I’ve never been a fan of the term “bucket list” so, when I was about twelve, I created a Life List of things I wanted to do or try. In 2009 this evolved into my Adventure List which became the basis of my blog and, ultimately, a life philosophy I would share with others. At the top of that list? Watts Towers. Why? I wish I could tell you.
The fact that visiting Watts Towers topped by Adventure List is a mystery (I must have heard about it or seen pictures of it in my youth and it just stuck with me), but it’s the perfect example of the randomness that characterizes such lists. There doesn’t have to be a reason, you just have to write down any and all things that spark your curiosity. Then go on adventures and have new experiences!
After almost a decade on my list I finally visited the South Los Angeles landmark and, what made it even better, I hadn’t even planned on it! I was traveling with my Dad and we missed the exit for another site we’d been planning to see because we were too engrossed in conversation, so I pulled up the ol’ Google and searched nearby places of interest. Eureka!
“Watts Towers!” I yelled.
“Let’s go to Watts Towers!”
To my complete and utter surprise my Dad agreed. I’d brought up visiting the Towers over the years and he never wanted to go because, having grown up in Los Angeles, he knew they weren’t located in the best neighborhood. I guess I caught him on a day he was feeling adventurous.
The story goes that Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, purchased a triangular-shaped lot on 107th Street in 1921 and began creating his immense works of art after work and on weekends. What are referred to collectively as the “Watts Towers” are actually 17 sculptures, the tallest of which is just shy of 100 feet tall. Rodia transformed his little triangle of land over the course of 34 years and lived on-site until moving to Martinez, CA at the age of 74.
According to wattstowers.us, he “worked single-handedly to build his towers without benefit of machine equipment, scaffolding, bolts, rivets, welds or drawing board designs. Besides his own ingenuity, he used simple tools, pipe fitter pliers and a window-washer’s belt” and “adorned his towers with a diverse mosaic of broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery and tile.” Apparently he “had it in mind to do something big” and just… did it. How fantastic is that?!
The site is now the official home of the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus. Anyone can take a self-guided tour around the towers, as we did, but if you want to go inside the gates you’re going to have to wait until the current refurbishment project is finished. Bummer!
While I can’t speak to the safety of the neighborhood, we had a very nice time there and the arts complex surrounding the towers was clean and welcoming. Even outside the fence, you get a great view of the towering structures and, if you look closely, all of the amazing mosaic detail. I was just as fascinated by what was created as why it was created, so after our visit I did a bit of research and made an unexpected discovery. I’m now 99% sure the first time I heard about Watts Towers was from Levar Burton on Reading Rainbow! It all makes sense now.
A couple of short documentaries I came across actually had interviews with Rodia and members of the community who grew up watching him work. He would sing along with Caruso as he worked, climbing higher and higher, and would tell people that he just wanted to make something. Maybe he needed a project to work on in his spare time, maybe he wanted to make something that people would like, maybe he wanted to reach the sky. The motivations behind his sculptures didn’t seem to matter much to him. He just wanted to create. And because of that, we get to see beauty through his eyes. Some people called him crazy, some people called him a genius, and some people felt his works of art brought the community together. My favorite quote was from a man who said Simon might have been crazy, but it was the kind of crazy we should all be.
Watts Towers is located at 1765 E. 107th St, Los Angeles. Call (213) 847-4646 or visit www.wattstowers.org for more information.
As most of you know I have been writing for the Lompoc Vision for over ten years. Each month I look forward to sharing my adventures around Lompoc with the readers of Rebecca's Corner and this month I celebrated Lompoc Restaurant Week by visiting Aflie's Fish & Chips. Read all about it here!
“Lompoc Restaurant Week 2018: Alfie’s Fish & Chips Edition”
by Rebecca Ross
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas. Lompoc Restaurant Week! I look forward to this week every year and every year I pore of the menus of participating restaurants (there were over 20 to choose from) trying to decide where I’m going to eat. There are lists, graphs, spreadsheets… it’s quite the endeavor. One would think I’m only able to eat at restaurants during designated weeks. Of course this is not the case, but there’s something about the celebratory nature of this particular week and the special menus where everything is $20.18 (see what they did there!) that gets me really excited to go out to lunch.
