South Pasadenan Joe Davis brings his own sports spin to play-by-play announcing for the L.A. Dodgers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are taking a new direction that goes beyond reconfigured player lineups, coaching assignments and concession stand offerings. With the official retirement of legendary sports announcer Vin Scully, the team is introducing fans to a young announcer who is fiercely determined not to step into Scully’s shoes – his goal is to make his own mark on the heavily competitive sports scene. “You don’t replace someone like Vin,” says sports commentator Joe Davis, 29, who moved from Michigan to South Pasadena with his family in January. “I don’t kid myself. I know that I’ll always be considered the guy who followed Vin. When someone says to me, ‘Well, you’re no Vin Scully,’ I tell them, ‘You are absolutely right. No one is.’”

While Davis called his first Dodgers home game in April, he has been serving up his play-by-play on the road since last season, while Scully continued home game duties. For 50 televised road games, Davis was joined by former Dodgers-turned-analyst-announcers Orel Hershiser and/or Nomar Garciaparra.

During that season,  fans got a taste of post-Vin Dodgers life, adjusting to the rhythm of new voices and personality combinations. After all, Scully’s signature solo style has permeated the team’s essence for 67 years (he joined the team way back in Brooklyn in 1950). His mastery of the English language fused with his limitless knowledge of sports anecdotes to elevate the profession far beyond the clipped, old-time radio cadence of most broadcasters. “[Vin] is the greatest ever and all us broadcasters have learned so much from watching him through the years,” says Davis, adding that if he considered the pressure of the mantle every time he stepped into the Dodgers’ press box, “it would be overwhelming. Right from the start, I made a decision to be as mentally comfortable and tough as I could be — and a big part was to realize that I am not replacing Vin and no one was ever going to replace him. I have to try to be myself, lean on my analysts and hope, over time, I can be someone that people can tolerate.”

Fortunately, that was exactly what the team was looking for. “We looked at a lot of candidates for almost two years — listening to people, watching them — and Joe just bubbled up to the top,” says Lon Rose, Dodgers executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “He has a great enthusiasm, a love of the game. He offers that unique combination of a fresh perspective while respecting the past.”

Davis’ humble attitude, his genuine love for the game and his respect for Scully’s legacy are earning him high praise from Dodgers fans who have a right to be picky about the voice that accompanies a Joc Pederson grand slam or a Clayton Kershaw no-hitter. “You have a very tough role of stepping in the biggest shoes ever left to fill; I think you did an exceptional job last year,” one fan commented to Davis when he recently hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) Reddit conversation. “Your first year broadcasting with us was terrific, you have already earned a spot in the hearts of a ton of Dodgers fans,” wrote another. “Excited to hear you call Dodgers games for the next 50 years or so,” gushed another.

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Fans’ applause reflects Davis’ adoption of Scully’s treasured advice to him. “He called me the night before my hiring was announced and he passed along advice which was given to him when he started in 1950 from another Hall of Fame  broadcaster, Red Barber. ‘You bring one thing to the booth that one else can – and that is yourself. To steer away from that would be a disservice to the people listening and to yourself, too.’”

Providing fans with just the right amount of statistics, emotion and stories – and knowing when to be quiet – is a lot harder than it seems, explains Davis, who says he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a professional sports announcer. Growing up in a small town in Michigan (“There were 70 kids in my graduating class”), Davis was heavily influenced by his dad, Paul Davis, who was a Michigan High School Hall of Fame football coach. “I have always been around sports,” says the longtime Cubs fan. “Going to practices or playing football and baseball, it’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember.”

Davis attended Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he played football and announced its baseball games in football’s off-season. Later, he assumed play-by-play duties for men’s and women’s basketball on local radio and television. He graduated in 2010.

While his collegiate career introduced him to the craft, Davis credits the three years he spent broadcasting minor league baseball on the radio as the real educational foundation for his career. “Anyone who asks me advice on how to get into the business, I tell them to do minor league baseball,” he says. “There is no better way to call games on a low-pressure level where you can make those mistakes and find yourself. It takes time to be yourself on air because we all think we are supposed to sound a certain way — like Mr. Broadcaster. Over the course of three seasons there were 400 games, which meant 400 opportunities to get better.”

Davis broke into television with a 2012 ESPN gig at the ripe old age of 24. He served as announcer for college baseball, basketball, football, hockey and softball and also appeared in spot duty for Major League Baseball on ESPN radio. In 2014, he was tapped by Fox Sports for national coverage of college football and basketball, and he continues to pursue that while with the Dodgers.

These days, Davis is enjoying life as a Southern California resident as he pursues the never ending world of research and preparation for the next game. “There’s a saying that to prepare to call a baseball game, you prepare your entire life,” he says. “You draw on stories you read 10 years ago, things you learned from playing baseball as a kid or umpiring when I was in high school. When it’s in season, there is a game every day to watch and learn. I am reading all the time or picking up as much firsthand stuff as I can from the players, managers and coaches in the clubhouse or batting cages. The access that I have is something that people at home don’t have, so it’s my job to take the fans behind the curtain.”

Davis, his wife, Libby, and their 10-month-old daughter, Charlotte, have settled comfortably in the warmth of South Pasadena. There are regular strolls to Eddie Park, workouts at the South Pasadena/San Marino YMCA, breakfasts at Julian’s and maybe lunch at the Bristol Farms deli. The family picked the area because it had a Midwestern small-town feel to it — but with a big difference. “We walk every day and that’s something we definitely weren’t doing in the winters in Michigan,” Davis says with a laugh. He says he still has moments of disbelief that he landed the job and his new life in Southern California.

Says Davis: “Walking into the press box is an incredible office to walk into every day,” he says. “Yes, I’m still pinching myself.”

As the L.A. Zoo celebrates its 50th anniversary, top officials talk about Billy the elephant and zoos’ evolving roles in a rapidly changing world.

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is in the midst of its 50th-anniversary celebration, which runs through October. And there’s plenty to celebrate, according to the two Arroyoland folk who know most about the 113-acre zoo and its 1,100 animal residents representing 250 different species.

Zoo Director John Lewis, who lives in La Crescenta, is in charge of ensuring that the animals and their habitats are in tip-top shape and that the zoo’s 1.8 million annual visitors are inspired and enlightened by what they see. Lewis also oversees the zoo’s programs to help preserve the world’s endangered species. La Caňada Flintridge’s Connie Morgan is president of the private, nonprofit Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), which raises funds that enable the zoo to attain its goals in animal care, conservation and visitor satisfaction. Both Lewis and Morgan (see page 9) started work at the zoo about 14 years ago and both say they are ardent proponents of well-run zoos in general, and of the L.A. Zoo in particular.

Zoos such as L.A.’s, they say, have evolved in many ways over the past few years. Many habitats have been enhanced so that the animals are healthier and happier than ever before, and visitors are educated about endangered wildlife and the need to preserve it. And the L.A. Zoo has become an important asset in global research into conservation of endangered species. It allocates funds, expertise and staff to conservation projects worldwide and has had great success with important local projects. By the 1980s, the population of California condors had sunk to about 22. Today, thanks to the zoo’s program to breed condors in captivity and introduce them into the wild, there are more than 420 condors, half of them already living in the wild.

Other beneficiaries of the zoo’s conservation programs include peninsular pronghorns — elegant hoofed animals with branched horns, which first appeared in the Pleistocene age and resemble a blend of deer and goat. Once numbering in the thousands, they lived in deserts and semi-deserts of Baja California until their habitats were destroyed and manmade barriers prevented them from finding water and shelter along what was once their natural migration route. The L.A. Zoo, in concert with partners, has been able to breed pronghorns and steadily increase the population, which, from a low of 50, now numbers in the hundreds. The zoo’s breeding herd is part of a longterm Species Survival Plan for these animals.

Those are just two of many behind-the-scenes programs in which the zoo participates while promoting its primary function of enabling the public to meet and interact with extraordinary animals from around the globe. That traditional role of zoos has become controversial here and around the country in the era of animal-rights activists who say it is unethical and inhumane to remove animals from their natural environments and hold them captive for the entertainment of humans.

