October 2009

Our benefit was last night, and a grand success it was…

As Lillian saidpapel picado

“The Papel picado was like a touch of happiness.”

Also, it was a good learning experience. More dancing! Less talk. Pastor Brian played blues on his harmonica and sang a most amusing ode to “South Central,”

Paris may be more belle

But my heart belongs to South Central… not that I would refuse time in Paris… just to MAKE SURE.

Sister Diane is as always a show stopper. She spoke at evenings end (at speeches’ end really, when talk dulls the ear and feet are eager to dance.) Still, when Diane speaks…. You could have heard a napkin drop.

How does she do it?” I asked Yadira (Nancy, Yadira and I are the old ladies of Esperanza now, Yikes!)“She commands respect,” Yadira replied

None of the Sisters of Social Service seem to age, filled with fierce hope and gentle faith, it’s an iron strong, velvet coated combination. I have a fierce respect.

One of the Highlight’s of the evening for me was seeing and hearing a former student of mine, now a state legislative consultant speak…


Alfredo was a smart, curious chubby lad when first we met. He was about 12, a tad suspicious and carrying a good sized chip on his shoulder.

I was at that time (about 13 years ago!) creating “Cut out Kids.” life-sized, cutout paintings of children on masonite. I painted each child photographed holding up a blank piece of paper. Into the space, the children would paint their own images.


Alfredo, who was a bit crazed about Marvin the Martian, painted his round green visage into the blank.

alfredoKid’s Space Museum, at that time in a small space in Pasadena, hosted our first exhibition. It was a grand opening, resplendent with punch and cookies (the childhood equivalent of wine and cheese.)

I arrived in a school bus, accompanied by Clean and Green Teens (from the LA Conservation Corps’ youth program) and “my kids.”

When we pulled up outside the museum, Alfredo refused to leave the bus.

“I won’t get out,” he said. “This is a white persons’ place.”

“Yes,” I replied (ignoring the fact, as all my kids seem to that I am in fact white) but these white people are hosting a party for us, a party because they like your artwork.”

“I won’t go.”

“Look,” I said. “I’ll make you a deal. Come in for five minuets. If you don’t want to stay after that, you can return to the bus and wait.”

I would never let a child alone on a bus, but I was pretty sure of the enticements that kid space had to offer.

Alfredo agreed. And within 2 minuets, he  was running around, trying on hats and make-believing, like the child he was. Even the older and therefore more jaded teens were running about clothing their hand in puppets, creating, playing and being children for a least one night.

Alfredo was of course recognized, by his cut-out portrait.

“Is this you?” adults would ask.

“Is this your work?”

Alfredo acknowledged that it was. As the night progressed, Alfredo spent more and more time lurking by his portrait.

At last, filled with cookies and punch, tired, happy and proud we returned to the bus.

Me being me, I could not resist a nudge…

“So, what did you think of the white people?”

Alfredo was quiet for a moment.

“Those were O.K. white people I guess.”

For years to come Alfredo was in my program. Coming to art classes and traipsing all about the city on weekend field trips.

Eventually he disappeared into the horizon of adulthood.

Fast forward about ten years… I am leaving Villa Esperanza, the then site of my arts program. A tall, thin, handsome young man is exiting the building.

“Miss Elizabeth,” he cries. “Do you remember me?”

I had to admit ignorance.

“It’s me, Alfredo.”

And then I did. It was hard to see the chubby boy in the thin handsome young man.

 Some people always look the same, but some kids metamorphosis in a matter of months.

“I’m so glad you are still doing your program,” he said. “You opened my eyes. You changed my life. I’m going to Berkeley now.”

Well that was extremely cool!

Fast forward again…it’s October 15th, 2009. Alfredo now a legislative consultant for Senator Dean Flores was a speakers at our benefit… Dancing Under the Stars.

“Remember me?” Alfredo asked. And once again, it took me a moment.

We stood together before his speech, “Do you remember Kids Space? And how you didn’t want to go into a white person’s place?”

He laughed ruefully. “When you grow up like this,” he said holding his hands to his head like horse blinders. ”You are afraid to see.”

“I remember moving into Villa Esperanza, he said. “I was so proud to have my own room. Up until that time, I was not allowed to bring friend home. ‘There is no room for the here.’ My parents said. And I’ll never forget Miss Elizabeth. She challenged us. She took us all over the city on public transportation and then buses. She transformed my horizon …”

And then we danced.dance

So there it was.

Right across the street.

A dry strip of land just calling to us.

Like our patch of soil, between sidewalk and street, but without weeds, only dirt.

“Should we start a new garden?” I asked.

“YES!” the children cried in chorus.

“Do you think we need to ask?”

“No,” everyone agreed. “We never see anyone over there.”

