All posts by amyclites

Where To Find Information About California / Los Angeles Judicial Candidates and Ballot Measures


Since moving to California ten years ago, I’ve been shocked by how intense the voting process is here. We vote for seemingly everything, and often. It seems only a month a two goes by before I start receiving political flyers and a sample ballot in the mail. Again.

Most of the time, I feel totally overwhelmed. Most of the candidates and ballot measures we’re asked to weigh-on in, I know nothing about. And for a long time I’ve felt it’s been hard to get reliable information, aside from what is mailed to us with our sample ballot, so that I can make educated decisions.

Voting isn’t just a right; it’s a responsibility. I don’t take it lightly.

I don’t want to “eenie, meenie, miney, mo” my way through the ballot. And I don’t think you should, either. Of course, it’s your choice. It’s your right to vote as you please. But I think we owe it to each other to make informed decisions. These aren’t just offices or measures we’re voting on – these are things that impact people’s lives, some in a very direct way. I choose not to be cavalier about that responsibility.

Last night – a Friday night – I researched and completed my mail-in ballot. Do I know how to party, or what? Seriously, though, I spent a few hours looking for information online that would help me make decisions about each item on my ballot. I wish I found one central place where all that information is available, but I didn’t.

So I decided to put it together and share it with you. Now – this is information specific to California/Los Angeles, where I reside. But hopefully it will help to point you in the direction of where you might go online to find information about your district.

I’m not only including links that offer simplified explanations of each measure along with arguments for and against, I’m also including links to who or what the state or local Republican and Democratic parties are endorsing. Some of these ballot measures are tricky, and I find it helpful to know how my party feels about the issue. And who the hell knows anything about the judges, unless you are somehow involved in the judicial system?

If you’re voting third party – go, you maverick! I’m going to assume you know where to find the information you need, or that you’re smart enough to figure it out.

So, without further ado, here are the links that I found helpful:

California’s 17 Ballot Measure Propositions Explained (brought to you by public radio):

Voter Guide for City of Los Angeles Ballot Measures:

Los Angeles County Bar Association Evaluations of all judicial candidates:

California Democratic Party Ballot Measure Endorsements:

Los Angeles County Democratic Party Endorsements:

California Republican Party Ballot Measure Endorsements:

Los Angeles County Republican Party Endorsements:

While included in the endorsements links, I didn’t find a great source of unbiased information about the two Los Angeles County measures on the ballot. Please comment if you know of one, or if I missed anything that you think is important.

Remember – your vote counts! Take the time to educate yourself so you can make an informed decision.




Tidiness and Creativity

The Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, totally gets it.
The Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, totally gets it.

There’s a polarizing topic trending in my social media feeds these days, and I don’t mean Democrat vs. Republican, pro-gun vs. anti-gun or the Great Bathroom Debate of 2016.

I’m talking about tidy vs. messy.

Normally, I don’t care too much about whether someone is a tidy person or a messy person.

OK, that’s a lie, but I’m trying.

What kind of irks me about the topic is that there’s this idea that creative types are messy while non-creative types are tidy. That might be putting it too simply, but there have been studies done and articles written about how messiness is inherently tied to creativity.

I call bullshit on that idea.

I am a tidy person. I am also a creative person. I do not think those two things are mutually exclusive.

Yet the idea persists in our culture that you cannot be tidy and be creative at the same time.

Case in point – a couple of years ago I had a smallish party at my house. As sometimes happens, a guest will bring along a friend or two.

In this particular case, my guest’s friend happened to be a rather well-known musician of the rock star variety. Very interesting, cool and friendly guy. Obviously super-creative. Accomplished. It was humbling and exciting to have him at my house in my very un-posh neighborhood.

At one point during the evening, he noticed my little workspace. I have a tiny house, and I’ve cordoned off a corner of the living room and made it my “studio.” It is very tidy. Nobody is allowed in my space. Leaving something on my desk without my permission is a punishable offense. At that time, I had a tall set of drawers next to my desk. Each drawer had been labeled with a label maker with its contents and the drawers were alphabetized.

“What’s this?” he asked me, in his perfect rock-star British accent.

“It’s my supplies,” I answered. I mean, fuck, wasn’t it obvious? They’re labeled.

He looked at me incredulously and said, “But it’s so organized. I thought you were an artist.”

The tall set of drawers in question...
The tall set of drawers in question… It looks a little messy in this picture, but I assure you, in real life it’s quite tidy compared to the rest of the house.