In April, L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz filed a motion to remove 30-year-old Billy the elephant from the L.A. Zoo, where he’s been a lifelong resident. That was in response to animal-rights advocates who claimed that Billy’s living conditions are isolated and restrictive, and that he shows signs of distress. The motion seeks to relocate Billy to a wild animal sanctuary, where he can roam freely and socialize. Similar controversies have arisen around the country, as rare and endangered zoo animals become physically or emotionally ill due to allegedly inappropriate living conditions, or are killed when they escape or are involved in accidents involving humans. In May 2016, the teenage gorilla, Harambe, was shot at the Cincinnati Zoo when a 4-year-old boy fell into his enclosure. Although few would disagree with the action that may have saved the boy’s life, activists also argued that Harambe was one more endangered and innocent captive creature who died through no fault of his own. After the film Blackfish was released in 2013, documenting severe distress experienced by a 12,000-pound orca in captivity at Sea World, ticket sales plummeted and intense public pressure led the park to end its orca program. A campaign by activists spotlighting the inhumane conditions endured by performing circus animals aided in the demise of many animal-oriented circuses, including 136-year-old Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, which ceased operation in May.

Of course, zoos don’t require animals to perform, and most take excellent care of their menageries. But public attitudes are shifting as research focuses on animal intelligence and cognition, animal rights and ecological imperatives.

Could zoos someday become as obsolete as animal-oriented circuses? There are compelling arguments both for and against the concept of zoos, and we asked Lewis and Morgan to discuss both the zoo’s achievements and challenges.

Arroyo Monthly: What are some of the achievements you’re proud of since you’ve been at the zoo?

John Lewis: We’ve spent about $180 million improving the zoo with voter-approved tax money as well as privately raised money from GLAZA. We’ve greatly improved our habitats for our great apes — gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees — and we also have a fantastic facility for our elephants and a brand new amphibian facility, an updated bird show so we can teach people about how birds live and how they fly. We have a new front entry with visitor services and education classrooms and a multipurpose theater. There have been a lot of physical improvements for both our visitors and our animals, and a host of conservation projects all over the world. We are educating the public about the lives of these animals and the threats they face as their natural habitats disappear, and what needs to be done about it.

Connie Morgan: GLAZA is proud to have helped bring all those projects John just mentioned to fruition. We’ve raised a great deal of money for construction of the habitats for elephants, the great apes, the new education center. We’ve funded much new medical equipment for the zoo’s state-of-the-art Gottlieb Animal Health and Conservation Center, helped them secure new laser equipment, portable ultrasounds, all the new technology that is critical to ensure our animals have the best care possible. We’re currently working on a new park at the zoo for all types of corporate events that will bring new revenue so we can continue updating everything needed for our animals.

AM: Both of you mentioned elephants, and right now your elephant Billy is in the news, because a city councilperson is requesting his removal to a sanctuary. I notice there’s a full page on your zoo website about Billy, explaining why he should stay at the zoo. Can you talk about that?

JL: I’m happy to talk about that. The reason he should stay at the zoo is because he gets excellent care and has plenty of space and caretakers that love him and take excellent care of him. The misinformation being spread is by groups who are trying to shut down elephant programs all over the country. They focus on an individual and try to give people concerns they really should not be concerned about. Billy is doing great. The lawsuit that’s being talked about now was actually filed six years ago, and we won it. But the judge added some injunctions to his decision, which aren’t onerous for us but the critics keep watching and periodically harass us to say we’re not doing what we should, and we have to file a court report to prove that we are. We have actually filed an appeal through the state Supreme Court asking that those injunctions be dropped, just so we don’t continue to be harassed. Billy and all our elephants are doing just great.

AM: Can you talk about changes in the zoo’s operations since you took over?

JL: There are two main areas that come to mind. First, engaging our staff to engage the visitors. I tell staff all the time that this zoo is really for people as well as the animals. People are the ones that will make a difference for wildlife, and all the challenges that wildlife is facing right now.

So we need to engage visitors and help them understand what’s going on and help them care about the animals, not just come here to look at them.

The other thing that’s changing: This zoo has done a lot of conservation over its life, but a lot of that has been financially supporting [outside] investigators. This fall, GLAZA is actually raising money to hire a full-time conservation biologist for the zoo. That individual’s initial responsibility will be to identify hotspots around the world where animals are being threatened, as well as other conservation issues that need resolving, and then put together a team of individuals that will include zoo employees and professors and academics and researchers around the world to solve that problem. It’s called the Species Conservation Action Network [SCAN], and we’ll be scanning the conservation horizon looking at how we can help.

AM: So this person will spearhead a global group ?

JL: That’s correct. And the group members will change, depending on what issue it is tackling.

CM: Something John should be very proud of is that our zookeepers and curators today are extremely talented, knowledgeable and educated folks in how to care for animals. They are now becoming critical to global conservation needs.

JL: Connie is referring to the fact that more and more of what we do in our zoos has direct application to wildlife. Unfortunately, with so much loss of wild habitats, a lot of the parks are looking like big zoos because there is not that much space left in the wild for the animals. The techniques that we use to keep animals alive and provide good health, and even for breeding and reproduction, are now being used more and more in the field by wildlife biologists. And we are able to send some of our experts to help them use those techniques in environments around the globe. We’ve sent several people to Africa; our keepers and curators have recently gone several times to China.

AM: Ms. Morgan, in the years you’ve been GLAZA president, what shifts have you seen in community response?

CM: The greatest shift is that we’ve been able to build a solid and consistent base of financial support for the zoo for the long term. We have donors who stay very loyal to the zoo, who understand the zoo’s mission and how important it is to the Los Angeles community and to the wildlife community across the world. We’re continuing to build on that for the future. That’s one reason SCAN is so important to us. Our board of trustees for GLAZA wanted to do something very special for the zoo’s 50th anniversary, so we committed to funding this project which we can take into the next 50 to 100 years, using all the talent and expertise we have here to help solve global conservation issues.

AM: There’s so much technology that now lets us get up close and personal with animals living in the wild, and we can observe them closely without going to a zoo. Added to ethical concerns, do you think zoos are becoming less necessary and less relevant?

JL: I think zoos are, unfortunately, going to become even more relevant than ever before. A large portion of the world’s population has moved and continues to move away from rural areas and into cities, and away from wildlife. They’ve lost their connection with wildlife, and zoos and aquariums provide those connections. The films and documentaries are all good, but they complement the experience of the zoo, they cannot replace it.

CM: I would agree that zoos connect people with wildlife in a way nothing else can. You could compare it with concerts. You have to see things live.

Palm Desert’s charms make it a favorite getaway for Southern Californians.

More desert tourists are becoming art browsers and shoppers thanks to Desert X, the widely-publicized, site-specific outdoor art exhibition that ran for two months ending April 30. In its last few weeks, Desert X overlapped with the blockbuster Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which boasts its own art installations on the grounds of its Empire Polo Club venue. However, there is art to see year-round in the Coachella Valley, particularly in posh Palm Desert. And while you’re in the neighborhood, you can sample some of the town’s other attractions, from golf to giraffes.

Browse or Buy Art

Palm Desert is an affluent town, and along and around El Paseo, a milelong shopping street, dozens of art galleries are tucked in among high-end retail stores. The larger ones include Imago, Melissa Morgan, Coda and Hohmann. One of the best, Heather James Fine Art, is a little farther afield, on Portola Avenue, off the east end of El Paseo. It’s a whole building unto itself, with various spaces usually dedicated to certain collections, artists or themes. “We like to have our shows look curated,” says gallery staffer Montana Beutler. At any given time, Heather James shows include works of blue-chip international artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder, as well as American favorites such as Norman Rockwell and the California Impressionists.

There’s also public art on El Paseo and sprinkled throughout Palm Desert, thanks to the city’s Public Art Program established in 1986. That year the City of Palm Desert became the first in Riverside County to pass a public art ordinance, which requires real estate developers to integrate artwork into their developments or pay a fee to the Art in Public Places fund.

“There are over 150 pieces of art throughout the city,” says Deborah S. Glickman, who helps run Palm Desert’s public art program. “There’s a map that can be downloaded, and we do also offer free walking tours on the weekends.” Those tours are available on select Saturdays September through May. Private tours for three or more people can also be arranged. Glickman adds that the city produces the biennial El Paseo Exhibition, which places artwork in the El Paseo shopping district, “and we have artists who participate from all over the world.”

