Dog Park People of LA

I’m not a people person. I’m not what one might call an introvert either, but I definitely don’t feel compelled to engage people I don’t know beyond high-level pleasantries. This isn’t because I lack manners or suffer from social anxiety. I’m just not interested in small talk. Next to filing taxes and getting my pikachu waxed, small talk is my least favorite thing.

You know what else I find tedious? Faking it. Whether it’s joy, an orgasm, or basic interest, I have a tough time putting on an act. It’s exhausting. Like, ask me to organize your book collection by color or to handwrite your Christmas cards for you. But don’t ask me to participate in anything that requires faking it.

I was never an effective networker (insert gasps and surprise). I’m the gal who strolls in, grabs a complementary glass of wine or five and vanishes. My friends and colleagues may find this hard to believe, because when I’m with my inner circle I’m the life of the party. I’m Frank the Tank meets Holly Golightly. I’m in my element. But strangers? No way. Stranger. Danger. Screaming my safe word all the way to the nearest safety exit.

The act of faking it becomes increasingly inane when it comes to mindless banter at the dog park. I have a dog. My husband and I adopted this little ball of fury eight months ago and I’ll admit, I’ve become one of those people. People who allow their canine to kiss them on the mouth, sleep in their bed and basically diminish any hope of having spontaneous sex again. Our idea of foreplay is getting the doggie into her kennel, or “luxury condo” as we have tried to convince her. I really love my dog. But despite being a reasonably good dog parent, I’m hopeless at the dog park.

I’ve never owned a dog in another city, so I may be attaching my experience to Los Angeles unjustly, but I suspect I’m not alone here. Dog park people are kind of basic, am I right? Interacting with humans is one thing, but conversing with another person via your pet is kind of fucked up.

Dog park person: Oh hello! Who do we have here?
Me: Uh. Abby. Her name is Abby.
Dog park person: Hi Abby! This is Peanut. So nice to meet you Abby. Peanut wants to know what kind of doggie Abby is?
Me: She’s a rescue. Not really sure.
Dog park person: Peanut thinks she’s part Chihuahua mixed with Fox Terrier.
Me: I’d say whatever mixed mongrels wander the streets of Long Beach, where she was found. But good guess Peanut.
Dog park person: *quickly drags Peanut in other direction*

The human-to-dog ratio where we live in Venice feels like it could be 2-1. That means 50% of the folks in my neighborhood own dogs, for the math prodigy’s out there. So unless I walk our dog at off peak hours – which I always endeavour to do – the chances of me running into someone with a dog are highly probable. In particular a few people, which despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to avoid.

Hot guy with Siberian Husky
I’m a happily married woman. I’ve bought into the whole monogamy thing. Which is why I don’t need toned, tanned and highly fuckable young men walking about shirtless and barefoot and fancy free. Like this one fellow who is on the same human avoidance dog walking schedule as me. Strutting about with his dreads tied in a bun a la Citizen Cope, abs glistening in the hot SoCal sun. It’s too much.

Lip injections with Prince Charles Spaniel
One day a woman with particularly plump lips among other fake body parts approached me and knew my dog by name. She asked if I was my husband’s girlfriend. I said no, actually, I’m his wife. Ever since, she seems to emerge every time I walk by her place so either she’s hot for my hubby or I’ve got a single white female situation on my hands.

Chardonnay sipper with Chiweenie
The most aggressive of the dog park people is this older gal with a southern drawl who sips wine from a to-go cup and let’s her dog run around off leash. Every time I see her she tries to convince me to join a Facebook Group for our local dog park, even though I’ve explained to her that Abby thinks Facebook is lame.

I know you’re supposed to socialize your dog and I do, among people I enjoy who also happen to have dogs. Otherwise I’m going to pretend to speak another language. I’m going to cross the street when I see you coming. I’m going say I’m late for a meeting, I left the stove on or my dog has fleas. Let’s spare each other the false pleasantries, let our dogs sniff each others bottoms and carry on with our day.