I won’t lie. My heart sank a little. It’s hard enough being an artist without having other artists question your credibility. And it also kind of made me a little mad. He told me how he couldn’t create unless things around him were a little chaotic. And I get that sometimes you need a little upheaval to spark the imagination and see new connections.

My mind is constantly in motion. I am always thinking of the stories I’m creating, working out plot points, figuring out the characters. Or I’m thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner with the disparate bits of this and that in the kitchen. Or I’m thinking about how I want to paint the hallway. Or I’m thinking about a craft project I’d like to do.

I’ve always got creative ideas bubbling around in my mind.

And here’s the thing – if my environment is messy, it’s distracting. I can’t fully focus on my thoughts or feelings or what I’m trying to create. A messy studio makes deep and meaningful thought almost impossible. I tame my environment so that my mind and heart have the freedom they need to explore.

So yes – I am tidy and I am creative. I can be both.

What about you? Are you a tidy creative? Or do you thrive in a messy environment?





Exploring Creativity

creativity einstein

Woah! Where in the world have I been since April?

Sitting right here at my desk, actually, caught in a whirlwind of work. I’m afraid I had to set aside some things in order to focus and finish, and posting updates from the fray was one of the casualties.

But here we are, the first day of summer, and things have quieted down a little bit. Seems appropriate for summertime, no?

One of the things that has captured my attention these last few weeks is exploring the idea of creativity.

I’ve been thinking about its place in my life and how it affects my happiness. I’ve noticed that at times where I’m disconnected from my creative wellspring, I feel “off.” My happiness levels plunge, I feel less in tune with my internal barometer and more disconnected from the world around me.

It’s gotten me to thinking about how creativity plays into everyone’s lives, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a creative person.

I’ve been thinking back to times when I’ve connected with other people over their similar detachment from their own creativity. Talking about it and helping each other through those times have been enormously rewarding for me.

I’ve also been thinking about ways to expand my freelancing business, looking for other opportunities that align with the skills I have and how I’d like to spend my time.

Lo and behold, I stumbled across the idea of becoming a creativity coach.

What? Does that even exist? Apparently, it does. And a person can take classes and become certified in it.

I’ve signed myself up for the introductory class, and I can tell you I am blown away already. The entire thing is conducted through email (a Google Group, to be exact), and there are about two dozen creative souls taking this course along with me.

What surprised me is that the other students are from all over the world – various places throughout the US, Canada (including the High Arctic!), the UK, Australia, Switzerland, South Korea, Greece, Cyprus, and even an aide worker in Turkey who lives about 100 miles from the border of Syria.

Reading everyone’s stories, hearing about their creative lives, where they struggle, how they want to help others with their own creative struggles, is even more inspiring than I thought it would be. I feel re-energized and excited to pursue this so that I can confidently add “creativity coaching” to my skill set as an artist.

Along with the class, we need to do 100 hours of private coaching to become certified. I’ve secured my first client (yay!) and will be looking for others who might be willing to give it a go with me. For a limited time, while I’m getting certified, I’ll be offering private coaching for FREE. If you’re interested, drop me a line either in the comments or through the “Hire Me” page on this blog.

I’m really looking forward to this adventure, and I’m excited to share with you all some of the insights from the journey. Stay tuned!

What’s On My Mind…

Do you ever feel like you have so much on your mind that you couldn’t possibly fit one more thing in there?

Do you have those days where the happy thoughts are working overtime to try to shoulder out the unpleasant ones?

Are there days when it feels like your brain might actually explode?

Yeah, me too.

The last few weeks I’ve been re-doubling (quadrupling?) my efforts to expunge some of these negative thoughts from my head. They don’t do me any good, really, and I’m getting tired of them.

So…I did what any creative person might do and I busted out my beautiful new journal with the thick, buttery pages (that I scored at Marshall’s for $5.99!) and committed some of these negative thoughts to paper.

Sometimes, I just need to get them out, let them have their say, thank them for whatever lesson it is they’re trying to impart (mostly, I know, they are just trying to protect me, however misguided they are), and show them on their way.

I took the most unflattering picture of myself that I could, pasted it to the paper, and over the course of about two weeks, dumped whatever garbage was hanging out in the dusty corners – or, admittedly, right in the front – of my mind.

The more I wrote them down, the less weight they had. In fact, some of them seemed downright ridiculous once I wrote them 6, 8, a dozen times.

