L.A. — Botanical Garden Heaven…

I am so happy to report that I am just home from one of the most epic days of my life!  And where did it happen?  LA!  In my last post (L.A. — It’s “About to Happen”) I started off by saying I was a bit worried I wouldn’t find anything fabulous enough to do here for my birthday (Spending my birthday alone in a new place did not strike me as completely optimal…).  Well, it’s not my birthday yet, but today was definitely fabulous enough for several birthdays!  I feel so thoroughly gifted by my experience that I almost don’t need to do anything extra-special on the actual day of my birth.  My gift came early — 17 days early.

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(Super happy me!)

I’ll take it!

I’d never even heard of the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden (despite several previous trips to LA over the past 10 years) until a few months ago.  Someone I know moved from Tucson to LA and recently back to Tucson, and he mentioned to me  that he and his family really missed the Botanic Garden and (specifically) the peacocks.  I made a mental note and had it on my list of things-to-do this month (I’m spending a month in Los Angeles as part of my sabbatical search-for-home adventure).  Wow.  If I’d known how truly amazing it would be, I’d have…I don’t know… I guess don’t know what I’d have done.  I want to say I’d have come years ago.  But, I guess it worked out just perfectly.  I’ve learned that generally it’s good to not have super high expectations.  It is a quick path to suffering.  And while I knew the Botanic Garden was big…with peacocks, I purposefully tried not to have expectations, primarily by not thinking about it much in advance.

So, I really had no idea what I was in for…

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Now, I worry as I write this that I’ll tarnish the park experience for someone because they will have huge expectations after reading this.  Please don’t let me affect your experience too strongly in advance!!  I don’t want anyone reading this to have super-sized expectations.  It’s just not fair to you!  But, I will say that this Arboretum is quite simply the best botanical garden I’ve ever visited.  And I’ve been to a lot.  On several different continents.  There certainly may be a more “exotic” one in Bali or Asia.  I know there are some amazing ones there.  But I have been to incredible (and exotic) gardens in Hawaii, Fiji, several countries in Europe, Africa, Australia, all over the United States, etc., and none was more impressive to me than this one in LA.

Anyway, like I said, I don’t want to get your hopes up too high.  What was so wonderful about this place was probably my surprise.  And the contrast to the rest of LA.  I’d had a completely urban day the day prior.  Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Central LA, Silverlake.  Driving through miles of city, street lights, shopping, traffic, etc.  It was a fun day, but it was not ecstatic.  I almost didn’t even go to the Botanic Garden because I was kind of hesitant to get on the freeway for the 35 minute drive to the park.  I was worn out, and the idea of driving was not appealing.  But I knew it’d be better on a Sunday than during the week (when I’d be leaving the park in the middle of rush hour for that 35 minute drive (turned 2-3 hours probably) home.  So, I went for it…

And was I ever glad!

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Let me start my discussion of the park by saying that I ADORE PEACOCKS.

They don’t necessarily adore me back, but I don’t really take it personally…  I haven’t seen them be too super friendly with any humans, except maybe the ones feeding them.  I see them as not overly interactive but not especially shy either.  I relate to that description myself, so that may be one reason why I’m so fond of them.  They are regal, peaceful, graceful, and beautiful.  That blue color just captivates me…So, I was very excited about the opportunity to walk amongst them and engage at some gentle (but greater than when they are in a cage) level.  If the park had been 3 acres with free-roaming peacocks, I’d have been happy.  So, over 100 acres with peacocks and amazing flowers, trees, and gardens…I was in Heaven!

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The park, I believe is about 127 acres, actually.  It has a number of different “habitats” or gardens–such as a cactus garden, an Australian garden, an orchid garden (greenhouse), a begonia garden (greenhouse), a jungle, several forests, a medicinal garden, a herb garden, a perennial garden, a California-native garden, etc. There is a large spring-fed lake and even a historic house that was part of the property when it was originally the estate of the first mayor of Arcadia (CA) in the late 1800s.

