Sunday, April 29, 2012

Los Angeles to Sacramento and back to Santa Rosa

This is what happens when I don’t write a blog right away – I fall behind and then put it off until I have several months' worth of backlog to update (I still haven’t finished September-December, for instance). So despite the many other distractions and everything that has happened since I got BACK from my road trip, I’m forcing myself to write about my last days in California. There’s a lot to tell.

I left Los Angeles (on Tuesday, April 3) without any complications and was soon crossing what I think are the foothills of the San Gabriel mountain range. Nothing about the drive was noteworthy, except for a beautiful orange flower that covered several of the hillsides like a vibrant patchwork:

Since I arrived in LA via the 101 and not I-5, the many roadside signs about water were new to me. There seems to be quite a to-do about water politics, especially among farmers, and to me it’s a sign of the times to come – water scarcity will be a national crisis soon enough, especially for drought-prone areas like the southwest.

Enough of the serious stuff - back to my awesome road trip!

I rolled into Sacramento at 7 pm. My former co-worker Victoria immediately whisked me away to Bombay Bar and Grill, an Indian restaurant two blocks from her house in Midtown. Her neighbor Judith came with us, a cool Swiss woman who runs a lovely bed and breakfast called Amber House with her husband. I was really hungry and they were regulars so I entrusted myself to their good ordering, and they didn’t disappoint. Several tasty curries and naans later, Victoria and I rolled ourselves into bed at the ripe old hour of 9:00. She is moving to San Diego but very nicely put me up on the world’s largest air mattress (it even had an inflatable head board). Despite having to unpack bedding for me – plus the inconvenience of having a guest when your house is in boxes – she was a very gracious host.

The next morning I walked to Old Soul, a famous coffee roaster in Sacramento, and took my perfect latte with me on my walk to the state capitol building. It’s surrounded by manicured landscapes, including an extensive rose garden and some modern art installations. I tagged along with a 9 am tour and learned quite a bit about the building, all of which I promptly forgot once I left. Still, I’m glad I went – I love it when history, culture, and government collide in one tour! I did take pictures but none of them are really worth posting; if you want to check out the capitol I'm sure Google has far better images than mine.

From there I cruised back to Victoria’s, making a stop for lunch at Gogi’s Korean tacos. I had two short rib tacos and a fancy iced tea, and enjoyed my meal at one of the tables lining the sidewalk. Did I mention it was a beautiful day? I really got lucky with the weather.

I had arranged to visit a farm in the Central Valley that day so I hightailed it out of Sacramento for Pleasant Grove, about 45 minutes north of Sacramento. This was really two farms in one – the land surrounding the brick Victorian house is cultivated by an older gentleman, and his son and another dude live in the house with him and rent land down the street to grow their own organic vegetables. They’re actually doing quite well after only one year and had just supplied the produce for a big to-do with the mayor. I loved the farm and all three of them, and I’ll consider going back in the springtime, but it’s too damn hot there in the summer.

After a few hours of checking out the digs and visiting with the men and the animals I hit the road again, this time headed back to Santa Rosa and Meagan’s hospitality. The fastest way was to go all the way back to Sacramento, but I’d already done that drive once before. So, I took the most direct (though much windier) way, the 129 which bisects Napa county. It was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever done. Trees that look like drawings from Dr. Seuss books cover the area, the massive Lake Berryessa is a vision for part of the drive, and everywhere you look there are grape vines clinging to the hills. I got carsick on those insanely windy roads, and was worried more than once that someone barreling toward me would run me off the narrow road, but I’m so glad I chose to take the scenic route – another opportunity to get to know what might be my new home.

I love this car shot because you can see the road in the rear view mirror.
I actually stopped and got out of the car for this shot -
I can't wait to see these vines covered in grapes!
I got to Meagan’s at dinnertime and we immediately walked to downtown Santa Rosa for a casual meal before heading back to her house and going to bed early (a theme for me, apparently). I was so happy to be back in her enclave, snuggled up in the guest room watching 30 Rock on my laptop.