Now the whole thing seems kind of ridiculous, and makes me laugh at the absurdity of it.

And since I’m getting in the practice of sharing some of the harder stuff, so that maybe it will become easier stuff for all of us, here is that ridiculous masterpiece of the absurd:

What is on my mind...

Sometimes you just gotta confront those demons, acknowledge they exist, and politely send them on their way. Or, in this case, expose them to everybody so they diminish in power.

I highly recommend this little exercise. I’m embarrassed to show it to you, but I think that’s the point. In sharing it, I’m taking away it’s power to shame me.

So…what’s on your mind?

Talking About Hard Stuff: Student Loan Debt


There’s a new documentary out about Nora Ephron, made by her son. It’s called Everything is Copy, which refers to her insistence that all matters of her intimate life were to be shared in her work.

I love Nora Ephron, and I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot lately, about the need to share the intimate stuff, the hard stuff.

So as of today I’m starting a new section of my blog, a dedicated place where I talk about the hard stuff.

Why? As a personal challenge, for starters. I tend to shy away from talking about the really hard stuff. I’ve got a laundry list of hard stuff I never talk about, and I don’t think it serves me, and I know it doesn’t serve my work.

I’m also doing it because people tend to respond to the hard stuff, because they have hard stuff, too, and it makes them feel less alone maybe.

So – here goes.

I had a really bad couple of hours on Friday, and in the thick of it I posted something about it on Facebook. I was surprised at the number of responses it solicited. It’s a topic that’s hard for a number of people, it seems, and it only gets harder the older we get. And that topic is…

…student loan debt.

I spent Friday afternoon on the phone with Navient trying to work out a stupid paperwork issue so that I don’t have to pay $859 a month in loan payments. It was agonizing, and a couple of times while speaking with them on the phone I actually had to stop and breathe because I was ugly crying and my throat was closing in on itself and I couldn’t get words to come out of my mouth. Frankly, I don’t think “Keith” in India really gave a shit. I mean, poor privileged white American girl who can’t pay her bills. I get it. I would call bullshit on me, too.

My husband was understandably worried about me. It’s probably not a nice thing to see your wife hunched over, her head on her desk, sobbing to Indian Keith on the phone, not making much sense. Hubs did the only thing he could think to do – he rubbed my shoulders and told me it would be OK. Which was nice, even though I didn’t believe him.

So, here’s the thing. Here’s what’s got me so upset.

As of this moment, I owe $91,762.32 on my student loans. That’s about $20,000 more than when I graduated 14 years ago.

It’s a punch in the stomach, writing that.

I hadn’t looked up the actual number in awhile, and I thought it was about $85,000. So, yeah, it’s actually $6,000 more than I thought.

What did I buy for $91,762.32? A BFA and an MFA in Acting. Go ahead and laugh. I would laugh, too, at the absurdity of spending $91,762.32 to learn how to be a fucking actor of all things if it wasn’t such a sad and sickening reality.

I’m 40. The reality is that I just don’t make any real money working in the arts. Some people do. I have many friends who do. I’m glad for them. But for whatever reasons, whether it’s the choices I made or things that I have no control over, I never landed a really great job as an actor.

Now, I’m smart. I was valedictorian of my high school graduating class and I have an advanced degree. I could work outside my industry. I could teach. I could work in sales. I could bartend. I could work as an executive assistant. I’ve done all those things, in fact.

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, and in it she talks about never relying on your creativity to pay the bills. She talks about the honor of having an outside job that pays the bills so that your creativity has room to breathe, that it doesn’t have the burden of responsibility placed on it.

I get that, as an idea. And I’ve tried that. For years and years and years. And you know what I found? That, at the end of the day, I was too exhausted by the hustle to have any energy left to put towards my creativity. I’m hard-working, and I’m loyal. The job I’m being paid to do will always be the one that comes first. That’s the way I was raised and it’s hard-wired into me. Compound that with living in New York and Los Angeles during those years, and suddenly the amount of money you need to just get by is exponentially higher. But you have to live there because that’s where most of the work is. And trying to have a regular job while also trying to be an actor is nearly impossible. Actors have to have spontaneously flexible schedules because sometimes you only get a half day’s notice about an audition.

All of that is exhausting, and it’s not a great environment for creativity to feel safe and welcome.

