Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year End Oracle

It's the last day of the year, and that means more than just icing the champagne and tuning in to watch the Times Square ball drop...

It means there is still time to make a 2009 tax-deductible contribution to a worthy cause! Two of my favorite charities really need help:

This group has made microfinance not only cool but socially conscious. Kiva connects people through lending for the sole purpose of alleviating poverty. Voted as a best website of 2008 by Time magazine, Kiva allows you to lend money to a low-income entrepreneur in the developing world. The loan recipient repays the money, and you get to lend it to someone else. We're not talking huge bucks, either ... you can loan as little as $25. Want to know more? Take a look at what the media is has to say about Kiva.

Donors Choose
Here's a great way to make up for all the times you cut class in high school. By giving to Donors Choose, you can help needy students get the materials public schools often cannot provide. Teachers from around the country submit project proposals -- everything from requests for classroom equipment to art supplies -- and you pick which projects to fund. You can search by areas of interest, financial need or geographic location. When you get the packet of handwritten thank you notes from an appreciative class, you'll feel like you've really made a difference in the world. Learn more about Donors Choose here.

Like the car above says, be heartful! Or maybe it says be love-ful? Oh, you get the idea.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Keep The Police Chief

I went back into my files for this image of South Pasadena police chief Dan Watson driving a vintage squad car in the last 4th of July parade. It's a great example of our chief's personal involvement in our city. (I've even heard a rumor that he manned the beer tap at one of the arts festivals -- too bad I don't have a picture of that!) This gentleman doesn't just work for South Pasadena, he genuinely cares about South Pasadena. I had barely started the blog when I received a warm, welcoming email from Chief Watson. I was impressed. Here was a police chief who kept up with his city and reached out to the community in ways that went far beyond his official duties of law enforcement. When I mentioned the message to neighbors, nobody seemed surprised. In fact, everyone seemed to have a great personal story about Dan Watson. Gosh, I thought. Maybe I really did move to Mayberry.

For 8 years Chief Watson has led our police department with great success. We have a low crime rate for the Los Angeles area, and response time for any call to service is 3 minutes or less. There is a remarkably close-knit relationship between the community and the police department -- in fact, my husband and daughter joined Chief Watson for a meal at the annual 4th of July pancake breakfast.

You'll all understand why I was absolutely baffled when I learned that on November 5, the chief was informed by South Pasadena City Manager John Davidson that his employment contract would not be renewed. The South Pasadena Review reported last week that Davidson was the apparent messenger for the City Council who is looking for "a leadership change." The city will look for "a more qualified" candidate starting after the first of the year. (More qualified than a 3 decade LAPD veteran who has served South Pasadena well for 8 years?) According to news reports, the chief was reassured that there are "no concerns about his performance or the performance of any members of the department," and that he could certainly compete for his own job.

Are you mad yet? I know I am.

Is this how we thank one of South Pasadena's finest for years of dedication? Is this what passes for acceptable local hiring practice -- recruiting excellent people to serve our city and then, instead of rewarding their dedication and management skill, simply dumping them on a political whim? I don't pretend to know the ins and outs of local government but I know when I smell a rat. And something is stinking up the place.

At last week's City Council meeting, members of our community raised their voices in support of our chief. City Clerk Sally Kilby said, "You already have one quality police chief who goes above and beyond the call of duty." Chamber of Commerce president Scott Feldmann agreed, adding, "I'm a fan of the police chief, I think he's very community-oriented. I think he's fantastic, and so I hope the city can somehow reverse this decision." Local resident Carrie Adrian said, "Dan Watson is the best thing we have and we need to keep him." Here here.

The next City Council meeting is on January 6 at 7:30PM. I urge my South Pasadena readers to attend.

I also suggest calling City Hall to express your support of Dan Watson: (626)403-7232

You can also email the City Clerk:

Looking at the above photo again got me thinking ... we should be throwing a parade for Dan Watson to thank him for his excellent record, not inexplicably asking him to leave his job. It's not right. And it's certainly not right for South Pasadena.

Note: GOSP reader and commenter Mister Earl also blogged about this last week. You can read his post here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mike and Anne's Restaurant and Bar

Earlier this month my sister Judy visited for a long weekend. We treated ourselves to a girls' night out at Mike and Anne's and I couldn't resist snapping a quick shot of the cozy setting.

