Neighborhood Tour: La Cañada and Montrose

Now that everything is closed down, including many outdoor spaces, I have had to get creative about what to do to get out of the house. Two weeks ago I decided to drive to a neighborhood I’d never been to and find a local place to get coffee and go for a stroll. For this first trip, I chose La Cañada and also wound up in Montrose.

Overview map of Los Angeles, with La Canada marked with a star

I drove up my favorite street in Pasadena, Linda Vista Ave., all the way to the northern end and crossed over the 210 to visit La Cañada. I loved the hilly, tree-covered streets and all the gorgeous houses. Parts of La Cañada felt a world away from Los Angeles and more like a small New England mountain town. I also had a big dose of “back home” when I found myself at the intersection of Lynnhaven Ln and Princess Anne Rd! I would’ve snapped a photo, but the homeowner at that intersection was already wary of me coming to a dead stop in front of his house and gawking at the street signs.

A taste of home

From the hills of La Cañada I drove a little ways west to Montrose and its main drag, Honolulu Ave. I hopped out for a coffee and strolled the length of the street, noting a few cute places I’d like to visit once everything reopens. Tucked up in between the Verdugo Mountains and Angeles National Forest, Montrose (just like La Cañada) felt like a small little mountain town, with crisp air and quirky shops. I think I could live there very happily and, possibly, more cheaply than my current spot.

View down Honolulu Ave. in Montrose

Here’s a map of my overall route:

I had a very successful journey exploring this new lovely part of town. Stay tuned for my subsequent neighborhood tours…

One Year in LA

Man. One year ago today — twelve months ago — I was sitting here in my new apartment, furniture barely arranged, unpacked boxes stacked high, with no idea of what the year would hold. That feels ages ago, but I can hardly believe it’s been a year already.

This year was hard for me. It wasn’t terrible like 2014, but it might be on par with 2013 for difficulty. I spent more time crying and agonizing this year than I have in five years. I spent more than one evening crying myself to sleep at 7:30pm. I choked down a lot of self-doubt, a lot of dread that I had catastrophically erred, and a lot of loneliness.

For me, my life is my career. I value a lot else, but really, the quality of my life in any given moment depends on my happiness with my job. And this year the job – on the whole – sucked. I worked harder than I have ever had to work in my life. I didn’t miss a single day of work until I took two days off at the end of December. The learning curve at the start of the year was steep, and even after that leveled off, the sheer quantity of work would routinely rise up like a wave to engulf me. Then it would trickle back and I’d be leaving work at 4pm thinking “This isn’t so bad…” until it pulled me under again. I felt unimportant (a terrible feeling for someone whose chief human need is significance) and out of control (a terrible feeling for someone whose chief occupation is engineering her career trajectory). And maybe this all would have been manageable if I weren’t also dealing with the constant nagging question of “Did you make the right choice?” Many times throughout the year, it felt like the answer was “No.”

Now at the end of the year, the constant looking back and wondering if I made the right decision is subsiding. Partly that’s a function of time, sweet merciful time. I also visited VA in December, and that helped to clarify my feelings about having left. I love and miss the people I left, but the place was not my place. I am happy I’m in Los Angeles.

So a word then about Los Angeles, since, after all, this move was never about the job and was always about the location. I love this city. It certainly has its share of problems (the homeless problem is just beyond all imagining, the criminal justice system is too permissive, rent is too expensive) but good god is it glorious. I love knowing a little something about each neighborhood, I love learning more about LA history, I love this city’s energy. I’m a big lover of Old Hollywood, and I love this lyric from La La Land:

I hear ’em every day
The rhythms in the canyons that will never fade away
The ballads in the barrooms left by those who came before

They say “you gotta want it more”

We have put in a concerted effort at getting out and enjoying the city, and I’m already proud of how many places we’ve been to multiple times, how many corners we’ve explored, and how enthusiastically we have worked at making LA — and Pasadena — feel like home. Here’s a list (as best I can recall on the spot) of things and places I or (mostly) we have been this year:

