All posts by Mary Fagnano

We're baby boomer/ empty-nesters who gave away over half of what we owned, sold our big house and moved into a loft in Downtown Los Angeles. In this blog we'll share how we've adapted to urban life and pursued our passions: cooking, entertaining, restaurants, retail, style, decor, fitness & health, organization, work/ life balance, and supporting the revitalization as wells as human needs within this vibrant and diverse city.

Dominican Republic Trip: The Big Picture

There’s a sign along the 10 Freeway in Santa Monica that designates it as the “Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway.” It’s not something I ever noticed, but since returning home from the Dominican Republic, it’s now taken on a special significance.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Less than a week ago, in Santo Domingo, Jay and I stood overlooking the mouth of the Ozama River which brought Christopher Columbus to the land he designated as “The New World.”

Doors to one of the old buildings near the Spanish Fort
Doors to one of the old buildings near the Spanish Fort
The National Mausoleum was the last building built by the Spanish it houses the tombs of the heroes of Santo Domingo
The National Mausoleum was the last building built by the Spanish it houses the tombs of the heroes of Santo Domingo

 

Sarah looking out on the river that brought Columbus to the New World
Sarah looking out on the river that brought Columbus to the New World

 

 Our return trip to Los Angeles a few days later was much more than a flight from one destination to another.  We traveled in two days (with an overnight stay in Ft Lauderdale) what took centuries for explorers to accomplish.  We were completing the first leg of  an exploration of our own, looking for a new world of purpose to honor the life of our son, Nick.  We discovered treasure in the Dominican Republic with nine other wonderful fellow voyagers and the dedicated translators and program administrators who were all part of  our journey.

Dominican Republic Team at the site of the Eternal Flame Mausoleum
Dominican Republic Team at the site of the Eternal Flame Mausoleum

Our ultimate discovery centered around how a united effort can affect  transformation within an entire community such as the one in  Herrera where we want to continue to focus our resources on the Tia Tatiana school that serves 300 kids in one of the most impoverished sections of Santo Domingo .

While on this trip we had the opportunity to learn a little about the history of the Dominican Republic and the culture of its people .   Of course there’s baseball; the reason why Nick had a special place in his heart for the Dominican.  But more importantly there’s a spirit of the people, woven from long threads of  a colorful but slightly frayed history, that continues to hold this country together all the way from its beginning as the first land in the Americas to experience the European way of life to a country that has one of the most racially intermixed populations while being almost 100% Christian.

The Vision Trust team took us to the site of several national monuments, including the mausoleum where the heroes of the country are entombed. Among the other  old buildings on this site is the first fortress in the Americas.

The oldest fortress in the Americas
The oldest fortress in the Americas

Like any other country, the Dominican Republic has had its struggles. Of those who first welcomed Columbus to the land few, if any, native descendants of the indigenous population are left due to disease brought by the early settlers as well as the trials of enslavement the natives endured. Also Spanish settlers brought their African slaves with them and then brought more slaves directly from Africa to build up and, in some cases, defend the island. Slavery was first abolished in the Dominican in 1801, then reinstated. It was finally abolished permanently in 1822.  The history of the island includes invasions by the English and the French and then a war against  the Spanish rule by those, mostly from Spain, who had settled the island . And in the 20th Century, despite being a declared democracy, Dominican leaders came into power and became dictators.  In 1965 there was an uprising and U.S. troops landed on the island much to the disapproval  of many Dominicans.  Eventually a truce was reached while fear in the U.S. was that the Dominican Republic would go the way of Cuba.

During each of these periods of turmoil, those who were poor suffered the most. Today a president of the Dominican Republic has a term limit of four consecutive years (but can be re-elected four years later) and within that short time, they try to make an impact on the county.  The former president focused on infrastructure by building roads and bridges.  The current president has committed to raise the country’s GDP budget allocated to education from a mere 2% to 4% which includes mandating all-day classes for grades 1-12.  Currently, students only have a half-day of school.  The changes have been a long time coming and are supposed to go into effect soon but the country is realizing there currently aren’t enough classrooms to accommodate this shift as previously classrooms doubled for two grades–one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  So until enough classrooms are ready, the mandate can’t be fully activated.

Prior to our trip, Vision Trust sent us information explaining that the Dominican is a conservative country in terms of dress.  For the most part, men and women don’t wear shorts (which was almost a deal-breaker for Jay..but he found some great lightweight Nike golf pants and got over it) and women cover their shoulders at least with short sleeves–even when the humidity is 85%.

The Dominican flag, established November 6, 1844 when the Dominican Republic declared independence from Haiti, was designed to tell the story of the country.

Flag of the Dominican Republic
Coat of Arms of the Dominican Republic

The coat of arms that appears at the center depicts an open bible and a cross. The bible verse is believed to state  “And the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:32).   The bay laurel branch and the palm branch bracket the flag-draped shield and the words “Dios, Patria, Libertad” (God, Fatherland, Liberty) appear overhead.  The colors of the flag stand for the blood shed for freedom, the blue skies, and white for peace, dignity, faith, honor and pride.  The cross appears again as it divides the flag into quadrants.

The flag is also connected to the national dish called  “La Bandera” (translation: “the flag”) referring to the fact that the colors of the food on the plate are like those of the flag (although I’ve yet to see blue appear on any of the plates I was served).  The staples of La Bandera  are rice, beans and chicken–usually served with salad, a sweet side dish like caramelized ripe plantains, and a fried side dish such as tostones (fried green plantains) or torrejas de berenjena  (fried eggplant).  Every main meal we ate came with rice and beans, sometimes with chicken  and other times with   la bandera platedelicious casseroles combining traditional ingredients by mixing the fried, sweet and savory flavors.   Only when we ate at Josiah’s house, where they have their own organic garden, were we told it was OK to eat the salad.  We were warned never to even sip tap water and the likelihood that salad is washed from the sink kept it off our menu during the trip.

Bottled water is everywhere and you can be fairly sure that ice in all the restaurants is made with purified water. No one in our group had any food or water issues.   And speaking of  food, breakfast every morning  was scrambled eggs, toast, fresh fruit, and–being a big fan of dried cereal–I was very excited to have the option of the Dominican version of “Total.”   I looked forward each morning to these  big, crunchy,  multi-grained flakes that held up nicely in a bowl of milk  with sliced bananas on top. Since I tended to be the last one up in the morning, this quick breakfast was just perfect.

  We were also treated to the ingredient  most critical to starting the day:  rich, smooth and toasty Santo Domingo coffee!  It gave all of us coffee drinkers the jump-start we needed to accomplish our daily goals.  Some on the team couldn’t get enough of it– and there was always a fresh pot available until the last person called it a night.

