(F)All in: NY

Here we are again, time for a seasonal travel post, this time for Autumn, 2016.  I am re-posting this one I did for New York previously, largely because it is still my top choice for autumn travel, being my home town, but also because I have a new Autumn post in progress on North Carolina, another place I love for the Fall, and it is still developing, just posted on September 30.  I will be adding some restaurant recommendations to it over the coming weeks.

A note on my four seasonal travel posts. Some people realize they are “sticky” and always appear on my main page, while my current posts appear on the right, in a column. I put up new posts every two weeks and some of you have found your way to them. Thank you! But others seem not to realize that these seasonal posts are permanent fixtures and miss my newer ones.  I appreciate anyone stopping, reading and commenting, but if you want to know what I am thinking and doing lately, please look to the right and I hope I won’t disappoint or offend anyone. 

OK, so for now, here is my beloved City, which comes to life and sparkles in autumn

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If there was ever a time to visit New York City, this is it.

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Not only is Fall the prettiest time of the year in NY but there is a Mayoral race going on, so the city will be on its toes and putting all the bells and whistles out for the spotlight that this race will enjoy. If you can, visit NY right now. Bloomberg will get everything shipshape for this key election.

There are other reasons.  Having lived there for 25 years, this is the best season, in my opinion. First of all, it is usually sunny, dry and cool, not yet cold.  There is less precipitation in the Fall and the winds are not unusually brisk, though they can be just active enough to put a sparkle of energy in the air.

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At some point, depending on the temperatures, the leaves will be turning.  Many people do not realize how many parks and how much landscaping the city has.  Everyone knows about Central Park, but there are so many others, like Battery Park, Union Square, Gramercy Park, just to name the most obvious ones.  If you do a little Googling, you will get a full list of the hidden pocket parks.  If you will be there for more than a few days, you may also want to head over to Brooklyn, which has gentrified considerably and rivals Manhattan in almost every significant way. It’s most famous green space is the second largest in the five boroughs: Prospect Park, as magnificent as Central Park in Manhattan. Another fabulous thing to do is take the Henry Hudson Parkway up along the river and go to Tarrytown and Hastings-on-Hudson, among many old Yankee villages and Washington Irving’s stomping grounds; all points north along the river are pure magic at this time of the year.

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The most important decision you will make when coming to NYC is where to stay. My recommendation would be two hotels.  The first is my favorite and a secret that almost no one knows about.  This is the Hotel Wales at Madison and 92nd Street.  One of the prettiest, most convenient and safest, quietest neighborhoods in Manhattan is Carnegie Hill – the 90’s from Central Park to Lexington Avenue.  The Wales is right in the middle of it.  Built at the turn of the last century, when I stayed there it had elegant lobbies and rooms, good restaurant and room service and not only was immaculate but enjoyed exceptional European-style service, including tea served on the roof terrace with a view of the park. Best of all, it is probably one of the most affordable hotels you will ever stay in (priced below some motels in the vicinity) and considering it is in Manhattan, in the best residential neighborhood, overlooking Central Park, the price is unbelievable.

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My other recommendation, if you have a bit more in your budget would be the Waldorf Astoria. I have stayed in almost all the top, established luxury hotels in NY (the Plaza, Pierre, Carlyle). My favorite is the Plaza but I have to say, for visitors, the location and beauty as well as history of the Waldorf would be my top recommendation.  All of these hotels are expensive, but you can get a deal at the Waldorf and stay in the hotel choice of kings and queens. It is gorgeous, elegant and the service cannot be topped anywhere on this planet.  In the East 50’s you can walk in every direction to many of the best attractions in midtown.

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If you are flying in to the NY area, use Newark International Airport instead of JFK or La Guardia.  Newark is the newest of the three, it is actually closer to Manhattan than JFK, far safer, and much less hectic.  You will get to the city in less time than if you choose JFK.  In every way, Newark is a pleasure.  In fact, I like it so much and consider it to be so much safer than most airports that even when I am heading to Boston or Philadelphia, I fly into Newark and then take the train or rent a car and drive to those two cities. (Boston’s Logan Airport is a pure nightmare – avoid it at all costs: unsafe, bird strikes, terrible facilities, short runways – it is notorious for its inferiority as far as airports go, just take my word for it).

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I do not need to give you all kinds of tourist destinations as there are thousands of places you can find these things.  Let me instead recommend a strategy for ‘tackling’ NYC.

When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who worked in South America.  He would invite me down to visit and see the sights and so I made some friends amongst the very educated, sophisticated people I met there.  When a few of them came to visit in the City, I was excited to take them around.  They had been all over the world, in many European cities like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Zurich, etc.  These were wealthy world travelers.  But!  When they got to Manhattan they were totally overwhelmed. The longstanding joke thereafter was that I could not get them to go above 34th Street (Macys).

NY has a palpable energy that makes some people thrive and others collapse.  I have always said it is far easier to live (if you can afford it these days with one bedroom apartments starting at $800K) and work there than to visit.  So how you approach the visit can be critical.

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Knowing what I know now, I would not start people off downtown as I had done with my Latin American friends.  If you are staying at the Wales, start with the upper east side of the Central Park district and work your way down, day by day until you hit Rockefeller Center.  If you are staying at the Waldorf in mid town on the east side, start there, go to Rockefeller Plaza and work your way up Fifth Avenue your first day or days. In this area are also Radio City Music Hall on 6th Avenue and a lot of UN-frequented exotic ethnic restaurants, many of them with excellent costumed performances and shows during dinner, at no extra cost (a way to be entertained without high priced theater tickets).

The upper and middle parts of Manhattan, on the East Side are the easiest to absorb and get acclimated.  They are beautiful, loaded with attractions including museums and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the best shopping and restaurants, etc. And of course they are incredibly safe, as is all Manhattan now, thanks to the last two Mayors (Bloomberg and Giuliani).

Toward the second half of the trip or at least after you are used to being in Manhattan, head to the 42nd Street area, stopping in at the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building, the Upper West Side (don’t forget to go to the Museum of Natural History), Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, down to Battery Park and the 9/11 Memorial, South Street Seaport and if you can, take the Brooklyn Bridge by car, cab or train to Brooklyn and eat at the River Cafe, especially at sunset, for the most spectacular view of Manhattan anyone could want and fabulous food.