The next day I headed south, past Petaluma into no man’s land Marin county. This farm was so off the beaten path I was shocked the roads were paved. Definitely no cell phone reception! I was particularly excited about visiting this place because it would involve a combination of field and office work, so I could get my fill of manual labor and also use some of my professional skills. Unfortunately it was a non-starter. The existing office manager was paranoid and grumpy, thinking I’d been sent to replace her, and called the owner (who was off-site at another farm) in front of me, saying “If you’re going to hire someone else to do my job I need to know so I can start looking for work.” Awkward. Then the farm manager – a dude in his late 20s who could barely focus his eyes – showed up an hour late, gave me an extremely lackluster tour of the leaking, stinky yurt and portapotty I would call my own, and then said “I don’t think we need any help.” Don’t have to tell me twice! When I emailed the owner to tell him thanks but no thanks, his response was, not surprisingly, curt.

I left via Petaluma and had a nice lunch at a taqueria downtown. Petaluma is a very sweet town and a well-established farming community. I could easily see myself ending up there.

From lunch I went to another massage by the talented Syy, who I had seen two weeks before. It was so relaxing I took a nap afterward, and then Meagan came home, woke me up, and took me to dinner at her parents’ house. I hadn’t seen either of them in 10 years or more and we had a lovely time, not to mention a great dinner – barbecued steak, roasted beets, Brussels sprouts, and a green salad. A dinner with three vegetables? Right up my farm-foody alley.

I’m going to cut this story off here. If anyone’s keeping track, I’ve visited 6 farms, none of which were what I was looking for. Will the last two farms bear fruit? Stay tuned to find out!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Los Angeles: better than I thought possible

I've been in LA for 10 days and the time really did fly. As always, here is an overly detailed account of my time in the City of Angels.

Friday, March 23 - Coast to Theater

My drive from Cambria to Los Angeles was more or less uneventful. It started as a beautiful sunny day but clouded over as soon as I hit Santa Barbara. I did visit the Vedanta Temple Gardens, about 15 minutes off the freeway in a posh neighborhood, but unfortunately I chose the day before a huge seminar and everyone was running around like crazy getting ready for it. I figured nuns dedicated to a calm and peaceful life wouldn't get stressed about such earthly matters. Although the view was lovely, I didn't get a strong sense that this was anywhere I wanted to volunteer - they don't even grow food, just ornamentals. So, that was basically a 45 minute waste of time except for getting to visit a very random estate in a rich neighborhood in Santa Barbara.

Almost as soon as I saw the "Welcome to Los Angeles" sign around 2:30 pm I hit traffic, but it wasn't too bad and I rolled into Annie's adorable cottage-style apartment (one of a fairy tale series of cottages built by Charlie Chaplin and known to residents as "the Shire," a magical place I'm always happy to visit) in West Hollywood at 3:30. Annie had to hurry off for her opening night while her mom Kathleen and I got ready, did a last minute chore for the play at Kinko's, and had a lovely dinner at Pip's around the corner from Theater/Theatre on Pico and La Brea where 1969 The Play is being staged. I have to admit it was better than I expected and I spent a lot of time pondering the meaning and symbolism in it.

Saturday - Silver Lake and Culver City

Friday was a late night and we all slept in on Saturday. Kathleen made a leisurely breakfast and I snapped this photo that so captures them both:

After breakfast we headed to the farmer's market and shops in Silver Lake. What a fun neighborhood. Annie pressured me into buying two adorable dresses and I'm glad she did - they'll both be appropriate farm wear.

That night Annie had another performance, so Kathleen and I went to Culver City where she grew up. We started at the Museum of Jurassic Technology which has nothing to do with dinosaurs but was so interesting we were both disappointed we only had a half hour before it closed. On the top floor there is an ornate tea room with free tea and cookies, plus a beautiful outdoor patio, but we were too late for the tea and didn't have time to sit and enjoy the outdoor space.

I especially liked these old microscopic images made from scales of butterfly wings. It was hard to get a photo through the microscrope but this one turned out OK:

After that we walked to a nearby Argentinean restaurant and bakery called the Grand Casino, where we had authentic "facturas" or baked goods. It was exactly like being in Argentina, from the food to the patrons, and although I don't miss my life there it did make me a little nostalgic. I couldn't decide between sweet or savory so I got a beef empanada and two dulce de leche cookies (which look WAY BIGGER in this photo than they actually were - they were bite size):

From there we walked to the house where she grew up before ending at the Kirk Douglas Theatre where we saw an inspired play called American Night: the Ballad of Juan Jose. It's about a Mexican immigrant studying for his citizenship test, and it had Kimberly Scott from The Abyss which I was stoked about because I love that movie and her in it. The playwright mixed U.S. and Mexican history with current events and contemporary slang with astounding success. Two historical fiction plays in two nights, both of them great - these are some of the reasons to come to LA.

