On Sunday, I had the pleasure and privilege of volunteering at the annual LA Times Festival of Books. I am ashamed to say that I had never even been to the festival before, but I don’t think I will be missing it ever again because it was so awesome. When I arrived for my volunteer check-in, I was assigned to book signings, and since I was there early, I got to choose which area I wanted to work in. I obviously chose the Young Adult signings booth, which was luckily right next to the YA Stage. During my four hour shift, I got to listen to three different panel discussions with some of the top YA authors, including Melissa de la Cruz, Morgan Matson, and Shannon Hale.
After each discussion, the authors came over for book signings, and I was literally standing right behind them the entire time. Listening to the conversations the authors got to have with their fans was so inspiring. I teared up several times throughout the day (seriously, I don’t know how the authors kept it together) hearing these teens talk about how much books mean to them. I don’t know if I can actually put into words the effect the whole experience had on me as an aspiring YA author.
After my shift ended, I headed over to one of the lecture halls on USC’s campus for a panel discussion with four of the top YA authors: Jennifer Niven, Nicola Yoon, Angie Thomas, and Nina LaCour. I reviewed Niven’s first YA book, All the Bright Places, here on the blog, and I also absolutely loved Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star. I have books from the other authors on my TBR list. It was incredible to hear four amazing female authors talk about everything from their writing process to their inspiration and research to the craziest thing they did as teenagers. The panel was absolutely awe-inspiring and I am so glad that I was able to attend.
I of course focused on the YA booths and event happening at the festival, but every genre of book was well-represented. There was a great kids section, along with horror, romance, mystery, basically everything you could ever want from a book festival. If you are in the LA area, I would highly recommend attending the LA Times Festival of Books if you can because it was an amazing and inspiring day!
So if you follow me on Instagram (and if you’re not, get on that and help a sister out!) you probably saw the other day that I have been suffering from a serious lack of motivation lately. Wedding season has just come to a close so I should be able to focus a lot more on the blog and some of my other side projects, but I just haven’t been able to get in my groove. Step number one in getting out of my brain funk is getting out of the house. Squirt and I have a couple of places around town that we like to go and hang out, but we have been spending a lot of time at home lately, which I think makes the days long for both of us. So we are going to be doing a lot more exploring in the coming weeks!
Luckily, we are just a short drive away from Descanso Gardens in La Canada. Just like it sounds, Descanso is a massive garden featuring all kinds of cool plants and flowers divided into different sections. The great thing about it is that it’s wide open spaces that are still contained, meaning Squirt can run around, but still not actually go very far. Now Descanso is not free, but my mom was kind enough to purchase us a family membership so it’s free for us! There is one Tuesday a month when the Gardens are open to everyone free of charge, so make sure to check their website for dates if you plan a visit (though be aware that those free days are really crowded). For today, I thought I’d give you a little tour of some of the cool things you can see at the Descanso Gardens.
My favorite section is the rose garden, which features (duh) lots and lots of different kinds of roses. The only downside is that it is mostly dirt paths here, which makes pushing a stroller difficult. But the flowers are so pretty it’s worth it.
Squirt’s favorite part is (obviously) the train. The train runs Tuesdays and Fridays only, so if it’s an important feature to you, make sure you plan your trip accordingly.
This is one of my favorite spots in the Gardens, the fountain in the rose section. Probably one of the best photo ops.
Squirt’s other favorite place to visit is the Japanese Garden, which is easy to walk through with a stroller since it has wooden walkways. He loves it because there are several ponds and you can see some koi fish. He likes to lean dangerously over the water and give me a heart attack trying to watch the fish.
Right near the entrance of the Gardens in the Descanso Cafe. They have a few breakfast items (and coffee, most importantly), but the main attraction is their lunch food.
Last time Squirt had a PB & J and I had the turkey sandwich. I also had a strawberry lemonade that was super tasty and very refreshing on a hot day. The food is good, but can be a little overpriced, so definitely bring snacks or a lunch if you are trying to save some cash.
I have to say, walking around the gardens today gave me a major creativity boost! I felt much more inspired after just an hour walking around. We will be visiting Descanso Gardens all the time over the coming months, as long as the weather allows. It’s a great place for the little ones to run around and explore, plus you can’t beat the beauty of nature!
What are your favorite ways to keep your little ones entertained during the day?
If you are anything like me as a parent, you are always on the hunt for family friendly, cheap activities that get you out of the house and trying something new. Every once in a while one of those activities falls into my lap and I wonder how I never knew about it before. That happened last month when a mom in my local Facebook group posted about Odd Nights at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles (right across from the zoo). I have been living in LA proper for over six years (and have been in the LA area my whole life) and had never heard of Odd Nights before, but even if I had, the name probably would have thrown me off a little. Luckily, said awesome LA mom included some basic info about the event in her post and it sounded fun, so Hubs and I packed up Squirt and headed out.