  • Carbon Beach, Malibu
  • Santa Monica Beach/Will Rogers State Beach
  • Venice Beach/Canals/Abbot Kinney
  • Manhattan Beach/Redondo Beach
  • Ducks vs. Caps in Anaheim
  • LA Live / Kings vs. Caps at the Staples Center
  • Feinstein’s at Vitello’s (2x)
  • Coffee Gallery Stage in Altadena (2x)
  • The Getty Center
  • The Getty Villa
  • Pasadena Symphony Pops at the LA Arboretum (4x)
  • Jazz at LACMA / LACMA without jazz
  • Pasadena Symphony Christmas by Candlelight
  • Old Town Pasadena walking tour
  • California Science Center
  • Union Station 80th birthday tour
  • Long weekend in Big Bear
  • Hollywood Reservoir
  • 4th of July fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl
  • Hidden stairs in Hollywoodland
  • CivLaVia walk through Hollywood and West Hollywood (plus the forecourt at Grauman’s)
  • LA Pride
  • Huntington Gardens (numerous times – we became members)
  • Swan boats on Echo Park lake
  • Live organ music to a Hitchcock silent film at San Gabriel Mission Playhouse
  • Rose Parade
  • Hikes:
    • Eaton Canyon (3x) (Altadena)
    • Mandeville Canyon (Bel Air)
    • La Tuna Canyon (Burbank)
    • Echo Mountain (Altadena)
    • La Quinta Cove trails (Palm Springs)
    • Joshua Tree National Park
    • Cooper Canyon Falls (Angeles National Forest)
    • Betty Dearing Trail (Hollywood Hills)
    • Solstice Canyon (Malibu)
    • Paradise Falls (Thousand Oaks)
    • Briar Summit (Hollywood Hills)

My immediate reaction to reflecting on this year is that it was hard, a struggle, and that’s because work generally was. But I’ve tried to focus this year on how much richer life is beyond the job. Look at that list above! That’s an incredible list, and I’m so proud of it. In addition to all those bigger ticket LA things, we spent a lot of time scooting and bar-hopping around downtown, and we sampled a tremendous number of LA’s vegan restaurants. I’ve gotten to know neighborhoods I knew nothing about but now love, like Studio City. We spent many weekends visiting my mother in Palm Springs and enjoying desert life. I read a lot and spent almost every weekend this summer enjoying our building’s gorgeous pool. I bought a new car, we hosted 5 sets of visitors, I took dance classes, and I made some new friends. Any year that held all that cannot possibly be described as a hard year.

I don’t think there is an easy or accurate way to “sum up” a year as full and as contradictory as this one. In 2018 I pushed myself to leap, and I suppose 2019 was the thrill, the refreshment, and the panicky fear of plunging down into the deep end after a jump off the diving board. I think I’m finally making my way up for air, and my hope for 2020 is to continue falling in love with this magical city as the job gets easier and the fears and regrets fade away.

Could be brave or just insane,
We’ll have to see…

Performance Evaluation 2019: Books

Well I get a performance evaluation for how I do at work, so why not for how I do at things that make my life more vibrant?

This is the 5th year I have been what I would call a “solid” reader. Every year I have read all or nearly all of the Washington Post’s 10 best books of the previous year. I have also made progress (though never completely met my goals) on the Guardian’s List of 1,000 Novels You Should Read

This year, I read all 10 of the Washington Post’s Best Books of 2018. I read 15 novels off the Guardian list (the annual goal is 25… never come close). I read 9 other books and listened to 5 audio books, for a total of 39 books read, surpassing my goal of 35.

I made tremendous progress in the months when I experimented with minimal internet/phone usage. In February/March I did 4 weeks of “digital detox”, and I ploughed through 8 books in that time. I also read The New Yorker most weeks. Over the summer months I did a ton of reading on the weekends by the pool. But by the end of October, I was a little burnt out. Work was dragging me down, and I let myself laze into bad habits all around — constant phone use, no exercise, no reading.

On top of that, I checked out 2 books from my Guardian list that seemed so bland and slow that they sat untouched on my table for weeks and knocked the wind out of my sails. Overall I had poor luck with my Guardian books this year. Looking at the list now, only a few months after reading, I barely remember many of them. They may be good for me to read either for the writing or for the challenge to my reading comprehension skills, but God I just didn’t enjoy many of them!

My favorite books of the year are easy stand-outs. One was “The Overstory”, by Richard Powers, off the Washington Post list. My review:

Breathtaking. Easily the best book I’ve read in years; the rare book that I can immediately sense has changed my thinking in some small way. I took far too long to finish it, and it is long. But I was bowled over by both the writing and the ideas. It’s the kind of book that showcases the artistry of true genius. It makes you think, “Well, I can write, but I could never do that.”

That’s still how I feel about that book. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone; you have to be ready to get emotional about trees. But I was ready, and boy did that book knock me out.

The other favorite was a personal choice, “Dear Los Angeles”, edited by David Kipen. My review:

This book was absolutely fantastic. I recommend it to anyone who knows LA, and most especially to anyone struggling to find their place here.

