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May 19, 2024

Photo Essay: An Unnatural Superbloom at a Wildlife Crossing to Come (And Breaking News of a Possible Successful Crossing Into Griffith Park)

The news came out today that there have been some unconfirmed reports of another mountain lion making an appearance in Griffith Park

The timing was perfect, as I'd just happened to have taken a tour of the site of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing under construction over the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains in Agoura Hills, California.

 

May 13, 2024

Photo Essay: Saturday Night at the Los Angeles County Fair

For some reason, I let 10 years go by after my first visit to the Los Angeles County Fair in 2012. (That year, I actually went twice—for the fair itself and then for the Demolition Derby.)

And when I went back to Fairplex in Pomona a decade later—in 2022, after the event had shifted from September to May—it rained. And I didn't have a great time. 


This year, I returned to the fair because I had a ticket to Pat Benatar's Grandstand concert—and that gave me the chance to explore the grounds for the first time at night.

May 11, 2024

Photo Essay: The Sphere Has Landed in Vegas—And What An Experience It is

Las Vegas may have changed a lot since my first visit in the 1990s—and I may feel nostalgic for a version of Vegas I never actually got to experience—but I still love to visit the place, as ever-changing as it may be, even just to admire its audacity. 

 
The latest addition to the Vegas skyline is the Sphere—the world's largest spherical structure with the world's largest screen, which opened in September 2023 after five years of construction. 

May 06, 2024

Photo Essay: L.A. Circus, A Prop House Providing Everything Under the Big Top to Hollywood and Beyond

It takes a lot to surprise me. Especially after living in LA for 13 years and seriously exploring Southern California for about 16 years. 


 So I was thrilled to be introduced to a place I'd never heard of—LA Circus in Riverside, California—and have the chance to tour it with the Los Angeles Railroad Heritage Foundation. 

April 21, 2024

Photo Essay: Warner Brothers Adds the TCM Classics Film Tour to Its Studio Backlot Experience

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the media preview of the TCM Classic Films Tour, a brand-new experience offered by Warner Brothers Studio Tours focusing on the movie studio and backlot's heritage of legacy films (as opposed to current productions). 

 

April 18, 2024

Photo Essay: Mascots, Memories, and Americana at the Roadside America Museum

I hadn't been to Texas ever on vacation—and the few times I'd gone on business trips (to Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin), I hadn't had a lot of time to go touring anywhere. 

So I wanted to take advantage of my eclipse trip to see a few of the sights of North Texas, for I may not pass that way again. 

We were staying in Whitney, about an hour and a half southwest of Dallas—which turned out to be kind of a difficult spot to call a taxi or shuttle to the airport. But fortunately, the nearby town of Hillsboro had a rideshare driver willing to make the trek—which meant I had just enough time to squeeze in the town's Roadside America Museum before heading back home.


It's located in a 100-year-old former Ford dealership building, where its owner Carroll Estes (no relation to the Estes Dairy Farm) will open the doors for you and give you a tour if you ring him up on the cell phone number posted out front.

April 12, 2024

There Goes the Sun (Behind the Moon)

Upon the last total eclipse of the sun that was visible over the United States, in 2017, I convinced myself that I didn't need to see it. That I didn't even want to see it. 

So, I stayed in LA and enjoyed the partial eclipse

But, truth be told, once it was over, I felt like I'd missed out. 

"I'll go see the one in 2024," I said to myself and all my friends. "Maybe I'll go to Mexico."

So as this year's total solar eclipse approached, I felt like I had to stay true to my word. Especially when I realized there wouldn't be another one appearing above the U.S. for another 20 years (and who knows what kind of condition I'll be in at that age??). 

The same concerns I had seven years ago still rang true. Was it really worth the time and expense to travel for a few minutes of darkness? What if it was cloudy and I wouldn't be able to see anything anyway?

 
At some point, I just had to bite the bullet and commit to the trip—not to Mexico on my own, but to North Texas for a family reunion not of my own kin, but a chosen family that invited me to join them in the path of totality. 