Odd Nights is a once a month event (during summer and fall months) held in the lawn area of the Autry Museum. Parking is free, admission is $2.00 for adults (cash only), and kids under 12 are free. It’s basically a big outdoor festival of sorts, with lots of different fun offerings for both kids and adults. When you first enter, you find a row of outdoor booths with local artisans and crafters selling all kinds of goods. We saw everything from jewelry and clothing to home goods. There was lots of cute stuff for sale, and everyone there is a local small business, which makes it even better when you buy something.
There is a small bar set up near the entrance as well, which we obviously hit up as soon as we walked in.
Over on the lawn, there was a live band who played a couple of sets throughout the night. As it got more crowded, there was some dancing happening.
There were quite a few inflatables set up, in addition to a rock wall for older kids. You do have to purchase tickets to enjoy the attractions, but there was a good variety of things to try. We had to steer clear of the Cars inflatable as Squirt is obsessed with Mater and Lightning McQueen.
Parked all around the lawn area are all kinds of food trucks. Seriously, I have never seen so many different food trucks parked in one location before. They had any kind of food you could possibly want and we had a really hard time figuring out what we were going to eat. In the middle of the lawn, people set up blankets and picnic.
We finally selected the LA Wing Co. truck for our dinner, and we were not disappointed. I had a buffalo chicken sandwich, Matt got sliders and buffalo fries (that were amazing) and Squirt had chicken tenders. Everything was delicious.
After strolling around through the craft booths (with wine!) and eating our dinner, we let Squirt run around for a while. There was a bus parked in the middle of the lawn that kids could paint on (what an amazing idea). Squirt had no interest in painting, but he did want to sit at the wheel of the bus and “drive” so he was entertained by that for a good half hour. Overall, Odd Nights at the Autry proved to be a good little excursion for all three of us. Mom got to shop, Dad got to drink, and Squirt got to drive a bus, so everybody wins! There are two more Odd Nights scheduled for this year, Friday September 16 and Friday October 21. Both start at 6:00 pm. If you are in the LA area and are looking for something fun and inexpensive to entertain the fam, you should definitely check it out!
A few months ago my mom decided she wanted to take the fam on a beach trip, and found a gorgeous condo to Air BNB for a week down in beautiful San Clemente. San Clemente is about an hour south of Anaheim (sorry for folks who don’t live in California, we measure distance in the time it takes to get there) and is one of the few really small, cute beach towns in So Cal that hasn’t been completely hipsterized/modernized/built up to crazy extravagance. I have spent some time down there because there are two beautiful wedding venues there that I have worked at, plus one of our good friends got married there a few years ago. So needless to say, I was super stoked to get to spend some time relaxing at the beach.
My mom and I caravaned down to San Clemente on a Monday (meaning it took much longer than it would have taken me on my own, due to Grandma driving). We left early to avoid traffic so when we got down to the beach we had a couple of hours to kill before we could check in. We went to lunch on SC’s main street downtown and had some delicious pizza and beer.
Then we headed over to our condo to check in and get settled. The beautiful view you see at the top of this post is from the condo balcony. I cannot express enough in words how awesome it is to have a full kitchen when traveling with a little one, and this condo had a super spacious kitchen. My mom and I did a big supermarket trip to stock up on supplies for the week, which is so nice to be able to do so you don’t have to eat out every meal. We grilled hamburgers that night and spent most of our time sitting on the patio and enjoying the view.
The next day was our beach day. So we packed up everything needed for three adults (Matt joined us Monday evening) and one toddler and headed down to the water. It was Squirt’s first time at the beach and that was the best part of the trip, watching him figure out the ocean and the sand. This picture is one of my new favorites…
That night my mom was kind enough to take over Squirt duty so Matt and I could have a date night. The main strip was about a half a mile from our condo so we walked up to the downtown area and had drinks at a Mexican place and then dinner at a super hipster (but tasty) restaurant.
The next morning we all walked down to the beach/pier area for some local coffee. This place was awesome and it is literally right on the beach so the location can’t be beat!
Before heading home, my mom and I took Squirt around the downtown shops for a little browsing. There are a bunch of cute clothing stores, plus some local gift/home decor type stores that were fun to explore.
