Sunday, June 29, 2014


One of my biggest complaints about living in LA is the litter. I've never been anywhere other than Mexican border towns with worse litter. Many times I've seen both adults and kids just drop something on the ground when they are done with it. I really don't understand why it is so hard to just carry it with you until you get home or somewhere with a trash can.

We've got a dead-zone outside our apartments that always has litter. It is a sidewalk in between the street and a very tall retaining wall for the apartment complex higher on the hill. The apartment complex on the hill doesn't maintain it because it is not part of access for their residents. Our apartments don't maintain it because it is past their property.

After bemoaning it's trashy state for a year and a half, I finally did a little citizen participation and cleaned it up myself. It took 15 minutes and really wasn't that bad in terms of what the trash was although it filled a large trash bag. 80% of it was disposable food containers and primarily drink containers. A surprising number of them were Starbucks cups. Seriously, if you can afford expensive coffee, you ought to know better. Clearly that isn't from the homeless people.

I will be interested to see how long it stays clean. I've heard/read somewhere that a clean area attracts less trash (can't find a reference). We'll have to see if it proves true in this case.

For more on LA's trash blight:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Balcony Garden: Closeups

Nothing but plant closeups this time.

First up, oregano:

Next, the delicious mint:

The lavender:

and the strawberry flower:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Balcony Garden: March

Since my last balcony garden post not much changed until last week. I ripped out the yellow flowers and vegetables and just had the small white flowers all winter (they kept blooming). I trimmed back the strawberry plant and potted one of its baby offshoots. I tried (and failed) to grow herbs and kale/spinach from seed.

Last week I purchased some herbs. Here is my rosemary plant from last year, strawberry plant from last year, and lavender:
And here is the mint plant, mexican oregano sharing a pot with one of the self seeded red flowering plants from last summer, and lemongrass sharing a pot with the baby strawberry plant.

The cat dearly loves to graze on the lemongrass so I doubt I will get much use from it for cooking. You can see we've got a little strawberry on the baby plant!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Thoughts on Nature in LA

The following are thoughts on the natural world in Los Angeles:

The bird life here is great. On one of the Audubon hikes, the guide said this was one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. I was skeptical. After thinking about it, she may be right. Not many places have ocean, wetlands, river, sub-tropical, chaparral, desert, and mountains all crammed into a 30 mile radius.

I have empathy for the weeds. The urban environment is rough. All that concrete. Seldom any rain. Intense sun every day. I feel bad seeing the lawn services spraying them with herbicide. All that struggle to survive cut short because they are the wrong plant for that place.

Hummingbirds are amazing. I used to just see them at our feeder, but once I started paying attention, I see them everywhere. On the bird walks, at the flowering trees at work, catching insects near the concrete channels. It is fun to watch them catch bugs in flight.

I do not care for ficus trees. As a kid, I only ever knew them as parlor trees or trees in homes or office buildings. Usually they looked sightly pallid. At some point here in LA, they decided to line many of the streets with ficuses. They are shallow rooted and tear up every bit of concrete nearby. The sidewalks are an obstacle course thanks to the ficus. They are also not favored by wildlife.

Yesterday, we say a hawk catch a mouse. It was only about 20 ft from us up on a hill right behind a tree. We heard the crash into the leaves and behind the tree just saw flashes of feathers. At first, I thought it was a pheasant because the feathers looked so long. Then it flew off with the mouse clutched in its grasp.

I have seen coots for years, but a week ago was the first time I saw their feet. They have 3 long toes with a beautiful blue hue. How do they swim so well? It seems a duck would have an advantage with all that webbing.

We see lots of lizards when we go hiking. Even in the highly disturbed Baldwin Hills area which is an active oil field. I think they are Great Basin Fence Lizards. One cool thing about these guys is that a protein in their blood kills Lyme disease. It is speculated that may be the reason that Lyme disease is uncommon here. Thank you lizards!

The photo guides on this page are great for identifying snakes, lizards, and turtles in the LA area:

The gulls here are not as annoying as along the Texas coast. They keep their distance from humans. It seems they do not associate humans with food an therefore we can live in peaceful harmony. I actually enjoy the gulls and pigeons here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bag Ban

As of the first of the year, LA and most surrounding cities enacted a plastic bag ban for major retailers. The ban will extend to smaller stores this summer. I am completely in favor of the ban. Too many bags just get tossed out immediately after a single use. However, stores now have to charge for paper bags too.

