Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year

In light of world events, I feel a sense of profound gratitude for the simple joy of living in South Pasadena. My community is graced with fortune's many gifts. Our children are safe, the water is clean, food is abundant and freedom is something most of us don't even think about, much less take time to appreciate. Even the worst times here are marked by sunshine and beautiful flowers, with our souls more often dulled by boredom rather than sharpened by catastrophe. Our daily irritations can't compare to the horrors of war, and no economic crisis can compete with the chaos of violence. We are fortunate inheritors of a peaceful lifestyle most of us didn't even have to fight for. We are blessed with safe harbor and sweet dreams of bright futures.

So here's my most sincere wish for the new year: may it bring comfort and joy to those who suffer. May we see an end to so much senseless war and bloodshed. And as far as resolutions go... don't worry about a few extra pounds or a disorganized office. Instead, may we strive together as a world community to bring peace and prosperity within the reach of all families.

We'll take a cup of kindness yet.

Happy New Year, everybody.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Palm Tree Symphony

I recall a story I heard once on NPR -- perhaps one of my fabulous artist readers will remember it too, and fill in the details. A Los Angeles artist (or maybe a musician, or maybe a photographer) took pictures of the palm trees lining major streets in the city. He would place each image over a scale and then use the melody mapped out by those palms to compose pieces of music, each one named after the street where the images were snapped.

I'd love to hear what this song sounds like. (It would be named "Huntington Drive.")

Monday, December 29, 2008

Winter Weather

While much of the world is wrapped in Winter's snowy blanket, South Pasadena sunbathes...

The recent cold snap seems to have moved on.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


For me, the week between Christmas and the New Year is always a bit melancholy and introspective. I can't resist a bit of John Keats for this post holiday nighttime stroll:

Tis the witching hour of night,
Orbed is the moon and bright,
And the stars they glisten, glisten,
Seeming with bright eyes to listen-
For what listen they?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Orange Park

This delightful little Mission District neighborhood park is called Orange Park because you'll find it on Orange Grove Avenue. (But the playground equipment makes sure it lives up to its colorful name.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Settings: Part 5

In a new interpretation of Boxing Day, I bring you my favorite boxy South Pas historical building. Once a bank, it's now home to Kaldi, my favorite coffee haunt in the San Gabriel Valley. (I've heard the old 19th Century bank vault is still back behind the counter.) It's a friendly, unassuming local hang-out by day but by night ... okay, actually it's still a friendly, unassuming local hang-out by night, too.

But tell me (those of you who love to put on your secret filmmaker hats and play these little Hollywood games,) if this were a setting in a movie, what would happen here?

(I still seem to have the classic automobile fairy looking out for me: check out the great old cars parked in the shot!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Noel Noel

I just love the little Christmas tree in the park next to Meridian Iron Works building, just below the Mission Station platform. Sure, there are bigger, flashier trees ... but this one is just right, tucked into a little corner of South Pas. It brings to mind my very favorite Christmas poem, written by (my very favorite poet) ee cummings:

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh..."

Yes, well, Santa has a little help from Fedex.

I shipped the last of my holiday packages tonight -- with a spectacular view from the parking lot. I know the tradition calls for snow and icicles but I sure love Southern California's winter wonderland.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Around the feast we gather in complete jubilation..."

Winter officially begins today in the Northern Hemisphere. The Sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator, shining directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in what is known as the winter solstice. The word solstice comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still.) On this night, the three stars in Orion's Belt align with Sirius -- the brightest star in the eastern sky -- to let us know where the Sun will rise tomorrow morning. (If anyone says there is no magic in the world, I say they're just not paying attention.)

The Bronze Age archaeological sites Newgrange in Ireland and Stonehenge in Britain were carefully designed to align with the solstice sunrise and sunset points. Throughout human history, this event has marked the point where the sun reverses ebbing and is, in effect, reborn. New life, new beginnings, new hope... these are the hallmarks of midwinter, and people have been celebrating variations on this theme as long as there have been hearth fires to gather around.