When we got back to Annie's house after the play, her friend/neighbor Will came over and the three of us played rummy, got a little tight, and laughed so hard we snorted (well, I did at least).

Sunday - Culture in the Rain

The next day Annie had a matinee so it was the Elizabeth and Kathleen show again, this time going to the Fairfax Farmer's Market to have breakfast in a deluge:

From there we went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). There is a Surrealist show there consisting of female artists from North America which blew me away, largely because it had
Las Dos Fridas, one of my favorite Frida Khalo paintings. When I rounded a corner and saw it hanging I gasped, stood in front of it for a long time, moved on, and came back to stand in front of it again. Although it was crowded the rain kept a lot of people away; on a sunny Sunday I never would have had so much alone time with her. I wish I had taken a better photo but here is what I snapped. Seeing it in person let me absorb the poignant details that are always lost in a textbook image of any work of art.

The LACMA is home to a huge collection ranging from ancient to contemporary and it's impossible to see it all in one day. We made a pretty good dent, though. I was excited to see Magritte's The Treachery of Images, a painting which took on a lot more meaning for me (as did art in general) after I produced the Art Appreciation course for Apex. Up close, it was flawless. It almost shimmered in the light.

I was also able appreciate a few Rothko paintings after having seen Red in Seattle this February, but I can't say I took a giant leap toward actually liking modern art (give me a Renaissance painting any day).

We were supposed to go to the La Brea tar pits too but the rain made that unsavory, so I guess I'll have to see those on my next visit. Here we are, having braved the rain for a day of culture:

Annie's uncle Chip had driven up from San Diego for her play and the four of us went to one of her favorite restaurants, Pace (pronounced paw-chay, "peace" in Italian). The food was excellent and toward the end of the meal, the actor who played Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter was seated next to us. Oh, Los Angeles.

Monday - Recovery

Monday morning I headed to my Gramma's house in Glendale. After a long weekend of late nights and high-energy women I was ready for a little downtime, so I did laundry, repacked my bags, and spent an hour washing and detailing my filthy car. Gramma had made a delicious beef vegetable soup which we had for dinner, then watched TV before going to bed early. I think I slept for 11 hours.

Tuesday - Girl Power

On Tuesday, Gramma and I worked on a book I'm creating using her life story and accompanying photos. It's a bigger project than I expected it would be (shocker), but I'm really excited to make progress and see how it takes shape.

Tuesday night it was back to the land of Annie for her quarterly women's dinner. When I showed up at 5:45 for the 7:00 dinner - at which she was expecting 40+ women - the tables hadn't been set up, her mom had just started cooking, and Annie was focusing her attention on hanging a series of fragile glass balls on a single fishing line across the entire room. To my dismay and her infinite credit she got it done and the tables were almost completely set by the time people started arriving. The hanging glass ornaments had either candles or flowers in them, and they really were beautiful:

Soon we were 42 strong:

Kathleen prepared fantastic dishes with orzo, chicken, and vegetables, and then we went around the table (all 42 of us) and spoke a little about something relevant to our lives at the moment. It was a very emotional and inspired two hours of sharing and when it came to be my turn toward the end, people were still completely engaged - when I said I'd just left my corporate job to become a farmer a huge cheer went up around the table. Later, three separate people asked if I did stand-up comedy. This town is like that; I don't even think of myself as funny and here I have people telling me I have an "Ellen style humor" and recommending places for open mic nights. Again... only in LA.

After everyone spoke, LadyVox sang from the balconies. This is a women's choir that Annie formed; she's nothing if not ambitious! (There's another balcony of women in the left-hand corner of this photo.)

One of the women at the dinner happened to be an actor from Wet Hot American Summer, Margeurite Moreau. This is a movie my sister and I watched until the DVD wore out. So, I geeked out and got a picture with her, and she was very gracious about it. She also makes incredible peanut butter chocolate balls.

