Thursday, October 29, 2015

Big Bear

  No, this isn't another post about that bear I ran into on that hike to Scotchman Peak in 2006. This is about the PLACE called Big Bear. Big Bear Lake, in fact.
  I had the pleasure of taking a day trip up there this past weekend, where I did a few miles of hiking. It was a chance to get away from the city for a few hours, into my natural mountain habitat, and also to see the fall colors.
  The town itself was pretty charming, and I'll definitely be going back. The hike was moderately difficult, but the weather and scenery were perfect. Click HERE to see a few shots I took on the day.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Super Bloodmoon

  Super Bloodmoon! It hasn't happened since 1982. Won't happen again until 2033. Maybe by then I'll actually have the lens I want for my camera.
  It's a decent picture. It was, in fact, the best one I got out of about thirty that I took. Before I get to that, though, let me backtrack a little bit.
  My original plan was to drive up to Palmdale where there would be a more clear view. I have watched other celestial events from a hilltop just outside of town, and I've gotten some great pictures from there as well. Ultimately, though, I decided I'd just view it from the park just down the street. The eclipse would reach totality around 7:45, and moonrise would come about an hour earlier.
  On the back side of our apartment building, there is a ladder that grants access to the roof. The bottom rung of the ladder is about six feet off the ground, though, with the intent of restricting access. I decided that I'd scale this ladder and try to shoot moonrise from the roof, hoping this would be a great vantage point for the bloated moon as it rose over the horizon.
  At 6:40, I threw my camera gear into a backpack, bungeed the tripod to it so I'd have my hands free, and headed outside. It was cloudy.
  After a few choice curse words, I decided I'd still climb to the roof to see if the clouds extended all the way to the eastern horizon. I had to lurk for a couple of minutes, though, as there were other residents parking their cars nearby, and I didn't want to be seen. Finally, I made my way over to the ladder, jumped up to the bottom rung, and climbed.
  Sure enough, the clouds obscured everything. A once-in-thirty-years event, and I was going to miss it. Clouds! Of all things, clouds! We NEVER get clouds here. Why now? I went back into the apartment and prepared to wait for totality, hoping against hope that there would be a hole in the clouds by then.
  Fortune shined on me, as I looked out my window at about 7:30. I could *just* make out the faint edge of the rapidly-eclipsing moon. I grabbed my gear once more and headed to the park.
  A few minutes later, I was setting up and getting a focus on the faint, brownish-red moon. After I had snapped a couple shots, and was dialing in just the right combo of ISO and exposure length, two women, who were sitting on a blanket nearby, approached me.
  "Sir? SIR? Are you looking at the eclipse?" one of them asked. I quickly determined they had enjoyed a few drinks. "Yep," I answered. "Getting a few pictures, hopefully." "Where is it? We don't see it," the second lady said. I showed them the most recent shot on my viewfinder. "Right there. You can see that it's just about-" "FUCK!" the first lady interrupted, hollering in my ear. "Look at THAT!" she said to her companion. We had a brief conversation next as they asked me what exactly they were seeing, why the moon was red, and what it meant.
  As I began to explain about perigee and apogee and how different wavelengths of light get scattered by the atmosphere, I noted that a glazed look was coming over the two ladies faces. "I should get back to shooting before the thing moves back into the clouds," I said, and they thanked me and left.
  I snapped a few more pics, and then the moon moved into a bank of clouds and began to lose color and clarity. I decided that I had gotten the best shots I could, so I packed it up and came back home. I'm actually pretty pleased with the shot above. I'm sure I'll give it another go when it happens again in 2033. See you then!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

2015: A Wedding Odyssey

  Getting married is a lot. Getting married abroad is A LOT. Before I kick off this tale of Italian adventuring, it's important that you understand, dear reader, the amount of prep that went into this whole affair.
  In addition to hunting down the perfect dress, the perfect suit, and the perfect rings, there were travel plans to be made: Transportation, lodging, excursions. Then, there were the things to coordinate with the wedding people in Italy: A minister. A location. Photographers. Musicians. Paperwork.

