Sunday, February 27, 2011

Day 84: Coyote, Hammer Boy, Jump Sky High

Yes, we were back at Jump Sky High in Camarillo today - the place that is all the rage for 7 year old boy parties.  Today we celebrated Cade's birthday.  On the way home we took the scenic route, blowing off the 101 South for Kanan road.  We passed through Calabasas, Agoura Hills, and as promised, some amazing scenery in the canyon.  The best part was sighting a coyote that ran out in the road.  Beckett was thrilled.  We passed through a few of those cool round tunnels that were blasted through the mountains, and there were some amazing ocean vistas.  In Malibu we stopped off for an iced tea and snack at Starbucks, and Beckett wanted to go on the swings in the playground for a few minutes.  Mark and I used to make a day of it and take the kids to this playground, then to the Ben and Jerry's, the pet shop (neither of which are there anymore) and the beach.  The playground has the least frumpy poser parents I have seen at any playground anywhere.  It's actually quite entertaining to see the who's who of stars, rocker wives and "real housewives of Beverly Hills" in the sandbox. One time my kids were running around playing touch football with a bunch of kids at the playground and some kid's dad, who on closer inspection I noticed was Jim Cameron.  I was going to blog about Howdy's, a cute little taco joint by the playground, but I got some guacamole and chips there today that was so bad I had to throw it out.  This is Beckett posing next to Hammer boy:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day 83: Vanilla Bake Shop

Vanilla Bake Shop is one of those places that just gets it right.  Swanky decor, cute little mini cupcakes, and friendly service.  I first came to Vanilla after buying a Groupon deal for mini cupcakes, although I have been eating them at parties for a while now -- they're pretty hard to resist.  Today I went in to pick up a dozen mini cupcakes to bring to Cynthia's house for dinner.  Beckett did the choosing, and picked a nice lineup of dark chocolate, red velvet, lemon raspberry, and banana chocolate chip.  A dozen mini cupcakes cost 20.00, which is pretty reasonable.  While we were there a young woman came in to test potential cakes for her wedding.  I would totally smear red velvet cake on my groom's face.  Or maybe they could  build a 7-tier extravaganza made of dozens of mini's...yum.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 82: The Sunsets

For most of the country mother nature has been pretty brutal and relentless this year, so I do feel grateful that we have it so good.  Here are some of the SoCal sunsets I snapped this winter:
Abbott Kinney:

33rd street, just South of Trader Joe's

The pier - Colorado & Ocean

Entrada, heading toward PCH

my street

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 81: Best bathroom in town

Well I was in downtown L.A. today again, doing a few jewelry errands -- had to repair a gold necklace and pick up one or two strands of beads.  Of course I stopped into Bottega Louie before I left to get a meat pie (chicken pie, that is) and iced tea for the road, and I made a new discovery.  The nicest, cleanest bathroom in town!  What a rarity it was to behold this marble-floor sanctuary of cleanliness.  Never again will I have to use that skanky co-ed one seater bathroom in the jewelry mart on Hill Street, or the sketchy, eerily deserted one down the hall from Beth's office.  It is these seemingly ridiculously small moments that just make my day.  By the way I just googled "Botega Louie restroom" and I found hundreds of images, which I find a bit disturbing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 80: Mulligan's Family Fun Center!

Well I promised my kids some family fun, and by god, it was time to deliver.  Our three day weekend has been fairly uneventful, so I promised them I would take them to Mulligan's with a friend today.  Beckett brought along Cooper, and Aidan had his buddy Zak to hang with, as Joni, Avery and Zak were meeting us there at 10 a.m.  Cooper did not meet the height requirement for the go karts, so I rode with him.  Since we got there so early, the place was near empty - no lines! It was my first experience go-karting.  Apart from the facefull-O fumes I was getting, it was a lot of fun!  It turns out, much to Cooper's delight I am a maniacal, cutthroat speed demon.  We zipped around that track fifteen or twenty times, gaining on Aidan, about to take him, but he managed to maintain his lead.  The kids played in the arcade, did the mini go- kart track, rock climbing, playground climbing, laser tag and mini golf.  I was so glad Joni was there to keep me company.  Joni and I bonded in Lamaze class over a knitted uterus our instructor made us pass around 12 years ago, and we have been tight ever since.  We hung out, chatting, doling out tokens, helping the kids cash in all of their "winning" tickets from the arcade so they could get the plastic spiders made in China.  Avery had a good half-hour's worth of entertainment from a gooey rubber spiked ball on a gooey string that you chuck up against the wall (or in your brother's hair).
The place got more and more crowded as the day wore on, and everyone started getting hungry.  We managed to talk the kids out of eating the greasy offerings at Mulligan's and go somewhere with edible food, so we googled restaurants in Torrance and I came up with an Italian sub place that sounded decent.  Joni and the gang followed us there in their car, and we wound up in a mini-mall on PCH at a really good, fresh deli.  Everyone loved his/her sub.  We had to check out "Sprouts," a healthy market that was sort of a cross between Whole Foods offerings at Trader Joe's prices.  So lunch and dinner were covered, I had a car full of happy kids, and the day was a success.  And we managed to get out of there in under 3 hours - bonus!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Day 79: Tasting Kitchen with (ok near,) Larry David