The only times I’ve ever been able to make decent payments on my student loan is when I have worked outside my industry. I remember those times. That’s when I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and taking blood pressure medication at 30 because I was so fucking stressed out. It’s taken me a long time to admit it, but unless I’m actively working at a creative job every day I am totally. Fucking. Miserable. It actually feels like part of my soul dies every day. There have been so many mornings where I would cry over my eggs because the thought of going to the office was so dreadful it made me feel physically ill.

What bothers me about this, is that I was allowed –  encouraged, really – to buy something, to take out a loan for something, that was probably never going to be the thing I did to pay off that loan (in fact, at least half of my classmates, maybe more, are not making a living as a working actor). Why did I borrow $91,762.32 and spend seven years of my life becoming a fucking awesome actor, if I could never hope to pay that money back by being an actor? Why was I made to feel like I was lucky to be paying so much for this education? That it was a fucking privilege to leave school with such an expensive degree?

That’s sick, and the more I think about it, the angrier I get. Normally, I’m a good sleeper. But it’s 2 a.m. on a Sunday night and I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about this suffocating monkey on my back. So I’m up writing about it, because I don’t know what else to do.

My husband thinks that something is going to happen, that there are too many people like me, too many people who have crippling student loan debt, who have no hope of ever being able to pay them off, that there will be some sort of change in the future, some kind of relief. I so wish for that to be true.

But, in dark moments, I don’t believe that will ever happen. I assume I will die without ever paying this loan off. That I won’t be able to collect social security. That I will live at or near the poverty line for the rest of my life, and that I will have to work until the day I die.

Look, I made the choices that led to this. I own that. And I’m making choices now that are contributing to my debt getting bigger instead of smaller. I own that, too. I made the choice that I just can’t work another 9 to 5 office job, or worse, work in a restaurant. I’m able to make just enough money to keep myself afloat by freelancing. I write thousands of words every week for various websites. I work as a personal assistant in someone’s home. I put together pitch decks for TV shows in development. I finished my first novel and I’m looking for a literary agent. I’m co-writing a screenplay with a talented friend whose first feature is screening at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

I act now and again when a project comes up. But I don’t pursue it full time because pursuing acting is really expensive, especially in Los Angeles. There are so many things you “have” to buy – new headshots every year, great audition clothes, regular haircuts (and colors, now that I’m getting grey hairs – can’t be old here!), casting director workshops you have to pay to attend in order to meet anyone, classes you should be taking…it’s a never-ending money-suck being an actor, and I just can’t stomach laying out that kind of cash anymore. Not when I already owe $91,762.32 for my training.

I’m actually happy doing what I’m doing. I work really hard. I’m extremely disciplined. I get up at 6:30 most mornings and am at my desk working by 8. I’m always on the lookout for new gigs, and for creative ways to make more money. And when I’m not thinking about this crippling debt, I feel pretty good. But then I remember how much I owe, and how little I make being creative, and I end up in a shame spiral, admonishing myself and feeling sorry myself at the same time. It’s a crappy place to be.

I come from a working class family. My dad was a steel worker and my mom worked in the cafeteria of my elementary school. Now she works in the floral department of a grocery store. I learned about hard work and sacrifice from them. I learned that most people work hard at jobs they don’t love. Because that’s how it is.

I have loads of shame about this debt, and that I’m still sticking to my artistic guns in the face of it. It sometimes feels self-indulgent and ego-centric and I hate myself for it. It’s safe to say I often feel tortured about being an artist in a culture that doesn’t value art. I haven’t had commercial success, and I may never have it. But I keep going because I have to, the core of who I am dictates it. All other choices make me feel awful and dead inside.

I don’t have any answers. And when I ask myself if I would do it again, if I would go to college and graduate school again, I know the answer. Yes, I would. It was transformative for me personally and as an artist. My whole experience of the world is different, richer, because of it.

But I would handle this debt differently. I wouldn’t just presume, at 25, that someday I’d book a national commercial that would pay off the debt. Because I haven’t and I probably won’t. I’d be smarter about my choices. And, frankly, I think my education should have better prepared me, prepared all of us, for what the likely reality would be. Give us some pointers on how to handle enormous debt in the most expensive cities, advice on where to find the jobs that are both actor-friendly and not soul-crushing.

I can’t go back, of course. I’ve got to figure out what to do going forward.