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After that hit the Village (west side, Greenwich Village.  If you are adventuresome and like ethic food, go the the East Village or better yet, Queens, but the latter may be for the end of a trip, not the beginning!), Washington Square, Soho and Tribeca.  All of these areas are safe, loaded with personality and fabulous food and shops.  Usually though, they are not first on people’s lists.  I would avoid Chinatown and Little Italy unless you like Chinese food and getting down and basic.  You are likely to find better Italian food in other parts of the city, especially Brooklyn.  Think Moonstruck.  If you are looking for inexpensive theater tickets check to see what is playing at the Barrow Street Theater. (Unfortunately, the Sullivan Street Playhouse that was home to The Fantasticks for 42 years, closed in 2012.)

If you have time left over, go to Bloomingdales on Lexington, Chelsea Pier over on the West side at 23rd, Gramercy Park on the East side around 18th Street, and up to the Bronx Zoo, which is in my opinion, the best one on the East Coast and rivals the famed San Diego Zoo for its quality and scientifically designed attractions.

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If it isn’t too cold, take the Circle Line, but be prepared for part of it to be a bit boring – I have taken it when showing guests around the city and I fall asleep as it heads up to West Point.  It is a three-hour trip, so take snacks because the last time I was there, the food on the boat was expensive junk.  If you do take the Circle Line, you will pass the big luxury liners, Chelsea Pier, Battery Park, a spectacular view of Wall Street, South Street Seaport and the Statue of Liberty, the UN, as well as the bridges on the East River abutting Queens.  You will see a lot that will help you determine whether or not you need to go to those individual attractions separately.

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Do this and you will get a real flavor for the city. If you can, give yourself a week.  You can do much of what I listed in three full days (with travel days on either side). Take it from a native, even in two weeks, you won’t see it all but if you go now, I promise you, you will have a spectacular experience.

Images: holidayforce.com,theweblicist.com,flickriver.com,virtualtourist.com,panoramio.com,commons.wikimedia.org,virtualtourist.com,restaurantsinyc.com,viator.com,fodors.com

 

Languor management

If there is one perfect place for a cool summer, in every sense, it has to be Cape Cod. On the Cape, there is a very long cold, almost dormant season and then, suddenly, summer comes running and everything springs to life again.

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In fact, I consider it my number one destination in the US. It has everything you could want: miles and miles of ocean with wild beaches and the smell of the sea ever present, with most of it only steps from the bustling villages that festoon its coastline, as fingers of land curve in and out, reaching far toward islands as beautiful as any, anywhere on the globe.

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Massachusetts is pure Yankee territory. A large state with miles of rolling farmland, gorgeous natural arboretums that leaf out into a burst of autumn palettes that take your breath away, it is also home to towns and villages lifted straight out of Norman Rockwell’s America.

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Red barns, fields thrusting up crops of every description, deep fertile soil amid rows of green and red and gold, it is the bread basket of the North East.

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And yet, it is also famous for Boston Harbor with all its colonial history, that beautiful patrician city that many solid, beer-hall natives call home as well.  There is nothing truer or more honest than a Massachusetts homey and you will get the unvarnished opinion of just about anyone who was born and raised there, from one end to the other. Ask them!

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For my summer destination, I chose the Cape because of its windswept clean beaches, its charming eateries, stores brimming with locally made souvenirs, elegant hotels and golf courses, and its proximity to ferry-ride day places where you can haunt little known nooks either to relax and feel the ever-present sea breezes or just stroll and dip into shops for shade and picking up gifts to take back home.

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It is also known for its easy swimming and fishing, golfing, sailing, and shell collecting, if those appeal to you.

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Whenever we go to Cape Cod, we just want to relax, make no plans, meander around, stumble on restaurants and stores, eat out or order in. We city slickers like to slow down during the summer. Here, it is effortless.

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While there are too many parts of this peninsula for me to cover here, I do think you can get the entire experience, absorb the ambiance of the earliest attractions of this country to the pilgrims who landed in Provincetown and Plymouth, by staying in one little corner: Falmouth-Woods Hole.

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From this small spot with Falmouth on one end and Woods Hole on the other, you can also take a short, 40 minute ferry ride to famous Martha’s Vineyard, the playground of old family Yankees and Knickerbockers.

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It is prohibitive to stay on the Vineyard, but you can afford an Air BnB or VRBO in Falmouth and take the shuttle or walk to almost every attraction this end of the Cape has to offer.  It may not be cheap, but it will be memorable.

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First things first: getting to Falmouth/Woods Hole. Even though the logical choice would be Boston’s Logan Airport, my experience with the area has led me to choose Bradley International in Hartford, Connecticut. A lesser known, less traveled hub, it is also known for being safer, less crowded and newer as well as easier to navigate.

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Upon landing at either Bradley or Logan, you can hop a bus, rent a car or call on Uber to get you out to the Cape. We always drive because it is such an enjoyable journey through some of the most beautiful countryside in the US, but you can make the choice that suits you best.

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If you can, stay for a couple of weeks. It will be more cost-effective to rent a home for that, than to stay in a hotel. However, if you prefer a hotel environment, I would suggest Inn on the Square.  Visiting the website will make it clear why: it gives you the environment of the old seafaring Cape of the 19th and 20th centuries for a relatively reasonable price.

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I would not advise looking for a hotel in Woods Hole itself. You can easily hop the shuttle from Falmouth and stay there instead. It is a mere ten minutes from Woods Hole. However, the world famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is in WH and they have dorms as well as cottages for students and faculty.

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If it were I and I wanted to stay right in Woods Hole and couldn’t find a house to rent, I would contact WHOI and ask them for availability of their housing. It is worth a shot.

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There is so much to do in both Falmouth and Woods Hole, that I almost hesitate to suggest a hotel in Martha’s Vineyard. But, I will throw one in, for good measure.

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Personally, I would prefer to stay in Falmouth or Woods Hole and just take the 40 minute ferry for the day to the Vineyard. Nonetheless, Mansion House is a lovely place to stay — you will just be paying more for it in the summer season.