For information about Palm Desert’s Public Art Program (including tours, maps and film series), visit

The Sporting Life

Of course the area offers other attractions — great golfing (natch!), tennis, swimming, fine dining and wonderful hotels. Quite a few hotels — like the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa and the La Quinta Resort and Club — have their own golf courses, swimming pools and spas. From the Marriott spa, for example, you can lounge in the sun after your treatment of choice, and have a gorgeous view of the greens. If you prefer an Old World flavor, check out the historic La Quinta Resort and Club with its sprawling but well-maintained complex in Spanish Revival style. Its charming casitas open onto swimming pools in cozy compounds; there are 41 pools in all, plus five award-winning golf courses and 41 tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, golf is one of the main attractions here, and not to worry if your hotel doesn’t have its own links; you can always play at other courses or check out the city-run, world-class Desert Willow Golf Resort ( It offers two fields of play — the Firecliff golf course and the Mountain View course, both roughly 20 years old and designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and PGA Tour pro John Cook. Eric Johnson did the landscaping with many drought-resistant species. Meanwhile, the water used to keep the greens green is being recycled, important in drought-prone California. For meals and drinks, there’s a clubhouse with views of the greens against the backdrop of the gorgeous Santa Rosa Mountains. Desert Willows will probably be the most well-appointed public course you’ve ever visited — it was for me.

Commune with Nature

As a vivid reminder that Palm Desertites are denizens of the desert — the Colorado Desert, specifically — you might want to visit The Living Desert (, a combination desert, botanical garden and zoo on 1,200 acres — 1,000 of them pristine. No, not all the animals are native, though most of them do inhabit savanna and desert. One can easily spend half a day here, walking through various exhibitions and listening to experts.

There are a few things not to miss, so make sure to check the daily schedule. The giraffe feeding gives you a chance to look at a giraffe up close; visitors can even climb a platform to see giraffes eye to eye. Yes, they have very beautiful big eyes with long lashes, and also long black tongues to lap up the special snack you can buy for them. The Cheetah Run showcases the world’s fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 70 mph. Here cheetahs show their stuff, running from one end of their long enclosure to the other. And do visit the Butterfly/Winged Wonders exhibit in its own building, featuring hundreds of butterflies from 30 species.

For a deeper excursion into nature, take a tour of the San Andreas Fault. Desert Adventure Red Jeep Tours & Events ( runs a fleet of, yes, red jeeps (CJ-8 Jeep Scramblers) that are open-topped; passengers pile in the back while the driver doubles as a guide. These guys are seasoned pros (I say “guys” because I only saw gents doing the job), and ours told us not only about the geology of the San Andreas Fault, but also about the area’s native plants and animals. And I learned quite a bit from him about the Cahuilla Indians, who used various plants for food, medicine and shelter.

To illustrate the geology of the San Andreas Fault, our guide, Black Feather, held up an Oreo cookie. He squeezed the two dark biscuits together, very hard, until the white filling got pressed out around the rim. The fault, he told us, is the result of two geological plates — the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate — coming together and moving in different directions. Then he says, with proper drama, “We’re going to drive about a mile into the delicious white cream.”

It’s a strange analogy, since things don’t really get squeezed out when there’s a tectonic plate shift — they fall in. Which is what we saw as we traveled into a private preserve, bumping up and down on our course down dusty roads and into a canyon. The fault creates cracks and crevices, which align with underground aquifers. There are places where you can see the jagged faultline running across the land, defined by a line of live palms and vegetation because of those aquifers. One of the most interesting stops was an oasis, where the earth had caved in during a particularly violent shift and become a refuge for a jumble of palms and bushes.

Incidentally, Black Feather was only a nom de guide, so to speak — our guide’s real name was Darrell Eisman, and he hailed from New York City. Apparently, all the guides adopt Native American–sounding names. We learned a lot from Darrell, not only about geology, but about the plants and animals that live in this part of the desert. Red Jeep also offers tours to Indian Canyons and Joshua Tree National Park. Enjoy the ride!


Somali cuisine reflects global influences from its history as a major trading port.

realize this column has taken a turn from its usual jovial tone. I’m sorry for that. I guess I’m just not feeling it these days. And with that warning, I am continuing my series on the food from the countries whose people Trump has tried to ban from entering the United States. Though the ban has been blocked by federal courts, it will likely end up in the Supreme Court. Regardless of the outcome, I believe acceptance of these refugee groups, and of other cultures in general, is important. Plus, it’s fun to try new foods! 

This month I bring you a nation that was once considered among the mightiest ports of call in the world. No, it’s not Egypt, or Greece, or Phoenicia. Situated on the Horn of Africa (that’s the pointy part on the eastern coast), Somalia was once a maritime marvel, and the hub of trade in exotica from prehistory through the Middle Ages, until imperialist powers’ Scramble for Africa and colonization.

Strategically located on the Gulf of Aden, between the Red and Arabian seas, this country boasts the longest coastline and the most beaches on the continent. Of course, this made it prime real estate for traders. Artisans, spiritual leaders and royalty from around the ancient world came to what the Egyptians referred to as “the land of Punt” (which means “spice”). They traded not just for spice, but for gold, ivory, ostrich feathers and incense.  Somali incense was renowned — there are images of it in Egyptian tombs — and the country still supplies it to the Roman Catholic Church. Eccentric royalty stocked their menageries with Somali zebras, giraffes and hippopotami. But that strategic location was really what the world wanted, and everyone tried to get it.

By the 8th century, Islam had taken hold. Muslim Arabs and Persians set up trading posts along the Somali coastline, and the cities thrived. All this prosperity did not go unnoticed, and soon the Portuguese and the rest of Europe wanted a piece of this money-making pie.  In the 1880s, during a mad dash to colonize the continent, Somalia was divided into pieces by the French, British and Italians. 

Contact with so many cultures resulted in a cuisine that draws from many places. Arab and Persian traders who settled along the coast brought rice, garlic and spices. Indian-style samosas and paratha were incorporated into the Somali diet. Even the Europeans left their mark with Italian pasta, English steamed puddings and French-style pastries. And as the Somali people emigrated across the globe, these dishes morphed even more, picking up local ingredients and preparations with a unique, truly multicultural flair.

Much like its Yemeni and Ethiopian neighbors, this majority Muslim country relies heavily on halal meats, especially goat and lamb (though Ethiopia, which is mainly Eastern Orthodox Christian, incorporates more vegetarian dishes in response to church-prescribed fasting). Bread is a staple, as it is in neighboring regions, and there are several variations, including anjero, a spongy yeasted bread that resembles the larger, tangier Ethiopian injera. Bread-making is daily women’s work in Somalia, and though today it is often made with granulated yeast and baking powder, it was traditionally leavened with a natural starter made from flour and water. Other breads include fried kac kac (a square little doughnut), rice cakes, spiced pancakes and flatbreads made from everything from corn to chickpeas.

Spaghetti and rice dishes are familiar, but with a twist. Most include xawaash, a spice mix that varies regionally but incorporates many ingredients found throughout the Middle East –- cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, turmeric and black pepper. Sauces made from chili, or from yogurt, fried coffee and tamarind grace the tables. And when you order rice, expect to be served a banana on the side.  Don’t make the mistake of eating it as an appetizer or dessert, unless you want to be laughed at. The banana is cut and eaten with the meal, like a condiment. 

The banana and rice side dish is an homage of sorts to the once-booming Somali banana trade. Plantations started by Italian colonists in the 1920s once provided the majority of bananas eaten in the Middle East and Europe. But civil war, drought and flooding ended this industry in the 1990s.

That civil war continues, and it is messy. Warring clans, government forces, outside interests and extremists have been competing for influence and power for more than 20 years. Nearly a million refugees are registered around the world, with another million internally displaced, 60 percent of them children. (As in Yemen, most are too poor to escape.) On top of that, the Somali people are facing famine. The second drought in less than a decade has wreaked havoc on an already displaced population. Lack of water not only limits the availability of food, but sets killer disease in motion. Unsurprisingly, extremists make access by relief workers next to impossible. (They are warned to avoid the outer parts of Mogadishu, as it is likely they will either be shot by militia, or eaten by lions, cheetahs or hyenas.) The region is in desperate need of relief. Billions of dollars in relief.

