Saturday, May 30, 2015

Old school dining

Gilbert's El Indio has been on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica  for ever - or at least, for the last 35 years. It's one of several westside establishments that proudly proclaim their history serving "old school" Los Angeles style Mexican food. Down the road from Gilbert's there's Lares (since 1968), then further down there's the side-by-side rivals, Don Antonio's (1982) and The Talpa (1964).

"Old school" may mean different things in different places, but in Los Angeles it means the kind of Mexican food that white people were introduced to as they arrived here in the various stages of the city's growth - the real estate boom of the 1920s, the growth of the aerospace industry in the 1950s, and the pop/rock/hippie culture of the 1970s and 80s.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Topanga Days

Today was the Topanga Days Parade, a rag-tag, irreverent bacchanal open to anyone who can wear a funny hat and make a fool of themselves!

We used to go to the parade every year when our son was young, but for the last several Memorial Days, we've slept in. But this may be the last chance at Topanga Days for a while, so we got out of bed and took Jack down to the boulevard to watch.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sixty days

We're in a twelve-day contingency with the buyers of our house - they get twelve days for inspections, etc. Since they knew about our house's biggest flaws before they made their offer, I'm pretty sure nothing we signed to in the disclosure document will scare them off.

But whatever happens with the house, it's a done deal that I am leaving my job in 60 days and going to New Orleans. That's right - July 23 is my last day at work. It seems like a long time, but I know it will go fast.

I'm taking a little breather, then I'll get focused on packing up our stuff again, this time for moving and storage and figuring out what to take to New Orleans.

What a trip!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Letting go

We just accepted an offer on the house. Next step....letting go.

Keeping it mellow

So much is going on that I need a reminder to keep it mellow.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The spice of life

Street market spices, New York City
Later today we're meeting with our realtor. Cross your fingers!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lessons never learned

Why do I torture myself?

As I was plugging a quarter into the meter in front of the Pearl Dragon, a "pan-Asian" restaurant in Pacific Palisades, they came skipping excitedly down the sidewalk. Two little moppets with LED-flashing sneakers. Down the block, their mother was feeding the meter beside a hulking white Range Rover.

They dashed past me and into the foyer of the restaurant, impatiently dancing from foot to foot as they waited for their mom. As I sidled around them, the hostess asked me how many were in my party. "One," I told her firmly and I grabbed a stool at the bar, where the only other customer was a gentleman drinking a Tsingtao and watching the hockey game on TV.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. I'm sitting at the only place in Pacific Palisades with a full bar, at Happy Hour, seeking a dark, quiet place for a cocktail and a snack after work. I know better, but Josie's was closed, and parking was a mess by El Texate.

Pearl Dragon was once a typical American-Chinese restaurant called House of Lee, notable for possessing the only liquor license in this neighborhood whose homespun elitism earned it the nickname "Mayberry by the Sea." Today Pacific Palisades is a charming village populated by a demographic that skews wealthy and white.

I remember the moon-gate entrance of House of Lee on Sunset, but I never went in the place. Sometime after the millennium, it closed and re-opened as Pearl Dragon.

There's something alluring about a dark, quiet bar with a touch of exotica. Fans and pagodas, bamboo and lanterns. Rich red and black lacquer. A hint of intrigue that flickers behind the Chinoiserie screen. A tropical drink with an umbrella garnish. You can pretend you're in a noir film, meeting a mysterious stranger.

Except here. There's a twittering of high-pitched voices, like birds, or perhaps feral parrots. Small figures dart between the candle-lit tables, giggling. Somewhere in the back a toddler shrieks in frustration. At the hostess stand, a woman requests a table for seven, and half a soccer team trails behind her. The waiter takes a tray with four glasses of milk from the bartender.

"Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom." At one table, a boy doggedly vies for attention, until his mother hisses, "What IS it?"

"Hey guys!" calls a dad. "Why don't you guys share a caterpillar roll?"

I browse through the Happy Hour menu. I order a lychee martini made  with vodka, pineapple juice, and lychee cordial, along with half a fancy maki roll. The drink arrives - its golden yellow with a froth on top.

A slight lad in baseball pants with a sideways ball cap dashes past the bar, barely missing a Latino man carrying a plastic rack of clean glasses from the kitchen. He dodges expertly. None of the staff seem bothered in the least.

"How's that drink?" asks the bartender.

It's actually pretty weak and tastes like watered pineapple juice, but I tell him it's great.

"I've been here for seven months and I still don't know what's a lychee cordial," he says.