From celebrating the reemergence of Amaterasu the sun goddess in 7th Century Japan to the ancient Slavonic 10-day festival of Koleda; from Soyalangwul, the traditional winter solstice ceremony of the Zuni and Hopi Indians to Burning the Clocks, the fairly recent tradition in modern Brighton -- this time of year is has been revered in amazingly similar ways by just about everyone who has ever graced this planet. My personal favorite has to be Saturnalia -- the outrageous Roman midwinter celebration that was an ancient combination of Burning Man, Mardi Gras and a Grateful Dead concert. During this week-long festival, men and women exchanged clothes, slaves and masters played role-reversal, and enough social mores were happily abandoned to cause even Caligula to try and limit the celebration to five days.

Today, Wiccans and other neo-pagans honor this day as Yule, while last night Iranians celebrated Yalda -- a Zoroastrian festival commemorating the longest night of the year. Tonight, at sundown, the first day of Hanukkah begins with the traditional lighting of the first menorah candle. Next week the seven day celebration of African heritage known as Kwanzaa will commence with the lighting of the kinara. And, of course, there is Christmas -- the Superbowl of all midwinter celebrations, and the biggest birthday party in the known world.

Whether your midwinter feast includes latkes, yalda watermelon or fruitcake -- happy midwinter, everyone. Bless'd be, Shalom Aleichem and God bless us, everyone!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Where the love light gleams..."

A twinkly white Christmas tree in a window at the end of an empty street still wet with rain. And all underneath a star-like street lamp. This time of year is so contradictory: melancholy and wonderful, lonely and familial, inspirational and disappointing...

While I love the yuletide season's vivacious front with all the ho ho ho-ing and spiked nog and shiny new toys ... what speaks to me is the yearning behind it. When I noticed this scene the other night, I thought it symbolized every holiday homecoming that finds you at the same time lost and found, changed and same, happy and sad. And it reminded me of one of my favorite poignant Christmas songs by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon. It has been recorded by everyone from Bing Crosby to Dianna Krall, but I always think of the particularly wistful rendition by Johnny Mathis.

I'm dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do.
And although I know it's a long road back
I promise you...

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me.
Please have snow, and mistletoe,
And presents on the tree.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas,
If only in my dreams.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sleigh bells ring?

The season between December and February is my favorite time in Southern California. Mild, blustery days under intense golden light, red bougainvillea mixed with evergreens, silhouetted palms against a blue sky that verges on indigo during cooler months. And when it rains in South Pas in the wintertime, that usually means it snows in the mountains. This is my idea of a white Christmas!

(For a few more recent snowy mountain images from around the San Gabriel Valley, check out my overflow blog Glancing About. )

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Here we are as in olden days..."

I'm really not some kind of grinch who looks at an iconic main street dressed in holiday lights and decides to turn it into a shot out of classic film noir. In fact, when I took this picture I was thinking of all the great black and white Christmas movies like Miracle on 34th Street and The Bells of St. Mary's and, of course, It's a Wonderful Life. The old fashioned lights on Mission and Fair Oaks this year are so magical and festive. They evoke images of every happy Christmas wish from a million 20th Century American childhoods.

But on second thought, Orson Welles lurking in a Santa costume is an idea that Gregg Toland could have totally wrapped his lens around...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

After Dark

Day is pretty straightforward in its narrative, but Night always feels like a deep breath of possibility. Sure, it's the stuff of nightmares and fog, unknown footsteps and deserted streets. But it also has all that moonlight and cricket song and those wonderfully dim streetlamps that cast such long, pretty shadows. Plus, no ringing phones or appointments -- and the kids are asleep. (Usually.)

Night is melancholy... but also hopeful. And that's one of my favorite combinations.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Caption this photo... (#3)


This one is tough and I'm feeling rather silly. How about:

Archaeologists believe they may have discovered the remains of an ancient temple of the Goddess of San Gabriel Valley Topiary.

Nah, that's not quite right. Anyone else have a better caption?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Huntington Drive at Sunset

After living on the west side of Los Angeles for almost two decades, Huntington Drive is like a dream street to me. Four smooth, curving lanes with a grassy center median gently easing through the San Gabriel Valley areas of El Sereno, South Pasadena, San Marino, San Gabriel, Arcadia, Monrovia and Duarte. I've lived in South Pas for almost a year, I drive Huntington almost every day, and I've never really been caught in traffic. In fact, it's easy to drive Huntington during rush hour (what rush hour!?) all the way to Arcadia with few stops.