In terms of the accommodations, we were perfectly comfortable on our bunk bed mattresses and we even had our sheets change  half-way through our visit. All eleven of us managed to get fairly decent water pressure and warm temperature when it came to sharing the 3 showers in the house. (there was an additional bath without a shower, too).  Most of us packed pretty light for the trip which was never a problem since our “house moms,”   would launder anything we needed.

The internet in the house worked great and usually there was an hour or so every evening where everyone silently sat around the table at their computers answering emails or updating friends and family on how the trip was going.

Evenings sometimes involved group excursions walking  up the street for ice cream or sweet empeñadas.  We also had to visit Bravo, the modern supermarket  one block away, that featured a glassed-in  exotic bird aviary across the entire front of the store.  This store was our source for the coveted  bags of ground and whole bean Santo Domingo coffee that us caffeine cravers squeezed into every available space in our suitcases to insure we would have a stash back home.

By the time our trip was coming to an end, the people who facilitated all our activities and needs were like extended family to us.  Nelson, who is the Executive Director of Vision Trust Dominicana, was an encouraging presence coming and going from his office in the mission house.  He has an amazing staff that  supports him in managing the 11 projects  they serve including Tia Tatiana School in Herrera and the Remar orphanage, plus an orphanage for deaf children, an orphanage on the Haitian border, and  a house for girls who have been rescued from human trafficking . Nelson was with us almost every day either joining us for breakfast, visiting Tia Tatiana School with us as well as  taking us to his favorite Dominican rotisserie chicken restaurant (which was right on par with the incredible food his mother and her helper cooked for us every day in the mission house).  The last night Nelson shared his fascinating life story with us– which I won’t spoil for you.  It’s one of the many reasons that makes it worthwhile to plan a Vision Trust trip to the Dominican to hear it for yourself.

Nacho (real name: Ramón) was our cheerleader, translator, driver, and new best friend.  His constant smile and great stories kept us going.  Daniel, a Vision Trust Director, was a real trooper in getting us around Santo Domingo shopping for items for the school. And Doris was truly an angelic presence every day, helping with translating and surprising us at the Sunday service where her soulful singing voice and her expressive translation made  sharing that morning of thanks  for the blessings in each of our lives– without measure or comparison– a deeply emotional experience.

In previous posts I’ve covered our activities day by day so this final recap is just going to focus on what I think our whole team would agree we’re most  proud of, namely what we accomplished at Tia Tatiana School.

Entrance to Colegio Hogar and Tia Tatiana School in Herrera
Entrance to Colegio Hogar and Tia Tatiana School in Herrera
other view of school entrance at Tia Tatiana School in Herrera
Other view of school entrance at Tia Tatiana School in Herrera

 

 

 

 

 

From speaking with Nelson we learned that the area of Herrera, where we decided to focus our resources at the Tia Tatiana school, came about as people from the country, who had not previously been welcome in the city,  built their own community without any planning or government oversight.  Herrera is a ramshackle assortment of structures, one on top of the other, with narrow passageways and few streets (see previous Dominican Republic posts).  There are no public areas, parks, or playgrounds and it continues to be one of the poorest sections of the Dominican Republic with the lowest per capita income level (average  is $200 a month) and only 19% of the students complete a high school education.

We each easily transported through customs the computers that our hero, Mark Haney, was able to secure and distribute to us prior to our trip.  With the expertise of Mark, Todd, Sarah, Rosie, Anne, and Judy, the computers were successfully installed, connected to wireless internet service,  and received the finishing touch of getting  the wires hidden below the tables.  These portals to yet another type of new world stood ready to help guide the Herrera children, many of whom have never stepped beyond a 10-mile radius of their neighborhood.  Instead of 30 kids peering over each other’s shoulders at only five barely-functioning computers with limited, if any, internet access there are now 30  top quality systems in place. The installation day brought out our sense of accomplishment along with lots of sweat and empty water bottles!

New computers donated by Retail ROI ready for action at Tia Tatiana School in Herrera
New computers donated by Retail ROI ready for action at Tia Tatiana School in Herrera
Working on my station thanks to all the help from Sarah!
Working on my station thanks to all the help from Sarah!
New computers installed at Herrera School by ROI volunteers on the trip to Santo Domingo
New computers installed at Herrera School by ROI volunteers on the trip to Santo Domingo
New computers donated by Retail ROI ready for action at Tia Tatiana School in Herrera
New computers donated by Retail ROI ready for action at Tia Tatiana School in Herrera

When we found that the computer lab installation task went by so fast,  we felt like we needed to take on something else.  Knowing we still had the donations from St. Brendan School and some contributions from ROI,  we hit on the idea of an extreme classroom makeover.  We told Evalise, the principal, what we wanted to do and, with her blessing, we went from classroom to classroom assessing the needs and talking, via a translator, to each teacher to see what they most wanted for their classroom.  The number one request was to get rid of the old, dilapidated desks and replace them with communal work stations.  Teachers’ desks were also in bad shape and many of the classrooms needed basic supplies, books,  and learning aids for math, biology and geography.

Here are examples of what we saw in the various classrooms (and keep in mind that the classrooms for grades 5-8 have to be shared with high school students in the afternoon).

Examples of other classrooms at Tia Tatiana School in the Dominican Republic
little kids
Younger kids at Tia Tatiana School in the Dominican Republic
little kids at desks
1st or 2nd graders at Tia Tatiana School in the Dominican Republic
middle grade class
Nicely done classroom but really worn out desks at Tia Tatiana School in the Dominican Republic
older kids class
More worn out desks at Tia Tatiana School in the Dominican Republic
Examples of other classrooms at Tia Tatiana School in the Dominican Republic
Examples of other classrooms at Tia Tatiana School in the Dominican Republic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the extreme classroom makeover we decided to pick the 6th grade classroom with its bare walls, worn-out and desks and lack of storage space and supplies.

6th grade--the lucky classroom for the 1st extreme makeover
6th grade–the lucky classroom for the 1st extreme makeover
6th grade pre extreme makeover
6th grade pre extreme makeover
Grade 6 before the makeover
Grade 6 before the makeover
Grade 6 before the makeover
Grade 6 before the makeover

Let the shopping begin!

IMG_1096
Greg loaded and ready to roll with tables and cabinet pieces from Ikea
Mary and Greg rolling the Ikea carts with the tables and the cabinets
Mary and Greg rolling the Ikea carts with the tables and the cabinets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ikea had exactly the right tables and we were able to find seven where the tabletop color and the table legs would all be the same.

