On Thursday I leave for what inarguably will be my most exciting trip this year: Miami. Never been in all of my 41 years. With my best girlfriend. For 3 full nights. Sans kids.

And while poking around the web for fun restaurants, bars and beaches, my BFF stumbled upon the Girl’s Guide to South Beach Nightlife, apparently written for South Beach Magazine. It refers to “…a nightlife guide designed especially for you ladies wishing to further your amorous adventures…” Ok, not so much for me and my pal; two ladies of the recently turned 40 age, with a husband and kids at home.

It also starts with, “Face it girls, most nightlife guides are written by, and for, the boys.” So I decided what we need is a nightlife guide written by, and for, the young 40 somethings.

Do we want to go to these same places where boys are on the prowl and girls are looking to hook up? Not so much. Do we want original, local food prepared by reputable chefs? Yes. Do we want drinks that are not watered down nor chock full of sugar? Yes. Do we want the views, the lounges, the rooftop decks? For the most part. We’re also not afraid of a good dive bar flavored with a lively, local crowd. And we’re going to find all of these places and affairs and I’m going to report it back for you.

I will counter the Girls Guide offer to, “… mix, mingle and not to be single!” with my own catchy rhyme after our trip. Stay tuned…


(Non) Chick Lit

car reading

I never post reviews on websites. Sure, I’ve joined online communities like Goodreads, Audible or Amazon. I read and value what other people say, I’ve made purchases based on what strangers with likeminded tastes have recommended.

But there are two books that so profoundly impacted me this month that I have to write them up.

A Little Background:

A benefit of moving to Los Angeles, (a hidden benefit, or you might say a backhanded benefit): audio books in the car. Not surprisingly, I spend much more time in the car than I did in San Francisco. Oodles. When I drive the boys to school in the morning, the drive time can vary from 17 minutes to 35 minutes. Doesn’t seem like much but that’s almost a 20 minute variant! Who knows what this depends on – right when you think you have it figured out it changes on you: holidays, school in session, accidents, road work, or the way the wind blows. During that drive time we have started listening to Harry Potter in the car. This is great for a couple of reasons. First, the boys don’t complain about being in the car. Instead they get so completely lost in the world of wizards and muggles that they barely even register the passing homeless tent cities or feel the sedentary motion of sitting in gridlock. Also, they don’t get scared. We read the first two books at home, at night right before bed. They are scary! The first one had a scene that spooked me to the core (ahem, I’m 41), and I’ve heard they continue to increase in scariness. In sum, listening to audio books can guarantee fewer nightmares.

But back to me and my books. These two that I fell in love with are total opposites … yet, not. I realize I’m a feminist to my core and I love women writers and narratives about women (and women musicians and singers for that matter). The first book is Yes Please by Amy Poehler and the second is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

Yes Please

Poehler is famous. Big time. She spent years on Saturday Night Live and most recently wrapped the primetime series Parks and Recreation. What’s fascinating about her though is her story. Amy (yes, we go by first names) describes to us readers/listeners about growing up in Boston with an accent that wouldn’t go away, about her family dynamics, and about the successes and failures that vaulted her to fame.

Yes Please

But she also talked to me confidentially. Really, just to me, not to the thousands of other fans who bought her book or downloaded her audio version. Just me. She told me about a regret she had playing a mentally challenged woman on Saturday Night Live, who later she had a correspondence with after many years of guilt and regret. She brought me to tears when she told me about her love for her two sons, and about the secret to time traveling, and about a post-divorce trip to Haiti. Her writing is eloquent yet accessible. As I drove down the boulevards in East Los she would create simple metaphors to illustrate her point, or remind me to get rid of that little self-shaming, critical voice inside our heads. A bonus to the audio version is Amy reads the book, but also has guest readers like Kathleen Turner, Carol Burnett and her parents.

My Brilliant Friend

The second book couldn’t be more unlike Amy’s wry memoir in style, yet touched me in a similar way. Elena Ferrante (if that’s even her real name) is a famous recluse who gives few interviews. She has written a strong handful of books, one being tied together as a series aptly named The Neapolitan Series:


As I write this I am one third through the second novel. The first novel, My Brilliant Friend, rang my bell. This book was published in September of 2012 — where have I been and how could I have been living my life for three years without having experienced Ferrante’s prose?