So, as per usual, I had a heck of a time trying to pick where to have lunch with my mom. Did we want Mexican food? Italian? Hawaiian? We had to go somewhere we’d never been before, but that didn’t narrow the list down quite enough. And then one of those giant cartoon light bulbs switched on over my head. It was so simple! One of my new year’s resolutions this year was to get more in touch with my heritage and since a large section of my ancestral pie chart is British, we had to go to Alfie’s Fish & Chips. What better way to connect than with food?
Alfie’s, in its charming stand-alone building on H Street, is something of a local landmark. Family owned and operated since 1969, they serve up authentic English fish and chips (as well as a whole host of other seafood dishes) in a cottage-meets-pub atmosphere. We ordered the $20.18 Fish & Chips Special (obviously), but couldn’t resist adding popcorn shrimp and batter-fried cauliflower too. We somehow managed to resist the deep fried Twinkie (iron will), laughed at the “Chicken Ate My Fish!” combo, and tossed a pack of Maltesers and a Turkish Delight on the counter before being rung up.
Now, I’ve had fish before. And chips (aka French fries). But never a traditional fish & chips meal with malt vinegar. Until Alfie’s, that is. And it was amaaaaazing. And those little crispy bits in the bottom of the basket! Have you had those crispy bits? You must. The battered cauliflower made it fun to eat our veggies, the popcorn shrimp was bursting with flavor, the malt ball Maltesers were scrumptious, and the Turkish Delight was gross (sorry, Narnia).
Not only did I learn that I love authentic fish and chips, but I also learned that the first mention of fish and chips was in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist in 1837 thanks to a strategically placed napkin dispenser. By the time we packed up our leftovers I was feeling very British (and full) indeed. Thanks, Alfie’s!
February 26, 2018
A few days ago my mom asked me if I'd like to join her on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Pacific Grove. I couldn't believe it! This kind of thing rarely happens to me, as I'm usually the one asking other people to go on adventures. Yes! I told her. Yes, yes, yes!
So on Saturday we hopped in the car and headed up the 101 toward Monterey. The main purpose of our trip was my mom's annual trek to visit her parents at the San Carlos Cemetery. She makes up little bundles of silk flowers and, when she gets there, replaces the old with the new and brushes off any dust that has collected on their plaques. That was our first stop. After our visit (saying goodbye is always a little hard), we went off to explore.
Since we made no plans whatsoever (don't you just love that?) we drove around until we spotted a lighthouse. A lighthouse! We immediately pulled over and into the parking lot. Visiting a lighthouse had been on my adventure list for years, so I was extra excited.
The Point Pinos Lighthouse (the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the west coast) was wonderful. We walked all around the beautiful grounds, narrowly missed crashing a wedding, and took the lighthouse tour. Though it was technically a self-guided tour, the Miss Bossy Pants docent on the first floor had to have her say (and force me to look through a telescope several times even though I couldn't with my bad neck) before releasing us. Once free, we really enjoyed all of the different historically decorated rooms and even climbed all the way up into the highest part of the lighthouse just underneath the giant light. Then we had to come back down! Afraid of Heights, party of one. And yes, once we got back down we snuck out the back door to avoid Pushy McPusherson. And giggled as we did it. Because we're adults.
We drove around a little more and stopped at an ice cream shop creatively named Ice Cream Shoppe that had a super sketchy ice cream counter but tons of awesome Beatles memorabilia. We also stopped at one of our favorite places, Bookworks (www.bookworkspg.com). I really miss non-chain bookstores, so when I find one I'm a very happy camper. We could have browsed all day. It was quiet, it smelled like fresh books, and they had a ton of cute merch. I ended up with a couple of Beatles pencils and a magnet (since I didn't buy anything at the previous location), a literary board game, and a copy of John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday. What's better than buying a book from the place it was written in and about?! Oh, and I bought a paper lantern.
