Have I told you about my Ninja moves?

I have been absent of late. November simply passed as one giant blur of activity with some added responsibilities that guaranteed blogging roadblocks.  Not that I didn’t try. I made a very important discovery, however. After 9:00 PM my mind turns to mush. You don’t need the details on that.

But to stay on top of an expanding schedule of activity I was forced to develop some flexible moves. My yoga practice has been invaluable in maintaining calm–well, calm for me anyway. But lately I’ve had to add Ninja moves as a form of independent study.

Even my closest friends and family have yet to actually see me practicing my Ninja moves. I’m sorry I don’t have photos. And if I could manage video, I’d be a YouTube sensation.

Autumn in Southern California offers a very subtle shift between summer and three more months of summer before we enter a mild winter. The colors do change, but not in the riotous fashion seen in other regions. It’s possible if you were visiting Los Angeles you wouldn’t even notice.

And the temperatures do significantly drop at night, but if you’re already experiencing snow, you probably aren’t interested in hearing how we ate our Thanksgiving dinner outdoors.

Gardens are confused.  Roses are still blooming, and in near perpetual sunshine, my mother’s zinnias are already sprouting in a false display of spring. Darwin is spending day after day without leaving his burrow. He isn’t eating. He knows it’s fall even if the temperatures still hover stuck in summer gear.


Well, endless summer temperatures don’t dictate length of days, and in our latitude twilight is 5:00 PM–just about the time I get home from work. Let the Ninja moves begin!

Do you remember our poor anxiety-ridden dog, Zena?  Even with her twice-daily doses of more-expensive-than-I’m-happy-with prescriptions, we still can’t leave home without setting up a barricade to the back door. Here are photos taken before we figured that out!

We don’t know if she would continue to eat the door frame down to the metal flashing, but we barricade the door and set as many precautions in motion as we can. Each time we leave the house she’s given treats, toys, and provided shelter in our little backyard guest house. She’s treated like one of our children.

You know? As I hear myself, could it be possible that treating her like a child has created such a temperamental little creature?

Oh well. Too late for that. Back to my Ninja training.

So here’s how it works.

I get home a little before 5:00 PM and need to quickly change my clothes and head out to my 5:30 yoga class. I’m only home for a few minutes, but that’s long enough to get Zena all stirred up!  If Jay isn’t home I need to stealthily sneak in and do what I came to do without drawing any attention to myself.

Step 1: I park about one house up the street, avoiding our driveway and being sure I don’t slam the car door or lock it and sound the little alarm.

Step 2: It’s necessary to approach the house with the perfect trajectory. Although the roses are currently about five feet high and quite thorny, I creep through the rose bed skilled at avoiding injury to skin or clothing. Ambling in this odd pattern to my front door, I’m sure my neighbors aren’t aware that this is a well-honed Ninja move. Perhaps they are concerned for me.

Step 3: Finally at the front door, I very, very carefully open the door without making a sound, then crouch and crawl in my best Ninja–or home intruder moves, crawl through the house to my bedroom, careful to avoid being seen through any windows.

Step 4: The house is dark and I can’t possibly turn on a light without my four-footed friend discovering her playmate is home, so out comes the iPhone flashlight and I, with great skill, impressively manage to change my clothing and sneak right back out the front door, totally undetected.

I’ve only been discovered once. That time I found Zena peering into my bedroom window and it was she who scared me!

Step 5 of “How to Train to Be a Ninja Easily” says I need to practice walking quietly, rolling my feet and using my hips to allow wide steps, and to breathe evenly. I do eat healthy foods, as suggested, but my tree-climbing days are over. I can, however, be sneaky.

Is it any wonder that by the end of the day I’m struggling to string coherent sentences together?

Oh, and another Ninja practice strategy suggests that I use nature to my advantage. Apparently being in tune with nature helps provide camouflage during dangerous missions and helps mask noise.

That’s easy. I do spend a lot of time outdoors. And I’ve enjoyed a beautiful Southern California fall. I can’t share photos of my Ninja-moves, but I can share some photographs I’ve recently taken. See if you can find any evidence of Autumn.

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I have missed being more in touch, but December is looking hopeful. And for the last weekend in November, don’t forget your own Ninja moves–apparently breathing lighter is a key skill component. Be sure to exhale!



A strategy for breathing lighter to send you on to another week

One of the nicest comments that I receive is that something I’ve shared on this blog has changed, favorably so, an opinion of Los Angeles. Visitors have frequently maintained their previous notion of Southern California, perhaps particularly of the greater Los Angeles area, was strictly one flat note. I’ve enjoyed expanding the vision.

There is much that is really wonderful about this state. Then there are undeniable drawbacks.

Los Angeles County accounts for about 26% of California’s population estimate of 38 million people.

When it takes me 60 minutes to go 30 miles–and that’s not the worst example I could give–I will admit breathing lighter is not what comes to mind. I have my survival strategies, however. Sometimes I spend the entire “trek” thinking about pioneers who traveled across the Oregon Trail. Fantasy works.

Bottom line? I live in the center of a pressure cooker.

But rather than focus on the negative, I long ago made a choice to find the “people, places and things”  that excite my curiosity or quite literally lift me out of the congestion and provide a breathing lighter escape.

My latest adventure has been to fully immerse in the story of John Muir’s interest in Pasadena. I am enjoying Elizabeth Pomeroy’s  “John Muir: A Naturalist in Southern California,” and as so often happens, one story leads to the next.