I do think our system needs radical change. It’s criminal how much an education costs, while the banks financing those education loans keep getting richer. But, that’s the American Way, isn’t it? The rich get richer and fuck everybody else. The banks get bailed out, but the little guys with not a cent to spare get no relief.

Alright. Well.

That’s the hard stuff I decided to tell you about today. There’s more hard stuff to talk about, and as I find the courage I’ll write about it here. It makes me feel so incredibly exposed and vulnerable and scared, but I think that means it’s worth doing.

I must be off now, for if I have any hope of being productive tomorrow (i.e. make some money to pay off my debt) I better get at least a few hours of sleep.

Be well, friends.










Help Spread World Peace with SERVAS


Have you ever heard of SERVAS?


I hadn’t, until last summer when hubs and I were preparing for a trip to Europe. When travelling outside the country, we try to connect in some way with locals, as a way to understand and at least briefly experience what life is like for the people who live in that destination. Often we rely on friends and acquaintances to connect us with people around the world, but for this particular trip to Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece we were coming up mostly empty-handed.

Hubs knew there were organizations out there that connect travelers with hosts – something a little more submersive than what you would experience with Airbnb or couchsurfing. He did some online research and discovered SERVAS.

SERVAS is an international federation of national groups that connects a network of hosts and travelers. They were founded shortly after World War II by those committed to fostering world peace, people who wanted to do their part to ensure nothing like that devastating war would ever happen again.

The purpose of the group is to help build understanding and goodwill by giving people the opportunity to connect with others from different backgrounds, cultures and nationalities.

It’s world peace, one conversation at a time.

Here’s a video that explains it a little more:

After filling out an application, providing references and having an in-person interview, we were accepted into the group and went about making arrangements to stay with hosts. As a Servas Traveler, you may stay for free for two nights with approved hosts. Over 100 countries participate in the program.

Over the course of our three-week trip, we spent seven nights with an amazing couple in Istanbul and one night with an equally amazing couple near Thessaloniki, Greece. To say that we were met with warmth and generosity would be an understatement.

In Istanbul, we spent evenings talking at length with our hosts about life in the city, their travels, the role religion plays in their culture. They taught us how to properly make Turkish coffee, helped us sample the best of the local cuisine, gave us maps and endless suggestions of what we should see during our stay, gave us our own room in which to stay, and introduced us to the delights of a full Turkish breakfast. Even their three cats welcomed us as part of the family.

Me and my new friend, McBule
Me and my new friend, McBule
Our delicious breakfast that our wonderful host, Esra, prepared for us.
Our delicious breakfast that our wonderful host, Esra, prepared for us.

In Greece we were collected from our hotel, treated to an amazing homemade lunch, and toured around their small village. We visited their dairy farm, spent a fun afternoon and evening touring Thessaloniki and were even driven to the airport the following morning. Not to mention the warm bed to sleep in.


Through this program, you are encouraged to behave as though you are a member of the family during your stay. You learn about your host’s customs, culture, food, ideologies, issues, struggles – you name it. You help prepare meals. You meet other family members. You experience a level of intimacy with total strangers that is practically unheard of if you were traveling in a way that most tourists do – so much so that many times you become lifelong friends.

It is eye-opening, mind-opening and heart-opening.

There is virtually no way to go through an experience like this and not come out with a deeper understanding of those who may at first seem different than you, but who end up being human just like you, with many of the same fears and hopes.

Less than a year later, these places where we stayed have experienced violence on an international level. At least twice now Istanbul has been the target of bombings in areas frequented by tourists. We can’t help but remember walking in these very places with our new friends, and we worry about their safety and how these events are affecting their lives in a real, tangible way.

Hubs and I posing on the trolley, near the site of the most recent bombing in Istanbul.
Hubs and I posing on the trolley, near the site of the most recent bombing in Istanbul.

There is so much to fear in the world right now. It would be so easy to close our borders and stay home, worrying that if we step outside we may be the next anonymous victim of violence. Places that once seemed safe have become targets. We could be next.

But I challenge that notion.

This isn’t the time to turn away from the hurt. We should be turning towards it and facing it together. There is no better way to destroy hate and intolerance than through travel. It’s easy to stay in our own little cocoons, but there is so much world out there, there are so many beautiful, warm-hearted, welcoming and amazing people to meet. There are more of us, more of the people who want to bridge the gap and foster mutual respect and peace, than there are of those who wish to terrorize. But we have to be willing to meet them – either here at home by opening our doors to those who are different, or by visiting them on their home turf.

