December 2009

 She came to our class with a microphone…three microphones actually.

Francesca is a Journalism graduate student at the Annenberg School of communication.

Maybe she will go report in Hong Kong next year. Maybe I can carry her bags?

She had heard and read about the arts and gardens program.

She loved our blogs, and when she met the kids, she fell in love with them. It would take a hard heart not to. Cute, charming, intelligent, inquisitive (sometimes a bit TOO inquisitive) open, innocent and fresh (like flowers, not sassy although sometimes…) what’s not to like?

She interviewed the kids’ one by one outside in the garden.

When I peered out the window, I saw that they had spread out into a chorus line and were performing an improvised number just for her (and the camera.)

The kids were drawn to the camera like oleander aphids to milkweed and like ladybugs to aphids. It appears that most of them are frustrated screen writers.

 She wants to do two programs on us!

One on the arts and one on the gardens!

Later in class, she interviewed me. She wired me up with a smaller mike.

How come I didn’t get to talk into that one?” Casey demanded

“Because you’re not a teacher,” I said

 I waxed eloquent on the need for art. The need for greenery and gardens. The need to learn about other species, to respect all life.

“You were Good Miss,” Said Letty (They often call me Miss.)

 I do believe that the problem is not racism but specism. If we can be cruel to other, more helpless creatures, how can we love our sisters and brothers and ourselves?

“ The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Gandhi

After all, Not only do humans share 99% of DNA with each other, we share 98% with chimpanzees and at least 50% with plants! (Some people I know share a lot more.)

Actually, this is a number we need to be careful with.

There is only one type of DNA!  ALL animals and plants share the same DNA (a code of only 4 ‘letters’ for amino acids from which all proteins are made.) It is not surprising that all animals and plants have the majority of their  genes in common. On the other hand, some genes are very significant. After all, only one gene is responsible for sex. However, this gene acts as a switch and directs other genes to produce the huge range of differences.

Although the DNA of any two people on Earth is, in fact, 99.9% identical, even a tiny difference can have a big effect if this difference is located in a critical gene.

 Still, all have a place in this wondrous web we call the world.

I believe in the need to learn about other species and to respect life, even life that often goes out of its way not to be respected, like snails.

 We (as in we humans, specifically French humans) brought over our pesky garden snail (Helix aspersa.) It was actually imported for munchies (escargot.) And like most imports, it fled and thrived in a land not designed for it. No predators stopped its migration, unless you want to count the French and a few ducks.

Snails have REALLY interesting sex lives, (after all they are French) as well as being simultaneous hermaphrodites (both male and female at the same) and engage in mutual copulation.

 Mating begins with a courting ritual. Garden snails court anywhere from 15 minutes to six hours, circling each other, touching with tentacles, and biting on the lip and genitals.

Then each snail snails fires a dart (made of calcium) into the genital area of their partner (which happens to be just behind the head on the right side).

(Love darts are strangely common: 17 of the 65 families of terrestrial snails use them.)

We aren’t certain why, but it may be that the dart causes contractions in the female part of the reproductive organs, helping the sperm find its way into a sperm storage chamber.

When it comes to mating, snails could easily star in “Big Love.” They copulate frequently with many partners and can store sperm for up to two years.

And now, for a good word for the evolutionary benefits of switch-hitting.

Snails, who don’t exactly travel fast and have no access (that we know of) to internet dating, might never meet a mate. So it helps to be able to you mate with any adult of your species you come across, not just half of them.

The ultimate ability (one that some hermaphrodites actually have) is to fertilize yourself. It seems like some superhero/heroine ability. Super man indeed, how about Super Snail!

Incidentally, snails evolved more than 600 million years ago. They live anywhere from 15-25 years. Snails are Mollusks. (Mollusks can be very different! From clams to octopus but they all:

  •  Lack skeletons and have soft bodies.
  • Some, but not all are covered by hard shells.
  • Bodies are divided into three parts: head, foot, and mantle.

 Notes from Art Class

Our Melon… with clay snowflakes

Brandon made an innovative 3 story bird a frame.

“I never thought I’d make something like this,” he told me excitedly. “I never could have believed it. I kept thinking ‘I’m done,’ and then another idea would come to me!”  

Kids spent last night making xmas hangings and bird houses.

In our Garden…our wildflower seeds are emerging. White/ green poppy leaves, dark ear-like fox gloves (digitalis, the same digitalis from which the heart medicine is made) and the tiny hands of the Lupine.  The lupine’s roots, like other legumes (beans, peas, lentils, etc.) have nodes with colonies of nitrogen fixing bacteria, Rhizobium that takes nitrogen from the air and “fixes it into the soil.

Lupine gets its name from the Latin word for wolf – lupus. (You Harry Potter Fans ought to know that one.)

 Due to its nitrogen, fixing qualities lupine can survive in poor soil.  Seeing lupine growing, even thriving in poor soil, it was thought that lupines robbed or “wolfed up” all the minerals from the soil. We now know that the opposite is true. . Lupine actually deposits nitrogen into the soil , enriching the earth so that other plants can grow!

Lupine has made it to the far, shores of New Zealand, where like Monsieur/ Madame Helix aspersa in California it is a pest.

It grows lush and lovely there. The most vigorous, healthy lupine I have ever seen! It spreads out, claiming riverbanks, leaving no room for native birds to nest.

Last winter (their summer) when I was there, volunteer groups along the river were pulling up lupine. As they pulled, the birds sat and waited impatiently, with twigs in their beaks, for the clearing of the banks.


Create Now has generously donated Nutcracker tickets.

 “I always watch the Nutcracker movie every December on TV.

This will be my first time seeing nutcracker so I am excited.” – Arizbe Garcia.

Thanks, Create Now for making opportunities like this possible!

I remember dancing every year!

Community residents gathered at Mercado La Paloma last Saturday to celebrate Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe.   It is the most important celebration among the catholic tradition, especially in Mexico. 

December 12 is celebrated in honor of when Virgen de Guadalupe revealed to Juan Diego in mount Tepeyac in the year 1531.  On this date, thousands of people make the most important pilgrimage and La Virgen de Guadalupe is honored with roses, music and Aztec dancers.

The celebration was organized by Juan Antonio owner of Oaxacalifornia, a vendor at Mercado La Paloma

Esperanza promotoras and many others attend action at City Hall.

A cohort of nine community-based organizations and community residents rallied around City Hall on Thursday to celebrate Human Rights Day 2009. On December 10, 1948, members of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Sixty-one years later, in single file form, two hundred people marched through the farmer’s market and encircled City Hall. We called for our mayor and the City Council to prioritize one main issue: that housing become an inalienable right for Angelinos.


Leading a presentation in a college classroom, Linda Valverde organizer for the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), asked students to describe Skid Row using one word. Students overwhelmingly characterized the community with words such as “prostitution, drug use, mental illness, and homelessness.” Linda said, “Well, I’m here to say: demystify the myth, because I am a community member of seven years in Skid Row, I live AND work in Skid Row.”


Imagine you are a mother living in a single room with your husband and four small children, 4 boys and 1 girl. The space you occupy with your family is infested with roaches and rats, and there is no central air to cool the hot summers nor is there heat to warm the cold winters. The kids are constantly getting sick. Some are coughing, some have tummy aches and others have a cold that never ends. You repeatedly find yourself in the emergency room in a desperate attempt to cure your child’s ills.