  Oh, the paperwork.

  The back and forth between us and our Italian counterpart. Hours standing in lines down at the LA courthouse. Notaries. Apostilles. Fees. But we had it all set, finally. We were getting married on a beach in Italy on July 2.

Bon Giorno!

  That beach was just up the coast from the beautiful town of Amalfi, where we'd spend our first few days. The plan was to fly into Naples, then take a private car an hour to our destination. It was a good plan, except our luggage wouldn't be joining us. It never made it out of the country.
  With nothing but what we were carrying, we got in our car and took the "road of 1000 bends" up and over the mountains into Amalfi. The views were STUNNING. I must note, though, that if you are susceptible to carsickness, do yourself a favor and Dramamine up before this ride. It's very appropriately named.
  In Amalfi, we were met in the town square by a very sweet woman from our hotel, Imma (ee-muh). It's a good thing, too, because getting to the hotel involved a climb up about a billion steps through a maze of narrow alleys. I found myself actually a little relieved that I wasn't carrying a big, heavy suitcase.

Nighttime in Amalfi

A View to a Thrill

  The best part about our hotel were the views. Our room overlooked the ocean and about half of the town, as did the patio where we took our breakfast every morning. The room could have been a complete dump and it would have still been a great deal for those views. The room wasn't a dump at all, though, and was quite nice.

The view at breakfast

  Days went by, though. Days. Days with no luggage. Calls were made. Emails sent. Nothing. Nobody seemed to know where our bags had gone. Naturally, this caused us a lot of stress as the date of our nuptials drew ever closer. We finally discovered that the bags never made it out of our only American layover: Chicago. For some reason, they were still sitting there, even though they were tagged for Naples. Instead of sending them on the next flight, as is customary, they just threw them in a room.

  Unfortunately, July 2nd came, and still no bags. The wedding would have to be delayed. But until when? There was still no confirmation of when, or even IF, our bags would arrive. We gambled and moved the date to July 4. Luckily, MOST of what we had arranged for our wedding was still available on that day. It did though, completely invalidate all the work we had done back in the states to secure that date. All those documents, painstakingly translated. The fees. The appointments at the courthouse and waiting in hours of lines. The notaries. The apostilles. All for nothing.

Our Lady of the 11th Hour Miracle

  By the grace of God, one of our bags showed up the night before our new wedding date: it was my fiancée's bag. If only one bag was to show up, this was the one it had to be. It would be much harder for her to get a new dress than it would for me to get a new suit. Now that we had her things, that's exactly what I had to do. Somehow, the night before my wedding, go find a suit in a town the size of about two city blocks.
  Luckily for me, I found a guy in town named Fabio (yes, really) who was able to put together a fine Italian linen suit for me, which he would tailor and have ready for me early the next day. Talk about last minute! He was super helpful and very nice, and I even met his mother.

Fabio does his best to make me not look dumpy and bitter

The Beach of it All

  The morning of the big day zipped by in a flash. While I was out picking up my suit, my lady was having her hair done and getting into her beautiful dress. Yes, I was going to see her before the big event, but I promised not to take a direct look at the dress until I was ready to face her and say my vows.
  A boat picked us up in the harbor of Amalfi and sped us across the water and up the coast to Positano, where we boarded an even bigger and better boat. This was the official "wedding boat" we had hired- an awesome antique sailing vessel. We were stunned to see, as we pulled alongside her, that there was a crowd on board waiting for us. Between the captain and mate, our planner, three photographers and a videographer, and a trio of musicians, we felt like royalty (or at least celebrities being hounded by paparazzi).
  We sailed up the coast to a spot the captain thought might be nice for our ceremony. There were a few people on that beach, though, so we opted for a nice little cove nearby. It was beautifully picturesque, with tall cliffs and bright blue water breaking against the shoreline.

  After several raft trips to the cove to get everybody over, everything was set up, and it was our turn. We boarded the craft and were shortly hopping over the surf and onto the beach.