April 08, 2024

Photo Essay: A Texas Superbloom of Bluebonnets in April

Had I known how spectacular the Bluebonnet Trail was in Ennis, Texas, it would've been on my bucket list

 
Even after I'd landed at DFW—and been looking out of the backseat window of my rideshare cars driving around to my various destinations—I hadn't yet realized what a big thing bluebonnets are in Texas, where all six species of them have served as the state flower since 1971.

April 07, 2024

Photo Essay: Getting Unreal at Meow Wolf's Dallas Area Installation (Grapevine, Texas)

After having enjoyed Meow Wolf's OmegaMart in Las Vegas, I was curious to check out its fourth installation, The Real Unreal, after flying into Dallas this weekend. 

 
It opened in July 2023 in a former Bed, Bath and Beyond at the Grapevine Mall—but you soon forget that as you step through the doors of a brick home set piece in a nighttime setting, all aglow with the warmth of family life and home and hearth. (This ties into Meow Wolf's first installation, in Santa Fe—and many other parts of this Dallas edition connect to elements from Santa Fe, Vegas, and Denver.)

April 01, 2024

It's Been a Rough Year (And It's Only April)

I fell in public today, messily, spilling popcorn all over an already-wet or -greasy polished floor at the movie theater, wailing in pain and sobbing.

An older gentleman (well, older than me) named Rick asked my name and tried to comfort me as the woman he was with tracked down some ice.

"It's been a rough year," I told him.

"And it's only April," he said.


I started off 2024 with a big hole in my head, empty spaces left behind from the molars that had been extracted last November. 

March 31, 2024

Photo Essay: Little House on the Prairie 50th Anniversary Cast Reunion and Festival Weekend (Simi Valley, CA)

I first caught wind of the 50th anniversary of Little House in the Prairie, which debuted on television in March 1974, via an announcement from one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder accounts I follow—about an event in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. 

Great, I thought. I've got to head back. (I'd already visited once in 2007, and I still had other LHOTP sites to check off my list.)

But then the best-case scenario came about: A cast reunion was being planned where the series began, in Simi Valley, California. And although traffic could make that an hour-and-a-half trip from my home, the TV version of Walnut Grove is a lot closer than the real Walnut Grove.

 
So, that is how I spent last weekend—taking every cheesy photo that opportunities would provide, wearing my bonnet the whole time. 

March 30, 2024

The Little House on the Prairie TV Series Converted This California Cattle Ranch Into Walnut Grove

Last weekend, I returned to Simi Valley, California—and the Big Sky movie ranch—to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Little House on the Prairie television series. 

Since my sister and I were allowed to watch pretty much all the TV wanted—but weren't allowed to do much else, especially out in the "real world"—my memories of the show, and the books, have informed some of my adult travels and adventures. 

I still haven't made it to South Dakota, Kansas, or Missouri. And even though I've already crossed Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa off my list (as well as Malone, New York, home of the Almanzo Wilder Farm), it feels like I'm always trying to get back to the prairie. 

That happened—at least, in a Hollywood magic kind of way—this past weekend during the Little House festival, which included meet and greets and photo ops with most of the living stars of the show, as well as a bus tour of the old filming location from the 1970s and '80s.

But it almost didn't.

At first, I'd only bought a single-day ticket for Saturday of the three-day festival—and then as more and more stars got confirmed (including Melissa Gilbert, who never does these things), and panels got scheduled, I started to worry I wouldn't have enough time. So I upgraded to a weekend pass, knowing I probably wouldn't be able to break away from work for the Friday but having the peace of mind that I'd get all day Saturday and Sunday. 

I arrived under threatening skies—and, soon, rain—on Saturday morning around 10 a.m., not having to wait in a long entry line because I had a multi-day pass. I enjoyed the festival atmosphere for a bit (stay tuned for my blog post on that) before ambling over to the bus tour check-in. 

The morning rain had canceled all the buses that morning until at least 2 p.m.—and when I returned at 2 to try to ride standby later that day, the bad news was that the roads were still too muddy and unsafe, though the rain had ceased. 

That meant returning the next morning, Sunday, by 7:30 a.m. to try to squeeze an empty seat out of one of the buses that day, which would start running at 8 a.m. But that meant counting on the fact that a Sunday bus ticketholder might not show up, or turn up late, since all the spots for the tour had sold out in advance months before. 

