(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 another place I love for the Fall, and it is still developing, to be posted in a couple of 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 and until September 30, 2016, 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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Winged flowers

When I walk through our family room in the morning, someone says in a bright and hopeful voice, “I love you”.

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No, not my spouse who is usually at work by this time, but my companion Psyche. And she means it.

Recently, I saw a study on what makes for longevity. It was conducted by Harvard researchers over a 75 year period, so it was a longitudinal study, which are rare and hard to fund, much less conduct. It studied a specific group of men and thus may have whatever the limitations of that cohort being the sample has, but it did reach some significant and valid conclusions. Longevity is dependent upon happiness and happiness upon our relationships.

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I am sure the researchers referred to human relationships in this work, although I have not read the original publication. But, those of us who are highly attuned to all of life, know how much other creatures contribute to our well being.  I cannot imagine life without Psyche and Ricky, our dog. Because Psyche speaks so well, both to us and to him, Ricky tries mightly to speak whenever possible — not barking, which he does too, as a great watchdog, but with vocalizations that to us seem to be simulating human speech — and is rewarded for it with lots of praise and clapping, by the two of us and Psyche as well, who repeatedly tells him “Good boy”.

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One of the most important missions I have had over my lifetime, in addition to being the champion of children, especially those with disabilities and other disadvantages, has been to raise awareness about the precious nature of animals and other defenseless creatures that in the past were either taken for granted or wasted by a variety of means.

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In our yard, we are doing everything we can to provide a hospitable environment for the littlest beings around us: butterflies,  bees, ladybugs, spiders, Praying Mantis, dragonflies, lizards, and even harmless garter snakes. We would love it if we saw a frog, but it is unlikely in this hot, dry climate. We also have a variety of small birds and the occasional predatory raptor, part of nature but one I try to discourage from dining on our little community.

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While the Harvard study does indicate the importance of loving relationships, especially in early childhood — my specialty — it does not include the importance of cultivating inter-species understanding. That is something I have tried to do on my own, by instinct.

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It is in my nature to be kind, even if I have a short temper sometimes. I never, ever direct it at the non-humans in my life. I cherish them. I would no sooner harm or, heaven forbid, consume one of them, than I would a human being.  It is so clearly barbaric and cruel that I cannot, truly, understand how anyone convinces themselves to do so.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. — Galatians 5:22-23

I am not advocating, by the way, companion animals. After a lifetime of thought on the subject, I believe it is absolutely wrong to bring a bird, for example, into the artificial environment of our homes, no matter how carefully and scientifically we create a space for them. Psyche now has the very best of care in every respect, from her “rooms” to her indoor tree to her diet. She also has nothing but love and positivity from all of us, including Ricky who at worst tolerates her gently and at best, finds her a bit interesting and strives to communicate with us as well as she does, with over 1000 words and phrases in her English vocabulary.

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But, it is really never the same as the surroundings that are natural to birds in the wild. Unfortunately, we have bred dogs and cats and horses to live with us as “pets”, a terrible holdover term from centuries ago that continues to convey a sense of enslavement, however well meaning, on them.

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We are all enculturated in our Western countries to get and keep a certain class of animals in our homes and treat them royally. I am certainly for treating all living things in the best manner possible, suited to their true needs, which we need to take the time to learn about and understand. It isn’t easy and I have personally made some monumental blunders. I think as a society, we are just waking up to what is right and wrong in this regard.  Certainly, the number of people who take in rescued animals are to be commended.  My families have done that over the years, with mixed success.  Because of Psyche and how delicate she is, I have to be very careful about the nature of any other species with which she is in contact. Labradors are especially gentle, even though they can be hunting dogs. When they do retrieve, they have what is called a ‘soft mouth’, but even so, no domesticated bird would likely survive being picked up by even a gentle dog.

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In any event, here are some pictures I took at the Natural History Museum Butterfly Pavilion a couple of years ago. I had Anna in tow and two cameras. It was a very hot day, the exhibit was crowded and all of those who entered were roasting. By the end of our scant 15 minutes proceeding along the path, both she and I were dripping and testy. Still, I learned enough about butterflies on the two trips I took to the Pavilion, to create one in our yard, without the tent.  We have had some success with it and now have more bees and butterflies, as well as praying mantis than we did before.  It is still a work in progress, but as we eliminate lawn during our prolonged severe drought, the little pavilion expands. This year we will be planting cone flowers and creeping thyme around it, both of which attract humming birds, pollinators and especially butterflies.

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We learned not to touch the flowers butterflies (and other pollinators) need for food. Once touched, they will not alight on them. Butterflies like sunlight. If you cast a shadow on them, they will fly off. If your movements are too abrupt, they will avoid you.  We should never touch a butterfly either. They will give up part of their wing to get away and that shortens their lives considerably.  They need water, just the way all living things do. The best practice in order to co-exist with a butterfly is to plant the flowers they love, give them a place to rest such as the star lavender we have in our yard, and just admire them quietly from a safe distance. That is the true definition of love and respect for one another isn’t it? Give to each what s/he would have you give to him?