  Our minister, who looked like Neil Diamond, had come all the way from Tuscany. The poor man was clearly suffering the heat of the day, and couldn't stop sweating. As our string trio played BEAUTIFULLY, the ceremony commenced, and he spoke lovely words over us.
  We faced each other, and I got my first full look at my beautiful bride. She was breathtaking. We said our vows there, on that distant shore, in front of a beautiful sea, to sound of gentle waves, and sweet strings. We placed rings on each other's fingers and promised our lives to each other.

  After a few pictures, we were on our way again, sailing toward the island of Capri.

Capri: Not Just Famous For Its Pants

  About half an hour later, we were sailing around the back side of Capri, where we were to take a raft from our ship to a nice little lunch spot on the island. It was an amazingly scenic little restaurant, tucked away in a rocky cove. Quite a few people were jumping from the rocks into a lagoon and having the time of their lives. We received many congratulations and my new wife received many compliments on how beautiful she looked.

Lunch spot on Capri

  The food, as expected, was phenomenally good, and we were even treated to a free "concert" of sorts. A stage was being set up nearby for a BIG wedding reception that was taking place later that evening, and the excellent band did a nice long sound check, performing around eight different songs. Bonus!

Wedding food and the bride's bouqet

  Once back aboard the boat, we were then intercepted shortly by yet ANOTHER boat. This one would take us back to Amalfi.

Here Comes the Bride at 800 Miles Per Hour

  The photogs joined us on this new boat, and we took off for Positano. And when I say "took off," boy do I mean it. I don't know exactly how fast we were going, but I estimate it was anywhere between 80 miles per hour and the speed of sound. With the sea being a bit choppy, the boat was flying up in the air and slamming down into the waves so hard that I thought my spine might actually poke through the top of my head. All we could do was hold on for dear life.
  After dropping off the rest of the party at Positano, we moved to the back of the superboat, where the ride was a little smoother. A few microseconds later, we stepped onto the pier at Amalfi and said our goodbyes. We had survived our wedding. For these two exhausted kids, that was saying plenty.

How to Survive Italy with One Shirt for Two Weeks

  The next morning, the wife packed her suitcase, and I... well...I put on my shoes. Actually, since I had acquired a new suit, and a couple of other clothing items, I had to find something to put them in for the next leg of the trip. What I found was a cold-storage shopping bag. Yes, like one of the ones you use to carry milk or ice cream home from the store. It cost me 12 Euro, and I decided it would do the trip. This bag has since become legendary.

"I'm ugly, but I get the job done." -World Freezer Bag

  A quick double-hop to Rome and on to Florence, and we were into the second leg of our trip, and officially honeymooning.

*I should note here that I asked about my luggage at the Naples airport. It was "on its way in," and would be "sent to Amalfi." Too bad I wasn't going to be in Amalfi anymore.

  At the airport, they took away my little jar of locally made lemon-honey. It was the only thing I had bought myself in Amalfi. Unfortunately, it was over three ounces.

Sweatin' to the Duomos

  Florence was amazing. We got in late that first night, but hit things pretty hard the next morning. Amalfi was hot, but Florence was another kind of heat altogether. It was as if someone were standing over me, pouring a glass of water on me constantly. No matter how much I drank, I was always dehydrated.


  We walked and walked and walked some more, and took in a glorious number of sights. Seems like everywhere we went, we could point our cameras in any direction and find something to shoot. Seeing things like Michelangelo's "David" and Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" was truly awe-inspiring.
  We climbed to the top of The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, we went into museums, we crossed bridges, we walked through decorative gardens. We even saw Galileo's finger.

  And I sweated.

  One night, I tore the shirt I was married in trying to wash it in the bathtub. I had owned it for four days.