My curiosity was first aroused at the Huntington Library when I noticed a letter from Muir to Theodore Parker Lukens.


Lukens, a two term Pasadena mayor and prominent civic leader and well-respected conservationist, traveled to Yosemite in 1895 and joined Muir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley. This initial visit set the stage for Lukens’ lifelong commitment to protecting the timberland and forest reserves above Pasadena and beyond.

A mountain peak in Southern California and a lake in Yosemite National Park, for which he urged federal control, are named after Lukens. Muir often called upon his conservation-minded friends  to assist him in his tireless effort to protect the Yosemite Valley.

I’ve driven by the Lukens house hundreds of times. It happens to be on the same street as my favorite independent book store. But I had never previously connected Lukens to Muir, so now the house takes on a whole new interest!

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Notice the hitching post and mounting stone just sitting there waiting for a horse-bound visitor!

There’s every reason for me to believe that Muir spent time in his friend’s home. Muir, often called “Professor Muir,” was a frequent speaker in the area, including lecturing at the local high school.

The independent bookstore I mentioned? Vroman’s books is a Pasadena landmark.

Vromans sign

A.C. Vroman was also a friend and supporter of Muir’s aims to protect the San Gabriel mountain area and other state-wide conservation efforts.

This is all new information to me, and I’m completely enjoying putting the pieces of a very large puzzle together, while also being pulled back to the relative “quiet” of the early 20th century.

Horse traffic would have been more my speed, I think.

I sometimes simply enjoy imagining what Muir and other early settlers in the Los Angeles area must have experienced and how they interpreted the natural beauty. I wonder what they would think if they could drop in for a visit today?

I get lost in this imagining and it somehow modifies the incessant noise that is a part of every day.

And to breathe even lighter?

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The beautiful San Gabriel Mountains are close enough for me to touch them. And if I need to escape just a little bit more intentionally? Fifteen minutes can put me at Chantry Flat, about three miles into Big Santa Anita Canyon, and home to the last pack station in Southern California.

Just sitting here in the coolness and among the trees, and I contemplate what Muir said of the San Gabriels, “I had to contend with the richest, most self-possessed and uncompromising chaparral I have ever enjoyed since first my mountaineering began.”  

I tamed the chaparral by car. But I could still imagine.

Breathing lighter? It’s all about where you put your focus.

If stress starts to build this week, replace the stress by identifying an area of interest and begin your own adventure. And if that doesn’t work fast enough for you…just find a place to rest your eyes and escape.

Let me know if it works!

An average day in the life of a very cold African Spurred Tortoise. A Darwin update!

I have just enough time to give you a little Darwin update. Last week when it was so cold here in Southern California a few of you kindly asked about him. Thank you.

African Spurred Tortoises do not hibernate. It is important that they stay warm, so he has a year-round indoor home with lots of space in one corner of our greenhouse.  We make sure he has plenty of fresh timothy hay for burrowing and a basking spot lamp providing added heat.

Darwin can come and go as he pleases.

Typically he walks out of his overnight sleeping area just as soon as the sun begins to warm the greenhouse.

Then he’ll slowly meander around the yard, spending the entire day doing whatever  pleases him most.

Munching on plants…

Darwin eating succulents

Climbing and exercising…

Darwin climbing

and visiting with his garden friends.

Darwin visits a friend

Occasionally he gets a bit too adventurous and escapes! He’s disappeared in the past, although he eventually turns up. He’s a big guy and the neighbors are getting to know him, too.

Darwin on the lam

But when the temperature plummets, our adventurous tortoise barely moves. In fact, I get a little concerned. When I knock on his shell coaxing, “Darwin, are you okay? Can you just give me a little sign that you aren’t in distress?” and he doesn’t answer me, I do get worried.

In years past we’ve brought him into the house, but he’s now so big and heavy it’s not practical and our best inclination is to maximize the warmth and comforts found in his little housing area and assume he’ll be fine.

But good news this past weekend.

After one solid week of very cold weather and noting that Darwin barely moved, it was a relief when the weather significantly warmed us up. All of us!

And as I looked out the kitchen window I was surprised to see two of our little buddies deep in conversation.

Darwin and ZenaI think Darwin must have been hungry. He did seem to be eyeing Zena’s food, so he was given his own head of romaine. It didn’t take him long to devour it.

Darwin eating romaineNotice the little bits of timothy hay stuck to his shell? He has been buried underneath the warmth of that protection for several days.

Mid-afternoon, when the sun is setting, Darwin heads home. His instincts are strong, and as soon as he senses the day’s end, he puts himself to bed.

Back to bed

It’s a good thing, because on the rare occasion he chooses to sleep under bushes instead of the greenhouse, I do try to “dig him out” and put him under cover, but it isn’t easy! He must weigh about 50 pounds at this point.

I admit that I worry about him this time of year.

I’m not crazy about the cold either, but for him, it can affect his overall health. Reptiles can contract pneumonia. He’s healthy and strong; however, and he is definitely provided regular warmth if he’ll just follow his instincts to stay indoors near the heat lamp.

However, if he doesn’t behave himself and adventures out on a cold and blustery day, I could provide him some added protection. Click HERE to see what I could consider!

Maybe in 2014 I could take up another hobby?

Just imagine Darwin with even MORE style and panache!