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As I grow older, I have learned to surround myself only with loving, kind, positive, life-affirming creatures, both human and otherwise in every venue, starting with home and extending to all my social media sites. When selfish, petty, mean-spirited people cross my path, I try to wish them well and avoid them. The Harvard study instructs us that we can learn and enhance our lives well into our 90s, and one way I do that is to be consistent in all situations: love all creatures as you do yourself. Evening living to be 100, is just a blip. Why sully it in any way?

Images: Chez BeBe assets: Los Angeles Natural History Museum Butterfly Pavilion; click to enlarge

[Title: refers to the famous saying by Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun, who once referred to them as “flying flowers”.]

In Memoriam: Dr. Joy Brown has passed away. She was the essence of what a behavioral therapist should be: kind, loving, wise, patient, humble and most of all, self-reflective. The world has lost a great friend.

North of the Border

27989785343_995db824f8_kAfter the long rant last time, I thought I would turn to something more light-hearted and not talk too much.😀

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You will forgive me, too, I know, if this is a bit disjointed and inarticulate as we were down in San Diego all day yesterday and I am beat.

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As I have said here ad nauseum, I have been on a quest to find a place to retire to some day. That may be a pipe dream but it has been a goal. There is not much on any personal bucket list, because I have been lucky enough to see the world and do almost everything most people want to do.

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My dream is to have a place near the sea, away from the extreme weather of Santa Clarita, and be surrounded by the vibrant, multi-cultural, rich environment of a big, evolving, future-oriented metropolis.

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Throughout this blog for the past three years, and on my Flickr page, I have shared my analysis and appreciation of various areas of California, the country and even the world.

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My latest passion is based on the fact that my best friend Deanna and her family have moved to La Jolla, an affluent San Diego beach town.

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My aunt also lives there, so now I have two reasons to spend time in that southern-most corner of California.

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We decided to think about renting a small place in the environs of San Diego, to make it easier to visit everyone there and to consider it as a future retirement destination.  It’s only drawback being, it is far from Geoffrey’s business and the building he owns with his partner, in Downtown LA.

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Not being made of money and, like most Californians, being house-poor, La Jolla is out of the question.

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But, luckily for us, there are other, exciting and affordable (just barely) towns in greater San Diego.

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Without dragging you through our process for identifying it, cutting to the chase, we found what I like to think of as Oakland-South. See my posts on Oakland as my winter travel destination from, well, the winter this year.

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That place is North Park, just a bit south and east of La Jolla, very close to Downtown San Diego and home to some of the most charming 1930s Craftsman homes I have ever seen. Also, as we walked around on our different visits, we noticed that this is a town replete with windows.

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Everywhere you go, windows are the feature of all kinds of buildings. Everything is festooned with these big “eyes”, open to the world, letting life and light in. The effect is cheerful and airy.

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What I love about Oakland, I love about North Park: diversity, color, cheer, whimsy, ethnic flavor, accessibility, forward-thinkers, day and night activity, gritty reality with an upbeat Urban Hipster flair — minutes from the Pacific ocean.

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Since I will probably speak more about this very cool, very happening, edgy and “in” place often in the future, I will let the photos doing my talking this time.

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Oh, North Park among all its other charms and assets, is home to the famous San Diego Zoo.

Stay tuned!

Images: Chez BeBe assets: North Park, California – click on the to enlarge

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A hierarchy of creeds

Some philosophies are better than others. Some creeds provide the higher good for the greatest number. Not all things are equal or even equivalent. And this is not a zero-sum life. Some people are givers, others takers. Or maybe it could be said that some are all about I and others We. Some people have an open heart, others are more closed. I remember when I was little, if I fell, my dad would say something like, ‘ Don’t cry. Get up. It’s nothing’. My mom would scoop me up with a hug and dry my tears and tell me I would be alright.

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As I sat through both conventions and tried to understand why anyone with a good heart would find any difficulty making the right choice for November, I struggled to figure out how to define the qualities that have prompted me to be a progressive (although I dislike labels, that is essentially who and what I am and have always been) all my life. In every way, it is irresponsible to make the wrong choice because the impact will be on billions of people around the world, not just our country. Ponder the thought of these candidates holding the Football and the Biscuit, and that call in the middle of the night. Think of the advisors with whom they surround themselves, or perhaps they do not have advisors, but follow their own counsel and impulse. And maybe those advisors give them false information, as happened with the Iraq war. We need to be sober in reminding ourselves of the gravity of this decision.

