Aug 08

Las Vegas 2008

The Las Vegas Strip is home to Steve Wynn's la...

I’m in Las Vegas. Just like the last time I was in Vegas, I’m staying at the Riviera and attending a conference with internet people.  Unlike the last time, the chances of me having fun are really, realy high and Mark Warner’s not throwing a party in the Stratosphere’s tower.

But this isn’t about that stuff, this is about Vegas.  It’s been 2 years, 2 months and 2 days since I’ve been here and the city has shifted again like sand dunes in the desert.  Old buildings gone, with new ones being built or already built.  The Stardust was demolished soon after my last visit and across the street, Steve Wynn built another edifice to his ego, aptly named ‘Encore’.  The Aladdin has been revamped and is now Planet Hollywood, the Hooters Hotel & Casino isn’t brand new and the Trump tower is complete.

For the Strip, keeping fresh is paramount.  Some places do it, some even do it well…others struggle.  But it’s not just the Strip that’s getting revamped.  The suburbs, exubs and outrings are also being revamped.  The people of Vegas like the new.  So, as new housing developments go up, they move further and further away from the city center so they can have a 5000sf cookie-cutter house, leaving their 2 year old house behind.  Drive around the city in concentric rings and you can actually see the decay.  Places that 10 years ago were the hot neighborhoods to live in are now rundown and neglected.  I’m sure you see something similar where you live.  It definitely has happened in Los Angeles, but in Vegas it happens so much faster.

Flying in, I almost broke down in tears.  One of the best things about flying from Los Angeles to Vegas, was looking out the starboard window and seeing the desert, with mountains and then the glorious Lake Mead.  Well, the desert and some of the mountians have given over to grids of tightly packed cul-de-sacs, with houses stamped onto the tiny lots.  The lake…my goodness, the lake…looks like it has lost a good 30 – 40 feet of depth.  There was this little cove we used to go.  It was sheltered by a lot of trees and even the water was right at our feet.  About 60 feet away was a tiny island that almost rose up out of the water.  The first time I went there in ’93, it was completely underwater.  It was protected so the boats and jet skis wouldn’t hit it.  By ’95 it was a 10′ x 6′ island.  Now in 2008, our cove looks to be about 200 feet away from the water, the island is a large hill barely covered by water.  On the other side of the lake, the shelf where we’d anchor down the houseboat is very visible.

As much as I adore Las Vegas (to visit), I’ve always been turned off by the water wasting.  I always thought it was a big loss that a city that rose up outof the desert, never embraced it’s sandy roots, instead choosing to mimic landscapes found in less arid regions.  Las Vegas wasted prime opportunity to show the rest of the world that you can build, build large and do it with less impact and environmentally sound.

It seems Reality has hit the city and hit it hard.

In the ridiculously long shuttle ride to my hotel, I found I was smiling a lot more and it wasn’t just from being childishly dazzled by the lights.  The water-wasting, high-maintenance grass is being ripped out.  In its place is beautiful xeriscaping, with drought-tolerant and native plants.  River rock swales have been installed to reduce flooding when it rains.  The architectural beauty of the palms, cycads, cactus and succulents actually help make the Strip look a lot more natural.

Another thing I noticed is that the City is finally using its best resource: the sun.  Solar panels abound and it was nice to see that not only were they on new construction, but also going up on some of the older buildings.  From what I understand, the City gets a lot of it’s energy from Hoover Dam.  I never thought it was wise to rely on a crumbling and outdated structure like that, so the use of solar panels on businesses, hotel and homes is a welcome sight.

Viva Las Vegas…if you keep on this track, you can become an environmentally sound City of the World.

Jun 08

I won!

That’s right, I won the Easy Green Living book by Renée Loux that was being given away on Seesmic. Want to watch the whole thing? Below is the video of the when Ms. Loux took our questions on what we viewed as important in living “green”:

Yes, that’s not Renée, but if you click on it, you’ll see here (yes, I’m laughing at a pretty frantic email I received).

