Wind Whipped War Zone

In the wake of an early morning whipping from the Santa Ana’s, South Pasadena and surrounding communities suffered one of the worst windstorms in recent history.

As gusts of up to 97 miles per hour (as recorded around Los Angeles) barged through December’s doors, we were not fully prepared for the equivalent of a stage 1 to stage 2 hurricane-like wind condition. Any wind speed above 75 mph is classified as hurricane winds, so we were well within what many southern states are usually forewarned about and prepared for.

Our homes, businesses, and trees were simply not used to this sort of abuse and few were ready. After all, we’re earthquake country, not hurricane ally!

Like many during the night and morning of November 30 and December 1, respectively, our family (including the dog) huddled together in the dark of a power outage. Emergency vehicle sirens, car alarms, and random wind-whipped objects kept us up, as we wondered when the calamity would stop. I could not sleep until after 3 AM; and that, only because I used earplugs.

The next morning, the electric alarm clock did not go off. But perhaps out of habit, we woke at about the usual time and rushed to get ready for the day, unaware of the destruction outside.

As we exited our home to get the kids to school on time, we surveyed the damage: our beautiful Australian Willow in the back yard didn’t make it through the night (thankfully, it fell away from the house), the front yard maples lost hefty branches, our 2-inch thick swinging wooden car gate cracked in two places, my hand-sewn seat cushion disappeared and more.

On our block, the house next door lost windows, the house across the street lost a significant part of their roof, neighbors were cleaning their property, torn power lines dangled in mid air, and three mature palm trees were decapitated. And this was noticed upon first glance, while walking the dog and talking with neighbors.

Perhaps, still in denial or thinking it was better at school, we proceeded with our usual routine. Then, the extent of the devastation began to sink in. We were weaving through a nature-induced war zone. And our street got off easy compared to the wreckage we witnessed: trees on top of cars, trees blocking streets, leaning fences and debris everywhere.

My boys kept saying, “Look at that! Oh, look at that! Oh my gosh…” I was simply focused on not hitting the car in front of me, going at a snail’s pace because the streetlights were all out. We were late; but it was a good thing, because while we were in the car I got the cell phone call from the SPUSD, school was canceled. We turned the car around and took the 15-minute, 1.5-mile detour home.

As the days rolled by, stories of individual hardships poured in. There was chaos with families as children were dropped off at various South Pasadena schools, then classes were canceled and parents had to fight their way back through traffic to pick-up or find their children.

One story that appalled me was of a friend who (like many were dealing with a mess on their property) was also burglarized while at work that same day, heaping insult upon injury. Though according to Officer Richard Lee of the South Pasadena Police, the number of burglaries since the heavy winds was not unusually high, the rates rising since October.

School was cancelled again for Friday. My friend (still without power) and I decided to take our children out to breakfast. As we visited one of the few open restaurants, we immediately noticed how packed it was with families, kids, people trying to connect to the Internet, etc. And strangers at surrounding tables, like family, shared their wind-induced hardships and close calls.

I never felt so much camaraderie with neighbors. It felt bitter sweet to connect with each other through our challenges, but that’s what it took: often, through hardship we break open.

I’m sad for our loss. We love our trees, excellent schools, beautiful homes, and quaint community. The clean up is extensive and expensive. People are still suffering loss. But if any good has or can come out of this, it’s that we all have an opportunity to better prepare for an even bigger emergency. And at least for now, we can also begin to more deeply recognize our humanity: people reaching out to help each other, sharing our stories, sharing our pain. Let’s not lose this chance to offer our help, big or small, and mean it.

What Would You Wish?

Peace-tagged olive trees, elementary school children, and Yoko Ono have converged on South Pasadena’s soil.

At Arroyo Vista Elementary (AV), children in all grades, K-5, drew or wrote their wishes for peace on sending labels and tied them to the branches of two donated olive trees.

While picking-up my son at school, I noticed a few children sifting through branches of these lofty potted trees, intently reading what looked like blossoms from afar. They were reading wish-filled tags, saying, “Hey, listen to this one…”

Intrigued, I too, read some… And I actually began to tear. Then I laughed. And then I did a double take. Surprised by what I read, I was in awe at the profundity of children’s hopes:

“I wish that my Geanie Pig was still with me and my sister.” “I wish my sister and brother wouldn’t fight with me.” “I wish my mom and dad wont fight anymore.” “I wish that everyone had a bed to sleep in.” “I wish we had a much cleaner and non-polluted WORLD” “I wish that all of the animals would be free and safe.” “I wish that people got more money!$” “No more war” “I wish that God will bless the solgers in the war fighting for this wonderfol place.” (Quotes are as is.)

As we live amidst an ailing economy, wars fought for the greater good, and hurting people, the hope for peace is often a distant ethereal dream. But without that dream, where would we reach?