After waiting in line for over three hours, I asked one of the event organizers what to do so as not to miss my professional photos with Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) and Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder), which I'd also paid for in advance and whose time slots were narrow and immoveable. "You won't make it," the organizer said. "Go over there now and enjoy yourself."

Here's the only thing that made it work out in the end: The people behind me in line agreed to save my place and let me come back three hours later, without having to start over again at the back of the line.

Upon my return, we only had to wait about another 20 or 30 minutes before we found ourselves on a bus, everyone cheering, "We made it!" 

 
Sure, I'd been to Big Sky Ranch once before—but that was eight years ago, and this year, the festival had erected smaller-scale, painted façades to replicate the original sets, in the exact places where they once stood.

March 20, 2024

Photo Essay: California Architectural Creations In Clay, at Heath Ceramics

Back in January of this year, I was planning a return trip to San Francisco—a city I hadn't spent the weekend in since 2006 (although I spent a few hours there a couple of years ago).

I had a lot of catching up to do. 

Since I don't visit the Bay Area very often, I don't have a huge list of places to visit—so I fell back on my tried-and-true methods of seeking out fun activities. 

And that meant looking for one of my go-to's, factory tours.    


In addition to the fortune cookie factory tour in Chinatown, my friend and I decided to tour the Heath Ceramics factory in San Francisco's Mission District. 

March 16, 2024

Photo Essay: The Many Jesuses of Desert Christ Park, Restored and Resurrected

Sculptor Frank Antone Martin was a plaster pattern maker for the aircraft industry, based in Inglewood, California. He'd dreamed of placing a giant, steel-reinforced concrete statue of Jesus perched over the rim of the Grand Canyon—and even went so far as to make it. 

From a poem Martin wrote about the project (yes, he was a poet, too):

He fashioned an object of concrete and steel
To staunchly present his conviction and zeal;
The model he chose was the great Prince of Peace
Just standing there bidding all hatreds to cease.

Unfortunately, officials in charge of the Grand Canyon told him they didn't accept works from out-of-state artists.

Martin offered the statue to other venues, like Forest Lawn, which also turned him down. He started calling his monolithic Jesus figure "The Unwanted Christ."


March 08, 2024

Photo Essay: Desert Resort Living In a Mid-Century Modern Lodge

It's one of those places I'd drive past so many times—and never really understood what it was. 

I thought the Ocotillo Lodge on East Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs was a motel, and that it was being converted into condos. 


The real story is that it was a hotel (kind of)—and then it was converted into condos in the 1990s. But right now, it's going through an upgrade/restoration. 

March 04, 2024

February 25, 2024

Photo Essay: A Celebrity Estate for the Ages, the Kirk Douglas Residence in Palm Springs

Late actor Kirk Douglas hadn't lived in his Palm Springs estate at 515 Via Lola since 1999...

Poster courtesy of SenseiAlan via Flickr (CC by 2.0 DEED)

...but after he spent 40 years' worth of vacations there, it will forever be known as the "Kirk Douglas Residence." 

February 22, 2024

Photo Essay: A Modernism Week Shimmy Through the Shag House, Palm Springs

I wasn't sure I needed to see the so-called "Shag House," having already visited artist Josh Agle's own abode (which he decorated) as well as that of a superfan neighbor of his


Turns out, this circa 1958 Modernist home—designed by the architecture duo Palmer & Krisel for the Alexander Construction Company—was the Modernism Week tour I just didn't know I needed to take. 

February 18, 2024

Photo Essay: Luna Luna, A Forgotten Fairground Fantasy That Spins Once Again

I love amusement parks. They absolutely fascinate me. 

Blame annual trips to the Great New York State Fair with my dad, the one trip to Marineland of Canada I barely remember, and school trips to Darien Lake (now Six Flags) in Buffalo, New York. 

 
But what I find absolutely irresistible is an amusement park that was locked away in storage for nearly 40 years (first in Vienna, then Texas)—and then later rediscovered and reassembled. 

February 11, 2024

Photo Essay: A Covered Wagon Caravan Through Coachella Valley Preserve

"Oh, we're closed for the summer. It's going to be too hot out."

