My Love Affair with LA


Last month Facebook reminded me that three years ago we moved to LA.  And in a few days, we will be leaving LA.

The day I found out we were moving to LA I cried.  A lot.  In public.  I walked outside AT THE MATCHING CEREMONY and cried.  It was embarrassing.

I cried because I knew LA was sprawl and crowded and smoggy and congested was not a place I wanted to live.

A decade ago I spent a year living in a small town in the Czech Republic.  It was (is) landlocked, formerly of the Eastern Bloc, with cold winters, few English speakers, high levels of alcoholism, and weird, pickled food.

DSC01240czech bar food

I loved it.

This past fall, my friend from Brno came to visit LA, and she became mildly obsessed with California.  She couldn’t get over the beaches and the mountains and the culture, and about halfway through her trip asked me if I had liked living in Brno.  I told her I loved Brno.  She stared at me, baffled.  “Why?  It’s so boring!”


Yes, Brno is small and cold and dark.  But it also has wonderfully warm people, cobble stone streets, and fantastic beer.  It has a castle and bizarre local legends and an entire holiday culture that revolves around day drinking plum brandy made in people’s basements.  Brno will never be Southern California, or San Francisco, or New York.  But you won’t find stuffed crocodiles hanging from the ceiling of the Town Hall in any of those places either.


When we moved to LA I discovered that I was not wrong about LA.  It is, in fact, congested.  And smoggy.  This afternoon it took me 45 minutes to drive 5 1/2 miles (which, if I’m being generous, is a distance that at one point in my life I could have run faster).

But when I stopped fighting, stopped believing somewhere deep inside that if I were angry enough about the traffic and smog that they would go away and started accepting the place for what it was, I began to notice things.


Like all the cultural landmarks:


And incredibly long, uninterrupted bike paths:


And quiet views:


And local spots:

IMG_20151004_202403 (1)

And sun.


It actually is the LA of the movies.  The same way Brno is the Brno of Kundera.  And Kentucky is the Kentucky of this dude.


Paul once told me that when he drove from Kentucky out to California for the first time and saw signs for Los Angeles, he got super excited.  He said his whole life California had been some place that you heard about and saw in movies, it didn’t seem real.

One day in grad school as we made the trip from San Diego north and passed under the sign for the 405 to Los Angeles, something he had done dozens of times since that first trip, he said it still gave him butterflies.


When you are new to a place, or are visiting it, it is easy to pick up on the things that make it unique.  The people, the food, the stereotypes…you see it everywhere.

The longer you stay somewhere, the less you notice.

You stop realizing that finding yourself in the middle of Ice Cube’s posse at the airport doesn’t happen in Kentucky.  You catch yourself talking about The Valley and riding #murderoustrains that leave you stranded in Crenshaw or chatting with soap opera stars in your lap lane at the local public pool.  You forget that eating at the best taco trucks in the world and trying to decode parking signs, or sitting next to a former teen heart throb that recently started a cult while at a fundraising fashion show for some cause that I can’t even remember isn’t the norm just anywhere.  It’s so LA.

And when you can hold on to that, when you can remember to embrace a place for what it is, life is so much better.

So on those days when I’m sitting in traffic on the 405, dead stopped, sweating in a cloud of heat and smog, one of a million+ gridlocked cars, feeling the road rage well up inside, I roll down the window, look up at signs for Mullholland Drive or Inglewood or Hollywood, think of all the lyrics and movie titles and iconic images inspired by those places, envision all the celebrities sitting in that same traffic next to me, feel the sun on my face, and invite the butterflies.



When you swim you spend a lot of time staring at the bottom of a pool.  Turns out there are quite a few things down there.  You have your hairballs, bandaids, pennies, leaves, an occasional quarter…just general debris.  At practice on Friday there was something (I’m pretty sure it was a piece of plastic tangled in some leaves and sticks) sitting about 3 yards from the wall in the deep end, and every time I swam over it I’d see it out of the corner of my eye and be like, “OMG A TINY SWORDFISH HEAD!” because out of the corner of your eye, that’s what it looked like.


A few weeks ago I saw a scrunchie on the bottom of the pool.

It was also in the deep end, and during my first pass I thought, “Maybe I mis-saw.” But sure enough, on the second pass I confirmed: a navy blue scrunchie.