Leslie Brill, volunteer parent and secretary at AV, took an active step toward peace and initiated the Wishing Tree Project out of a desire to inspire the children by providing an opportunity to voice their hopes while celebrating the United Nations’ International Day of Peace (September 21) “to recognize the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace… It is also a day of ceasefire – personal or political,” added Brill. And her hope for the kids was “to think of a wish that was bigger than their selves.”

When the principal, Cheryl Busick, was asked about what she especially liked about the project, she responded, “I love walking out in the courtyard and seeing 6-12 students gathered around the quotes. It’s so inspiring knowing that these kids can change the world and make our school’s wishes come true.” Her own wishes include, “Happiness for all – I am a believer that if kids are happy, they will learn.”

A wish tree is not a new concept. Many cultures have their versions of a wish tree: the Norfolk Island Pine in Australia from the early 1800’s, the sacred Camphor tree at Meiji Shrine in Japan, and a healing ash tree in Scotland, to name a few.

At the core of these wish trees, there is a sense that certain trees have unique, even supernatural quality that draw people to whisper wishes toward it, touch it, walk around it, or place their written wishes on branches or at the base. For many, these decorated trees are a reminder and a representation of peace, hope, and a common unity that serves us all well (like the olive trees at AV).

The project at AV was modeled after one done by Yoko Ono, an artist, performer, and widow of John Lennon. Since 1981 she began to popularize the wish tree with her interactive “Wish Tree” project that spanned the globe. People in various cities placed their wishes on tags and tied them to branches of various trees.

Heavy and drooping with wishes, Ono eventually collected the one million plus tags and placed them in capsules around the “Imagine Peace Tower” of light in Iceland, her art piece commemorating her late husband while promoting peace and solidarity. The unveiling of the tower occurred in 2007, and was recently relit on October 9, 2011 in memory of Lennon’s 71st birthday.

With the holidays quickly approaching and the decking of our beloved trees and homes upon us, I search for meaningful traditions to help my kids think beyond the tangible joys of the season (lights and presents). The wishing tree project inspired me to prepare for a new tradition for our family this year: placing our written wishes on the Christmas tree and maybe even the trees outside our home, then choosing a couple and making them come true through the new year. Maybe you can do the same or some creative version of it.

This way, wishes are more than lofty dreams, they’re stepping-stones to a new reality.

Inspiration in South Pasadena

Whether born and raised here or adopted into the heart, like myself, South Pasadena is a haven, rejuvenating the soul, for those who value the warmth of a small town set comfortably in a modern world.

As I live in and enjoy my neighborhood, I am thrilled to consistently discover new gems to enliven my soul. Whether it’s learning to bake pizza at Fiore Market Café or being inspired during an author night at the South Pasadena Library, I’m deeply grateful for the place our family calls home.

With a rich history (officially incorporated into a city in 1888) and a vibrant future that is evident in the proud residents who occupy it, SOUTH Pasadena (the “crown of the valley”) draws in the population with a magnetism that keeps spirits and house prices high.

Immersed in our walkable city (“Tree City USA,” in fact) are excellent schools, an award-winning Farmers’ Market, good eats, remarkable turn-of-the-century architecture, large exotic (albeit ridiculously loud yet lovely) parrots, and a landmark vintage water tower overlooking friendly citizens (among many other charms I hope to highlight in the months ahead).

On the west, we have the southernmost section of the Arroyo Seco greenbelt, full of opportunities for outdoor enjoyment, from horseback riding stables, tennis courts, and golf courses to athletic fields, batting cages, and an open-air skate park.

We have a decent-sized hill in Monterey Hills; and for better or for worse, a train (which my sons happen to love) flowing through our nostalgic downtown mom-and-pop shops. We have a freeway of our own in the 110 and we proudly don’t have another freeway in the 710. So our topography is certainly varied and our resolve to keep our environs healthy, solid.

All of this (mini overview) to say: our town, however small (consisting of 3.44 square miles), is large on stimulating the psyche. Whether you are part of an exclusive umpteenth generation of South Pasadenans or moved in yesterday, there are treasures galore to enjoy, old and new.

As we journey into all that makes South Pasadena beautiful, I hope to walk with you as we discover (or rediscover) that which ignites our being – to see, to feel, and to give back to our diverse community, inspiring the senses, inspiring the soul.

Facts to support this story were found on the City of South Pasadena website and Britannica.com  

A Solemn Remembrance

9.11.11

A quiet strength rose from the people gathered to remember a local life lost in the tragedy of 9/11.

