Odds & / Ends Around The Valley : The Fish Lady

Patients at a hospital in the West Valley are sometimes surprised when a woman carrying a bucket of dead fish comes to see the doctor.

"I'm responsible for about 5,000 koi. Sometimes, when I can't figure out why certain fish died, I'll bring them to this doctor friend who does a full autopsy free of charge," says Barbara Johnson, whose company, "The Fish Lady," specializes in pond and koi care.

Three years ago, Johnson, who lives in Sherman Oaks, was working in the film industry. "It's a business of loonies," she states unequivocally. "I didn't want to pay a shrink $125 an hour to tell me to relax, so I got into fish instead." (The minimum payment for one call is $45.)

Now she works 12-hour days and is on call 24 hours a day. "If a fish gets sick, you want to get there right away because they go fast," she says.

Johnson, who runs her business out of her home, administers shots and once spent several hours moving a comatose fish back and forth in a pond, in a successful attempt to revive it. "My arm was killing me by the time I was done," she recalls.

One of the more fun parts of her job is stocking a client's pond. "I create a water painting with fish. They all have different colors and patterns, so when they swim around, it's mesmerizing," Johnson says.

Tranquility does have its price. Johnson says, "I don't eat much fish anymore because it's too personal."

A New Spin on Art

There's a whole lot of painting going on in the Valley these days, thanks to two new businesses that make instant artists out of their customers.

The first, Paintemonium, is a shopping mall store that sells T-shirts, socks, sweat shirts, and leggings, which customers decorate with paint at worktables inside the store. Anyone with a less-than- steady hand may opt to have their piece put into a spinner, where the paints swirl together and race off the edge of the garment. It costs $16 to buy and paint an adult-size T-shirt.

"It's wearable art," says Lori Ross, manager of Paintemonium in the Glendale Galleria. (There are also outlets in Topanga Plaza and the Northridge Fashion Center.) "You can even bring in your own clothes and just pay for the paints. We've had people bring in gym shoes, boxer shorts and even bikinis."

Some customers paint the bottoms of their dog's feet or their child's hands and imprint them on the clothing.

In Northridge, another business called Kids 'N Paint ("Ages 5 to 95") sometimes resembles a child-care center. It sells a huge assortment of plaster objects--such as masks, coin banks, animal figurines, letters and numbers--which children (and yes, some adults) paint in the store.

"We provide smocks, a bathroom, a pay phone, glitter, lace, soft drinks, popcorn--you name it," says co-owner Elissa Fishman. Prices start at $1 and average about $6.

The New Smell of Facials

"Aromatherapy has been around for centuries, but it's relatively new to this country," says Renate Barbev, co-owner of The Face Maker Skin Care Salon in Westlake Village.

As part of a facial treatment, aromatherapy involves the application of fragrant essential oils to the skin during the massage stage. (According to skin-care experts, essential oils, made from plant extracts, are used for such problems as red and dry skin.) "Most facial treatments rely on various creams instead of these oils," says Arlene Worchell, owner of Arlene's Beauty Retreat, a skin-care salon in Northridge.

Among the essential oils that may be used are lavender, lemon, pine, eucalyptus, rosemary, chamomile, rose or geranium, each with its own revitalizing or healing properties. The condition of a client's skin at the time of the facial determines which oil or combination of oils will be used.

"Don't forget that our sense of smell is very closely linked to our emotional system--a whiff of something can sometimes bring back a powerful memory that is very pleasing to you," Worchell says. "These oils smell very lovely, and people relax when they smell the fragrance."

The cost of an aromatherapy facial is comparable to a regular facial: $35 to $40.

Ivy to Go

"The main reason we got rid of it was because of the rats, and the second reason was because we hated it. Ivy hampers you in your landscaping because it overtakes everything," says homeowner Sylvia Mandel of Sherman Oaks.

That ubiquitous ground cover is frequently being ripped out of yards where it's been growing for decades. "People don't like the look of it anymore. They're tired of it," says Steve Weber, bedding plant manager at Green Arrow Nursery in Sepulveda. "We probably have over 50 varieties of ground cover that we carry here, and one of the most popular ones right now is called Red Apple. It looks like ice plant, has a lot of red flowers in the spring through summer and is very drought resistant."

Among the other ground covers frequently replacing ivy are African daisies and ice plant. They are similarly priced (about $8.99 a flat) but are more labor intensive. Unlike ivy, they need to be fertilized and watered regularly and are more prone to disease. Rosemary and lantana (at $10.99 a flat) are other popular choices.

But this is not the time of year to replace any ivy growing on hillsides, warns David Ngo, owner of Suburban Landscape and Maintenance in Van Nuys. "It's better to wait until after the rains," he says.

Overheard at . . .

"My husband calls it the most expensive coffee warmer in the world."

--Woman in Encino Gelson's, referring to her microwave.

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