Here in the U.S. we have the largest Somali community outside of Somalia. They first came as mariners in the 1920s, but the biggest wave came as refugees from the civil war. The largest communities are in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota, and it is there you will find hundreds of Somali-owned businesses and a restaurant scene that is gaining mainstream acceptance. In California there is a sizable Somali population in San Diego, where you’ll find a dozen Somali restaurants to try. Closer to home, you can experience this cuisine at Banadir in Inglewood. Don’t be fooled by the nondescript exterior and the minimal décor. The food is fantastic and definitely worth a visit. In the meantime, try making some Somali flatbread. 


This flatbread (sometimes known as lahooh or laxoox) is a common breakfast for Somalis. Drizzle it with ghee and a sprinkle of sugar, serve it with tea spiced with cardamom and
cinnamon, and think good thoughts for Somalis around the world.


5 cups lukewarm water

1 tablespoon granulated yeast

1 cup white corn flour

4 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ cup sugar

½ teaspoon sea salt


1. Combine water, yeast and corn flour, mix together into a thin batter, and set aside to proof for 1 hour. This is the starter.

2. Add all-purpose flour, baking powder, sugar and salt, and beat until smooth. Set aside to ferment again for 1 to 2 hours. (Purists ferment overnight for a sourer flavor.) 

3. Warm a nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Ladle the batter into the pan, swirling it to spread into a thin pancake. Cook until the batter looks dry and spongy, then remove and repeat with remaining batter. Serve these for breakfast, or use them to accompany spicy Somali curries and stews.

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

The Great Wall Mural

Designers are adding zing to clients’ décor with unique wall paintings commissioned from local artists.

A couple of years ago, artist Linda Sarkissian and her team painted a scene from a glamorous black-tie celebration on the wall of a contemporary home in Pasadena’s exclusive Linda Vista neighborhood. Done in tones of gray, black and silver, tuxedoed gentlemen mingle with ladies in elegant gowns as they toast champagne, a permanent party the length of a formal dining room wall.

“You can see part of the mural as you enter the house,” says Sarkissian, an American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Pasadena board member and founder of Glendale-based LS Decorative Art, which has specialized in murals, decorative fine art and frescos since the mid-1980s. She notes that it’s such a surprising and dramatic image, the common reaction to it is to gasp — in a good way, of course.

Murals that evoke visceral reactions are just one of the reasons homeowners choose to use the walls (or ceilings or floors) of their homes as canvases for creativity. “The beauty of murals and custom finishing is that they showcase the personality and individuality of the homeowner,” Sarkissian adds, noting that her client is a very social guy who enjoys throwing parties. “They’re also conversation pieces.”

Home murals are a centuries-old design element that can cost from $3,000 to $50,000, depending on size, detail and scope of the project. Along with faux finishes and decorative fine art, murals continue to be popular among homeowners and interior designers who want to make a statement or strive for distinction — sometimes in surprising ways.

After art for children’s rooms, landscapes — popular on domestic walls in late-17th-century Europe — are the most requested type of commission, designers say. Such natural scenery is often depicted in an abstract style. “A couple of years ago, I did a project at the Showcase House of Design where the interior designer wanted a contemporary but organic scene on the wall,” Sarkissian recalls. “We painted the walls white and created a pomegranate tree using only tones of brown,” the designer’s palette of choice.

Most commonly found in dining rooms, bathrooms, hallways and master bedrooms, murals can also be uniquely personal. “We recently did a mural for a homeowner who wanted to have a scene of her children at the beach, taking her back to a time when they were small,” says Sierra Madre interior designer Debbie Talianko, who often works with Sarkissian. “It looked like a [vintage] watercolor and made you feel as if you had traveled back in time. It was really dramatic.”

Marlene Oliphant, a Montrose-based interior designer, recalls a scene she commissioned, a large trompe l’oeil of a window overlooking a faraway place, inspired by a client couple’s anniversary trip. “I designed a condo kitchen that had no window over the sink,” she says, “and I had [L.A.] artist Lucy Jensen copy a photo of a Tuscan retreat; she painted it on paper and applied it to the wall like wallpaper and framed it in travertine tile molding.”

When it comes to what can be painted on one’s walls, “you’re only limited by your imagination,” Sarkissian says. In contemporary homes, like the one adorned with a party scene, metallic finishes in silver, pewter and gold are an ongoing trend. “The look you can get with it is quite interesting and one metallic on top of another makes a really interesting wall,” says Pasadena artist Virginia Fair, who, along with her business partner, Jay Richards, has created murals, faux finishes and other decorative embellishments in homes around the world.

Along with murals, interior designers commonly employ decorative fine art, including antique washes, faux stone and other faux finishes to bring distinction to a room, color match other design elements or hide imperfections. “They’re great for camouflaging bad walls and for matching something that’s already there but cannot be replaced,” Oliphant says. “If you have outlet covers running straight across the center of a kitchen backsplash, for example, you can faux finish them to blend into the tile.

“I had a client who had a big mural on two kitchen walls and they were cracked,” she continues. “I asked Jay [Richards] if he could camouflage them and he patched and painted and made everything blend. You’d never know they were there.”

“It’s a really good solution for challenging areas,” adds Talianko. If a client has a wood mantle that they want to look like stone, for example, “there are different plaster finishes that can be applied” to achieve that look.

While Venetian plaster is hardly a new idea, Fair has devised methods of applying it to create unique looks (“It’s like heavy embossing on the walls,” she says). She and Richards recently embellished an entire dining room in this manner, covering its walls in leaves and vines that were individually hand-painted.

Similarly, Sarkissian uses stencils with plaster, “creating very interesting textured designs,” she says. “We make it raised and paint them in silvers, grays, whites and pearlescent colors. It’s an extreme compliment when people go to the wall and touch it just to see if it’s wallpaper or a painting.”

Custom-made wallpaper murals, a traditional and evergreen addition in upscale homes, are another option for homeowners seeking to add zing to a room. Deciding whether to paint a mural or have it created in wallpaper form —  an extremely expensive option that takes months to prepare, Sarkissian says — often comes down to the designer’s preference.

Oliphant, for one, isn’t a fan. “You have a whole other set of problems with wallpaper,” she says. “A lot of walls are just not perfect — they would have to be skim coated to make them flat in order to mount wallpaper. When you do a faux finish, you don’t have to worry about that. You can just create whatever you want. It’s totally customized and you don’t have to worry about matching everything; the faux finisher has his kit and he just creates the matching tone. It’s like waving a magic wand and it’s done.”

Sometimes, muralists are asked, rather than create something new, just to fix a faded or damaged mural already in place. Fair recalls a recent three-week project she and Richards were called in on, restoring an 80-year-old mural painted on the ceiling of a Glendale home, one-third of which had extensive water damage. They had to study the original artist’s hand and technique and make sure they stayed true to that in restoring the image, reminiscent of a scene one might find in an old hunting lodge, complete with pheasants and trees.

“They didn’t have photos of the entire mural, so we took photos of the other undamaged side, worked out the color and design and completely duplicated it,” Fair says. “Our challenge was to make it look like the original — and we did it! The owners were blown away. They couldn’t believe that anybody could actually put it back together like that again.”

Arabia Felix?

Try a taste of beleaguered Yemen’s warm hospitality.

have always believed that food is an important social and political tool. It has the power to bring people together, and it promotes understanding between cultures. You may think you don’t like the South, but you’ll put up with it because of barbecue, country ham, cheesy grits and biscuits. You might think the French are a bunch of snoots, but you cherish every single croissant. So, in this vein, I have decided to highlight the culinary contributions of the (now) six countries targeted in the latest incarnation of a travel ban, blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii and facing a likely appeal. It is my hope that, through an understanding of their culinary traditions, you will be more compassionate toward their peoples. 

I begin with Yemen, a country with so many problems that a ban on travel to the United States seems unlikely to even be on their radar. 