A family of four enters; Dad in cargo shorts and sockless sneakers, Mom in yoga togs. The kids park a scooter and a bike in the Zen garden at entry, helmets slung over the handlebars. Somewhere behind me, two siblings are sword-fighting with their chopsticks.

Why do I do this to myself?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Party weekend

Monday morning sight in the parking lot. Somebody must have had a fun weekend!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Taste something new

Today I had a late lunch at one of my favorite places, Hide Sushi on Sawtelle Boulevard. I wanted to go beyond the usual, so I had nigiri-zushi of halibut, drizzled with yuzu, and saba, which is mackerel, a very strong-tasting oily fish.

There was something on the menu I was unfamiliar with, so I ordered it next.

Mentaiko is the roe of pollock, but on the menu it was called "spicy cod roe." It was introduced to Japan after World War II from Korea.

The tiny roe, a coral red in color, are marinated in yuzu and chile. Here at Hide Sushi, the itamae, or sushi chef, rolled into maki-zushi, with cucumber and radish sprouts.

"How does it compare to other roes?" I asked the itamae before I ordered it. "Are the eggs large, like salmon roe, or small?"

"Tiny eggs," he said, "It's salty and spicy."

It was quite fishy-salty tasting, with a chile heat I had to cool with a bite of crunchy cucumber sunomono. I love fish roe, for the way the tiny eggs pop in my mouth, but this mentaiko didn't give me that satisfying crunch Icraved; the little eggs were more like a paste.

But I liked it. It's always good to try something new. Next time, I might try the kurage, or jellyfish.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Storm belt

Today's storm was followed by another one tonight, and as we sat in our cozy, clean - and echoing empty - living room, we watched the clouds move over the mountain.

Thunder growled and the wind grew cold as I hauled a hamper of clean laundry up from the basement.  Moments later, as I sat at my desk, a brilliant flash of lighting came, with a simultaneous huge clap of thunder - the storm was right overhead. Then the skies opened up. Including hail!

I guess we should get used to this, if we're going to live in New Orleans!

On the market

House p0rn
We're on the market!  Today our agent held her first open house. Despite our California drought, today it rained, right during showing hours! Still, she said there were at least 45 visitors. We're having two more open houses this weekend.

Our agent is quite firm at how she wants the house to look, and I feel chastened if I mess things up, even for our own lives. Truth be told, it's not really our house anymore, it's hers!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Meet the new boss

A workplace fable. Any resemblance to real individuals is unintended and purely coincidental.

Photo from
In the mornings while I go through the messages in my in-box, I can hear him. He's leaning on the door jamb to Sam's office, or maybe Wesley's, or maybe he's sitting in the chair in front of Sara's desk, or leaning over the top of Brian's cubicle wall.

His voice is going on and on. "I'm all about mutual trust," he says. "If we trust one another, we can work together toward our goal. The principles I believe in are..."

After a while I stop listening to the words, but I still hear the voice, yammering away.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Where'd the mountain go?

June gloom has arrived early this year. The mountain is completely hidden.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Keeping the lights on

Photo from LACMA
Artist Chris Burden passed away Sunday, at his home in Topanga Canyon.

He was a noted, often controversial artist, a pioneer in the "performance art" genre. His most notorious piece was "Shoot,"  a work where he arranged to have himself shot in the arm. He also received attention for locking himself in a school locker for five days, and for impaling himself on a Volkswagen Beetle.

But that kind of shock stuff wasn't all he did. Chris Burden was fascinated with machinery and technology, and he created moving, functional sculptures that buzzed with kinetic energy, and that awed viewers with the outsized, gigantic scale of his vision.

One of Los Angeles's best loved work of public art is Burden's "Urban Light" at the LA County Museum of Art. In this piece, 202 cast iron street lights, beautifully restored, are assembled in rows that entice visitors to explore.

I was lucky enough to have met Chris Burden and his wife, artist Nancy Rubens. In 2005, we were invited to dinner at their home up on the Mesa, where Chris's studio and workshop were located. During that visit, he showed us the collection of antique street lights, and when he turned them on, up there under the evening sky, it was magical.

Also during that visit, he showed us the prototype of what would become another well-loved piece, "Metropolis II."  We were shown one of Nancy's works in progress, a sculpture made of wrecked airplane parts exquisitely balanced in a gravity-defying formation. I also discovered Afghan War Rugs, which Nancy collected, where images of war, weapons and destruction are woven into what first seem to be traditional textiles.

Chris Burden's most recent work, a flying dirigible titled "An Ode to Santos Dumont," will be unveiled at LACMA on May 18.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

What an accomplishment!