The next challenge was loading …

Jay supervising the loading Ikea tables and cabinets for classroom
Jay supervising the loading Ikea tables and cabinets for classroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

And unloading…

Unloading the new desks in Herrera
Unloading the new desks in Herrera
Tia Tatiana student volunteers to the rescue
Tia Tatiana student volunteers to the rescue

And the assembly:

Assembling the tables
Assembling the tables
When it comes to cabinet assembly pros like Mark make it look easy
When it comes to cabinet assembly pros like Mark make it look easy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final results blew both the students and the teachers away!  Even we were amazed at the complete transformation…

The reveal--a beautiful new 6th grade classroom for Tia Tatiana students
The reveal–a beautiful new 6th grade classroom for Tia Tatiana students
What a difference!
What a difference!

But the best part was when the students came into the classroom the next morning:

Excited to start the day in their makeover classroom
Excited to start the day in their makeover classroom
The boys love it, too!
The boys love it, too!
Excited students to see their new classroom
Excited students to see their new classroom
School just got more fun
School just got more fun
Joy and surprise for teacher!
Joy and surprise for teacher!
Heading to the new supply cabinet
Heading to the new supply cabinet
A perfect fit!
A perfect fit!
Happy students!
Happy students!
Ready to learn
Ready to learn

When we saw the impact this change made on the students it affirmed that we had discovered  a way we could really impact change for these kids.  We figured that for $3,500 per classroom/ about $117 per student we could give them another reason to want to learn and reach for goals  here at Tia Tatiana school.  We could show them that their lives can get better and there is hope for their future.  And we saw how these students appreciated this investment we made in their school and we felt certain they would put it to good use.

But if the looks on the students faces weren’t enough to convey their appreciation, the words of the  boys who raised their hands to come up to the front on the class and share their feelings with us, left no doubt in our minds that we’ve started something very special at this school.

A big thank you from one of the student
A big thank you from one of the students
A student saying how much the new classroom means to him
A student saying how much the new classroom means to him

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We knew  that if we were going to do one classroom, we’d have to eventually…and in fairly short time…upgrade the other nine.   And after that there’s also a library to redo…

Library 2

Library book area
Library book area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evalise  also took us up to the top floor of the school building and shared with us her dream for a vocational training center that could go into an unused space that was formerly Vision Trust’s offices.

Former Vision Trust offices at Tia Tatiana school that Evalise would like to turn into a vocational training center
Former Vision Trust offices at Tia Tatiana school that Evalise would like to turn into a vocational training center

The center would teach sewing and other vocational and life skills to those students who may or may not be college-bound.

With the full wish list now compiled, we know we want to stay focused on our first goal of providing  every student and teacher the optimal learning environment with new, properly sized work stations, comfortable chairs, modern learning aids, and creative thinking tools.

One generous member of our team who made the trip with us has agreed to match the first $3,000 we raise, which will take us to $6,000.  My company, Chain Store Age, has already committed $4,500 and Jay and I are in for $2,000.  Another friend of ours said she’ll bake a coffee cake for anyone who donates $50 (and I promise to help her as I make a pretty mean sour cream, bundt coffee cake myself!).  So let’s say between the two of us we make 50 coffee cakes (we’re willing to do more though)–that’s another $2,500 which puts us almost half way to our budget of $3,500 per classroom for nine classrooms (total goal is $31,500).

Our next trip is going to be April 16-22.  We have four  months to raise the money and sign up the volunteers to join us on our return to Santo Domingo.  We’re also in the process of setting up the Nick Fagnano Foundation but in the meantime,  Wilshire Sports, Nick’s former neighborhood baseball organization is allowing us to use their 501 C3  to provide tax deductible status to all donations made in Nick’s name which will be earmarked for the Tia Tatiana school project.

Like early explorers who sought the riches of the lands they discovered; we, too, made this journey to find a new way to enrich our lives.  What we take back with us are treasures in the form of  smiles and gratitude from the people and children that we’ve met.  We thank Nick for leading us here and filling our hearts with a new sense of purpose where there is still a very large hole that will never completely close.  We invite you to  join us on this journey whether it be with your well-wishes and prayers or any other way you’d like  to come aboard.

Maybe some of us will be sitting here on April 16th, 2015  sharing stories and  our first beer in six days (oh, did I forget to tell you that the mission house is dry?).  We’ll be waiting for our flight to take us home after a week of impacting positive change throughout  an entire community by making a difference at Tia Tatiana school.

Jennifer, Mary & Jay at Santo Domingo airport before returning home
Jennifer, Mary & Jay at Santo Domingo airport before returning home

Dominican Republic Day 3 & 4: The Short Version

 

A common way for kids to get to Tia Tatiana school
A common way for kids to get to Tia Tatiana school

There is probably a book I could write about what we’ve experienced as well as accomplished since we arrived in the Dominican Republic.  It’s not just a story about these last few days, it’s as much about our hopes to continue to support the dedicated people who have chosen to provide these orphans and children raised in poverty with  their own hopes for the future.

The short version (with a longer one to come when I have a full day to write it) is that on Monday,  we were able to drive to a place called Josiah’s House in a town called San Pedro de Macoris, about 90 minutes from where we’re staying in Santo Domingo.

The Beautiful landscaping at Josiah's house
The beautiful landscaping at Josiah’s house

Josiah’s House was founded by Sarah & Steve Berger in honor of their son, Josiah, who went to heaven at 19 following a single car accident as he was on his way to start his freshman year in college.  The connection we feel to Steve and Sarah was enough to make us want to make the drive but we were also told that Josiah’s house is the gold standard of orphanages so we wanted to see what makes it so special.

Josiah's House meal and gathering porch
Josiah’s House meal and gathering porch

Only 10 boys live at Josiah’s house but the plan is to expand.  Grace Chapel, a church in Tennessee, owns the property for the Josiah’s House complex.  There is a couple from Tennessee as well as a couple from the Dominican Republic who serve as house parents to the boys.  And as you can see from the grounds, someone is very good at gardening.  The facilities here are like living in a country house added to the fact that a large commercial bakery is just behind the property and it smells like fresh bread all day long.

Driving back from Josiah’s House our minds were racing after seeing this beautiful place .  We brainstormed in the car about what we could do on this short visit to to best utilize the funds that we still had after buying all the sports equipment that we  delivered on Saturday to the Remar  orphanage.

Our main objective on this trip was to set up a computer lab at Tia Tatiana  school in Herrera where up to 30 kids at a time now  have access to learning through technology.  We accomplished this  lofty objective on Sunday with just  a few loose ends that needed finishing up on Tuesday (since Monday was a holiday –Constitution Day).   On the car ride from Josiah’s House  we decided that we’d like to approach the principal and the teachers at Tia Tatiana  school to see what would best answer their prayers  for each of their classrooms from preschool through 12th grade .

