Posted in Life, Spirituality, Universe, Writing

In The Right Place At The Right Time

2014-03-06 18.54.41When it comes to writing, I have noticed that some times my mind likes to go on vacation. When I need to sit down and focus on my “real” writing, my mind will go blank. I will try to read a book or watch a movie for inspiration. I am still doing my “try something new every day” personal challenge. But when I sit down in front of the computer to work on my writing samples I…(insert sounds of crickets here).

Whilst playing tourist with my mother, I took her to my favorite bookstore in Pasadena, Vroman’s. The minute you walk in the door, there is actually a huge display of books to help writers. I was drawn to a cube-shaped book entitled “The Writer’s Block.” Each page offers ideas to get the creative juices flowing. For me, my inner child was drawn to the irony of the shape and title. If my inner child is inspired, then I will be inspired. But unfortunately it looked like many others were intrigued by this book because the spine was worn. This is where my adult OCD kicks in–you know the one that wants the books and boxes that look like they haven’t been touched by anyone else even though the outer appearance has nothing to do with the inner content. I went to the information desk to see if they had any other copies of the book. With the worn out spine version before me being the only “Writer’s Block” in the store, they offered to order me a new copy.

Fast forward four days and I receive a message that my order had arrived. When you order a book at Vroman’s, you pick it up at Will Call on the second floor. The second floor is also where they have speakers and book signings. On this particular day, they were setting up for a book signing. I noticed a display with a Buddha head and I was instantly intrigued. I picked up my order and inquired about the upcoming event. Much to my delight, I learned that Shamar Rinpoche would be there to speak about meditation, mind training and signing his book “The Path to Awakening.”

Shamar Rinpoche is the 14th Shamarpa, or Red Hat Lama of Tibet. He organized the Bodhi Life Path Buddhist Centers in 1996 (the same year I graduated from high school and moved to California). The Bodhi Life Path Buddhist Centers are “a network of centers based on a non-sectarian approach to Buddhism. The curriculum of Bodhi Path centers is grounded in the teachings of the 11th century Indian Buddhist master Atisha, as they were transmitted by Gampopa. Atisha’s methods are the most effective for taming the mind and deepening wisdom, and in addition can be taught and employed in a secular way.”

After listening to Shamar Rinpoche talk about his book, meditation and his Bodhi Life Path centers, I realized that this is the next step in my personal growth process. I have struggled with anxiety, depression, insomnia and other afflictions because of my own cognitive thought processes. My mind often gets stuck in a loop, I overthink when I should relax and let it be, and I struggle to shut off my mind for meditation and sleeping.

I was third in line to get my book signed and when I approached Shamar Rinpoche, my nerves took over, allowing my basic knowledge of Buddhist customs to escape my mind. I did remember to bow but then I reached out to shake his hand, instantly thinking “oh shit, what did I just do?”

But with pure grace, he shook my hand and simply said, “You are new to this practice, yes?”

“Yes. I have tried Shambhala meditation but I only heard of your Bodhi Life Path today.”

He signed my book then picked up one of the Bodhi Life Path Buddhist Center information cards and wrote his own personal email address on the card.

“This is my direct email.  You read and if you have any questions, you send me an email and I will help you.”

A Tibetan Buddhist Monk…the 14th Shamarpa just gave me his personal email address and offered to personally help me with my mind training and meditation techniques.  Was this really happening?  I was told that I have “Divine Guidance” helping with every aspect of my life, was this proof?  This is what I needed.  I need to work on mind training and meditation techniques.  Did the Universe really just put me in the right place at the right time to hear what I needed to hear to help me fix what I need to fix to get to where I need to be?

Posted in Holidays, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California

Small Business Saturday: Personal Challenge, Day 69 (11.24.12)

Nationwide, today is Small Business Saturday, a chance for Americans to support their local economy by spending this annual shopping weekend buying gifts at the Mom & Pop shops in their neighborhood.

Yesterday was Black Friday, the reason why I personally hate the winter holiday season.  People are lining up, pushing & shoving, trampling over others and for what?  To save money on things their loved ones really don’t need?  People are rude, there are car accidents galore, and this all comes after a day when we are supposed to be thankful for what we do have.  It is pure insanity.

Instead, I like the idea of Small Business Saturday.  Not only are you getting gifts for your loved ones but you are also helping your neighbors out by supporting their businesses.  And you can actually get better gifts, gifts that have meaning.  For example, if I wanted to get my Mom something that could only come from California, from Pasadena or the Altadena area, I would shop for her at Webster’s Fine Stationers on Lake or Vroman’s Bookstore on Colorado (or Foothill).

But one of the great things about living in Los Angeles is all of the thriving small businesses.  I have plenty of shopping options up and down Colorado in Old Town Pasadena.  There are also great shopping areas in downtown Montrose and Sierra Madre.  Or I could head over to the Eagle Rock Block Party happening today in honor of Small Business Saturday (or more details, check out an article in LA Magazine).  Or for some gifts with cultural flavor, I could take the Metro to Union Station, cross the street and check out all of the shops on Olvera Street.