I've mentioned this restaurant before, but it deserves a lengthy rave. You know how a lot of hyped places are heavy on trend but light on real flavor? Not Mike and Anne's. Sure, every artfully presented menu item resembles something envisioned by a highly competitive castmember of Top Chef, but this kitchen follows through. Each bite reveals complex flavors that delight, comfort and inspire. (Want a taste of heaven? Go for the pork chop with braised red cabbage, sweet potatoes, stonefruits and lingonberry sauce. Go. GO!)

During evening hours the dining room dims into a relaxing interior twilight -- lots of warm wood tones lit by flickering candles. Breakfast/lunch is bright and casual, and you can choose to sit outside in a charming patio setting. They even have a kid-friendly grill-cheese sandwich on the lunch menu.

Don't even try to stick to a diet if you go for dinner. Judy and I each had our own appetizer and entree -- and we still didn't split dessert. She got the crème brûlée, I got the chocolate pot de creme. In a word? Yummmmm.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Still

Heap on the wood!
The wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still.

--Sir Walter Scott

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The luminarias -- also known as farolitos -- lining Milan and adjoining streets illuminate the sidewalks with a warm, old-fashioned glow. Who would have ever thought brown paper bags and votive candles could be so festive? These low-tech versions of Christmas lights originated in Mexico and eventually spread to New Mexico and the western United States. More than decorations, they represented hope for many Christians who believed the lights would lead the spirit of the Christ child to their homes.

Luminaria-lined pathways, figgy pudding, advent calendars, mulled wine, yule logs, marzipan, stollen, mistletoe, mincemeat pies, tamales, giant inflatable mylar yard Santas and electronic mini-light animatronic reindeer ... so many different traditions intertwine in our country's holiday tapestry. Take your pick: rum in the eggnog, or bourbon? Flocked tree or plain? White lights or colored? Ham or turkey? It's a Wonderful Life or White Christmas? Father Christmas, St. Nick or Santa Claus? Open presents on Christmas eve or Christmas morning? (I'll take all of the above, thank you, including my Jewish pals' Hanukkah latkes and Christmas Day Chinese take-out!)

One of my family's personal Christmas traditions started years ago when my mother's brother wrote a cryptic poem on the tag of her gift, hinting at what was inside. Not to be outdone, Mom put hints on all the presents the next year ... and a tradition was born. When Jon and I got married I introduced the custom to his immediate family -- who ran with it. Now, any gift for any occasion includes a hint -- the more creative and puzzling the better. Coming up with hints is one of the best parts of my holiday season, though presents wrapped at the last minute often end up with crappy hints, and those wrapped while drinking eggnog are usually a bit obscure...

So, what are some of your family's favorite holiday traditions?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sunbathing Snowman

Reminds me of lines from Mele Kalikimaka:

Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright
The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night...

(Note at 10:23 AM: Oops! In my pre-Christmas delirium, I scheduled this post for the wrong date -- that's why it didn't come up at midnight last night. Thanks for all the concerned email messages!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tidings of Great Joy

Then wherefore in these merry days
Should we, I pray, be duller?
No, let us sing some roundelays
To make our mirth the fuller.
And whilst we thus inspired sing,
Let all the streets with echoes ring;
Woods, and hills, and everything
Bear witness we are merry.

-- George Wither

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Dinosaur Farm

If Santa needs a little help this Christmas, I have no doubt he'll turn to The Dinosaur Farm. Dubbed by its owners as "not your ordinary toy store," this specialty shop has been a local favorite for the last 15 years. Pasadena Weekly voted it Best Toy Store for the third year in a row. LA Parent Magazine named it Southern California's Best Independent Toy Store. Malcolm McDowell said in a 2007 interview with the LA Times that it's "the best toy store in the world." And, truly, it is. Even Forbes included it in a list called "10 Amazing Toy Stores."

What makes it so special? Just think about Toys R Us for a minute: the impersonal corporate veneer, the shrink-wrapped sameness, the plastic overload, the fluorescent lights. Now, think about the opposite of that. The Dinosaur Farm is the kind of toy store Peter Jackson would create as a setting for a movie -- a place that would probably have secret passageways, talking T-Rex models and a back room filled with busy elves or mischievous fairies. The Dinosaur Farm is packed with cool stuff and staffed by cool people who understand kids of all ages. Plus, the fanciful murals on the walls are reason enough to stop in for a visit.