In all of our driving, I had noticed something. Lanterns, lanterns everywhere. They were hanging from porches. They were strung across patios. They were even dangling by the dozens from the trees in the center of town. Man, Pacific Grove really loves lanterns, I thought. Why? And where can I get one? When I bought my dark pink lantern with green designs, I just wanted to be a part of whatever it was they were into.
Fast forward to yesterday, sitting at home on my computer researching "Pacific Grove Lanterns". Turns out they were part of the annual Feast of Lanterns! Days of festivities culminate in a royal pageant every year and it's coming up in just a few weeks. The Feast has its roots in New York's Chautauqua Illumination Night and celebrates the tale of the Blue Willow in which two young lovers escape their seemingly inevitable separation by turning into monarch butterflies and flying away. The lanterns guide them back each July to the place they first fell in love. You can read the full story at www.feast-of-lanterns.org
Yay for spontaneous day trips!
You could call me an Anglophile (one who admires all things English) if it weren’t for the tiny little detail that I actually am English. Though she spent her later years living in an adorable house on a quiet street in Pasadena, California, my great-grandmother was born in a suburb of Liverpool. She had the most wonderful British accent (much more aristocratic than Liverpudlian) and, to be perfectly honest, when I was very small I thought she could have been the Queen of England. She wore a string of pearls, she never let us put our elbows on the table, and she would say things like, “He was quite cracker at it.” Because of her I fell in love with England before I even knew that was where I came from.
And that’s the preamble to my recent obsession with finding British grocery stores. I hadn’t been able to find one locally (although World Market’s not too shabby in the international foods department) so I took the opportunity to hunt one out on a recent trip to Southern California. Well I had no trouble finding one in Los Angeles – the trouble was in choosing one. I eventually settled on The British Grocer in Fullerton and really couldn’t have been more charmed by it.
My mom and I are tea fans. If tea had jerseys, we would wear them. If tea put on concerts, we would be in the front row. In the last decade I have developed an insatiable desire to experience every Afternoon Tea I can find (I’m coming for you, Steakhouse 55!) and my mom is always on board. So of course we were excited to see what kind of authentic English teas they had. But that was about the only expectation we had going in.
When we found the building, we made our way across a quiet, greenery-filled courtyard and spotted the hanging sign marking our destination. I got that little tingle of anticipation as we stepped through the door. The foods of my people!
The interior walls of The British Grocer were exposed brick, painted white, and the windows were tall and arched. It was bright and welcoming and packed with every goodie imaginable. Although I had been most interested in tea and maybe some jam, the candy counter stood in front of everything else calling out, “Look at me first!” So we did.
Can I just say how much I love the names of British chocolates and candies? I mean, who wouldn’t want to eat a Crunchie, a Curly Wurly, a Flake, or a Wispa? How about a Lion, a Munchie, a Yorkie, a Jelly Tot, a Jammie Dodger, or a Random? What even is a Random?! It’s delicious, that’s what. I picked out a giant, cookie dough-filled Kit Kat and every Cadbury product I could get my hands on. Then I somehow tore myself away and marveled at the goods on the rest of the shelves. Colman’s Mustard, Chivers Lemon Curd, Walkers Shortbread, McVitie’s Hobnobs, Jacob’s Digestives, Heinz Baked Beans, Wilkin & Sons Tiptree Marmalade, Tayto Prawn Cocktail Crisps, Marmite, canned haggis (!). Seriously, I could go on. I can’t tell you how many times my mom and I said to each other, “Look at these!” and “What is this?!” And we hadn’t even made it a quarter of the way into the shop!
As we browsed the tea cups, tea pots, tea towel, Union Jack mugs, and cold cases of cottage pies and scones, we chatted with the woman behind the counter (whose name escapes me but is written on a page of notes I can’t find!) and almost forgot all about the Twining’s Earl Gray, Darvilles Darjeeling, Barry’s Irish Breakfast teas waiting for us. Almost.