To my mind, some people grow into a set of loving principles early. My mother is one of those people. From the time she graduated from college (at 20!) through every day of her amazing career of service to others, she has embodied the soul of goodness, kindness, caring, understanding and acceptance. Both she and I are Democrats because we have only two choices and the Democratic party embraces the spirit if not the precise letter of our beliefs and convictions. My mother echoed the sentiments of Elijah Cummings who recently said, “we have been blessed so we can bless others”. We measure success by the improvements we make in other people’s lives, says Tim Kaine. To do right, not to be right. And we do it better together, than alone. That is what human beings are: social creatures, not isolationists, we work, live, progress in groups. Study your anthropology and you will see this has always been so, for five million or more years.

You need only have watched those two conventions to understand the stark difference in world views between the two platforms that represent our binary choice. I wish we had a parliamentary system, as that would enable each of us here to find the exact niche into which we fit most comfortably, or to create one and give it a voice in national decision-making. But we are not given any viable alternative options. This year, in my opinion, the choice is democracy or authoritarianism, Americanism or Trumpism.

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If we had that more nuanced and robust system, I would likely be a Green party member. As it is right now, they always propose flakes. Ms. Stein is nothing more than a spoiler idealist who is seizing on the naivete of the millennials. She knows this full well and for this I view her as I do Ralph Nader: self-serving. Stein is not thinking of 330 million people. She is thinking of 13 million or fewer. Not too smart. Not practical. And worst of all, not good.

Have you no sense of decency

I am able to separate the lies that have been told about Clinton from the person I know her to be, because I have paid close attention to the real facts, from primary sources, for the past 30 years. I read! And not silly, hateful, biased opinion sites. On my news aggregator I have the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Le Monde, Figaro, London Times, Der Spiegel, etc. I watch CSPAN.  At our house we read books and papers and journals by credible and vetted experts. Most of all, I listen. I heed the words issuing from people’s mouths. If you pay attention to Mr. Trump — a spectacularly failed and corrupt businessman — you will hear a petty, selfish, immature, nasty, insecure little man whose insatiable need for attention (and other people’s money) has been the primary feature of his entire life, from the time he was limousined to elementary school, protected and isolated from ordinary people like you and me, to today. He keeps his papier maché house-of-cards Madoff-style ponzi empire afloat by bilking poor and trusting and vulnerable people, and promoting bigotry, fear and hate. Having inherited 200 million dollars and continually squandering it and investing in bad deals, he now needs this publicity so he can collect more money from the fatuous, largely now from Russia, Asia and Eastern Europe to keep it all going. He is an exploiter and a liar. He never wanted to be President. He entered the race to raise cash. But, he has tapped into the bewilderment of the white Boomers who see their dreams slipping away from them and is now stuck in a job he is unqualified for and too lazy to do properly. I feel so sorry for the people who believe him. I consider him a narcissist, borderline sociopath with no sense of decency.

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Back to me. I am not rolling in money, despite the wealth both our families accumulated. On my own, as a middle class, educated, Caucasian female, from a nice family and a wonderful part of the world, having had every advantage, including an Ivy League education, a PhD, and talents and abilities, I do not make a fortune. The work I do is frequently given to people with a fraction of my training, experience and expertise, from fourth-world countries. Here in the US, few can afford a behavioral therapist any more. Asian and South American nurses and vocational trainers do that work now, for a sliver of the cost just ten years ago. I get it. I chose a profession instead of a trade. Maybe if I had had the attributes suited to software development instead of human analysis and understanding, I would be making bigger bucks. No lawmaker did this to me or to us or to the workers of this country. Global technological, informational and industrial macro-evolution did it!

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I don’t whine or complain about it. We choose our vocations when we are 18, not 48. Thirty years of hindsight still informs me that the choice was probably the only one that interested me, anyway. I planned to be a professor and started out that way. But one thing led to another, and each choice led me here. Will we inherit money to make up for it? Maybe. But, who wants to capitalize on the work or death of someone else? Not me. So, I simply accept and make the most of the work I do, the place my life has led me and do not blame it on anyone else, least of all our leaders.

Would I have liked Al Gore instead of George Bush? Yes, regardless of whether I liked either of them as men. Why? I am not too fond of starting expensive, immoral, ineffective wars simply so some people can make a killing in profits — pun intended. We were led into that war in Iraq on gross lies. Would I like to see more of a Denmark-style economy where everyone lives a good, healthy, productive, happy, cheerful even, modest life. Yes! I don’t need a mansion, a luxury car, a yacht, diamonds, and three homes to make me happy. I find happiness in my garden, knitting gifts, eating fresh and healthy foods, sharing ideas with my husband and friends, including the ones I have made here, exploring new hobbies like photography and blogging, or old ones like singing, keeping myself fit, looking and feeling and being and doing as well as I can. Those are the things that make me thankful, grateful, celebratory. Not “stuff” and certainly not while others are doing without the basics. While there are people living under bridges here and anywhere else, I cannot be greedy for more than I have. While women are being enslaved to sex traffickers, I cannot ignore the importance of women’s rights worldwide. While animals are being tortured slowly in hidden concentration camps to produce “food” for ignorant people, I cannot turn my back on them.  And, I cannot ignore the perversion of religions, whether that means Islam or Christianity. I am 100% certain that Christ would not condone any of these things, nor the selfishness that is being invoked, incredibly, in His name.