When you first walk into the park, the desert habitat is the first thing you see on your right.  Apparently this whole area was desert when the land was purchased in the 1800s.  The owner, “Lucky” Baldwin, (mentioned above) designed and cultivated this paradise…practically from scratch!  I was super interested to learn a bit of the history about this place, as I love how plants and water can transform land so dramatically from something barren to something peaceful, lush, and healing.  I am very interested in the healing powers of nature, and I believe that people who cultivate their own land, especially, gain great benefit from this endeavor (mentally, spiritually, and physically).  It is restorative and balancing (in my opinion).  A symbiotic relationship of sorts seems to develop–good for the land, good the plants, and beneficial for the people living there.

There’s definitely positive effects from visiting beautiful, lovingly cultivated natural spaces, too…(And non-cultivated, wild spaces in nature).  Most of us cannot have large wonderlands of our own.  So, that such gardens are available for public use is an incredible blessing for which I am very grateful…

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(The desert gardens)

Prior to going on my “accidental sabbatical” I lived in the Sonoran desert in Tucson, Arizona for six years.  I love Tucson, and I love deserts, in general.  I don’t necessarily love them more than other places.  But I might.  I tend to be a lover of a variety of climates and geographic zones.  (And a lover of variety, itself!)  Basically, I love beauty, in all her forms!  But, deserts are particularly special to me, maybe because of all the time I spent in one or maybe because of the effect they tend to have on me and on people, in general.

Deserts are still.  Quiet.  Stark.  In some ways, they are simple.  Pared down, you might say. Not a whole lot there.  They are also extreme.  Not soft.  They require your attention.  (If not careful, you can dehydrate or die in a desert.  Or step on something quite sharp.)  I believe that energetically these characteristics of the desert promote a certain kind of awareness and self-reflection in people.  Not all people, necessarily, but people who are sensitive and working on themselves spiritually will usually “go deep” in the desert.  I considered the desert a wonderful place to be a psychiatrist (I am a psychiatrist for anyone who didn’t know.)  And personally, I felt that my time in the desert was a very powerful period of self-reflection and growth.  You cannot hide easily in the desert–literally or figuratively.

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One of my favorite plants in the desert garden at the Arboretum was the Madagascar spiny thickets, which is the tall, “arm-y” plant seen above in the picture. It is a variety of ocatillo, which was one of my favorite Sonoran desert plants, as well.

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Apparently their native habitats are being destroyed, so there is some kind of outreach work happening through the Arboretum to try to protect this interesting and beautiful plant.

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Another standout at the Garden was the pink silk floss tree…I had already discovered these trees several months ago in Santa Barbara.  There are several in the Alice P. Keck gardens in the center of town.  I loved them there, and I loved them even more at the Arboretum.  Apparently, they only bloom once a year.  Guess when?  October!  I am so lucky!!

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The tree itself is lovely, but the blooms are just enchanting.  They don’t have a strong fragrance, but they are just beautiful to look at and be around…You can see the trees lighting up the view in this distance shot of the park.  Where you see pink, that’s a silk floss tree…

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I am kind of geeky when it comes to plants and flowers.  I adore flowers.  If you’ve read any of my other posts, you definitely know this already.  But really, I love plants and trees, too.  I love the earth.  I love all of nature.  But I am geeky in that I love to know the names of things.  So, I really enjoy botanical gardens because most of them have labels on the plants and trees, and this offers me a great opportunity to learn more about something I love without having to resort to a book (or the internet).  I much prefer the outdoor, learn-as-you-enjoy-it classroom!  The LA Arboretum was one of the best-labeled botanical gardens I’ve ever been to, as well.  A+ on many fronts here… It was rare to see a plant without a label.

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My favorite new tree I encountered at the Arboretum was the “Montezuma Cypress” seen above.  It is kind of like a cedar you might see in the Pacific NW at the trunk but with droopier arms.  Very graceful.  I really, really liked this tree.  And there were many in the “forest” area of the Arboretum.

(Enjoyed hanging out within the tree arms below…)

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One of my favorite surprises at the Garden was the discovery of four turtles sunning themselves on a log in a quiet part of the lake.  You had to bushwack a little to get to this view and the path was not well-worn, so probably not many people have noticed (or disturbed) them.  So, that was a treat!