There is a dog behind the gate. He carries in his mouth a dish. The kids say he is hungry and thirsty and want to give him water and food. We take a plastic bowl from the art class; fill it with water, gingerly pushing it beneath the fence. The dog laps at it a bit, but I suspect he real joy lies in having something new to carry about in his mouth. Casey runs home for a sausage. The dog eats it hungrily, but then any dog would.

We plant our new garden with cuttings from the old. Succulents, which are filled with water, make good cuttings, as do mints. All mints have square stems. Sedges have edges; rushes are round; grasses are hollow right up from the ground”.

The next day I arrive with seeds, humming bird and butterfly flower mixes as well as pumpkin and watermelons. It’s really too late in the season, but hey, it’s LA. We have no seasons here.  

And then the rains begin…. Not for long but for long enough.

The residents smile as they walk by.

They enjoy the plants and children. “Butterfly seeds,” I say, “We will have many lovely flowers.

   Our Sunflowers grow huge. The Sunflower belongs to the “composite family.” This means that every flower contains two kinds of flowers “Ray flowers” (The petals) and “disk flowers (Inside.)

 Composites have miniaturized and simplified each flower, then packed them these together, so that the many flowers look like one.

 In other words, the sunflower (any composite) is actually a bouquet of hundreds of flowers!

 (I am large, I contain multitudes.)



A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess … it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
Or I guess the grass is itself a child…

… Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
… And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars


—Walt Whitman

People don’t like aphid, but they have a remarkable life cycle and fascinating history.
So before you look down upon the lowly aphid read on…

The Manna from Heaven that the Israelites ate while strolling through the desert might well have been honeydew from aphids or other insects!
Aphids produce a sweet sticky substance called honey dew, if you don’t believe me, go feel the plants where they have been… sticky.
If you are still skeptical, lick your fingers (euee gross.) In the ancient Oaks and Olives, large quantities of honey dew would freeze in the night. When the sun arose and warmed the frozen dew…, bonk!
Manna, right on your noggin! It’s a wonder that the Jews didn’t come up with the idea of gravity. (Was Newton Jewish?)
Man” is the common Arabic name for aphids, and man es simma (the “manna of heaven”) for honeydew.
In the Mideast, people still collect the sweet excretions (which is a nice word for phoo) of scale insects that feed on tamarisk. They call it “man” and make halva out of it. (Lest we feel superior in our culinary habits, a large portion of bee honey is actually honeydew harvested from the surface of plants.)
Aphids pierce the phloem tubes of plants with their sharp mouthparts and suck out the sugary goodies in transit there. (Phloem is the tube that transports food, mostly sugar to all parts of the plant. Xylem transports water.)
Aphids process this food and excrete drops (honeydew) rich in sugars, free amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), proteins, minerals and vitamins. Move over Whole Foods!

Some aphids shoot this waste away from their bodies, but other species of aphids have learned to excrete a drop on from their rear end when an ant taps them with foreleg or antennae. Then the ant eats it (and you thought humans were kinky!) Later, the ant will regurgitate part of the honeydew for it’s nest mates.
You could try this if you’re not worried about what the neighbors might think.
Sometimes aphids are called “ant cows”.
Ants like honeydew as much as the Israelites did. Through the winter, some ants take aphid eggs down into their colonies to protect them, bringing them up to graze in the springtime. If you look closely, you may see small cowboy hats on the ants… or maybe not.
Each aphid species has its own life cycle, but there are some features uniting nearly all of them.
One feature most species share is that they are incredibly prolific, worse than rabbits!
Wingless adult female aphids can produce 50 to 100 offspring. A newly born aphid becomes a reproducing adult within about a week and then can produce up to 5 offspring per day for up to 30 days!
If all the descendants of a single aphid survived the summer and were arranged four abreast, their line would exceed the circumference of the earth at the equator! Now that’s a lot of honeydew! Dentists LOVE them.
Even more amazing is that most of this reproduction takes place without the interference of males!
This is known as parthenogenesis. (From the Greek parthenos, “virgin”, + genesis, “creation”.)
When mother aphids reproduce parthenogenetically, instead of laying eggs they give birth directly to smaller editions of themselves. An “average” aphid life cycle goes a little something like this: (stop me if you’ve heard this one.)
In spring, an egg hatches, producing a wingless female aphid who almost immediately begins parthenogenetically producing new wingless females. Generation follows generation of wingless females; I think I saw one wearing “an aphid without a male is like a fish without a bicycle” tee shirt. Then hot weather arrives, or maybe the plant they are living on dies, some of the females grow wings and fly off. I wish I could do that!
This new generation of female winged aphid find a plant host of a completely different species from that on which their spring generations have developed.
Typically, when it’s time to move back to the plant species on which aphid winters, (kind of like wintering in the Hamptons) some aphids develop into males.
Sexual reproduction takes place, but apparently, it’s nothing to write home about because when the eggs hatch (in the spring) there are no males in sight.
Try explaining that in Spanish! The kids take this in stride.
But the dads don’t like it. One said, “Thank God I’m not an aphid.”
Usually parthenogenesis is followed by a brief bout of sexual reproduction just to keep the gene pool fresh.