I invite you to learn more about SERVAS. Visit their website. If travel is outside your means at the moment, consider becoming a host. You have nothing to lose, and only a greater understanding of the world and our place in it to gain.

We can spread world peace, one conversation at time.




The Mystery of Ferdinand the Frog – SOLVED!


Well, at least we THINK we solved the mystery.

A little backstory:

About four years ago we were suddenly plagued by this extremely loud chirping/croaking sound coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the backyard and only at night. It seemed like it was coming from the trees, and each night we’d go out and gaze up into the canopy of our fig tree and our neighbor’s trees for whatever bird was making such a racket, but to no avail.

I researched bird sounds of Southern California and could find nothing that matched the sound I was hearing. For a week I poured over websites and listened to recordings of dozens of birdsongs. I finally gave up, reaching no conclusions.

Then, oddly, I heard the sound once during the day. I leapt from my desk, hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever it was now that it couldn’t hide in the shadows. Instead of coming from the trees, however, it sounded like it was coming from the pool, and the sound was echoing up into the air.

And then I spotted him. A tiny frog, no bigger than a quarter, clinging to the side of the pool, singing his little heart out.

My instinct was to squash him because he was SO. DAMN. LOUD. But I reconsidered, and called hubs outside so he could see the devil for himself.

Adam was instantly smitten and gave him a name – Ferdinand. Well, shit, once you name something it’s really hard to kill it.

So, that first summer, every night Ferdinand came out and sang his lonely song, looking for a mate. Sometimes he’d jump into the pool and swim alongside us. Mostly he kept out of sight. We couldn’t figure out how he’d arrived at our house. It is very dry in the Valley, and not hospitable to frogs in any way, really. We figured he hitched a ride with the pool man.

In the fall, his song stopped, and we thought that was the end of that. We surmised he’d probably gotten eaten by a cat or a bird or a squirrel or something.

But the following spring, he started up his song again. A little online research uncovered that frogs hibernate. Who knew? He sang his lonesome song again that summer, pining for a mate that would never come. I imagined him as a lonely traveler, with nothing but his banjo to keep him company. A little something like this:


Or perhaps even this:


This went on for three or four summers, I can’t quite remember. We came to love his sound, signaling the beginning of warm weather and leisurely nights swimming in the pool. It was always fun to spot him, and we got one really good picture of him, clinging to the side of our Jacuzzi.


But he went quiet in the middle of last summer, and we haven’t heard his call this spring, so we’re pretty sure he’s in froggy heaven now. And we never did figure out what kind of frog he was or where he came from.

Until now.

Hubs happened to see an article yesterday about an invasive species of frog from Puerto Rico the coqui frog – that is suddenly making an appearance in Southern California. They’ve hitched rides in the nursery containers of tropical plants. Which reminded me that I once saw a tiny frog in a nursery pot at the Home Depot in Signal Hill….

Hmmmmm…could Ferdie have been a coqui? If you listen to recordings of their call, they sound an awful like what I remember Ferdinand sounding like.

Here’s a recording of a coqui:

And in this (poor quality) video you can hear Ferdi in the background:

And he resembles the coqui in both size and coloring.

Coqui Frog-005

What do you think?

Do you think our little Ferdie was the scourge known as the coqui frog? Apparently, they’ve been a very unwelcome addition to the nightscape of Hawaii, which is usually quiet and peaceful. But in Puerto Rico they are loved. I guess it’s like the difference between a flower and weed – it’s really up to the interpretation of the person dealing with it.

Nonetheless, we’ve alerted the people in SoCal who are keeping track of this frog’s proliferation into the Los Angeles area. I think we might be their first instance of a coqui frog spotting in the San Fernando Valley.

So, the mystery of Ferdinand the Frog is most likely solved. We still miss the little bugger. We really grew to love his sound, and how he connected us with the wildness of our own backyard. Even here in the depths of suburbia, we have so many species of birds, insects, plants and amphibians to marvel at. Learning about them is a joy – it makes me feel more connected to the world and reminds me how we’re all just sharing it together.


When Your Childhood Best Friend Moves Away


You guys, I’ve been really sad.

You see, my childhood best friend is moving away.

Here’s the thing – we actually moved away from our small Indiana hometown a long time ago. We both left for college at 18. And other than a couple of very short stints during adulthood, we’ve lived elsewhere. I’ve been in southern Indiana, New Jersey, New York and now Los Angeles. She’s been in Tennessee, Georgia, Colorado, Montana, northern California and now Washington.