We decided to pick one classroom for an “extreme makeover” so we could show the difference that this type of investment could make on the way the class functions. Our goal was also to have a before and after example that will help towards raising the additional funds to make this a reality in every classroom.

Morning school assembly at Tia Tatiana School
Morning school assembly at Tia Tatiana  School

All day today was spent with Daniel, our dear, patient driver, navigating  through Santo  Domingo bumper to bumper traffic to find classroom work station tables and chairs.  Our other team, driven by Ramón,  was on supplies.  Between Ikea for tables and a school supply store for chairs, we found what we needed for furniture. Our other team hit about 4 different stores and came back with lots of things that were on the teachers’ wish lists.

Jay supervising the loading Ikea tables and cabinets for classroom
Jay supervising the loading Ikea tables and cabinets for classroom

We were able to get the one classroom completely finished and since my camera is still at photo capacity, you’ll have to wait until Saturday  to see the full visual results…yes, this post is a cliffhanger!

Tomorrow we’ll get to see the children (6th graders) come into their new classroom.  Tomorrow we’ll also be heading home.  We’re already planning to come back in April…hopefully with the funds to complete the classrooms AND with 12 volunteers to get the job done.  Want to join us?

 

 

 

 

Dominican Republic Day 2: Joys and Challenges

Waking up and smelling the coffee in the Vision Trust house becomes a favorite morning routine.  Although I must admit, I do like smelling the coffee while still lying in bed a bit longer while I listen to the voices of everyone gathering at the breakfast table.  Our house is one of the nicer ones in the neighborhood and it faces what is considered a park that wraps around a big water runoff pit across the street. Gates with padlocks at night seem to be common precautions around here.

The Vision Trust house where we are staying in Santo Domingo
The Vision Trust house where we are staying in Santo Domingo
The view across the street from the Vision Trust house
The view across the street from the Vision Trust house

 

 

 

 

Just about a ten-minute drive from the Vision Trust house is the most make-shift community I’ve ever seen.  The area is called Herrera and it was created by people who just started building dwellings anywhere they could find the space to do it.  Our driver maneuvered up and down some alleys before arriving at our destination for the day: A school and a rooftop church in a multi-story, rustic building.

The Herrera school with an open air church on the roof
The Herrera school with an open air church on the roof

Through the iron-gated door of the building, we followed our ears up several flights of stairs to the amplified sounds of music.   Upon reaching the top floor a lead female singer,  her five back-up singers, a drummer and a few other musicians were in full praise mode.   It wasn’t long before many of us were brushing the tears away.  In this place with so little, the joy in the room was embracing.  Doris, the lead singer, was also the translator for the pastor’s sermon.  She spoke in such clear, expressive English that we were convinced she was a professional entertainer.  But when we spoke with her after the service she insisted that she had been nervous translating and that she only sings in church.

Music on the rooftop church in Herrera
Music on the rooftop church in Herrera
The pastor and singer/translator
The pastor and singer/translator

 

From the time Doris first started singing to when she finished translating the pastor’s sermon, it must have been 90 minutes and 85% humidity.  She never sat down and never seemed to break a sweat.  THAT’S amazing grace!

After hugging everyone in the congregation at the end of the service, we spent some time hearing from the pastor, who spoke perfect English, about how he established this church.    Some of the kids wanted to know if they’d be able to get on facebook on the new computers we were bringing them and they were eager for us to take their pictures. Then we posed  for our own group photo.

Our group of volunteers with the church pastor
Our group  with the church pastor
Kids at the church were happy to get their picture taken
Kids at the church were happy to get their picture taken

 

 

 

 

 

After the service we were taken on a Sunday stroll through the maze of Herrera. We were lead by the youth pastor from the church who stopped and shook hands with residents along the way.   This 45-minute walk was one of the most startling and humbling experiences I’ve had so far on this trip.  The homes, for the most part, are cubes–one stacked on top of the other.  The streets are more like passageways and the life inside and out is a mixture of the full spectrum of the human condition.

View of Herrera from the roof of the church
View of Herrera from the roof of the church
Rooftops of Herrera
Rooftops of Herrera

 

 

 

 

 

There are a few scary scenes like the power lines that everyone taps into and the ditch flowing with trash and pollution that runs through this section of town,

Bootlegged power lines
Bootlegged power lines
Ditch full of trash
Ditch full of trash

 

 

 

 

 

Boys playing baseball with a piece of wood for a bat in a Herrera passageway
Boys playing baseball with a piece of wood for a bat in a Herrera passageway

We walked across one freshly paved street and were told it was a project that  Canada had taken on where they built a road through the town and covered up a portion of the polluted ditch.   Smiling faces  greeted us on every alley, pathway and street with “Hola” and “Buenos Dias” while we tried to keep a watch for motor scooters zipping by.

A family in front of their home in Herrera
A family in front of their home in Herrera

Most of the dwellings were tiny and plain but there were a few that stood out with gardens in front or elegant satin pillows and elaborately decorated artificial Christmas trees in the living room that we could see through the open doorways.  Businesses have popped up along the streets of Herrera –not that they have to apply for a permit to do so, we were told.

A store along our walk through Herrera
A food service option along our walk through Herrera

Our main job in Herrera was to set up the laptop computers that we had brought here from the States.  The Herrera school had been  operating without internet access and using severely outdated systems.  We were able to take down the old computer towers, hook up the wireless router, set up the 30  laptops to  Spanish, and attach  the keyboards, mouses and monitors all in just a little over an hour.

Jay and Sarah working on one of the laptops at th Herrera school
Jay and Brooke working on one of the laptops at the Herrera school
The team working on getting all the laptops functional
The team working on getting all the laptops functional
The finished computer lab at the Herrera School
The finished computer lab at the Herrera School

Our

Our reward for a job well done was to head over to the baseball stadium in Santo Domingo for a night game where the two most competitive teams in the Dominican Republic were playing each other.  Winter is baseball season in the Dominican and the Tigres del Licey, from Santo Domingo  and the Águilas Cibaeñas from the “other” capital, Santiago, have a rivalry that could be compared to that of the Dodgers and Giants.  Adding to the attraction of going to the game was the fact that former, Dodger and Dominican countryman, Manny Ramirez, was playing for the  Águilas.  The fans were into it and we joined them shouting “Mann-y! Mann-y!” Especially when Manny hit a homer that scored two more runs.

Santo Domingo baseball stadium
Santo Domingo baseball stadium
 Manny Ramirez on deck
Manny Ramirez on deck
Manny goes yard and brings in 2 more
Manny goes yard which also scores 2 more runs–everyone high-fives heading into the dugout

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jay and I couldn't help but get into the excitement, too
Jay and I couldn’t help but get into the excitement, too

Jay and I both brought a little bit of Nick with us to the game,–Jay in his NDHS cap and I was wearing my NDHS T-shirt.  He’s with us everywhere we go and in everything we do…and especially at a baseball game.