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They were so cute!

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As you can see, there is a big, brown (apparently spring-fed) lake at the Arboretum, home to many turtles, ducks, and geese.  It is quite scenic and tropical-looking…almost reminded me of the Amazon, which I visited back in 2005.

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There aren’t as many super tall palm trees in the Amazon (from what I can remember)(probably it’s just the forest is so thick the ones that are there don’t stand out as much), but there was definitely something “Amazonian” about this lake… Very jungle-y.

On one side of the lake sits “Lucky” Baldwin’s beautiful, restored cottage.  It even has (I think) the original antiques inside.  You cannot enter, but you can peek through the windows.

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It is a charming house with interesting architecture and many fine details.

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As I was walking around the park I kept thinking “it cannot get better than that…” or “that” or “that”.  I didn’t really mean to be making assessments, but I was so pleased I had a hard time stopping myself.  Just about everything I saw topped the last thing.  The whole place is truly incredible.  This is why I really meant it when I said it was one of my favorite days ever.  I love exploring, and to explore a series of beautiful, large garden habitats was truly like opening one surprise present after another.  It was so exciting!

Kind of “behind” the house is a series of more manicured gardens–herbs, medicinal plants, natives, perennials.  The design of this part of the grounds is especially lovely and is enhanced by incredible views of the mountains in the distance.

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(Is that amazing or what?)

(I’m guessing the well is original to the 1800s property…)

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(Charming…)

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My favorite find in this part of the Gardens was a magical plant filled with “dancing purple dangly” flowers.  (It was one of the few plants in the Garden for which I could not find a label.)  They were soft with a delicate, sweet fragrance, and they seemed to be falling and dancing like purple snowflakes…on a string.  Standing under them was very enchanting and fun… It was definitely one of the highlights of my magic-filled day.

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The “park” also contains a beautiful man-made waterfall and many little streams.  Quite impressive!  Looks almost like Hawaii…

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Speaking of Hawaii, there is a sort of Hawaiian-esque forest area as well.

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I love Hawaii and am considering making it my home.  (Moving to Hawaii–or trying to–was how I started this sabbatical.)  So, naturally I felt very “at home” in this part of the Arboretum.

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I just really could not believe that such a place existed in the middle of the city of Los Angeles.  Totally mind boggling.   And wonderful.

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The final bliss-periment station on my amazing visit to the LA Botanic Garden was in the perennial garden.  Here I discovered an enormous (obviously many years old) patch of the most cheerful, sweet pink flowers I’ve ever seen.  Strangely, this was the only other place in the park where the labeling fell short.  I couldn’t find a label.  Probably it was buried under the incredible proliferation of beauty.

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I felt like the energy of these flowers was so welcoming and happy.  I was truly very, very delighted to sit with them and absorb their wonderous flowerful gift of light, beauty, and love.  I hope that I gave them a gift of light and love and gratitude in return…

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(Happy early birthday to me!  (My real birthday is October 30th.))

That was truly one of the best days ever!

Thank you flowers.  Thank you plants.  Thank you trees.  Thank you Botanic Garden.  And thank you Los Angeles.  I will forever be changed by having had that fun, joyful, healing day of garden bliss.

❤ I am grateful ❤

Goodnight…

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L.A. — It’s “About to Happen”…

I’m spending a month in LA this month (October), a month that includes my birthday.  I was hesitant to spend my birthday here, as I usually like to do something “very special” for that day.  I worried LA might not have the “right” or “special-enough” thing to qualify for a birthday visit.  But, I wanted to be here for a month, and this is the month when all the atoms in the universe coalesced to place me here.  So, I will spend my birthday in LA.  (I am pretty sure many people actually come to LA just so they can spend their birthdays here…)