We left with a basket full of treats (plus a Union Jack pin for good measure), went back out to the car, and ate a few nibbles before driving off to have a healthy lunch. Haha just kidding! We dug into our bags and ate everything but the loose leaf tea.
If you want to eat everything at The British Grocer too, you can find them at 305 N. Harbor Blvd., Suite 124 in Fullerton, CA. Call (714) 738-0229 for hours or visit www.thebritishgrocer.com
Once again I have been reduced to a screaming teenager. I just can't help it. And this time the Beatles are responsible. Or, more accurately, The Fab Four, the world's greatest Beatles tribute band.
For some reason people have mixed feelings about tribute bands and I could never understand why. I mean, I get not wanting to pay top dollar to see Brice Springsteen on tour when you can still see Bruce Springsteen on tour. But what if you favorite bands aren't around anymore. Or have stopped touring. Or changed members so many times they're barely recognizable. Or they hate playing their hits and only want to play their new stuff. Then you *need* a tribute band to help you realize your fantasies of seeing your favorite songs being played live.
I'm 36. The Beatles had broken up by the time I was born. John Lennon and I only existed on the same planet for a month. I'm never going to see The Beatles play live. But I'm in love with their music. Their songs were a big part of my past and present and will be a big part of my future. The Beatles permanently changed the musical landscape. To be born too late means missing out on something special. Or does it?
For the second time, I was flipping through the local paper when I saw that The Fab Four would be coming to the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, California. The first time I thought it would be fun to go and got tickets for myself, my dad, and my brother. I was not prepared for the magical experience of that night in any way, shape, or form. My heart leapt when the curtain rose and I heard that first guitar strum of Hard Day's Night. I was on my feet, clapping and screaming with everyone else in the ballroom. By the end of the night my face hurt form smiling so much! After the show we stayed to meet the band and get their autographs. "George" almost made me faint when he said, "Hello, luv" in his genuine Liverpool accent and took a photo with me.
You might think that once would be enough, but it wasn't. When they came back to town, I knew we had to see them again so I bought tickets and coaxed my dad into going. I wrote about my first show for the Lompoc Vision, where I outlined the set list and offered up the actual names of "John", "Paul", "George", and "Ringo". I talked about their signature hair shakes and the way they goofed around on stage and what amazing musicians they were. Seriously. AMAZING. I talked about feeling like I had actually seen the Beatles, something I had previously, and rightly, thought impossible.
This time I left my notepad at home, because this show was just for me. But the magic was the same. The Fab Four captured something that you shouldn't be able to capture. The Beatles, at this point, are mythical creatures. But they did it. They pulled off the ultimate magic trick and I loved every minute.
We had to stay to meet the guys after the show. This time I was wearing my red and black wig and when we got up to the table where the band was standing, "George" said "Nice to meet you, luv" (swoon) and they all commented on the fact that my hair matched his black and red striped pants. We all laughed and smiled and posed for a group photo and I floated back to the car on a cloud.
I'm already looking forward to the next time they come to play. I officially have Fab Four mania =)
Flashback to meeting these two lovely, lovely people. Chris Hayzel after his show at SoHo in Santa Barbara and his mom Nia Peeples after a friendly chat in the ladies room.
Flashback to New Year's Eve 2009 decorating a Rose Parade float for Cal Poly =D
And New Year's Day 2010. We won the Bob Hope Humor Award =D
What is an adventure if not a dream realized? For decades kids have dreamed about joining a rock and roll band, making music, and going on tour. In 1965 four such kids were thrown into the ultimate rock and roll adventure when they were cast as the Monkees.
What started as a quirky TV show about four guys in a band living at the beach quickly turned into a runaway train and made the Monkees not only a real band, but a band that rivaled the Beatles in popularity. A popularity that still continues today.