Follow my dog Abby on SnapChat @abby.dog and Instagram @abby.spike

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I slay. All day.

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Jim Morrison & Venice

James Douglas Morrison was one of my earliest rock star obsessions. My formative years took place during the tail end of the 80s hair band phenomenon through to grunge and alt rock, but bands of the 60s and 70s were ever-present in our house growing up. My dad’s vinyl collection was a vessel into an era of music so familiar to me it’s as though I was there. Maybe I was? In a past life, anyway.

I began listening to The Doors in my early teens, memorizing every poetic word of every song while listening to my Best of The Doors double CD set on repeat. I would make beaded necklaces that matched the necklace Jim Morrison wore in Joel Brodsky’s iconic “American Poet” photograph like an obsessed groupie. I even stole a huge sign from our local cinema promoting Oliver Stone’s The Doors, which hung above my bed until I moved out of my parent’s home.

In 2008 during a visit to Paris I visited his grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery alongside other Morrison obsessives like me. Then, to top it off, I moved to Venice and live a short walk away from the home he lived in when the band came to be. That all probably sounds pretty creepy, but I swear I didn’t land in Venice just to channel the spirit of the Lizard King and lust after leftover hippies in leather pants, but it further proves my fandom is legit.

A lot of people come to Venice to be closer to Jim and the birthplace of The Doors, either as part of a larger pilgrimage or to relive the days of free love and flower children lining the boardwalk. And its true, his spirit is everywhere. Whether it’s in the form of a portrait by a sidewalk artist, part of mural or the sound of a Doors song blasting from a cyclist’s boombox on the bike path, remnants of Morrison are literally everywhere you look. I wonder if he had any idea how transcendent his words would be 50 years later.

One of my favourite Doors fan rituals was to sit outside Venice Bistro on the boardwalk Sunday nights just before sunset to listen to Peace Frog, their longstanding Doors tribute band. Gentrification has led to new ownership and the band has since relocated, not too far away though, at another bar in Santa Monica.

If you’re coming to Venice to get your Doors fix, here’s a good place to start:

  • Swing by Jim’s old Venice apartment, an orange building with a mural of Morrison himself, on the corner of 18th Avenue and Speedway, one block from the boardwalk.
  • See a show at the Whiskey a Go Go, where The Doors were the house band in the 60s until they were discovered.
  • Catch Peace Frog at their new residency at Zanzibar. The lead singer bears a striking resemblance to Jim, leather pants and all.
  • If you have time, spend a few nights in Mojave, ingest some hallucinogens and channel the spirits of Jim and Ray. Ride the serpent, man.

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The Doors’ John Densmore and Robby Krieger playing with Foo Fighter’s Taylor Hawkins and Stone Temple Pilot’s Robert DeLeo during a tribute to Ray Manzarek.

Now the soft parade
has soon begun.
Cool pools
from a tired land
sink now
in the peace of evening.
– Jim Morrison

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Venice’s Mosaic Tile House

It’s no surprise to stumble upon an unusually decorated home in Venice. Colourful murals adorning garage doors, alleyways brought to life with artful graffiti and decades-old artefacts lining pathways into overgrown gardens. It’s common to see artists using their home as an extension of their artistic expression here. But none as elaborate and ever-evolving as the Mosaic Tile House at 1116 Palms Blvd.

More of a love story than a tourist attraction, the enchanting 1940s house brought to life piece-by-piece over the past four decades, is the home and story of Cheri Pann and Gonzalo Duran. Married for over 20 years (Cheri mentioned Gonzalo was her third husband I believe), both around 80ish, their relationship and artistic partnership seem to have the fiery energy of a couple of 20-year-olds. His studio displays mechanical sculptures and multi-media pieces that challenge the meaning of devotion and love while her studio displays a floor-to-ceiling gallery of portraits of her beloved in various moods, expressions and color palettes. In a way, the place feels like a mutual shrine between the couple, but in no way do they make guests feel as though they’re intruding.