This book is a collection of letters about Los Angeles, spanning from pre-LA mission days right up to the 21st century. I mostly read it on my commute to/from downtown, when I had only been living here for a couple months. It was a warm and rich reflection of this city and made me reflect on why I am here. This is another book I would describe as “beautiful”, and I think I will always cherish the experience of reading it on LA metro to my LA county job in downtown LA, when I was so new and unsure here.

Unfortunately, my bad luck with the Guardian list has me wanting to focus more on non-fiction next year. While I think there is value in reading fiction, increasingly I’m starting to agree that time is better spent learning from non-fiction books. There is so much I want to read about; in particular at the moment I want to know much more about 20th century English history. I would also like to read more of Sam Harris’s recommendations because I so respect his thoughts on current events.

For 2020, I will still read the Washington Post’s 10 picks, and I will still come up with a handful of Guardian novels to grind through. But I’m considering making the Guardian list a smaller list and instead finding, for example, reading lists from college courses on subjects of interest. Still considering…

In conclusion, I’m proud of my reading this year. A few books I really loved. But I didn’t enjoy much of it, and I’m likely going to switch up the plan for 2020.

I am still struggling.

Writing out the litany of “complaints” last time helped a lot of those thoughts settle down and retreat back to their hiding places. But I’m still… dissatisfied.


I am not on top of my finances, and that’s causing a lot of stress.

I am not sure how I should be spending my time and energy at work in order to best improve my chances of rapid promotion. Because until that promotion comes… this job will continue to force me to justify the choice to leave VB and come here. And until that promotion comes, that’s a very hard choice to justify.

I continue to do nothing structured hobby-wise apart from read books.

Fitness eh, relationship eh, life…. eh.

Maybe I need to make a list of 8 things I am going to address before the end of the year (two each month) to help channel my discontent.

But I haven’t done that, and I’m not doing it now. I’m just here to moan.

Step 1: Admit You Have a Problem

I am struggling.

  • my job offers slow advancement
  • my job offers little discretion/power over my cases
  • my job offers no guarantee of rising to the top
  • I don’t know the people in my industry here
  • it is hard to know the people in my industry here because it is so massive
  • i feel minimal connection to my industry here, and therefore little motivation to really be involved in shaping it
  • the amenities of my job (office space, perks) are pathetic
  • I don’t have any close friends here
  • I can’t afford to live well here
  • I feel overwhelmed by how much I want to improve our apartment vs. how much money I have to spend on that and how I would need Grant’s agreement on big things
  • living here is not financially beneficial
  • I’m getting fat
  • even if my weight is okay, my body is covered in increasingly visible fat
  • I don’t exercise
  • everything feels harder here
  • I simultaneously want to downsize and want to improve/revamp my wardrobe
  • we have done no traveling this year
  • i spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror and beating myself up (e.g. this list)
  • I don’t spend any time on hobbies other than reading. I don’t play piano, I don’t volunteer anymore, and I don’t write anymore.
  • my relationship is bland
  • my hair loss is getting very hard to hide
  • my appearance is not what I want it to be
  • I want a new, more fuel-efficient car, but the idea that I can afford a car is laughable, without digging up my investment account

That’s just what comes to mind easily. I have struggled to fall asleep the last couple nights with these torments swirling in my head. I have cried many times for no reason… other than all the above.

Writing it out helps. It helps get it out, it helps begin to label and sort the torment, and it helps to begin to see solutions, or at least steps I can start taking immediately to begin to battle back the unhappiness.

A lot of the problems seem to fall under one of two columns. Column A could be called Give It Time and Column B could be titled Fucking Sort It Out. Maybe there’s a Column C called Ease Up a Little, but I’m not so good with that concept.

That’s all I want to say right now. I simply needed an inventory somewhere outside, to hopefully begin to quiet down the inside.

Mid-Year Check-In: Finances

I have done very well so far this year with finances. Overall, I have saved/invested $12,453.22.

January was hard because I didn’t get my first paycheck in the new job until February, and I was unemployed for the month of December as I was transitioning between jobs. Once my paycheck did start, for the first two months I was only contributing to my 401K and 457 accounts as much as I needed to get the full employer match (around 10% total).

Starting mid-March, I decided I wanted to try to hit the IRS 401K/457 contribution limit, which is $18,500. I always work best reaching towards a goal, AND it will help reduce my tax exposure in my new high-tax state. I increased my retirement contribution to a total of 20% of my paycheck. I won’t say I haven’t felt it — my take-home now is just a little above what I was taking home in my last job, where cost of living was significantly lower.