Mark and I tried to go to Gjelina on Abbott Kinney tonight, and when we overheard there was an hour and a half wait, decided to leave Gjelina.  We walked down the street to the Tasting Kitchen.

I haven't been to this space since it was the mediocre AK.  But in this new incarnation, chef Casey Lane really gets it right. Lane and his crew from Oregon were brought in to implement a temporary restaurant concept: a "tasting kitchen" based on a small, daily-changing, farm-to-table menu incorporating seasonal, local produce.  But it looks like they have a hit on their hands, and this place is here to stay.  As Jonathan Gold says in his glowing review, the dining room in the Tasting Kitchen is a study in social interaction that just so happens to involve food.

That was especially true for us tonight.  The hostess told us there were two seats left at the communal table, and once we sat down we were right across the table from Mark's agent (and friend) Cliff, and his wife Carrie.  We had a lovely, social evening at the communal table, sharing a huge cheese and charcuterie platter, bread, amazing aged balsamic vinegar.  I ordered the branzino, and for dessert, a crusty, warm apple pie.  Carrie and I had a little thrill to see that Larry David was wandering around the bar area looking lost, until he found his little party (two pretty women).  Definitely the thrill of my evening was having a "moment" with Larry at the bathroom.  I was waiting for the one-seater women's room.  He went into the one seater men's room.  When he came out a guy asked him if it was safe to enter, and he looked at all of us standing there, and in pure "Curb" form he assured us it was the safest men's room to enter in all of Los Angeles.  I wanted to ask him if he had a square to spare but I resisted temptation.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Day 78: Mudo

If you don't have boys, you might not have any idea what MUDO is.  My son has picked up interest in various martial arts and "hitting" sports - namely karate and boxing.  Recently we got turned on to this really cool martial art Mudo studio, that is conveniently located half a mile from home.  Mudo is "a comprehensive martial arts system integrating the use of striking, joint manipulations, throwing and grappling.  Central in its practice is the development of the self, as defined through the philosophical perspectives of Taoism, Confucianism, and Zen Buddhism."  Beckett's friends have taken this up, and now Beckett is going once a week and loving it.  His instructor, Mr. E is a cool, laid-back guy who is cordial and sweet, and seems much less interested in teaching agression than he is in teaching coordination, discipline and the art of an ancient practice.  All I know is we got away from the cult of California Karate Club, which I believe has gone out of business.  They were pushy, demanding both boys come twice a week to two separate sessions, expensive, and the sensei's wife, who ran the business, was a prying, petty woman with a penchance for spewing tmi to anyone within spitting range.   Mudo is much more our speed.  Afterward the kids can grab a slice of pizza at the Slice, and I can grab a gourmet salad at Thyme Cafe, so the evening is a perfect wrap.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Day 77: the Landmark

Well, I wrote in my last post that we in Los Angeles are landmark challenged, but we do have the Landmark!  The Landmark theater on Pico Blvd. in the Westside Pavillion mall is a sate of the art renovated theater with 12 screens.  I remember when the Westside Pavillion was home to an arthouse theater, the Goldwyn Pavillion which I could never drag my husband to because the seats were small and uncomfortable.  They moved the theater to the west side of the mall, across the street, and ramped it way up.  The new complex is posh, has a wine bar, a restaurant, a box office and a concession stand that offers a more interesting array than just popcorn and raisinettes.  The theaters have assigned seating, which you can either book online, or at the box office.  What really sets them apart is that they show not only first run movies, but they also show indies, and from time to time they will also show classics.  The big bummer of the Landmark theater for me is the parking.  The parking starts on at street level, and then you get sucked down a vortex to lower and lower levels, just to get to the bottom most level, where you will hopefully find a spot.  If not, after investing all that time, the feeling is claustrophobic, and murderous.