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It is hard to describe why I am a progressive. I have tried to do that over the course of the blog, which is beginning its fourth year. It’s almost like explaining why water is wet. I know science works and embrace it as the best method we have for exploring, understanding, demonstrating and predicting in our physical world; I believe in education for training robust minds to gather real facts from primary sources and analyze them dispassionately and without prejudice so the truth emerges from that process; I have lived in a fourth world country with two classes and seen the results of a tiny group of exploiters reveling in a lavish existence at the expense of their downtrodden populace — neither group thrives, there is ingrained and rampant suspicion, hatred and fear in both classes and I want no part of that for America; I have known strong, intelligent, hard-working, caring women, my grandmothers, my mother, leaders that I admire like Eleanor Roosevelt or Clara Barton or Florence Nightingale or Hillary Clinton, and even me, who is by no means in their league. I believe that the two genders are equivalent in ability and responsibility. I don’t need anyone, man or otherwise, to do my work or my thinking or my decision-making for me.

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For me, the United States works best when the majority of the people are in the middle class and that middle class has useful work, a good roof over its head, healthy food to eat that is not based on torturing any creature, safe air and water, a protective order force that is color-, gender- and creed-blind, and a beautiful, flourishing, temperate cherished planet, shielded from exploitation and abuse by benighted greedy people, along with a health promotion and care system attentive to everyone so that needless expense and worry does not sap resources better applied to more uplifting and group-enhancing activities. And most of all, I fiercely condemn bigotry, racism, sexism, ageism, religionism, handicapism (just another echo of Nazism) and any of the divisive, evilisms to which some people cling in fear and anger. Read my post on Ashleepism to see what is really at work at these low levels of unconsciousness.

One group subscribes to this and the other does not. I could write a book on all the ways to illustrate this, but I don’t think you need that. It is obvious: good people take care of themselves and then with whatever is left over, take care of others. Mrs. Clinton said it best: America is great because America is good. Simple as that. One group is driven by talk radio shock-jock ratings-spawned venom, going low and lower, as Joy Reid recently observed. I am with Mrs. Obama, when they go low, I want to go high. Some people only spread their cloak of comfort and love to themselves or their families, others of us throw it wide to embrace and shelter all of humanity and living creatures, all over the earth.  When we do that our hearts and capacities for love grow exponentially.

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So, to sum this up: what do I as a Progressive want for my life and others? What kind of leadership  I do I think will help us achieve that life?

  • To be free to realize my potential, within the bounds of our laws and norms and standards, and only as my realization of that potential does not unduly or unfairly abridge the rights of any other organism;
  • For all people of any race, gender, or religion to be treated equally and fairly under these laws, norms, and standards and have no one group think they have the right to be more equal than any other group;
  • For science and scientific research, properly conducted and peer-reviewed to dictate our treatment of the earth, our health and well being, and the management of our precious resources;
  • That all living entities be dealt with sensitively, kindly, and humanely, no matter how lowly we assume them to be, or how insignificant they appear to us with our limited 21st century understanding and vision;
  • To extend a reasonable amount of protection, care, safety, and nourishment to the earth’s entire population and not have one group thriving at the expense of any other, largely due to accidental circumstances or the ability to trick others into giving up what is rightfully theirs in a civilized, enlightened world;
  • To mete out justice in a fair and benign manner by a properly trained and equipped peace force whose primary aim is to serve, not to dominate in a quasi military way or to intimidate by the use of extreme force;
  • For us to elect sane, balanced, educated, self-controlled, disciplined and thoughtful people who have the emotional health to handle adversity in as prudent and wise a manner as possible, especially when it comes to that ultimate power entrusted to them via the nuclear triad. They will make mistakes because they are only human, but they will not do so lightly or irresponsibly, and they will have the maturity and generosity of spirit to admit it when they are wrong, seeking to learn from their errors and improve their own and others’ lives in so doing.

That’s progress, that’s the future. If you look back five hundred years, that was not where humanity was. It is today. It is inevitable. Change that is progress is not bad, it may not be easy, but it is good and unavoidable. We can either get with it and help it improve and accelerate, taking all with us, or we can resist and impede it, slowing down advancement and grinding people under instead of propelling them forward.  Each of us has that choice.  And I made mine thirty years ago.

Images: Chez BeBe assets: the Sage fire/Stevenson Ranch California, July 2016

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