The launch of Insight Mars lander seen from Pasadena

Insight Mars lander launchI watched the live stream on the NASA website until the actual launch at 4:05 a.m. and then rushed out to my balcony armed with my old camera and looked West. The Pacific ocean is about 65 miles west of Pasadena and the flight path was supposed to be along the coast. Less than a minute later a red dot rose up in the distance.  And less than thirty seconds after that it disappeared from my sight behind a towering eucalyptus tree on its way to Mars.


Searching for Santa at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica

Sleigh and Moslem girls
In the center of Santa Monica Place three teenage girls wearing hajibs huddled over their cell phone next to the Santa Sleigh. This mix of people, religions, and holidays is so typical of Los Angeles these days.

After an hour and a half ride across L.A. on the Metro I disembarked at the end of the Expo Line in Santa Monica, fully expecting the Third Street Promenade to be decked out with holiday decorations.  It was — although they were non-traditional. Santa Monica Place, the shopping mall at the end of the Promenade, clung to the red/green color scheme commonly used for Christmas decorations.

So I set out, up the Promenade to see if a good old-fashioned Santa made an appearance anywhere along the way.   Here are some of the things I saw.

Christmas tree Third Street Promenade
At the far entrance to the Promenade was their holiday tree and maybe a “Santa” or maybe it is the head of an elf. I couldn’t tell, but whatever this head represented it interested the young boy.
Holiday decorations 3rd street promenade
Christmas ornaments in cartoony day-glo colors deck a kiosk and clothing shop in the middle of the Promenade.
STreet performers 3rd St Promenade
The temperature set an all-time record on Thanksgiving and two days later it was still “shorts weather’ in Southern California. While the weather was clear when I arrived shortly before noon, a couple of hours later the fog began to roll in from the beach, three blocks away.  The blue sky was gone.
Kiosk selling angel wings for adults
Kiosks along Third Street sold the usual hats, smart phone cases, and clothes. But the women at this kiosk were selling “angel wings” in sizes for adults!


Chad at Johnny Rockets
I stopped for a snack at Johnny Rockets and ordered a root beer float from Chad, a newcomer to Los Angeles. Floats were not on the menu but they made it for me anyway.
Street Evangelist
A street evangelist preaching to the empty air as shoppers and strollers avoided him.  To the right is a topiary dinosaur, one of several topiaries along the Promenade.
Along the Promenade were these cartoony panels which were the non-traditional decoration for the holidays. These tourists seem to like it.
Street performers 3rd St Promenade
The Third Street Promenade has a long, long history of allowing street performers to play to wandering shoppers. These two guitar players really turned it up! They call them selves 6 Cuerdas, which means 6 Ropes. The most famous Third Street Promenade performer is Roger Ridley of “Stand By Me” fame.
Santa at the Cabo Cantina (
Finally! An inflated Santa, elves and Christmas tree decorate the facade of the Cabo Cantina about half-way along the Mall. It’s very kitchy, but so often holiday decorations are just that.  And they can use these year after year.  Time to hop back on the Metro and go home.


Kayaking, sailing, paddleboarding…oh, it’s too hot for all that!

private boats and sailboats Naples island
Power boats and sailboats tied up outside the luuxious homes on Naples Island in Long Beach CA

When the weather forecast indicated that it was going to be over 100F this weekend, I escaped to Long Beach where it was supposed to only reach a high of 86F.

children dashing into ocean
Two little boys make a dash for the ocean as the temperature rose to over 100F.

My goal was to take some pictures of all the water sports and activities on Alamitos Bay where the water is usually flat–no waves to speak of. Well, either the weatherman lied or lost his skill at forecasting. In a sudden spike, the temperature in soared to over 100F by 11 a.m. so I took my camera and left.  Happily I’d already taken a lot of shots of all the water-related activities around Naples Island, a man-made island in the middle of the Alamitos Bay.

dragon boat swimmers kayak
A dragon boat–without its removable dragon head– racing team was practicing on Alamitos Bay while three swimmers stroked in the opposite direction. In the distance, a kayaker paddled along.
sailing classes at Leeway sailing center
If kayaking and paddleboards aren’t for you, take sailing classes on Alamitos Bay . Classes are offered by the city of Long Beach at the Leeway Sailing Center on Ocean Blvd.
learning how to paddleboard
If you rent a paddleboard you get instructions on how to manuver it in the water of Alamitos Bay.
kayaks ready to go on alamitos bay
Kayaks ready for rental at the corner of Ocean Blvd. and BayShore drive in Long Beach.
The Port of Long Beach hired a group of professional sand sculptors to create the Pt. Fermin lighthouse, a mermaid riding a whale, and other sea creatures. It had taken them 2 days to get this far and they weren't done yet.
The Port of Long Beach hired a group of professional sand sculptors to re-create the Pt. Fermin lighthouse, a mermaid riding a whale, and other sea creatures in sand for the Long Beach Sand Sculpture Festival. It had taken them 2 days to get this far and they weren’t done yet.  This is an amateur event. A professional sand sculpture festival is held in San Diego every year.
building a sandcastle Long Beach
A group of young women starting their sandcastle for the amateur sand-castle building event on the beach at Belmont Shore..