That's what they told me when I called to book a covered wagon tour of the San Andreas Fault near Palm Springs for myself back in 2009, when I'd just arrived for a month in Joshua Tree.

It was unseasonably cool that June. But temps in the High Desert can easily be 20 degrees lower than in the low desert.

And they were right—because within a week of my arrival, the thermometer hit three digits. And it just kept going up over the course of my four-week stay.

Somehow, I never managed to get around to calling Covered Wagon Tours again, despite having returned to the area many times—and in much friendlier temperatures, usually in the winter and spring. 

 
That changed last month, when my friend John was in town for a work conference and mentioned that one of their optional off-site activities was a covered wagon tour. I burst out with an "Oooh!"

February 07, 2024

Photo Essay: Fueled By Jet Fumes and Fear of Missing Out at Ontario Airport

Many years ago, back when I was living in NYC, I got up at the crack of dawn one morning to go spectate as Edith ran a race on the runways of JFK Airport.
    
decommissioned Boeing 727

I wasn't a runner back then—and I'm still not—but I thought to myself, if I were to ever do a race, I think I'd like to do one on an airport runway. 
 

Well, my time came this past weekend, as I arrived to the National Guard Hangar at Ontario International Airport (ONT) in Southern California's Inland Empire for its "5K the Runway" event. 

February 04, 2024

A Four-Year Wait For Llama Love

I should know by now that reality rarely lives up to my expectations. 

And when I spend years building up anticipation for something—especially something I may have missed out on and have the chance to make up for lost time—I'm most certainly bound to be disappointed.

I think if I were able to travel back in time and actually go to my proms, I'd probably have a horrible time and be horribly disappointed.

But here I am, in 2024, trying to make up for the things I missed out on in 2020 with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Because I'd rather come to the rude awakening that, in reality, they're less than—as opposed to feeling like I missed out on something that could've been really great. 

 
I waited almost four years to stay at a particular llama ranch in the Joshua Tree area that I'd booked for March 2020 and had to cancel at the last minute.

February 03, 2024

Photo Essay: Combing Through Hairstory at a Roadside Beauty Parlor Museum

I tried to learn my lesson when I realized I'd wasted so many years not going to the Crochet Museum in Joshua Tree—so upon my return to the area last weekend, I made sure I checked another place at the Art Queen complex off my list.

 
The Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, which opened in this location along the 29 Palms Highway in 2016.

January 30, 2024

The Most Fun I've Had in California

I've just passed my "lucky" 13-year anniversary of moving to Los Angeles in January 2011—and when people hear where I'm from, they most commonly ask two questions:

  1. Do I miss New York?
  2. Which do I like better, New York City or LA?
Truth is, the two cities are so different, they're hard to compare. But in terms of where I'm at in my life right now, I find LA much better to live in.

But still, I had a lot of fun during my 14 years of 5 a.m. nights and boozy brunches in New York City. It was a different kind of fun than Southern California typically has to offer. 

When I have a good time nowadays, it feels more like the kind of fun I missed out on having as a little kid—before adult beverages would've come into play. 

So maybe my time in NYC was more about making up for a crazy adolescence I never had; and my time in Los Angeles is more about making up for a childhood I was never given, one that was bereft of playdates and playgrounds and playing in the mud. 

You'll see what I mean when you see my Top 13 list of the most fun I've had in California so far (in no particular order):
  1. Swimming with otters
  2. Riding a Jeepney
  3. Riding the Warner-Carrillo Ranch Stagecoach
  4. Riding the Ghost Train of Griffith Park
  5. Going to Disneyland
  6. Going to Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights
  7. Goat yoga (especially with baby goats in Halloween costumes)
  8. Climbing onto the Wienermobile
  9. Attending Bob Baker Marionette Theatre puppet shows (especially Halloween)
  10. Attending Rose Parade-related events
  11. Singing with the Magical Holiday Parade in Toluca Lake
  12. Touring Garner Holt Productions' animatronic factory
  13. Anything having to do with Krampus.
Honorable mention goes to paragliding at Torrey Pines, which I did in 2009—almost a couple of years before I moved here. 