Today I went to the 10:15 a.m. show of Cedar Rapids with Carmen and Sonny.  The movie was a blast, and I scored maybe the best parking spot in the entire parking structure, on the first level, mere steps from the escalator.  My day was already made.  I was playing hookey, scored a killer parking spot, and the movie was hilarious.  Poor Carmen got a call from school and had to leave halfway through the movie to bring her son Zach home with a virus.  Sonny and I stayed to the end and laughed ourselves silly.  Oh, and it turns out my husband loves the new seats.  I just found this out too -- might have to investigate

21+ Shows at The Landmark!
Click Here to Visit the Wine BarEnjoy your favorite wine or beer in
the auditorium at select screenings.
Look for our special 21+ Shows at
The Landmark. Admission limited to guests 21 years old and above. I.D.
and wristband required.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 76: Scary Clown, Chicken Car

In Santa Monica, there's the good, the bad, and the fugly.  We are landmark challenged.  We don't have a Statue of Liberty, a Liberty Bell or a Space Needle, so we'll take what we can get.  What we have is the hideous scary clown on the corner of Main and Rose, and one of my personal faves, the chicken car.  The chicken car strutted out West in 1997 by a gentleman who drove it out from Ohio.  He bought a CB radio for help with directions from the truckers, and to overhear the priceless comments: "Hot damn - I just got passed by a chicken!" It is now owned by Tommy Kendall who parks it on California and 17th street.  On our way to Aidan's school when we are groggy and running late at 8:20, the chicken car stands out from all the other Odysseys and Prius' (Priii?) -- it makes us smile.  The level of impracticality and whimsicality involved in the conception of this vehicle must be applauded.

Now back to that scary clown.  I had to google "scary clown main street santa monica" to find out some of the storied conception of such a work of (gag) art.  I am still confused.  Apparently it was meant to be a monument to ugliness, so in that respect it is a success.  The artist Jonathan Borofsky's vision was to be "an accommodation or resolution of opposites in one.  Not only does this image bring the male and female together in one figure, but also, two opposite types of performers are represented: the formal classical ballet dancer and the traditional street performer."  I wonder if substance abuse was involved...If so it would really explain, if not excuse, a lot for me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day 75: Raymond

When I get done braving the crowd at the 33rd & Pico Trader Joe's and pack all my groceries myself, and pay, I am so happy to see Raymond.  Raymond works for Trader Joe's as a parking lot attendant, singer and entertainer.  Yesterday he helped me to my car and loaded the groceries, while serenading me with a great version of the Carpenters' "Close to you."  He is always chatty and he adds a lot of character to that place.  He makes it worth the crowds, even the parking lot mayhem.  When I leave I have a car full of excellent, cheap groceries and a smile on my face.  And Raymond puts the cart back for me, bonus.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Day 74: Walking the dog

Beckett and I were enjoying an omelette at Zabie's last week, when this couple walked up, started petting the dog at the next table and stayed for a stop and chat with the couple sitting there.  This would have all hardly been noteworthy, had it not been for the fact that the woman pictured was wearing a collar, and a leash.  The leash was held by her partner.  They started out as friends, and then developed into a romance.  From there, somehow the organic evolution of the relationship was for him to take her out on walks with her leash on.   In the words of Randy Newman, "I love L.A." 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Day 73: OK

OK is one of my favorite shops in Los Angeles is on West Third Street, East of La Cienega, in that great pocket of shops and restaurants.  Right next to Flight OO1 (another cool shop), OK has modern tchotchkes - everything from jewelry, coffee table books, Japanese paper lamps, vintage rotary-dial phones, and silverware, to funky glassware and art.  They sell gorgeous mounted butterflies in lovely frames.  I've been coming here once every year or so to add to the silverware set that I bought from the owner, Larry Schaffer.  Larry is a groovy guy, and once you get him started he will chat for hours.  I really liked the simple vintage 50's looking inspired stainless steel silverware that I bought here.  Every time I hear the sound of one of my spoons being mangled in the garbage disposal (by me) I cringe.  I know I will be making another trip back to replenish my silverware, and have a look around. I covet the jewelry, artwork, and especially the glass vases that are so gorgeous.  I once bought Mark a Robert Indiana "Love" paperweight that he does love.  Hit this place for Valentine's Day and put a big smile on your valentine's face.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day 72: end of the apartment hunt