But, it is working. I am on schedule to hit the contribution limit in December, despite my slow first quarter. I love seeing my investment number climb significantly each month, by about $2000 in these accounts alone. I will also ll appreciate the tax break at the end of the year.

I set up automatic weekly contributions to my Roth IRA, and I will max that out by the end of the year too.

So far this year, I’ve done better with mindless spending, and we also haven’t had time for travel, a significant expense. This means I’ve been able to squirrel away a little bit more each month into my individual investment account and more passively into my Acorns account. Between my Acorns account and my Chase points, I can just about cover the cost of an international trip, should my schedule allow it.

Because everything has gone so well here, I have increased my saving goal for the year from $20,000 to $25,000. Now, things might change. Our rent might go up in the fall when our lease expires, whether because we move or because they like to increase the rent here. If that happens, I may have to pull back on the 401K/457 contributions. But so far, I am very pleased with my 2019 financial progress and prognosis.

A Rapid Return to Status Quo

It’s been just under a month since the end of my 30-day digital detox. A few changes have lasted, such as still having very few apps on my phone, reading on most morning commutes, and being significantly less active on social media than I was.

That said, I am once again using my phone to pass the time most of the time. I don’t notice it in the moment. I don’t find myself thinking “Jeez I’ve blown a lot of time on my phone today.” But I notice it in all the things I did in my 30-day detox that I’m not doing now. I’ve read two books in the nearly 30 days since the end of the detox, whereas I tore through seven and a half books during the phone-free month. And I do little else; no more practicing the piano, no more blogging, no phone calls with friends.

The bottom line is that I find myself once again spending no time on hobbies. I work and I pass time. If I’m not working, I’m just whiling the hours away.

I loathe the idea of “passing time”, because I am keenly aware of how little time we have on this earth. That is a morose topic that may be for a deep dive on another day, but for now it is enough to say how insane to throw hours and days away. There is so much I want to do, and all I do is work. And look at my phone.

This week I am going to recreate the phone and distraction-free detox period. More reading, more blogging, more piano, more exercise, more friends… less atrophy. Less nothing.

Digital Declutter Day 30/30 Debrief

I am at the end of my 30 days of minimal digital use. It was a surprisingly easy experiment, and there are few things that I “can’t wait” to get back to tomorrow.

I was not perfectly adherent to all the rules. Especially in the final two weeks, I gave myself some “small permissions” such as looking at my email and checking blogs a couple times of week, and looking at NYTimes a few times at work. Nonetheless, these 30 days were a dramatic change in my habits and behavior, and with just a few modifications, I think I can carry this forward, with these “small permissions”, as my digital minimalist life.

A few things I learned: I read a ton. And my commute doesn’t suck. I finished 7.5 books in 30 days. All those little bits of time I spend on my phone add up! I really enjoyed reclaiming my commute for reading. It felt centering, like an act of self care, whereas listening to music or podcasts made me feel scattered. It turns out that my train is quiet, and listening to music was adding noise rather than blocking it out. Also, I felt pretty superior sitting on the train with an actual book. One woman told me she loved seeing people with books. BEAM!

I need to cultivate other hobbies and social activities. I tried to foster regular piano practice, and I enjoyed rapid progress with a few songs. I would to do this more often and with more concentrated effort. We got out for several hikes and toured around LA, aided by out-of-town visitors. Exploring our city is something I really want to focus on more.

These are all very solitary (duotary (?) ) pursuits, and we both need more social connection. Although it’s uncomfortable for us, we need to find an activity or a group to socialize and to feel more connected here.

I did not miss news, reality TV, podcasts, Reddit, or Instagram. I will likely add my reality shows back to my routine in a more careful manner, like saving episodes for weekends. Regarding online news, the truth is that while I don’t like the concept of being uninformed… it actually hasn’t impacted me at all. When I have visited, for example, it feels like an overwhelming click-bait splashpage, designed not to inform me but to grab and shred my attention into a thousand little pieces. This has me thinking about resubscribing to The New Yorker. I learned a lot from their stories about current events, longer-standing situations, and, in fact, creative non-fiction writing, an activity I would like to do more of myself. Reading it felt nourishing rather than depleting. Maybe I will give up my WaPo and NYT subscriptions and go all in on The New Yorker.