You can book an appointment to visit the Mosaic Tile House for $12 and Cheri offers a guided tour, sharing a few stories along the way until she disappears to let you meander through the home, studio, garden and surrounding yard – everything but the couples bedroom – as long as you like. Gonzalo was there too the day we visited, working on various projects in the front garden. He was kind enough to take a few artistic snaps for my husband and I, ricocheting our image from a reflection in one of their tiny, mirrored mosaics. My husband took a stab at it himself (last pic below) and did a pretty bang up job.

Our timing, luckily, was impeccable as we arranged to drop by in late March when the wisteria was in full bloom – an annual event that only lasts for about 2 weeks. Their front gate is dripping in the pretty purple blossoms, which made the visit all the more magical and colourful. Aside from the intricate detail and the incredible energy of the place, I was most surprised by the kitchen and bathroom, which are both completely covered in mosaic tiles and other curiosities. You would assume it would make the home look messy, but somehow the chaos of it all felt very neat and tidy. Even the hot tub in the backyard is decorated with a mosaic archway, you guys. It’s really a sight to behold.

Los Angeles has a lot to take in, if you’re traveling through, but if you crave something a little offbeat and local, stop by and soak in the kookiness and beauty of this place. Cheri and Gonzalo couldn’t be more friendly and gracious; you’ll feel like family by the time you’re saying your goodbyes.

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Looming deadlines and accepting feedback on a script

Have you ever set a goal right down to a certain day and time and instead of feverishly attempting to hit said goal, you sat at your desk with a glass of wine watching the minutes tick away? Letting your heart skip a beat – quite literally – with each passing hour until your deadline is nigh? No? Well, I don’t recommend it.

I set a goal to complete my second feature film script by TODAY in order to submit it to the 2016 Academy Nicholl Fellowship competition. Yes, that Academy. While I have completed my first draft (huzzah!), I need time to edit and revise and refine the thing so instead of killing myself to get it done (entries must be uploaded by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time tonight, tick tock) I’m going to blog about not getting it done. How’s that for productivity?

Self-loathing aside, Los Angeles is a great place to be if you’re learning how to craft and develop a script. Not great in the sense of risking everything to be here just to pursue screenwriting. Don’t do that. Great in that there are so many resources for writers, whether you’ve been at it a long while, or you’re brand new to the game. Live reads, lectures, table reads with your nieghbors, you name it. Hell, head to the Venice Boardwalk and read it aloud to passers-by. Fuck it, anything goes in LA.

Before diving into the joy of editing – and I do mean that sincerely, editing is the fun bit – I decided to take this time to review the notes I was given on my first script, which I submitted to the Nicholl Fellowship competition last year. My very first script, a story based in part on real events in my life followed by a whole lot of fiction. A story about a girl who is dating a boy who is horrible to her who a few years later turns out to be gay and in a strange turn of events moves in with the girl and her husband temporarily until one day the girl dies and in the end it’s all very monotonous, save a few surprising plot twists sugared with punchy dialogue. Obviously, I should stay away from writing my own film synopsis and/or movie marketing.

Here are a few notes I found helpful and not completely soul-shattering…

Title: However Unlikely
Genre: Romantic drama

However Unlikely has an interesting premise. In a reflection of modern Los Angeles society, a newly married woman helps out her gay ex-boyfriend by letting him stay in their home. After a while, it all makes complete sense and they all become close friends. There’s a certain so-crazy-it-sounds-true to the story.

The dialogue is real, the characters are not all well rounded, but they are all believable and enjoyable.

The writing is adequate and has energy at the outset that quickly diminishes. The descriptions are visual enough for the little action. The high point moments of dialogue are snappy and humorous. Unfortunately it can’t make up for the lack of action.

Here’s the thing. This is such a fun, cute, fresh premise. I really like the idea. The trouble is the execution. This script needs to go back a few steps and be restructured and tell the story it means to tell. And then there will be something really nice here. As is, there’s a lot of obstacles that get in the way of a good idea.