Well after 48 hours of postage stamp kitchenettes, "like-new" five-year-old carpet, and cottage cheese ceilings, Alex and I walked into the Dream Apartment II.  The first one was in Santa Monica and way way out of the budget.  But this dream apartment was on a canal, facing the beach, light, bright sunny, good size, terrace, two (TWO) tandem parking spots, laundry, and....the owner said YES to the cat!  Alex slept on it and decided to take the apartment in Playa del Rey.  It's a 20 minute commute to our house, a 20 minute commute to work.  There is a cute Italian restaurant on the corner.  According to the property manager it is a real "bedroom community" and I believe it.  Her street is really quiet, safe, and charming.  Her application was approved.  I can't wait to hang with Al on her new terrace drinking a glass of pinot at sunset.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day 71: Cat Drama

Day 2 of the apartment hunt for my sis-in law, Alex!  And man, did we cover a lot of terrain.  We saw charming and out of the budget in Santa Monica, hideous in Culver City, and my favorite, the Barton Fink apartment on a walk street in Venice Beach.  The manager at the Barton Fink apartment ushered us into a tiny, old-school elevator, just about big enough to fit the three of us.  When he showed us the apartment I almost bumped into myself turning around.  I asked him where the rest of the apartment was.  It was a tiny postage stamp of a room, a strange cubby that was billed as a "loft bedroom nook" and a little kitchenette, and a little bathroom.  I would say the whole place was around 150 square feet.  For 1,500 a month.  He replied, yeah, it's actually not even a studio, it's a bit smaller than that.  So it's a half apartment? Yeah, he answered back.  It's almost more like a dorm room.  OK, awesome.  Oh, and did I mention it was facing a brick wall?  That was part of the cell-like charm.  It included one parking spot, which was, "off-site."  On to the next.

Well, we took a break for a great lunch at Cafe Brasil, and I got to turn Al on to Brazillian food.  She had a steak sandwich that she loved.  Nnogo suggested we check out Playa del Rey, so we drove on down to the beach.  We saw a few potential apartments, one quite noisy, the other facing a stucco wall (there is a theme here...)  Al spotted a rental/real estate office, and we stopped in. At 2:00 there was a place they could show us - it hadn't come on the market yet, but the tenant was willing to let us check it out.  It would not be available until March (perfect for Al's timing.)  We waited in front of a quite decent building, on an amazingly quiet, charming street.  We were praying it was a rear-facing unit, because if it was, it would have a gorgeous view of the beach.  And if it was an upper unit...bonus...Well the rental gentleman came along, showed us in, took us upstairs, to the rear of the building.  We were pinching each other.  We walked into a sun-filled apartment overlooking the canal and the beach, good size, great terrace, perfect kitchen, cute little bathroom, and quite decent bedroom.  Excellent closet space, laundry and parking spot - make that spots, plural. Two tandem spots!!  The rent was 1,600, a slight stretch of the budget, but not far off from the mark.  The only thing remaining a mystery...would the owner allow a cat? be continued...

Day 70: Apartment Hunt

My lovely sister-in-law Alex, 31, decided she wanted to move to Santa Monica.  Her company likes her (and Santa Monica) enough that they are relocating their entire San Francisco office here, to 2nd Street and Broadway!  So today began our apartment hunt.  What a roller coaster of a day it was.  The first stop was Westside Rental, where Sheila, tats and a nose ring confessed she loves the weirdness of Venice and prefers it over Santa Monica.  I sort of know what she means - being from New York there is a love I too feel for the artists and the eccentrics of Venice.  That being said, I thought the best thing for Al would be to check out all of it, and consider a place in Santa Monica within walking distance to her new killer-location office.  She has lived most of her life in London, and spent the last 3 years in San Francisco, and she loves the idea of a walking city.  (OK stop laughing, I know, this is the city that gets endlessly ridiculed for being NOT a walking city, but we are trying here.)  So Sheila was cool - she helped us line up one or two things, and looked up a few others on her google map so I could rule out the uncool/unsafe/obscure neighborhoods.  She kept Al's credit card and license in exchange for a set of apartment keys which we were to return within two hours otherwise two fifty would be charged on her credit card.  Al thought she meant two dollars and fifty cents.  I laughed at her expense for about five minutes.

The first place we looked at was in the right price zone, and in a great location - a block from Main street; four blocks up from the beach.  Unfortunately, it looked like a hellhole inside and out.  I stopped a young woman and asked her how she liked living there, and she said in a thick European accent that she had just moved in two weeks ago.  Next!  After we returned the key I suggested we drive around all the streets north of Wilshire.  I am a bit of a veteran at this game, having lived in 2 apartments in West L.A. and 8 apartments in Santa Monica.  I have a lot of stories from the trenches...Newly single and needing a place, I once stopped in at a cute building with a typical So Cal style courtyard and pool.  The manager said, "honey,  the only way you're going to get an apartment here is if someone dies." So, I waited...meanwhile, I inherited my cousin's rent-controlled apartment along with her dog when she fled Hollywood for good.  I had one landlord who asked if it was OK if he lowered my rent.  That was the apartment that Mark said was so small you had to go outside to change your mind.  Mark and I had two apartments with rats, two apartments with horrendous slumlords, two amazing landlords, and a new landlord who ran away and hid when I waved hello to him and his wife. (He soon after kicked us out, baby and toddler and all, and took our unit, so I guess he didn't want to get too cozy with us.)