This was confusing on a number of levels.  I spent the next who knows how long envisioning various scenarios as to how a scrunchie could have ended up on the bottom of a pool this close to Hollywood.  Was it a tourist who accidentally thew it into the pool while shaking out her towel?   Or maybe someone threw it in the pool over the fence as a joke, and it landed in the pool.  But wouldn’t a scrunchie float for a while?  At least long enough for someone to pull it out?  Or maybe someone saw their friend wearing it and, in a moment of horror, threw it in the pool intentionally because (to channel Carrie Bradshaw) no respectable woman in LA would be caught dead wearing a scrunchie.

This entire internal exchange took a while and pretty accurately captures the excitement that is lap swim.

So I came home and, in trying to find a decent version the SATC scrunchie scene (which I could not), came across a four-part lecture on the scrunchie.   In addition to the lecturer questioning whether the scrunchie was, in it’s hayday, a symbol of the new world order, “embodying the qualities that made American capitalism so successful: adaptability, energy, and ruthless practicality,” he also reminds the audience that while the scrunchie may no longer experience the same following it once did, because of these qualities (aesthetics, practicality) the scrunchie is still popular among gymnasts and equestrian competitors.  Good point.  Maybe it was an equestrian professional at the pool that forgot she was wearing a bun and just dove in.


I also learned that there was a scrunchie present at the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that Rommy Revson, the inventor of the scrunchie, is still a kajillionaire.

Then last week, while sitting at the DMV, I saw no less than 3 SCRUNCHIES being worn on the head of (presumably) LA residents.  I would never have noticed before.  Diversity abounds in this great city.

…and this, my friends, is just another lesson as to how the seemingly solitary act of swimming can open your eyes to things you didn’t even know you needed to know in the big wide world around you.



A few Saturdays ago, Paul and I went to our first black tie gala for my job.  I straightened my hair, he wore his wedding suit…it was so fancy.

image (1)If someone ever wants to teach me how to look normal in pictures, let me know.

We left Tiniest with my parents.

The event was downtown.  I suggested taking Uber.  “No!” says Paul, “Why waste money on Uber when we can just take the train?!”

So the train we take.  And we’re a little out of place, but whatever.

Halfway there the train comes to a SCREECHING halt.  “Hope we didn’t just hit somebody,” I say to Paul under my breath.

After about 3 minutes of sitting there, the conductor comes over the loudspeaker: “There has been an incident, please do not try to exit the train.”

“Oooooh no, that is not good,” I tell Paul.  “If the train really hit someone, we are going to be here a long time.”

People start to get irritated.

Suddenly a dude sitting across the aisle from us with a cane starts going, “What the…what…”, gets up, and limps to the front of the car.  And starts yelling.

Our train had hit someone.  And our car stopped right in front of the dude it hit.  You could see him out the front windows.  So of course everyone runs up to look.


I didn’t look.  My new friend in pink and I stayed in our seats.

“Is he dead?”
“He’s breathing, but there’s blood.”
“His pants!  Did they get knocked off?”
“Oooooh shiit that m****f**** was hiiiiigh!”
“He’s definitely breathing though.”
“It doesn’t really look like he got hit by a train…except that blood on his head.”
“We’re never getting out of here.”
“So what do we do?  This is a crime scene!  Do we need to stay here until they finish the crime scene?”
“We can’t do anything, we can’t get out of the car.”

The first of the firetrucks arrive.


A police officer comes into our car, yells at everyone to PUT THEIR PHONES AWAY AND GET BACK IN THEIR SEATS, pulls down the front window shade (which blocks exactly nothing), and tells everyone to be patient, there is a rescue train on the way.  AND NO MORE FILMING!

A rescue train!  I feel a surge of hope.

As soon as he leaves everyone is back at the window again.  Cane Man keeps on filming, narrating the whole thing: “SO the police just came by and told us NOT to film…but that’s some bullshit, I have my rights, I’m still filming.”

Someone starts tweeting #murderoustrain.

Someone else in another car forces the doors open and sets off an alarm.  I watch him jump the fence around the rails and take off running down the street. Conductor comes over the loudspeaker again reminding everyone to NOT exit the train, that there is a rescue train coming.

How, I start wondering, does a rescue train work?  Where would it come from?  I’m picturing the rescue bus in Speed, where they put a plank in between the two buses, and we all have to walk across it to board the rescue train.


The girl sitting in front of us is on her way to work the night shift at Vons in Pasadena, calls her boss to tell her she has no idea when she’ll get there.  I email my (new) boss that we are meeting at the dinner to let him know that we are stuck on a train, not sure if we’ll be there any time soon.