Wednesday - Party recovery

The women's dinner went late and I might have been drinking, so Raychel (another of Annie's friends/neighbors) drove me back to the Shire and I crashed at her place. The next morning I made an elaborate breakfast and her roommates Will and Jimmy asked if I could be their den mother. Tempting... but no. Los Angeles is like a drug to me, good in small doses. Later, Raychel and I went to help Annie clean up the house in Silver Lake (which so kindly let her host her event there). Here we are, post-cleaning:

From there I decided it was high time I got a haircut. I found a salon two blocks away via Yelp called Fandango, and got the hottest cut courtesy of Sheila. By the time she finished with me I looked like a movie star:

That afternoon I headed back to Gramma's and we had a chill evening (plus chicken piccata, yum).

Thursday - Archer Day

Thursday was a day to see as much of my family as I could. We went to the family business offices, saw my Uncle Ron, and went to lunch with Aunt Jill, who caught me up on her three kids - there are 14 grandkids so I have 10 cousins, all of whom grew up in LA. From there Gramma and I went to Descanso Gardens for a tram tour of the grounds, something we tried to do last year but the tours were sold out. The estate is known for its camelias and they were in full bloom, as were the cherry blossoms and lilacs.

Part of the tram ride was a tour of the Boddy house, where I snapped a photo of this transparent door:

Here Gramma and I are in front of a cherry tree:

That night for dinner we went to my Uncle Steve and Aunt Jeanne's new condo high in the hills, which has an incredible view. Their daughter/my cousin Julie came with her two kids and we all had a really lovely evening catching up. I missed seeing their other three kids but I take what I can get when I visit - everyone is busy and not everyone still lives in LA.

Friday - Last day with Gramma

For our last day together we headed to Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale to see the famous Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection. The size of The Crucifixion is unbelievable - 195 feet long! It has an unlikely history of survival, having been seized by customs in 1904 and then lost and forgotten in the basement of the Chicago Civic Opera Company before being discovered by Hubert Eaton, Forest Lawn's creator, in 1944. If you're ever in Glendale I highly recommend this free exhibit.

That afternoon I packed up my bags and headed into the heart of downtown LA after one last home-cooked Gramma meal. It's always a pleasure getting to spend time with such an independent and interesting woman, and I hope there are many more visits in our future.

My next stop was a weekly Friday party Jamie Grace throws through her work, and then we hit up Santa Monica where my cousin Lauren and her husband Nick live. They have a couch that you really sink into, and we spent a few nice hours together before they got the word that her sister/my cousin Lana was in labor! More on that later. Here I am sporting some pigtails, with Nick and dog Miso in the background:

Jamie Grace and Lauren conversing on the couch:

From there JG and I hit up Swingers, a fun eatery in Santa Monica, before crashing at her studio downtown. We spent the night scheming up a possible road trip/art project that, if the stars align, would be an incredible opportunity for the both of us.

Saturday - cramming it all in

The next morning we woke up early to head down to San Pedro, most famous for housing the Port of Los Angeles. JG had an appointment there so I entertained myself with a short walking tour followed by a huge breakfast at George's. From there we went to a serious vintage shop where JG cleaned up with a beautiful sailor's jacket and a stunning blue suede backless dress. I'm kicking myself for not getting a photo of it.

We drove up the coast to the Wayfarers Chapel, built by Frank Lloyd Wright's son Lloyd Wright. It's built almost entirely from glass and is intentionally designed to mimic and incorporate into nature. It was stunning - solidly built but whimsical on its ocean perch with ferns and trees growing in and around it. It's no wonder this is a popular wedding choice.

JG in her sailor's jacket:

Palos Verdes was just up the road and we decided to swing by to see a Hunger Games matinee since we felt like the last two people in the country who hadn't been yet. Luckily JG had read the books since I had a lot of questions. Raychel is in it for a split second which was fun to see. At the end I was pissed that so much was left unresolved - no one told me this was a trilogy! All in all a well-made movie but I was left wanting more character development.

Next up was an 80-year-old's birthday party in Manhattan Beach. JG has collected a lot of wonderful people in her life and many of them were at that party. I hope when I'm 80 I have that many friends; the huge house was jam-packed with bodies young and old.

