Friday, December 31, 2010


I did it again.

I went out and bought a nice bottle of champagne to toast the new year, came home, opened the wine fridge ... and realized I never had the bottle of champagne I bought last year. Or the one I bought the year before.

If I have one new year's resolution it's this: to make more time to open and drink nice bottles of champagne.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A View from the Altos

Speaking of Monterey Hills, I have a new piece going up at Patch sometime this morning. In the mean time, check out winter in Southern California. I know I've included many versions of this vantage point before, but I never get tired of the view.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Great Staging

I hadn't seen many old cars out and about since the storm last week. Then, today, I spotted this one in front of Fremont Centre Theatre. Bravo!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Musing About a Winter Sunset

I think the gold peeking through the clouds is summer waiting to return. (In Southern California, it's never too far away...)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy or Scary?

I'm going with scary. Because nothing is scarier than a clown ... except maybe a clown who jumps out at you when you least expect it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's still raining...

and raining, and raining, and raining, and raining, and raining...

(By the way, for musings on a rainy Christmas, check out my latest at Patch It will be up sometime before lunch.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

Honestly, I went out with the intention of capturing some festive Christmas images and I got this instead. It's not my fault. It's been raining nonstop for days. The curbs are flooded. The parrots are cranky. The roses are hanging their little rose-heads, weighted by the strain with bruised little petals that will never make it all the way to the rose parade.

This is Southern California's version of a white Christmas. It's just, well, melted. And remember how Frosty was when he was melted? Yeah, well, that's why you get this picture today.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Unlimited. That's a great word, isn't it? I'm not sure exactly what this odd little wagon is trying to tell us, but the hopeful message is the same one I get whenever I volunteer for Little Bit's school parties.

Last week, a crowd of soggy, cold parents stood out in a soggy, school courtyard to hear a chorus of five year olds sing "Jingle Bells" and "The Dreidel Song." After the concert, fueled by cupcakes and juice boxes, the future class of '23 was more than happy to chit chat.

You can learn a lot from those kindergartners.

"We've had a lot of work with all that reading and stuff," Philip said through a mouthful of frosting. "I'm looking forward to relaxing over the winter break. People don't take enough time to just kick back and enjoy life."

"That's a good point," I said. "I don't think I take enough time to just kick back."

"Oh, you've gotta do it." Philip said. "Just relaxing and having fun, that's the best thing ever."

"I don't want to relax," Kate said. "I want to run around the yard so fast for so long that I fall down and can't get up!"

"Then what?" I asked.

"Do it again!"

"I'm going to bake cookies over the winter break," Little Bit said. "I might even be a baker when I grow up."

"I'm going to be an inventor." Philip said.

"Can you share any of your ideas for inventions?" I said.

"I think instead of just animal cookies, there should be landscape cookies. You know, trees and mountains and stuff. I could invent that and make, like, a thousand dollars!"

"Why stop at mountains," Little Bit said. "Why not make moon cookies and planet cookies and sun cookies, too?"

"Cookies for the whole universe!" Philip said.

"I'm going to be a runner." Kate said. "In the Olympics. Or maybe an ice skater."

"I'm going to be an ice skater, too!" Little Bit said.

"Ah, you guys can be skaters." Philip said. I'm going to invent rocket skates so that you can ice skate in the sky. You know, you could actually ice skate in snow clouds. That's the coolest idea I ever had."

There's a common thread to conversations among five year olds. It's a golden, sparkly thread of possibility. Those little ones are woven so securely with hope and potential, they haven't gotten even the slightest bit frayed by life. Or maybe they are just smart enough not to have been unraveled by the propaganda we all believe to be true: that we somehow have to compromise. That there are limitations. Maybe we've all been stuck settling for only animal cookies when we could have had the entire universe on a plate, if we'd just let ourselves imagine it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Next time you go to the South Pas Farmers Market, check out the Bubble Man. Seriously, this man is to bubbles what Doris Kearns Goodwin is to presidents. I had no idea the creation and manufacture of bubble solution (or "bubble juice" as those in the know call it) was wrought with so much intrigue. Fun fact: did you know that the now defunct Tootsie Toys used to send tanker ships full of water from Lake Michigan all the way to China to use as the base for the company's prized solution? Well, now you do.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Merry Little Christmas... Now

It's grainy, it's gritty, but it's proof positive that when Santa isn't traveling reindeer-style, he takes the train. Here it is a little over a week away from Christmas and the big guy is as relaxed as an elf after seconds on Mrs. Claus' secret recipe eggnog. (How do you think Blitzen got his name, anyway?)

If old Kris Kringle is this chill with so much left to do during the holiday season, why am I feeling like a Christmas light strand that buzzes when you plug it in? In this age of Amazon prime shipping and iTunes gift cards, I'm still down to the wire and starting to Bah a few too many Humbugs.

It happens every year.