Quoth the Airline, 'Not our fault'

  Still, no luggage. More calls were made, more emails were sent. Would I ever see it again? "It's gone to Amalfi, like you asked," said one representative, even though the form clearly showed the dates we would be staying in Amalfi, which had since expired. The amount of confusion caused by me telling them to send it to yet another location nearly exploded some heads. They agreed to try to send it from Naples back up to where I was in Florence, but time was running out. Soon, we'd be heading off to Venice. I felt that I would probably never see my luggage again. It was having a helluva time around Europe, though, I'm sure.

  And then, finally, NINE DAYS into the trip, it showed. It was the night before we departed Florence for the last leg of our trip.

The face of a man with far too few clothes

From Gondolier to Eternity

  Because we had already taken airplanes, cars, and boats, we decided to take a train. It was a short two hour rail-ride to Venice, after which we took a vaporetto down the grand canal to our stop at Ca'd'Oro. Because of some really bad directions from our hotel, it took us more than an hour of wandering before we found it.
  That night, though, tired and weary, we hunted down a recommended restaurant, and were completely overwhelmed by the food and staff. The place was called "La Vecia Cavana," and was actually an hour from opening when we stepped inside. Instead of telling us to come back later, this amazing waiter named Nazzareno seated us and gave us some drinks and bread. He and the rest of the staff had just sat down to their own dinner on the other side of the restaurant.
  As soon as Nazzareno finished eating, he came over and started taking our order- a full half hour before opening. He was the sweetest, funniest old guy in Italy, and we couldn't get enough of him. Total character. The wine we had was amazing, and the food blew our minds. It was a steep bill at the end of the night, because we had helped ourselves to appetizers, drinks, main course, and dessert (oh that tiramisu), but it was TOTALLY worth it.

The man, the myth- Nazzareno

  The rest of the days and nights in Venice were spent wandering the labyrinth of canals and alleyways, visiting churches and museums, and trying as much delicious food and wine as we could manage. We also found one of the coolest bookstores in the world. It's called "Acqua Alta," and is a very small building stacked floor to ceiling with books. Three cats live there, and two gentlemen operate it. One of these gentlemen is a guy named Gianni, who is a long haired, grumbling, chain-smoking character who knows the exact location of every book in the place. Believe me, that's amazing. There are books literally piled five feet high. Some are on shelves. Some are on the floor. Some are in gondolas. I bought a two-volume set of first editions of DH Lawrence poetry. The wife picked up a couple classics as well. If you're in Venice, check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Gianni, off to dig through some Godforsaken pile of books

  And then, sadly, it was time to leave. Our Italian adventure was over. Instead of taking the vaporetto and a bus to the aiport like a couple of chumps, we hired a water taxi. We got to feel like celebrities again as our private boat zipped through the canals of Venice and then blasted across the expanse of the lagoon to Marco Polo International.

  About eighteen hours later, we were back in Los Angeles, and a very talkative cat wanted to know exactly where we had been for two weeks.

  Five hours later, my alarm went off, and I was on my way back in to work. The tedium of reality crashed down like a ton of bricks. But I had a headful of new adventures, and a brand new wife. Life was good.

  Now can we talk briefly about the food? I'll just let these few pictures do the talking:

  Man, I miss that grub.

  Where are the rest of the pictures, you ask? These are all phone pictures! Well, if you go to my flickr page, by clicking HERE, you'll find 230 much better SLR pics. As far as official wedding photos? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Something will hopefully show up in the mail in the next couple weeks. Check back!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Christmas in April!

The Forum

  Last Christmas, my fiancée gave me two tickets to Fleetwood Mac, who would be coming to town an impossibly long four months from then. Well, last weekend, those four months were finally up, and boy was the wait worth it!

  We drove downtown early to beat the traffic and had dinner before making our way over to The Forum. Getting into the parking lot was fairly easy and quick, so we had a little extra time for souvenir browsing. She picked up a t-shirt with the lyrics to "Songbird" and I picked out a shirt that boldly proclaimed "Tusk You," after the band's song "Tusk."
  I had read that seating in the arena was a bit cramped, and if I'm to be honest, it was. Maybe for shorter folks, there's enough knee room, but for me, it was akin to riding coach on an airplane. There wasn't too long to think about it, though, because soon, the lights went down, and the familiar heavy bass drum hits started thumping.
  Fleetwood Mac had taken the stage, and the crowd was roaring as the band went into their opening song, "The Chain."