Cane Man keeps on filming.


About 45 min in they finally load the guy onto the ambulance.  About 20 min after that, the train starts moving.


The rescue train was a lie.  This whole time.

The train moves us to the next stop, opens the doors, and instructs everyone to get out, this train is done for the night.  Doors close, train drives away.  No trains running.

I try to find the number for a cab but instead find that….my phone is dead.  Of course it is.

A lot of people just start walking.  Given that we’re in South Central and dressed like we’re going to prom, I veto that option.

Paul tries to get an Uber, but every time he finds one the driver cancels.  We can’t figure out why, until Paul takes a look and realizes for some reason his phone thinks we’re in Afghanistan.  And it won’t let itself be corrected.

The cab companies aren’t answering.


And that is how Paul and I got stranded, in Crenshaw, in formal wear, at sunset.

(About half an hour later the train started running again along the second half of the route, and got us to the event about 2 hours late.)

We Ubered home.

LA Hiking


Someone got a new backpack this weekend.


Though you can’t tell from the picture, she’s a huge fan.

To test it out, we headed out to Griffith Park Sunday morning.

Last week I was listening to an interview with Josh Spector who came in 18th at Badwater this year.  He lives in north Hollywood and was talking about all of the great hill/trail running in LA.  Now I see what he’s talking about.  Miles and miles of trails and roads with only foot traffic.


It is gorgeous.  Crowded on a beautiful Sunday morning, but gorgeous.  And once you get off the main trail onto one of the many smaller trails it’s a lot less crowded.  When (if) I ever train for a marathon again, that is where I am heading (though with a partner…just saw this…)

Time to get exploring.



Californians always get attitude when someone tells them they could never live here because they’d miss the seasons.

Well.  We’ve had a heatwave these past few months, and let me tell you a secret: Angelenos were missing fall.  It’s hard to pull off the scarf and boots and the extra foam, non-fat pumpkin spiced latte when it’s 90 degrees (though I’m pretty sure when mid-January rolls around and the rest of the country is dealing with this, it might seem like a fair trade.)

Last week the heat wave officially broke.  The evening air started to smell like holiday smoke (different than the fire-season smoke), and on Saturday in the early morning I actually saw my breath.

Time to bust out the close-toed shoes and get season appropriate decorations for the front porch: fall has arrived…


…even if water temps are still in the low 70s.

The Crows


This past month Paul’s been working a couple night shifts a week.  Having to switch back and forth between mornings and nights sucks for him.  A lot.  And having to come home and sleep during the day in our little unairconditioned dutch oven of a house is equally sucky.  And I don’t particularly like never seeing him.

But there is a small silver lining.  And that is that suddenly, in the evenings, I have been finding myself with little windows of quiet solitude.

I love my baby.  I love Paul.  And I almost always prefer company to flying solo.  But oh my god, how I savor that time between when I put HH down around 8 and put myself down around 10.  I can read a book!  I can write!  I can watch (another) episode of The Americans!  I can read my Mormon housewife blogs!  I can…drink a beer and watch the crows!

“Drinking beer and watching crows”, I hear you thinking, “is the absolute worst way to spend valuable minutes of alone time (aside from maybe the Mormon blogs).”  But let me tell you, friends, it has become my favorite.


I don’t remember hearing crows in SF or Kentucky.  Maybe it’s a southern California thing, because they wake me up every morning at my parent’s house too.  Either way, at sunset in our neighborhood, the crows really get going.

When dusk hits, they begin to line up on the trees and telephone lines all around our house.




They are everywhere.  Cawing and whatever.

Then, it will get eerily quiet…everything will be kind of still…the crows just sit…then…BOOM!  A caCAWphony (zing!) of crowing as they all take off, en masse, to flock somewhere else.


As they fly the crowing stops, replaced by the heavy, soothing shOOOsh shOOsh of hundreds of wings.


This happens a few times over the hour or so the sun is setting.

(Sidenote: We live in the same neighborhood as Culver Studios.  The bungalow where Alfred Hitchcock used to write is around the corner. I know The Birds took place in Bodega Bay and was based on a novel, so I don’t know really if there’s any relation.  I’m just saying…)


Anyway, for some reason I am totally captivated by this process.  It is creepy and calming and beautiful.

So when the baby goes down I head out to the porch with Spike and a beer…no book, no computer…to watch the crows line up, listen to them settle in and chit chat, contemplate the changing sky, and wait for the mass exodus.