Squirt and I headed out in the early afternoon so we didn’t get stuck in too much traffic. Overall, it was a quick trip to the beach, and I wish we had more time to spend there since it was such a beautiful spot, but Matt was in a wedding that weekend so we had to head home a little sooner than we would have liked. We had a lovely time in San Clemente, and I’m definitely hoping my mom sticks to her plan to make this an annual excursion!
One item on my summer bucket list was to visit The Last Bookstore in downtown LA. Honestly, I can’t believe I’ve never been there before, but I can officially check it off my list. I really enjoyed my trip to The Last Bookstore, and probably would visit on a regular basis if it weren’t for a couple of factors. The main thing is parking, which as is common downtown, sucks. I know that parking sucks in all major cities in America, but I feel like LA is the only one with crappy parking and crappy public transportation. There is no good way to get from my house to downtown other than to drive, which makes it not such a fun trip. Also, the bookstore itself doesn’t have air conditioning, so I will definitely be waiting for winter before I visit again. Lastly, tourists should be aware that this is not the best location in LA. There is a lot of trash and some unpleasant smells haunting the area (though once inside everything is clean and lovely). But The Last Bookstore should be on every book lover’s list and I really enjoyed exploring the space and all it has to offer.
The first floor of the bookstore is similar to any other used bookstore. You have lots of different sections to look at with lots and lots of (mostly) well-priced books for sale, including quite a few older books that are probably hard to find at Barnes and Noble. There is also a music section on the first floor if that’s your jam. Downstairs is also home to a special kids section and comic book section. The second floor is what The Last Bookstore is famous for, as it has what they call the book labyrinth. You may have seen this book tunnel on Instagram before…
My favorite part of the upstairs was the rainbow book wall. There is something extremely satisfying about seeing books arranged by color.
From the upstairs, you also have a really cool view of the entire downstairs layout, including the crazy book sculpture up on the wall.
The upper level of The Last Bookstore also contains several small shops curated by local artists and craftmakers. Several of them were closed when we went during the week, but the ones we were able to explore had lots of cute art prints, jewelry, and fun knick knacks. When I went to New York in January, I absolutely fell in love with Strand Bookshop and have since been longing for one of our own here in LA. The Last Bookstore is not quite on the same level as Strand (in my opinion), but it is still an awesome place to check out for book lovers. If I could teleport there and not deal with parking, I would probably go all the time, but instead I will probably save it for special occasions.
What are you reading right now? Any good books I should add to my to read list?
A couple of months ago I coordinated a wedding at one of my favorite venues, Smog Shoppe. One of the things I love about Smog Shoppe is that they let you bring in any caterer you want to work with, which means every time I work there, I get to try something new. At this past wedding, a local food truck, Peaches, catered and the food was so freakin delicious I could hardly stand it. The catering manager let me know that they also have a storefront downtown near the flower market and that I should check it out if I were ever in the area. Well, I happened to recently be in the area, and decided to swing by and see it for myself. Poppy and Rose is literally right next door to the flower market, which makes it convenient if you are already shopping for flowers, but a pain in the ass if you are not (parking in the area sucks…shocker). But I have to say, I want Matt to try their pulled pork so badly that we will probably make a special trip there one day just for that. It’s that good.
In addition to serving ridiculously good food, Poppy and Rose is also adorable. I mean, how can you not love the striped awning? Poppy and Rose is known for their pulled pork and their fried chicken (the wedding served both sandwiches; I had the chicken at the wedding and it was bomb). Since I had already tasted the fried chicken, I ordered the grilled cheese. It was yummy, but I wish I would have gotten the fried chicken sandwich instead since that is not something I’m going to order anywhere else (and I’m twelve so I eat grilled cheese all the time).
My friend Lisa opted for breakfast and got the ground beef patty with eggs and brick hash (the potato kind, not the marijuana kind). All of their breakfast items looked really yummy so my next trip might be a morning one.
My friend Kristen was the smartest of us all and got the pulled pork breakfast. She was nice enough to let us all sample the pork and it was amazeballs. Seriously, it like melted in my mouth. Matt loves pulled pork, so he is definitely going to have to come to Poppy and Rose to try some of this magic.
We all really enjoyed our meals at Poppy and Rose, and I was totally digging the vibe and ambiance. Farm fresh and rustic chic, with a bit of hipster edge thrown in for good measure.
Here’s a quick look at the Poppy and Rose menu…
If you are ever in the downtown area and are looking for a delicious bite to eat, I would totally check out Poppy and Rose! So cute inside and out, plus amazing food options. I’m basically going to be making excuses to go down to the flower market, just so I can eat here!