Aguilas fans cheer for Manny Ramirez
Aguilas fans cheer for Manny Ramirez

The clouds that had been gathering when the game first started decided to let loose in the bottom of the 5th inning.  We had perfect seats for the rain under the overhang so we stayed relatively dry while the teams tried to finish the inning but it started coming down so hard the game had to stop and the field had to be covered.

Rain delays the game
Rain delays the game

We had a great time experiencing  baseball in the country that loves it as much as the U.S. We ate delicious ballpark empeñadas, cheered with the fans and got soaked by the warm rain as we hurried  back to our car.  Surprisingly, there were no other fans leaving the park.  Everyone else was hanging out by the food stands on the lower level, having a great time  and waiting for the game to start up again.

I don’t know if that game ever did resume.  It’s been raining steadily all night with distant thunder in the background.  When we all got back to the house we reviewed the activities and emotions of the day and we all agreed, that even in the challenges and when situations  we encountered seemed far from what we would consider ideal, there was always joy to be found.

From DTLA to the DR with love from SBS Students

Nick Fagnano (class of 2008) honored by St. Brendan School classmates at Assembly
Nick Fagnano (class of 2008) honored by St. Brendan School students at Assembly

A few weeks ago, the students at St. Brendan School in Hancock Park invited Jay & me  to come to their assembly where they honored our son, Nick, (SBS class of 2008) who passed away on July 27th.   The assembly was the kick off for their Crazy Day fundraising effort to assist the children of orphanages and poor schools in the Dominican Republic that we would be visiting in November in Nick’s honor  .SBSAssembly

 

SBS Students sold treats and creatively dressed up their uniforms to raise money on Crazy Day
SBS Students sold treats and creatively dressed up their uniforms to raise money on Crazy Day

Crazy Day was wildly successful.  The students each had to pay $1 to get creative with their uniforms and they held a bake sale.  All the funds for the Crazy Day entry fee and the bake sale were donated and we were overwhelmed by the students’generosity.  Over $2,000 was raised!

Last night Jay & I arrived in the Dominican Republic and one of the first things our group did was go to Jumbo, the store that is most like a Target in the U.S.

Picking out sporting goods equipment at Jumbo, the big store in the Dominican
Picking out sporting goods equipment at Jumbo, the big store in the Dominican

We picked out lots of sporting goods equipment for the kids.

MF shopping carts

 

 

 

MF Jumbo Jay

 

 

This morning Jay & I woke up  in bunk beds in a house run by an organization called Vision Trust in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic.  Santo Domingo is the site of the first university, cathedral, castle, monastery, and fortress in the New World–that was back in the 1500s.

But today, only about 52% of Dominican Republic kids get an 8th grade education and, in rural schools, education stops at the 5th grade.   So here we are in this community far from Los Angeles, to spend time with kids that don’t have anywhere near what most U.S. kids are used to. Our goal is to bring them  love, have some fun and encourage them to stay in school.

The Vision Trust team including Jay Fagnano on far right arrive at Remar
The Vision Trust team including Jay Fagnano on far right arrive at Remar

Today started with breakfast and really good coffee served by the women who take care of the volunteers who stay at the Vision Trust house.  There are 10 of us on this trip from all over the U.S.  Each of us, prior to the trip, had been shipped three donated  laptop computers.  One of our jobs was to hand carry the computers on the plane to insure they made it safely here.  Tomorrow, we’ll be setting up these computers at a school in Herrera, which is considered one of the poorest sections of Santo Domingo.  We’re told that  squatters have built makeshift houses so randomly in Herrera that they’ve taken over streets even preventing cars from driving through some areas.

Our time today was spent at an orphanage called Remar which consists of 3 houses–one for girls and younger boys, one for the older boys and one for children that are HIV positive.   The orphanage is run by a man they call “Gallito,”and the older kids who live there have responsibility for the younger ones.  It’s remarkable how it works.  We pretty much spent the day playing with the children.  Jay went out to what they designated as the soccer field–a large patch filled with rocks, vines and stumps–and he got a baseball game going.

Jay and another volunteer play baseball with the boys at Remar orphanage
Jay and another volunteer play baseball with the boys at Remar orphanage

I did some craft bracelets with the kids until they took turns as  my official photographer and used my iPhone to take  pictures  of the day’s activities.  My new friend, Stefana, even  mastered the selfie!

Craft time at Remar orphanage
Craft time at Remar orphanage
Stefana masters the selfie
Stefana masters the selfie

 

 

 

 

 

The cooks at RemarWe had a big barbecue, which we were told is a rarity.  The kids get two meals a day where rice and beans are the staple and if there’s chicken, that’s a big deal.  Today we all got rice, beans, chicken, pork chops,  AND sausage.  We were told this feast was equivalent to a Thanksgiving dinner.

The buffet table
The buffet table
The younger kids at Remar sitting in the shady area of the patio
The younger kids at Remar sitting in  the shady area of the patio

Remar is just on the other side of the road from the ocean about ten miles past the Santo Domingo airport.  We heard a story today of a fashion designer who happened to be passing the building on her way from the airport and she asked her driver to pull over so she could see what was there.   In discovering the orphanage and seeing that it was in need of quite a few things, she decided to ask the girls from the orphanage if they’d like to be models in her next fashion show which is taking place in a hotel in Santo Domingo next Sunday.  She’ll be donating proceeds from the fashion show to the orphanage.  The girls are very excited about this and they each practiced their best struts down the catwalk  for us.

Stefana posing with Remar bus
Stefana posing with  Remar bus

It was an amazing day to see how content these kids are living  in bare minimum accommodations including only 1 bathroom for about 15 boys as the second one isn’t working and no one has time to find someone to fix it.  And the kitchen for the boys’ house is moving outside because they say it’s less dangerous there.  Some of this is hard to comprehend.

Boys Bunk Room
Boys Bunk Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MF boys house MF boys walking on road

Backyard at the boys' house
Backyard at the boy’s house with (L to R) Daniel, Anne, Jay, our translator “Nacho,” one of the boys, and Gallito, the head of  the Remar orphanage

Thanks to the generosity of the St. Brendan Students, and also to members of Notre Dame Knights baseball team who donated mitts,  the children at the Remar orphanage had an especially good day today.  If Stefana hadn’t taken so many pictures and drained my phone battery, I’d be able to show the basketball hoop that got set up, all the soccer and volley balls,  a new volley ball net, jump ropes, tumbling mats, game tables and baseball bats that we were able to deliver to these kids today.  And I’d be able to show you a picture of the beautiful rainbow that appeared in the sky just as we were getting ready to leave while some warm sprinkles came down from the clouds.  The rainbow that I know means that Nick was with us today.