I often hear long-time residents complaining about the traffic on Huntington. I just don't get it because I've never seen any real traffic on it. Go to Pico or Olympic on the west side at any time between the hours of 8 AM and 8 PM where gridlock is the norm and the driver behind you will lean on the horn if you don't manage to roll into the intersection .05 second before the light changes. Now that's traffic! But I know... it's all relative.

Oddly, this driving dream is named after heir to the Southern Pacific Railway fortune, Henry Huntington who introduced the Pacific Electric Railway as a vehicle for developing the fertile landscape surrounding Los Angeles. The railway stretched east into the San Gabriel Valley, hugging the hills directly south of the San Gabriel Mountains. When the mighty car began to eclipse the humble train, more areas of track were converted to roads and divided highways. By 1953, most of Pacific Electric track had been replaced with bus routes.

Here's a quick snap on Huntington at sunset yesterday. It's always fun to try and capture the magic hour moment as the sky blasts you with technicolor tricks before suddenly fading into the muted grays of twilight. I think I was a fraction of a second late, here, and I was shooting with low megapixels to squeeze more shots out of a full memory card. But isn't it pretty?

Okay, for all of you who have emailed me concerned that I might be shooting pictures while driving, please understand that I pull over and park at the curb to take all road pictures. The only exception is the tunnel shot where I actually stopped on the late night empty road and shot out the drivers side window with my hazards on. I've shot pics from the passenger side while my hubby drives, but I'm not idiotic enough to try drive-and-shoot tactics. Plus, I'm an overprotective mom whose little one is almost always strapped in the car seat during the day. So... you can all rest easy that the streets of South Pas are safe...

Now, carry on!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Feeling groovy...

South Pasadena is famous for its historic homes, many built before 1930. They stand side by side under heritage trees, lining the uncomplicated and perfectly orderly street grid.

But don't think for a minute that you have the whole picture.

Forget the river rock and pitched roof lines below -- the hills of South Pasadena are filled with classic examples of mid-century modern through postmodern 1970s architecture. Post and beam? Check. Rambling ranch? Check. Chalet-style? Check. Wooden tree-house style homes with huge picture windows and terrifyingly spindly poles holding up wrap around decks? Check! Near the water tower, you'll find eclectic little houses clinging to steep slopes and nestled along hairpin curves. This one certainly grabbed my attention. A pea-green mod with a pink plastic Christmas tree? Yeah, baby!

You can still feel the free-spirited optimism of the era in which these homes were built -- and with spectacular views around every curve, it's hard not to be in a good mood.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mountian View

Climb up out of the heart of South Pas and into the winding hills above. Of course, you'll need to slow down when you drive back down Via Del Rey... how else will you savor the spectacular view? Click to enlarge the photo and look into the middle distance -- above the trees and just below the mountains you'll see neighboring Pasadena's famous Colorado Street Bridge, with the iconic Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals Building building to the right of it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

South Pas Up Close #2

It's easy to get caught up in the lovely big picture of South Pasadena: hundreds of towering trees making dappled splashes of magical California light all over some of the best examples of early 20th Century architecture. Wow, it's pretty here! But it's fun to get up close and study the elements of all that beauty. Like here with the ubiquitous river rock -- (literally) the foundation for much of the Craftsman movement. It was used everywhere in construction: in porch columns, fireplaces, fences and here in a home's actual foundation. I know there is something to be said for the simplicity of mid-century modern architecture with all those clean lines, sheets of glass and big, harmonious squares. I, however, love the tickling clutter of the early 20th Century, the puzzle of it, the wonderful blend of nature and technology/antiquity and modernity that is represented so well by the use of these gorgeous old stones.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holiday Spirit

Tis the season for festive garlands twinkling over Fair Oaks Avenue ... but last night I was more excited to see The Rialto lit up in all of her neon splendor. A film crew might be responsible for turning on the lights because I could find out nothing about the rather silly title on the marquis.

As Jimmy Stewart said, "Merry Christmas movie house!"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The sun has long been set...