But it’s not just the prose of course; it’s the storyline. It’s the setting (Naples), it’s the characters (poor town, two best girlfriends), it’s the conflict (domestic violence, life choices) and it’s the unraveling and raveling of all of this interacting through time.

I constantly wonder about the author. It even isn’t clear who the brilliant friend is. But it’s about girls, impending womanhood, fears and thrills. I can’t stop listening (you’ll often find me parked in my driveway long after arriving home.) Hillary Huber reads the audio version and she has such subtle nuances to her voice, all melted together in a soft purr of dictation.

The most difficult aspect to listening to books in the car is that I’m unable to underline. The sentences these women wrote would elevate me from myself, but then they float away and I can’t perseverate on the prose. With Ferrante, it’s the first time in a long time I’ve wanted to purchase a tangible book so that I can soak in the writing with my eyes, not only my ears.
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(Non) Chick Lit

So Go Downtown…

“Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares”

Downtown, Petula Clark

Sunday has become our day to explore our new biome (fun diction credit: my 8-year-old son’s vocabulary word last week). Our urban biome, that is, and yesterday specifically it was to explore downtown Los Angeles.

The five of us spent the first part of the day lazily around the house, and left for downtown around 4pm. At that time of day, the freeways were jam packed – not at a standstill, but crawling thickly like metallic slugs. I wondered where everyone was headed on a Sunday afternoon; there was no Lakers game or convention. Out for a Sunday drive I suppose.

We took the Olympic exit and wound around to Chick Hearn Street (once Siri directed him, my husband clucked “the Chicken!”) We parked and crossed the street to the unassuming Grammy Museum on Flowers Street.

The museum is open late by museum standards (6:30pm on a Sunday) and it was well attended yet not crowded. Super interactive; cool exhibits with headphones and touch pads that relay mini music lessons related to the history and events of the time period. There’s a room with instruments to play, exhibits on Tupak Shakur, Ravi Shenkar and the Supremes…and of course the Taylor Swift Experience. There’s almost an entire floor dedicated to Swift, the young musical phenom and now cultural icon. Our three-year-old daughter had fun dancing on the light up cubes to the video “Shake it Off!” and I foresaw my future life with a teenage girl.

After the museum we walked two blocks to treat ourselves to a fancy family dinner at The Palm. My husband and I had skipped lunch to afford the calories we planned to consume.

The maître de was so kind, taking our littlest by the hand and letting her pick out our booth. He comped us a plate of homemade chips, which satiated our museum-ed-out and starving boys. For the kids, they ordered a plate of butter pasta and chicken strips (not so creative) and for us we started with sharing their “Gigi” salad, and I had the swordfish and my husband had the New York Strip. Naively, I ordered a side of Three Cheese Potatoes Au Gratin, which was large enough (and designated for, apparently) the entire family. We finished off the hugely satisfying meal with key lime pie, donuts and chocolate cake! Wha? Then we rolled home to bed. And promptly got up this morning for a 5-mile run (um, yeah right).

On the 2-block walk back to the car in the crepuscular light, a breeze blew between the tall buildings with their flashing video screens. We walked by LA Live and I was surprised to see so many out on the sidewalks, or eating al fresco at the restaurants.

Cranes and construction sites were on every corner, building high-rise condos for the influx of Angelenos moving to the increasingly hip downtown. I don’t want to move there, but I’m glad to live so close. I miss the city of San Francisco, the feeling of condensed buildings and pedestrians and good music, food and drinks offered from long-standing venues. Downtown LA will be my newly adopted downtown, fulfilling my need to feel the heart beat of a thriving metropolis.

Our first day venturing out in downtown together was more that of a tourist’s sip than a unique taste test. But it was a baby step and I look forward to a deeper exploration of all that it has to offer.


Photo Credit: shehan365 via Compfight cc

So Go Downtown…