But we lived on the same street – Grant Street – growing up. My parents have lived in the same house for almost 40 years. And her parents have lived in the same house for almost 40 years.

Until now, that is.

My childhood best friend’s parents just sold their house and are moving to Washington in a month.

The house in the foreground is my best friend's parents' house. Sniff, sniff...
The house in the foreground is my best friend’s parents’ house. Sniff, sniff…

I feel like I’m 12, and that I’ve just been delivered very bad news. As a kid, the only thing worse than being told that your family is moving is being told that your best friend is moving away forever. That was like my worst nightmare.

And now it’s finally coming true!

I know I’m being ridiculous. Neither of us has lived in our hometown for ages. We only see each other once every two years for a couple of hours at Christmas. In fact, I’ve probably visited her more in her other homes throughout the years than I have at her parents’ home.

But still…a chapter is closing. For good.

I spent as much time in her house as I spent in my own. My family lived in a small, newer construction home. Her family lived in a big old Victorian home with a creepy basement and an equally creepy attic with a big yard and a spare bedroom. We could go a whole day without seeing anyone else there. We made haunted houses in her bedroom and tried contacting spirits with her Ouija board – which seemed totally possible in her house. It was spooky and fun and it felt like home.

It’s weird to think I’ll never set foot in that house again.

In my best friend's bedroom our Sophomore year of high school, in front of the Hair Metal Wall of Fame
In my best friend’s bedroom our Sophomore year of high school, in front of the Hair Metal Wall of Fame

As an adult, I’ve lived in so many different apartments and houses that I’ve lost track. I don’t miss most of them in any kind of profound way. And even though I lived in the same house my entire childhood, if my parents were to move I don’t think I’d be very upset. But for some reason, my best friend’s parents moving out of their house has stirred a deep part of myself.

Perhaps it’s because it was my escape. I always looked forward to going there, whether we were spending an afternoon in the backyard pretending like we were leading a travel adventure show through the wild or staying up until midnight on a sleepover and chanting into the bathroom mirror in the dark, “I hate you Bloody Mary.” It was a place of magic and friendship. It was a place of daydreams and HBO (which my family never had). And now it will only live in my memories. Although, in all honesty, it has only been a memory for many years.

In her driveway, after our shift at McDonald's.
In her driveway, after our shift at McDonald’s.

I’ve written about the importance of place before, and her house inspired the house in my first novel, Inside Chance. The place itself is a character, a living, breathing part of the world that influences in no small measure who we become.

Part of what has made me into the person I am today is that house in which I spent so much time growing up. And I’m going to miss it.

Goodbye, house...
Goodbye, house…








What the Death Valley “Super Bloom” Taught Me About Success


I’m a sucker for flowers.

Honestly, if I have any kind of spare time these days, I’m typically spending it in my garden, looking at other people’s gardens or simply browsing through pictures of gardens on Pinterest for inspiration.

So when hubs forwarded me an article about Death Valley’s recent “super bloom” and suggested a day trip to witness the event ourselves, I was totally on board.

Colorful flowers blooming in Death Valley

For those that haven’t heard, Death Valley is experiencing a rare mass-blooming event. Because of the recent El Nino rains and warmer-than-average temperatures for February, the valley floor has erupted in great masses of wildflowers.

Walking out into the wash.

Death Valley is an apt moniker for this alien landscape, part of the Mojave Desert. The lowest point in the park is 282 feet below sea level and sets records with temperatures as high as 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Most years it gets an average rainfall of just over two inches. It’s a desolate place of rocks, long expanses of salt flats and scrubby little plants and bushes that have somehow adapted to these extreme conditions.

People in the distance walking onto the salt flats.

But this winter something special is happening. Millions of wildflower seeds that have lain dormant on the valley floor for years have suddenly burst into bloom, virtually overnight. The last time something similar happened in the park was in 2005, so some of those seeds have been patiently waiting there for over ten years.

The landscape was dotted all over with tiny figures enjoying the rare flower show.

It struck me how much this super bloom event has in common with so-called overnight success stories.

Whenever someone new has broken through and caught the media’s attention, they’re often labeled as an “overnight success.”

What the media often fails to mention is that in most cases that person has been toiling away for years, planting seeds and hoping that one day a “perfect storm” of events will blow through, providing just the right environment for those seeds to bloom and thrive.

