A Dog, a Moment and a Sunny South Pas

It was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny winter day last week in South Pasadena, California, just a tad under 80 degrees with bright blue skies and fresh, rain-washed air. It was the kind of day for which people uproot their entire family and move here!

My faithful Terri-Poo, Bree, and I were on the back porch soaking in the sun. Bree was enjoying the splash of water from the fountain to the grass and I was enjoying a wise and hysterical book on writing by Anne Lamott.

When it was time to go in, I called out “Breezy” to make sure she knew where I was going. But really, I think I called her because I needed a dose of my pooch’s love. And she delivered.

As the following unraveled, I was reminded of why I love this member of the family so much.

While entering the house, Bree was quick to follow, but then she paused just outside the threshold. She turned, craning her neck around to glance behind at the beautiful outdoors. Then she glanced longingly back at me, as if to say, “What? You want me to come in on a day like this? You’ve got to be kidding me! But you feed me and I love you more than this day; and if you want me to come in, I will.”

Yes, I am a dog whisperer. She said all this in one adorable glance.

Then uncaringly, like many distracted pet owners, I walked inside to go about my business. But I wasn’t completely uncaring because I left the door open for her to choose to stay outside or come in.

She came in, dragging her paws and with head held low. I heard her quiet, complaint-filled mumbling behind me, “Fine. I’ll come into the cold cave you call home because you’re too cheap to turn on the heater. I’ll come in; but I don’t have to like it. Grumble, grumble.”

So I turned around and got down to her level, kind of like I do with my 4-year-old human (many similar training techniques, but that’s another story). And I began to stroke her and speak gently into her big dark eyes, like she understood every wise word issuing from my lips. “Breezy, You don’t have to stay by my side. You can go out and enjoy the perfect day.”

And surprisingly (I mean, I knew she understood my every word all along), I kid you not, she turned around and leaped back toward the door. But she also stopped midway and turned around as if to say, “Are you sure now? Because once I step across to the other side, I’m outta here!”

I responded aloud, “Yes, go ahead. I’ll be right here with the door open, waiting for your return, and writing about how much I love sunny South Pas and you.”

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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.

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  

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.