About a week and some days later, the winner was announced:

I laughed. I cried. I want to thank the Academy…

Then today…the book arrived:

I’m kinda busy with work, but I’ve had a chance to flip through the book and it’s pretty interesting. There are a lot of items in the book that I already own/buy not because of any greenness on my part, but because of price, locality and prettiness/smells. The book is more a shopping guide than a lifestyle guide, IMO, but even flipping through it, it was struck by how many items in the book are things you don’t really need in life. Or the lack of actual greenness of them, i.e. paper towels/napkins. It’s much more green to use cloth towels, and thankfully, the author does point that out. Which brings me to the second cool thing about the book.

Everything is pretty accessible to anyone who can read and shows that you don’t have to drop big $$$ to be green which is stunning to me considering Loux hosts a show on Fine Living. The best part is that Loux does explain why certain things are better than others. Unlike other “green” books, there doesn’t seem to be those not-so-unsubtle judgment calls on your purchases. Take the section on cookware. It’s extremely detailed explaining why Teflon or non-stick cookware isn’t in your best interest vs. stainless steel or cast iron cookware.

Check out the book at your local library or you can find at Powell’s.

Jun 08

Water and California

Even though I want to set up my pool today, I’m feeling kind of guilty. Go over to LA Metblogs to see my post on Water and California to see just why.

Apr 08

Descanso Gardens Spring Festival: World of Good Weekend

On Saturday, we went to Descanso Gardens for the World of Good Weekend. (see photos here)I had never been to Descanso Gardens before, but I heard it was more like the Arboretum than the Huntington and it was. In theory. Even though the Descanso gardens has a lot of different kinds of gardens and pathways, I prefer the Arboretum.

The one thing at Descanso that was truly impressive were not just the number of lakes and ponds on site, but the different layout of them all. It is a beautiful place that seems more like a large nursery than a place to study plants. Sadly, there is also a severe lack of customer service onsite. From the moment we got there until we left, no one who worked there knew anything about what goes on 4 feet beyond them. The guy at the ticket booth didn’t know procedure on if we give our receipt to the lady or what. The lady at the entrance had no idea if they sold sweaters or jackets in the gift shop. “You can ask”, is what we were told. The little girl had to go to the bathroom. We hiked all the way up the hill to the Boddy House couldn’t find a bathroom. I asked two people who worked there where it was and neither of them knew. I’m expected to believe that they were up at the top of the hill, working, and had no idea where the bathroom was? I could say that you get what you pay for, but the Arboretum and the Zoo both cost the same and the workers at both places are unnervingly friendly and helpful that you almost believe they’re robots…or not from LA.

One of the most wonderful parts of Descanso was the lilac garden. Yummy. It was like heaven with that scent in the air. Every time I found a lilac that was beautiful, I found another that was even better.

The camelia forests were also nice. I wasn’t too dazzled by the California garden and was very underwhelmed by the succulents and cactus there. The iris garden was amazing and most of the irises hadn’t even opened yet. I should go back to see the other hundreds of cultivars available. There were only about 10 open this weekend.

The kids loved the little train and even Daddy thought we should get one for the back yard (yeah right). Oddly enough, I loved the tulip garden. That was outstanding.

At the entrance of the park, there is an installation titled Edible Estates. As you know, I’m virulently anti-grass, especially for Southern Californians. We are slowly getting rid of most of our lawn and had considered giving it over to food. The subject came up again, as my husband tried to convince me to move my veggie garden to the front yard so we can put the pool in the backyard. The Edible Estates installation, prodded us a little closer to that goal, though I still need more sun than I get in the front yard.

The artist, Fritz Haeg, will be back at Descanso on May 17th for a book signing and artist’s reception. I believe he’ll unveil his summer theme at that time too. (Brasil Brazil is also playing that weekend, so I’ll definitely be there!)