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As for eating, I don’t know where to begin except Falmouth. Merely walk up and down Main Street and you have plenty of excellent choices, but get there early as they all have long lines at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  We enjoy Quarterdeck for brunch at 164 Main and The Glass Onion for dinner at 37 N. Main.  Both are standard American fare, but very well done and in comfortable, easy surroundings.  I have to admit, we made a daily pilgrimage to Ben&Bill’s for ice cream. Try the hand-made Birthday Cake and Chocolate Peanut Butter flavors. Grab some chocolates too, again, made by this family run business.

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In Woods Hole, we love Pie in the Sky, a bakery and light meal stop for the best burgers and sandwiches, cookies and pies anywhere. We have also gotten burgers at Quiks Hole Tavern and Landfall Restaurant and frequent Captain Kidd for seafood.

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I am always in an ice cream mood when I am in Cape Cod, so I have to admit to more than one indulgence at my absolute all time favorite ice cream shoppe, Candy Go Nuts on Luscombe. There, I always have the Cotton Candy cone.

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We never stay on Martha’s Vineyard, so our one meal there is always lunch, half way between ferry rides. Hands down, we have two places we absolutely must visit every single time. For lunch, it’s Among the Flowers Cafe at 17 Mayhew Lane in Edgartown. Simply extraordinary salads and sandwiches and soups.

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Definitely get a basket of fries and pie.  Then, we never leave the Vineyard without a stop to stock up on fudge at Murdick’s. And, of course, Murdick’s has home made ice cream too.

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Shopping, well, there are far too many incredible stores to list them all here. A walk up and down Main Street in Falmouth, or on any street in downtown Woods Hole or Edgartown will fill you with eye candy of every description. Some of it unbelievably affordable, others, well, you can dream.

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In Woods Hole, I always make a beeline to Under the Sun. Their clothes, bags and pottery are all locally made but their jewelry is the real draw. No matter what you get, people will think you have paid ten times what you did. Love that place. For gifts, I go to Handworks. In Falmouth, I love Treasure Chest on Main Street for clothes and for gifts, Celebrations nearby. Twiggs Home and Garden has the most amazing collection of soaps and glassware and jewelry and other decorative items for home and garden, you must stop there. But there are many others up and down the street. Just explore.

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On Martha’s Vineyard, try Island Company and Bananas. For gifts, you have to see Off Main in Vineyard Haven and for linens, there is no place like Le Roux Kitchen.

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But, the most important thing to relish when you are on the Cape, is the natural beauty and the felicity of the people. Tourists don’t come here to see celebrities, they come to be immersed in the people and the culture of the Massachusetts coast: wild, uninhibited, fresh, raw and unforgettable.

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This is my absolute ideal summer haunt with perfect sunny, breezy, cool but never chilly weather. A good relief from the heat that seems to be creeping over all of us increasingly at all times of year. I would be remiss if I didn’t share what my good friend Robin said in a comment on my other Summer sticky post, Summer Like it Hot: “I always remind people of Rockport or Gloucester on Cape Ann being a beautiful getaway and not so ‘glitzy’ nor expensive as Cape Cod.” Good suggestions, Robin! There is so much to see in Massachusetts, I could devote an entire blog to singing its praises.

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No matter where you go in the state, you will find it a haven with that earthy atmosphere of real and reel.

Images: Chez BeBe assets and the establishments featured, except for the Alamy shot of Under the Sun — they simply have no pictures and I overlooked taking any on my trips there, so I hope Alamy will forgive me.

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Summer Like it Hot

But not I!😀

Since I put up my Winter travel recommendation sticky-post late, I am offsetting it with an early-ish Summer piece.  This is Part One.

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It is already summer here in Valencia this week, hovering around 100F, unhappily for me. The minute the weather turns sultry I begin dreaming of cooler climes. If you have been following this blog for awhile, you know I am a cold weather fan. If I were like most people, I would pick Palm Springs or Phoenix even in August. But I am the Vermont in February Un-y-Mooner, if you recall. So …

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Now, I have already shared two places that I can heartily recommend for those of you who want to escape the heat. They are the Jersey Shore and La Jolla. See both posts for details. If I knew it better, I would recommend Vancouver/Vancouver Island. What all of these places have in common is beautiful beaches, old, lovely architecture, gorgeous vegetation, elegant upscale vintage towns with places to eat and shop in abundance and, wait for it: moderate, balmy temperatures even in August.

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As you know, if you read about my Jersey Shore, there used to be elegant old hotels there. I am no longer familiar with the local accommodations, so I will just suggest using a VRBO or Air BnB (see my Oakland post for winter). As for La Jolla, I do have a recommendation: La Jolla Shores Hotel.

It’s right on the beach, within a few steps of all the attractions. A large, sprawling complex with comfortable rooms and verandas for dining or having an afternoon drink to watch the sun set. It reminds me of those old, gracious, rambling colonial hotels one finds in Montego Bay. It is reasonable by La Jolla standards and the staff are friendly. Q.E.D.!

While you are in La Jolla, make sure you try the ice cream at Bobboi Natural Gelato, 8008 Girard Street, #150  – expect the unexpected in flavors like Charcoal Vanilla or Blood Orange or Meyer Lemon and Mint,

and have one dinner at Osteria Romantica, 2151 Avenida De La Playa La Jolla, CA 92037.

The latter is literally two short blocks from La Jolla Shores Hotel and wonderful, from the menu selection’s authenticity, to the quality of the food, to the service and ambience. A bit of Italy in California.

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If you are in the mood for Mexican, and don’t mind rustic, head right to The Taco Stand for hands down the best Mexican food in La Jolla.

Right across the street on Pearl is El Pescador, our favorite fish restaurant.

And yet another absolute must is Oscars, at its four locations for Mexican seafood!

But, if you want to sit and look out directly onto the Pacific, head to Carolines at the famous Birch Aquarium of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

There is no end of things to do in La Jolla: take a snorkeling tour of the coast, go to any one of the dozens of coves and watch the sun set or jog along the beach at sunrise.  The shops are too numerous to list, but one of our favorites is Gepetto’s toy store. You can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. There are, of course, many other things to do in the San Diego area that are unique, including the famous kayak tours, the world renowned San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, both of which I have visited several times and highly recommend, Old Town — which from my experience is the best way to get a taste of Mexico, while staying in California — and shopping in Horton Plaza or La Jolla Village.