 Jay and I are  a bit out of our comfort zone and I think the next few days may push us even further.  Jay couldn’t wait to lie down on his bunk after a full day of baseball in the hot Dominican sun!   I’m finding my limited Spanish doesn’t get me very far–but I know we’re both looking forward to what tomorrow will bring –maybe even a real professional Dominican baseball game,  Rumor has it one of Nick’s former Dodgers favorites, Manny Ramirez, is playing on a Dominican team that’s in town tomorrow night.

 

Breakfast, The Cathedral and a Play

My  post in today’s  Larchmont Buzz mentions a few places we like for breakfast in and around the Arts District.

Heart of Downtown on a Sunday

I also reflect on the sentiments of the play we saw at The Ahmanson, “The Trip to Bountiful,” and how fond memories can come from the city as much as they can from a small town upbringing.  Home is indeed where your heart…and your soul is.  I also write about why the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is such a special place for us.

Thursday Night at Grand Central Market in DTLA

Thursday Nights at Grand Central Market is the topic of my article today in  The Larchmont Buzz.   I’m glad Jay and I were able to get over to the market the other night because now I have to get busy packing.  I leave on Monday for Florida where I’m attending Chain Store Age‘s Executive SPECS Conference.  We’ll stay in the West Palm Beach area until November 7th when we leave for Santo Domingo, the capital of The Dominican Republic.  It’s going to be an entirely different downtown experience working at a school for 500 children, many of whom are orphans.  We’ll be helping to install a computer lab  and then spending the rest of our time playing with the children at this school as well as spending time with the children at a few other schools and orphanages in the area .  The Dominican trip is very much inspired by Nick who at 13 years-old wanted to help kids in the Dominican Republic knowing how much baseball is part of their culture.  Nick collected used baseball equipment from his little league teammates and sent it over to The  Dominican.   For our trip the  Notre Dame High School team is donating between 15-20  used baseball gloves for Jay to bring with him on the trip.  He better be sure there’s ice over there to put on his elbow!

In the meantime, work will be finishing up on the loft we purchased in the Eastern Columbia Building.  We plan to move in on Sunday, November 16th.  Before and after pictures will be coming!

My New Column in theLarchmont Buzz: Heart of Downtown

I was thrilled when Mary Hawley and Julie Grist, the founders of the Larchmont Buzz, asked if I’d like to write a column about what it’s like to live in Downtown Los Angeles.    My first column debuted yesterday. If you haven’t read it yet, check in out.  Would love to answer your questions about where to go and what to do downtown and please feel free to give me your requests for future columns.

The Heart of Downtown

 

Re-imagining DTLA Re-imaging Life

I visited USC today.  It was the first time I’ve been on the campus since Nick and I went for his orientation day.  I sat in the lecture hall that he would’ve sat in–Room 101 in Lewis Hall, the main building for The Price School of Public Policy.  I attended a guest speaker session with Councilmember José Huizar where he talked about the re-imagining of Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA).

Nick took this photo of me when I went with him to USC Orientation Day
Nick took this photo of me when I went with him to USC  on Transfer Student Orientation Day

I thought about what Nick would be processing as he heard Councilmember Huizar speak and I thought about what would excite Nick most about all the projects in the works in Council District 14 that encompasses all of downtown.

I thought about Laura and her husband Ken, recently married  30-somethings who have made their first home investment in a loft in the historic Rowan Building on Spring Street.  I thought about how this could have been Nick’s path in 10 years.

I wondered what Nick would’ve been thinking as he heard Huizar describe  the downtown revitalization as a process of “building a city within a city” since  Los Angeles itself is so vast and the downtown area is so concentrated.  I thought about why  Nick loved downtown and it made me realize that, if this is all done the right way, it’s about breathing life into the soul of our city and bringing it back to the vibrancy it once had…  if only that could be done with our loved ones no longer with us.

Things have already started changing .  The photo here was taken from our loft window looking out on 9th & Broadway.  Nick never got to see this.  I know he’d be proud.  I can hear him saying, “See, I told you it was just going to keep getting better!”  I particularly like  this photo because it shows 3 great things all in one frame:

3 great programs in one photo
3 great programs in one photo

1) A bike lane

2) Tables & umbrellas for people to sit outside and connect to the city life

3) A city worker taking  great care of the area –they are around all day, God bless them!

The umbrellas and tables stretch all the way north on Broadway and they’re  part of Huizar’s “Bringing Back Broadway” initiative with the intent to create public spaces and construct a streetcar rail to go all the way to 1st Street where there will be a new park.  There are plans to open the old theaters on Broadway as entertainment venues, attract new retailers and restaurants and convert unused upper floors of the beautiful old Broadway buildings to creative office or residential space.

And just a quarter mile away,  AEG renewed their interest last week in building an NFL Stadium near Staples Center which would bring additional revenue to downtown.   The overall idea is to create a city experience like New York, Chicago, Boston,  San Diego, San Francisco or Seattle where people want to walk and are offered lots of reasons to traverse the city on foot discovering the flavors and nuances of different neighborhoods.

DTLA has already established its neighborhoods with The Fashion District, The Historic Core,  Little Tokyo, Chinatown, The Arts District, The Bank District, South Park and even Bunker Hill where there are plans are to create a more walking-friendly route between that corridor and Disney Hall, The Music Center and the museums.

Amidst all this talk of transformation there’s also concern for the homeless and the issue of the density of the homeless population that is centered downtown.  I attended a homeless solutions panel that Huizar pulled together last Monday which opened up the dialog.  It also made it apparent that there are as many different perspectives on the situation as there are problems and potential solutions.  Humanizing homeless individuals seems to be one very important step rather than looking at them as one collective mass all with the same problems.   Nick was quite good with his outreach to homeless people –he didn’t just put a dollar in their cup — he’d buy them a water or a snack and he’d actually talk to them.

As I write this on the eve of (hopefully) signing the final escrow papers to be a home/loft owner downtown in the historic Eastern Columbia Building, I feel a passion for what DTLA has the potential to become.  I know a part of me feels this way because downtown’s transformation meant something special to Nick.  It’s why we decided to have Nick’s final resting place in the beautiful mausoleum in the lower level of The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Temple Street.  While the Cathedral is quite modern, the mausoleum has the exquisite stained glass windows from the original St. Vibiana’s Cathedral.  Each window is backlit and because they’re installed at floor level  the beauty of each window’s story can be appreciated without having to look high above or wait for the sun to be in just the right spot.  Our family’s permanent memorial is secured in the marble room where the window depicts the young Jesus, in a white tunic with gold sparkles, sharing wisdom with the elders.