As a (former) theater teacher and long time Shakespeare lover, I always look forward to the Independent Shakespeare Company’s summer Shakespeare in the Park series. Last year the ISC produced one of my all-time favorite versions of Romeo and Juliet, which is saying a lot because it one of my favorites, and the one I have worked on the most. But they did such a brilliant job, I loved everything about it. So I was super pumped for this year to see what they had in store for us. But I was less than thrilled when I saw the two shows on the docket were two of my least favorite: Richard III and The Tempest. No real offense to The Tempest, it’s just not my fave, and I spent four months of our spring semester working with a group of junior high kids on a scene from The Tempest that needed to be both funny and age appropriate (which is like not a real thing since the real comedy comes from the characters who are wasted the entire show). But I digress (shocker). Anyway. Being so recently scarred by The Tempest, I decided to go see Richard III, and I dragged Matt along with me.
Some basics about ISC and some tips for having an awesome experience:
The shows are staged at the Old LA Zoo in Griffith Park, which is one of the coolest outdoor locations for a show ever. When you get to the park, follow the signs that lead you to the site.
Be aware that you have to walk through the dirt to get to the performance. Real shoes are recommended.
It gets chilly when the sun goes down, so bring a sweatshirt.
Also bring a picnic. Also bring wine (though this is not technically allowed, everyone does it).
If you are going to bring chairs, bring low ones. Don’t be that guy with the huge chairs blocking everyone else’s view.
Get there early. These productions are becoming more popular every year so it is getting harder and harder to get good seats. Plus, there are several nights in the series where there are pre-show performances and activities.
Bring some cash. The show itself is free, but definitely bring some cash for donations and/or concessions. They do take cards, but cash is a little easier to work with.
With any Shakespeare play, make sure you read a summary before you go. Even when I am going to see a play I know well, I still read a summary to refresh my memory and make sure I can understand what is actually happening during the production.
Some quick background on Richard III: Richard III is a history play, which means it is based on real people and actual events from British history. Richard is the youngest of three brothers, his eldest brother Edward being the King of England. Richard decides to subtly usurp the throne (at least it is subtle in the beginning) by first killing his middle brother George. Then he blames Edward for killing George, which combined with Edward’s already frail health, kills him (Edward). Richard then becomes the regent for Edward’s young son and pretty much becomes the king for all intents and purposes. That’s not enough though. He begins to pick off the young king’s supporters one by one, including his mother’s brothers and plenty of dukes and lords. Finally, Richard has both of his brother’s sons locked in the Tower of London and kills them both. Richard then takes the crown and sets his sights on marrying his niece Elizabeth, having already disposed of his first wife. Elizabeth’s mother (also Elizabeth) instead conspires with Richmond, who gathers his forces and battles Richard for the crown (this is where the famous “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse” line comes from). Richmond is victorious, becomes Henry VII and marries the young Elizabeth. That’s it in a nutshell.
For my part, I really enjoy the story of Richard III because I love British history. I have read pretty much all of Phillipa Gregory’s novels (author of The Other Boleyn Girl) and she has done a whole series about the War of the Roses (of which Richard III is the culmination). So I like the story, which is probably more than most people can say. Three years ago I saw a production of Richard III on Broadway, starring Tony Award winner Mark Rylance and a company of actors from England, most of whom had worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company before. And I hated it. I fell asleep. I have never fallen asleep during a show before (I was pregnant, but I think I would have anyway). My main problem with the production was the choice to make Richard a comedian. Yes, there are lines in the play that can be delivered in a way that makes Richard seem funny, but he’s not funny. His entire life is devoted to getting the crown by any means necessary. I mean, he kills two young boys, his own nephews, and shows no remorse for his actions. This is not a nice guy, and certainly not someone who should be the comedic relief in a show.
I was hoping for something super evil with the ISC’s production of Richard III, but I felt they took the same direction as the Broadway production (which I would think would be a compliment). So it must be me! I want to see an evil Richard, I want to hate his guts, not be indifferent to him. I get the direction–as Matt told me, this is not a play designed to appeal only to people like me, who know and understand Shakespeare. It is a production designed for the masses, and hence needs to have some popular appeal. Because of that, I do understand the choice. It’s just not my favorite choice. I will say that the women in the show were spectacular. And this play and this production are a great representation of a sometimes debated theory: Shakespeare wrote some kick ass parts for women. They were the highlight for me, especially Margaret (whose family is killed by Edward on his way to the throne) and Anne (Richard’s wife who he ends up having killed, oh and he also killed her first husband).
Bottom line: I will continue to see and support ISC shows because I truly believe in their mission of bringing free Shakespeare to the public of LA. Even though Richard III was not my favorite production, I will continue to look forward to their future productions. I would 100% recommend seeing any ISC production if you are in the LA area and at all a Shakespeare fan.