In memory of Sue Kim Hanson (SPHS 1984), husband Peter Hanson, and their 2-year-old daughter Christine, who died on United Airlines Flight 175 as it crashed into the World Trade Center’s South Tower, a plaque was dedicated in the courtyard of City Hall this past Sunday, September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on American soil.

As Mike Ten, South Pasadena’s Mayor, made his opening remarks, there was an immediate call for us as a community to “connect to yesterday.” Through remembering, honoring, and volunteerism, we, as a South Pasadena family, can make a difference for our future, in light of the thousands of innocent lives lost, many heroes, because of all that unfolded from that infamous day.

The tribulation of September 11, 2001 can feel distant and surreal as seen repeatedly on television or heard on the radio. But when you are a part of a neighborhood event, like the remembrance service and dedication on Sunday, there is a direct and personal connection to the grieving and a renewed sense of hope to put petty things aside and further peace, whether in a broken relationship, within a city, or between nations.

Kevin Danni, former South Pasadena resident and survivor of the attacks on the World Trade Center, shared his memory of that fateful day, giving us a taste into the chaos at ground zero. As Danni descended the stairwell in the World Trade Center’s South Tower, fire fighters ascended, repeating encouraging words to keep heading down, where safety lie ahead. Twelve minutes after he exited the tower, it collapsed. To this day, Danni cannot stop thanking local heroes, like firefighters and police for their constant service, putting others lives before their own.

Along with the dedication of the memorial plaque for City Hall, and a “peace” plaque written in Korean for the High School, family and friends of Hanson gave brief tributes to the woman they loved. Not only did Hanson attend UC Berkeley and was at the tail end of finishing her PhD at Boston University’s School of Medicine, she was remembered as a vibrant personality.

As depicted by Hanson’s cousin, Ji Sung Kim, despite a rough transition to the States at 5-years-old, from being raised by her grandmother in Korea to living with parents in South Pasadena, “To me, she is a symbol of survival.” Hanson helped to keep the American dream alive as a fruitful member of society, when her and her family’s lives were abruptly halted.

Francie Schwarz (SPHS 1984) was at UC Berkeley with Hanson when running into her on the street. She remembers that interaction well because on the spot, the effervescent Hanson wrote a poem about Schwarz. “What kind of a person would just be able to do that? She’s just so confident and so engaged in the world around her…” states Schwarz with a grin.

A close friend from elementary school on, Ann Wyatt Moore (SPHS 1984) added of Hanson “Being in South Pas was one of the best parts of her life… She felt accepted and loved.”

I am especially encouraged by these personal reflections because they give a deeper picture into the life of a soul who walked among us. One way to help our society is to accept and love others as Hanson felt in South Pasadena.

Ten closed the morning’s event with a call to action on our part, in honor of the lives lost on 9/11, “to stand up, step forward, and make a commitment to get involved… to make things better.”

If you missed the ceremony on Sunday, visit the plaque anytime, outside in the foyer of City Hall because goodness and strength is aided by remembering.

I remember that awful day. Just weeks earlier, I had found out I was pregnant with my firstborn. As a new mother, I had swelling hopes for my child, to come into a world full of possibilities. So when I witnessed the unfolding attacks via media, I held my belly as tears fell, not only for the lost American lives, but for the next generation who would never understand life without the threat of localized terrorism. I thought, “What kind of world am I bringing my child into?”

But since then, my hope is being renewed. There are still threats looming about us daily, but to be paralyzed by them is far from the answer. Rather, when I am faced with my mortality, I’m invigorated and empowered to live life well, for myself and for others.

Rolling Out the Dough: Bread & Pizza Making at Fiore

8.24.11

The warm scent of yeast from a fresh risen loaf of bread wafts through the air from the corner of Fremont and El Centro. Last Tuesday evening, Fiore Market Café, owned by Bill and Anne Disselhorst, had their 2nd bread making class for a quaint group of 5 students. The week before, they had their first pizza making class with 10 budding amateur chefs, including myself.

Though I absolutely melt before fresh baked breads, what truly drew me to the classes was Fiore’s consistently delicious menu. I have tried a variety of fare issuing from their kitchen. I am pleasantly surprised with new favorites each time (like the short rib sandwich, roast chicken sandwich, or the vegetarian chopped salad). From their salad dressings, soups, and breads to their sandwiches, desserts, and drinks – all are fresh, homemade, creative, and simply delicious.

The inspiration for Fiore’s American-European, edible delights stem from Bill and Anne’s many cooking adventures while living in Italy. Their newfound friends taught them a new way of enjoying food, utilizing their hands to prepare homemade dishes while using fresh local ingredients. Bill beams and his smile widens when reminiscing about their experience there, “They have a craftsman-like attitude about cooking.”

Another inspiration (for the tasty cinnamon raisin bread, in particular, which is only sold on Friday and Saturday) finds it’s roots in Bill’s grandmother, Nana Gallagher, as he sidled up to her while she regularly cooked for a group of “orphans or truant boys.”