Yemen lies east of North Africa and south of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq. Civilization has thrived in the region since the 8th century B.C., and its location on the western Arabian Peninsula, bordering both the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, made it an important crossroads in the lucrative spice, textile and incense trades between India and Europe. Everyone wanted to control Yemen to compete with the East India Trading Company. The Ottoman Turks tried to steal it twice. The British tried once. It was the epitome of a hot property. 

In addition, the early-15th-century Sufi monasteries were cultivating the coffee beans they found in Ethiopia, and by 1500 coffee was leaving the Yemeni port of Mocha to supply the Ottoman Empire. This early success transformed Yemen into one of the most advanced Arabian societies. Everybody loved it! The Romans even dubbed it Arabia Felix, or “Happy Arabia.”

The influence of trade on this culture is reflected deliciously in its cuisine. Though the food is similar to that found across the Arabian Peninsula, it is uniquely influenced by Indonesia, eastern Africa and India. Fenugreek, ginger, cilantro, cumin, turmeric and cardamom are ubiquitous. Hawaij, the traditional spice mixture found in many recipes, contains a very Indian mixture of anise seed, fennel seed, ginger and cardamom. 

Flat breads are not unusual in the region, but the Yemeni menu includes an Indian roti and a spongy pancake similar to Ethiopian injera. They are baked daily in a taboon – a clay oven shaped like a truncated cone, with its opening on the bottom or at the top like a tandoor. Similar to the Indian and Asian tables, many dishes are enlivened with highly spiced condiments, including the frothy hulba, made from whipped fenugreek, herbs and hot chiles.

But more than their multicultural pantry, it is the Yemenis’ hospitality that makes them unique. Guests are treated like royalty, and a refusal of food is considered an insult. In remote areas it is said that a Yemeni will shoot over the heads of travelers who do not stop to sample their hospitality. (I have no such tradition. Feel free to keep moving.) Meals are communal, and Yemen has not bothered to incorporate such western frivolity as tables, chairs or utensils. Dishes are scooped up with pieces of bread or simply the right hand (which is ceremonially washed beforehand). 

If you are a guest you will probably be served meat dishes (mutton, chicken, goat or fish along the coast), which are generally reserved for special occasions or an ill family member who needs the extra nourishment. Porridges from local grains (sorghum, millet, corn) or legume flour are popular and highly nutritious. There is also a giant flour dumpling called aseeda, which is garnished with either sweet or savory condiments. Aseeda has a long history as a Bedouin staple and resembles similar African fare. The national dish of Yemen is saltah, a stew made from lamb or lentils, with many regional variations.

There is no alcohol served in the Muslim home, although Yemeni Jews enjoy raisin wine and arak, anise-flavored spirits. Tea is the preferred beverage, after the meal, served highly sweetened with cardamom or mint. Coffee is too expensive for most families, but qishr is a popular drink made from ground coffee husks and ginger. Dessert is rare, but, if you are very lucky, you might be served the brioche-like bint-al-sahn, to be dipped in butter and honey. Yemeni honey is considered a delicacy and a status symbol, but you likely will only find it in the cities, along with more exotic fruits. 

Rather, you would have found it, when there were cities in Yemen.

Struggle for control of this strategic site has seemingly never ended. The current civil war is two years old, but it’s rarely covered in the news, because the situation in Syria is so much bigger.

In 2015 the Houthi, a Shia minority group, took over the capital, Sanaa, and kicked out the U.S.-backed government. Worried that the Houthis were being supported by Shia forces from Iran, a Saudi-led, mostly Sunni, multinational coalition with support from the U.S., U.K. and France began a targeted air campaign. As in Syria, the bombings took out civilian targets, including schools and hospitals. And as in Syria, these actions created the perfect breeding ground for Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Also as in Syria, rebel-held regions have been cut off from international aid. So Yemenis are dying not only from violent military attacks, but from starvation. The UN currently estimates Yemen has nearly 2 million malnourished children. Not a lot of saltah being enjoyed of late.

But unlike Syria, the people are very, very poor. Conflict throughout the modern era has created a failed economic state, so most Yemenis cannot afford to flee. Plus, Yemen is much farther away from Europe. Consequently, there are no boatloads of refugees (another reason Yemen is not making the 6 o’clock news). Nevertheless, 3 million Yemenis are internally displaced.

So — since you aren’t getting much Yemeni news, I’m offering you a chance to get to know Yemeni culture, a spoonful at a time. Make this meal. Invite a friend to your table (or floor). Don’t take “no” for an answer. Learn a little more about this rich history. It’s important to understand and empathize with these places. Because high population growth, drought, female inequality, widespread poverty, escalating food prices and the collapse of the state will make young men in any country pick up arms.     

Any country. 


Make this great variation on beef stew and, while it’s cooking, make the accompanying flat bread and condiments. Then brew some tea and throw some pillows on the floor. 


¼ cup olive oil

1 pound ground lamb or beef

2 yellow onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic

2 green chiles

2 large tomatoes, chopped

4 large red or white potatoes,
peeled and cubed

5 cups beef broth

2 eggs, beaten

¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablepsoons hulbah*

2 tablepsoons zhoug**


1. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the meat and onions and cook until onions are translucent. Then add garlic and chiles, cook for another minute, then add tomatoes and potatoes. Cover with broth, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

2. Use a potato masher to smash all the potatoes, until the stew thickens. Add beaten egg and stir for another minute, until it cooks. Finally, add the hulbah to the center of the pot, and as it heats, spread it across the surface. Remove from heat and serve with extra zhoug, plain yogurt and flatbread.

*Hulbah: a Yemeni condiment


2 tablespoons ground fenugreek seeds

1 tomato

1 clove garlic

1 green chile

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons zhoug*


1. Place fenugreek seeds in a bowl and cover with cold water. Set it aside to soak for 1 hour.

2. Drain off all but a little water from the seeds, and whisk them with an electric mixer (or by hand) until they thicken to a paste. 

3. Transfer fenugreek paste to a blender or food processor, add remaining ingredients and blend until the mixture is smooth and frothy.

** Zhoug: another Yemeni condiment


4 green chiles

1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

2 bunches fresh cilantro, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

¼ to ½  cup olive oil


Combine all ingredients except oil in a blender or food processor. Process to begin breaking everything down, then slowly add the oil until a paste forms. The consistency is just like Italian pesto.

 Khobz: a Yemeni flat bread


4½ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sea salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

1½ cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil


1. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and whisk together. Make a well in the center and add the water. Stir until a dough forms, then transfer to a work surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until soft, smooth and not at all sticky. (Add more flour as needed.) Divide the dough into golf ball–size pieces, roll each into a ball, brush lightly with oil, then cover and set aside to rest for 1 hour.

2. Heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over high heat. Roll each dough ball out as thinly as you can. Use your hands to stretch and pull it out even more. (Get it as close to see-through as you can.) Place on the hot griddle and fry until golden and puffed, about 30 to 60 seconds a side. Serve immediately, or store airtight to keep fresh.


Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

Showcase House’s Beachy Vibe

This year’s palette of deep blues and earthy neutrals inspires airy spaces that evoke the sun, sand and sea.

This year’s Pasadena Showcase House of Design, also known as the Hinds House, was designed by prominent architects Marston and Van Pelt in 1916, when Pasadena was an untrammeled sylvan paradise. Some of the country’s wealthiest tycoons were just discovering the city’s untamed beauty and opting to build mansions there for their families. New Yorker Samuel Southey Hinds, a Harvard and New York University law school graduate, was one. After graduation, Hinds, born in 1875, moved to Pasadena, and into the 7,479-square-foot Tudor Revival home on two acres, with eight bedrooms and four baths. He practiced law, supported the arts and indulged his hobby of acting in local theater. A founder of the Pasadena Playhouse, he was a successful attorney until the 1929 stock market crash, when he lost all his assets. Undaunted, he gave up law and became a successful actor at age 54. Tall and distinguished-looking, he appeared in more than 200 films, often playing kindly authority figures. (Of note, he played Pa Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s father, in the Frank Capra 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life.)

Although the Pacific didn’t lie just outside the palatial doors of early Pasadenans, it was a palpable presence in those years, reachable by motor car on rutted coastal roads that led south toward San Diego through onion fields and citrus groves, or west to other then-undeveloped sandy shores. It was a glorious adventure to reach the ocean, and many designers who participated in this year’s Showcase House chose to honor the beachy charms and Pacific blues that so enthralled those original Pasadena settlers.