So this is my new adventure today.  I am going to finish up my holiday shopping by supporting the local businesses in my area.  If you would like to do the same, you can click on this link to find out what local businesses in your area are participating in Small Business Saturday.

Posted in Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California, Spirituality

Learning How to Ghost Hunt in Southern California: Personal Challenge, Day 44 (10.30.12)


Tonight I went to a book signing at Vroman’s Bookstore on Colorado in Pasadena.  I have been to book signing’s before but this was the first books signing I have been to where the book focuses on the Paranormal and the author is a Psychic Medium Ghost Hunter.  The book is entitled “Ghosthunting in Southern California” by Sally Richards.

Unlike other authors who tend to read passages from their books, Sally started off the evening with a presentation about the history of spiritualists.  She talked about her own history and her experiences with death, drowning at  a young age as well as being struck by lightning during her adulthood.  Her near death experiences have opened her up to another realm where she can communicate with spirits and feel energies that the rest of us can only imagine experiencing.

She has her own team of “ghost hunters” that goes out and communicates with the spirits.  Sally works mostly with the photographic experts.  As a photographer myself, it was interesting to hear her techniques for capturing ghosts inside photographs.  I am personally skeptical when it comes to ghosts in photographs.  I teach my students how to “fake” ghost photos.  But some of the images that Sally showed us, I have no way of explaining the effects captured in her images, especially a few photographs of her daughter.  Dust, slow shutter speed, or a lens flare are the usual explanations for images captured by some of the famous ghost hunter crews (like Ghost Adventures) but again, these explanations don’t work with the photographs of her daughter where there is a strange lighting effect only on her face.  It was interesting to see.

Aside from her photographs, Sally has many fascinating stories and mentioned that she is currently working on a ghost hunting book for Northern California.  As for the Southern California edition, it does cover some of the most interesting places in Southern California, like the Queen Mary, Linda Vista Hospital and the Cobb Estate.  I first purchased this book at Vroman’s when I started my personal challenge, visiting the Cobb Estate on the first day.  Her book is a great resource for places I still want to visit and I can’t wait to see what she find up in Northern California.

Posted in Diet, Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California, Tourism, Travel

My Pizza is a Blaze: Personal Challenge, Day 36 (10.22.12)

It has become a challenge in itself trying to find something new to do every day.  People keep asking me if I am exhausted from going to all these different places.  My answer, I am exhausted from my day-to-day “doing the exact same thing several times a day” work routine but my personal challenge energizes me.  You get a rush from trying something new.  You feel alive.  The hard part is the first few moments after you leave work and you just want to take a nap.  I know if I go home, that is exactly what will happen.  So instead, I go somewhere else to figure out what to do next.  That someplace else is usually Vroman’s bookstore on Colorado in Pasadena.

After work, I will go to the Zeli coffeehouse, located in the front section of Vroman’s.  You can get a large coffee for under $2 (and it is better than Starbucks).  I find a table–or couch–and start searching through my list, books, different websites, Pasadena & LA Weekly, and the flyers/posters in the coffeehouse.

Sometimes, if nothing catches my eye, I will stroll down Colorado to see if anything catches my eye.  On this day, I decided to walk over to Halloween City by Paseo Colorado.  I needed some accessories for my Zombie costume.  On my way from Vroman’s to Halloween City, I passed a pizza place that looked interesting, Blaze Pizza.  I decided I would make that my food adventure for the day.

When you first walk in, Blaze looks almost like a high class sandwich shop with the long counter of ingredients.  The have so many different options for pizzas.  They do have signature pizzas for $6.85 but they also have build your own, customizable pizzas.  So if you are Vegan, Vegetarian, have an allergy to Gluten or an allergy to dairy or soy, this would be an idea pizza place for you.  They have options to meet everyone’s needs.

I decided to go for a personal signature pizza–the art lover.  The art lover is topped with artichokes, mozzarella, ricotta, chopped garlic, and red sauce.  I am not usually a fan of a thin crusted pizza but this was one tasty pizza.  And I still can’t believe how quickly it was prepared.  You place your order, it hits the ingredient assembly line and then it is fired in the oven.  I was definitely impressed and I love that is located so close to Vroman’s.  I don’t think I will ever go back to Domino’s after trying Blaze.

Posted in Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Photography, Southern California, Tourism, Travel, Writing

A Tale of Two Bookstores … and a Library: Personal Challenge, Day 15 (10.1.12)

Apparently Mother Nature forgot to inform California that it is the first day of October.  It should not be 105 degrees in Los Angeles in the fall.  I know I am a Midwestern transplant but I think even native Angelenos would admit that this weather is ridiculous.