I trust it will be exactly what it needs to be…

I’m really enjoying my month so far, much more than I was expecting, actually. I spent a week in Venice back in July, and I was kind of traumatized by it.  I love Venice.  But it is a very complex place.  Weird, fun, edgy, hip, grimey, crimey, beachy, artsy.  It’s so many things.  Including noisy and chaotic…at least where I was in Venice.  This time, I’m up in Beverly Glen, a canyon neighborhood just above Beverly Hills and Westwood (UCLA area).  It is turning out to be a wonderful spot for me.  The neighborhood is quiet and peaceful and even borders a nature preserve (Stone Canyon Reservoir).  I actually found a “secret” (well, maybe…) hiking trail within walking distance of my house.  It was such a treasure to discover!!  It may not truly be “secret”, but I wasn’t expecting it, so it was a secret to me.  I celebrated with an internal “Yes!”, “Yes!”, “YES!” with each new turn, as I wove my way through the bushes and along the ridge that opened up to wonderful views of Beverly Glen Canyon on one side and the reservoir on the other.

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(Surprise hiking trail with wonderful sunset-mountain light show…)

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(Enjoying the view of the reservoir)IMG_4252

(Stone Canyon Reservoir)

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(Hiking along the ridge–canyon on the left, reservoir on the right)

“Exploring” (in nature) has always been one of my favorite pastimes.  As a child I used to love to ride my bike to semi-wild areas in my town (those reachable by bike, anyway) in south Georgia and wade up streams and through forests, looking for especially cool or beautiful spots, interesting plants, old oak trees (because they were the best for climbing), animal bones, or anything else that would captivate…  I remembered this about myself while I was up on the ridge poking around.  It made me smile….

One of the fun discoveries I made on this little exploring trip was a labyrinth!  Someone had apparently constructed it some time ago, as many of the rocks had washed away or been removed.  But plant debris in the shape of the labyrinth pattern indicated it had been there a while.  I replaced a few of the missing rocks but ended up getting side-tracked by an idea I had to construct a stone “girl friend” for my own amusement.  I was thinking, “What a nice labyrinth, and what a nice spot.  I wish I had someone to share it with…”  And…Viola!  I made a friend.  Literally.  Out of rocks.  It was super fun.

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Gave me an even bigger smile!

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I love creating things!

My strong passion for art is definitely one of the reasons I was/am drawn to LA.  I love the dynamism here.  Creativity is palpable to me in this city–more than just about any other place I’ve ever experienced.  I’m not sure why that is exactly, as I know there are many artists and brilliant, creative people in every city.  And I usually seek them out.  But, I guess there just must be some kind of relatively harmonious “frequency match” for my particular style of creative expression here in LA.  (We are dealing with merging of energies, after all…)  Or maybe there’s something especially attractive (to me) about the combination of creative + social + various other elements here…

I do have a kind of glamorous side to my personality.

That’s possibly what does it.

And the warmth.  I love the beachy, sunshiney, palm tree, convertible vibe of LA.  Glamorous, warm, hip, creative, eclectic, hopping.  It is a lot of things.  There is so much energy here.  When I have passed through on shorter visits I tended to be completely fascinated and totally overwhelmed.  I am very sensitive to energy.  A lot of chaos does me in.  So, generally speaking, I don’t really love cities–as they all are a bit inherently chaotic.  But I do like them.  I probably am coming to realize that I may be someone who’s most at home in nature but who enjoys visiting the city … perhaps even regularly

There is a lot to like about LA, actually.  And definitely plenty to not like so much, also.  Everyone knows the traffic is horrendous.  It really is.  I find that you can only go out between 12 and 3 on weekdays.  Maybe 11-3.  This is very limiting, especially if you are a night owl, like I am.  If you miss this window, you will have traffic.  Just expect it.