Wisdom is the gift the young Solomon asked for in 1 Kings 3: 1-15.  Wisdom is what we hope for among those who are shaping the future of our city.  Kindness–a trait that was so much a part of who Nick was– is what we hope will spread across all cultures, beliefs and income levels for all who call  this City of the Angels our home.

 

Nick Fagnano’s Life: Bringing Together a Downtown Community

Looking for the rainbow
Looking for the rainbow

Accepting that your son will never again share your life on this earth is a state of mind and heart that transcends beyond any parent’s fleeting  thought of ever being in this most unthinkable of circumstances .

Even more unthinkable is the way  our precious 20 year-old son, Nick Fagnano, was killed –a  freak lightning strike on July 27th at Venice Beach on what all of Southern California perceived to be a tranquil Sunday afternoon.

The chance of being struck  by lighting on the beach in California is 1 in 7-10 million according to NASA Climatologist, Bill Patzert who is quoted on KTLA Channel 5’s website.   Patzert also said of the strike on July 27th, “It happened so quickly. … In itself, the randomness, makes it so frightening.”  The article also quotes Alex Thompson, a Venice local, who said it was sunny outside when the lightning and thunder first rolled in.  Rain, which usually precedes thunder and lightning, didn’t even occur until 30 minutes after the the lightning struck.  Everything about the weather was extraordinary including the fact that it took the life of one  incredibly extraordinary young man.  While others were injured; and one person critically; everyone else, out of thousands at the beach that day, survived.

 

Hundreds of people have been touched by Nick’s short life on earth and thousands, because of this so specific act of nature…and some say of God… have been impacted through the global coverage of what happened  when Nick left his two friends at the volley ball courts to go down to the ocean to rinse the sand off.

I will not dwell here on the grief in our hearts over Nick’s physical absence in our lives.  That is a given.  While there are so many perspectives to share, the one I want to express  is the search for the rainbow–the one that is hoped for after the storm.

The day Nick left us, as we numbly drove home from the hospital where he was pronounced dead,  I prayed I would see a rainbow–yet here in Los Angeles, the sun  continued to shine. The rainbow, did, however, show up in Colorado, as my friend and Eastern Columbia Building fellow resident, Jan McCarthy, was driving through the mountains thinking of Nick.  The rainbow was spectacular and it arched over the road and compelled Jan to pull over to take its picture.  She was 100% sure it was sent by Nick and she had no idea that it was what I’d been praying for…but Nick knew… and it’s my belief he sent it to me through Jan.

That’s what love does.  It connects us beyond what we can touch and see.

The rainbow has been the symbol of the  incredible community that’s surrounded us and made it possible to get up every morning since July 27th.  It’s the awareness that in the midst of this city, we have love and support from everywhere and from every stage of our lives as Nick’s parents.

Throughout  Nick’s life we’ve developed a strong community of friends– from Sherman Oaks where we lived for two years while Nick attended Notre Dame High School and played baseball for the Knights as well as the  incredible group of friends that we’d gathered from Nick’s preschool days at Wagon Wheel, to K-8th grade at St. Brendan School, to all the years of Wilshire Baseball where we  formed friendships with families throughout the Hancock Park Mid-City area where kids came  from all the various local public and private schools to play baseball together on the weekends.

Moving to a loft a little over a year ago in the Eastern Columbia Building in Downtown Los Angeles–although it was at Nick’s encouragement and with his great excitement that we did so– meant that we’d be leaving the kind of neighborhood community that we’d always been used to.  We felt secure in doing this knowing that we had such a great group of friends that were still relatively close by. We figured it would be OK if we were to become a bit anonymous in this downtown environment for the sake of a new adventure.  But anonymity  could not have been further from what we experienced–which brings me back to the rainbow.

Nick was never hesitant to say hello to a stranger.  When he decided to transfer from Santa Barbara City College and finish his last semester of sophmore credits at Santa Monica City College, he moved into the loft with us.  He’d always fill us in on who he met in the elevator or talked to up on the rooftop at the pool. Neither Jay nor I are shy, but Nick had a magnetism that made people want to talk to him.  Before we knew it, everyone in the building knew us because of Nick.  So now we had a whole new group of friends–of all ages– who thought we were cool because we were Nick’s parents.

Before long, Jay was helping  Zoe, the resident gardener in our building, transport organic compost from a special resource on the Westside  to the vegetable garden beds on the top of our building’s  parking garage.  I got involved in a women’s workshop program that Jan facilitates to encourage successful business strategies and entrepreneurialism. We’d meet people in the gym, in the elevator, taking Coco out for a walk or in Om Non, the little organic food store downstairs or at il Caffé, where Nick and I would get our latté in the morning.

Exploring beyond our corner of downtown on 9th & Broadway, Jay discovered the exciting new additions to Grand Central Market and became a huge fan of DTLA Cheese where he bonded with the owners Lydia and Reed.  I became involved in the DCBID monthly roundtable marketing group(Downtown Center Business Improvement District) where I’ve been able to get to know the leadership team and other members of the downtown retail and services community.

I met Autumn, the food & beverage manager of Ace Hotel at a yoga class before the hotel officially opened. Autumn hired Nick to work Friday-Sunday at Upstairs, the rooftop bar, where he became part of a whole new DTLA community of workers who are responsible for providing one of the best gathering spots for creative-minded people in Los Angeles.

And also part of the downtown experience is that all three of us, but Nick in particular, would stop and chat with Michael, the homeless man in a wheelchair who often hangs out on our corner.

This rainbow of new friends and people we connected to, in the middle of this city that is as diverse as it gets, has been another contributor to seeing our way this past month from one day to the next.

The old friends have swooped us up in their arms and have seen to our every need while the kindness of people that might otherwise have been strangers has shown us that there is so much love out there…sometimes in places where you’d never expect to find it.

Thanks to a dear friend who had connections to Tom LaBonge’s office (our District 4 City Councilman) the County Board of Supervisors adjourned their meeting in Nick’s honor and sent both Jay and I beautiful certificates signed by County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Tomas.  State Senator Diane Feinstein sent us a personal note as she heard about Nick through an intern who had been a classmate  at Notre Dame High School.  The DCBID adjourned their meeting in honor of Nick and posted a link to the scholarship fund we established at USC’s Price School of Public Policy, where Nick had been accepted as a junior transfer student this fall.  He was going to major in urban development and real estate and he wanted to be a part of the revitalization of Downtown L.A.