Mar 08

Why being ‘green’ ain’t that easy

I have to admit that I’ve been a bit distressed over the trendiness of being green. Visit any progressive-leaning blog/forum and people are laying out their green creds as if that’ll make them cooler on the intertubes. Some blogs even have people listing all the stuff they do to be green. On one hand, it is getting new information out there to wasteful polluters and may even change a few habits. On the other, it reeks of look-at-me-ness that borders on tacky. The one thing these new greenies fail to realize is that a lot of the stuff they do by choice, poor people around the world by necessity. I’m not knocking those people who have changed their habits to be friendlier to this sphere. I just hope there is more thinking involved instead of the bandwagon-hopping I’m witnessing. I always urge people to read the labels, make sure what they’re buying really is “organic” or “natural”. Which is why, when saw the headline: Popular ‘green’ products test positive for toxicant (registration needed) in the newspaper this morning, I called 6 of the products would be listed before I even read the article.

New tests of 100 “natural” and “organic” soaps, shampoos and other consumer products show that nearly half of them contained a cancer-causing chemical that is a byproduct of petrochemicals used in manufacturing.

Many items that tested positive for the carcinogen are well-known brands, including Kiss My Face, Alba, Seventh Generation and Nature’s Gate products, sold in retail stores across the nation.

It amuses me that after all the recalls we’ve had people still believe that the FDA and USDA are on the job keeping us safe. Maybe they don’t realized that back in ’02 the Bush Administration relaxed the rules for what is “organic” at the behest of multinationals like Phillip-Morris, creating the USDA National Organic Program. (This goes along with rule relaxing for air polluters, dairy farmers and miners in 2001). The NOP even created a “seal of approval”. Personally, I try to stay away from those items unless I can verify. When I look to buy organic, I look for the OCIA seal or the CCOF seal, even though the USDA rules are making those labels go away. Otherwise, I do my research, both have search engines on their websites where you can check out a product to see if it’s “super-certified”. Or, I buy locally from growers and makers I trust.

Some organic company owners said it is deceptive for many products to be called natural when the carcinogenic compound indicates that petrochemicals are used in their manufacture.

No standards govern the words natural or organic for personal care products. But a few companies, including TerrEssentials, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Sensibility Soaps Inc., which makes the Nourish brand, have certified their products as organic under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food standards.

“It makes it really difficult for us to communicate real organic when our little voice gets lost in this sea of products that are all claiming to meet the [USDA organic] standard when, in fact, they don’t,” said Diana Kaye, co-founder of TerrEssentials, a small Maryland company. All six TerrEssentials soaps and other products tested were free of 1,4-dioxane.

A mere glance at the labels of these products show that they’re not a green as they claim to be, but green enough for that USDA seal. For example, Seventh Generation lists all their ingredients on their website and that was enough to make me never by their products. In my mind, it’s impossible to have a cleaning agent that is purely organic unless it’s a lemon. I use method products. While they’re not organic (certified or otherwise), their products are derived from nature (check the ingredient lists) and the bonus is that their packaging is 100% biodegradable. I like the fact that most of the stuff in a method product is growing in my garden.

Most traditional soaps and shampoos contain 1,4-dioxane. But the discovery that the chemical is present in many housecleaning and personal care products, including some for babies, that are advertised as being natural, organic or “green” comes as somewhat of a surprise.

“For companies to knowingly or even carelessly put a carcinogen into commerce in this day and age is barbaric, I think, particularly products that have the moniker of natural or self-proclaimed ‘organic,’ ” said consumer advocate and author David Steinberg, who directed the study.

Now, this isn’t to be alarmist. Carcinogens have always been in a lot of stuff women use, especially in makeup and hygiene products. That’s old news and one of the main reasons I never got into wearing makeup (the other being that makeup application is a time sucker for me). Still, the past few decades have seen a decrease in these carcinogens and many companies have been making a concerted effort to move away from them, especially once it hits the news that they’re killing their customers. Luckily, there are a lot of natural skin care companies out there that aren’t owned by multinationals and sold at your local big box discounter. You’ll have to order online or go to your local farmer’s market or organic store, but they’re out there. Being a woman of color makes it a little harder, but luckily there are a lot of sisters out there who not only make organic makeup and skin care products, but they blend with skin tones from Nordic to Gobi to Sahara. This holds moreso for those of us in Los Angeles.

