Monday, March 31, 2008

The Mission Fig

Although our kitchen has been updated to an open, inviting space, for some reason I still like to sip my morning coffee out on the stoop. A little low-rent perhaps, or maybe just a die-hard habit from leaner times, it's my way to take in the morning. Butt on the top step, my feet on the next, the "stoop" is now a small deck built out of sustainable Trexx during the recent renovation with a view that surveys our bountiful backyard, a veritable kaleidoscope of greens and blues and yellows, underscored by the sounds of insects buzzing and water trickling off slabs of flagstone as it cascades into the lily pond.

Hard to believe this back yard was once a slab of cement.

Hard to believe that last year the fig tree, now bursting with buds, actually fell over. To the ground. Was it going to make it or not?

Heavy with fruit, perhaps over-burdened and under-attended, it seemed to be leaning a little bit more to the left last fall. Were we just imagining it? Could this mature tree, planted almost a decade ago, actually be… moving? Couldn't be.

But next day it seemed to be leaning a little bit farther over, then later, almost precariously to the left. By sundown she actually gave way, falling all the way to the ground. A 9-yr mature fig tree with arms spanning 10-12 feet wide lay there, prostrate on the ground.

The tree had been a baby, a mere 4-foot stick when I'd found her and planted her in the first year we bought the house. In fact, amid months of flying construction debris, a veritable war zone of rubble and changing landscapes, that little Mission held her own, determinedly took root, and soared.

Something about the California sun, the desert and her timeless offering of peace, she spoke to me as an iconic symbol of maternal wealth and abundance. I knew she belonged here with us. I planted her among the rubble, a silent reminder amidst continual change.

Through the years, she grew to provide a delightful canopy of shade, offering a welcome spot for mama and baby to rest under her sweet-scented lacey green cover. It was the place to hold court with a blanket and a picnic, a stack of toddler books and a few games, or a blow-up pool and some beach towels, providing a much-needed respite from the monotony of the same 4 walls of caregiving and the glaring California sun.

Her voluptuous and magnificent bounty provided us with fig jam, fig-marsala ice cream, figs over arugula with balsamic glaze and crumbled stilton, pork chops with fig shiraz sauce, fish fillets steamed in fig leaves…unending possibilities, culinarily speaking.

Perhaps my deepest joy was watching my toddler grow to be able to reach up and pluck out her own fleshy treats, independent of mama, crushing them sweetly against her pink lips, giggling at her ability to procure her own delightful nourishment.

But as the years passed, due to overwrought schedules and unforeseen stresses leading to un-harvested fruit and an un-maintained yard, she became neglected. Without meaning to, her generous bounty became more of a burden than a benefit.

Weighted and embarrassed by such a gross display of unused riches, her fruits dropping and rotting on the ground, exhausted from holding herself up so long unattended and unadmired, she finally bowed over, weeping in surrender.

It's a feeling I might know something about.

My husband was sure the root ball had been severed and it was just a matter or time before it died. He was more than happy to get rid of it, chop it out, since the decomposing fruit droppings and ever-widening branches had for some time now been challenging his ability to mow even straight rows in the lawn underneath.

But do we discard her in search of a perfectly manicured lawn without branches or rotting fruit to contend with? Unable to keep up with her offerings, do we then ignore her? Abandon her? Or do we instead shower her with gratitude and thanks for providing us with her company, her shade canopy, her gorgeous abundance of ripe fruit, her not one-but-two harvests per year bounty, all the family memories shared, her incredible tenacity and resilience to continue to survive and grow after hardship…the shear grace of her presence? Doesn't that count for something? How do we value that, quantify it? By chopping it down?!

I said let's wait and see how she does, willing to let go of her if that was what was meant to happen, but silently rooting for some sort of comeback.

The tree had offered us so much over the years, I couldn't face hacking her down, erasing her memories for some perfunctory carpet of grass.
What is it with men and their vision of perfect green lawns anyway? It's not like they ever bend over to pull out a weed mind you! They just mow right over them, propagating them further, determined to own a perfectly manicured green.

With ropes and our neighbor, the three of us managed to pry the thing back up, wedging 2x4s under her vulnerable side to keep her propped up. I plucked off as much fruit as I could find, offering her treasures to neighbors and friends before pruning her back severely to lighten her load. Come November, she dropped all her leaves and went under for long, long sleep.

Still dormant, during the holidays we decorated her bare branches as we always had done with crystalline snowflakes and glittery icicles, watching them twist and sparkle in the wintery sun.

It could have gone either way.

So imagine my surprise when out on the stoop sipping my morning cup of joe, I notice the reemergence of life unprovoked. Despite hardship, despite apathy, despite abandonment, there she grows, fingers reaching upward, refusing to be deterred, refusing to be defeated!

Teeming with buds, damn if she isn't a fine display of tenacity and resilience. A symbol of resurrection. Proof of life itself.

I raise my cup and my heart to her today… inspired by the ultimate surrender followed by a burst of brilliance.

Mission accomplished.

* * *

The Mission Fig: a photo essay

Baby Pictures...

...amidst the rubble:

* * *

Ten years later...
Signs of life after near death experience:

Two more weeks of growth


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cloud Jumper

I assure you I don't deliberately sit around noting clouds. In fact, my eyes are usually so far in front of me onto the next task, I rarely look up to differentiate them. But today, as Miss S and I walked out the front door on our way to the library, we both couldn't help but notice.