I did not miss Facebook. Not one day. This lesson has been the most unexpected of this experiment. Facebook is a convenient tool for keeping communication channels open with far-flung friends and family. But day-to-day Facebook use is neither nourishing nor useful. “Constructive” posts such as photographs, life updates, and interesting thoughts make up a small percentage of FB content. It’s link after link, meme after meme. Some funny, some aggravating, but who gives a crap about any of it? It’s vacuous. While I won’t delete my account, a weekly check-in, maybe upload a couple of photos, will suffice.

I don’t need any of these services on my phone. All hail the return of using a computer for computing, and leaving the phone for calls and texts. One thing I learned for certain is that I don’t need ANY of the apps I deleted except…

I missed music. I want to keep my commute for reading, but I did miss being able to pop on a song here or there, while walking or driving for example. I still want to listen to more music mindfully (listening to albums rather than shuffling songs, for example), but I think music, even on the go, on my phone, in short shuffled bursts, is a net good in my life, and I look forward to bringing it back tomorrow.

Overall: I heartily recommend everybody try a period of drastically reduced tech use. What felt dramatic 30 days ago — deleting all my phone apps — now feels fine, and I struggle to remember many of the apps I deleted. I’ve enjoyed the increased peace and quiet, the progress in my hobbies, and the pride in letting go of “crutches” I didn’t want to need.

One final credit to the man whose ideas and practices I find compelling and beneficial: Cal Newport and his new book, Digital Minimalism.

Digital Declutter 13/30

The second week of my digital declutter is over, and generally it continued to be an easy experience. I have not found myself missing social media one bit. Occasionally, I have missed searching for quick answers, or pulling up Google Maps to satisfy some passing curiosity. My text messages being largely out of sight out of mind is posing a little bit of a problem, because the effect is that I’m not responding to messages from friends, and I worry they think I’ve abandoned them since the move. Although obviously I’m not worried enough, because nothing is stopping me from sending them a quick reply.

I continue to read loads, but this week I also added practicing piano and a long phone call with one friend and probably another later today. I can already spot some analog practices that I want to make permanent, such as reading during my commute and not looking at my phone during work.

I’ve struggled a lot this week with negative thoughts on various “life questions” (was moving to LA right? I am a complete and total disappointment, aren’t I? etc.) and I have to wonder if the digital declutter is playing any part in this. Am I experiencing these normally-latent thoughts because my brain has more time to wander? Or is being so disconnected, both literally and figuratively, making me feel isolated, alone, and therefore, unhappy? Isn’t it true that I am isolated and alone, and the only difference is normally I don’t notice? It’s been an unpleasant week in my head.

Onward we go!

Digital Declutter Day 6/30

My first week of digital declutter is done, and my experience has been different from most. I have barely struggled. I have not found it uncomfortable or difficult. Perhaps my natural tendency towards being alone makes it easier for me to disconnect. I haven’t communicated with anyone this week besides work, my boyfriend, and my mother. That doesn’t bother me, apart from a removed, objective awareness that I should probably have more social contact.

In my free time, I have read a TON. I finished three books in the week, and I found it easier to focus on a book for an hour or more at a time. I learned how much reading I can do during my commute, which I would’ve thought too small and too distracted a time for reading. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how quiet the metro is! I’ve watched TV and a couple of movies, and – surprise surprise – they are a lot more engaging when they are not punctuated with glances at my phone.

At work, I found myself getting a lot done, particularly all those administrative tasks that it feels there isn’t time for. Those small bits of time I spend on my phone or the internet add up. I also powered through those bored afternoon hours where I otherwise would be mindlessly clicking around online. This week, my choice in those hours was to do some work or to just sit there doing nothing; work it was!

I had set a rule that I could check my email, read blogs, and write blog posts three times a week. But I didn’t feel the need to do so! I checked my email and blogs once (Saturday), and I am writing this post (Sunday) more out of a sense of obligation than a need.

I rarely touched my phone at home, and I checked it at work for text messages only, which my team uses to communicate during the day. I checked in on my laptop for a few purposes: I used Goodreads and a spreadsheet I keep to document my reading. Those tools facilitate this analog hobby, and my use of them causes no detriment. Yesterday I did some finance stuff, and today I pulled up some vegan recipes before grocery shopping. As you can see, my use really has been minimal.

Tomorrow begins week two. One thing I would like to improve this week is to add phone calls with a couple of friends. Digital minimalism is certainly not supposed to mean being cut off from people, so this is an area I can improve. I also want to add a hobby in addition to reading. It might be playing piano, it might be listening to music. The point here is not simply to plow through books because I have nothing else to do.

I’m enjoying myself, and I certainly hope to continue this new relationship with tech long after this month is over.

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