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But, my main tip for a perfect place to spend a summer vacation has to be Woods Hole/Falmouth/Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, and that is coming up in Part Two: Summer Came Running:Languor Management.

Images: Chez Bebe Assets/La Jolla, California

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Ooh la LA

The weather has been so delightful lately, that I realized it was time to invite people to visit Southern California before it’s too late and we are either roasting alive or dying of thirst, LOL! These are my insider’s tips on visiting La-La land: the only five places you will need to know to party like a native.😉

Rooftop Bar, Hotel The Standard, Downtown L.A., Los Angeles, California, USA

New York is the place to visit in autumn, as I wrote last year.  Spring is the time to visit LA. When I was reflecting on Los Angeles, and trying to summarize what it is about LA that is so attractive to people — apart from endless sunshine, that is, natch — the word seductive came to mind.

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A few years ago, I read this book about France and the French character.  It is worth reading just to see how differently the French look at everyday life, relationships, food, tourists, Americans etc.  Not to say that they are right or wrong, necessarily but truly it is a culture apart. France is seductive.

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Los Angeles is like that. Someone should write a book about it (note to self). Unlike NYC that instantly triggers love or hate, Los Angeles sidles up to you and lures you in with that sultry come hither environment that allows everyone to be utterly, nakedly themselves. And that is no mere metaphor. You have permission to be as uninhibited and as outrageously ‘you’, as you want here — and that is what I love most about this city, its welcoming diversity.

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There are three urban hubs that you need to hit if you want to understand California.  In some ways it should be two or three states.  San Francisco and San Diego are distinctive megalopolises with their own sphere of influence and mindsets.  You won’t get to know or understand all three, by just visiting one of them.

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People everywhere are drawn to Los Angeles, but not for the beaches, because, honestly, there are others far more beautiful.  If you are looking for the ideal beach environment, go to Cape Cod, Monterey, the Northeastern coast of Brazil or the Caribbean.  Don’t come to LA for that.

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People love Los Angeles because of its gigantic entertainment industry and the allure of being close to the stars. If you are a wannabe, the magnetism of LA is powerful and rightly so. But, I think the true main attraction of LA is that, you can park philosophies and ideologies at the threshold when you land at LAX and step into a completely welcoming, accepting culture that signals immediately: anything goes. Relax, have a great time. Not a Hawaii-lie-around-the-pool great time.  A get-out-there-and-have-a-ball. Mingle, go to barbecues, hit the club scene, do a night on the town. Be free to enjoy yourself, however you like. Angelenos are incredibly outgoing and friendly, right away.  They don’t need time to warm up to you.  For a transplanted NYer it was palpable immediately. Smiles and welcomes, sincere ones, not papier-mâché politeness, characterizes the citizenry.

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Last week, my cousin was in Los Angeles on an assignment. She always stays at the London West Hollywood.  Claire and I chatted in her sleek ultra-modern suite and then went up to the roof patio for dinner.  It was a beautiful clear day looking out over LA on the top floor of the hotel in late afternoon.  As we were sitting there gabbing, afloat over the city, evening fell, draping everything with its violet shawl. All around us was a crystal view of the sprawl that is the LA metropolis,  its lights flickering on and the stars popping out overhead. Some miles to the east, Downtown appeared as a cluster of glittering stacks that huddled together like intimate giants sharing a secret. Farther along Wilshire, Century City was gazing across the concourse toward Westwood. It was pure magic.

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Come to Los Angeles between April and July.  Summers here are too brutal now, the autumn is unremarkable and the winters, well, they can be misty and dull.

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Here is where I would start.  Stay at one of the newly restored more affordable hotels Downtown or on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. There is a lot to do at night on this stretch of the Strip. If you like off-off-off Broadway entertainment, lol, the Strip is the place to go.  Start at the Whiskey.  You can walk to it from the London WH, and frankly, that is where I would stay.  Rooms average about US$350, reasonable by LA standards. The other advantage you would have is being able to get to Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, the Melrose restaurant row very easily, even using LA’s notoriously limited public transportation.  I have ridden the Metro bus and train system locally and they are clean, air conditioned, safe and comfortable.  Not like London, Paris or NY, not efficient, fast and ubitquitous, but good. You can even get to Downtown and Pasadena using public transportation, from a central hub of West Hollywood. Hollywood itself is also east on Sunset, so you couldn’t ask for a better place as home base.

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Not to oversell this location, you can also take Sunset to Santa Monica, Brentwood and Venice Beach. Although, as I will explain in a minute, I would suggest the South Bay or Beach Cities instead.  They are far more exemplary of what Angelenos consider beach living, while Santa Monica and Venice are for tourists.

From the hub you choose, I would visit the following places, depending on how much time you have:

  1. Downtown, LA
  2. West Hollywood/Hollywood/Melrose
  3. Pasadena
  4. South Bay beach cities: Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach
  5. Beverly Hills/Westwood

As you plan your visit, just remember the LA Golden rule:

Everything is always 45 minutes away from everything else …

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Downtown, as I have said previously somewhere on this blog, is really hopping now.  If there is a happening place in LA, DT is it.  It is packed with restaurants, clubs, bars, loft-hotels and entertainment.  The Disney Concert Hall, the Chandler Pavillion complex and other similar venues for traditional theater- and concert-going are at the north end.  There are museums and cathedrals as well as the very trendy and cool Grand Central Market that is worth an afternoon of eating and coffee in itself.

There is also a fab Art Walk that takes you around to galleries and the hidden creative underground/grunge that makes LA appealing for millennials right now, from burning men to urban hipsters.  The Natural History Museum and the Staples Center are at the bottom of DT LA and both are worth the trip.  Just walk up and down the north/south artery of Figueroa and you will see a history of architecture from the 18th through the 21st centuries, rising on either side of you.  While you are doing that, make sure to stop at Fig&7th to have a snack or a drink and get in a bit of shopping. Just a block or two north and you can eat at the famous, original Pantry, continuously open since 1924. Or take Wilshire from DT, via the Metros, all the way West to the beach, and watch the progress of the city the automobile built, materialize as you go.