You'll find old favorites here along with unique new treasures and the best selection of dinosaur goodies this side of the Jurassic period. (In fact, the online store specializes in all things dinosaur-related.) The book section of the shop is pretty wonderful, too.

I couldn't resist getting a late night picture of the store window. Haven't you always dreamed of spending the night in a toy store?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter Wonderland

I know. This image is way too similar to another one I posted last week. I just can't help it. Whenever I see those snow-kissed mountains I just want to jump up and down, squeal, break out the egg nog and start belting It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Southern California offers such a splendid holiday cornucopia: snowy mountains rising above warm beaches, autumn leaves falling on palm fronds and bougainvillea, shirtsleeve days drifting into fireplace nights. This place is never sure exactly what it wants to be... so it's everything, all at once. Sunbathe with snow in the distance? Sure! Share geography with neighbors who celebrate Eid, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Wiccan Yule and Yalda? Absolutely! Somehow be both naughty and nice? Well... isn't everybody?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Two eyes made out of coal...

Frosty Noir? The Blair Witch Holiday Project?

Call it what you like, this might be my favorite of all the decorations around town.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fall Foliage, South Pas Style (#4)

Winter officially starts in 5 days. (Not that Southern California ever pays attention to the rules.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Light Extinguished

When I drove down Fremont yesterday morning, I saw the satellite news vans parked in front of South Pasadena High School. Sure, they might have been there because a science whiz figured out unified field theory or a student fan fiction blogger got a three book deal. But, more likely, when news vans are in front of a high school they are there because someone died. As I drove closer, I saw the lurking photogs with telescopic lenses aimed at groups of ashen-faced teens. Some kids were weeping. Some were clutching one another. Some were staring with a blankness that comes after being sucker-punched by the hands of fate.

Grief never fits anybody right. But it is especially too big to be worn by young people.

This past Saturday night, South Pasadena High School senior Aydin Salek passed away at a party in Altadena. Yesterday would have been his 18th birthday. He was the student Commissioner of Internal Affairs, a writer for the school paper, a student liaison to the South Pasadena School Board, the president of the campus American Cancer Society Club and a swim team member.

I spent about an hour reading the messages posted on a Facebook tribute page and kept seeing many of the same words used to describe him. Passionate. Generous. Inspirational. Influential. Kind. Brilliant. Funny. I learned that he donated money to charity. I learned that he helped feed the homeless in Pasadena. I learned that he surprised the swim team one morning last year with four huge boxes of donuts. I learned that he tutored some kids on the side, and irritated more than one of them with speeches about being more motivated. I learned that he danced to Usher in a car with a girl after buying her chicken McNuggets. I learned that he liked a good argument but loved a good joke. I learned that he wanted -- like so many beautiful young shooting stars -- to illuminate the world. To make things brighter.

Like any tragedy, this one has been spackled with big globs of rumor and innuendo, with lazy reporting and speculation. Local news stories have all but proclaimed his death a result of binge drinking. But we don't have any information yet on what, exactly, caused this tragedy. All we know is that a promising young man died and that he left behind a family whose despair can't possibly be expressed in words.

He also left behind a lot of shattered young people who really loved him -- friends who need space to grieve and who don't need insensitive questions from reporters hanging around school grounds or fingerwagging lectures from highhanded adults who seek to turn a young man's death into a talking point. David Bowie said it well:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through.

Family and friends have organized a candlelight Walk for Aydin Salek on Wednesday, December 14, at 7:00PM, starting in front of the South Pasadena High School Gymnasium.

The South Pasadena High School website will post pertinent information about this tragedy as it becomes available.

Update January 9, 2010: The Los Angeles Times published a touching story about Aydin Salek's parents, including a link to a charitable foundation in his name.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree...

Sure, there are more elaborate holiday decorations around town, but this little tree trunk on Mission is just so earnest in its festive spirit -- even with the unswept leaves below and all those burned-out bulbs -- that I thought it deserved a place of honor here. (Charlie Brown would understand.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009


It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
My Woman Is Cruel—Moved, I Wrote This Poem."

There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends.

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner,
cross my legs like his, and listen.

--Billy Collins

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Settings: Part 19

Yesterday's post about filmmaking in South Pasadena made me realize it's been a while since we've played my favorite game...