Fast forward to August 23, 2011, at Fiore’s bread making class, it was mostly about the dough: what to mix, how to briefly kneed and shape, how long to rise and rest, and bake in a typical stainless steel pan with lid on in the oven, a unique and effective method. Even for me, a self-declared “non-cook,” this bread was surprisingly simple to make!

After shaping the prepared dough, and during the second rising, with the help of Bill’s son, Patrick, we made pesto from the basil in their garden. We grinded it with olive oil the old fashioned way, with mortar and pestle (instead of a blender), brushed it on a sheet of dough, which was prepared earlier. Then we added course kosher salt and a fresh roasted tomato mixture, also prepared earlier. Baked it. Ate it. Yummmmm!

In between the rising and baking, we snacked on roasted figs, toasted walnuts and Danish blue cheese (a heavenly combination for my palate). We also munched on fruit and other cheeses, then washed it all down with some homemade lemonade and fresh brewed ice tea. This was a meal in and of itself! Then we practiced combining ingredients to help make bread for the next day.

Not only did I learn about an easy, homemade, tastier way to eat, but I had the privilege of getting to know my neighbors, Michelle, Chi-Ling, Nathaniel and Laura, in a relaxed atmosphere, where good food is not eaten fast, but savored and enjoyed with new friends.

After the bread flour flew and the yeast worked its magic in the oven, we all left with a fresh loaf of bread that I couldn’t resist biting into immediately. Before my head hit the pillow that night, half was gone and my tummy was delighted.

In addition to the bread and pizza making classes, future classes may include making Fiore’s popular cinnamon raisin bread or a scone version. I am quietly campaigning for a soup making class, as well, maybe learning one of Bill’s inspired concoctions served during the lunch hour.

Fiore Market Café is located at 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena. They are open Monday-Thursday 11 AM – 6 PM, Friday-Saturday 11 AM – 8 PM, and Sunday 12-4 PM. For more information on classes ($25), their menu, etc… go to fioremarketcafe.com or contact them at 626.441.2280.

Gang Members to Bread Makers: Gregory Boyle and Homeboy Industries

7.22.11

Yesterday, those who could squeeze into a packed South Pasadena Library community room (even overflowing onto the streets) were most likely inspired, as Mike (my husband) and I were, by Gregory Boyle, founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries. He shared funny, sad, and heart-warming stories about his quarter of a century or so journey with gang members in LA, loving on them as equals and bringing them hope for a peaceful future through jobs where rival gang members become co-workers and eventually, friends.

A gifted storyteller, Boyle enamored the crowd as he described the budding of friendships, with the initial meeting of tattoo-strewn rival gang members: cold and carefully distant. But when one of the members was beaten on the street and left for dead by rival gang members, his co-worker, previous enemy turned kin, responded with heartfelt dismay, “That’s messed up what they did… Can I give my blood?” His friend passed away, but the bond between brothers was solidified. This is the power of getting to know people, really know them, while fostering respectful and caring interactions.

Father Boyle, a Jesuit priest, is not what you might expect. While loving the Lord through his actions, he has learned what it means to be in the world, but not of the world (like “Jesus with skin”). He uses colorful language (some would call it foul) as the homies would use in their everyday vernacular to describe life. At the same time, he seems comfortable in his skin whether interacting with the first lady of the US or with someone hooked on heroine. In his words, “We’re all equals.”

I’ve eaten at Homegirl Cafe in LA, a short gold line train ride from South Pasadena (Chinatown stop), and it’s simply delicious. Even without the good that it’s doing for all who work there and the community at large, Homegirl Cafe is a good restaurant (I wrote about it months ago on facebook). You can also get Homeboy goodies at the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market on Thursday evenings (shameless plug for the homies in South Pasadena). But it all started off as a bakery, jobs for the homeboys (and then silkscreening, tattoo removal, educational classes, etc…) So you combine quality with a useful social service that works and you get Homeboy Industries.

Encouraged by Boyle’s courage and steadfastness, I bought his Los Angeles Times best seller, Tattoos on the Heart, The Power of Boundless Compassion (all proceeds going back into Homeboy Industries). He signed it, “no-matter-what-ness.” I plan to read on and find out just what that means. In the mean time, I know that I’ve just stepped into my first Tattoo parlor, the start of a beautiful piercing of art on my own heart, allowing “He who began a good work in me” to bring it to completion; I trust this.

Hopefully, the inspiration that was shared last night does not stop at a good feeling, hearing uplifting stories and being thankful the Homeboy Industry exists, but transfers to action: volunteering, seeing people as equals, doing our part to extend compassion and love a step further than we already do.