Good advice for any script. I may revisit that story at some point, but for now I’m submerged in something new. This time the story is set in Los Angeles, New York and London in the 1960s. This time the story is not based on my own experiences, but the memoirs of two notable women of that era. This time I’m really trying to knock it out of the park. Sorry, looming deadline, I’m gonna have to let you go.

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The funny thing about creativity and screenwriting in Los Angeles

I didn’t move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the film industry. This question comes up almost immediately when meeting new people here. I’m not surprised, LA is the epicentre of entertainment. But I have to admit, when I’m at a party and stumble upon people with “regular” jobs, it’s almost a relief.

My husband and I moved here for every other possible cliché you can think of. To escape the dismal Canadian winters, for a new adventure, a change of scenery. To do what most people wait until retirement to do – spend our savings on living our dream now, while we’re young(ish). Despite my “regular” job and my pure intentions of enjoying the spoils of an eternal summer, it doesn’t disguise the fact that I’m plugging away at screenwriting in my spare time. *Insert eye roll here*

I didn’t move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the film industry. But, I happen to love film so it’s not so bad living in the epicentre of entertainment. Moreover, I’m fascinated by the art of creating a script. Stringing words and dialogue together to make people feel something, whether it’s inspired or angry or balling hysterically into a box of popcorn. Film is one of the most powerful communication vehicles in the world. Why wouldn’t I want to take a crack at it, even if nothing ever comes of it?

I’m a big proponent of creating things, even if no one ever sees it. It’s still an outlet. The act of being creative can be a reward in itself, if you train your ego to give you the freedom to enjoy it.

This has always been my mantra. There’s no reason why you can’t lead a creative life, just because you don’t make a living from being creative. Which is why my best friend – a singer who has struggled to find balance between his creativity and what he deems successful – recommended I read “Big Magic”, by Elizabeth Gilbert. *Insert second eye roll here*

I don’t have anything against Gibert, other than the fact that a popular book she wrote transformed Bali from a lesser-known island paradise I traveled in the 90s to a mecca for middle-aged women writing their own memoirs of divorce and enlightenment. I digress; I needed a fun read to get me through a flight from LA to New York a few weeks ago so I picked up her new book.

I was in town for the Tribeca Film Festival but also to soak in the energy of that grand old city and recharge my creative battery. Despite living in the epicentre of entertainment, LA can really suck ones inspiration dry. The beautiful weather we moved here for is an inconvenient distraction. How could I spend a Saturday inside with my laptop when I could be frolicking at the beach? I’ve heard people joke about how New York is where you go to write and LA is where you go to pitch your script. I’m starting to get that now.

I was halfway through a screenplay that, in large part, takes place in New York. Set in the 1960s amidst some of the most iconic locales of that era, I needed to physically be there to be sure I was getting it right. How can you write about Hotel Chelsea if you haven’t loitered in its lobby, taunted its ghosts or stood below it’s failing façade, held up by precarious scaffolding? How can you describe an afternoon in Gramercy Park if you haven’t lingered by its gate, hoping to sneak in behind a kind key holder? I appreciate not all screenwriters have the means to travel to locations where their story takes place just to soak it all in, but I guess that’s one of the perks of having a “regular” job.

Back to Gilbert’s book, I was at a place in my script where I needed a spark to get the thing done and one section really kicked me in the ass. The theory that ideas float around the universe until they land on a human being they can confidently collaborate with; a channel to transform them from idea to physical thing. And if the human doesn’t act, it will eventually float away until it can find another person to collaborate with. I realize we’re edging on mysticism here, but she had real life examples to back up her theory plus who cares what or who ignites a creative spark in you. Hold on tight and go with it, people!

I’m close to completing the first draft. Whether it was New York, Elizabeth Gilbert or the universe giving me a break, I’m not sure. But sometimes your creativity needs to be confronted. Sometimes you need to shake things up to shake out your story. Sometimes you need to get the hell out of LA, instead of letting an idea passively slip away while you lounge poolside posting Instagram pics.