  I was amazed at how close they sounded to their 1997 live performance (above). It was incredible to see the whole original lineup of the group, and they were really on their game.

  Sorry for the shitty cell phone pics- real cameras weren't allowed inside. Too bad, because I really wanted ONE good pic of the group.
  It would be impossible to pick a favorite song, or favorite moment from the concert. The whole thing was pretty fantastic. During "Landslide," they lit the massive ceiling up with hundreds of lights, which was pretty impressive, and really suited the song:

  When the band finished their set, I think about two hours later, they left the stage, and the entire audience turned on the lights on their phones, mimicking the old tradition of waving lighters in the air. A couple minutes later, the band retook the stage for their encore, where they played their signature song "Don't Stop" and ended with "Songbird." It was a beautifully bare, intimate version with Christine at the piano, playing and singing, and Lindsey backing her up on acoustic guitar.

  And so it was time to go, and we ran into the only real stressful part of the night: trying to navigate out of the parking lot. Nobody was directing traffic, and so it was basically a mad dash to the exits. People were forcing their way, cutting people off, and generally being rude. One guy even drove around the line, over some sandbags, and went down the wrong way of a street blocked off by construction barriers. Classic LA driving!

  It was an incredible evening, and I felt really blessed to be able to go see such a legendary band. They're still touring, so if you get a chance to go see them, DO!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Movie/Murder Night

  We parked and walked into the silent courtyard. The night air had a slight nip to it, and the sweet perfume of flowers drifted on the breeze. We couldn't remember which door to go to, so we guessed. My fiancée knocked.
  A small sliding-hatch peephole in the door whisked open, and a man with a serious moustache and an even more serious gaze peered out. "Yes?"
  My fiancée laughed as I wondered if we had picked the wrong door. "No one enters without a moustache," the man said, and passed a tube of black lipstick through the hatch. "Do it however you like," he said sharply, and slammed the window shut.
  Thus began our evening with friends this past Saturday night. We drew ridiculous moustaches on each other's faces, then knocked on the door again, and were granted entry. Inside, there was a whole spread of "spooky" foods, all to match the evening's planned viewing of the Hitchcock classic "Psycho," and a couple rounds of the equally classic boardgame "Clue."

The classic version. Ours was newer, but this was the one I loved as a kid!

  Another couple showed up shortly after us, and they were treated similarly at the door. Nobody was able to take anybody seriously the whole night with our tremendous black moustaches. It didn't matter, though, because we mostly spoke in ridiculously over the top British accents during our games of Clue. This is what happens when you get a roomful of actors together.

I think somebody left this food out a little too long
Sausage eyeballs. Wings, too, as we were originally going to also feature "The Birds"

  Surprisingly, about half the group had never seen Psycho! It was a treat to get to watch it fresh with them and see their reactions. It can still elicit shock and horror to this day. I can only imagine what it must have been like with audiences in 1960. Hitchcock was a master of his craft.
  So much fun was had, that we have all decided to make a new tradition of themed "Movie-and-a-Game" dinner nights moving forward.

Due to a pending murder investigation, we are not allowed to display the other suspects

  Got a great suggestion for a themed night? Comment below!

Sunday, February 1, 2015


  What a month, and what a start to 2015! Both my fiancee’s birthday and mine blew the top right off of January.
  It all started on the 14th, when my lovely lady surprised me with a birthday limousine. I had never been in a limo before, and that was the impetus for the whole thing. Inside, the limo was stocked with all manner of drinks, both alcoholic and non. My complete shock and amazement kept me in a bit of a dizzy dream state for a while.

Yep, that's a pretty "What the Hell is going on here" kinda smile

  After a quick stopoff at Yogurtland for some chilled deliciousness, the driver took us to pick up our friend Jalin.