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And while you are there, make sure you have afternoon English tea at the Biltmore Hotel. It is an LA institution and I guarantee you will gape at the world’s glitterati parading around you as they stream into DT in droves, snapping up refurbished buildings to re-rent out or install start-ups. It is very reasonably priced at about $200 per night for old world luxury.

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When we are DT, we eat at various places.  You can always grab a bite at the Grand Central Market, with all its many food stalls. If you are deep in the dough, try the Water Grill for perfect food in a flawless upscale environment.  If, like us, you are on a budget, head to the Fisherman’s Outlet.  An LA legend is Philippe’s for sandwiches.

West Hollywood/Hollywood/Melrose I probably don’t need to tell you too much about this part of LA, West of Downtown.  This is the hub of the night scene. There is shopping, of course, with a robust array of boutiques and galleries. But clubs and restaurants are the main draw. The Viper Room, Whiskey a Go Go, the Roxy Theatre and all sorts of sky bars are strung along Sunset.  Just drop your stuff at the hotel and head out in either direction on the Boulevard and you will stumble on them.  Whenever I am in this area and I have time, I make my way over to Little Ethiopia for lunch.  Not only is it affordable, it is exotic and exquisite food made and served by natives.  Try Messob, my fave.

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Pasadena may be a bit more staid but for my money, skip the Getty and the LACMA and head straight to the Norton Simon Museum, Gamble House, Asia Pacific Museum and Huntington Library and gardens that stretch from one end of Old Pasadena to the other.  There is more shopping and eating in Pasadena, with every kind of food from all over the world, than in any place outside of DT LA. It is a beautiful, pristine, elegant old city that has been updated and now boasts an influx of condo dwellers at an unprecedented rate.  Every possible kind of entertainment is available and you can walk to it, from the Metro which has several stations in Old Town. Definitely check out The Pasadena Playhouse for live theater, as well as various cinema complexes up and down the main east-west thoroughfare — especially at The Paseo –, Colorado Boulevard.  You can attend free concerts all summer at the Levitt Pavilion or the symphony at the stunning, world class Ambassador Auditorium.

Make sure you stop by the largest independent bookstore in Southern California, Vromans and have a homemade sundae at the 100 year old Fairoaks Pharmacy in South Pasadena. Eat dinner at the incomparable El Cholo, for Mexican food, SoCal style.

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Southbay/The Beach Cities This may be a bit out of the way, unless you have a car. If so, head west on Sunset to the 405/San Diego Freeway and points south.  Get off at Rosecrans and go west to Pacific Coast Highway, turning south again.  You will be in Manhattan Beach, the largest of the three.  Turn right on Manhattan Beach Boulevard and take it down to the Ocean. There you will find yourself amid the real coupon-clipping laid back millionaires that teem all over this part of LA.  These are the Angelenos who never work. Everywhere around you will be bronzed blonds zipping along in Italian convertibles.  There are literally dozens of places to eat, in every price range, as well as boutiques and bars.  But, of course, as you rise over the crest of the hill on MB Blvd., you will see the Pacific gleaming and winking ahead of you.  Bring a towel and beach wear. This is the place to watch the roller-bladers gliding along The Strand in front of the multi-million dollar manses that perch at the sand’s edge.  Take your margarita down there and imagine what life would be like if you had nothing to do every day but gaze out at the ocean liners and Catalina, while your help kept you supplied with refreshments.

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MBch is the best kept secret in the Southland.  Try the ancient Kettle for lunch and Love&Salt for dinner. Farther down PCH pointing south is Hermosa Beach.  Like Manhattan, it is for play not work, but trendier, younger, hipper and more bohemian.  Finally, a bit farther down is Redondo Beach.  It has the Pier and attracts an older, quieter crowd.  You can’t go wrong with any of the three.  Hermosa has a comedy club that is actually fabulous. You never know who is going to do a gig there, often well known comics, so check before you go and reserve a seat.

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Beverly Hills/ Bel Air/ Westwood I typically avoid the first two.  By the way, Century City is in this area but it is largely businesses and residential.  There is not much there to recommend you spend time in CC when you could be Downtown, in Manhattan Beach, or Pasadena. Beverly Hills needs little introduction. If mansion-crawling is your thing, just go west on Sunset from West Hollywood, and you will be in Bel Air in ten minutes.  It is self-explanatory once you see the sign (you can’t miss it). If you find yourself in Bel Air, visit the North side of the UCLA campus, the old part of this 419 acre magnificat.  You shouldn’t waste time looking at houses in BH, the main attraction of which is that Sultanic mecca known as Rodeo Drive. By the way, if you want to stay in this part of LA and actually go to the LACMA anyway, you can stay at the iconic Beverly Wilshire (Pretty Woman). But, it’s pricey.

Don’t bother eating in BH either. Overpriced, overhyped, mediocre food.  No celebs will be eating there, just tourists.  Eat instead in Westwood, the home village of UCLA, SoCal’s other premiere University (beside CalTech).  There are so many fantastic places to eat in Westwood, I would need another post for them.  Our favorite is Native Foods.

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Ok, ok, I hear you saying, but what if I absolutely must tell people I ate in Beverly Hills and money is no object? Then absolutely, you have to go to Crustacean, if for nothing else, the experience of the place.  You won’t be sorry — broke, but happy.   If you just need to use a restroom and grab a snack so you won’t faint while shopping, go to Neiman Marcus, located on Wilshire.

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Then head over to Westwood, gape at billionaire’s row on Wilshire as you approach the Westwood Village, and rest on the UCLA south campus after all this activity.

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By the way, there are three more items you might want to consider: LAX, Burbank Airport and Union Station.  If you want to start in the South Bay and see these three beautiful and entertaining beach cities, by all means fly into LAX.  They are just 15 minutes south on the 405 Freeway.  If you want to start in Pasadena or West Hollywood? Use the very nice, easy, safe Burbank Airport, you will be just minutes away from both.  If you plan to start Downtown, consider taking Amtrak to Union Station and see a classic with one of the best restaurants anywhere, Traxx.