One morning while I was in New York I was walking over the Brooklyn Bridge when two ladies behind me mentioned Vancouver. Excited to hear some Canadian accents I immediately struck up a conversation, declaring I too was from Vancouver but currently living in Los Angeles. One of the women asked me if I was an important actress they should know about. Immediately I replied god no, I have nothing to do with the film industry. Not yet, anyway.

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Coming to America

I’m not really much for milestones. My husband and I don’t really celebrate our birthdays beyond dinner and handwritten cards. Ditto for wedding anniversaries. Professional milestones come and go, more or less unnoticed, and I’m certainly not acknowledging the fact the my 20-year high school reunion is this year, although that’s more of an I’m-too-young-how-can-this-be kind of thing. It’s just not my jam. But today marks one year from the day we arrived in Los Angeles to embark on a brand new chapter, and I can’t help but call it out.

The hours leading up to our departure from our hometown of Vancouver, BC are so vivid, it’s like my psyche secretly tucked away those final moments because it knew I’d feel sentimental 365 days down the track. And wouldn’t you know it, my own subconscious was spot on. We had a great life that we were uprooting. But as I’ve written about before, that life became cyclical. Our friends were moving on to new adventures, many of them starting families and moving out of the city. California was our next step. Our foray into the unknown.

Two pieces of luggage each, some precious family photos that don’t exist digitally and a little black and white photograph of Vancouver that I ripped from the front of a tear-inducing farewell card a friend gave me were all we had room to bring. The first 6 weeks were spent bouncing between Air BnB’s while trying to figure out where we wanted to lay down some roots. Luckily, we followed longing over logic and settled on Venice, a neighbourhood in the midst of intense gentrification driving the cost of living through the roof. Nothing new to a couple of Vancouverites and we didn’t come to California to be landlocked. We needed to be near the sea.

In the past year we’ve created a home in a neighbourhood we love alongside neighbours we adore. We’ve made lifelong friends, established our careers here and adopted the cutest rescue pup you’ve ever laid eyes on (total crazy dog lady bias). We’ve road-tripped all over this great state with so much more to explore. We’ve built a life here.

The novelty of biking everywhere, walking around barefoot every day, having fruit grow on our trees in winter and watching pink sunsets adorned with silhouettes of palm trees from our kitchen window doesn’t get old. Not yet, anyway. I hope it never does.

I miss Canada, but mostly Canadian things. Like the CBC and maple tress in the fall and people who understand what I’m on about when I throw down a little French (you don’t realize how much you do it until you leave!). I miss Canadian values. I miss our families and our friends, who luckily are only a short plane ride away. I miss my girlfriends and the feeling of collective world domination that comes over me every time we get together and polish off a few bottles of wine. I miss writing from our “perch” in Yaletown, overlooking our rainy city. I think of those things often.

But as I write this, the sun is pouring into our little beach pad and the smell of orange blossoms is everywhere and I’m grateful. Grateful to our wonderful American friends, who despite what’s going on in the media at the moment are some of friendliest most welcoming people on the planet. I’m grateful my husband is just as happy as I am here. It’s been a wild ride, Cali. And we’re just getting started.

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Extreme close-up family selfie.

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Addict-turned-artist to Hollywood’s A-list: An Interview with Lincoln Townley

From facilitating lavish parties and lap dances in London’s seedy Soho district to portraying some of the most complex, celebrated and tormented souls in Hollywood, British contemporary artist Lincoln Townley has transformed his life through his art. Known for his ability to capture the turbulent energies of the unconscious mind that push the most creative and successful people to the edge of destruction, Townley has been commissioned to paint many of the world’s biggest stars, exhibiting his work in galleries all over the globe, including the National Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts in London and Art Angels in Los Angeles.

You began your career working in the commercial vehicle industry, then you were offered to head up marketing and publicity for London’s infamous gentlemen’s club – Stringfellows. Today, you’re exhibiting your artwork all over the world, including Art Angels in Los Angeles and were commissioned by BAFTA LA to paint six honorees of the 2015 Britannia Awards. That’s a remarkable evolution! Have you always identified as an artist and when did you know this was the path you wanted to pursue?