It was time to make our way back to LA to see Annie's play, and as we were driving through Koreatown we made a random stop at a salon to get blow outs. Mine wasn't as good as the one I had at Fandango, though my stylist did boost my ego by exclaiming over and over what a desirable natural hair color I had and later asking Jamie Grace if I was famous (or something - a lot was lost in translation). JG looked like a rockstar, especially once she put on her new blue dress.

We made it to the play with a minute to spare, and it was fun to see it a second time. There was an after party at the director's house that we crashed, and it didn't escape notice that this cast was somehow comprised of nothing but good-natured, interesting, caring people - not a bad apple in the bunch, somewhat of a rarity in the acting community or so I'm told. From there it was back to the Shire where we all slept the sleep of the dead.

Sunday - Malibu Elizabeth

The next morning Annie, JG and I had breakfast at a fun spot called A Novel Cafe near JG's place downtown. We had a pretty intense conversation that was quite therapeutic for me - I'm so grateful to have both of them in my life.

Annie and I headed back to the Shire and then she went to her matinee while I kicked it with Will, Raychel and Jimmy as they prepared for a party they were throwing that afternoon. It was nice to spend a little more time there and get a chance to say goodbye to each of them before heading west to my Uncle Ron (I have two Uncle Rons) and Aunt Sandy's house in Malibu. Forty-five minutes on Sunset Boulevard later and I was gaping at the Pacific ocean lapping at their doorstep.

Lauren and Nick plus her big sister Larissa, her husband Justin, and their daughter Jaeyln came over for dinner and it was a raucous affair filled with dogs and champagne. That night Aunt Sandy and Uncle Ron and I had some deep conversation over a bottle of wine. After my various sleeping arrangements at the Shire, the big guest bed with a private bath was pure luxury.

Monday - Relaxing Malibu style

The next morning Aunt Sandy went to help Lana, Karl, and baby Beckett get settled at home. I spent the morning scheduling my week ahead (four more farms!) before getting dressed and embracing the 75 degree day. I made the short drive down the PCH to the Getty Villa, an incredible estate modeled after an ancient Roman villa that was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius. Although the museum houses some interesting pieces from antiquity, many styles of which I recognized thanks, again, to my Art Appreciation course, I was far more taken with the grounds - elaborate landscapes with beautiful fountains and tiled surfaces. Here's a view from the second story balcony with the ocean in the distance:

From the other end of the fountain, toward the house:

I headed back for lunch and a beach walk with Clarabelle, the loving chocolate lab, at low tide. Unfortunately another dog wasn't willing to share the beach and scared Clara so badly that she refused to go back out. So, we took a nap instead.

That night I went to Lana and Karl's for dinner and to meet the newest member of our clan - a hearty kid for being only three days old. Both parents were doing amazingly well and I felt so lucky to get a chance to meet Beckett and see Lana and Karl before I left town. Aunt Sandy made a delicious dinner and Uncle Ron came after work so we all had a nice visit. Lana is destined to be an inspiring mother - she had a natural childbirth and is committed to providing the most healthy and nurturing environment for all of them.

So alert!

Tuesday - Write a blog, drive away

I've been laboring over this beast of a blog entry all morning, and now it's time to drive to Sacramento for an overnight with a former coworker before heading back to Santa Rosa. I have four more farms to visit, and I should get back to Seattle the day before I fly to Philadelphia for my annual visit. What can I say? Life is great and I'm enjoying this incredible window of opportunity to travel, be with friends and family, and dream big.

General thoughts as I leave Los Angeles

I'm grateful for this time in LA. It helped me get through the stereotypes and see the best of what the city has to offer. Having a car was baller because I could go anywhere I liked, and it also helped me overcome the traffic stigma - even at 5 pm on a Friday there were hardly any slow downs (depending on where you're going of course), and driving in LA is actually really easy. Also, there are trees everywhere down here! People have been warm and welcoming, not all the cars are fancy, and the sky is not filled with smog. Finally, things are not exorbitantly expensive. My haircut was $45, my vintage dresses were under $40 each, and I had a fantastic breakfast one morning for $6.50. So take that, LA haters. This city is whatever you want it to be, and it's mostly a pleasure.

Thank you to everyone who let me stay, I enjoyed my time with you all!