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That’s it.  If you just hit those five key spots, you will be immersed in LA and totally ‘get it’ ever after.

Images: Beth Byrnes, The London West Hollywood and The Examiner

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Eschew on this

It’s Thanksgiving week as we all know. And, I could have prepared a feel good piece about how Geoffrey and I celebrate at a table filled with delicious, ethical seasonal fare such as pistachio risotto with roasted root vegetables and cornbread stuffing with porcini gravy and maple-sweetened yams.

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But, I am feeling too serious for all that.

I will make this brief.  As we sat around chewing over the disastrous outcome of the recent election, and listened to Free Speech TV — the only talking heads I can bear any longer, i.e., Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann, Bill Press and Amy Goodman — it gradually dawned on me that nothing we can do now or in the future will change the morass we find ourselves in.  In fact, I now recognize that we, in America, just like the rest of the world, have been enduring these political boom/bust cycles for the past few thousand years.  Around and ’round we go on the gerbil wheel, deluding ourselves that this 21st century is any better than any before it.

Let me boil it down and if anyone cares to challenge or amplify it, I welcome your input, as this is a short week and at our house we are in the throes of holiday prep.  We will be spending it in Los Angeles and then I will be in San Diego for most of January, so my writing and photography will be subject to my new computer equipment and abbreviated time to do both. I hope to stick to my two week schedule, but don’t hold me to it.

Part of the reason I blog is to share my enthusiasm or my discoveries in all the arenas in which I dabble: crafts, photography, gardening, nutrition, decorating, music, higher consciousness, and politics.  What is the point of another blithe piece on any one of these when the realization that we are just fooling ourselves into thinking there is real progress is just that: foolish, silly, and deluded.

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I am not a depressive type by nature, so believe me when I tell you I am not sad about this, nor down, nor dejected, nor defeated.  I am more resigned, accepting and sobered by it.  Life goes on. I have lots of hobbies and activities that keep me busy. I am an acquisitor, as I have joked about extensively. Name the item and I have at least 100 of them. No foolin’. I say this not with pride, but with astonishment. Stuff just arrives. Good, nice stuff that I really like. Like my new computer and all the bells, whistles and gimcracks I got to go along with it. Like all the bling and shine and color I add to my wardrobe, my home, my accessories.  That’s enough to keep one person occupied.

Unfortunately, I am cursed with an inquistor’s mind. I think a lot, love to study, want to know what is true, to look at the sweep of history and learn lessons from it. From my own errors, achievements and those of others.  That is where I think I have been stuck and as a result have fruitlessly expected the right, the good, the true and the beautiful to prevail. But it hasn’t.

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And why do I say this? Because, despite our evolving intellect and psyche, the reins of power remain in the hands of the very few, the owner class, that much overworked but accurate term, the plutocrats/oligarchs, and has done so for thousands of years.  It is no different today than it was in medieval times when powerful landowners bullied and terrorized their way to scooping up treasure from those less powerful, to the colonial times of the Founders here when the fortunes were made on the backs of free labor, conscripted for the purpose of making a handful of European overlords exceedingly rich, to the current fossil fuel hegemons, the so-called petro-billionaire class who are loyal only to their billions, who depend on a duped, doped, docile army of workers, toiling at near slave wages, to continue building their obscene wealth and immutable power.

If this makes me sound like a communist or a conspiracy-theorist, I am neither. I do like a Scandinavian-style capitalism, in a peaceful (anti-bellicose), verdant, egalitarian social order but have long given up that we can have it here. To see Europe and the United States taken over by right-wing Nationalists is to set my personal idealism back 30 years. While I am at it, the world doesn’t think The Leader is stupid, they think the American voters are.

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Who is better off? The supposed adherents to the “white-lash” myth, who believed The Leader would be a change agent and who, to this minute, refuse to see that he is filling our government with the very thieves and crooks and liars that caused their misery in the first place? The self-same group! What is the matter with Americans? Can’t they see that they are being abused all over again and actually partnering in it willingly?

Or are we so-called bi-coastal ‘elites’ (hah!) happier in the knowledge that we, with our lofty principles and untrammeled notions of the inner goodness that comes self-illumined, just threw away the next 30 years of progress with both hands? The election was stolen through a variety of means. Those of us on the ‘left’ know exactly what they were. People on the ‘right’ refuse to acknowledge these techniques. (Anyone here forgotten those tricks? Just ask and I will refresh you on them, but in a nutshell: voter purges and suppression). We watched the oligarchs use their toadies to pull this off and we did and said nothing. This is what a modern day coup looks like, folks.  We should demand a recount of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. But Democrats being the elegant people they are, will likely not do that. Just imagine if the situation were reversed.

The public was lured down this dark road by the promise of jobs. Really? The Leader is promising fossil fuel jobs. That industry is being mechanized. It has little or nothing to do with trade deals or the world, it has to do with improved technology supplanting costly and inefficient human labor. The Leader cannot bring those jobs back, it was and is a lie.  Our Candidate promised jobs associated with the booming clean energy industry, but coal miners and frackers would need new training. That frightens them, so they ignored its promise. Other advanced countries are already eating our lunch in that sector, among them Germany and China, for heaven sake. But, The Leader and his backers in the fossil fuel field (Robert Mercer, a Koch crony, bought this election and got the puppet of his choice appointed to the highest seat in the land. It might as well be Mercer himself in the White House) don’t want to relinquish the feed bag and certainly not to any public works or middle class!

The Leader is also jumping in front of the infrastructure parade, giving himself credit. And what do you think he will do? Privatize it and put up toll roads! Duh! Our Candidate would have made this a shared bond-issue project from which all communities would have benefited at the individual and collective level. You decide which you would have preferred.

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Which is worse, the drug of stupidity or that of superiority? We progressive post-modernists were so sure that when the oppressed considered their choices between a fascist and a proletarian, they would obviously know which to choose in their own best interest. Did they? No, into the mouth of the dragon they marched, willingly and cheering, wearing the beast’s colors proudly as they went.