These clouds were so vivid and so immediate, they seemed to be jumping out of the sky towards us, invading our reality. So intensely surreal, they were almost too real. So close you could get up and jump on them. Gloriously springy gobs of puff so 3D, they were 4D! Not way up in the sky but right there, over the rooftops, an arms length away.

"Wow. Look at the clouds Mom," she said reading my mind.

"I know!" I said running back in to get my camera....

Boing! Boing! Boing!

And all blue above that.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Next week I predict gale force winds….

No truer words were spoken. But I won't bore you with the particulars, the checklist of tasks undertaken and delivered within mind-squeezing deadlines. No, that would just sound like I'm arrogant and self-important, overly ambitious, and foolishly over-extended I might add. Don't wish to embarrass myself that way. Suffice it to say I have been cranking out and delivering for the little school, for the wider community, while I try to understand where all this is heading for me personally.

Meanwhile, I can take away great satisfaction in jobs I've executed on time and to my high standard. But after so much output, I feel like a sponge that has been wrung out. I'm in some sort of post car crash haze.

WTF? Where
am I?

The lyrics of a Chris Whitley song drift into my consciousness and describe my mood perfectly…

"…out on the edge of some canyon
where I just forget and you can't recall
no you can't recall…"

Grey matter. Fog cover.


Clouds streak the cobalt sky in tractor-wide trails of cottony fluff. Billowy streaks, deliberate channels then bleed into smoky dissipated edges like some runny watercolor. Partially defined. Partially blurry. Blue. White. Blending. Lightening the blue. Illuminating the white. A bit of both.

I sit, focusing on my perch.

Focus eludes me.

Am I centered, or moving? Active or silent?

I wait for a sign. The steady movement of the stair-climber acts as a distraction.

I have been that one, racing up the stairs, heart pounding, pushing as fast as I can, determined to challenge my body, my time, my productivity. I've used the stairs to burn fat, to harden thighs, to breathe deeply, sweat, center. It feels good. It brings clarity. Momentum. Purpose even. And now, I sit watching him. Observing that method calmly, resolutely, immobile. It is one way. It is one practice.

Yet somehow the stillness, now possible by his exit, also feels good. Another kind of practice.

So much can be lost in the movement. So too, much can be lost in only stillness. There it is. Two truths. Lying side-by-side.

I usually know what I want and go after it. I am fairly clear on my opinions about things. Not lately. Mostly I feel a bit numb, dazed, no compass needle pointing the way.

I won't move until I know where I'm going. Without clarity, I'm not moving. So, race your races, good you know where you're going.

Me? I'll just be sitting here, taking in the view for a while, recharging after navigating a political and territorial pissing ground, grateful for a respite. Waiting for next steps, which haven't presented themselves yet.

In the meantime my dance card, as they say, is fully punched.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Cupcakes, Cupcakes

What's the big deal about cupcakes?

With the rising popularity of designer cupcake shops in LA like Sprinkles, Toast, Crumbs, Vanilla Bake Shop, not to mention the Magnolia Bakery in NYC, it seems that there's a high-end cupcake shop opening up in every neighborhood these days, along with some sort of hypnotic I-will-wait-in-line-for-over-30-minutes just to buy a waaay over-priced round of sugary fluff. It's mass-hysteria in my opinion, another craze following the same trajectory that Pinkberry did for frozen yogurt, or Krispy Kreme did for hot sugary glazed donuts.

What's the deal? I mean, they're cupcakes, folks. Cupcakes. Buy a $2 box of cake mix and bake 'em off in muffin tins, or bake your own recipe, but c'mon. Cupcakes. Not. Rocket. Science.

I have no big pull towards them personally. I mean, I think they're ok, if not just a big mouthful of overly-sickly sweetness, but my daughter loves them. Reveres them. So, being the devoted mother and wonder baker that I sometimes am, occasionally I indulge that desire for her. Like yesterday…

What to do on a dreary, gray Saturday? House-bound and bored...

I know.



With an assorted rainbow of sprinkles. (Decorating's her thing.)

Donning aprons with hair tied up in ponies, we got to mixing and baking, licking and scraping, and soon we had ourselves a batch of fresh vanilla cupcakes with buttery vanilla frosting. (I tried selling other flavors, such as chocolate, black and white, orange blossom, or rose water decorated with candied rose petals, even adding some freshly grated Meyer lemon peel to the frosting, but to no avail. Miss S loves the classic: vanilla, vanilla.)

Vanilla it was.

I laid out all the decorative sugars, sprinkles, and candied rose petals for her to decorate her little heart out, somewhat uninspired and disappointed we weren't creating a more magical "fairy blossom" flavored frosting at the very least. (She's waaaay into fairies these days. She's even writing and illustrating her very own "Fairy Book.")

Then, inspiration hit me. She could sprinkle away, but I was going to try something different.

I had a box of Dots and some leftover Tootsie rolls, (dare I say that they might have been from Halloween?) I took my extra sharp Shun Santoku knife, rubbed a little oil along the blade to prevent it from sticking, and sliced each Dot into 5 or 6 thin nearly transparent wheels of stained-glass candy color. Perfect little petals. Then I sliced and rolled "stems" out of the Tootsie rolls, and discovered that pistachios would form perfectly green-tinged "leaves."

Magic fairy flower cupcakes. As pretty to look at as they are to eat.

And here are the Divine Miss S's creations:
(Even she got into the flower power eventually.)