And thank goodness for that because it means that fifty years after their inception, I can still pick up the entertainment section of the paper to see that they’re coming to town to play a show. And not a sad, off-strip Vegas reimagining of the Monkees. This is the real deal. Original members putting on a rock and roll show for fans of all ages.
I suggested a family reunion of sorts when I heard the Monkees were coming to Vina Robles Ampitheatre in Paso Robles since my mom and her sisters are Monkees fans. It was going to be me, my mom, two of my aunts, and their husbands (my uncles). Then one aunt dropped out because her daughter was getting married and her bridal shower ended up being the same day (congrats cousin!). Then the other aunt dropped out because she hurt her shoulder (boo for injuries!). So my mom and I were left with six seats and only two of us. What to do, what to do? Well we ended up putting together a ragtag group of friends that had never met but, because most of our friends are super awesome people, got along great.
In anticipation of the concert, I made a Monkees shirt, bought a green wool cap, and saved up my pennies so I would be able to splurge on souvenirs. On the big day we arrived just in time for me to buy a Psychojelly shirt with a drawing of Micky’s face on it (hard to explain), a program, stickers, a mug, and two keychains. I splurged hard.
I always have a difficult time describing concerts I’ve attended because they’re such in-the-moment experiences. There’s the initial thrill of excitement when the house lights go down, the energy that spreads through the audience as the first notes blast out of the speakers, the smiles that are so big they make your cheeks hurt.
For me, Monkees concerts are the best because they bring back so many memories. Memories of getting my first cassette tape which happened to be a Monkees greatest hits. Watching every one of the TV shows over and over during the summer. Flipping through my aunt’s old Tiger Beat magazines. Singing along to their CDs in the car. Visiting friends in Arizona and watching the Monkees 1996 special. I know every word to every song and I find that, for one night, I don’t care that I’m singing in front of strangers and clapping like it’s my job.
This particular show was especially fun because my mom’s best friend drove up at the last minute so she could go with us and one of my very best friends (all the way back from junior high band) brought his boyfriend along to celebrate their anniversary. We sang, we danced, we laughed at the people who forgot the words because they were wine drunk.
The Monkees are still absolutely fabulous entertainers and put on an amazing show. They played their hits, their personal favorites, and a couple of new ones (see: Good Times album review in Random). They paid tribute to Davy Jones, bantered with each other, and joked around onstage. We left the show that night feeling the natural high that only music can give you.
Hello and welcome to My Favorite Blogs Week! Everyone adventures in a different way - maybe you create things, maybe you go places, maybe you just like to soak up all of the wonderful things around you. Whatever method you choose, we are all adventurers. This week is a salute to the bloggers/writers I find inspiring.
Top Art Site/Blog
Winner: Doodlers Anonymous
Doodlers Anonymous is a favorite for so many reasons. For starters, it's full of doodles. Every kind of doddle from every kind of doodler. Then they have featured artists, hand-drawn wallpapers, special challenges (doodle your ride, doodle a bookmark, etc.), and even a store where you can buy a Doodlers Anonymous t-shirt (Hello my name is...) and awesome coloring books and even The Quintessential, Quirky Compendium of Cats. Basically if you doodle you will love this site. www.doodlersanonymous.com
Runner Up: Street Art Utopia
I secretly want to be a street artist, so Street Art Utopia gives me a lady boner whenever I look at it. They have "declared the world [their] canvas" and add beauty where once there was none - walls, staircases, sidewalks, etc. Some works of art are done stencil-style (a la Banksy), others are full-on murals, and still others fall into the "Who thought of that?!" category (like the giant clothespin on top of a hill that looks like it's pinching the grass). www.streetartutopia.com
Runner Up: Wrdsmth
Wrdsmth is a "writer doing time in Hollywood" who also loves street art. He found a way to combine his two passions by stenciling old-fashioned typewriters on random spots around LA and then pasting up different messages. Two of my favorites are "Stop and smell the moment" and "Will write for ever". Some messages are funny, some are thought-provoking, but each one is its own unique work of art. http://wrdsmthinla.tumblr.com
Top Fashion Site/Blog
Winner: New Dress A Day
New Dress A Day author and fashionista Marisa Lynch started her blog in 2009, right around her birthday, just like I did. Her mission was to create 365 dresses in 365 days with only $365. (Luckily she had an awesome $1 pile sale in her neighborhood where she scored armloads full of mumus and miscellaneous outdated, but hilarious, dresses). I didn't discover NDAD until a few months later, but once I did I was addicted. I still follow Marisa's blog religiously and am always inspired by what I find. Her recent Halloween series of costumes based on movies (filmed at the actual locations) was both awesome and hilarious.