What is it about the holidays that makes so many of us feel this way? We complain about all the carols playing in the stores, and yet we cry when we hear Judy Garland sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." December isn't really red and green for us. It's got far too many blues. We miss the ones who are no longer here to celebrate with us, but it's more than that. We chase the Christmas dragon, trying hard to recapture those twinkly, star-topped memories of our childhood. We notice that our children are growing up too fast, and it makes us want to make sure we create some twinkly, star-topped memories for them, too.

I have to admit, though ... spotting St. Nick at the Farmers Market last night was a hang-a-shining-star-upon-the-highest-bough moment. A Clarence-finally-got-his-wings moment. For a few seconds, the world glimmered with magic and hope and generosity. It gleamed with all the silly, wonderful customs we drag out every year along with Aunt Ruby's porcelain ornaments. For a few seconds, it wasn't just Little Bit jumping up and down yelling "Santa! Santa!"

I was right there, with her.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Settings: Part 33

Here's a new twist on my old favorite...

I happened upon these kids shooting a movie outside the library the other day. What do you think their movie is about?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

School, Sky and Tree

Does everyone love the art deco lines of South Pas High as much as I do? Maybe it's because I attended high school in a windowless cement block of a building that would would make your average prison feel downright elegant by comparison.

That depressing sky zapped what was left of my holiday spirit. I needed something lovely to pose in front of all those clouds, or else you guys would have ended up with a post today featuring a depressing poem and a black and white shot of a broken Christmas tree ornament.

Thanks, South Pas High! Nothing like a little architecture to lift a mood.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The sculpture outside one of the gates at this house always makes me slow down for a closer look. This time, I couldn't resist taking a picture.

(By the way, I'll have a new column up at Patch sometime in the morning. This one is all about the Arroyo Seco. Click here to go straight to it.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Perfect Day

While the Midwest literally collapsed under a winter storm yesterday, Southern California enjoyed one of the most gorgeous days in recent memory. It was 83 degrees, dry, breezy -- a tank top and flipflops kind of day. The kind of day that has been the subject of poem and song, the kind of day that made entire generations move west.

Here, golden ginkos reach for the west sun. Who needs ornaments with this kind of holiday gold?

Friday, December 10, 2010

And Many More

Happy birthday, my beautiful sister Judy. May this year be filled with many moments as carefree and happy as this one...

Update: not to steal lovely Judy's thunder today, but my mysterious hinting yesterday is revealed! Just scroll down and look for my familiar mug shot in the news section, or directly click here to go right to the story...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

If you'll allow me a small detour...

Do me a favor, and head on over to South Pasadena Patch sometime this morning, before lunch. No, I'm not going to ask you to read another column of mine there, I just never expected to be in the news. If it's not evident what I'm (obnoxiously, mysteriously) talking about when you click, try again later...

And thank you, South Pasadena.

Update 1:00PM -- I'm not sure when the story I wanted you to read will post, so, like, well ... talk amongst yourselves? Here's a topic: colored lights or clear for holiday decorating? Your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I'm not the only one

Imagine there's no heaven.
It's easy if you try.
No hell below us.
Above us, only sky.

Thirty years ago tonight I was out taking pictures of Christmas lights with my friend Roger. I was a junior in high school, Roger was graduating. We both loved cameras, and I loved his best friend who I thought was going to be joining us that night.

Austin was cold, in that good cold way --bundle up, see your breath, spike the hot cocoa with brandy stolen from Roger's parent's liquor cabinet. We were downtown where all the best Christmas lights were. It was only about a week until school let out for winter vacation, and we were already feeling lazy. Still young enough for Christmas to be a shiver-up-the-back morning of surprise and expectation. But old enough to envision of all of the new presents to unwrap when we finally escaped home, and high school, and the youth that we've probably spent most of our lives wishing we appreciated more at the time.

Austin has always been a music town. You can't walk around a corner without tripping over someone playing an acoustic guitar. Even the deepest of dive bars has a decent band. On that night, thirty years ago, Roger and I wondered why all we heard -- from every music joint downtown, from every car stereo driving by -- was a Beatles song.

"Jesus," Roger said, "Which one died?"

"I hope it was Paul," we both said together. And laughed.

We weren't serious. It was just one of those smart-assed things we always said about death. Death wasn't something faraway or unimaginable to our generation. They call us Generation Jones. Sandwiched between the very end of the Boomers and year Gen X was spawned, we were weaned on the Vietnam war. We grew up with nightly news calmly discussing mutual nuclear annihilation. Personally, I'd already seen someone I knew shot dead, and most of my peers had known people who had been taken young. Drugs. Car wrecks. Suicide. I don't remember those years as being carefree as much as being tinged with the possibility of destruction-- which is a kind of fuel for the teenage soul, already well-oiled with drama, and fearlessness, and the ace-up-the-sleeve secret knowledge that somehow you might be immortal, but the rest of the world just hasn't figured it out yet.