In more recent years, the Hinds home has maintained its Hollywood connection. It has been the setting for many films, including Beaches and La La Land, and TV series such as Columbo and Mad Men. Here are a few highlights from the 2017 Showcase House of Design:


There were no family rooms in the early 1900s, even in sumptuous homes such as this one, says Robert Frank, who designed the 416-square-foot living room. “The living room is the main space in this home where the family was meant to gather informally and also where guests were welcomed,” says Frank, owner of Robert Frank Interiors in San Marino. His goal, he says, was to “transform the room into a bright and beautiful space to entertain guests while also being a comfortable, functional and peaceful retreat for the family.” He replaced the dark shutters with pale drapes framing elegant windows that open onto beautiful views of surrounding gardens. Using a neutral palette of flax, creams and white, along with touches of periwinkle and navy, he created two conversation areas with the airy feel of a beach house. On one side of the room, two blue chairs flank a white linen custom sofa; on the other side, a white linen sofa, wing chair and off-white longue. All fabrics are by Robert Allen and Beacon Hill. Walls are covered with a shimmery ivory grasscloth;  Dunne Edwards’  White Picket Fence paint shade brightens the ceiling and moldings. “We’re a coastal city, and this room was inspired by the pale sands and the ocean,” he says.


Designer Goli Karimi of Home Front Build, Los Angeles, described her master suite design as “a seaside escape” because “the palette of restful blues and neutrals replicate the experience of the ocean, sky and sand,” she says. Rooms were smaller in 1916, she notes, and this master bedroom measures around 300 square feet. She combined pale sandy tones and shades of white against the softest teal for the bedding, curtains, carpet, even walls. “The base color is off-white,” she says. “We had an artist brush over it with pale shades of teal and beige to create a look that seems as if you’re looking at the sea and sky coming together at the horizon.” The tan, off-white and teal rug is from Norbert Rug Gallery in Pasadena; the Weitzner drapes are made of Donghia cotton viscose and silk. The wing chair and ottoman by Baker are clad in Donghia chenille. The subtly patterned coverlet is by Zoffany.  A television drops down from the ceiling, and very small ceiling speakers are concealed in the four corners of the room.

Karimi’s design for the blue master bath includes a tub by Crosswater with polished stainless-steel exterior that reflects like a mirror and makes the space look larger, she says. The tracery ceiling is done with applied molding by J.C. Weaver. Walker Zanger made the azure dimensional tile on the walls and the azure hexagonal ceramic floor tiles.


Here’s an imaginative table for outdoor dining with family and friends. The custom fire-water table is made of more than 1,400 pounds of concrete and has a narrow river meandering gracefully across its top, with river rocks on either side. Succulents peep up through the rocks here and there and, at the flip of a switch, flames rise from beneath the stones. The water cascades down the table’s edge into a little pool and recirculates for a constant, soothing effect. Terry Morrill, owner of Pacific Outdoor Living in Sun Valley, says he and colleague Dominic Boinich designed the table together. “Our firm has always worked with water features and fire elements for outdoor living,” Morrill says. “Here we simply incorporated both features to create a durable, comfortable and attractive table for those with outdoor dining rooms.”

Putting a Fresh Face on the Past

Two Pasadena cultural landmarks have been partly renovated as they head into their second century.

Like many grande dames, two cultural landmarks in Old Pasadena — the Castle Green bridge and the Pasadena Playhouse lobby and stage — have recently undergone a bit of a facelift. You can check out the refreshed theater the next time you see a play; you can see the bridge for yourself during Castle Green’s Mother’s Day open house and tour — if you’re not fortunate enough to know a resident there.


Around the turn of the 20th century, Pasadena was a popular destination for affluent visitors wanting to escape winters in the East and Midwest, and in 1893 developer George Gill Green built the luxurious Hotel Green on the east side of Raymond Avenue. The destination was so popular that the hotel soon expanded, and a second complex was built across the street, which became known as Castle Green. Today Castle Green is the only phase of the development that remains intact after Hotel Green was largely dismantled and replaced by Stats Floral, which still houses part of the lobby.

The Castle, an architectural mix of Moorish, Spanish and Victorian elements, was converted into apartments in 1924, says architect and architectural historian Bill Ellinger, who will be a bridge docent during the May tour. “They added kitchens, added bathrooms to serve each apartment,” he says. “They’re so different, from small studios to the tower units,” says Susan Futterman, chair of the Friends of Castle Green, which is hosting the Mother’s Day event; visitors will be able to see the grand lobby with its Moorish and Turkish sitting rooms, plus about a dozen apartments and the enclosed bridge that used to connect Castle Green to the Hotel Green across Raymond Avenue.

Today the bridge juts out perpendicularly from the building toward Raymond but stops at the sidewalk — the other half having been taken down some time ago — and it has been undergoing much-needed repairs and updating. It is a wide corridor lined with windows and a tower at the end, and has at various times been home to several artists, as well as a private bookstore. In the 1960s the noted African-American artist Charles Wilbert White used it as studio, as did director Tim Burton and Pasadena artist Kenton Nelson, separately, later on.

The tower’s window frames were recently restored by Mary Gandsey, who stripped, repaired and shellacked the wood. The wainscot panels propped on the floor against the wall await remounting — they’re made of slate painted to look like marble, a feature apparent throughout the building, Ellinger says. The old floor covering has been taken up, revealing a set of small-gauge tracks running the length of the bridge. What were they used for? There’s a clue in a charming news blurb from the inaugural issue of Sunset magazine in May 1898, which begins, “The aristocratic residence town of Southern California and rendezvous for the traveling upper ten has enjoyed a remarkably gay season and the hotel accommodations have been sorely taxed.” It then mentions the Hotel Green and its new addition — the bridge. “The Hotel Green has an annex under construction which will be completed about July 1st and one hundred additional rooms will be added to the La Pintoresca during the summer which will relieve the pressure next season.

“The Hotel Green annex will be connected with the main building across the street by a covered archway forming a charming promenade and furnished with a miniature trolley car which will convey guests to and from the office.” That was certainly a much-appreciated amenity after the long trip from back East.

The tour runs from 1 to 5 p.m. Advance tickets cost $30 and are available at; on tour day they’re $35 at the gate.  The tour plus a Mother’s Day tea at noon go for $85 and tickets must be purchased in advance on the website. Proceeds benefit Castle Green preservation.


Meanwhile, a few blocks away on El Molino Avenue, the Pasadena Playhouse has been undergoing its own renovations. That’s thanks to a special allocation from the State of California, part of a measure authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) because of the playhouse’s special status as the State Theater of the California, an official honor bestowed in 1937. The funds have been used for some much-needed repairs and upgrades, such as new lobby lighting and a new stage floor, as well as an overall lobby redesign. 

“As our productions have grown larger and larger, the stage itself needed to be rebuilt to accommodate that,” says Joe Witt, the theater’s general manager. Many layers of the old flooring were torn out, says Brad Enlow, the theater’s technical director, as he pries away a bit of paneling from the side of the stage to show what’s underneath. Workers installed four new layers, starting with one made of marine-grade tongue-and-groove plywood, topped with two layers of marine-grade plywood and finished with Masonite. “That adds a tensile strength that will take the weight that we require,” he says. He mentions the 2016 production of Casa Valentina, which “had a two-story house that rotated 360 degrees up and down the stage. That was 18,000 pounds, and we had to engineer around it.”

The interior designer hired to redo the lobby is Rozalynn Woods, who says, “The building is Spanish Colonial Revival, built in 1925, and we wanted to do things in keeping with that style.”  She quickly saw that the wall-to-wall carpeting had worn down, and the mustardy color of the paint seemed too dark. So she ordered wide-planked oak for the flooring, typical of the 1920s, and had the walls repainted a creamy white. “Just by doing those two things we were able to create a fresh, bright and welcoming space,” she says in a telephone interview. To make the area even more welcoming, a sitting area was added where the reception counter used to be. Two loveseats face each other across a low table, and behind the table is a console — a 19th-century Spanish antique.