If this were the setting for a scene in a movie, what would happen here?

Friday, December 11, 2009


So many film, TV and commercial productions shoot in South Pas it sometimes feels like we're living in a studio back lot. It's fun to play spot the location while watching something on TV. Shakers shows up so often that if you took a shot every time you saw it you might end up with acute alcohol poisoning. And Mad Men lovers take note: our wholesome little region has played host to some of Don's (and Betsy's) adulterous shenanigans...

Here, film crew members wait at Bistro de la Gare while cameras roll inside. That's show business.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

One to Grow On

This one is for my beautiful sister Judy, on her birthday. May this year be filled with magic in the shadows and wonder in the light!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Let in Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow...

Monday's drenching storm gave way to this spectacular Tuesday morning view: the first mountain snow. How's that for getting Southern California into a festive holiday mood?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Once Upon a Time...

You'll find these old numbers stamped in concrete on various walls around town. I suppose they're just street block markers, but if this were a novel they'd be signs indicating different destination portals for time travel...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sign of the Times

He looked me in the eye
And then he told me his heart
He said I cry like you cry
And I'm afraid of the dark
He said I'd like to put this gun down
And go home today
But it seems
That war won't go away.
He said, I bleed like you bleed
And it tears me apart
I need to know,
Where does peace start?
He said I cry like you cry
As I watch your flag fly
He looked me in the eye
and he told me his heart
And then he said,
Where does peace start?

--Judy Puckett

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tree Hugger

It's not the most scientific explanation, but I think the leaning palm on the left has a crush.

Friday, December 4, 2009


The Citizens Bank building drive thru is a relic of the pre-ATM 1970s. (But isn't it a pretty study in light and shadow when captured late at night?)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Century Flower

This happy announcement on The Rialto marquee deserves our attention!

What was the world like when Gladys May Tepe was born? In 1909 the first Lincoln head penny had just been minted. General Electric introduced the incandescent light bulb. The Wright Brothers produced a flying machine that could carry two people and stay aloft for 60 minutes at a top speed of 40mph. George Eastman acquired rights to manufacture Velox photographic paper. Thomas Hunt Morgan figured out the chromosomal theory of heredity. Selma Lagerlöf was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature -- although more people read Beatrix Potter's Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies. Henri Matisse painted The Dance. Pablo Picasso painted Woman with Pears. Their contemporaries were Henri Rousseau, Amédéo Modigliani, Diego Rivera and Egon Schiele. The song of the year was I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now. The Pittsburgh Pirates won The World Series against the Detroit Tigers. Not one to wallow in defeat, Tigers outfielder Ty Cobb used his earnings to invest in shares of a copper mine at $3 per share. (He sold them in 1910 for a whopping $1000 a share.) JL Kraft Brothers Company was founded, banking everything on the hope that hesitant Americans could be persuaded to eat more cheese. Fashionistas of the day scandalized their mothers with low-busted corsets.

I don't know if the birthday honoree surfs the net -- who knows, after experiencing 100 years of radical change and groundbreaking technology, she might find blogs a trifle underwhelming -- but if she logs on, I want to join her chorus of well-wishers.

Happy birthday, Ms. Tepe!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Elf Noir

My daughter had her own ideas about the tiny car in front of us on the road the other night.

"I think that little car belongs to one of Santa's elves," she said, "and the elf escaped from Santa's workshop and is running away in the night time because he doesn't want to have to do so much work making all those toys."

Ah, Christmas.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wait and See

The first of the month means it's Theme Day for participating City Daily Photobloggers. This month's theme is Waiting.

I often drive past this bench on Arroyo Drive. It perches high above lower Arroyo Park with scenic views of hillside trees and open sky. Sometimes it is surrounded by high school kids skipping school. At noon it serves as an alfresco lunch seat. At dusk it often hosts a romantic couple or sunset-capturing photographer. Many times I've seen someone sitting on that bench alone, staring out towards the west with a familiar blank look that indicates a big decision -- or possibly even bigger regret. But a lot of the time the bench is just empty. Waiting.

You don't have to wait to check out other bloggers' interpretation of today's theme. Click here to view thumbnails for all participants

(Be sure to head over to the sky is big in pasadena for Ben Wideman's exciting personal interpretation of this month's Theme Day.)