So today, the only option is to beat the heat and I thought the best way to do that would be to stop at a bookstore/coffeehouse and then head off to library to do some writing.

Since I am loving the local Mom and Pop stores and restaurants all over Los Angeles, I decided that I would stop by the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse.  When I walked in, my first impression is that this is a smaller version of Vroman’s Bookstores in Pasadena.  But Vroman’s doesn’t have an Espresso Book Machine where you can publish your own books.  I stood, in awe, watching as this machine printed and bound books created by local authors or books selected from their “On Demand” printing service.  I had never seen anything like this before and it instantly got me thinking about publishing my own book.  How cool would it be to create your own paperback novel or memoir?

With this new wave of inspiration flowing over me, I decided to grab an ice blended coffee from the Flintridge Coffeehouse and head home to grab my laptop.  Then it would be off to the Altadena Library.  I had never been there before but it was close to my house, it has air-conditioning and free wi-fi.  Also, the book “Hometown Pasadena” described it as an ideal place for writing that is “quieter and less crowded than the Pasadena Central Library” and it has a reading area with armchairs.  It sounded like the perfect place to create a novel.

When I arrived at the Altadena Public Library, located on the corner of Mariposa and Santa Rosa, I noticed the large area in the center set aside for reading and writing (via laptop).  But I also noticed the noise coming from the kids area.  I walked around, looking for a place to sit that would be as far as possible from the kids area. The library isn’t that big so there really was no escaping the kids section.  Ironically, the area furthest away from the kids section is an area reserved for teens and young adults.  Seriously?  So the “Adults” are sandwiched between chatty teenagers and obnoxious kids who were never informed by their “bad parents” that you are supposed to be quiet in a library.  I guess that explains why so many adults trying to work or read in the middle section were wearing noise-cancelling headphones.

I was grateful that I remembered to bring my ear buds but cursing myself for not thinking to bring my own noise-cancelling headphones.  It was so hard to concentrate, even with my iPod at full blast (I could still hear the children).  Kids were screaming, throwing tantrums and one little girl was even singing as loud as her voice would allow her.  It was just like the kids running around the San Gabriel Library (I only noticed one girl running around and dancing between the book stacks at the Altadena Library).  “Hometown Pasadena” said it was quieter and less crowded at this library than the Pasadena Central Library so I guess there is no need for me to ever go there.  I tried my best to tune out the noise and concentrate but I couldn’t.  I have trained teacher ears that can hear the tapping of a teenagers fingertips on an iPhone’s touch screen from across a classroom.  I just couldn’t take it so I packed up and left.

The most peaceful spot in the whole library, located on the benches outside. Too bad it was 105 degrees.

Now I don’t blame the children for being obnoxious little brats.  I blame the parents for not teaching them manners.  When I was a kid, I loved the library.  I loved all the places I could go in my imagination while turning the pages of the different books that lived there.  My Mom used to take me to so many different libraries and she always told me that I had to be quiet.  It was common courtesy and common sense to be quiet in a library.  And if you were not obeying the silence rule, there was always a scary librarian who would enforce it and make you leave if you were bothering others.  What happened?  Why are parents letting their kids behave in such a rude manner and why are the library officials allowing this to happen.  I can honestly say that I won’t be returning to the Altadena Library and I am rethinking possible visits to other libraries.  I have been to two public libraries within the past week and they didn’t feel like a peaceful learning institution; they were Chuck E Cheese bounce house playrooms from hell.

So I decided to head down to Vroman’s bookstore on Colorado in Pasadena.  It is a strange, strange world when a bookstore is a quiet, peaceful alternative to a library.

But it was a good thing that I showed up at Vroman’s when I did.  There was a poetry reading and book signing going on upstairs.  My last book signing occurred when I was in college and listened to the late great Ray Bradbury during one of his many visits to USC.  I had never been to a poetry reading so I thought I would check it out.

The author was Dana Gioia reading poems from his new book “Pity The Beautiful: Poems.”  I arrived at the upstairs meeting area just in time to hear a poem about the past.  I didn’t get a chance to hear the title of the poem but the words reminded me of my own past and seemed to describe feelings that I once felt with a man from my past, my own Mr. Big.  I listened a bit longer but left before the crowd started to line-up for the book signing.  (I noticed his website has a link to an article, written by Carol Muske-Dukes for the Huffington Post, that mentions his new book, “Pity the Beautiful.” While I was at USC, Carol Muske-Dukes was my poetry professor in the English/Creative Writing Department).

So my lessons learned today: I am very disappointed in the local public library system but I am in love with the local independent bookstores.  I don’t think I could ever go back to the chain stores like Barnes and Noble.  And I don’t think I will return to another public library (to actually work on my writing) until parents learn how to be parents–or the librarians start to stand up to these obnoxious familes and maintain a peaceful working environment for all.