Anyway, the point was (was there a point?) ...The best way to find an apartment in Santa Monica is still driving around, because people who don't want to cut Westside Rentals in on their dealings choose to stick a "for rent" sign up in front of their property, and field the calls themselves.  Which led Alex and me to The Perfect Apartment.  After looking at one or two more duds, Al and I drove by the most charming apartment in the world - cute manicured lawn, upper, bright unit with gorgeous, fancy leaded windows with a neat pattern.  We saw the for rent sign, no price, and could tell from driving by that the upper unit was vacant.  I made a U-turn and said, "do you want to poke around??"  We went upstairs, gently tried the door, and it was unlocked!  The dream apartment just kept getting better and better.  It had hardwood floors, plenty of storage, fairly new bathroom and kitchen.  And a lovely view!  We had no idea what the price was, if they allow a cat, if there was parking or laundry, but we were hoping since the unit was fairly tiny that it would be within her range ($1,500 or less.)  An hour later Al got the phone call about the apartment on 12th street...yes on laundry, yes on cat, no on parking...and 1,500 a month!  The woman agreed to show it to her first thing Wednesday morning.  We did not want to let on that we had let ourselves in because breaking and entering could be considered starting out on the wrong foot with the landlord.  We spent the next hour or so envisioning Al in her perfect Santa Monica place - walking distance to Father's Office, her new work location...the Promenade, happy hour at Fig...when Al's phone rang again.  The woman was calling about the unit at 944 12th is 2,000 a month...the last call was about a different apartment on 12th street, Al got mixed up.  The record skipped...bummmmmer.  We had to let the dream apartment go and put it out of our heads...

We saw many more places, some of them start to blend together in my head...nauseating new paint smell, postage stamp kitchens, funky motel-style bathroom fixtures from 1971... was it possible to find that perfect, charming, bright, cat-friendly place with parking, laundry and hardwood floors?  Was there a 1,500 or less diamond in the rough? be continued...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day 69: D.L. Rhein, Joan's on Third

It's Joni's birthday (almost!)  We had a great day walking around 3rd Street, between La Cienega and Fairfax.  We came upon this shop called D.L Rhein, owned by D.L. Rhein, a woman Joni knows from their kids' preschool.  When we walked in I was in tchotchke-lover's heaven.  There was jewelry, picture frames, leather note pads, beautiful beaded change purses, and a dreamy gardenia perfume oil.  Everything was so beautifully merchandised, I sort of wanted to move in.  After walking around we went to Joan's on Third. I get my Fringe Benefits 15% off for being a KCRW supporter, and the food is fantastic.  Joan's is one of those casual, order at the counter places with salads by the pound, quiches, sandwiches, quesadillas, and soups.  We both got chicken milanese with a side order - brussels sprouts for Joni and pasta for me.  We noshed, we laughed, sipped on a perfect old-school iced tea.  This is such a great area, home to one of my favorite stores, OK, right across the street from Joan's - but I'll have to save that for another day of the blog...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 68: Westwood

Aidan stayed home from school today with a cold.  We watched a screener of "The Fighter" (I had to fast forward through one or two naughty bits) while I worked out on the spin bike.  We had to see what all the fuss was about -- Christian Bale was amazing.  Afterward, Aidan requested Jerry's deli soup, so we drove to Westwood for lunch.  I had a feeling this was a mistake.  We usually go to Jerry's in the Marina near my mother-in-law's place, where there is ample parking and no traffic.  Westwood - not so much!  It's such a cute little college town, and I so seldom take the kids here that I thought it would be a fun thing to do.  After circling around looking for a meter, I gave up and parked in the lot right behind Jerry's.  We were hungry, damnit.  I have never been a fan of Jerry's Deli, home of the 15.00 sandwich, but my kids think this place is the Four Seasons.  They order the chicken soup, which Aidan got today, sans vegetables, extra noodles.  For medicinal purposes, I figured what the heck.  I had a super-average omelette, and a decent iced tea.  We got a quart of soup to take away for dinner.  On the way out, as we paid the 8.00 for parking, I felt a little indigestion coming on.