Indulge me yet another night prowling monochrome shot. It made me think of this poem by Wordsworth -- well, actually I thought of the first two lines of this poem by Wordsworth. (I love Google.)

The sun has long been set,
The stars are out by twos and threes,
The little birds are piping yet
Among the bushes and trees;
There's a cuckoo,
and one or two thrushes,
And a far-off wind that rushes,
And a sound of water that gushes,
And the cuckoo's sovereign cry
Fills all the hollow of the sky.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Silver Charm

The Metro Gold Line trains aren't gold. Actually, most of them are white. But ever so often this classic silver one rolls into the station, which makes my little daughter squeal with delight and say, "Look! It's that special train!" We decided that if finding a copper penny is considered a good omen, then spotting a silver train must be really lucky...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Craftsman Detail: #2

I've already raved about why I love Craftsman architecture. It's all about the little extras. Like here, for example, in this small bungalow. It's a modest house, probably built around 1920 as an affordable family home. And yet, the builders had the design chops to incorporate that wonderful sunburst pattern beneath each of the eaves. It's what Petrea over at Pasadena Daily Photo would call superflous detail.

And it makes me happy every time I pass by.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Illuminated Path

I might never have noticed this sidewalk entrance to the apartments at 1616 Fair Oaks during the day ... but look at the enchanting way it glows in the night. (Nice bit of San Gabriel Valley topiary, too!)

1616 has such a nice ring to it, doesn't it? I'm sure there's a great short story here. Or a love song. Or TV series about time travel. Or a poem about flowers and curving steps and math...

Or maybe it's just a nifty address with a lovely entryway.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dirty Laundry

There is a lost-in-time feeling to most laundromats -- and the one in this shopping center on Fair Oaks is no exception. This could have been any coin-operated laundry I used in the 1980s and 90s before I owned a washer and dryer. Same 1970s colors. (Same jarring fluorescent light which was never much fun on bleary Sunday morning after a fun Saturday night...) I was so overjoyed when I had my first washer and dryer. No more hoarding quarters! No more bizarre bleach marks on dark clothes! No more weird guys watching me sort my underwear! Even now, after all these years with a home laundry room, I still feel lucky not to have to schlep dirty clothes to a Fluff n Fold.

But even that is nothing compared to the way things used to be. Our home, like many in our neighborhood, was built in 1900. Laundry for the original owners was far more involved than anything we've ever known. First of all, forget hubby tossing in a load of whites. Victorian wives were expected to not only launder but often make all clothing worn by the family. Laundry had to be soaked, rinsed, boiled, stirred, bleached or blued, starched, wrung out, hung up and then ironed (with an actual iron that had to be retrieved from the fire.) Water often had to be fetched from wells and carried back home. If the water was too hard, it had to be boiled with wood ashes -- or Borax -- before being used.

And soap? Think of this next time you lug a box of Tide from the store. Most Victorian women had to make their own lye soap and use it to scrub soiled items on a washboard. For tough stains? Kerosene. Bleach? Try salt and lemon juice. And sometimes human urine. (I couldn't make this stuff up.) After scrubbing, laundry was then agitated by hand with a "dolly" -- a cute name for a long stick with some wooden pegs on the end that women used to stir, poke, jiggle and otherwise beat the heck out of whatever they were trying to get clean.

No wonder every cookbook had a recipe for absinthe and laudanum was sold over the counter!

Starch was a necessity of Victorian life in an age where wrinkles and limp collars were a sign of a slovenly character. Starch, of course, was made at home. Victorian housekeeping manuals are filled with various instructions on how to make the "best" starch -- wheat? Potato shavings? Sugar? Rice water? Take your pick -- but you had to pick something because only the most unkempt homemaker would neglect this important aspect of clothing maintenance.

After starching, the homemaker commenced to hanging all clothes to dry on outdoor clotheslines. (Hopefully, the above activities could be completed before mid morning as to maximize the sunlight. Victorians wore a lot of velvets -- and velvets not only took forever to dry, but they also tended to grow mold quite easily if left damp for too long.) After the laundry dried, the lady of the house moved on to the ironing -- with not one but many various implements set upon the stove top or into the coal fire. General irons, fluting irons for pleats, "mushroom" irons for puffy sleeves, "tally" irons for bows and strings and flat irons for sheets and pillowcases. (Yup, a proper Victorian lady had to starch and iron those, too.)