THEN I go inside and watch the Americans.  Because however awesome the crow phenomenon may be, it doesn’t involve wigs.

Night swimming


Sunset outdoor practices are my favorite.  By far.  Maybe it’s because for some reason swimming at dusk almost always gives me flashbacks of swim practice as a kid.  Maybe it’s because when you’re done, and that super relaxed, warm, foggy, wave of sleepiness that always follows a hard swim finally washes over you, you know all you have to do is curl up in your bed and go to sleep…as opposed to spend the whole day trying to hide the fact you’re about to faceplant on the conference room table.  Who knows.

Getting there is hard.  Usually Paul isn’t home, and the lifeguards aren’t super stoked on babysitting a one year old while I swim (weird). Even if Paul is home, more often than not, by 6:30pm I’ve had the whole day to convince myself I definitely should NOT go to practice.

But I love watching twilight fall while I swim, seeing the pool lights come on, illuminating the bright, bright blue water against an orange sky, knowing that my sweats are waiting for me if I just get through this one last set, and walking through the front door clean, tired, and happy.

…until someone poops in the bathtub and I spend the rest of the night dealing with a screaming one year old because she wanted to stay in the tub longer and bleaching everything.  But still.

LaLa Land


Came across this on our walk around the block the other day.  Everyone was thoroughly confused.  The guy in the yellow vest was actually trying to explain what the 30+ signs for 2 parking spots meant and why it was necessary.  No one understood or believed him.

How does your garden grow


So guess what you can do in LA?  Grow plants all year long.  Time to plant some plants! And this time around, no greenhouses.

img_3389kentucky gardening

So last week we got some scrap wood and planting soil and built a garden box in the back of the yard.


Ready to go!  Now, what to plant.

First stop: one of my go-to LA gardening blogs to see what they recommended planting in SoCal in late July:


Plant in the ground only out of necessity – extreme necessity
Plant in containers: continue napping

Oh.  Well then.

I am not sure what “extreme necessity” looks like when it comes to urban gardening…but after some thought I decided that this probably qualified.  So.

Next stop: advice from Alix.

plant any leafy or salad greens – kale, chard, lettuces, spinach, arugula. you can plant root veggies like beets and carrots. you can plant any brassica – broccoli, cauliflower, etc. 

OK, much better.  So I made a list (kale, chard, beets, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, and some herbs) and headed out to get some seedlings/seeds/whatever I could find with You-Know-Who in tow.


She is not a huge fan of the carseat.  Getting her in and out is no small task.

Stop #1: the big sign out front that said “HYDROPONICS” should have been the first sign that this probably wasn’t the right place for us…but I already had her out of the carseat, so there was no turning back.  We walked up to get buzzed into the store with mirrored windows (signs #2 & 3).

I entered the store, baby on hip.  The two tatted dudes behind the counter stopped what they were doing and stared at me.

“Hey, hi.  I think I already know the answer to this, but do you guys sell seeds or seedlings?”
(blank stares)
“…like, for a vegetable garden…”
“Oh!  Oh, noooo….no we don’t, sorry. But there’s a place around the corner that does!”

Back in the carseat.  Five block drive, pull into a corner shop with one beat up truck in the parking lot. Wrestle HH out of the carseat to find…Stop #2 only sells grass seed.  But the owner’s brother Francisco sells veggie plants!  10 blocks away.

Wrestling matches four and five of the morning.

Stop #3 speaks only Spanish, but they have veggie plants!  Exactly four types: white onions, green beans, and two types of peppers.  Plus some basil. None on my list, but whatever.  I was not going home empty handed. I took them all.


Set HH up at her post at the other end of the yard, and…


Hm.  Maybe not the best planned layout.

Saturday I gave in and headed to Home Depot to see what I could find to fill out the rest of the garden box, plus a planter my parents had donated to our yard.  And…here it is, our late summer/early fall crops for 2014:


Italian Basil
BBQ Rosemary (smells amazing)
Trailing Rosemary
…plus some blue salvia, because it’s nice looking, drought tolerant, and the hummingbirds in our yard like it


(Chosen solely based on their name…the same technique I use for my March Madness bracket, which has experienced moderate success over the years.)
Early Girl

Green Sweet Bell
Red Sweet Bell

Zucchini Squash
Straightneck Squash

Straight Eight

White Onions

I don’t know what a Straight Eight cucumber is, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to find out.