I have always painted, even in my darkest moments in Soho I would paint horrific images, which I felt helped me with the deep anxiety I would suffer whilst using drink and drugs to such a degree. Then, 5 years ago, the painting took on a life of it’s own when I decided to get sober and take my art to a new level. I never thought it would hit this level at all, but hard work, talent and lots of luck and perseverance is my key to success.

Your book The Hunger chronicles your battle with addition to booze, drugs, women and really an ultra excessive lifestyle working in, as you describe it, the underbelly of London’s Soho neighborhood. What was the moment or instance you realized you needed to make a change?

I wanted to change because I found purpose; purpose in my painting and in my relationship with my wife, Denise. We had what we referred to as our “year of madness” together and I saw that what we had would get lost if we continued to drink and use drugs, so I gave up and three months later she followed. Denise concentrated on getting back to acting as she is an award-winning actress and I focused on my art and began to paint and position my work in shows across London which now continues and stretches across the world, which is incredible.

Did your sobriety influence your transition into the art world?

Absolutely without doubt my sobriety changed my life; I took control for the first time in many years. The art world is extremely hard to get in to and I’m still not “accepted” as a real artist. It’s crazy as, 5 years ago, I hammered on so many doors when I decided to show my work. I visited dozens of galleries and they would even laugh at me when I asked to talk to the gallery manager…but who’s laughing now? I’m constantly being asked to join shows across the world and show my work in galleries – it really is a fairytale story but it’s not been an easy transition. I’m now opening in galleries in San Francisco, New York, Dubai and St Petersburg as well as showing in Mayfair at Maddox Gallery and Art Angel in Beverly Hills.

Your ICONS Collection, a portrait series of iconic figures in the entertainment industry, is a mix of commissioned works as well as celebrities you have chosen as your subjects. What is it about a person, or in some cases their persona, which inspires you to portray them in your work?

It started as a project to paint people I felt had the ICON status (in the world of entertainment) but I wanted to choose famous people who I admired for their vision and determination to succeed in such a chaotic environment. I now have a whole collection of ICONS and it has organically grown into the position that I find famous people asking me to create their image in my style, which I am very honored to do if the face fits!

Of all your portraits, which subject did you relate to or identify with the most?

My meeting with Charlie Sheen when I delivered him his portrait was the most exhilarating experience. He got the vision I had when painting him and connected with the portrait immediately, telling The Independent “I had captured the essence of addiction.” We chatted for ages about the depth of the portrait and the feeling I had whilst painting it as I watched YouTube footage of his expression and feelings. I could really identify with his anger and feeling of being lost in the madness of addiction.

Sheen isn’t the only hard-partying actor on your ICONS roster. You’ve also painted the likes of Mickey Rourke, Nick Nolte and recovering addict-turned-activist Russell Brand. Would you say that your art saved your life?

My painting continues to keep me grounded and focused on producing art, which touches people. My ICONS collection is growing and my choice of ICON is based on the energy and charisma of my subjects. When I explained my methods of painting to BAFTA LA they fully understood my feelings behind the image itself and I feel that’s why they have continued to want to use me for this year’s Britannia Awards and I’m very much looking forward to see who they are honoring.

You’ve donated many of your pieces to help raise funds for the ABR Trust, for which both you and Brand are patrons, and A Sense of Home, an LA-based charity dedicated to creating homes for young people aging out of foster care. How important is it to you to be able to give back to these causes?

I adore both charities and they both have different places in my heart. My patronage at The ABR Trust with Russell is fabulous and I have raised tens of thousands for them and they continue to help and guide people who need help with drink and drug related issues. I will continue to paint portraits to raise awareness and funding whenever I can. Russell plays a huge role in getting the good of the charity out there, through his social media voice. I was introduced to A Sense of Home through Max Kennedy of the Kennedy family in the US. I have not only painted portraits for them but I have rolled up my sleeves and assisted some of the young amazing people they help to create homes for, and hung the odd mirror and even grabbed a paint brush! I think the energy of both these charities is motivating for me to give back and help those less fortunate than myself and I will continue to do so.