And this doesn't, of course, include any trips I've taken out of state (like to Vegas, which is pretty fun for me).

So happy anniversary to me, no matter how long I may stay in this city, or in this state. I have no plans to leave—but life can change pretty quickly. 

After all, after 10 years in NYC I thought I'd be there the rest of my life. By the 12th year, I couldn't wait to leave. And by the 14th year, I ran screaming... all the way to LA.

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January 28, 2024

Photo Essay: Good Fortune at the Cookie Factory, San Francisco

The first time I visited San Francisco, back in 2006, the internet just wasn't what it is today. And so although we figured out some fun things to do—take a nighttime tour of Alcatraz, for instance—there just wasn't that much I was familiar with, beyond cable cars and restaurants.

 
That was totally different this time around, when I've had nearly 20 years to add places to my map and learn more about the city by the Bay from afar. And when I visited a couple of weeks ago, I knew I wanted to go to Chinatown.

 
Because who wouldn't want to go see how fortune cookies are made?!

January 25, 2024

Photo Essay: The Tonga Room, A Tiki Bar Survivor of Some Near Misses

I hadn't been to San Francisco for any proper amount of time since 2006—and back then, the only tiki bar in the area I knew about was the now-closed Trader Vic's. 

I didn't find out about the other Bay Area tiki bars until well after I'd returned home. 

And since then, the Tonga Room has been on my bucket list. 

Oh, I did make it to SF for a couple of hours in 2022. My friends and I even made it to Forbidden Island in Alameda on that trip. 

But I had much more tiki-ing to do. 

Google Street View circa Feb. 2023

So when I finally got back to the city by the bay earlier this month, I made sure to cross some more off my list—Pagan Idol, Zombie Village, Smugglers Cove, and, of course Tonga Room.

January 20, 2024

We Are All Made of Dots

Once you've seen a Yayoi Kusama exhibit somewhere, it's hard to see polka dots and not think of her.

They're her most common artistic motif—both in her paintings and in her "infinity rooms"—but that's not all. It's a repeated pattern that's part of her consciousness—and her subconscious. 

She sees dots everywhere. And she dreams about them, too. (That may or may not be related to the fact that the 96-year-old Japanese artist is institutionalized in a mental facility.)

According to Kusama, "The Earth is a dot, the moon, the sun, the stars are all made of dots. You and me, we are dots." 
 

Even though I saw the big Kusama exhibit at The Broad several years ago, and have visited the infinity room there a couple of times, I hadn't yet had enough of her and her dots—so while in San Francisco last weekend, I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) for the "Infinite Love" show (the artist's first-ever solo show in Northern California).

January 09, 2024

Photo Essay: A Last Look At Two Volunteer-Built Floats of the 2024 Rose Parade

I was feeling a little bit of regret over not attending "FloatFest," the post-Rose Parade showcase of floats where you get up close to them and literally stop to smell the roses. 


But then I saw that a couple of the float builders were displaying their work for the public to continue to enjoy for even longer after the Rose Parade—and both were standouts. 

January 05, 2024

Photo Essay: The Rose Parade Started 2024 Off On a High Note

Why have I been going to the Rose Parade events in some form of another every year since the 2014 parade? 
 

Because the bands, horses, and floats change every year. And appear in a different order. And there's always something to marvel at.

January 01, 2024

Year In Review: 2023 Updates to Past Posts

At the end of each year now, it's no longer only about reflecting on the new experiences I've had over the last 12 months—but also recognizing how the world around me has changed.

And I can't help but document it.

That brings me back to some places—either physically or just mentally and emotionally—that I thought I'd be "done" with after one visit. 

Unfortunately, the scales were tipped way too far in one direction last year. We lost many more people and things than we were able to save.

And, in some cases, it didn't have to be that way. 

But life is loss—constant loss, in fact. And the sooner we come to terms with that, the sooner we can get to appreciating what we've got now. 

One of my most devastating experiences is whenever I find myself saying, "I never got to go."

But as time passes, the sentiment changes. Now, increasingly, it's the heartbreaking statement, "I never got to go back."

Here are some of the updates I made to past blog posts in 2023, reflecting changes that happened in that year or developments that had happened previously but I only got to documenting that year.