And all of this was accomplished while wearing corsets that limited normal respiration by up to 70%.

Needless to say, while I enjoy my home's architecture, and its vintage light fixtures, doorknobs, wood floors, picture rails, wooden built-ins and wavy-glass sash windows... I have no desire to journey back to the year it was built. And if my washer or dryer ends up on the fritz, this retro laundromat will certainly do in a pinch!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Library Noir

Think my night prowling shots of the library are spooky? I guess I'm just tapping into the zeitgeist. Last month our sweet little hometown library hosted an Author Night with Steve Hodel, the national best selling author of Black Dahlia Avenger. In 1947, The Black Dahlia murder terrified Los Angeles with its grisly details. The tale of victim Elizabeth Short could have been lifted straight from the pages of Raymond Chandler. Short was a sultry drifter known for the sour company she kept and the sweet flowers she wore in her jet black hair. Her body turned up in pieces in a Los Angeles park, and for decades, the unsolved case has been the subject of investigation, public fascination, fiction and film adaptation.

So what does a brutal murder have to do with our fair city? Steve Hodel -- a police investigator with 24 years experience -- believes he has finally uncovered the elusive killer: a South Pasadena High School graduate, and (get this) his very own father! You can read all about the library's event here, and watch a local news story about it here.

Moving from real life crime to mystery fiction, The South Pasadena Library's next Author's Night is on January 22, at 7:00PM and features the Edgar Award-winning author of the fantastic Mas Arai mystery series, Naomi Hirahara -- who just happens to be another South Pasadena High School graduate. Prior to Ms. Hirahara's program, renowned jazz master (and South Pasadena resident) Elliott Caine will perform a freewheeling set of “Blue Note” style jazz. No tickets or reservations are necessary, and the entire community is invited to attend.

Thanks to our fabulously cool City Librarian Steve Fjeldsted for keeping me updated on all the famous -- and infamous -- goings on at our wonderful library ... and for not thinking I'm terribly weird for creeping around the place in the dark.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Driven to distraction...

Okay, so this has officially become a series. I keep stumbling upon all of these pristine vintage cars -- each parked in a setting that perfectly compliments the automobile color. Look at this one! Pearly white car with a silver grille across from a silvery gray house with a pearly white roof. It's perfect.


It's a little too perfect...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

JM Antiques and Toys

Every time I drive down Fremont and pass this cool little storefront, I try to catch a glimpse of what's inside. I like to imagine that it contains all the toys from my childhood: Kiddles, a Spirograph, a Mrs. Beasley Doll (without the glasses missing,) a pristine version of the Mystery Date Game, a real EZ Bake Oven (made back when they really could burn little fingers and create gooey little cakes,) Tinkertoys, Shrinkydinks -- and all the other old school/ lead paint/choking hazards of my youth. I'm looking forward to exploring this store. Who knows what I might have forgotten? Or, more likely, who knows what I might discover?

Now, if you could reclaim any wonderful old toy, what would it be?

Monday, December 1, 2008


It's the first of the month, and that means it's Theme Day for participating bloggers in the City Daily Photo community. This month's theme is Circles/Spheres. I chose this beautiful quilt hanging on the wall of Wild Thyme, one of my favorite South Pas restaurants. The cafe is owned by the same family who runs Shakers -- another great local eatery. Although name Wild Thyme alludes to the menu's well-seasoned fare prepared in a traditional French style (get the crepes!) -- I'm reminded of that wonderful rambling speech by Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream:

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows;
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell'd skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in...

Okay, so you won't find nodding violets or sweet musk-roses here, but you might just dance with delight after a yummy meal in this bistro's cozy, comfortable setting. Which brings me full circle -- and how apropos, given the current theme. I don't know the history of this lovely quilt, but it always captures my attention. Although it's a traditional textile, it's also quirky and magical and eclectic. (Kinda like South Pasadena.)

Be sure to circle around the other City Daily Photobloggers, and have a look at the many creative and diverse images from all over the world.