Relaxing into the inevitable helps…(with traffic, and all things…)

The chaos, noise, grime, and crime are definitely other less desirables of note for me.  Miles and miles of random kind of junky, strange stores in Hollywood and central LA are also not my favorite.  But, it’s a city.  A range of ambience is not really a surprise…  Plus, I like to focus on the positive…

One of my favorite things about LA is the feeling I speak of in the title of this post.  It is always “about to happen”.  And I don’t mean that “it’s about to but never does “.  No.  “Always ready to go” is what I mean.   Just waiting for you.  Me?  Yes, you!  Kind of like “just add water” pancake mix.  LA is “just add yourself” or maybe “just add yourself and a few hundred (or thousand) other people”.  There is always a buzz, always a flutter, always the option to go down to … wherever … and find the feeling of being a part of something that is greater than you.   And while the vibe on the highway is definitely kind of “dog eat dog” or “every man for himself”, I find a much more friendly, interactive vibe in the individual neighborhoods of the city.  People will speak to you at a coffee shop (usually), especially if you smile or say hello.  Or at a park.  Even if you speak to no one, there is definitely a sense of being swept up in the action…of being a part of the whole dance that is being collectively danced.  Your individuality contributes, but the force of the whole is definitely much greater.  I really, really love feeling this.  It is invigorating and beautiful.

It is so nice to belong.  I think it is very human to enjoy that feeling.

So…this month…I am enjoying belonging.  To the human race.  To the city of LA.

And, to life itself.

Now…Switching gears a bit… I want to talk a little more about what I’ve seen and done in LA (the “travelogue” part of my post).  I’m only 1/2 way through my time here.   And, I’ve done most of the very “LA things” on previous visits (Hollywood, Santa Monica, and, as I mentioned, Venice).  So, this month I’m focusing on parts of LA that I don’t know as well–Silverlake, Beverly Hills, Westwood, and Topanga.  Plus any surprise others that come up.  The real (overt) purpose of this visit (and of my whole sabbatical journey) is to find my next home.  I’m considering LA, so I need to get a sense of what it would be like to live and work here–not just sight-see.

Westwood.

Westwood, the home of UCLA, is quite close to Beverly Glen.  I was very pleasantly surprised to discover I could drive to and from the UCLA campus in about 8-10 minutes, each way, even during high-traffic times.  It is a beautiful, peaceful little enclave nestled up against the Bel Air hills.  I had no idea it would be so scenic or serene.   Lots of trees and green.   I actually had a job offer (to do my psychiatry residency training) at UCLA a number of years ago, but I declined because I thought it would be too stressful for me (at the time) to live in LA.  When I now see UCLA (for the first time), I am kind of shocked.  It’s not stressful at all!  I am still happy I did my residency at the U of Arizona.  It was the right place for me for many reasons, but UCLA is not “LA”.  It is a little bubble of pleasant university “spirit” and relative peace and tranquility.

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(An original Rodin sculpture in the Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA.  I remember learning about this piece in a college art history class at Duke.)

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(The beautiful main campus)

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(More sculpture garden)

I really enjoyed UCLA.

Beverly Hills.

I’m a little bit fond of glamour, so I like Beverly Hills.  I know, I know.  It’s overly manicured and superficial.  But it’s also peaceful and pretty.  Beverly Hills is not my personal version of Dreamland or anything.  But if I was to say I don’t like it a bit, I would be lying.  I do like it a bit.  I like the tree-lined streets with very little traffic.  I like the pretty gardens.  I like the views of the hills in the distance.  The palm trees that sway in the breeze.  I like the feeling of safety that is there.  In and of itself, Beverly Hills would probably be boring to me, but as a neighborhood in the middle of LA, I find it kind of refreshing.  I know that’s probably uncool to admit.  But I’m just being honest.  To me (and my experience of it is admittedly minimal) it is calm, almost soothing…a little micro-oasis.  I’ve noticed myself pleasantly sighing when I arrive back there (after a day out in the “real world” rest of LA) on my way home to Beverly Glen.

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(In Glam Girl mode on Rodeo Drive–the residential portion of the street.  It’s wide, quiet, and lined with beautiful, mature trees.)

Central Los Angeles.

I haven’t done that much in Central LA so far, but I did venture to the Grove shopping center—by accident.  I was driving through town to get to Silverlake, and I drove past the Grove.  I had heard of the Grove (when I lived in Tucson) from someone who’d spent a lot of time in LA.  She said it was “a very nice shopping area” (or something to that effect).  It didn’t look like much on the outside, so I drove around the block hoping to get a better view.  I ended up on a one way street leading directly into the parking garage (with no turn around).  Yikes.  Okay.  I guess I’m going to the Grove.  Turns out, I really enjoyed myself!