But while the article focuses on skin care and household cleaning products, please remember that the food you eat has also been “organic certified” with those relaxed standards. Horizon Organic immediately comes to mind. Horizon used to be a truly organic dairy farm. That is until it was bought by Dean Foods. Since then, the Horizon Organic brand that many people loved and trusted so many years ago, bears no resemblance to what is being sold in stores.

All I’m asking is that you take the time to educate yourself on what you’re putting in and on your body. Sure, it’s easier to watch TV or hope that someone tells you something, but even that’s asking for trouble. Look at all the misguided hoax emails that get passed around daily. Be wary that just because something says “natural” or “organic”, especially if it’s from a multinational, it most likely isn’t. It’s like those Lite and Low-fat labels. Most of those products have more sugars and/or sodium than the regular brand. It’s a balancing act. I don’t think it’s paramount to use organic products to clean your tub, hell some of tubs need to be nuked, but if you do, just make sure you’re getting what you pay for. The companies know that people have been conditioned to believe that using natural products means you have to pay more than if they dump a bunch of man-made chemicals in your stuff. If you’re gonna pay that $1 – $4 more, shouldn’t you get no chemicals?

Feb 08

Audubon Society @ Ernest Debs Park



The Audubon Society’s center at Ernest Debs Park is cool. 100% built green and completely off the grid, it’s the sort of place we need more of, not only in LA but all over the place.

Talk about a flashback, driving up to the parking lot reminded me of the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona.

There isn’t much to say that isn’t already posted on their website. The kids loved the place. We took the butterfly path and it was easy to walk, even muddy. Since none of us were dressed for the walk though we did have to turn around. I couldn’t tell if the plants overgrowing the walkway were poison oak or not and we were all wearing shorts.

This huge rock in the courtyard of the place. It’s a very nice courtyard, one I wish my front yard looked like. To the kid’s left is a nice pond and to their right is another pond.

I was taking a picture of that fencing. What do you think? I’m thinking about doing something like in my front yard. I like how some rails don’t have angles on them. The walk path is also close to what’s in my front yard. Mine’s a little more gravel-y though.

This is kids were learning about butterflies. See those benches? They’re made with 100% recycled materials.

They make a little cave and there’s two stumps inside to sit on. Ilia said, “No Mr. Don’t go in there. There could be spiders.”"Spiders?”, Alton asked?

Ilia nodded, “Yeah and it’s dark,”

I jumped in, “Ilia just because you’re scared of spiders and the dark doesn’t mean that he can’t go in there.

“I’m just thinking about him, mama!”, she cried.

“I scared.”, said the little boy, shivering and holding onto my leg.

There was a lot of hands on things up there. There was a little shed with toys for the kids to play with, a water pump, seating all over on the campus and lots of places to climb. One of the most spectacular things is just being able to see 20 miles north to south.

Needless to say, I took a lot of photos of plants and stuff, but I’m not interested in posting them. I also found out that I can reach the lake we visited last week from the different trails that originate at the Audubon Center. The Center’s parking lot was full (it only holds like 20 cars) so we had to park on Griffin Ave. There’s a foot path from the street on up to the top. Walking up there, you can see Downtown Los Angeles and Dodgers Stadium. You also got a great view of the Arroyo from up there and that angle also made that section of the 110 freeway look even more psychotic and hair-raising than it is in real life.

Speaking of getting on the freeway, driving down Griffin, just before I got on the freeway, I saw this:

LOL…in someone’s front yard, they have this huge metal dragonfly! WTF? The eyes, behind the metal caging are two discoballs. I’ve got drive back over there.

Nov 07

flickr photo of the day

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Mantis, originally uploaded by Lawraa.

I don’t usually do this, but this photo is just too awesome to not share!

Sep 07


I was perusing the treehugger blog over at Sundance Channel’s ecommunity and found a post about ModGreenPod an interior design company specializing in organic items. They create fabric for upholstery and wallpaper that’s organic and environmentally friendly, with the added bonus of cute prints. They have locations in a few major cities, but most importantly, in my old zip code of 90036.