Sorry. I know I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am, believe me. I begin and end every single day reflecting on these.

What I won’t be doing ever again is believing that anyone outside the tight circle of the powerful can have the society we were all promised. The only way these people can maintain their pinnacle is on the backs of modern-day slaves, and slaves we are.  All we can do is decorate our slave quarters, both physical and mental, and survive in them.

Despite this, I am happy. Perhaps that is because I can afford to be. I will weather this latest cycle of Thatcher-Reaganism. Though a slave myself, I am one of the more accepted among them: an Irish Catholic woman of modest means, who toes the mark and only protests in futile academic words that most can ignore as being tiresome, dull and abstruse. So be it.  Maybe I will wake up in another life, on Mars, and be too busy scrounging for oxygen to notice that it is the same world order there as here, then as now and was.

Images: Wikimedia Commons

 

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Dark matters

dsc_6632-smallWhat irony. My last post was on the sunny, warm, glowing happiness that comes with San Diego and its Great Ball of Fire, that spreads over the landscape virtually every day of the year. Then I came back up to our main house in Valencia and a week of welcomed rain and cold, with dark turbulent skies and roiling clouds. Being a Jersey Shore girl, I reveled in it.

By the time I had the photographs we took, walking around in the rain on Halloween eve, open in LightRoom, I was struck by the contrast. It gave me such a sense of foreboding. As if the set and the weather premonitored the coming upheaval we are experiencing this week.

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You be the judge.  What timing, no?

I had planned this title long before Election Day.  It was going to be all about the importance of spending time in the dark, in our overlit, 21st century world. Our eyes need dark, just the way they do distance, to rest and be healthy.  Ah, but it was not to be.

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Nope, that idea will have to be developed in the future.  Right now, I am marinating in the stupefying swill of the voting results.

I am going to say it here, one more time: the people who voted for The Man, were lied to.  He and his right-wing cronies made promises they knowingly could not keep. Unfortunately, despite my candidate winning the popular vote, our antediluvian electoral college system handed the White House to this unqualified, unscrupulous man and a coterie of opportunistic helpers who merely want power and influence and money for themselves.

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I know I have friends here who do not like my candidate. I contend you don’t know her, even though you think you do. She has been lied about aggressively for more than 30 years by jealous, resentful people who are not only against powerful females, but who cannot believe anyone wants to serve others without ulterior motives.

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They are wrong. My mother is one such person. Her father, another. I watched both of them give a lifetime of care, selflessly, to others.  I believe Secretary Clinton is another one.

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Take a look at what we are in for right now. See the way Trump is going to “drain the swamp” and then think about the choice you made Tuesday. Read each description carefully.

So, OK, America, you are getting the leader you deserve. Let’s see what he does to us and most importantly, for us.  I am saying it now: I told you so.

Images: ChezBeBe assets/Valencia, California, November 2016

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Great balls of fire

It’s curious how events  often come together in a strangely synchronic manner.  We had spent two months over the summer looking for a vacation home so we could be nearer to Deanna and Al and what struck me most about them each time we went touring, was their Craftsman charm, high prices (ouch), and most of all the brilliant sunlight they enjoy, literally pouring into each space. For people who have had apartments/co-ops in New York City, you know how valuable (and pricey) light and air are there. In Southern California, it comes baked in to the atmosphere, if you’ll allow me to mix images.

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Consequently, I referred to the whole experience as one dictated by the sun, that great ball of fire that seems to be a permanent fixture of every outdoor and indoor space. This is partially due to California’s golden climate and in part the result of global warming. Whatever the cause, it is here to stay.

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At the same time, I began a new project working on questionnaires for parents who have ‘explosive’ children, those who have combustible personalities as a result of one or more in a range of mood disorders. In the past we may have thought of these kids as “brats”, whose personalities were permitted to run wild. They were “out of control”, “undisciplined”, little “tyrants”. Or so it was assumed.

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Now we know that these are children who have difficulty processing information and change. They are easily frustrated and act out, as their ability to deal with stressful (to them) situations deteriorates and they lash out in what is really a cry for help. We need to radically rearrange our thinking about and approach to this potentially deadly syndrome.

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That made me think about how dramatically child-rearing has changed in the more progressive parts of the country.  When most of us were growing up, parents routinely barked orders for which non-compliance brought punishment. The latest thinking in child development psychology is that punishment does not produce learning but only short term benefits with long term deficits.

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Another thing I learned long ago, when I was in school earning my first of degree in what used to be called “special education” (in my case, for emotionally disturbed children — now referred to differently, more along the lines of those with emotional needs), is that all teachers should receive more training in child psychology and development. If they did, they would all be better equipped to accept and manage children in the regular classroom whose maturation is delayed in a number of areas (cognitive, emotional, physical, mental, etc.).

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Rather than treat them as if they were defiant delinquents, we now realize they have a condition akin to any other syndrome that may afflict any of us from birth, like poor eyesight or impeded motor skills.  These kinds of anomalies require extra care and can be managed so these children eventually catch up to and function among their peers who do not have these particular challenges.

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Instead of barking harsh commands and enacting extreme disciplinary measures, the best practices approach now is to calm and reassure them to diffuse the impending explosion or blow up and then engage them in a safe verbal exchange that aims to bring their ideas into the situation in a cooperative, collaborative way. These are children who know what is expected of them by parents, teachers or peers and want to please, but whose short fuse leads to a temporary deterioration of reasoning that makes any attempt to “reach” them virtually impossible.  Best to avoid getting them to the trigger point by picking battles (not sweating the small stuff) and concentrating on the most important behaviors that they will need to master to be fully functioning in society now and in the future.

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Anyway, this is more than you probably wanted to know about my work, but it did seem appropriate to go along with the explosive and fiery nature of the sun this past summer while we were looking for our getaway place. There must be a joint lesson in all this for me — but one thing it has done is caused me to look at my own nature, the corners where my anger demons dwell and to consider the value of getting things out of the shadows, into the bright light for examination. I determined, through both the process of “owning” my time in California, hot and alien though it may be to this East Coaster, and looking at the areas in which I am inflexible/intransigent and at times combative, that the approach educators and therapists are now taking to these volatile human beings, is the one we should all take all the time with everyone. This is especially important right now with all this dark toxicity interfering with our collective sense of peace and security.