Various elements in the lobby remind visitors of the theater’s long and celebrated history. On the landing of the two staircases leading up to the balcony are oil portraits of Pasadena Playhouse founder Gilmore Brown. The wall facing visitors as they enter boasts six vertical banners, adorned with a selection of past hit plays and historical photographs, including one of Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett in the 2006 production of August Wilson’s Fences and another of Mary Bridget Davies in A Night with Janis Joplin from 2015.

A particularly significant oil painting hangs nearby, over the Spanish console. It shows the jubilant crowd in front of the Pasadena Playhouse on opening day, and it was painted by the architect Elmer Grey himself. After years hanging in the playhouse’s library, where it was seldom seen by the general public, Grey’s work now has its proper pride of place.

The Fundamentals of Self-Care

Stressed out by the election? Consider Tracey Cleantis’ tips for nurturing yourself.

Self-care is, to a large extent, a framework for seeking happiness.

— Tracey Cleantis, An Invitation to Self-Care

Walking into Tracey Cleantis’ home office in Pasadena’s San Rafael district, one encounters all the elements of a relaxing spa — soft lighting; the aroma of a scented candle in the air; plush, inviting couches and chairs. It’s an appropriately welcoming, stress-free place. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, Cleantis, a gracious and elegant woman who greets a visitor with a big smile and an easy laugh, makes her living helping folks dealing with a variety of difficult issues. In her new book, An Invitation to Self-Care: Why Learning to Nurture Yourself Is the Key to the Life You’ve Always Wanted, 7 Principles for Abundant Living (Hazelden Publishing), she aims to enlighten readers about the importance of “treating yourself like the person you respect and care about the most.”

The concept of self-care has been having its moment in the spotlight lately, with numerous books and articles written on the subject. “As a Google search term,” Cleantis says, “‘self-care’ hit its pinnacle the weekend after the presidential election.” Indeed, anxiety since last Nov. 8 is so common, mental health professionals have given it an unofficial diagnosis: post-election stress disorder. (On that subject, she offers coping advice: “Set limits for yourself, when and how much you’re allowing yourself exposure to Twitter feeds and news media. It’s still going to be there at the end of the day.”)

Why another book on self-care? Cleantis argues that most self-care advice is superficial. Most people assume it is “what you do when you’re burned out, when you have nothing left,” she says. “It’s what you do on Saturday and Sunday after you’ve ignored yourself all week — going to the spa or getting your nails done or treating yourself in some way.” Cleantis adds that true self-care is something that should be done every day, in every aspect of one’s life: psychologically, emotionally, physically, spiritually — in relationships both personal and professional, at work and play; in dealing with one’s finances; even in relation to physical belongings. “It’s essentially about being in a relationship with you, listening to yourself, being an adult,” she says.

In An Invitation to Self-Care, Cleantis points to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid with basic human necessities at the bottom and self-actualization at the top, and how certain needs have to be fulfilled along the way before you can reach the peak. She says Maslow was a self-care expert before the term was coined. Inspired by his writings, Cleantis developed her own ideas, focusing on seven principles she reinforces throughout the book: Self-care is a daily, lifelong practice; it is self-love; it requires taking personal responsibility; it means noticing what matters to us; it requires attention and responsiveness; it must be realistic to be effective; and it precedes self-fulfillment.

To help understand these concepts, Cleantis categorizes self-care in different hues of “magic” — white, gray and black — which, she is quick to point out, has nothing to do with the occult, but rather is used as shorthand. “A wonderful, surprising and almost miraculous method of change,” she says. “White magic” encompasses the ideals of self-care that we all pursue (or should pursue) as a matter of course — things like going to the dentist twice a year, getting an annual mammogram, participating in regular exercise, sleeping eight hours a night. “Black magic” is the opposite: drinking too much, sex addiction, compulsive shopping or overeating — in other words, activities that can bring harm, bodily or otherwise.

“All of those things, in some ways, are an attempt at self-care,” Cleantis says of black magic, “to change how you feel and to take some difficult stressor and make it tolerable, but that’s never okay. What I’m particularly interested in is shining a light on the ‘gray magic’ self-care — things like watching too much television or eating ice cream for dinner or going to Sephora to buy another lipstick. Sometimes you need that and it’s okay to give space for things like that; there’s value in it.” It’s when eating ice cream for dinner happens regularly that it might suggest there’s a need for something more, something deeper, in one’s life.

Filled with personal anecdotes, real-life stories, quizzes and self-assessments to help readers along the way, An Invitation to Self-Care is aimed at both women and men, dispelling the myth that self-care is just for mothers, health-care professionals and other caregivers, Cleantis says. In reality, “all of us are in the self-care business, even if we aren’t doing a very good job at it.” She says, in fact, that men tend to be better at self-care than women. In interviewing men for the book, she found that they tended to have “an absolute commitment to certain aspects of their self-care [anything from a standing date with a golf club to ritually going to Starbucks]. I didn’t hear that as loudly from women. Things were a little more negotiable for them,” she says. “I found myself admiring the male attitude of ‘This thing is for me and I’ve got to do it.’”

In fact, there was a time when Cleantis wasn’t very good at her own self-care. “I hate to admit it, but I’ve been lousy at it at times, coming as I do from a family that neither modeled self-care nor taught me its value,” she writes. “I’ve always tended to neglect my needs, even well into adulthood. Once, during a period of exceptionally bad self-care, a friend suggested that if I were treating a child the way I was treating myself, I would lose custody.”

She changed her approach after going through a particularly difficult period in her 30s. At the time, Cleantis desperately wanted to have a baby and spent more than $100,000 in her attempt to have a biological child, undergoing four rounds of in vitro fertilization and 21 of artificial insemination. Even a later attempt at adoption didn’t work out. “I became addicted to the dream,” she recalls. “I believed that the only way I could be happy was to have a child of my own. There were tons of books telling me I could do it, in all sorts of genres: if you believe it, you can see it; if you make a vision board for it; if you see this right doctor or if you do this right thing — but there was nothing saying how to deal with the death of a dream.”

From this pain emerged Cleantis’ first book, The Next Happy: Let Go of the Life You Planned and Find a New Way Forward (Hazeldon Publishing; 2015). “I wanted to normalize for people that sometimes no matter what you do and how hard you work, dreams don’t work out. So it became a guidebook to surrender. I found out that a lot of therapists were giving The Next Happy to their patients who weren’t dealing with infertility but who needed to learn to do self-care.”

That knowledge was the inspiration for An Invitation to Self-Care. “In a way, by writing this book, I’m getting to do what I wanted to do with having a child — I’m helping people come to take better care of themselves. It has certainly helped me. I am kinder to myself and have a more responsive, tending internal voice just by being with those seven principles.”

Before she became a licensed marriage and family therapist in 2008, Cleantis worked as a newspaper journalist and later wrote the “Freudian Sip” blog for Psychology Today. She says she has always been fascinated by people’s motivations and the why of things. She doesn’t see much difference between her two professions. “In some ways, they’re not so different. It’s all about, ‘Tell me your story. What made you do this? Why are you doing it? Where does this stem from?’

“In my work as a therapist, I always feel like I’m just a couple of feet ahead, shining a light on the process and helping people come to their own answers,” she continues. “I don’t want to tell you how to do self-care and I don’t believe there’s just one answer. What I hope people walk away with is the ability to ask themselves better questions so that they can continue to check in [with themselves] every day.”


Many baby boomers, among the first generation to be bitten by the exercise bug, are now paying the piper in pain.

Susan J. Long lives life in forward motion.

The Pasadena resident played competitive tennis in high school and college, and early in her marriage to Tom Long, both ran. When tennis beat up their joints too much, the couple started cycling in 2006, eventually riding up to 60 miles a day, and touring the U.S. and Europe. But by then, Long’s athleticism had taken its toll.

Enter pain. Long, now 68, first noticed it in her left knee in 2011.  Arthritis. She tried injections, topical ointments, physical therapy and over-the-counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for two years. Eventually, the pain exceeded her tolerance threshold. It would take a full two minutes for the wincing and hurt to subside when she stood up from sitting. Unable to cycle, Susan handed her bike to Tom, exasperated. “I am done,” she said.