Runner Up: DisneyBound
If you love fashion and Disney, then you will probably love this blog as much as I do. If you've followed me for any length of time you know that I will dress up any chance I can get. DisneyBound's Leslie Kay creates outfits that are inspired by Disney characters, Disney movies, Disney events, Disney anything and everything! The idea is not to look just like a character, but to capture the essence while still looking like a normal, though very well-dressed, person.
Top Author Blog/Site
When they're not writing incredibly witty, award-winning books, many authors blog. And thank goodness they do. Here are my favorite Author Blogs:
Winner: The Bloggess
The Bloggess aka Jenny Lawson is one of the funniest people I know. And by "know" I mean I read her blog all the time and want to be just like her some day. This is the way she describes herself: "I wrote for the Houston Chronicle, but I needed an uncensored space to say the f-word and talk about ninjas so I started this blog. I tweet a lot. Also, I can balance live cats on my head but no one will pay me for it. Yet. My book (Let's Pretend This Never Happened) debuted at #1 on the NYT best-seller list. I assure you, no one was more surprised about this than me." She doesn't say anything in there about taxidermy, but don't worry, you'll find out all about it. Her book is, to steal a phrase from her blog, like crack but less whack. If you need a good laugh, you need to go to this blog. Now.
Runner Up: NA
Yah right, there is no runner up! The Bloggess wins all titles. Forever.
Top YouTube Channels
I'm breaking format a bit to bring you some of my favorite YouTube Channels. I knew which channel was going to take the top spot and which would be runner-up but then I made the grave mistake of actually getting on YouTube and 45 minutes later I was super confused and my dog was scratching at the door because I forgot to take her out. So here's a random collection of stuff. Enjoy! Also, maybe don't look at this list while you're at work because you might fall down the rabbit hole and get fired.
Winner: Barely Political
Barely Political has some of the best parody music videos in their Key of Awesome series. The new Taylor Swift is especially awesome. And you have to watch "Kristen Stewart" explain various holidays. Ooh ooh, and watch YouTube Complaints 2014. I could be here all day...
Runner Up: Garfunkel & Oates
More funny music videos! Only this time they're from LA folk duo Garfunkel & Oates aka Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome. They sing about everything from bad dates to pregnant women and it's especially giggle-inducing when they use profanity because they look so sweet and innocent. Don't be fooled!
Runner Up: How It Should Have Ended
Some movies just need new endings. And they need to be animated. And funny. (I'm sensing a theme here). Start with The Lego Movie and Jurassic Park and I'll see you in a few hours after you've watched every other one too.
Runner Up: Mystery Guitar Man
This guy has been a YouTube staple for years and uses "crazy videos, short films, stop motion, video effects, and music" to create mini masterpieces. I can't even tell you where to start with Mystery Guitar Man because so many of his videos are must-see.
I would now like to apologize for all the time you are about to waste. I'm sort of sorry. Actually I hope you have endless hours of fun. You may want to get snacks.
I had so much fun compiling this list that I thought I'd throw in a few extras. You've probably noticed that none of my favorites are all that scholastic in nature. That is intentional.
Daily Odd Compliment
Hyperbole and a Half
HaHas for HooHas
The Pioneer Woman
"Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we will be able to treat life as art."