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We would be a much happier, sunnier society. Just a thought or two and a work in progress, like everything else I embark upon.

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Images: Chez BeBe assets/San Diego

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By the way, please read today’s post from my friend Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, on children with ADHD and suicide. Madelyn’s entire site is devoted to research and therapy in this field and provides invaluable information, resources and commentary.

Rode to joy

You will be gratified to see that this is not a wordy post, for a change because this has been a frenzied two weeks and the rest of the year portends to be no less harried.

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Time for updates. Autumn has finally arrived in Los Angeles, more or less. We had a scorching summer and the utility bills to match. Ouch.  But, finally, we will be in a six month mild period of sorts and not a day too soon for this cold-weather afficionada.

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This weekend I am heading down to our new second home, first to our cottage and then to my Aunt’s and finally to stay with Al and Deanna while they welcome a new addition to their household.

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Whenever I am able to be on the ocean, I feel at home because that’s where I grew up, both in NYC and at the Jersey Shore. As many of you know, when Geoffrey and I first moved to California as newlyweds, we also lived on the beach, so taking my morning coffee out to watch the waves and my evening tea to see the sunset, is something I have done all my life. For some reason, in San Diego in particular, the sunset lights up the western sky like a huge beeswax candle. It is really exceptional. Perhaps it is because the air is so clean.

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These photographs were taken on the last trip we took down to get our second household set up.  It is still a work in progress as we don’t have time to be there together for long stretches. This month, Geoff is holding down the fort in LA, while I get two weeks change of pace that will I am sure include lots of photography, shopping, eating, and basically relaxing — at least that’s the plan.

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There isn’t much news in our neck of the woods. At the end of October we will make our annual rounds up here taking pictures of the beautiful Halloween ornamentation that people do who have the time, creativity and money to celebrate autumn, the real Oktoberfest.

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After that, I have in mind to show you all another lovely Northern LA community and then, our neighborhood at the winter holidays, as I do every year.

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Thank you all for stopping and reading. Bear with me as my next post may be late, since my schedule is now in the hands of mother nature.😀

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Images: ChezBeBe assets/La Jolla, California

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In my mind

29048014664_3215c79c29_oAs I promised, I am adding a new Autumn sticky post this year that will enable me to alternate between my NYC fall post, up right now for the season, and the new one.

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Not being one to shrink from taking on too much and this being an incredibly busy time for me, I chose a place that I think may be the other perfect state to visit when you just want to see the leaves turn but you don’t want to shiver doing it. That state is North Carolina.

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I can speak about it in an intimate way because I have been to North Carolina more a dozen times in the past decade or so.  My mother’s extended family is populated with physicians, so I have aunts, uncles and cousins who are doctors practicing up and down the East Coast.  There is a cluster in the Research Triangle, comprised of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

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So, whenever Geoff and I want a change of scenery, going from parched to quenched, we head to visit my family in the Tar Heel State.  Most of them moved there from England or the Northeast, but now consider themselves local natives and that has made it possible for us to travel all over the south, from their jumping off point and appreciate the beauty of that little region that encompasses Virginia, Georgia, South and North Carolina.

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Growing up I had only passed through or flown over them on our way to my parents’ condo in Boca Raton.  I really missed a lot, but I suspect that the North Carolina of today, bears less resemblance to that state of a few decades ago. I am glad I waited. It really is up and coming in an exciting and unique, yet familiar way.

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My cousin Hallie and her husband Mike are pathologists and chose North Carolina for its famous scientific community of young, progressive, professionals. They also loved its reasonable costs of living. A house in North Carolina, even in the metropolitan areas costs about 20 percent of its equivalent in the North East or California.  They have a beautiful sprawling house on 20 wooded acres of paradise, three seasons of the year.

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The winters are mild, even when it snows, in North Carolina. Spring sees a burst of life, due to rich fertile established loamy soil, regular rainfall and warm temperatures. If you want a temperate four-season climate, this is the closest I have seen to perfection. There is only one brutal month: August.  Literally, stepping outside on a sunny August day you had better just wear a towel, it is a veritable Turkish bath. The first time I spent August in North Carolina, the humidity hit me like a wall, it was shocking.

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And, along with that comes mosquitoes, a particular concern right about now, until the state perfects a program to eradicate them.  To make matters worse, gullies or culverts run in front of almost every residential street, presumably to direct overflow during tropical rainstorms. They present all kinds of hazards, including for drivers who often drive right into them inadvertently when the roads are slick with snow or flooded.

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There is something else to mention, lest you consider living in North Carolina. If you are a fierce progressive, you might have to adopt some mental and political flexibility, as the state is undergoing rebirthing pains. For those of you who know the American South, you will understand the tug of war going on right now for the hearts and minds of millennials seeking the 21st century even in rural southern states. I don’t want to delve into it too much, but the struggle is ongoing as the state emerges from a chrysalis of tradition that has a three hundred year history.

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Never mind that. North Carolina is fairly bursting with things to do. The most exciting gourmet and ethnic eateries, bakeries, cafes, coffee houses are on almost every block in Downtown Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill. I hope to mention a few of them as I work on this seasonal sticky-post this fall. It may take me awhile to list all my favorites, but I will consider this particular post to be ongoing and a real-time travelogue. Bear with me on this.

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Meanwhile, I am putting these pictures here so you get an idea of why this is a place you should consider for a vacation, three seasons of the year (unless you need an all over body-sweat, LOL) and perhaps a place in which to buy vacation property or your retirement home. You had better hurry though, it can’t stay this affordable forever.

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While I am thinking about it, I will probably not list any hotels or B&Bs as I usually do.  These days, more and more, the way to do this is by snagging an Air B&B and using Uber to get around, if you don’t want to drive or rent a car. There is no better way to “live” your vacation than through a home for lease, including a Vacation Rental By Owner, aka VRBO.

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So, this is my test case for an evolving seasonal travel post — stop back periodically. More is coming.

Welcome Autumn 2016!!

Images: Chez BeBe assets /North Carolina in three seasons

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