Keanu Reeves Portrait by Lincoln Townley - NEW

Keanu Reeves Portrait by Lincoln Townley

Robert Downey Jnr Portrait by Lincoln Townley - NEW

Robert Downey Jr. Portrait by Lincoln Townley

Venice Walk Streets

When I travel somewhere new, I’m always on the hunt for something way, way off the beaten path. Places where only the locals go. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to discover these places all on your own. A wrong turn that transforms into a serendipitous discovery. An inadvertent tip from an overhead conversation in a coffee shop.

There’s a place in Venice that, for some reason, no one really talks about. It’s not as iconic as the Venice sign or as colourful as the boardwalk but it’s a welcome retreat from the crowds and turistas.

The Venice Walk Streets, a set of pedestrian only inland walkways dating back to the 1900s, were originally part of Abbot Kinney’s vision to create a city in SoCal modelled after it’s Italian namesake. When the walk streets were first developed, mostly entertainers and people who worked at the Venice Pier lived there. Today, the streets are lined with some of the most expensive real estate in Los Angeles. Julia Roberts lived there until recently.

Despite the influx of affluent residents, the walk streets have managed to maintain their magical appeal. Elaborate gardens, gateways and kitschy artefacts adorn each property as passers-by try to discreetly take a peek. A tree canopy keeps the walkways mostly shaded, making it one of best places to go for a stroll during the summer months. It’s a bit like falling down a rabbit hole and stepping out into another era, psychedelics not necessary.

Although a friend – and long time local – told me about the walk streets, I’m sure I would have found this part of Venice eventually. It’s easy to lose track of time wandering around this wacky neighbourhood. You never know who or what you’re going to find.

The walk streets are Nowita Place, Marco Place, Amoroso Place and Crescent Place. I recommend beginning at Lincoln Boulevard next to Painted Ladies and following Nowita all the way to Shell Ave.

Venice Walk Streets

Venice Walk Streets

Venice Walk Streets

Venice Walk Streets

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Giving LA Foster Youth A Sense of Home

When my husband and I decided to move to Los Angeles last spring, I distinctly remember a colleague of mine asking why we would want to live there. LA, as he put it, was the loneliest city in the world. From the moment we settled on Venice as our new home base, I’ve found the city to be quite the opposite, more inclusive and friendly than I ever imagined.

It wasn’t long before we knew most of our neighbors, something completely foreign to us, despite coming from a high-density city in Canada. We immediately hit it off with one of our neighbors in particular, after frequent run-ins at our communal barbecue. Before long we learned of the not-for-profit organization she and her partner have been building for the past year and decided to volunteer. In part, to meet new people and expand our network, but also because we were inspired by what they were doing.

That organization is A Sense of Home, a movement that sparked organically when co-founder Georgie Smith reached out to her network of friends to help a foster youth who was struggling to set up his first home. After posting his story on her Facebook page, donations began to pour in and before long his home was outfitted with everything he needed along with the knowledge that people really cared. Strangers, folks he had never met before, came together to ensure his first steps into adulthood were met with the love and support necessary to succeed.

Today, their goal is to change the lives of foster youth who have “aged out” of the foster care system by creating homes for them. Using donated furniture and housewares; volunteers work with these young people to help them realize their own sense of home – often for the first time, in the process, helping them achieve self-sufficiency.

When I think back to when I first moved out on my own, away from the comforts of my childhood home, I wasn’t sent out into the world with little more than some clothing and a few personal effects. Furniture, linens, useful hand-me-downs among other items were at my disposal to help me establish my first home of my own. Things that may not seem like a big deal to those of us who were fortunate to have had this support, but crucial to someone starting out with little to no resources. Crucial to a young persons sense of self and dignity. It’s not enough to have a roof over your head if the space inside is cold and unliveable.

In Los Angeles County alone, there are 35,000 youth in foster care right now. At age 18 or 21, state and federal support abruptly ends and the youth who aren’t adopted are ejected out of the foster system, many without the support of family or any community networks to help them make a successful transition into adulthood.