  (The sunflowers have taken over!)


Then someone  cut the heads from some of our largest sunflowers
Alex my 15 year old birder put up signs all over.

“Don’t Cut the Flowers! We are watching you!”

Oddly enough, it appears to have worked.
Still, someone has been taking the green tomatoes, crushing them, and removing melons before they can ripen.

… We put out this message in English and Spanish
 Dear folks who are taking green tomatoes and unripe melons from our garden.

We know you must be very sad and angry to want to hurt our plants.

We are very sorry that you feel so bad.

If you will just let everything ripen, then you could eat it.

We’d MUCH rather you enjoyed it rather than destroyed it…

We want you to enjoy the garden too!

Thanks, The Children Gardeners

The Spanish version is MUCH longer and more elaborately worded.
However, we have some very exciting developments.

First, not only do we have myriad ladybug, we also have lady bug eggs and larva!
 We have actually seen ladybugs emerge from the pupas!

In the spring, the adults lay up to three hundred eggs in an aphid colony.  The eggs hatch in two to five days.  The time it takes for a ladybug egg to hatch and become an adult takes about 3 to 6 weeks.

Ladybug eggs are very small, yellow ovals. Ladybugs lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves to keep them protected from predators.
Baby ladybugs (ladybug larvae) are rather creepy looking, but now that the kids know what they are they love ‘em.

Lady bug life cycle

 Baby ladybugs spend their days eating and eating and eating, then they have a snack and eat some more! They can eat up to 400 aphids in 2 to 3 weeks .  The newly hatched larvae feed on aphids for up to three weeks, and then they enter the pupa stage. After the babies have filled their little bellies and grown a bit, they attach themselves to a leaf and pupate. This is the transition stage when in about a week they will turn into a beautiful little adult ladybug the adult ladybug emerges about a week later.  However, they usually do not have their spots for their first 24 hours of adulthood. So, if you see one without spots, you may have found a brand new adult.

Genesis is a brilliant, sweet child. She is lacking legs and a thumb, but her warmth, humor and intelligence win all. She discovered our first hatchling. It was very pale.


There may be as many as six generations of ladybugs hatched in a year. 


Ladybugs are a kind of beetle.  The female ladybug is usually larger than the male.  Most of them have red, orange, or yellow elytra (wing covers) and black spots. Some are black with red spots and some ladybugs have no spots at all!  The number of spots helps to identify the kind of ladybug. The elytra is a hard wing cover that protects the ladybug’s fragile wings. All beetles have elytra. Ladybug’s wings are so thin that you can see through them. 

The pronotum is found just behind the ladybug’s head and it often has spots on it.  It helps to hide and protect the head. Like all insects, the ladybug has six jointed legs. There are special organs on their feet to help them smell.  (Butterflies & Bees smell with their feet too.) The ladybug uses its antennae to touch, smell and taste.  


We also have aphids. I have found that if you have milkweed (which I always do as it is the host plant for Monarch caterpillars and butterflies.) The aphids remain there. We have Oleander aphids, which are orange. There are many species of aphids… and I imagine they are numerous as the stars that shine & twinkle in the milky way… ours slime & stinkle on the milky weed. (That’s poetic license actually, they don’t smell.)

Host plants are restricted to oleander, butterfly weed and milkweed. Aphids spend most of their lives with their straw-like beaks stuck into leaves and stems, sucking out sweet plant juices. But, aphids do not usually cause plant health to suffer. The up side is, is that if you have aphids ladybugs will follow.

When I showed up at the garden yesterday, many of the sunflowers were beheaded. I was feeling a tad depressed when I ran into one of the dads.

“Miss Elizabeth,” he exclaimed with pride. “I cut the flowers so they will be healthy and branch more!”

Well, while that works for some plants sunflowers aren’t one of them. Still, it’s better than vandals!

The kids and I ate some of the seed that were ripe.

We gathered tropic oregano, rosemary, lemon balm, spearmint and chocolate mint for them to take home for cooking and tea.

Tropical oregano org
Plectranthus amboinicus is a succulent that smells and tastes like very strong oregano. The leaves have also had many traditional medicinal uses; treatment of coughs, sore throats, nasal congestion, infections, rheumatism and flatulence.  In Indonesia Plectranthus amboinicus is a used in soup to stimulate lactation for the month or so following childbirth.

A Journalism student from USC stopped by and wants to do a story on us (YEAH!) He promised to return Saturday. He had a British accent, so the kids were properly impressed.