Up close and personal with the “Desert Gold” flower, the most ubiquitous one in the super bloom.

If we keep striving, keep planting our own seeds by working on our own projects, and have the patience to wait for the right opportunity to present itself, we will have the chance to shine and thrive. The trick is to hang in there, even when the wait seems interminable.

While we passed by these expanses of wildflowers, creating lakes of yellow, one thing surprised us – the flowers weren’t densely packed, as they appeared in the photos. There was probably about one flower per square foot, but when viewed together at just the right angle, it appeared seamless and creates a pretty spectacular show.

Sunset at Death Valley

Isn’t that a lot like life? We drop these seeds in our wake whenever we can. Each individual seed doesn’t feel like much. But when they all bloom at the same time, when our collective experience is viewed in one fell swoop, it’s pretty impressive. Each tiny piece of history is connected, creating the rich tapestry that is our lives.

One tiny piece of the tapestry
One tiny piece of the tapestry
One tiny piece of the tapestry

And then of course, there’s the knowledge that this super bloom event is temporary. In a few weeks, after the weather starts to heat up and the ground dries up, these flowers will be gone.

In life, if you don’t create the right environment for your dreams to thrive, they, too, can die. It’s not a one-shot deal – you may be in the right place at the right time to have your dreams sprout, but it takes a lifetime of nurturing and diligence to sustain those dreams and to build on those accomplishments to have continued success.

Go out there and plant your seeds! And if you want to witness the superbloom yourself, you best get out to Death Valley stat.

True Desert Gold



Why Rupi Kaur Gives Me Hope For the Future


Have you heard of Rupi Kaur?

I hadn’t, until my 15-year-old stepdaughter asked if I was interested in reading her favorite book – a book of poetry, no less.

I am not normally a poetry person. I continually try to open myself to poetry, and there are some poets I do love (Walt Whitman and e.e. cummings and Mary Oliver come to mind), but I often struggle to make a connection to poetry. To hook into what the poem is conveying. I have problems finding my way in.

But when a 15-year-old girl gives you an opportunity – an invitation – to peek into her world, to have a glimpse of what grabs her attention, what penetrates her heart, what expresses even a sliver of her own inner life – you don’t say no. It’s an honor to be let in.

So, she deposited “Milk and Honey,” Rupi Kaur’s first book of poetry, on my nightstand. I’ll admit — it sat there for two weeks before I finally picked it up. But the universe has a way of tapping you on the shoulder by way of synchronicity, so when a close friend shared a Rupi Kaur poem on Facebook, I took the hint and immediately picked up the book.

 photo by rupee rags
photo by rupee rags

You guys – wow.

First of all, the language is simple and bold. There’s no fluff, no fancy constructs, no unnecessary elaboration. It gets straight to the point and immediately taps into some decidedly raw feelings.

Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Secondly, the subject matter speaks to what is arguably the every day experiences of many women around the world. It’s about hurting and loving and losing and healing. It’s about vulnerability and strength. It’s about learning to be female in the modern world. It’s about self-knowing and growth.

Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The poet is in her early 20s. She was born in Punjab and moved to Canada when she was 3. In addition to writing poetry, she performs spoken word and writes fiction and plays.

But to get to the point – Rupi Kaur gives me hope for the future.

Why? Well, millennials are often maligned in our culture, characterized as being lazy and self-absorbed and stupid. And, OK, when I see interviews where young people can’t correctly tell you who the Vice President of the United States is or who won the Civil War, I worry. I do. This characterization isn’t totally unfounded.

But when I read Kaur’s poetry, and when I know that it resonates in the soul of a 15-year-old girl on the precipice of adulthood, I’m fucking grateful. I’m grateful that our culture has birthed young women who are unafraid to speak about their experience, their emotions and their bodies.

For the past five years I’ve been involved with charity productions of The Vagina Monologues, V-Day and One Billion Rising. I know that odds are 1 in 3 that a woman will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. I know that we have thousands of years of patriarchal culture to unwind before women can feel safe and heard and equal.

But I think we’re making headway. The teenage girls I know are smarter about their bodies than I was at their age. They have less shame. Many have cultivated an emotional intelligence that probably outstrips men twice their age. They are empowered in many ways. There is still work to do, of course, but I can see how positive change has affected this next generation.

And it gives me hope.

Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

If you haven’t, check out “Milk and Honey.” And if you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.