Nick lived his life creating community, bridging groups of friends and bringing people together who wouldn’t have otherwise been friends. He was that rainbow across the highway –connecting two sides in the most naturally beautiful way.  Nothing replaces his presence in our lives but we have a strong sense of his light shining down on us and on this city .  I’m convinced that his love for Los Angeles and the way it loved him back puts him right up there  in this City of the Angels with all the other special people who’ve contributed to making Los Angeles better and an ever- more welcoming place to live, work and visit.

Two weeks ago, the Eastern Columbia residents gathered for a Bounty of Life celebration to honor not only  Nick, but two other loved ones who passed away within a week of Nick.  An olive tree was planted that will be forever a reminder to us all of the gift of life and the peace that comes through extending ourselves to others.

On September 9th Ace Hotel will be holding a tribute to Nick on their rooftop.  Nick was given the nickname “Sparkles” by his co-workers as they said he always lit up the room.Ace Hotel DTLA_NickFagnano_eFlyer_v2  A lime tree will be planted on the roof and a plaque in Nick’s memory installed.   The lime tree will eventually produce fruit, the juice of which will be used in cocktails as a way to share Nick’s joyful spirit.  A custom T-shirt with the word “Sparkles,”  will be sold and the money donated to the Price School scholarship in Nick’s name.  Vendors have donated spirits and all the proceeds from  cocktails using those spirits will also be donated to the scholarship fund .

Both the Eastern Columbia gathering and the event at Ace Hotel are just two more amazing ways this city has come together for our family.

This weekend Los Angeles is hosting the Made in America Music Festival in Grand Park.  This is the first time that anything of this scope has taken place in Downtown Los Angeles.  Music was a big part of Nick’s life so I’m going to pray this weekend that Nick’s light will shine on the rainbow of people, sound, and experience coming to our city bringing out the best  in everyone–just like Nick has always been able to do.

As Nick’s parents, we are in no hurry to get over our grief.  It’s natural, it’s necessary and it’s deep within us, emerging whenever a good cry feels like it might help.  But in the midst of this grief we see so much beauty, hope and love all around us.  Angels swoop down in the most unexpected ways in the form of dearest friends as well as complete strangers.  No parent should ever experience the pain of having your pride and joy and your best friend no longer at your side, but all that we may have taken for granted is now replaced by a profound sense of being present in each cherished moment of life and of the undeniably essential presence of love.

Summer in the City DTLA Style

Why does summer always tease me into thinking  I’m a kid out of school with nothing but lazy days and plenty of time to figure out how I want to spend them?  Don’t I wish!  The M-F/ 8-7 reality means there are only so many hours to take advantage of what summer in the city has to offer.  Fortunately,  being in DTLA,  there’s always something going on and 4th of July in Grand Park really had the city showing off its best.  While it gets pretty crowded at night, we loved walking through the park mid-day and seeing the festivities getting started.

The Park, with City Hall in the background, looked beautiful.

The city dressed for summer celebrating
The city dressed for summer celebrating
4th of July in Grand Park before the crowds
4th of July in Grand Park before the crowds

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were two music stages, one with a DJ and one with live music starting at 4 p.m. I’m sure the night was totally happening but we were perfectly happy to roam during the peaceful, sunny early afternoon.   Friends asked us to join them that evening for the long-standing tradition of fireworks  at Wilshire Country Club just a few miles west on Rossmore between Beverly and Third.

A few weeks ago we got a group together on a Friday night to check out EAT, SEE, HEAR at the Autry Museum in Griffith Park.  There’s a great lawn where everyone brings low beach chairs and/or blankets, tons of food trucks show up and you watch a movie on an outdoor screen.  We sawThe Big Lebowski.  Dogs are welcome but we left Coco home for this one.

At least 20 food trucks showed up so the lines were never long
Blankets in front of the big screen at The Autry in Griffith Park

 

 

 

 

Not great photos, but these 2 guys were dead ringers for The Dude and Walter… and,  not to forget the deadest of all, Donny in the can.

Donny, gone but not forgotten
Donny, gone but not forgotten
The Dude abides and Walter dutifully brings snacks
The Dude abides and Walter brings snacks

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Last Wednesday night we needed to pick up a few things at Urban Radish for a party Jay’s catering this weekend.  Happily the shopping trip coincided with Jazz Night at Urban Radish market with the Kyle Crane Trio on the patio.   There’s a different dinner menu every week– I tried the grilled trout wrapped in prosciutto and Jay had roast pork with a sweet marinade.  We missed out on the full selection of sides by getting there closer to 8:00 pm  but the charred romaine , soba noodles, and organic multi-hued cherry tomato salad were all delicious and since we arrived late, the portions were extra generous.

Wednesday Jazz Night at Urban Radish
Wednesday Jazz Night at Urban Radish

Wine tasting is also part of Jazz  Night and UR has a great selection of bottles at the perfect temperature to buy and take to your patio communal seating table.  These gatherings are relaxed “downtowner” get-togethers–particularly for those who live in the Arts District. A full course meal is $15 .  The Curran Grenache Rosé  from the Santa Ynez Valley was as good as any we’ve ever tried… described as “A very pale salmon shade. Loaded with flavors of strawberry, mango , white peaches and green apples and exotic cardamom in the nose. (A) crisp wine with a firm backbone.” at $22.    And best of all, Coco was happy to be among other contented canines chilling under the tables.

A Mediterranean evening in LA
A Mediterranean evening in LA

Another evening we were invited to our friends’ house in Hancock Park where Jay got to be co-grillmaster–the one thing that he misses about living downtown.  It was a perfect Los Angeles evening where the breeze picks up at sunset and then everything calms to a still by the time the moon rises.  The lights strung across the picnic table, the pea gravel under our feet, the candles flickering, the freshness of the produce, the aroma of the grill, the fragrant trees surrounding us, and even the raccoon who ambled along the fence at one point–reminded us we’re as Mediterranean as it gets without spending 13 hours and 46 minutes en route.

And not in chronological order, but we celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary on June 30th.  It was a Monday night and rather than go out, we decided sometimes the best celebrations are the ones where you just stay home.  It was a beautiful night and we had the upper terrace of the Eastern Columbia Building  all to ourselves.  We took a picnic and set it up on the little bistro table where we could look out on the lights of the city.  We grazed on cheese and crackers, sipped a Sauvignon blanc, had a salad and dipped a crusty Bread Lounge baguette into the “good” olive oil and balsamic that we usually save for company.  We finished the evening off with the sweetness of strawberries and blueberries bought the day before at the Larchmont Farmers market.  The sweet, simple pleasures of summer…so far.

Anniversary dinner on the roof of the Eastern Columbia Building
Anniversary dinner on the roof of the Eastern Columbia Building