  As we began to roll to our multiple planned destinations, it was present opening time! Jalin brought a whole bag of amazing goodies and activities, including glow sticks and bracelets, snacks, tasty rum, and a hilarious hand-made coloring book depicting “Bear’s First Limo Ride.” Inside, there were even activity pages, and a word search!

  Reen bombarded me with a trove of amazing gifts, including a set of “Bear Hands” oven mitts, and a brand spankin’ new Galaxy S5 Phone!
Over the next couple of hours, the limo drove us around to some of the most famous sites around LA. First, we hit the Hollywood sign, then, we headed down to Mann’s Chinese Theater. It was tremendous fun playing Rich Guy, because every time we hopped out of the limo, we drew stares. At Mann’s, we made a big splash, and then two of the costumed characters out front jumped into a picture with me. I’ll call them “Stinky Catwoman” and “Angry Storm.” Catwoman had the worst breath in Gotham, and horrified me by kissing me on the cheek. Storm used her mutant powers to be pissed that we didn’t have any money to give her as a tip, even though we didn’t ask for her to jump into the photo in the first place.

Angry Storm and Stinky Catwoman
Walking like Egyptians in front of The Egyptian

  Next, we drove into Chinatown for a brief look at the Dragon Gate, and then we hit up LA Live downtown. I don’t think I’d ever been down there in the evening. It reminded me so much of Times Square in Manhattan. Huge billboards, neon, tons of people milling around, restaurants, events.

Dragon Gate, Chinatown
Confusion at LA Live

  In true Hollywood fashion, we next stopped off at an audition for my girl. Jalin and I spent our time in the limo discussing world travel and completing the all important task of putting together our glow-stick jewelry.

Post audition glamour

  About an hour later, we were on our way again, and headed to a late dinner at a speakeasy called Next Door Lounge. Typically, you need a password to get in, and my arranged password was “Indiana Jones.” Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the guy at the door didn’t ask for it, and just let us in. Maybe he saw the limo and thought we were too important for a password. Or maybe he just didn’t care. Regardless, the place was awesome! We had some delicious food and drink and enjoyed the live jazz band. At the end of our meal, they brought out the chocolate cake that Reen had been toting around all night. I made my birthday wish and blew out the candles. It was pretty much the best birthday ever.

Next Door Lounge
Delicious dinner
Bear cake!

  Fast forward ten days later to the 24th, when I got to return the favor for Reen’s birthday! There was no limo, but I did have an entire day planned out, and we had amazing weather to top it all off.
First stop was Santa Monica pier, because the beach is one of her fave places.

She got me a limo ride, I got her this. Even Stevens.

  After a delicious lunch at True Food, we headed to our next stop, which was the Hollywood Costume Exhibition next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This was AMAZING. We thought it would be neat to see a few Hollywood costumes, but were blown away by the number they had housed there. Everything from Charlie Chaplin to Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra to Indiana Jones and all of today’s modern superheroes. It was fascinating.

  Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed, so I don't have any cool pics to show. I highly recommend it, though, if you are in the area in the next month before the exhibit closes.
  After that, we headed over to dinner at Lala’s Argentine Grill.

Photo credit: Random Stranger

  We enjoyed some pretty delicious steaks and sides, and then walked down the street to see an 8:00 improv show at The Groundlings.
The show was mostly hilarious, with only a couple things falling flat. The best part was the very last improv of the evening, when a character came into the audience and grabbed my fiancée and took her onstage.

No pictures were allowed, so this is all you're going to get.

  At first, I thought they were going to pick me, and I freaked out, but then I got to enjoy the next few minutes as Reen became part of a farce based around the ridiculousness of the Cirque du Soliel shows. The whole place was roaring with laughter, and it was the perfect capper to an amazing day.
Okay, maybe the pefect capper was the VERY last thing we did in the evening, which was to enjoy a big slice of the gluten free chocolate cake I baked her.

Yes, it was chocolatey and delicious!

  There you have it. Two epic birthdays!