Which is why the work A Sense of Home is doing is so impactful. Many of these young people are smart, driven, kind and articulate, determined to lead fulfilling, productive lives. Something as simple as the kindness of strangers getting together to set up their first pad can go a long way in helping these kids realize their potential.

We volunteered on a blustery Sunday in South Central. The subject was a young woman in her early 20s, warm and gracious, greeting volunteers as they arrived.

The fourplex she calls home has an ancient fig tree towering overtop, peppering the sidewalk with overripe fruit. Despite the sticky residue left as a result of this beautiful but inconvenient vegetation, it seemed quaint. Idyllic even. Until we stepped inside to discover how sparse the furnishings were. Nothing more than a single bed pushed into one corner and a small table with one chair.

Before long, the front walk was lined with volunteers organizing and dusting off furniture, which would be placed according to a pre-determined floor plan mapped out by Smith and her team. Everything from large pieces of furniture to dishes, bedding and beautiful cut flowers, each piece placed with thoughtful and careful consideration.

The amount of people who showed up to help and the level of their enthusiasm were overwhelming, as I watched this young woman’s home come to life while (admittedly) struggling to install a curtain rod. It was clear to me, though, that this was more than just creating a home. It was evidence that people in the community cared. Really, it was an expression of love.

I’m grateful to be living alongside such wonderful people. This big, bad city isn’t at all lonely or uncaring as my colleague framed it. From what I’ve seen so far from our sleepy street in Venice, LA is a town full a generous people who are quietly and selflessly spreading kindness among those who need it most.

Originally published in the Huffington Post.

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Old Chinatown LA

There’s something very telling about a westernized city when it comes to it’s older, heritage hideaways. Are the pioneers who were among the first to establish multi-culturlism and commerce celebrated for settling in unchartered territory and helping to define a community? Or, are they segregated into one sect of a city’s outskirts or lesser-known avenues? I can’t decide yet which is the case in Los Angeles.

You have Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Little Sri Lanka, Historic Filipinotown, Little Bangladesh, Little Ethiopia…it’s all a little mind-bending. But, one thing I do appreciate about these designated pockets is that people who are looking for something outside of the Hollywood hullabaloo (yes, I just used that word), the beauty of diversity is abound.

With any modern city I visit, I’m always drawn to its Chinatown. San Francisco and Vancouver top my list of North American cities with the most colourful and overtly historical examples of Chinatown done right. So after nearly a year of living in LA, I finally spent an afternoon in our own little Chinatown.

In contrast to the more modern shops and restaurants of “new” Chinatown that line North Broadway beginning at the Twin Dragon Gate, old Chinatown is a tranquil refuge from the industrial feel of this part of town. It’s small, stretching a modest 2-3 city blocks but it’s vibrant and colourful and the perfect place to chill out and people watch over a bubble tea.

I also went there with a purpose, hunting for my favorite Chinese ointments that I’ve come to rely on over the years. Kwan loong oil, tiger balm, etc. There’s a great shop heading south just off the main square. A mix of hipsters and Sunday cyclists dominated the outdoor bistro tables at Blossom, a modern Vietnamese resto smack dab in the centre of this Chinese neighbourhood. And if Kung Fu and cocktails are your jam, snap a selfie with Bruce Lee forever immortalized by a giant statue, nunchucks in hand, followed by a Honeysuckle Sling at General Lee’s Bar.

With Chinese New Year only a week away, red lanterns and celebratory banners were easy to come by, all with different variations of how to spell it. Gung Hay Fat Choy, Kung Hei Fat Choy, or a combo of both.

It’s the year of the Monkey, so here’s what you need to know if you have a child set to arrive in 2016, according to a greeting card I found in one of the shops:

Monkey ranks ninth position in the Chinese Zodiac. They are cheerful and energetic by nature and usually represent flexibility. People under the sign of the Monkey are wise, intelligent, confident, charismatic, loyal, inventive and have leadership. The weaknesses of the Monkeys are being egotistical, arrogant, crafty, restless and snobbish.

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