Sunday, May 26, 2013

Where the Wild Things Grow

Nature can do beautiful things when it doesn't freeze once a year. Of course, as we just witnessed, there's a risk of getting burnt to a crisp once every ten years, but still. The sheer variety of flowers is a welcome sight, but I'm finding that my eyes are still adjusting to the color assault. Suddenly my clothes seem a bit drab and dark (not that I had much fashion sense to begin with). I took these just outside our apartment on a walk for weekend morning coffee.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It's More Than Just Avocados and Sprouts

I have always loosely connected California with "healthy" food - things like alfalfa sprouts, raw food diet, etc. More recently I was jokingly told that California-style means add some avocados to it. After all, Bobby Flay's Burger Palace lists watercress and avocado amongst the ingredients for its Napa Valley Burger and L.A. Burgers. And in addition to the Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, there are grocery stores with names like Sprouts and Fresh-and-Easy (though I think the latter is a failed attempt by the conglomerate Tesco).

So, when we went to a local place for steak the other night, I was not expecting to see this on the dessert menu:
Yes, those are marshmallows on the left. And a few squares of chocolate and graham crackers. And yes, that is honest-to-goodness blue fire and flame in the middle. I have no idea how this passes safety inspection - we were lighting marshmallows on fire in the middle of a restaurant. Regardless, the s'mores are mighty tasty when you can toast them up at your table. Oh - and since this is California, they included some fresh raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries on the side.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Scorched Earth

A week before we left New Jersey, I was taking a break from all of the business that is relocation and visited the CNN website. An article about a California wildfire caught my eye. Halfway into the article, the following paragraph made my heart skip a beat.
Evacuation orders were in effect in several areas on Saturday, but officials lifted orders for the campus of California State University, Channel Islands in Camarillo and for the Dos Vientos community in Newbury Park, authorities said.
None of the areas listed may mean much to you, and in most of the articles I read, I'll admit they don't mean much to me either. But in this case, Dos Vientos and Newbury Park meant the city and community in which you will spend the next few months. I've experienced hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, tornadoes in Texas, earthquakes near Singapore (and all of those things in New Jersey, too, for that matter) and nor'easters in Massachusetts, but wildfires are new to me. I was not prepared to scratch "scorched earth" so quickly off of my natural disaster bucket list.

We arrived in California exactly one week after our apartment complex here had been evacuated for the fire, and only a few days after firefighters had managed to subdue most of the blaze. It was beautiful in California (greener and, in fact, warmer) in our first days, and driving down the 101 freeway, it was lovely to see the hills, valleys, and canyons dotted with chaparral mixed in with oaks, magnolias, and tall, pointed cypress trees. As we exited the freeway, we were treated to the sight of blooming roses and bouganvilleas. And just outside our temporary housing, looking toward the east, we have a fairly typical view of the surrounding landscape. The sky really is that color.

However, to the west, we also get a very close up view of the same landscape, post-wildfire. I am reminded  distantly of a paragraph in a C.S. Lewis novel where a character is describing the moon. Something about polished rock, and not one blade of grass or one fibre of lichen. The tree right on the edge of the roadway is green on one side, and a crunchy, toasted bright amber on the other. The contrast is still more than I can comprehend, and it is the first time I have not only seen burnt plants, but truly scorched earth - dirt blackened by soot and carbon. Truly, there is nothing left. Hills that were green a few weeks ago, today are black and bare and ravaged.

Californians, of course, are fairly blase about this kind of thing by now. Ignoring the signs that say "Fire Damage - Slow to 30mph," they speed along by the charred fences and singed medians as if everything were whole and undamaged. But for us it is a large-scale reminder of the power of nature, the sovereignty of God, and how truly small we are.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pets on a Plane!!!

That would be one orange Maine Coon mix under the seat in 10A, a fluffy white dog with a cotton-ball head and beady black eyes and nose under the seat in 10C, and an immense, steady, K-9 trained bloodhound with seat 7F all to himself in the bulkhead row. We had noticed the bloodhound at the gate, but we were taken aback when we saw the little white dog and his owner sit down next to us.

We were already quite nervous about traveling with the cat. For a start, the rules don't make any sense: the carrier must go through the X-ray machine (which is too strong for animals), but the animal must be taken out and carried with you through the metal detector. According to everything we read online, this is a great opportunity for your animal to bolt, disappear into the airport crowds, and never be seen again. (It's a good opportunity to drug your cat, too, but on our test run of cat anti-anxiety pills, he only panicked, so we decided to do without.)

Jenn took the cat out with shaking hands as I waited behind the line with the carrier and all our other assorted bags. They passed the metal detector, but then they stopped her. "I'm sorry, whoever's holding the cat has to have their hands swiped with bomb paper." Jenn said sure, no problem, and started to put the cat back into the carrier, which had just emerged from the X-ray belt. "No, no," they said. "We have to swipe your hands while you are holding the cat." If that isn't a recipe for escaped cat, I don't know what is.

Luckily, we had a cat who had no desire to explore the airport. As Jenn held him (with only her wrists), he curled up even smaller and leaned against her. I've never seen a cat so happy to get back in the carrier. With the cat safely in the bag, we boarded and seated ourselves, thinking the strange part was over.

Enter Bill, the cotton-ball-headed dog. "You're kidding me!" Jenn said, never imagining the airline would allow a cat and a dog to share a row. But we soon found out that Bill had a genial temperament and didn't pay any attention to cats. Our cat promptly went into stasis mode. Aside from a panicked struggle at take-off (and who can blame them), both of the animals quieted down. Bill made an earnest attempt at "puppy dog eyes" as he hungrily eyed my peanut M&Ms, but not too long afterward, he drifted off to sleep in his bag.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

From NJ to CA

Heads, Carolina, Tails, California.
Somewhere greener, somewhere warmer.
Up in the mountains, down by the ocean.
Where? It don't matter, as long as we're going
Somewhere together. I've got a quarter.
Heads, Carolina, Tails, California.
(-Jo Dee Messina)

Ten years ago, I was looking for employment at the end of business school. My better half graciously offered to follow me to the ends of the earth - but please anywhere but New Jersey. (It's so cold, grey, and brown! It has concrete, and factories, and an airport with nothing but delays. And the turnpike! Have you seen the turnpike?) But of course God had other ideas, and off to New Jersey we went.

We found our sweet spot there, a place with trees not far from the Delaware River and the antique-y vibe of New Hope, close to horse country (and far, far away from the factories and the turnpike). We found a choir and a church community and a home that we made our own. We left for a few years (for a truly amazing short stint in Singapore), but we came back to the same home, the same church, and the same choir.

But always, underneath, there was the hope we'd be able to move to "somewhere greener, somewhere warmer." Bronchitis every winter didn't help, and our time in tropical Southeast Asia only whetted our appetite for sunshine, blue skies, and plants. And now we find ourselves actually here, starting a new life in California.

But it is truly bittersweet. Already we miss our close friends, some of whom have become like family. And a 3 hour time difference may not seem like much, but it makes the distance more keenly felt. Still, we are here, and it is, as advertised, both greener and warmer, and beautiful in a desert meets tropics meets suburbia sort of way. So here's to our California adventure!