Cycling to the beach, painting a bus, playing an ecello at CicLAvia Culver City

Bicyclists at CiLAvia Culver City
Call this the establishing shot. At the end of the street is the beach. This CicLAvia event in Culver City and Venice seemed far less crowded than the one in Pasadena in June.

I am in the process of writing a novel set primarily in Toluca Lake, a neighborhood here in Los Angeles, and along the Los Angeles River. I’m working on it five days a week, but I want to keep up this blog, too, so it will be mostly photos today.

I didn’t ride in this CicLAvia, but took the Expo Metro Line out to Culver City, one of the hubs for the event. The next CicLAvia will be in downtown L.A. again on October 18th.

On the Metro to CiLAvia
Riding the Metro to CicLAvia Culver City.

(My novel, untitled as yet, will be published this Fall.)

So here is what I saw at CicLAvia Culver City-to-Venice last Sunday, August 9th.

Cirque de Soleil photo booth
Cirque du Soleil’s newest show had a stand at CicLAvia where people could be photographed on a big wheeled old bike.
Marston Smith and his ecello
It wasn’t all cycling–there was music, too. E-cellist Marston Smith was playing on the street.  Outside the nearby Honda dealership a DJ was spinning music-to-cycle-by.
Painting the CiLAvia bus
Roberto del Hoyo, owner of Mobile Mural Lab, stands in front of a bus that bicylists and friends were encouraged to paint. Mobile Mural Lab supplies the bus and paint for promotion at special events. Lots of messages about fit living were on the bus.
Bike Friday hauler bike
This man told me his bike, built by Bike Friday up in Oregon, was great for hauling groceries, etc. He and his wife plan a cycling trip in Germany using collapsible bikes they can carry in their suitcases.
Bicycling with bubble machine
Oh whimsey! This couple had a bubble machine on the back of one bicycle. Look carefully and you’ll see a cascade of bubbles by his pants. All those white dots are other bubbles.
Bicyclist with GoPro camera
Quite a number of bicyclists were wearing GoPro cameras like this young man. No doubt the video will be one he treasures but cycling in Culver City isn’t quite like those wild young men in flying suits jumping from cliffs.
Children playing in water feature Culver City
Not everyone was bicycling. These children were having great fun playing in the water feature outside the historic Culver Hotel. Some of these watery play areas around the city have been shut off because of the drought. I was happy to see this one still operating. Kids love it!

Who built the Santa Barbara Mission Church? Why the Chumash natives, of course. (Not the Franciscan friars.)

Santa Barbara Mission Church
The Santa Barbara Mission Church and its famous rose garden.

I fell into a very surprising conversation with a young-ish woman in the bookstore of the Santa Barbara Mission, as I was photographing some of the Mission’s historical photographs.  She said she thought that the native peoples ‘volunteered’ to work for the Franciscan friars at the various Missions around California.

Franciscan brothers at Santa Barbara Mission
A 20th century photo of the friars at the Santa Barbara Mission.

She was absolutely shocked when I told her that the Chumash people had been enslaved and forced to build the Mission.  And build the water system from the hills to the Mission.  And tend the orchards and herds.  All of it involuntary — under the watchful eyes and guns of the Mexican militia.  (At the time the Missions were built, California belonged to Spain, then Mexico.)

last Chumash residents of Santa Barbara Mission
The last two Chumash residents of the Mission. The Chumash reservation is north of Santa Barbara.

Prior to the advent of the Europeans via Mexico the Chumash people had numbered in the tens of thousands and had occupied about 7000 square miles of land extending from Paso Robles to Malibu.  It was a very good life for them: good climate. Plenty of food.  Not a lot of enemies.  Today the Chumash Santa Inez tribe survivors own a 127 acre reservation with a casino on it north of Santa Barbara.  249 people live on the reservation; others live nearby.  The Chumash were not the only people to suffer this enslavement.  I have written elsewhere about the San Gabriel Mission Church, museum and gardens built by the Tongva people.

The Friars were not the only ones who treated the natives badly.  In the book ‘Two Years Before the Mast‘, Bostonian Richard Henry Dana describes the Californios–as the Mexican landowners in California were called at that point–as only interested in riding horses, wearing beautiful clothes and going to parties.  All the work on their massive cattle ranches was done by native peoples.  The cattle were grown for their hides, which were sent back to New England on ships like the one Dana worked on.  The hides were made into shoes.

I hadn’t intended to write about all this.  My plan, after vewing the orchid show, had been to photograph some of the restoration work going on at Santa Barbara’s historic sites.  The residence of the Guerra family, major Californio landowners in the area, has been privately restored and is now a commercial space.   The old Presidio, the headquarters for the militia and other government offices, is also being restored.  As beautiful as these building are, it is a good idea to keep in mind the conditions of the workers who actually created them–not just the people who owned them.