When Roger brought me back to my parents' house, he joined me inside for coffee. The family Christmas tree was lit. There were a few embers still struggling to stay alight in the fireplace. My parents were asleep, so when I turned on the stereo-- you remember the kind, one of those massive old pieces of furniture with speakers that took up an entire side of the room -- I made sure to turn it down low. Instant Karma was playing on the radio.

"Are the Beatles getting back together or something?" Roger said.

"I wonder who'll open for the reunion tour," I said.

"Blondie would be cool."

"They're too old to let Blondie open for them," I said.

I don't remember exactly when the DJ mentioned that John Lennon had been killed, but he was crying. It made me think of the TV footage I'd seen of Cronkite crying when Kennedy was shot. Roger and I just looked at each other. The Beatles were not the band of our generation. But they were part of our landscape -- like, well, like the moon, and the stars and the sun. They just were. And now the coolest, the most brilliant, the one we all would have liked to meet most, the one whose lyrics made Day in the Life poetry instead of just pop music, the one who seemed somehow redeemed from his own violent past and wise without being over-the-hill or out of touch, the cosmic, love-in, hippie shaman was dead.

Imagine if he'd have lived.

Imagine how he might have influenced our world.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

LaunderLand at Sunset

I just love this old sign. It's such a symbol of the not-so-distant past -- all that brightly colored late 1950s optimism when even doing laundry was something to declare in big, bold letters!

And speaking of remnants of the past, I've got a new column up today at South Pasadena Patch. (It should be posted sometime in the morning, Pacific Time.) See if you recognize some of South Pasadena's historic little details... (For those of you who have trouble connecting via phone, try this link instead and scroll down to find my column.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Going the Distance

I could hear the song all the way to my car -- actually, I played the same one a few times during my last real road trip almost 15 years ago. The music was almost, though not quite, as loud as the laughter from the open windows.

It's great to be young and free with a full tank of gas, a sunny day and a haircut that makes your parents crazy. (And remind me that I said this when Little Bit is a teenager.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

East Side Story

I had a great view of a camphor treetop melée between a small flock of LA County black crows and about five dozen territorial San Gabriel Valley parrots. I really wish I'd thought to take some video just to get an audio track of that incredible racket! After about fifteen minutes, the crows took off and the parrots changed their tune from bad-ass squawks to celebratory hollers rivaling a Staples Center sing-along of We Will Rock You.

Here, a couple of victors took a post-brawl dip in a street puddle left over from the recent rain.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tree Decorations

Vermont and New Hampshire get all the credit for fall leaves, but every December South Pas puts on a pretty great show of seasonal colors. From maples to ginkos, local trees create a gorgeous palette of red and gold ... just in time for Christmas.

Friday, December 3, 2010

They're Evergreen Too, Ya Know...

Christmas trees are nice, but in any season I'm a sucker for our beautiful palms.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bear with me...

....but you've seen something very close to this photo before. Although I haven't counted, I've probably taken at least two dozen other pictures from this very spot.

But it's the season's first snow on the mountains! And even though I've lived in Los Angeles for almost 23 years, it never ceases to make me want to jump up and down while pointing and squealing, "Snow! Snow!" Don't worry, I won't launch into the classic SoCal speech about how we can surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon. On second thought, guess what? We can surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon!

Tis the season to be jolly, indeed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Just in Time

Today is the first of the month, and that means Theme Day for participating City Daily Photobloggers. This month's theme is Time.

I was this close to posting a really fun image of a Route 66 sign that was made into a clock. I found it recently at Fair Oaks Pharmacy. It's kitschy and fun, and a nice way to fool myself into thinking that the days aren't really passing by in their inevitable march to, well, something that isn't very kitschy or fun. But I realized that I was being rather uninventive, as well as wrapping up something obnoxiously existential and depressing in a rather syrupy and sarcastic little bow.

And then I remembered this tree. It's the legacy Morton Bay fig tree that dwarfs our historic library building. I love to sit there, perched on one of the roots like a wood nymph. The grand old tree has been growing for who knows how many years, spreading those roots out so far underground it's as if the entire city is being hugged by it. It has survived earthquakes, and wars, root rot and fungus, re-zoning laws and citizens who, believe it or not, at one point wanted to chop it down. If any one thing gets a solid A+ on the test of time, it's this tree. It reminds me not of the ineffable brevity of our lives, but of the gorgeous longevity of life itself. This tree doesn't have an opinion on Newton's version of time sequence vs. Kant's insistence that time is not even an event and can't possibly be measured. This tree hasn't pondered time travel's psychedelic world of possibility, where time itself is some sort of cosmic filmstrip and we can move forward and reverse if we can just sort out how to build a remote control to make it work.

This tree just is. And has been. For a very, very long time.

For other interpretations of today's theme, check out the work of a growing worldwide group of talented photobloggers. Click here to view thumbnails for all participants