Photo by Christopher Waterman
Here's our basement Before.

Photo by Christopher Waterman
Another view.

Here's After.

Couldn't tell there was a pool table under there, could you?

We're not done yet, but we sure have come a long way.

The metal figure in the foreground is a Muffler Man sculpture.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Daily Candy

Sigh. I'm getting old. With age come more medications, more maintenance.

I hate taking pills. It wasn't until adulthood that I had to think about taking pills, and that was just The Pill - oral contraceptives. And even that, I hated having to depend on them, and I hated having to remember to take them.

As my aging body changed, I resisted my doctor's attempts to put me on cholesterol and blood pressure medication, promising to lose weight and eat healthier to avoid taking more pills. But after a couple years of trying, I gave in. I now take three pills a day - and hope to keep it that low.

My aversion to pill-taking had also fostered another bad habit - I have never been good about taking vitamins and supplements that would also keep me healthy.

My recent knee problems gave me a wake-up call about Calcium, and how important it is for women as we grow old. But the pills I got at the pharmacy made me gag when I tried to swallow them.

But now I've found my solution - Gummy nutrition supplements!

There are calcium supplements like little sugary yogurt treats! And vitamins that look like Jujubes! My CO-Q-10 supplement look like Dots, and squish just as deliciously between my teeth! You can even get a fish oil gummy - it sounds yukky, but it tastes like fruit candy. You can get gummy fiber supplements, too, although the week I took them, my stomach growled like a beast, so I stopped.

When did these things go on the market? Why didn't I know about them sooner? For a sweet-tooth like me, it's my Daily Candy!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Those were the days

When you clean out your house, you discover many buried memories. This is me at Kalaloch Beach in Washington State, in 1987.

With [The Man I Love]

And my first dog, Trouper, who we could not keep out of the water, even in January!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A time of change

Well, I'm feeling a little foolish to be writing about this now. Some of you have commented; other discussions have gone on  Facebook. I didn't mean to be secretive, it just never seemed to be the right time for An Announcement.

You know that I'm in for a big change - I've submitted my retirement and notice at work, and I'm going to New Orleans to become a graduate student in Creative Writing.

But there's more change for us. Yesterday [The Man I Love]'s colleagues and co-workers honored him in a celebration of the thirteen years of service he has spent serving in an administrative role at the university. At the end of June, he steps down from that position and returns to the faculty again as a professor. It's been a good, long run with many great accomplishments. But it's great for him to get back to the work he loves.

But before he returns to the classroom, he is on a year's sabbatical. So for that year, we've decided that both of us will go to New Orleans - along with Jack the dog. [The Man I Love] will return to Los Angeles the following year to resume teaching, while I stay in New Orleans finishing my degree. We'll see what happens next.

The other decision we've made is bittersweet. We are selling our house in Topanga. We love our house; we've lived there almost twenty years. But it is too much for two people. When we return to Los Angeles, we'll live differently; a more urban life, perhaps, more downsized. We want to be more nimble, less burdened, with shorter commutes and fewer things to maintain.

It will be hard to leave this wonderful community, and the glorious natural world outside our windows. When we're back in LA, we'll be close enough to return, of course, and hike our favorite trails. I'm not sure how it will feel to be an outsider, though.

It feels good to go through the vast amount of material objects we've accumulated over the years and jettison them.

Do you ever wonder why people tend to say they're "buying a home" but "selling our house?"

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sleek black beauty*

Seen in a nearby Topanga parking lot - what is it? Is it a Chevy? I love the Hula-girl on the front dashboard! and the surfboard on the roof!

* if you listen to Car Talk on NPR you will remember that this was what Tom Magliozzi called his 1965 AMC Ambassador.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Topanga light

Our living room, near sunset on a Sunday afternoon. The light is so beautiful!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Done deal

I submitted my retirement application online today. My last date at work will be July 23. There is a form we have to print off and sign before a notary, then send in electronically or by mail, but other than that - it's a done deal.

Friday, May 1, 2015

That didn't take long!

It took us about three hours to fill the dumpster!

Now we have a clean carport and a clean pretty deck.  Our gardener came today, and trimmed the dead branches off the apricot tree, and he took down a broken swing hanging on the pergola (it went into the dumpster too!).

The basement is still too ugly for pictures. But we got a lot of stuff sorted out. Maybe tomorrow it will be more photogenic.

Here's what's awaiting the next dumpster! Tomorrow we hit it again.

My feet and legs are killing me, my hands are rough and my back is sore, but I feel pretty good!