The Grove is like Disneyland for adults.  There is a large fountain, bridge and stream (not “natural” per say but quite nice still), music playing, outdoor cafes, upscale shopping, mature trees, manicured garden areas, sculptures, upscaled bathrooms (with attendants and mints), free (highly organized and efficient) parking, interesting architectural elements, random employees blowing bubbles (for ambience), a trolley, and a general air of “festive”.  I walked around for a few minutes, sat on a bench, watched some people, enjoyed the collective feeling of excitement, and then I went back to the car and kept going.

But, for a few minutes there I participated in the “dance” I spoke of earlier.  The dance of LA.  This dance was specific to “shopping at the Grove”.  It was definitely interesting and even quite fun.

Being curious helps me enjoy a wide variety of things.

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(“Disney-like” scene at the Grove)

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(There’s even a trolley.)

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(And huge pinwheels that actually work…)

I also have eaten at the hip and fabulous Cafe Gratitude in Central LA.  (There’s one in Venice as well.  And Berkeley.  And Oakland.  Probably some other locations, too.)  They have a variety of different (and actually, rather elegant) “veggie bowls” with simple, positive names so when you place your order, you are saying an affirmation.  “I Am Whole” is my favorite.  I’ve eaten it at three of the Gratitude locations.  It has seaweed (dulse, I believe), kim chee, quinoa, kale, sunflower sprouts, and sweet potato with a yummy (possibly tahini-based) sauce.  I also really like the Immortality elixir (add cacao) and the 100% organic cacao-mint milkshake with Vitamineral Green super-nutrient powder added.  Oh boy!  They need bigger straws because the cacao pieces get stuck on the way up.  Other than that, it is my favorite milkshake ever!  Fresh mint on top.  Delicious.

Silverlake.

Silverlake is a mello, hipster, artsy neighborhood.  It is home to one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever tasted.  You can find it at Intelligentsia Cafe on Sunset Blvd.  (You can also find a similarly amazing cappuccino at another Intelligentsia in Venice, by the way.)

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Silverlake has many funky, charming cafes, shops, vintage stores, restaurants, etc.  It is definitely “its own crowd”.  Very different from other parts of LA.  Somewhat more similar to the vibe in Venice.  Artsy and hip, but not as weird.  I ate a late lunch at a place called the Casbah Cafe while I was in Silverlake.  It is a curious mixture of Parisian + Moroccan + Spanish/Central American foods and decor.  My friend chose it, but I actually stopped to photograph it before I realized it was “our spot” because it was so charming.

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My friend recommended the Central American-style chicken soup (complete with 1/2 an ear of corn, potatoes, bay leaves, and avocado on top).  It was good for sure, but I actually preferred the gluten-free dark chocolate torte I had as an appetizer.  (I’m a best-first kind of girl…when I can be…).  They had many delicious-looking pastries (the French influence) at this place.  Do not go here if on a diet.

Silverlake has many sweet little streets with lovely, quaint homes perched on hillsides.  The views are incredible, and the vibe is peaceful.  There’s lots of Spanish architecture, which I love.  It’s not quite as “hipsterish” up in the neighborhoods as it is on the streets.  This was a surprise.  But, I liked it.

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(Sunset hillside view from one of the residential streets in Silverlake.)

Well…That just about wraps up what I’ve done in LA and what I think about LA … so far….  I still hope to make it to the Arboretuem, The Getty, and Topanga Canyon in the coming weeks.  My mid-month evaluation one-liner is I like it.  I probably don’t see myself living here full time, though.  But, that’s why I’m here…to find out how I fit with LA and how LA fits me with me.  To do the dance.  And in doing that dance, we may both be a little different for having had the experience.  This month has definitely already made a big impact on me.  LA, however, may not really notice if I just pass on through.  But she might.

After all, I did leave her a friend on the side of the mountain…

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CIAO!