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Brownie

A Brownie
Gertrude McFuz - Dr. Seuss
Thing1 and Thing2
One of my fellow sepians, Brett Payne, photo sleuth, wrote this week about the Brownie camera. I learned from him that the brand name came from the characters created by a Canadian cartoonist and artist Palmer Cox. Palmer wrote many Brownie books, popular in the late 1800's, early 1900's.  I was surprised to find out that the cameras were marketed to children. I think the Brownies look a little Seuss-like with their big eyes and long feet. The expressions on the faces of Thing1 and Thing2 look a little like Brownie looks also. 

You can read Brett's blog here

Palmer Cox, I read, was a tall, rugged and warm-hearted man who based his characters on the mythological brownie. He dressed them in costumes of different nationalities and professions and told of their helpful activities in illustration and verse for children's books and magazines. He was also a smart cookie: His brownie character was popular for thirty years and was the first character to be copyrighted and licensed to advertise a variety of merchandise including Ivory Soap and the Brownie Camera.

Palmer lived well for a boy from Quebec with an international life style not often managed in those days. He resided in New York, visiting Europe and maintained a studio in London, while producing a steady stream of illustrations and poetry for St. NicholasHarper’s Young PeopleLadies' Home Journal, Scribner’s Monthly, and others. By 1905 he returned to Granby, Quebec, his birthplace to build Brownie Castle, a large, seventeen room house with a four storied octagonal tower. He continued working, contributing to St. Nicholas, creating advertising campaigns and publishing an elementary school primer, among other projects. He died in his castle in 1924.

Brownie characters.