In October 2013, she had complete knee replacement surgery. That was on top of another procedure she’d had 10 months earlier — a complete reverse reconstruction of her shoulder, replacing both the ball and socket with metal parts. The cause was a fall she’d sustained when she reacted too slowly to cyclists stopping suddenly in front of her. Her surgeon said existing osteoporosis had caused her shoulder to shatter so severely.

“So here I am, years later, cycling,” said Long, speaking by phone from New Zealand, where her cycling group was touring the island, pedaling up 2,000-foot-high hills and up to 50 miles a day. “Today we went deep into a cave where the glowworms are and then rafted down the river. I was thinking all along that I would never have been able to do any part of that tour if I hadn’t gotten a new knee.”

Aging baby boomers — the 76.4 million Americans born from 1946 to 1964 — are finding that habitually active lives have a flipside: painful arthritis and worn-out, achy joints. With many boomers ignoring their age as they engage in physical activities, some are outliving their joints.  Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, coined the term “boomeritis” to describe arthritis, tendonitis and bursitis afflicting aggressively physical boomers.

Indeed, arthritis is the leading cause of pain and disability globally, according to the Mayo Clinic. Recent studies suggest that by 2030, when the last of the baby boomers turns 65, the number of people 65 and older with arthritis and chronic joint symptoms will double. From 2010 to 2012, an estimated 52.5 million U.S. adults (22.7 percent) were diagnosed with arthritis (joint inflammation) and osteoarthritis (degenerative cartilage disease of the joints), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Boomers are faring worse than their parents for a couple of reasons: One, they are in the first generation to make vigorous exercise an important part of their lives, and any high-impact movements make their joints especially susceptible to arthritis. And previous injuries, such as torn ligaments, fractures or sprains, in their younger years can also lead to arthritis.

But fitness obsession isn’t the only cause of boomers’ joint ailments. Paradoxically, another problem is their weight: boomers have higher rates of obesity and arthritis than their parents, “the silent generation” (born 1925–42), and they were heavier at a younger age than their predecessors, a 2005 American Journal of Public Health study found. The study suggests that obesity contributes to more cases of arthritis in boomers, and the overweight 65-and-older set are at greater risk for arthritis. Some 23 percent of overweight older adults and 31 percent of the obese ones were diagnosed with arthritis, according to the study.

“Baby boomers are one of the biggest generations in total numbers, and they are staying physically active while they age, and they expect to stay active while they age,” said Dr. Thomas Muzzonigro, a Pennsylvania orthopedic surgeon who chairs the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons’ communications committee. “Older generations gave up physical activity as they aged. I never saw my grandparents do any active sports. They were old at 50.”

At 50, Dr. Muzzonigro is nothing of the sort, but the former rugby player is also an example of the boomeritis epidemic. He still works out and plays football and basketball, but his arthritic back prompted him to add yoga with his daughter. Though many boomers are still active and fit, he says that he has conversations with people all day “where I say, ‘You know you have two bad knees, but I cannot do surgery safely unless you lose weight.’ Then they say, ‘How can I lose weight when I have two bad knees?’”

For Brandon Flowers, 53, fitness is not just a lifestyle but also a calling. As owner of Dynamix Strength Advantage in Eagle Rock for the past 24 years, he lives what he preaches. Flowers uses weights, rubber-tubing resistance training, balance boards, stability balls and discs in his training sessions. He offers them twice weekly for employees at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and for cancer survivors at The Wellness Community in Pasadena. But after a life of playing football, running and working out, Flowers’ knee was shot despite employing all his own strengthening tactics. “I had severe tri-compartmental degenerative arthritis,” he said, adding that he was three weeks post-surgery and rehabbing with ice and elevation. “The technical term for what the MRI showed was the tibia and thigh bone were kissing each other.”

A self-described “big guy,” Flowers had knee surgery in high school to repair torn ligaments. His knee became arthritic and by the time he was 50, an orthopedic doctor said he would need a new joint. Three weeks into recovery, he is stir crazy but energized by the prospect of returning to an active life, pain-free. “The knee got to a point where I just could not keep going,” he said. “I was living with ice packs and anti-inflammatory [drugs] and physical therapy.”

Around 7 million Americans are living with a hip or knee replacement and, in most cases, are mobile, according to the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 2015 study. About 1 million replacement surgeries are done annually. By 2030, when the youngest boomers turn 65 and the oldest boomers are 84, annual demand for total hip replacement is estimated to almost triple, from 209,000 to 572,000. Total knee replacement is estimated to increase more than seven times over the same period, from 450,000 to 3.48 million a year.

Recovery from knee or hip replacement surgery is arduous, but Flowers is sure he will get back to his “normal” active self. The doctor said he could expect to be 80 percent back to normal in 10 to 12 weeks. As for Long, she said that with each surgery (she also broke her neck in a car accident), she feared she would never reclaim her former life as an active and vibrant woman. “Much to my surprise, in each case, I did recover,” she said. “With my broken shoulder I thought I would never be able to lift even a coffee cup and with my knee, I thought I would never be able to push one pedal stroke on a bike. The body is an amazing thing. It does heal, along with the heart and soul.”

Julena Lind, 69, a retired university administrator, is six months into her recovery from a hip replacement surgery. A life of running, jumping, skiing, skating, high-impact aerobics and squatting, plus genetics (her mother had arthritis and hip replacements) had resulted in arthritic hip pain which first appeared in occasional twinges at age 60. But the pain did not impinge on her ability to exercise as intensely as she liked for some time. It would be eight years later, when the pain grew so severe that Lind stopped high-impact workouts but continued doing low-impact training sessions.

“There was no way I could run, do jumping jacks or squats anymore,” said Lind, who sat gingerly, nursing a cup of Earl Grey tea, at Starbucks. “My ortho said you need a hip placement, you have no more cartilage. It is bone on bone.” Whippet-thin and a longtime exercise addict, Lind says she decided at that appointment not to have the surgery yet. She wanted to wait until it ‘‘hurt a lot.’’

That didn’t take long. “Ten months later, it hurt a lot,” said the Santa Monica resident, and her doctor again recommended surgery. “I was able to accept it,” she said. “The ortho said you are going to do fine. You are fit.” On the third day post-surgery, Lind walked for 2½ hours along the Venice Boardwalk.  On the fifth day, she returned to the gym doing three to four low-impact aerobic classes a week. But, no more jumping or low squats. Ever.

Some boomers try musculoskeletal strengthening and fitness training rather than surgery. One of them is Patti Sheaff, 61, who has been surfing for 48 years. She started skydiving at 28 and snowboarding in her early 40s, which took her all over the U.S. and Canada. With all that snowboarding, her sacrum (lower spine) took a thorough beating, fracturing several times. After a bad fall in 2010, the Santa Monica adventurer had to hang up her snowboarding boots. A bone density test revealed she had arthritis, scoliosis and osteoarthritis. Yearly bone density tests, she says, show continuing bone loss.

To abate it, Line drinks bone broth and takes supplements with bisphosphonates, calcium and magnesium. For two years, she stopped taking any pain medication and has been doing isometric poses combined with disciplined breathing exercises to strengthen her body’s musculoskeletal structure. She has been able to surf, paddleboard and body surf pain-free. “The idea [of isometric exercises] is for the muscular structure to absorb the impact of pounding rather than your skeleton,” she said, adding that she is studying a strengthening method to reduce pain, touted by buff actor Chris Hemsworth, called Foundation Training; it was created by a North Carolina–based chiropractor named Eric Goodman (

Joint replacement surgery is major surgery and the remedy of last resort. Rehabilitation and physical therapy is typically prescribed for three months or more. It can be challenging and painful. But many boomers who opt for surgery to stay active say it is worth it. Today’s state-of-the-art materials and methods are far better than even what was available in 2000, Muzzinigro said. Replacements simply last longer, so that if a person in his/her 50s or 60s undergoes joint replacement today, it will likely last a lifetime.

Even though boomers typically pursue a physically active life, most understand that at some point, they may have to alter their attack-it attitude. As for the Longs, who have found their post-tennis passion in travel cycling with a tight group of friends, they know at some point they may need an assist. “Electric bikes are coming into fashion,” said Susan Long, referring to what is known as “pedal-assist electric bikes.”  “And we often say now that when we get into our 80s, perhaps we’ll want to get that extra boost!