Santa Barbara State Street early 1900s
Prior to the 1924 eearthquake which destroyed much of downtown Santa Barbara, the city looked like this. Then the city council decided that all rebuilt commercial buildings  had to be in the Spanish Revival architectural style.
Guerra home restoration
The inner courtyard at the restored Guerra home in Santa Barbara. It is now a commerical space called ‘El Paseo’.
Restoriation at Santa Barbara Presidio
Handmade adobe bricks are being used in the ongoing restoration of the Presidio buildings. The Historic Society calls this home now.

A thread of weirdness runs through flower shows including the Orchid Show in Santa Barbara

Cymbidium Cabaret 'Cream Puff' orchid
This Cymbidium Cabaret ‘Cream Puff’ was one of my favorites at the  2015 Santa Barbara Orchid Show.

Over the years I’ve been to flower shows occasionally and have always found them to be like Victorian Curiousity Cabinets–full of both amazing beauty and strangeness.  The Santa Barbara International Orchid Show last weekend definitely fit that description.

One of the first oddities: ‘Why is it called ‘International’ when it appeared that all the exhibitors were from southern California?  The only international aspect I noted were the 5 tour bus loads of people (mostly overweight ladies speaking some sort of eastern European language) who arrived at the same time I did.  I had hoped to see what growers were doing in places like Hawaii or South America or London, but none were there.  (If you are interested in what the Europeans are doing with orchids, go here.  The Royal Holticultural Society’s (RHS) Orchid Show is on April 9 – 12th in London.)

Next, I always wonder why grower/breeders seem to aim to create flowers that distort the natural beauty of the plants in endless search for novelty.  This love of the unnatural took several forms.

At first glance I thought these were foxgloves. They actually are Dendrobium Nobile 'Violet Fizz'.
At first glance I thought these were foxgloves. They actually are Dendrobium Nobile ‘Violet Fizz’.

There were orchids that appeared at first glance to be daffodils; others that looked vaguely like foxgloves and others, like yellow and red wistaria–which, of course, are wistaria colors that don’t exist.

Then there are the displays, which usually are slightly hokey and orchids, with their traditional association with glamour, really brought out strangeness.

I cannot even guess as to why slightly battered Barbie and Ken dolls were propped up on a purple table in one display.

Barbie and Ken at Orchid Show
Barbie and Ken dolls with plastic champagne glasses and a fake cake at the orchid show

For the best–most trend-setting–displays in the garden world, go to the RHS Chelsea Garden Show on May 19-23, 2015.

I did find something that brought back lovely memories: displays of orchid corsages.  I can remember wearing orchid corsages pinned to the formal gowns I wore to dances as a teenager.  The second prize winner embodied much of the elegance from that era: long white gloves with orchids attached to them.  These orchids were exotically brown and yellow; the orchids of my teenage years back in the late 1950s were either white or magenta pink.

If you are traveling to Southern California and would like to visit some of the orchid growers near Los Angeles, take a trip on the Orchid Trail of growers.

So here are some of the people and flowers I saw at the show:

Magenta orchids
More beautiful orchids — from among the thousands on display.
Long white gloves with orchid corsage.
An orchid corsage on long white gloves — perfect for a prom date!
yellow Cymbidium orchid
Simply a beautiful Cymbidium orchid on display.
Phototgraphing friends at the orchid show
Cameras, cell phone and tablets were everywhere as friends photographed friends at the show.
winning display amateur orchid grower
The winning display by an amateur orchid grower.
One of the oddities was this striped orchid with point petals.  I wonder how many years, how many generations of plants, it took to create it.
One of the oddities was this striped orchid with pointy petals. I wonder how many years, how many generations of plants, it took to create it.
orchid with curly petals
Curly petals festoon this orchid.
orchid display Santa Barbara orchid show
A small display of orchids.

Kite festival at Redondo Beach was a family affair on a sunny warm Sunday

Big kites at Redondo Pier
Kites flying high at the Redondo Beach Kite Festival

Most of the kites at the Redondo Beach Kite Festival were small ones.  It was obvious that Dad had gone to the local kite store and bought a kite for the kids–although Dad was most often the person on the beach actually flying the kite.

On the beach Redondo Beach kite festival
Families on the sand at Redondo Beach for the Kite Festival. The calendar said March; the weather was like June.

There were, however, a few larger ones being flown in the strong, stiff wind by young men.   Among the bigger kites was a large red-white-and-blue one which, appropriately, was being flown in Veterans Park adjacent to the beach.

Next weekend, March 14 and 15th, there is a kite festival in San Diego.  I imagine there will be many of the spectacular large kites at that event.   I will not be there.  I’m going to the Orchid Show in Santa Barbara.

American flag kite Redondo
This patriotic kite, flying in the Veterans Park, was too large for a child. It took a young man to launch it.  The wind was very strong.