Ever since moving here we have used paper bags from the grocery store for our trash. On the rare occasion we shopped at Target or somewhere without paper bags, we used the plastic bags for trash as well. After buying handy reusable bags for shopping in preparation for the ban and subsequent paper fees, we realized we needed some receptacle for our trash, so we purchased plastic trash bags.

But wait, this doesn't make sense! So instead of throwing away 5 or so plastic bags a month (full of trash), now we will throw away 30 plastic bags a month and pay for the privilege of doing so (we have a cat so daily removal is a necessity whether the trash can is full or not). Granted I got the tiny 4 gallon bags and the trash can itself is only 2 gallons, but that is still a big increase in plastic going to the landfill. This article points out some good alternatives to lining the trash can with virgin plastic bags: The embedded video is pretty funny too.

Back when we had a house, it was much easier. I just scooped the cat waste straight into the outside bin, composted most food waste, and we were only left with maybe 2 bags a trash a week (usually not even stuffed full). I'm sure I'll think of something better than buying trash bags for next month.

On a side note, when will people ever learn that you can't put your recycling in the bin in a plastic bag. Drives me up a tree! Your recycling should be dry, so there is no reason you need any sort of liner.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


One of my favorite things about living in LA is the attitude of many people. It certainly isn't the friendliest place on earth, but the attitude is unique.

I thought about calling it a youthful attitude. That's pretty accurate, but not quite right. I also thought of stubborn, but other cities can be described as stubborn. I'm going to go with willful. The LA attitude is like that of a willful toddler.
these are way fun!

Much like toddlers, people here can be a bit self obsessed. They want to be paid attention to. They are not always cognizant that they need to use their nice words when dealing with others.

However, the attitude comes with a lot of upsides. People try new things. They aren't afraid to look silly. Frankly they don't care what you think. I frequently see adults skateboarding and riding kick scooters. I think that is awesome. These aren't just young adults either. These include folks with gray hair. I've seen them riding for fun, riding with their kids, riding to/from work, and riding for errands. I've seen people in scrubs and guys in business shirts. My personal favorite was a guy riding away from the grocery store on his skateboard with a new frying pan in hand.

Having lived other places, I know that many other cities carry social pressures about acting "outside the norm". Despite many areas being flat and blessed with far nicer sidewalks than LA, I really can't imagine a 40 year old cruising into work on a kick scooter in other cities. Why is that? Why let social stigma affect our actions? Be like that toddler and think you're the greatest thing ever.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Areas to live in LA: maybe

This is part 3 of my entirely opinion based series on where to live in LA.

The maybe area lies within the "yes, but" category except for the desert and high desert.

Desert and High Desert: I love the desert when it is vast and empty and full of interesting geology. This area has a bit of that. However, due to the availability of cheap land, it is slowly gaining boring suburbs. It is also a transportation nightmare. Unless you live along the Metrolink line, you get to enjoy grueling long car rides through limited options into the city.

Chinatown: This area extends past the commercialized Chinatown to include several other largely immigrant communities. For many recent immigrants, cheap housing and lower crime make this a desirable area. However, if you're not a recent immigrant you may feel out of place.

Downtown: For years if you weren't homeless, there was no reason to linger in downtown after sunset. Like many American cities, downtown is slowly experiencing a renaissance. Unlike other cities, it isn't totally overtaken by yuppies just yet. Apartments in historic buildings can be had for reasonable rates. This is also at the hub of the current hub and spoke model public transport system. The massive homeless population is not to be ignored, though. They bring with them the odor of open sewers and street trash like you wouldn't believe. 

Hawthorne and Torrance: These are suburbs with lots of single family homes or squat multi-family units. I have no particular love for the area nor do I loathe it. If you work in aerospace, this may be a good area to situate yourself due to proximity to jobs. What I dislike, are the prevalence of big box stores and sprawling parking lots. However, I do like the Carson Ikea better than the Burbank Ikea for the very reason of the massive surface lot. A parking garage at an Ikea is just insanity!

Palos Verdes: Unlike the others areas in this category, this is expensive. It sits on a rise on a point overlooking the ocean. The hillside homes are largely spacious and cost you plenty. There was the debacle where a developer built a neighborhood on a known landslide and then as nature would have it the homes started migrating oceanward and the area had to be razed. Load up on the insurance if you live here. Other than that, you have some stunning ocean views, a lighthouse, a beautiful chapel designed by Lloyd Wright, and several parks.